Synopsis: This is the sequel to Down the Rabbit Hole/ Into the Looking Glass. It is set approximately 6 months after the events in those stories, in the alternate timeline established there. On the planet Aurora, nearly a year after the destruction of Voyager, her crew is pursuing a new life. B‘Elanna Torres is about to have a baby. And Kathryn Janeway is about to experience a revelation... P/T, J/C, rated PG13 for sexual situations.
Disclaimer: Paramount/Viacom owns Star Trek, its concept and its characters. I am just borrowing them briefly, for fun not profit. The planet Aurora and everything else on it are mine.
Notes: This story can be archived anywhere, but please keep my name and the disclaimer attached. Feedback is always appreciated.
For those interested in placing the events in this story in time with the events in the TV series, the following applies. The Aurora alternate timeline broke off from that of the TV series just after the events in Future‘s End. The events in Down the Rabbit Hole/Into the Looking Glass took place approximately at the time the events in the Gift concluded. And events in Conceiving Aurora take place in time around the end of the fourth season (which at this writing we haven‘t seen yet). If you have not yet read Down the Rabbit Hole and Into the Looking Glass you might want to do so before reading this story.
by Julie Evans (comments to Juli17@aol.com)
Prologue: Years Earlier
He was too early. Years too early. It was not completely unexpected, since the temporal displacement technology he was using was prone to unpredictable outcomes. Invented nearly a thousand years in the future, and still it was not entirely reliable. But then Time itself was not a "thing" to be easily grasped. Its very fluidity made it nearly impossible to pin down exact moments, or exact places, in the timestream.
Well, at least this was the right place. He would simply have to wait. Even if he wanted to, he couldn‘t try again. He was fading now, too old and too tired to go through the preparations again. And his ship couldn‘t withstand the strain of another temporal displacement wave.
He leaned against the solid wall of rock behind him and blinked at the shimmering glow playing along the damaged cloakfield of his small cone shaped ship. The ship‘s edges flickered, then the ship disappeared. He aimed the small device in his palm at the seemingly empty air several meters away from him and activated it. A quick, barely perceptible flash told him his objective was achieved. His little ship was now truly gone, and it was better that way, since it didn‘t belong here.
He leaned back against the hard rock. He could feel his physical existence quickly ebbing. Enough so that he didn‘t even need to mentally suppress the discomfort caused by his surroundings. The deep cold that was seeping into his body, the wind that was flapping the folds of his simple garments into stinging whips against his skin might not have been there. No need to even seek shelter deeper in the rocks.
As his mind slowly faded into a senseless slumber, he felt a pang of regret that he wouldn‘t be able to observe the actual beginning. But it was no real matter whether he observed it himself, or learned it from her thoughts and dreams. He would still meet her, talk to her. If not face to face- and certainly that would not be- then mind to mind. For that, he would wait. His body would deteriorate to nothingness, but his essence- that which the younger races thought of as soul, or spirit- would remain. And when the time came- when she came- he would be here. He would learn, and he would teach. That had already been determined. He only had to wait.
She was fuming. The disappointment she had felt two nights ago had faded into a general sense of impatience. Now she just wanted to get through the next couple of weeks quickly, and with some measure of calm. The doctor‘s constant advice, constant orders, and constant checking up on her was not conducive to inner peace.
Okay, maybe the concept of inner peace was something of a mystery to her, since her emotions were always so close to the surface and so easily aroused, but she did know that she was even more irritated than usual.
The doctor heard the warning tone in B‘Elanna‘s voice, the tone that said she was about to explode at him if he said one more word. He chose to ignore it, as was his nature when it came to his recalcitrant patients, particularly this patient.
"I am your doctor, and as such it is my duty to dispense medical advice whether you request it or not-"
"In Sickbay, not at my house!" B‘Elanna snapped.
"I don‘t charge extra for house calls," the doctor replied dryly. "And since you find your schedule too hectic to check in with me on a regular basis as I requested-"
"If I have a problem or a question, then I‘ll come to Sickbay. I haven‘t forgotten your last lecture about rest and relaxation, or anything else about the other night!"
The doctor raised an eyebrow and met B‘Elanna‘s frustrated glare. "Is that what this display of temper is all about? False labor is not an uncommon phenomenon. Well..." the doctor paused, then amended. "Not among humans anyway, and you are half human. It is nothing to feel guilty about, nor to be concerned about-"
"If it‘s nothing to be concerned about, then why are you constantly checking up on me?" B‘Elanna demanded.
"I have no other patients requiring my attention at the moment," the doctor pointed out, sounding smug. "And the three other pregnancies in New Lourdes are far less advanced than yours. Given that you will be needing my services soon, there is no reason that I shouldn‘t keep a close eye on the situation."
"I‘m sorry I‘m the best you can do to occupy your time, Doctor," B‘Elanna said sarcastically. "But I‘m wearing the subdermal monitor, and when something happens you‘ll be the second to know."
"Yes I will," the doctor agreed. "In the
meantime, you should relax-"
"Quit telling me to relax!"
The doctor shrugged, not quite willing to give in.
"The last couple of weeks are often uncomfortable.
You just have to be patient-"
"Don‘t tell me to be patient, either!"
The doctor was ever undeterred. He had learned through close association with humans, and Klingons- in fact, most sentient races- that if he repeated his medical advice enough, his patients might actually start following it, if only to shut him up. Hence, the objective was accomplished. "I would suggest that you take warm showers to help relieve your...tension. Sit outside more, since the sunshine and fresh air greatly enhance the natural rhythms of body chemistry." He glanced at the sky, ignoring B‘Elanna‘s growing impatience.
"Then bundle up, and appreciate the fact that one of the bounties of being planetside is fresh air. In fact a positive attitude and a sense of appreciation for your surroundings can only ease the discomfort of your final weeks."
"Well...I do appreciate one thing about Aurora, Doctor."
The doctor raised an eyebrow at the sudden reasonable tone in B‘Elanna‘s voice. "What is that?"
The door slammed with a resounding bang only a millimeter from the doctor‘s nose. The doctor stared at the door for a moment, then snorted and rolled his eyes. He was used to being underappreciated, but that had never dampened his determination to care for his patients, no matter how uncooperative they might be. He turned and walked down the walkway from the Torres-Paris house, knowing that once that fetal monitor sprang into action, B‘Elanna would certainly appreciate his skills.
B‘Elanna stood on the other side of the door feeling a moment‘s satisfaction at stopping the doctor‘s lecture so effectively. Then she turned around and looked at Tom, who had been standing several meters away, leaning nonchalantly against the wall, arms crossed, listening to her exchange with the doctor. She could see from his expression that he was caught between laughter and sympathy, whether for her or for the doctor she wasn‘t sure.
Tom straightened as she approached him. In truth, he thought B‘Elanna had overreacted a little to the doctor‘s occasionally suffocating solicitousness. But the doctor also knew better than to keep baiting an irritable half Klingon. Besides the doctor could certainly hold his own against B‘Elanna. Tom did wonder briefly if she had broken his holographic nose, but he immediately suppressed the thought and schooled his expression as she stopped in front of him, frustration still evident in her expression.
B‘Elanna glared at Tom and he threw up his arms in mock capitulation. She saw the small smile that played at his mouth, but she also saw the flash of ill concealed concern in his eyes. She sighed and leaned against him, pressing her forehead against his shoulder.
Tom‘s smile widened and closed his arms around B‘Elanna, which was exactly where he liked them. He hugged her, then raised a hand to stroke her hair.
"Okay, that wasn‘t nice," B‘Elanna admitted, mumbling into Tom‘s shoulder. Her arms slid around his waist.
Tom chuckled lightly. "Um, no, probably not." His hand drifted from her hair down to her swollen belly and rested there. "But I think the doctor is a bit of a masochist anyway. He loves nothing more than to incite a verbal sparring match." The baby moved against his hand, as it had so many times in the past few months. Tom‘s heart never ceased to jump in response to that movement, that sign that their baby was alive and growing.
B‘Elanna felt the baby move too, and she put a hand over Tom‘s as the baby kicked again. Like Tom, she was awed by the life growing inside her. She‘d lain awake at night, with Tom‘s arms wrapped around her belly, and hers draped over his, feeling the baby move inside her, and had been amazed that the sensation affected her so strongly. Maybe she could love this baby- simply love him or her- with no expectations. Maybe it was that simple, not the struggle it had seemed for her own mother. She sighed and raised her head to look at Tom. "I‘m ready now."
Tom smiled gently and brushed a strand of hair off B‘Elanna‘s face. He leaned down and kissed her, his mouth lingering on hers for a moment. Then he brushed his fingers across her parted lips. "It won‘t be long." He knew that in these final weeks she‘d become both uncomfortable and tired, even if she wouldn‘t admit it. But it wasn‘t the physical discomforts that were weighing on her. It was the doubts she was harboring, about whether she could be a good mother, whether she could give their child enough love. Tom had no doubts whatsoever, but he knew saying so wasn‘t enough. He couldn‘t help sometimes cursing B‘Elanna‘s mother, Klingon or not, for treating B‘Elanna as little more than a burdensome responsibility. If the woman had loved her daughter at all, she obviously hadn‘t shown it. Or said it. "Just another couple of weeks," Tom said soothingly.
B‘Elanna nodded. She‘d been so sure she was about to have the baby two nights ago when the contractions had started unexpectedly. But it had turned out to be a false alarm- false labor, as the doctor had said. Her womb warming up for the real thing. She‘d steeled herself to face the ordeal, to bring this baby into the world, this baby who would depend on her and Tom for everything. This baby they would mold into a person, for better or worse. The rational part of her, the part Tom tried to convince her was right, told her it would be fine. That she would do fine. But the tiny doubting part of her she wished she could ignore- that said she had no idea what she was doing- that scared her.
Tom pulled her close again and he pressed his hands down along her spine and began to knead her lower back. B‘Elanna groaned and pressed closer to him. Her back had begun aching in the last few weeks, and Tom‘s hands miraculously made the ache disappear.
"I think we still have some of that oil left," Tom whispered suggestively in her ear. "We can skip the meeting and I can massage your back- and other places."
B‘Elanna smiled. "Tom, you don‘t know how tempted I am," she murmured, as he continued to rub her back. Gods, his hands felt good. "But, aah, we‘re expected at the meeting. Whatever Joe has to say, it must be important."
Tom sighed dramatically. "We could be a little late," he suggested.
"We already are a little late," B‘Elanna pointed out. "And I think it would be noticeable if I waddle in after the meeting is in progress."
Tom chuckled. "You don‘t waddle, B‘Elanna. And your body is beautiful."
B‘Elanna knew he meant it. He‘d said it enough times, but she still felt...clumsy, especially at this point. But Tom was entranced by her pregnancy, so much so that she‘d even teasingly asked him if he would still love her when her belly was flat again. She pulled away and Tom‘s hands dropped from her back. "We have to go," she whispered, kissing him lightly on the lips. "I love you."
"I love you, too," Tom said softly. He would have kissed her back a lot more, and found a way to really convince her to miss this meeting, but she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door before he had the chance. Oh well, there would be another opportunity. In this dream life he‘d come to believe he was living, there always was.
"Ryanamite?" Kathryn Janeway‘s tone sounded both skeptical and hopeful. "Are you sure?"
Joe Carey looked at the PADD in his hand and back at Kathryn. "As sure as we can be until we do an onsite survey and confirm."
