Summary: Janeway agrees to an unusual trade with a race of telepathic aliens, and dips a toe into seven possibilities.
Characters: Janeway, Tuvok, Chakotay, Seven, Paris
Codes: Janeway/Chakotay, Janeway/other
Disclaimer: Paramount's universe; fanfic's playground.
Warning: Most of this story could be rated PG-ish, but there's some heavy stuff in a few chapters, particularly Chapter IV. You have been warned.
Part V | Curiosity
“Well?” Her travelling companion taps his foot at her impatiently. “What do you want to see next? The fall of Rome, the Tarlethan golden age? Fluidic space?”
Kathryn is still breathless from their trip to the galactic core, but she forces herself to focus. “Any and all of those sound incredible. But I’m worried about him.”
“What on earth for?”
“He’s our son,” she says pointedly. “I’m his mother, and I’ve barely spent a minute with him since he was … born, if that’s what you’d call it.”
“Kathy.” She can’t miss the annoyance in his voice now. “It’s not as though you need to suckle him and sing him lullabies. He’s not a human baby.”
“He’s half-human,” she points out. “And forgive me, Q, but I thought your whole purpose for having a child with me was to bring human values to the Continuum. I can hardly help you do that if I don’t spend any time with my own son, teaching him what those human values are.”
Q rolls his eyes. “Oh, all right then. Go spend some time with the little brat. And make it snappy.” He snickers at his own joke as he raises his hand to snap his fingers.
Kathryn grabs his arm before he can complete the action. “Q,” she says sternly. “He’s going to need a paternal influence.”
“Don’t Kathy me. It’s not just a father he needs. It’s a Q. I can teach him about compassion and integrity and compromise, but you’re going to have to explain to him what it means to be omnipotent. He’s supposed to be the Continuum’s great white hope for peace and change. I can’t help him become that on my own.”
“But I’m a Q, not a teacher,” Q whines.
“Then you’d better expand your capabilities.” Kathryn reflects for a moment on the irony of bullying an omnipotent entity into learning new skills. “Besides, as a wise human once said: with great power comes great responsibility.”
Q snorts. “Only a human would consider that wisdom. All right, all right,” he holds up a hand as Kathryn opens her mouth. “I’ll help you instruct the little squirt, but only if we have some fun first.” Before she can object, Q snaps his fingers …
… and she finds herself encased inside a … coffin? she wonders. Whatever it is, it’s unsettling and she doesn’t like it. “Q,” she protests. “What is this place?”
Q’s head pops mistily through the lid of the coffin; the rest of his body remains outside. “You’re about to experience what the Vhnori amusingly refer to as the journey to the next emanation.”
“I remember the Vhnori,” Kathryn says, surprised. “They place their dead inside a sarcophagus and the bodies are transported through a subspace vacuole onto an asteroid. We never discovered where the transports originated.”
“Well, that part isn’t important. It’s the trip through the subspace vacuole, as you call it – a predictably scientific description, by the way, Kathy, and just as droll as the Vhnori’s tortured religious beliefs – that makes this fun. Hang on, it’s about to get bumpy.”
She hears a high-pitched whine as the sarcophagus shudders and melts around her, and then she’s rushing headlong through an ocean of stars of every conceivable colour, her brain filled with an unearthly music, her whole body tingling. It’s the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to her. She opens her arms and her mind and her heart and throws herself into pure joy, and for one perfect moment all her questions are answered. And then it stops, and she’s blinded by layers of gauze wrapping her face and body. She struggles to extricate herself and sits up to find Q squatting on his haunches beside her, grinning.
“My God,” says Kathryn, blinking. “Harry never told me it felt like that.”
“Well, to be fair, he was dead at the time,” Q reasons. “It feels quite different when you’re immortal.”
“Is that what it’s like to be Q?”
“Ah, Kathy,” he smiles. “Would you like to find out?”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been done before,” he answers. “Rarely, of course. The last time a mortal was made Q was six billion years ago. Well, except for Riker, but that didn’t take.”
“What about Amanda?”
He waves a hand dismissively. “She was always Q. She just didn’t want to admit it. So, what do you say? You’re already immortal. Why not go all the way?” He waggles his eyebrows at her.
She considers it. “If I agree, I wouldn’t be human any more. What about the baby?”
“He’ll be fine. Q will take care of him.”
Kathryn snorts. “Q still hates me for stealing her mate, as she defines it. I hardly think she’ll be delighted to play nanny to our child.”
Q rolls his eyes. “Kathy, Kathy, Kathy. Aren’t you tired of always being so responsible? First it was that rickety little ship and your motley crew, now it’s the offspring. Stop fretting for once in your dreary existence and have some fun.”
“Speaking of my crew,” she fixes him with a glare, against which he is irritatingly unmoved, “you never did tell me if you kept your end of the bargain. I need to know, Q. Did you send them home? Are they safe?”
“Well,” Q smirks, “that would be telling, wouldn’t it?”
“Q,” she snaps. “The only reason I agreed to your ridiculous scheme to conceive a child with you was because you promised me you’d get Voyager safely back to Earth.”
