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 IX | Possibilities
The First Prelate, having got what he wants from her, appears to have undergone a complete personality transplant. Gone is the arrogance, the barely-veiled insults, the none-too-subtle telepathic probing she put up with during their negotiations. Mekhaal is now expansive, almost obsequious in his treatment of her.
::Captain, your kiaa’meral exceeded my expectations,:: he tells her. ::It is rare for us to encounter a species with such a variety of motivations. So many possibilities exist for you, so many roads not travelled.::
Kathryn has been wanting to ask a question since waking from her first session. “First Prelate, you talk about possibilities, but I was wondering if there’s a little more to it than that. What I experienced … Some of those visions could perhaps have been my reality if I’d made a different choice somewhere along the line, or if circumstances had turned out differently. Could I have been seeing some kind of parallel universes, or alternate timelines?”
::Everything you saw is a path that could have been taken, and therefore has been taken,:: Mekhaal replies, somewhat obliquely. ::Captain, you have never asked why my people practice the kiaa’meral, but I will try to explain.::
For the first time since she met him, the Kh’Laan prelate folds back the hood of his cloak, revealing his face – pale-skinned, lilac-eyed, with elongated ears. And this time he speaks aloud, instead of in her mind.
“The Kh’Laan have not always existed in corporeal form,” he begins. “Long ago, we were composed of a form of energy. Over the millennia we evolved into the humanoid bodies you see before you. But we remain dependent on a mutated form of that energy, which is stored in our neural pathways. Each Kh’Laan is born with a finite store of neural energy and when it is depleted, we die, unless we can source it somewhere else.”
“You receive the energy telepathically,” Kathryn realises.
“Yes. Members of one of our sects travel the galaxy seeking species from which to receive the life-energy. The transmission process is most effective when the subject’s brain is hyper-stimulated.”
“Hence the kiaa’meral ritual.” Kathryn frowns. “It seems a little … brutal.”
Mekhaal has the grace to avert his eyes. “I am sure it seemed so to you at times during the ritual, Captain. However, we make it our policy to avoid doing harm.”
“But you mentioned some species who’ve undergone the kiaa’meral have ended up brain-damaged, or dead,” she points out.
“Yes, and we deeply regretted each of those instances. Only one member of each of those species was ever a victim, Captain. Once we learned that they could not withstand the kiaa’meral, those species were off-limits.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
“No. But can you honestly tell me you haven’t made any fatal mistakes in your efforts to keep your crew safe, Captain?”
“I suppose I can’t.”
“Now imagine knowing that without risking such mistakes, your entire species will eventually die out.”
Kathryn grudgingly concedes his point.
“I mentioned that we rarely encounter a species such as yours, with your ability to conjure up possibilities.”
“We call it imagination.”
“Humans do not possess great physical prowess or intellectual abilities in comparison to many species we have met, yet your race has clearly survived countless dangers and impediments. You travel the stars. You thrive. I believe your imagination is one of your greatest strengths. It makes you unique.”
For a moment Kathryn thinks of Seven, and hides a smile.
“And now it makes us unique,” Mekhaal continues. “Part of the benefit of the kiaa’meral is that it enables the guides, for a time, to take on the most prominent capabilities of the subject species. The guides, in turn, transmit these strengths telepathically to all Kh’Laan. For a time, our entire species benefits from these gifts, and even when the energy dissipates we hold those memories in our consciousness, and we learn.”
Kathryn thinks of Seven’s former collective, and her smile fades. “I assume you take on the negative traits you explore in your subjects’ psyches, not just the positive?”
“Of course. We cannot appreciate the finer qualities of a species without accepting its baser traits.”
“Well.” Kathryn stands. “I can’t say I enjoyed exploring some of my baser traits, as you term them, First Prelate, but I will admit the learning experience went both ways. I hope you … got what you needed from me.”
Mekhaal stands as well, and bows formally from the waist. “Your ship has been stocked with the goods we agreed upon, Captain. I wish you a safe journey. And thank you.”
She nods, and taps her commbadge. “Janeway to Voyager. One to beam up.”
“Six days?” She leaps up from the couch and paces the ready room. “I was down there for six days?”
“One hundred and forty-two hours and twenty-one minutes, to be precise, Captain,” Tuvok answers.
She sits, picks up her coffee cup, lowers it without drinking, folds her hands in her lap and looks down at them. “Tuvok, can I ask you a question?”
Kathryn looks up at him. “Did you select my tak’aans?”
“Commander Chakotay and I selected them, from the pool of volunteers.”
“Yes, Captain. Approximately eighty percent of the crew offered to assist you. However, the Commander and I believed it likely that the kiaa’meral could prove taxing and leave you emotionally vulnerable. We decided that only those crewmembers with whom you felt most comfortable should serve as tak’aan.”
Seven, Tom, Tuvok, Chakotay. “Why not B’Elanna?” she asks. “Why not Neelix or the Doctor?”
“We also felt that we should limit the participants to those of the crew who are not intimidated by you. That list is quite short.”
She arches an eyebrow at him. “Are you suggesting I don’t intimidate you, Tuvok?”
“Perhaps I spoke in haste.”
Kathryn lets go with a genuine, belly-deep laugh. Tuvok waits patiently for her to finish. Finally, wiping her eyes, she sobers.
“You were right,” she admits. “It was emotionally draining. Some of the things I saw, Tuvok – I feel as though I’ve had a lucky escape, not to have lived a life like that. And then there were the other visions.”
She gets up again, moving over to the viewport and staring out, arms wrapped around her body. “Even the sessions that were,” she searches for an appropriate word, “enjoyable left me feeling a little … exposed.” She hugs herself tighter and says softly, “I’m not sure how comfortable I’m going to be around … certain people for awhile.”
“I can assist you to manage your discomfort,” Tuvok answers, reminding her of what she’s asked him here to do. “Shall we begin?”
“Of course.” Kathryn moves over to sit by him and waits as he ignites the small meditation lamp. She imitates his pose – cross-legged, fingers steepled – and lets Tuvok’s calm voice wash over her. “Clear your mind, and concentrate on the flame …”
The bridge is quiet when she emerges from her ready room, Tuvok in her wake. Tom sends her a quick smile but turns immediately back to the helm, and she sends him a silent thank you for his discretion. Kathryn takes her seat, flicking a brief glance at her first officer’s impassive profile.
“Heading, Mr Paris?”
“Heading one eight seven mark four, Captain. We’re ready to go home.”
“Warp seven, Tom. Engage.”
“Aye,” he says, and the stars become streaks.
She busies herself immediately with her console, skimming the section heads’ weekly reports. Torres is excited about the new, pure dilithium and estimates they’ve stored up a year’s worth of crystals. Neelix claims they won’t have to stop for food supplies for three months. Seven states that the Kh’Laan have supplied Voyager with star maps that span four hundred sectors and will add to the perfection of the ship’s astrometric database. Chakotay requests a meeting with her at 1900 hours.
She flicks another sidelong glance at him, so self-contained beside her, his fingers moving over a PADD. She remembers how they moved on her breasts, holding her hips, and has to close her eyes for a moment. Silently damning the Kh’Laan, she accepts his meeting request. She’s tempted to suggest they meet in the mess hall, where it’s safe, then laughs inwardly at her delusion that he could ever be safe.
She thinks about paths not taken, and possibilities, and wonders if it’s not too late to choose a different path.