"Hmmm." Kathryn sat at a table in the Mess hall with Chakotay, Tuvok and Joe. She glanced at all of them and knew they were thinking the same thing she was. Ryanamite was rare, rarer even than dilithium. And it was almost as useful, if proper precautions were taken to deal with its more volatile properties. So far they‘d managed reasonably well on Aurora with their limited energy sources, but it had been just enough to meet their needs, especially for energy intensive items like the replicator, the force fields and the like. A strong vein of ryanamite could actually mean the unimaginable- an energy surplus.
Joe put her thoughts into words. "This could mean we can build additional replicators, strengthen the force fields to protect us better against the storms, and we might even be able to bring the shuttle transporters on line, at least for short range emergencies. Or better yet build one right here-"
"We should not plan ahead of ourselves, Mr. Carey," Tuvok said dispassionately. "It would be advisable to verify the existence of the ryanamite, and the exact amount available for extraction before planning your future engineering feats. Given that the first survey did not indicate the existence of ryanamite-"
"As I said before, Tuvok," Joe interrupted, his enthusiasm unaffected, "the first surveys were quick flyover scans, so it‘s not surprising the ryanamite wasn‘t detected then. The satellite surveys are much more intensive, and the vein is very deep."
"We have to get an onsite survey out there," Chakotay said. "Winter is setting in, and those mountains are very near the south arctic region, so the sooner the better."
"Agreed," Kathryn said. "We‘ll have plenty of time to consider the ramifications once the data is verified."
"All winter most likely," Tuvok pointed out. "It is unlikely we will be able to extract the ryanamite until spring, when weather conditions are more amenable."
"My, my, everyone at this table is looking very intense this morning!"
Kathryn looked up to find Neelix standing at her shoulder, grinning and holding a coffee pot.
"More coffee, everyone?" Neelix addressed the table, but he looked at Kathryn.
Chakotay smiled as Kathryn held out her cup. They‘d had some challenges with the first crops, between the unfamiliar weather patterns, and the fact that some of their own seeds hadn‘t adapted well to Aurora‘s soil. But they‘d experimented with Aurora‘s own flora, and used their seeds to create hybrids. The coffee-like plant Chell had managed to bioengineer with the assistance of the computer was one of the successes.
Kathryn intercepted Chakotay‘s smile and grinned back as Neelix refilled her cup, and made his way around the table. Enjoying a decent cup of coffee was one of the pleasures on Aurora, one of the few that sometimes alleviated the bitterness she still felt at being stranded here.
Kathryn‘s eye caught a movement as she sipped her coffee and she looked up to see Tom and B‘Elanna entering the Mess hall. She watched them approach, Tom‘s arm draped over B‘Elanna‘s shoulder, and B‘Elanna‘s hand resting lightly on her swelled stomach. They were one more of the pleasures she‘d grudgingly begun to appreciate about Aurora. It always made her heart glad to see them together, so surprisingly right for each other.
Chakotay watched them approach also, thinking much the same thing. It still amazed him sometimes that this was the same man he‘d out and out despised when they‘d first ended up on Voyager, dumped together in the Delta quadrant. Now he couldn‘t think of another man he‘d ever known, in the Alpha or the Delta quadrant, who would be better to- or for- B‘Elanna than Tom Paris.
"Good morning Tom, B‘Elanna," Neelix chirped. He filled their empty coffee cups as they sat down. "You missed the main breakfast serving, but I can whip up something for you in a jiffy."
"Thanks, Neelix, but we ate already," Tom said. That had been the doctor‘s first inquiry when he‘d shown up on their doorstep this morning, B‘Elanna‘s breakfast habits.
B‘Elanna didn‘t bother to add anything. She‘d made supreme efforts to eat early in the morning, which was pretty much against her natural instincts. She‘d eaten both fruit and muffins this morning, before the doctor had even shown up to lecture her. She looked at Joe‘s animated expression and asked instead, "What‘s up?"
Joe grinned. "We‘ve found evidence of what appears to be a deep vein of ryanamite in the Southern Panarctic mountains."
B‘Elanna reacted as Joe would have expected. Her face lit up. "Are you sure?" she asked eagerly. She didn‘t exactly make a grab for Joe‘s PADD, but Joe met her avaricious look with a bigger grin and pushed the PADD across the table to her.
"It looks pretty positive, but we‘ll have to send out an on site survey team to confirm."
B‘Elanna looked raptly at the information on the PADD and nodded slowly, her eyes glittering. Tom looked over her shoulder with almost equal interest. He knew as well as everyone present what the find could mean.
"We should send out a team right now," Chakotay said. "Those mountains will be subject to severe winter storms soon and will be just about impassable."
B‘Elanna‘s animated expression shuttered just a little, and Chakotay understood. He already had a plan for that, and it was his own preference anyway. "I‘d like to handle the survey myself. I haven‘t had much chance to do any surveys lately, and I think someone besides Tom should get to have the fun occasionally."
Tom knew what had prompted Chakotay‘s offer in part and he appreciated it. He didn‘t really want to leave B‘Elanna right now, even for a day. But he just returned Chakotay‘s purposely challenging look with a smirk. "I suppose you can take a turn, Chakotay. You can always call me if there‘s anything you can‘t...handle."
Chakotay rolled his eyes. "I‘m sure I can manage to complete the survey and not crash the shuttle in the process, Tom."
"I agree." Kathryn looked at B‘Elanna and knew from her expression that the engineer was warring between wanting Tom nearby right now, and protesting being the recipient of any special favors. But Kathryn decided to be blunt. "I don‘t think Tom should leave right now, when you‘re so close to your due date." She held B‘Elanna‘s gaze for a moment until B‘Elanna nodded in acceptance.
"I‘ll volunteer to go also," Joe said. "I can run the aerial part of the survey while Chakotay concentrates on not crashing the shuttle."
Tom had just come up with another idea, and he didn‘t want to let the opportunity pass. It was really none of his business, but he was never one to shy away from stirring things up. Still, he took B‘Elanna‘s hand and threaded his fingers through hers. Hopefully she would be willing to protect him if what he was about to say got him on the really bad side of Kathryn. "Kathryn, why don‘t you go on the survey with Chakotay? You haven‘t had much opportunity to really see Aurora yet."
A momentary silence greeting Tom‘s suggestion. He glanced quickly at those around him. Joe was trying to suppress a grin, Tuvok was stoic as always though Tom thought he caught the hint of a frown, and Chakotay‘s face was if possible more expressionless than Tuvok‘s. Tom barely met Kathryn‘s knifelike gaze before turning to B‘Elanna, who was giving him a reproachful look. But there was a hint of a smile behind it.
"There is little of urgency to attend to in New Lourdes at the moment, and you are more than qualified to conduct the survey. I can see no objective reason for you not to take the opportunity to observe the topography of this planet."
Incredibly it was Tuvok who delivered this argument, and he met Kathyrn‘s narrowed look impassively. Et tu, Tuvok, Kathryn thought, then dismissed it as quickly. There was no good reason why she hadn‘t taken the opportunity to see more of Aurora already. Except personal choice, her own stubborn refusal to accept the planet as her new, and probably permanent, home. She looked then at Chakotay, who simply raised his eyebrows, offering no opinion on whether he wanted her to come or not. Perversely, that annoyed her.
"Fine, I‘ll go," Kathryn said, somewhat ungraciously as she rose from the table. "Let‘s get started." She strode out toward the door of the Mess hall, leaving everyone else to follow.
Chakotay fell into step with Tom as they stepped from the Mess hall into the bright sunlight of Aurora. Winter was coming and the air was cool, not like the Indian summer type weather they‘d been experiencing over the last couple of weeks. Today there was little warmth in the sun‘s rays.
Chakotay glanced at Tom and Tom tried to interpret the older man‘s mood. He wasn‘t sure if Chakotay was annoyed with him or not. Oh well, Tom thought, no sense in going halfway. "Why don‘t you take the Aerowing." That got a startled look out of Chakotay. "She hasn‘t been out for a couple of weeks. She could use a good flight run, and she is a lot more comfortable than the other shuttles."
Kathryn stopped abruptly enough in front of them that Tom almost ran into her. She turned to stare at Tom, who looked back at her innocently.
"The Aerowing is flight ready," B‘Elanna put in quickly. She couldn‘t believe Tom‘s audacity sometimes. Well, yes she could. But she found herself agreeing on this issue. She wanted to see Kathryn accept their situation- if not embrace it- as much as Tom did.
"Fine. The Aerowing." Kathryn spared Tom a withering look and strode across the square with Chakotay, who immediately began to outline their preflight procedure in detail, completely non reactive to her pique.
"B‘Elanna, Harry said the new force field generator is ready for the final run through. I told him we would meet him and Susan at the Tech 2 building."
B‘Elanna nodded to Joe. She had talked to Harry last night. She still felt excited at the idea of the ryanamite, but chances were they wouldn‘t be able to use it until the spring, so the force field improvements, inadequate as they still were, would have to do for the time being. She turned to Tom, and kissed his cheek. "Try not to get yourself into any more trouble today," she whispered.
Tom grinned. "I‘ll try. Take care of yourself," he added, dropping a kiss on her forehead.
"Mr. Paris." Tuvok spoke as B‘Elanna and Joe walked away, and Tom was immediately warned by the formal address that Tuvok was about to say something he wouldn‘t like. "Since you will not be flying the survey today, perhaps now would be the appropriate time to log your reports from the past three surveys you‘ve completed into the main computer system. They are long overdue."
Damn, he should have made his getaway sooner. Nothing he could do about it now. Tom sighed. He loved flying the surveys, but he hated filing the reports. "All right, Tuvok. I guess I can‘t put it off any longer."
"No, you cannot."
Tom raised an eyebrow at Tuvok‘s rather satisfied tone, then shrugged, and followed the Vulcan toward the Meeting hall. It was going to be a long day.
Chakotay stole a surreptitious glance at Kathryn as he made a minor adjustment to the heading of the Aerowing. She had said very little during the past two hours as they had traveled the nearly 4000 kilometers from New Lourdes to the edge of the Southern Panarctic Mountains. She had started the journey completely pulled into herself, her stubborn way of indicating that she had been reluctant to come on this trip. But she‘d slowly relaxed and become attentive to, if not enthralled by the scenery that passed below them as they flew through the atmosphere only a few hundred meters above the surface.
The planet was beautiful. Its pristine quality reminded him of the American Indian colony planet that had been handed over to the Cardassians as part of the Federation-Cardassian treaty, a move that had precipitated the forming of the Maquis renegades. The topography of Aurora was more varied though, and the planet was larger, slightly larger even than Earth. But similar to what Earth must have been like in pre-technological days.
Chakotay caught sight of a waterfall near the sea‘s edge on the port side of the Aerowing. He‘d been on a quick flyover of this area with Tom several months ago, when they‘d mapped the entire edge of the Western sea- ocean really- from north of the equator, through the southern temperate zone where New Lourdes was located, to the ice floes near the south pole. He‘d seen the waterfall then and it was the largest one they‘d yet surveyed. He stole a quick glance at Kathryn, who was watching the snow capped mountain peaks passing below them.
"There‘s the highest waterfall on Aurora, at least that we know of so far. And one of the most beautiful."
Kathryn followed Chakotay‘s nod. A huge waterfall, perhaps 1500 meters high, lunged from the edge of one of the snow covered cliffs down to the sea. It‘s plunge was briefly broken in two places, where the water slammed into jutting rocks then spilled over and continued in a hurried frenzy to splash into the cobalt waters below. It was beautiful.
"We aren‘t sure if the river freezes in the depth of winter, or if the waterfall continues year round," Chakotay said. "Now that we‘ll have satellite data this winter, we‘ll find out."