“And here I thought it was my devastating good looks,” he huffs. “Not to mention the minor side benefit of stopping a civil war in the Continuum. But if you insist on knowing the fate of that stolid lump of a first officer and the rest of your forlorn little band of travellers, I suppose I can arrange to satisfy your curiosity.”
He examines his fingernails. “And I don’t ask much in return. It’s a gift, really. What formerly corporeal, exploration-obsessed female wouldn’t leap at the chance to spend eternity exploring the wonders of the multiverse with me?”
Kathryn crosses her arms. “You mean, you’ll only tell me what happened to Voyager if I agree to become a Q.”
“Well, gee, Kathy.” Q looks miffed. “You make it sound like an unpleasant duty, instead of the opportunity of several billion lifetimes.”
“But I don’t want to be Q. I might become like … like…” She trails off.
Q raises an eyebrow at her. “Yes?”
“Like you,” she finishes, raising her chin. “And forgive me, Q, but that’s not something I aspire to.”
Q looks hurt, then brightens. “That’s only because you don’t understand what it’s like to be Q. You’ve only experienced the Continuum in human terms. If you could just experience the essence of Q-ness, you’d change your mind.”
“How am I supposed to do that if I’m not Q?” Kathryn asks, then shakes her head in frustration. “It’s all academic, anyway.”
“Not necessarily,” Q says, excited. “Let me show you.” And he snaps his fingers.
Kathryn dissolves, yet she is weighty with power. She is made of light and tethered to earth. She floats among the stars in the bottomless gravity of the ocean. She feels everything and the purity of nothing. She reaches out with her thoughts and grasps the truth of things she has never imagined. She is without form, but she tastes the sharpness of sensation. Pulsars are born in stellar nurseries, flare and die. Great creatures move through space, sucking stars in their wake. Single-celled organisms divide and conquer and evolve. A civilisation struggles from red sand and almost destroys itself in rage and fear until logic prevails. Invaders march like ants across the surface of a planet, perfecting its people in a tidal wave of metal victory. A forgotten race of peacemakers fights its way out from under the corded grey skins of its oppressors. A tribe of nomads make their home on a far-flung green world, until a searing shock of light scorches them into shrivelled corpses. And there is so much, so much more. She sees, she feels. She knows. She is known. She understands …
… and it’s gone, and Q is sitting on his heels, wearing a self-satisfied smirk.
“Oh,” says Kathryn.
“So,” says Q, “what do you say?”
She barely hears him. She’s reeling, and all she wants is to grasp onto that all-knowing existence before it fades.
“I want …” she says, and shakes her head to clear the buzzing in her ears. Except the buzzing, and her ears, are only figurative, because she doesn’t actually have a body.
“What did you say?” she asks faintly.
“How about it?” Q says. “That was only a taste. Just imagine what it’ll be like for an eternity.”
Her mind tries to feel for it again, that indescribable tide of everything. But it’s ebbing, and what’s flowing in seems dull and sore and small, but somehow she knows it’s real.
“Time to decide, Kathy.”
Captain, you must wake up.
“No, Q,” she says, even though it breaks her heart. “I was never meant for that.”
She wakes to the voice speaking inside her mind and the hand on her face. “Tuvok,” she says, and her own voice sounds small and weak. “What happened?”
Tuvok carefully takes his hand away from the points on her temple, cheekbone and jaw and regards her with solemn eyes. “Your neural pattern was ninety-two percent synchronised with that of the Kh’Laan performing the kiaa’meral. I was permitted to enter the chamber before your guide disconnected and attempt to separate you from the link.”
“You mind-melded with me?”
“After I had exhausted all other options. Yes.”
She regards him. “That was a somewhat reckless course of action, Mr Tuvok. The effect on you was unpredictable. You could have been permanently injured.”
“I judged the level of risk to be acceptable. Losing you, however, is not.”
She smiles. “Thank you, old friend.”
“May I ask –”
“What I saw?” she interrupts, and sighs. “I don’t really have the words to explain it. I saw … I saw everything. The beginning and the end of the universe, the birth of every species that ever existed, the rise and fall of every civilisation in every thread of the multiverse. I saw what it was like to be Q.”
Tuvok raises an eyebrow. “A fascinating experience.”
“And a very tempting one,” she agrees. “Almost too tempting. I wanted to stay.”
“Perhaps that explains the advanced synchronisation of your brainwaves with the guide’s,” Tuvok suggests. “Previous scenarios created for you have not been so appealing, but you were strongly invested in this one.”
“I heard you, telling me to wake up,” Kathryn answers. “If you hadn’t been there, I would have stayed.”
“You would have died.”
“Yes.” She touches his hand. “I never thought I’d say this, but sometimes satisfying one’s curiosity isn’t worth the price.”
“Are you sufficiently recovered?”
“Then I will return to Voyager. Commander Chakotay will be anxious to hear my report. Your session exceeded forty hours in duration.”
Kathryn pales. “I had no idea.”
“Captain, I am concerned. If I am not present for the remaining three sessions, there may be no way to extract you should your neural pattern become synchronous with the guide’s again. Perhaps I should remain.”
“No. You need to rest, Tuvok. I’ll be fine. Just … send down someone who’ll know how to reach me.”
“Understood,” says Tuvok, and makes way for the next guide.