They passed the waterfall and continued over the towering snow-capped mountains, broken by flat grassy valleys, the very sparseness of the amber grasses indicating the permafrost underlying the land here. The landscape was stark, yet stunning. It reminded Kathryn of the areas of Alaska and the Yukon on Earth, where she‘d visited once on a break from the Academy.
"A little like Alaska or Canada, or even trans-Siberia, isn‘t it?" Chakotay‘s words mirrored her own thoughts. He considered leaving it at that, but didn‘t. "Hard to deny that we‘ve found a beautiful home."
Chakotay turned and met Kathryn‘s gaze. Over the years he‘d catalogued her looks in his mind, the good, the bad, and the truly forbidding. He‘d never exactly numbered them, or made a true list, but he knew it would be longer than the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. Every once in a while she threw a new one at him. This look, however, was familiar to him. It was her "early warning" look, a notice not to proceed with this line of conversation. A mild look compared to what he knew she could deliver if he did proceed.
Chakotay wasn‘t a man who lacked patience. He usually preferred a wait and see approach, to let situations- and people- adjust at their own pace, rather than force confrontations. Either his patience was now wearing thin, or he‘d been hanging around Tom Paris too much and the pilot‘s general lack of caution was rubbing off. "I doubt we‘ll colonize this close to the polar regions, but who knows. Someday we‘ll expand from New Lourdes and we might want to put a ski resort right there."
Chakotay looked at the snow covered slope below that really would make a great ski run. Then he glanced at Kathryn again and wasn‘t surprised to see that she wasn‘t looking at the view. She was staring right at him, and she‘d notched her look up to "you are starting to push it, mister". The second warning.
"Of course, that will be years down the road, but we will be expanding eventually," Chakotay said, his voice mild. "It‘s pretty much human nature. Even on a planetary surface we humans still have the urge to spread and explore. We‘ve seen that on Federation colonies for hundreds of years."
"We‘re not a Federation colony," Kathryn said shortly, her mouth grim. "This wasn‘t planned."
"Colonies aren‘t always preplanned, Kathryn," Chakotay pointed out. "Like life. You end up somewhere unexpected and you plan after. That‘s been rather par for the course for us since we first found ourselves in the Delta quadrant. We‘ve adjusted to everything else we‘ve had to face, adjusting to Aurora‘s not that much different."
"We may not be here long enough for that."
Chakotay glanced at the controls to verify their heading before looking at Kathryn again. "We‘ve already been here long enough for that. We all have some regrets, but almost everyone has adjusted to Aurora, to the fact that we‘ll probably be here for the rest of our lives. They‘ve all managed to find something positive in the situation. Except you, Kathryn."
For a moment Kathryn‘s face froze into her third and final warning look, the one the crew had called THE LOOK, the truly forbidding arctic stare that said he‘d gone too far. Then she turned away and looked at the viewsceen for a moment, though Chakotay knew she wasn‘t seeing anything out there. When she looked back at him, her face was composed, but her eyes weren‘t. They looked at him, angry and hurt.
"I promised to get them home, Chakotay," she said quietly. "They shouldn‘t have to adjust, to give up on ever seeing those they love again-"
"You didn‘t promise to get them home, Kathryn," Chakotay interrupted, "You promised to do your best to get them home. And you did."
"It just wasn‘t enough."
"No, it wasn‘t." It was a bald statement, but it was the simple truth. "You also promised to bring two disparate groups of people together, Starfleet and Maquis, and make us one crew. And you did. You made us a community. We may all regret that we‘ll never see our family and our loved ones in the Alpha quadrant again, but we‘ve found new friends, a new family here, in each other. Some of us have even found more love and more acceptance here than we ever knew in the Alpha quadrant. Look at Tom and B‘Elanna." Chakotay used them as an example, because it was so true, but they weren‘t the only ones he was thinking about.
Kathryn sighed. "I know. But I can‘t forget-"
Kathryn raised her eyebrows at Chakotay‘s terse comment. She didn‘t make any reply, just nodded and turned to look out the viewscreen. Chakotay‘s gaze softened.
"You‘re not the captain anymore, by your own choice, Kathryn. You‘re no longer personally responsible for us. We‘ve all agreed to take equal responsibility for our future now. To set the course for our lives together as a community. As a colony. To make decisions about our future together."
"Like not setting up a subspace beacon right now."
Chakotay nodded. "It was the right decision."
"I agreed with it, Chakotay," Kathryn pointed out. And she had, after participating in a lot of arguments back and forth among opposing sides. It had been the most difficult decision they‘d made on Aurora so far.
"You did. Eventually."
"Do you think I believe otherwise?" Kathryn asked, looking at him.
"No..." A smile touched the edges of Chakotay‘s mouth. He watched the small valley below them pass by before meeting her gaze. "But you wish otherwise. I know you, Kathryn. Your greatest hope is that some friendly race will wander by our remote location here and supply us with a ship that will get us back to the Alpha quadrant. Even if one of the friendlier races of the Delta quadrant, of which we haven‘t seen many, were willing to sell us a ship that could actually get us back, we have nothing to barter with, except our knowledge of Federation technology. I don‘t think any of us wants to be responsible for whatever havoc sharing that technology could potentially create. And I don‘t expect anyone, no matter how benevolent, is simply going to give us a ship gratis."
"That‘s probably a moot point anyway, given the remoteness of our location here," Kathryn pointed out. Part of the reason the question of a subspace beacon had come about was because of the very remoteness of Aurora‘s location, well off the traveled space lanes. Only pure chance was likely to bring a ship calling at their door.
"Unfortunately, the races we‘ve encountered so far in the Delta quadrant have been mostly hostile, like the Kazon and the Vidiians. We‘ve passed their space, but that doesn‘t mean they couldn‘t wander out this far. And we know the Borg are out here somewhere. They could still be thousands of light years distant or a couple of systems away. Broadcasting our location could be dangerous, especially since our defense right now is limited to hand weapons and the shuttle phasers."
"Agreed." Kathryn voice was clipped. "Which I did."
Chakotay knew that tone was a signal that she didn‘t want to talk about it anymore. He continued anyway. "At least we were able to send an embedded subspace signal cloaked in this sun‘s energy signature. A Federation ship would know it for what it is and be able to decipher it." He didn‘t add that there was no realistic expectation of that happening any time soon. It could be fifty or a hundred years, even more, before Federation ships might be expected to start exploring the Delta quadrant, even on the basis of an intercepted signal from a lost ship and crew.
Kathryn didn‘t reply, because she knew the likelihood as well as Chakotay. She looked at the snowy peaks below them, pink in the indirect sunlight that shone from only a few degrees above the horizon now that they were entering the arctic regions. The scenery was stunning, but she felt removed from it.
Kathryn sighed inwardly. Chakotay was right about everything, she knew that too well. She had taken her promise to get Voyager home to heart, completely believed she would make good on it. She‘d even begun to enjoy their journey, started to believe it was somehow ordained. She‘d been so sure of herself, she‘d detoured here to explore this planet, there to gather knowledge about that culture. But always with the course toward home, sure they would eventually get there. And with the ship under her feet, the very symbol of her reason for joining Starfleet in the first place. To explore, to wander, to discover, to be one of the ones who goes where no one else has, and to bring that knowledge back home.
She hadn‘t told anyone, not even Chakotay or Tuvok, that deep down, past her practicality, and her general lack of obvious ego, she‘d had nothing less than delusions of grandeur. She‘d wanted to leave her mark, on Starfleet, on the Federation, and since arriving in the Delta quadrant, maybe on the galaxy. Voyager had fit easily into that desire. She could return home the hero, assured of her place in history. With the knowledge that her life would stand for something after she was gone. She hadn‘t exactly sat in her ready room on Voyager, thinking those pretentious thoughts consciously, but they‘d been there, under the surface. And since they‘d ended up on Aurora she‘d come face to face with the fact that it had been one of her driving goals all along. Recognition, glory. Immortality.
Kathryn dismissed those thoughts with a frown of self disgust and looked at Chakotay. He was staring right at her, a searching look on his face. He‘d been watching her, and probably reading every expression that crossed her face. She knew she wasn‘t a particularly difficult read anyway, and Chakotay had become adept at it.
"Returning heroes," Chakotay said softly after a moment, his gaze still locked with Kathryn‘s. "I guess that‘s one we‘ll miss out on now."
She might as well have said it all out loud. She frowned and shook her head self depreciatingly. "I never thought I was so hungry for personal glory."
"You, a Starfleet Captain?" Chakotay said, his voice teasing. "I think that‘s a requirement, but generally well deserved. And you of all people, Kathryn, would never have taken all the glory. You would have seen that your crew got more than their share." He gave her a measuring look. "Ambitious, perhaps, but self serving, never."
A small, but genuine smile crossed Kathryn‘s face. "Thank you, Chakotay." She leaned back in her seat and shrugged. "That‘s a moot point also. We will be lucky now if there‘s even a footnote in a passing ship‘s log years from now to prove that we ever even existed."
Chakotay smiled slightly. "There‘s probably at least a footnote or two about us in Federation archives right now. We may have disappeared from general conversation in the Alpha quadrant, and we may not be here a hundred years from now, but what about our descendants? B‘Elanna and Tom are about to bring their own legacy to Aurora in a few days, with others to follow." He looked directly at Kathryn. "That‘s the oldest and most permanent way to leave your mark, Kathryn, and I might add by far the most enjoyable."
Kathryn gave Chakotay an admonishing look, laced with amusement. One of the looks he knew well and enjoyed, even liked to elicit purposely. "Are you making some sort of offer, Chakotay?"
Chakotay grinned. Hell, yes, he was. "Would you take me up on it?" he queried, his voice lightly suggestive.
Kathryn glanced at her console and back at Chakotay, who was watching her closely. "Before or after we circumnavigate the planet?"
Chakotay looked down at his instruments. Damn. At least he‘d only overshot their coordinates by a few dozen kilometers. He put the Aerowing into a steep turn, and being smaller than the workhorse shuttles she took the turn with ease. But not without stressing the inertial dampeners and causing the human occupants inside to grab onto something to keep from being tossed out of their seats.
"Tom would put you in recurrency training for that," Kathryn said, loosening her grip on the console in front of her as the Aerowing settled back on course.
"I don‘t plan to tell our star pilot about this," Chakotay said. He looked at Kathryn, eyebrows raised, and she just gave him a noncommittal smirk as she moved her fingers along the display screen on the console in front of her.
"Sensors are calibrated and ready to scan," Kathryn announced a couple of minutes later. She looked back up at Chakotay and a small smile lurked on her face. "Just try and fly straight and we should get all the data we need."
Chakotay glanced at Kathryn, more than willing to take the teasing if it meant seeing her so relaxed. Not that he couldn‘t give it right back. He dropped the Aerowing sharply toward the site. Kathryn gave him a narrow look of reproach, one of her more frequently utilized looks. He just grinned unrepentantly. "Start scanning."
Kathryn directed the sensors and collected the data for thirty minutes as Chakotay flew the Aerowing closely along the ridged mountainside, with nearly as much ease as Tom Paris might.
"I think I‘m done," Kathryn finally said. "I‘ve got the vein mapped. It goes pretty deep, but it‘s well defined. With the proper equipment and a little effort, we should be able to extract just about all the ryanamite."
"Enough to keep B‘Elanna and Joe and the rest of our engineers busy designing and redesigning for years."
Chakotay smiled at that thought, and at the realization that Kathryn had spoken about years in the future- in their future on Aurora- matter of factly. He headed the Aerowing back toward their starting point at the other end of the ridge while Kathryn called New Lourdes to report their progress.
"I think we‘ll land and take a quick look at where the vein originates," Kathryn was saying as the Aerowing approached the first ridge, pocked with small caves and crevices, and rocky precipices. She glanced at Chakotay and he nodded. "We‘ll check in as soon as were ready to head back, Tuvok."
Chakotay heard Tuvok sign off as he piloted the Aerowing toward a flat snow dusted area where a small amount of hiking would get them to the caves where the vein of ryanamite seemed to originate. The sun was barely above the horizon now and he prepared to set down in the dimly lit shadow of the towering ridge when Kathryn touched his arm.
"Chakotay, pull up."
Chakotay glanced at Kathryn questioningly but did as she requested and pulled out of the landing approach. She was looking intently at her sensor screen.
"I didn‘t notice it before, but there was a faint reading as we dropped along the upper ridge. It could be another vein. Maybe we should check it out."
Chakotay obligingly did another fly by, and five minutes later Kathryn shook her head. "It is a secondary vein, but barely cohesive. There‘s so little it probably wouldn‘t be worth the effort to extract it."
Chakotay glanced at her readings and shook his head. "Not when we‘ve got the main vein. That alone is enough to supply our energy needs for decades." He looked at the horizon where last edge of the sun was just sinking out of sight, leaving the long shadows of twilight behind. "Do you still want to check out the beginning of the first vein?"
"Absolutely," Kathryn said, leaning back in her chair and stretching. "I‘m ready to get out of here and move around a little. And we have plenty of light with us if it gets a little dark."
"Your wish, etcetera, etcetera," Chakotay said. He steered the Aerowing along the ridge and prepared to drop into a landing. Just as he set the coordinates it happened. Every instrument reading on the console spiked momentarily, and then went dead.
"What the hell-" Kathryn jerked up as she stared at the console, then realized at the same time that the humming of the engines was dropping in volume. An instant later there was only an ominous silence.
"We‘ve completely lost power and all instrumentation," Chakotay said tersely, and unnecessarily, as he pressed several pads on the console even though he immediately knew it was useless. The Aerowing dropped and Chakotay resisted the urge to grab Kathyrn and try and shield her from what was coming. Instead he did his best to try and manually control the freefall, with only enough time to shout, "Kathryn, brace yourself!"
"B‘Elanna! Just the person I was hoping to see."
B‘Elanna stopped in midstride as she walked toward the main square with Harry. They had finished the final run through on the force field generator and were heading back to the Mess hall for lunch. She wasn‘t too fond of being interrupted since the weather had cooled even more since this morning. Clouds now covered the sun and a stiff wind had kicked up. Even in her softly lined thermal cotton pants and jacket, that barely stretched over her belly now, she felt a chill. She really wanted a cup of coffee, or even Tarkelian tea, but the doctor had been adamant about limiting her intake of stimulants. The one cup of coffee she allowed herself in the morning had elicited complaints from the doctor. And he didn‘t even know about the stash of Tarkelian tea Neelix had given her on the sly several months ago.
"Hey, Gerron," Harry greeted the Bajoran who waved to them from the door of his wood shop.
Setting up a colony on Aurora had demanded many of the same skills that had kept Voyager going, but some of the skills so important on a starship had limited application on Aurora. Instead knowledge about crops, construction, and the like had come into play. And Gerron, like many others, had put those hidden skills to use.
"Come inside," Gerron said, waving them forward.
Harry nodded and put a guiding hand on B‘Elanna‘s arm and hurried for her sake. He knew how much she disliked the cold, and it must be doubly bothersome to deal with when she was already so close to term.
Gerron stood back as B‘Elanna and Harry stepped through the doorway. It was warmer inside than outside and for that B‘Elanna was grateful. They had arrived nearly a year ago by Aurora‘s rotation, close to 14 months in Earth time. It had been winter then, cold and blustery, something like Iowa, Kathryn had said. But B‘Elanna didn‘t remember it bothering her this much. Of course then she had been bothered by so many other things. And she hadn‘t been almost nine months pregnant.
"I have some of Neelix‘s herbal tea if you‘d like some," Gerron said, following them inside. "It‘s hot." He walked to a small table and poured the ginger colored brew from a teapot into several cups. B‘Elanna took a cup from Gerron with murmured thanks. Neelix‘s herbal tea was weak and rather tasteless, but it was warm and free of stimulants.
The wood shop was filled with pieces of furniture, some finished and some in progress. Gerron and Michael Ayala had found a niche a few months after they‘d arrived and now were building most of the furniture needed in New Lourdes from the local woods. It was a very appreciated skill, and saved the replicator for more urgent needs.
"I finished the cradle," Gerron said, leading B‘Elanna and Kim past several chairs and small tables, and a collection of sanded and polished wood pieces. He stopped in front of a cradle, fitted into a carved stand. The wood of both was a warm reddish gold color, softly polished until it gleamed.
Kim touched the edge of the cradle with just enough force to move it, and it rocked gently on the stand. "Nice job, Gerron."
B‘Elanna set her cup of tea one of the small tables beside her and reached out to run a finger along the cradle‘s edge. The wood was smooth and soft to the touch. "It‘s beautiful, Gerron."
Gerron smiled at B‘Elanna‘s obvious appreciation. He had made a crib and accompanying baby furniture for Tom and B‘Elanna months ago, but the cradle he had kept working on, wanting to get it just right. He noticed her gaze focused on the headboard. "That‘s a Bajoran design. It represents the spirits of the Kerrai, special messengers of the prophets who look after babies. Their presence assures the baby will be protected and loved by all those who reach into the cradle."
B‘Elanna stared at the abstract, ethereal lines, and she thought she could make out elongated hands reaching down, the outline of wings, and clouds, or nebulae...
"I hope it‘s all right that it‘s Bajoran," Gerron said anxiously. He thought the small smile playing across B‘Elanna‘s face looked a little pensive. "I should have asked you if you would have preferred something Klingon, or even human."
"Actually, these are pretty similar to the human concept of angels," Harry said, then glanced at B‘Elanna. "Do Klingons have any concept of angels?"
B‘Elanna shook her head, her gaze still on the cradle headboard. "Nothing like these. Klingon spirits are more of the avenging type." And although she‘d come to accept that side of her dual heritage more and more, in this case she preferred the human culture. Though staring at the headboard nagged at a memory, one that she couldn‘t quite place. She reached over and squeezed Gerron‘s arm. "Tom will love it, Gerron. And so do I. Thank you."
"You are very welcome," Gerron said sincerely. "And don‘t worry, Harry, I‘m already starting one for you and Kes. And then one for myself and Megan." He smiled. "Given the sudden demand, this may become my signature piece."
"Yes, Gerron can carve his cradles while I do the rest of the work."
Gerron laughed. "Michael, back already?"
"Hey, Harry, B‘Elanna." Michael Ayala squeezed by with an armload of wood, headed for the small pile of processed planks lined along the back wall, and B‘Elanna and Harry moved aside to give him more room as they echoed his greeting. B‘Elanna‘s foot connected with something unstable as she stepped back. She tried to regain her balance, but slipped completely and landed on her butt, wincing a little at the impact.
"B‘Elanna! Are you all right?"
She stared up at the concerned faces hovering around her. "I‘m fine." She grabbed Harry‘s proffered hand and stood up awkwardly, as Gerron gripped her other arm. Other than the difficulty of getting from a sitting to a standing position while she was so heavily pregnant, she didn‘t feel anything amiss. Except her pride.
"B‘Elanna, I‘m so sorry!" Michael said, pushing the shiny tarp that had tripped her up back against the wall. "Are you sure you‘re okay?"
They were all staring at her as if she was going to go into labor any second. "Don‘t worry," she snapped, "I‘m not about to have the baby here and now. I didn‘t fall that hard."
"I guess the doctor would be barking orders into your commbadge about now if that were going to happen," Harry said, grinning, aware that the doctor had insisted B‘Elanna wear a subdermal fetal monitor during her final weeks as a precautionary measure.
"Right. The baby‘s fine, I‘m fine." The tone of B‘Elanna‘s voice made it clear that the subject was closed.
"We really have to clean up this place, Gerron," Michael said, still looking sheepish. "There‘s just too much stuff in here."
Gerron nodded. "After winter‘s over we really need to add on a room. We can separate the showroom from the workshop area so we don‘t injure our customers while they‘re visiting." He winked at B‘Elanna.
A rush of air blew into the room as the front door opened. "Ah, there you are." Joe Carey addressed Harry and B‘Elanna. "Tuvok just monitored some sort of short but intense magnetic burst in the atmosphere. It affected some of our instruments, but it was much stronger near the south pole area."
"The Aerowing?" Harry asked immediately.
"We‘ve lost contact," Joe said, then added quickly, "But Kathryn and Chakotay called in their landing coordinates fifteen minutes before it happened so they were no doubt on the ground when the burst hit. It obviously affected their communications, and probably everything else on the Aerowing."
"We‘d better talk to Tuvok about this," Harry said as he and B‘Elanna hurried toward the door, "and decide whether we should send a shuttle now or wait awhile until we know the magnetic interference is over and it‘s safe."
"That‘s what Tuvok wants to talk about," Joe confirmed. "Tom and Susan are in the Meeting hall with him waiting for us."
Harry and B‘Elanna followed Joe out the door, and the chill B‘Elanna felt as they stepped into the wintry air wasn‘t just from the cold.
Kathryn eased herself away from the front console, shaking her head to clear the disoriented feeling. They‘d landed hard, but luckily they had been only a couple of hundred meters off the ground, and Chakotay had kept the Aerowing nearly level. Still that was far enough in a virtual freefall. She looked over at Chakotay who was leaning back in his chair, conscious but looking a little dazed. Although the console on her side was intact, the console on his side had buckled near the side wall. Obviously they had hit the ground harder on that side, though the actual impact had been so swift she‘d barely noticed.
"Chakotay." Kathryn stood up a little unsteadily, glad to note that she only felt bruised and shaken, but not injured. She reached over and touched Chakotay‘s shoulder. "Are you all right?"
Chakotay opened his eyes and looked at her. He moved a little to assess any injuries and glanced around the Aerowing. It looked reasonably intact, considering, as did Kathryn, though she had a bruise on her forehead where she‘d probably hit the console. She was still looking at him with concern.
"I‘m okay," he said, then grimaced a little. "Except that I‘m pretty sure my left leg is broken."
Kathryn expression didn‘t change, she simply knelt down as Chakotay swiveled the chair with a groan, and looked at the damage. Chakotay‘s left leg, which had been caught next to the buckled wall and console, was obviously broken. His pant leg was torn and the sharp edge of bone had broken through the skin on his shin. A compound fracture, but at least the break was clean.
Kathryn stood up. "I‘ll get the medikit," she said, squeezing his shoulder. "I‘ll be right back." She strode toward the back, stepping over several items that had been dislodged from the cabinets. She was back with the medikit in less than a minute.
"Let me get the painkiller in you first," She said, searching in the small kit for the appropriate hypo.
"Don‘t worry about that-"
"Yes, I think I will," Kathryn said, checking the dosage in the hypo. "I‘m not a doctor, and it would be very distracting if you start screaming because of my lack of finesse."
"Wouldn‘t want that." Chakotay managed a small smile as she released the contents of the hypo against his arm. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes as her hands ripped his pants leg away.
"Good idea closing your eyes," Kathryn said, as she quickly pushed the bone back into place and checked the readings on the osteo-regenerator. No go. "You don‘t want to witness my handiwork to closely."
"Didn‘t you take a field medic class at the Academy?" Chakotay asked. He could feel her hands his leg but there wasn‘t any pain.
"I did, but I barely passed," Kathryn said, working on his leg. She checked the osteo-regenerator again. This time it gave the go ahead. "Of course, that could be because I got a D in the bedside manner portion." She ran the osteo-regenerator carefully along his bone. "I guess I just wasn‘t very sympathetic."
Chakotay chuckled. "Your bedside manner seems okay to me." His voice came out a little shaky and he realized he was feeling distinctly woozy. He wondered just how much painkiller she had given him. "Unless of course you‘re trying to overdose me. In that case I might have to reconsider."
Kathryn smiled as Chakotay‘s words came out a little thick. "You shouldn‘t accuse someone who has a sensitive medical instrument aimed at you." She pulled the osteo- regenerator away as she spoke and turned it off. "There, I think I‘m done. When we get back the doctor will probably want to refine the knitting a little. And probably ban me from ever using a medikit again."
"That‘s reassuring," Chakotay muttered.
Kathryn leaned over and put her hands under Chakotay‘s arms. He opened his eyes and looked up at her. She put her arms around his back for more leverage. "Come on."
Chakotay smiled. "Are you trying to proposition me, Kathryn?"
Kathryn snorted. "Maybe I did give you too much pain medication." She tugged at him again. "I‘m trying to help you up. Cooperate."
Chakotay cooperated, and stood up unsteadily, letting his weight rest on his good leg and trying not to lean too hard on Kathryn. He gingerly tested his other leg. It held his weight without pain, though with the painkillers in his system, that didn‘t tell him much. "It seems okay. Thanks."
"You should probably still keep your weight off it as much as possible, so the bone can strengthen." She made sure he could stand on his own, then reached over to press several pads on the console. No response, as she expected. She slapped her commbadge and got no high pitched beep in return. It was dead, too.
"I guess we can‘t call the cavalry this time," Chakotay said wryly.
"Not at the moment anyway," Kathryn agreed. She looked around the small cabin area, which was becoming increasingly dim as darkness descended outside. A few steps brought her to the supplies cabinet, which had opened and spilled much of its contents onto the floor. She grabbed the two wrist lights, which operated solely on batteries, and handed one to Chakotay. "Why don‘t you check out the front console systems, and I‘ll take a look at the engine systems. We‘d better get an idea of how much repair time we‘re facing."
Chakotay slid the wrist light on and sat down gratefully at the front console. He was still feeling a little wobbly. He checked over the communications and flight control systems, even though he knew exactly what he would find.
"The engine propulsion system is completely down," Kathryn said from the back several minutes later.
"Same with communications, flight control, environmental control," Chakotay confirmed. "Every computer linked system is dead. Thanks to the interfuse buffer the backup programs are intact. But it will take several hours to reroute the links and recalibrate everything."
"At least. Meanwhile, without environmental controls it‘s going to get a lot colder in here." Kathryn reached for the backpacks still stuffed in the corner of the supply cabinet. "I don‘t think we‘ll be able to stay here tonight."
"No," Chakotay agreed, kneeling down next to her gingerly, being careful of his leg. "I think we‘d better seek some real shelter and save the repairs for tomorrow morning when it‘s light. Any external damage will have to wait until then anyway. At which point we will probably have company."
Kathryn nodded, handing Chakotay the emergency medical kit and food ration packs. She really regretted that they couldn‘t contact New Lourdes and let everyone know they were safe. No doubt Tuvok had monitored the magnetic burst and had tried numerous times to contact the Aerowing. She stuffed the thermal blankets and survival supply packs into her backpack. "After we find a suitable cave to shelter for the night, we can work on getting the commbadges and tricorder back in working order. Maybe by morning we‘ll be able to contact New Lourdes."
Chakotay stood up and tested his leg again. The medication was wearing off and it felt a little sore when he put his weight on it. But it supported him.
"Okay?" Kathryn asked, watching Chakotay test his balance. She handed him one of the thermal jackets they had brought, and slipped her own on. It felt good, since the temperature had already dropped several degrees centigrade over the past few minutes.
"It‘ll get me there and back," Chakotay said, shrugging his own jacket on. He took the phaser Kathryn handed him and hooked it on his belt.
Kathryn put the tricorder in her pack and closed it. She thought about offering to carry Chakotay‘s pack, but figured he‘d refuse. She picked up the portable lamp instead and pressed the manual door control with her other hand. The door creaked slowly open, and a blast of freezing air greeted them.
"I thought I was ready for this," Kathryn muttered, shivering involuntarily. She pulled her hood tighter over her head and stepped out of the Aerowing, aware that Chakotay was close behind her.
The darkness was nearly complete now, and Kathryn lifted the lamp higher, throwing a wide arc of light around the small clearing. A light snow was falling and the wind was slight but biting. She stepped gingerly on the ground. It was packed with a thin, icy layer of snow. The footing was uneven, and bits of rock jutted from the snow pack here and there. They were just below the tree line, and a few bushes and stunted trees, hardy enough to survive the harsh conditions, dotted the clearing. The ground sloped upward slightly until it ran into the sheer wall of the mountainside, just visible at the edge of the lamplight‘s reach. The darker crevices in the wall were no doubt part of the cave system their scans had indicated.
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, who had taken a couple of steps away from her. He was at the back of the Aerowing and Kathryn moved over to join him. She followed his gaze and saw what had caught his somber attention. The aft panel of the Aerowing was almost exactly aligned with the edge of the clearing, where the ground suddenly dropped off into a steep slope of broken ground and jagged rock formations that disappeared into the blackness below. She shivered, not just from the cold, and looked at Chakotay. They stared at each other wordlessly for a moment.
"Nice landing," Kathryn finally murmured, breaking the tension as they both realized how close the Aerowing had come to disappearing into the invisible bottom of that precipice. With them along for the ride.
Chakotay returned her ironic smile. "Could have been a little rougher, I guess."
Kathryn suppressed a shudder and moved the lamplight away from the edge. No sense dwelling on that. She walked toward the front of the Aerowing, where its sleek line was marred by buckled metal.
"It looks mostly structural," Chakotay said from behind her. "I think she‘ll still be flyable, but we‘ll know better tomorrow."
The snow was falling with a little more earnest now, and Kathryn shook her head and wrinkled her nose in an effort to dispel the cold wetness. Her face was already starting to feel a little numb. "I think we‘d better seek out our accommodations for the night."
"Lead on," Chakotay said pulling his jacket closer, and readjusting his pack.
They trudged doggedly over the uneven ground toward the mountainside, Kathryn leading at a steady pace, but careful to keep it slow enough to accommodate Chakotay‘s injured leg.
"We‘ve hit the two hour mark, Tuvok, and we still can‘t establish contact." Tom glanced at those gathered around the large table in the Meeting hall, a couple of dozen at this point. He saw the same concern he felt mirrored on the faces of Mikel, Janine, Chell, Susan and the rest. He tried to reign in his own impatience, but wasn‘t particularly successful. "We‘d better make a decision now."
Tuvok looked at Tom impassively. A small frown marred his forehead. If queried, he would point out that the gesture was indicative of concentrative thought, even if the humans around him sometimes interpreted it as a sign of annoyance. Or worry. "There is still no definitive cause for alarm. Given the magnitude of the burst, it is likely that the systems on the Aerowing were severely affected and will take many hours to repair. Logic would dictate that Kathryn and Chakotay would seek shelter for the night and proceed with repairs tomorrow. However-" Tuvok continued to speak over Tom‘s beginning of a protest, "we cannot know their condition with certainty. Now that the magnetic activity appears to have dissipated, sending a shuttle to check on their situation is a viable option."
"It‘s the only option, as far as I‘m concerned," Tom said, and several voices murmured in concurrence. "Tuvok, if we can get there and check on them now, then we should try. Without environmental controls the Aerowing won‘t be any protection. As you say, I‘m sure they will seek shelter, but how do we know if any suitable shelter is available? And even if it‘s probably unlikely, I‘d like to see for myself that they‘re not hurt, or in any other kind of serious trouble."
"We‘d be going in the morning anyway," Joe added. Other than volunteering to go with Tom when the discussion had started, he‘d pretty much kept silent until now. "They‘ll need some help getting the backup systems on-line, if the primary systems were as damaged as we suspect. We might as well get there sooner than later. We can make sure they‘re okay, and bring them back here if there‘s any problem. Or at the very least we‘ll have the shelter of a working shuttle for the night if they need it."
"I do not dispute your points," Tuvok said. "My reluctance has been based on the inadvisability of placing another shuttle and its occupants in danger from further magnetic activity in that region. Even now there is a risk, since we cannot predict the possibility of another burst with any accuracy."
"The atmospheric activity has died down," Harry pointed out, "so that should greatly reduce the odds of another burst."
"It reduces the odds of an uncontained burst by 97.2%," Tuvok cited. "However, it does not eliminate the higher odds for residual activity from the original burst."
"The risk is worth it," Tom said bluntly.
"I agree." B‘Elanna made an effort to smile as Tom threw her a grateful look and squeezed her hand. She‘d also said little for the past two hours, concentrating on the hope that Kathryn and Chakotay would find a way to contact them and render the discussion moot. She hated the thought of Tom flying a shuttle into a region where the atmosphere had been so recently disturbed by a magnetic burst. And she knew there was no question that Tom would be the one to go, because he was far and away the best man for the job. But her personal fears had no place in the decision. Besides if there was even the possibility that Kathryn and Chakotay were hurt, or in trouble... "We can‘t just wait and hope for the best, no matter what the odds are."
Tuvok nodded, and looked at Tom. "If you are willing to shoulder them, then the risks seem acceptable." He glanced around at the gathered group, and virtually all nodded their agreement. Tom simply nodded and looked relieved. It was settled.
Ten minutes later most of the crowd had dispersed, leaving Tom and Joe discussing their planned procedure with Tuvok while Harry and B‘Elanna listened quietly, until Neelix arrived, bearing gifts- several containers of food he had prepared himself.
"I can‘t bear to think of Kathryn and Chakotay eating the dried rations provided in the shuttles," Neelix said, handing the bagged offerings to Tom and Joe. He‘d actually sampled those rations once out of simple curiosity and had been appalled. "And I included some of my coffee, which I know Kathryn loves."
"I‘m sure she‘ll appreciate it, Neelix," Tom took one of the bags and handing the other to Joe. In fact Neelix‘s cooking was a definite improvement over the shuttle rations, which tasted like sawdust even after you added water and heated them. "Anything else, Tuvok?"
"I do suggest you exercise caution, Mr. Paris," Tuvok said, as they all walked toward the door. He fixed a stern look on Tom. "Extreme heroics are not called for."
"Me, not exercise caution?" Tom asked mockingly.
He could never resist tweaking Tuvok. He grinned. "I won‘t stall the engines more than a couple of times in my quest for hero status. Joe‘s teeth will only rattle a little."
"I knew we should have installed full body restraints when we did the last shuttle refit," Joe said with feigned consternation.
"B‘Elanna-" Tom‘s amusement abruptly faded as glanced over and intercepted B‘Elanna‘s furious glare. He moved to grab her hand but she eluded him and pushed her way out the door. Tom looked back at Tuvok, who simply raised one eyebrow.
"I‘ll start the preflight check, Tom," Joe said after a significant pause, taking the other bag from Tom‘s hand and giving him a commiserating smile. "I‘ll see you at the Cochrane in a few minutes."
Tom nodded to Joe, then looked at Tuvok with a somber expression. "I won‘t take any chances, Tuvok. We‘ll be back. All of us." He caught Tuvok‘s slight nod, then exchanged a quick glance with Harry and Neelix before he turned and ran out the door.
Tom caught up with B‘Elanna as she was approaching the Mess hall. "B‘Elanna-" He reached for her arm, but she shook him away. "B‘Elanna, stop-"
B‘Elanna turned around so fast Tom ran straight into her. He grabbed her shoulders, worried he was going to knock her over. Instead she pushed him away so hard he stumbled and barely managed to keep his own balance.
"I don‘t want to talk to you right now, Tom. Go."
She was really mad. "B‘Elanna, I‘m sorry. I didn‘t mean-"
"You‘re not amusing, Tom. I don‘t think it‘s funny that you make a joke out a potentially dangerous situation-"
"Your life means so little to you that you think nothing of being reckless-"
"I may talk reckless, B‘Elanna. That‘s not the same as acting reckless, and I-"
"Apparently it‘s not enough that I‘m here, and that I‘m having your baby-"
"Even that‘s not enough for you to take your life and your safety seriously for one minute, is it?"
Tom stared at her. "B‘Elanna, do you think maybe you‘re overreacting a little, because of-"
"Do not go there, Tom." B‘Elanna‘s expression was furious but her voice was dangerously calm. Her arms were crossed defensively over her chest.
"B‘Elanna, listen to me for one minute-" Tom halted in midsentence as he saw her shiver suddenly and rub her arms. "You‘re cold." He grasped her shoulders and pulled her around the side of the Mess hall, where the chill of the wind couldn‘t reach them. Before he could release her she shook his hands off and grabbed one of his wrists in a tight grip.
"You‘re not going to hit me, are you, B‘Elanna?" Tom asked softly, knowing the answer even as B‘Elanna‘s flashing eyes bored into his. No matter the provocation, she rarely let her Klingon instincts completely take over, and never toward him. Well, not in anger anyway. Sex was another matter entirely.
B‘Elanna met Tom‘s unflinching gaze for a long moment, then felt her anger begin to recede. For all her Klingon temper, she‘d never crossed that point, she‘d never hauled off and hit Tom in anger. She‘d slowly learned to control that part of her Klingon nature, the urge to physically strike out in anger. Not only because Tom didn‘t deserve it, no matter how furious he sometimes unintentionally made her. But also because she knew that nothing she could ever say or do would induce Tom to hit her, and she could be very difficult to get along with. It simply wasn‘t in his nature to be physically violent with a woman, especially a woman he loved. And while Klingons might sneer at such self restraint, chivalry even, as one more sign of the inherent weakness of humans, she didn‘t see it that way at all.
Tom saw B‘Elanna‘s expression change, and felt her grip on his wrist relax. He twisted his arm enough to dislodge her grip, and caught her hand in his. "B‘Elanna, I‘m sorry. I shouldn‘t have been so insensitive." He raised her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles softly. "I love you. And our baby." He put his other arm around her back and when she didn‘t protest, pulled her close to him, so that her swelled stomach was pressed to the flat plane of his, their baby cradled between them. He looked down into her upturned face. "Old habits die hard I guess. And you know me, my mouth is sometimes on autopilot."
B‘Elanna‘s mouth quirked slightly. "Sometimes?"
Tom smiled in response. Then his expression became serious. "B‘Elanna, since I‘ve been with you, for the first time in my life I really have something to lose, someone that I don‘t want to live without."
B‘Elanna‘s brown eyes softened and locked with his. "So do I, Tom. Can‘t you see that?"
Tom nodded at her fervently whispered words. His mouth moved closer to hers, close enough that their breath mingled. "I will never risk losing you, or our baby." His lips brushed across hers. "And I will never risk you losing me." He molded his lips to hers gently, caressingly. "I won‘t leave you, B‘Elanna."
It was a promise B‘Elanna knew Tom meant in his heart even if he couldn‘t truly guarantee it, and that was enough for her. Her free hand threaded through his hair and she crushed her mouth to his, and for several moments they feverishly plundered each other‘s depths. Tom wrapped both arms around her and felt the heat course through his body, the desire that was never completely sated where his wife was concerned. He pulled back only when he ran out of breath, and smiled down into her flushed face. Her eyes were smoky with desire, and her breathing as labored as his, and it excited him all the more to know that she felt the same way he did.
"I‘ve got to go."
"I know." She smiled slowly, and he knew it was an effort. "Bring Kathryn and Chakotay back." She dropped one hand to her belly. "We‘ll be waiting."
Tom placed a hand over hers, and pushed back her slightly mussed hair with his other hand, caressing her cheek with his thumb. He dropped a quick kiss on her forehead. "I‘ll be back soon." And one more soft kiss on her mouth. "I love you." His other hand squeezed hers, then stroked her belly. "Both."
"I love you, too," B‘Elanna whispered, as he gave her one last probing look.
"Go inside where it‘s warm," Tom coaxed softly, then turned and strode quickly away. He looked back just once as he turned from the square toward the shuttlebay. He saw Kes greet B‘Elanna at the door of the Mess hall, and watched B‘Elanna walk inside. Satisfied, he picked up his pace, rubbing his own arms against the chilling air. And if it was getting cold here, he thought, then he didn‘t want to imagine what the weather was like where Kathryn and Chakotay were stranded.
"What did you say this was?"
Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, then at the empty ration package lying next to her. "Turkey gumbo." She scooped up a spoonful and tipped the spoon, watching the thin beige liquid drip back into the bowl. "I guess you have to use your imagination."
"And you‘d better have a good imagination," Chakotay said. Still, he‘d been hungry enough to finish it. He set his empty bowl down and picked up another piece of the dried jerky. At least that tasted something like what it was supposed to be.
Kathryn set her bowl and spoon down next to Chakotay‘s and picked up the cup in front of her instead, wrapping her hands tightly around the warm exterior. She took a sip of the coffee and grimaced.
"At least it‘s hot."
Kathryn caught Chakotay‘s knowing grin and just grunted. She wished they‘d thought to bring some real food and drink with them, but they had expected to be back at New Lourdes in time for dinner. Instead they were now enjoying emergency rations, Starfleet emergency rations, designed to last for decades, if not centuries. They certainly tasted like they‘d been around that long.
Chakotay started gathering up the dinner dishes, and the tin utensils clinked against each other. "I‘ll clean up if you want to work on the commbadge circuits again."
"All right." Kathryn picked up the commbadge from the pile of items they had brought with them from the Aerowing, that now spilled out of the pack beside her. She turned slightly to get better advantage of the light from the lamp, and edged a little closer to the small fire Chakotay had built. There wasn‘t any real wood available in their clearing, just damp sinewy plant fiber that wouldn‘t burn. So they would have to rely on the three small chemically treated logs from the emergency survival kits to keep them warm. Well, maybe not completely warm, but tiny as the fire was, it would keep them from freezing. Especially since this cave they‘d found was relatively small and snug, only a few centimeters higher than Chakotay‘s head when he stood up, and about ten meters wide and perhaps sixteen meters deep. They‘d had to stoop- nearly crawl- through the small entrance, but that was also a plus since the temperature outside was well below 0 degrees centigrade. And the deep rock held what heat there was far better than the thin metal skin of the Aerowing could have.
Chakotay rinsed the dishes in the small tin pan that was half filled with now melted snow. Then he deftly stacked the utensils and dishes into their respective interlocking spaces and snapped it all together into one small tin case.
"You certainly are proficient at that."
Chakotay looked up and caught Kathryn‘s amused stare. He grinned. "Don‘t you know that all Starfleet camping gear is modeled after the Boy Scouts?"
"You never told me you were a Boy Scout."
"For a year or two, in between my other adventurous boyhood activities. Are you surprised?"
Kathryn chuckled at Chakotay‘s dry question. "Hardly. You know what they say. Once a boy scout..."
"Why do I feel like I‘ve just been insulted?"
Chakotay asked, a smile lurking on his face.
"Weren‘t you ever a Girl Scout, Kathryn?"
Kathryn shook her head, grimacing slightly at the commbadge in her hand. She moved the tiny pick tool between the exposed circuitry. "You know me, Chakotay. Even as a child I always liked to do everything myself. I was a little too obstinate to be a good Girl Scout."
"Too bad. I was hoping you knew how to make s‘mores."
Kathryn chuckled. "Not unless they come in ration packs." Then she looked up at Chakotay in mock horror. "God forbid."
Chakotay thumbed through the remaining ration packs, then tossed them beside the dishes. "You‘re safe. But we do have scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast."
"Great. I look forward to it." Kathryn frowned again at the commbadge in her hand. "I can‘t fix this, Chakotay. The circuitry is wiped clean." She tossed the commbadge into the pile where it bounced off the equally useless tricorder. "But I guess you knew that already."
Chakotay shrugged. Engineering wasn‘t his best talent, but he‘d been cross trained in the basics like all Starfleet personnel. He hadn‘t expected Kathryn would have any success with the commbadge, but he knew she‘d have to try. "The signal probably would have been too weak to make it to New Lourdes anyway. We‘ll just have to wait until we can get backup communications on-line in the Aerowing tomorrow."
Kathryn nodded, looking unhappy about it. "I wish we could let New Lourdes know-" She cut off the thought and rubbed her arms, edging closer to the fire again. "If it wasn‘t freezing two meters beyond this fire we could at least explore a little. It would be more useful than sitting here."
"It‘s not an option right now," Chakotay agreed. "But when we get back to New Lourdes you can ask Tom to schedule you for some of the surveys he has drawn up for the northern hemisphere. It‘s summer there, which makes the exploring a lot more comfortable."
Kathryn held Chakotay‘s gaze for a moment, then shrugged. "Maybe I will," she said, her voice noncommittal.
Chakotay reached over and rearranged the items next to him, pushing the ration packs and utensils aside to bring out the thermal blankets and folded sleeping pad. "You know, Tuvok and I were discussing a thought of his the other day. He mentioned the idea of establishing a secondary colony site in the northern temperate zone, so that we could have maximum productivity for our crops all year long. And I know several people- B‘Elanna and Chell come to mind- who would like to avoid dealing with winter all together. We could start off by snowbirding it as it were..."
"You‘re thinking a little ahead, aren‘t you, Chakotay?" Kathryn said curtly.
Chakotay smoothed out the sleeping pad. He could feel Kathryn‘s eyes on him, watching his movements. He looked up at her. "There‘s nowhere to think but ahead, Kathryn. And we‘ve got a whole planet to work with."
"The galaxy for a planet," Kathryn said lightly, but she couldn‘t quite keep the small trace of bitterness out of her voice, even though she knew it was time, well past time, for her to quit fighting the inevitable.
Chakotay heard the slight edge of bitterness in her voice, or maybe it was now simply regret. He dropped the blankets onto the sleeping pad and spread them out. He could feel her eyes trained on him again. "These blankets should keep us relatively warm, but they work best when we share our body heat."
Kathryn looked down at her wrist chronometer, partly to avoid Chakotay‘s challenging gaze, and partly to turn her own thoughts away from other things that it was well past time for her to face. 2020. Eight twenty. "It‘s a little early yet to go to...bed." Then she quickly amended, "To sleep." Damn, she hadn‘t meant to make it sound like she was thinking about...some other activity. At least she didn‘t think she had.
Chakotay suppressed the small smile that crossed his face, and resisted the temptation to rise to the bait of that remark. "It is a little early, but as you mentioned, it‘s a little too cold to do much else. Besides, we left the deck of cards on the Aerowing," he added as he stretched out on the blankets. He couldn‘t suppress a slight wince as he repositioned his bad leg.
Kathryn hadn‘t missed his grimace. "Does your leg hurt?"
"It‘s just a twinge or two, probably just mending pains. Don‘t get the medikit."
Kathryn raised an eyebrow as Chakotay‘s alarmed look, but she moved her hand away from the medikit. "Okay, I get the point. I feel like Dr. Moreau."
"I was teasing, Kathryn. You‘re medical skills are fine. But my leg really is okay, just a little stiff."
"You don‘t want a painkiller?"
"It‘s not bothering me that much, and I don‘t like feeling woozy. Although..." Chakotay grinned and there was a definite gleam in his eye, "if you‘re offering to medicate me just so you can take advantage of me, that‘s hardly necessary. In fact-"
Kathryn threw one of the small pillows he‘d left on top of the blankets at Chakotay, who didn‘t react quite fast enough to keep it from hitting him in the face. He picked it up and put it behind his head, then patted the space on the blankets next to him, the wide smile on his face just a second from opening up into laughter.
Kathryn gave him her most matronly disapproving look and crawled into the narrow space he‘d left for her, on the side next to the fire she noted. Boy Scout indeed. She settled in right next to Chakotay, not quite touching him, and pulled the blankets up around her.
Kathryn didn‘t acknowledge Chakotay‘s dry comment. She stared up at the ceiling of the cave, where the flames of their small fire caused the deep shadows around them to dance across the rock in sinuous waves. Safe. She knew the simple truth of that statement. With Chakotay she was as safe as she wanted to be. But deep down a small voice her stubborn nature had long studiously ignored told her that she didn‘t want to be safe with Chakotay. She hadn‘t for quite a while-
Kathryn attention focused on the ceiling as one of the shadows suddenly began to take a more definitive form. She tensed as a head, an animal‘s head, with pointed ears and a long, narrow snout took shape. Then it moved ominously closer, and the mouth slowly opened...
Idiot. "Did you learn that in Boy Scouts, Chakotay?"
Chakotay grinned and moved his hand so that the wolf-like head advanced across the ceiling, its mouth slowly snapping open and closed. "My grandfather taught me when I was a toddler." He tightened his hand into a fist and stuck up his first finger and little finger. "Rabbit."
Kathryn rolled her eyes but couldn‘t keep a small laugh from escaping her lips. She relaxed and stretched her arms up behind her, resting the back of her head on her hands. The rabbit‘s head hopped across the ceiling. Chakotay smiled at her and she smiled back. "So, Chakotay, tell me about all the good deeds you did as a Boy Scout."
The Cochrane made it within a hundred kilometers of the survey site when the instruments began to dance erratically. Tom tried briefly to compensate for the magnetic interference but it quickly became apparent that he couldn‘t keep up with the unpredictable fluctuations. And it would likely get worse if they continued on course. So he turned the shuttle around and backtracked several kilometers until the interference dropped to minimal levels. Then he called New Lourdes.
"We‘re on the edge of the Panarctic Mountains, but there is too much residual magnetic disturbance for us to get to the survey site right now. We‘re so close that I think Joe and I should spend the night here, and get to the survey site as fast as we can in the morning. Hopefully the residual effects of that magnetic burst will have faded by then."
"That is the most workable solution," Tuvok‘s agreement came through the commlink, his voice slightly wobbly from the static.
"We‘ll keep monitoring the level of the interference. I‘ll call you if there are any major changes to report."
"Tuvok?" Tom paused for a moment. "Can you let B‘Elanna know that we‘re fine, and tell her I‘ll see her tomorrow?"
"I will inform her that there is no cause for undue concern."
"Thank you, Tuvok."
After Tuvok signed off, Tom set the Cochrane down in a small valley at the base of the mountains. The landing lights startled a small herd of the white caribou-like animals, the ones Nicholas Hargrove had first spotted and thus had later been dubbed St. Nick‘s reindeer, and the frightened animals bounded off into the darkness.
"Well, I guess we can be pretty comfortable here for one night," Joe said several minutes later. They had finished securing the Cochrane and set the stationary environmental controls to a comfortable level. "At least we won‘t get cold."
Tom looked up from the front console, where he had just finished verifying the monitor status, and looked out the front viewscreen. It was pitch dark- space dark- beyond the narrow area illuminated by the shuttle‘s flood lights, and he knew from the outside temperature gauge that it was several degrees below freezing. How much colder would it be a hundred kilometers into those mountains and several thousand meters higher in elevation?
"I hope Kathryn and Chakotay found some shelter," Tom murmured, moving toward the back of the shuttle where Joe had pulled out Neelix‘s culinary offerings and was starting to sort through the bags.
"They‘re pretty competent, Tom," Joe pointed out, as he set out various items on the floor. He, too, would have preferred knowing for sure that Kathryn and Chakotay were safe, but he also knew they had no reason not to presume the best, so he was going to do so. "If our former captain and first officer can‘t take care of themselves, who can?"
Tom dropped into a sitting position next to Joe. He glanced in the thermal container Joe had just opened. The stew Neelix had sent was amazingly still steaming. "I‘m sure they‘ll be fine," Tom said pensively. He watched absently as Joe spooned out the stew into two bowls, then accepted the bowl Joe offered. "I still wish we had been able to get to them, and return to New Lourdes tonight."
Joe tasted the stew. "Tuvok would have gotten B‘Elanna for you, if you‘d asked him."
Tom nodded at Joe‘s perceptive remark and stirred his stew. "I know." If the Cochrane‘s signal could reach beyond the main receiver in the Meeting hall, then he could have contacted B‘Elanna at home. But he hadn‘t wanted to drag her out into the cold just so he could be comforted by the sound of her voice. And he wasn‘t sure how comforted she‘d be by the sound of his, when he wasn‘t able to tell her that he‘d found Kathryn and Chakotay, and that he was on his way home. Hopefully she‘d see it his way and wouldn‘t be too mad at him.
"I‘m sure she‘ll understand."
"Am I that transparent?" Tom asked rhetorically, realizing everything he was thinking must be flitting across his face. He spooned some of the stew into his mouth. It was good, but then Neelix was a much better cook planetside than he had ever been on board Voyager. Especially once their stock of leola root had run out. Not surprisingly, no one had offered to bioengineer the last of the leola so it would grow in Aurora‘s soil. Tom suspected though that Neelix had held some back, perhaps figuring that he would find a way to grow it himself one day.
"Tom, are you and B‘Elanna okay? This afternoon..." Joe stopped and shook his head. "I‘m sorry, it‘s none of my business."
Tom smiled wryly. "Don‘t worry about it. It‘s even harder to hide anything on Aurora than it was on Voyager. But B‘Elanna and I are fine. She always forgives me, no matter how stupid I act. Go figure."
Joe chuckled. "She loves you. And B‘Elanna‘s not the type to take that feeling lightly at all. She certainly didn‘t come to it lightly." Joe didn‘t have to say that that fact was well remembered on Aurora. He reached into the bag nearest him and pulled out several bread rolls, offering one to Tom. "Maybe it‘s the Klingon in her. Or the effect of her unsettled past, but she‘s definitely a one man woman. And you, Tom, are that man."
Tom stared at Joe, wondering what point he was trying to make. "Believe me, Joe, I appreciate being loved by a woman like B‘Elanna. I realize my own past reputation doesn‘t necessarily support this conclusion, but I know what I have in B‘Elanna. And I don‘t take it lightly at all."
"I didn‘t say you did, Tom. I just think you should realize why she‘s overly sensitive about your cavalier attitude when it comes to your own safety, and your penchant for heroic stunts. She‘d never admit it, but it would just about kill her to lose you."
Tom‘s eyes narrowed. "Joe, just when did you become my wife‘s protector?"
Joe shrugged, and set his empty bowl aside. "I like your wife, Tom."
"I love my wife, Joe," Tom replied softly, giving Joe a warning glare, though they both knew it was in jest.
Joe chuckled. "You‘re both my friends, Tom. I‘m looking forward to seeing you two grow old together."
Tom smiled. "And I don‘t plan to do anything to jeopardize that." Tom finished his own stew and put his bowl down. He looked back at Joe, his expression serious. "I didn‘t think I‘d ever feel this way about someone, but I‘m not sure I could live without her anymore. Or without our baby."
"You could, Tom. It would just be very hard."
Tom saw the haunted expression cross Joe‘s features briefly before it was gone. Then Joe gave Tom a quick ghost of a smile, and Tom saw the lingering sadness in it. "Joe, I‘m sorry. That was insensitive of me-"
"No, Tom, it wasn‘t." Joe picked up the carafe of coffee Neelix had sent. "It‘s been a long time now. I honestly hope she‘s found someone else, someone who loves her, and is the father to my kids that I can never be. I want that for them more than anything."
Tom realized he couldn‘t imagine what it would be like to lose B‘Elanna and their child that way. Didn‘t want to imagine. To know that they were still alive, and to know that he would never see them, or hold them, or be with them. Not ever. He wondered if he‘d be unselfish enough to wish that another man was doing it in his place. "You‘ll still their father, Joe, and you always will be in their memories."
Joe poured the coffee into two cups and handed one to Tom. "I suppose. I accept now that they‘ll never know what happened to me. One day I was there, and the next I was gone forever." He stared at the far wall, unseeing, and Tom knew he was looking inward, remembering. "But maybe they‘ll tell their children about me, and their grandchildren. And someday, someone will wander out here and find out where we ended up. That we survived, and started a new life. Eventually my grandchildren, or my great grandchildren, or great great grandchildren will find out what happened to me. In a strange kind of way it will be like reuniting with my family, even if I‘m long gone."
In a strange kind of way, Tom thought. But not the right kind of way. "It‘s just a question of how many greats," he said, suddenly uncomfortable seeing himself in Joe‘s shoes, and wanting to lighten Joe‘s mood. "And who knows, it may happen in our lifetime. There‘s nothing predictable about anything that‘s happened to us so far. I‘m sure we‘d be a statistician‘s nightmare."
Joe smiled. He appreciated Tom‘s effort to comfort him, when he knew that of all people Tom had gained much more than he‘d lost finding himself stranded in the Delta quadrant. "You never know," he agreed. "But in the meantime, I think we need to get back to the present and find something to occupy ourselves for a while. It‘s a little early to go to sleep." He didn‘t add that the rare occasions when he allowed himself to remember his lost life in the Alpha quadrant usually adversely affected his ability to sleep.
"Ahhh." Tom smiled, and leaned over to open one of the cupboards under the back seats. "Here is the all important Starfleet issue game pack." He pulled out the small box and emptied it‘s contents on the floor between him and Joe. "The chess set, the holographic Paresee‘s Squares projector, which is missing it‘s power pack..." Tom tossed that back in the cupboard. "The Parcheesi board..." Tom looked at Joe. "Who actually plays that?"
Joe shrugged. "No one I know."
"Backgammon, Dominoes, Scrabble- the Federation Standard version..." Tom looked at Joe again.
Joe shook his head. "Now if it was the Galactic Epithets version..."
Tom chuckled. "And finally, the deck of cards, complete with the Starfleet logo."
Tom pulled the cards out of the package and started shuffling them with the agility of an expert. "What‘s your pleasure, Joe? Seven card stud, five card draw, or maybe a little blackjack?"
"You deal, so you choose."
"Okay, seven card. Bet?"
"Tom, you can‘t be suggesting we gamble with Starfleet issue cards."
Tom grinned. "Feel free to file a protest in the shuttle log, Joe."
"I do believe you are incorrigible, Mr. Paris," Joe said, in his best impersonation of Tuvok, making Tom laugh out loud. He glanced around the shuttle thoughtfully. "Okay, for this hand, the dinner dishes. Loser does ‚em."
Tom offered Joe the cards to cut. "Prepare to get your hands soapy, Joe." Tom said smugly as he started dealing.
He spoke the words softly, sincerely. To her.
"B‘Elanna, I take you as my wife, to love you- every beautiful, unpredictable, passionate part of you, to honor you- just as you are, human and Klingon, and to cherish you- every day of my life, because there‘s nowhere in this universe I‘d rather by than by your side."
B‘Elanna barely heard the soft murmurs around her. Her fingers tightened over Tom‘s as he spoke, and she pressed his hand against her chest, over her heart. Tom‘s soft smile deepened and his blue eyes, shining with feeling, locked with hers. She smiled tremulously as the simple sincerity of his words washed over her. She took a deep inward breath and steadied her own voice.
"Tom, I take you as my husband, to love you- every rakish, charming, caring part of you, to honor you- and everything you‘ve been past and present that makes you who you are today, and to cherish you- because being with you, always, is what makes my life complete."
"Now that you have confirmed your feelings for each other, are you prepared to complete the blood joining?"
B‘Elanna and Tom‘s gaze on each other held for a moment. Tom had originally pushed for a full Klingon wedding, but B‘Elanna had demurred. Although she was learning to accept her Klingon side, even appreciate the strengths it gave her, her heritage was also half human. And Tom was human, despite his strong attraction to Klingon culture. A full Klingon wedding didn‘t seem appropriate. So they had compromised by sticking with a human ceremony, and adding one Klingon element, the blood joining. It was one of the simplest variations of the ancient mating rites, one rarely included in modern Klingon ceremonies anymore, but still binding under Klingon customs.
B‘Elanna turned to Kathryn and nodded. Chakotay stepped slightly forward next to Kathryn and held out a small dagger to B‘Elanna. She accepted it with her right hand and turned to Tom, who held out his right hand toward her, palm up. B‘Elanna raised the dagger and pressed the tip against the smooth skin of Tom‘s palm, then quickly made a small cut across the soft flesh. As blood slowly welled up on his palm, Tom took the dagger from her with his left hand and the platinum ring on his finger flashed in the sun. B‘Elanna presented her left hand to him, palm up, the matching ring Tom had placed on her finger minutes earlier gleaming brightly. He delivered a small cut across her smooth skin, and as the blood oozed onto her palm, he aimed the dagger toward the ground between them and dropped it, where the tip bit deeply into the dirt and grass and remained there.
"jIH dok. My blood." Tom raised his right hand as he spoke and a thin line of blood slid down his wrist to stain the cuff of his white shirt.
"jIH dok. My blood." B‘Elanna lifted her left hand, then as quickly pressed it against Tom‘s raised hand. "maj dok. Our blood." Their fingers intertwined tightly and they squeezed their hands together, and their blood, one a deep red, and one with a slightly purplish tinge, mingled into one. "We are joined as one family."
"Then as your former captain, I now pronounce you husband and wife, one family. You may now...kiss each other."
B‘Elanna heard the smile in Kathryn‘s voice as Tom‘s lips descended to meet hers. Their hands, still clasped tightly together, dropped to their sides, and their bodies pressed against each other. Tom‘s other hand came up to cup B‘Elanna‘s jaw, and their kiss deepened. Then they reluctantly pulled away from each other, as the murmurs around them rose to cheers. B‘Elanna looked around the square, where familiar faces smiled at her and shouted congratulations. Kathryn, Chakotay, Kes, Harry, Joe, Neelix, Susan, Gerron, the Doc, Tuvok...well, Tuvok simply watched the scene, looking passively amused, in that expressionless way that only a Vulcan could achieve.
Tom pulled her close again and hugged her. "You look beautiful in white, by the way," he whispered in her ear.
B‘Elanna glanced down at her dress. She‘d protested against using the limited replicator energy for something so frivolous, but Kathryn had insisted and Chakotay had backed her up. B‘Elanna couldn‘t regret it now. The soft Bolian satin felt sensual against her skin, especially where the heat of Tom‘s body against hers warmed it. His hand drifted down to touch the barely visible swell of her belly, then wrapped around hers again.
"Thank you," she whispered. "You do, too." His white silk shirt was blinding in the bright sunlight, and in stark contrast to the black jacket and pants he was wearing. With his blue eyes sparkling down at her, and his hair, lightened by the summer sun and worn long enough now to fall in soft waves around his face, he looked angelic and innocent. B‘Elanna knew and appreciated the delicious irony of those looks better than anyone. And she couldn‘t resist pressing her lips to the side of his throat under the smooth line of his jaw, letting the tip of her tongue touch the smooth sun heated skin there. Tom‘s arms convulsively gripped her tighter before loosening as another hand touched her shoulder.
"B‘Elanna, Tom, congratulations." Chakotay smiled at Tom, then pulled B‘Elanna into a bear hug.
No sooner did Chakotay release her then several others took his place. Kathryn, Harry, Kes, Joe, Gerron, Megan, and on and on, until B‘Elanna lost track of the good wishes. She was glad to be surrounded by friends, by the people who were now nothing less than her family. But what she wanted most was to feel Tom‘s arms around her again. She turned in the midst of fielding a long winded speech of congratulations from the Doctor, and looked around for Tom. She expected to spot his sunlit fair hair easily, since he stood taller than most of those gathered in the square. But she didn‘t see him anywhere. She turned back to ask the Doctor if he‘d seen Tom, but the Doctor had disappeared into the crowd.
B‘Elanna pushed roughly past several people before it dawned on her that she didn‘t recognize them. She didn‘t know any of them. Which was ridiculous. There was nobody she didn‘t know on Aurora...
"Tom!" B‘Elanna suppressed the rising panic in her chest. "Tom Paris!"
"He isn‘t here."
B‘Elanna stared at the nameless, unrecognizable face in front of her. "Where is he?"
The stranger shrugged. "On Voyager, of course. That‘s where they all are. Looks like they‘ve headed home and left you behind."
B‘Elanna looked frantically around, her heart pounding. She couldn‘t see anyone she knew, not Tom, or Kathryn, Chakotay, Harry, the Doc, Tuvok, Kes... No one. She was alone.
A pain began to build in B‘Elanna‘s gut, and she crossed her arms over her stomach, holding herself, fighting the agony. She‘d been abandoned. The pain began to claw at her, and her fingers dug tightly into the folds of her dress. Her wedding dress...
B‘Elanna woke up suddenly and jerked into a sitting position, her hands tangled in the folds of her dress, pressed tightly against her belly. Her very large, pregnant belly. She looked around, disoriented for a moment, then a sense of relief washed over her. Her bedroom. She was in her- and Tom‘s- bedroom. It had been a dream. Only a dream.
B‘Elanna uttered one of her favorite Klingon curses and slowly loosened her grip on the blankets. A ridiculous dream. A stupid dream. Still, her heart was pounding, and her breathing was uneven. It had seemed so real. Maybe because the wedding, her and Tom‘s wedding, had been real. Those were memories, wonderful memories. But when the dream became dark, and Tom was gone, when she was suddenly, completely alone, left with just that overwhelming feeling of loss, of abandonment...
Stop it, she chided herself silently, furiously. Of course Tom‘s gone, but he‘s just somewhere near the Panarctic mountains with Joe, spending the night in the Cochrane. He‘ll be back. He‘s fine.
Tuvok had stopped by earlier to tell her so in person, assuring her that there was "no cause for undue concern". Then he‘d informed her that he would be in the Meeting hall all night monitoring the commlink, in case Kathryn and Chakotay contacted New Lourdes. Or Tom and Joe, though Tuvok didn‘t say so out loud. B‘Elanna had almost offered to wait with him, but knew he would raise an eyebrow and spout off a list of reasons why that would be illogical and unnecessary. She also knew Tuvok saw his own action as nothing outside ordinary diligence, or wouldn‘t admit to it. So she had just thanked him for coming to tell her personally, and watched him leave.
B‘Elanna shifted in bed, and pulled the blankets back up over her. The clarity of the dream was already fading, the intensity of the emotions it had elicited dulling. Good. She never had dreams like that, bad dreams, terrifying dreams...
A chill overtook her and she clasped her hands together, the fingers of her right hand closing over the ring on her left, and she absently stroked the cool metal. She did wish Tom was here next to her, if only because she had an urge to yell at him for sending Tuvok to tell her where he was instead of insisting on talking to her himself, even though she knew he acted out of concern for her. She just couldn‘t seem to cure Tom of his overprotective instincts. But she loved him in spite of it, sometimes she was even touched by it. And if nothing else, arguing about it generally led to a make up scene, which made it almost worth it...
B‘Elanna shifted again, uncomfortably, and told herself to think about something else. Voyager. Why had Voyager entered her dreams? She really didn‘t think about the ship and its loss much anymore. She wondered if it was because of her strange experience several months ago, that brief time she‘d spent in the alternate reality, where Voyager had still existed. Still did exist. That experience had faded into memory, but parts remained clear and vivid in her mind, because, unlike a dream that was only images, it had actually happened.
She still hadn‘t told Tom about the experience, and she wasn‘t exactly sure why. She‘d started to several times, but the moment passed, something came up, another more urgent subject came to mind. And as each day passed it became more unreal, more of something that seemed part of another life, a life no one on Aurora could share. She‘d certainly never considered telling anyone else, since losing Voyager here had been a devastating blow to the hopes of so many people, a blow they‘d worked hard to overcome. Still, she wasn‘t sure why she hadn‘t told Tom...
Damn. It was no use. No matter how hard she tried to think about something else, to ignore it, she couldn‘t. She had to take care of it. She sighed and pushed the blankets away. This was just about the worst part now, she thought, dropping her feet to the floor and gripping the bedside table to help pull herself up. Her other hand rested on her belly, as if that would help balance her against the weight of her advanced pregnancy. She shivered slightly as she reached a standing position. The slight chill of the room went right through the shirt she wore. One of Tom‘s old flannel shirts, faded blue and soft from repeated washings, that reached nearly to her knees. Thermal pajamas would be more practical, but lately with her restricted range of movement they had become difficult to deal with when she had to answer the demands of the another of the ordeals of her advanced pregnancy- the constant pressure on her bladder.
B‘Elanna padded quickly toward the bathroom, but before she could cross the threshold she felt a sudden gush of wetness along her thighs. For one horrible moment she thought she just hadn‘t forced herself to get out of the warm bed quickly enough. Then, with a small leap of her heart, she realized what the warm wetness now running down her legs must be. Her water had broken.
Just as that thought hit her, a cramping sensation crawled across her belly, similar to the cramps she had felt several nights ago. But this time she knew without a doubt that it was the real thing. At that moment the intercom beeped.
B‘Elanna moved back toward the bed and awkwardly reached over to activate the link. "Hello, Doctor."
"Ah, B‘Elanna. You have had three regular contractions in the space of twenty two point six minutes, the first commencing at 2327. It appears that your labor is beginning."
"I know, Doctor. My water just broke." And the sensation was becoming distinctly uncomfortable. Her legs were now wet, and cold.
"Ah, good. I want you to come to Sickbay immediately. I‘ll send Harry and Kes to accompany you."
"I can get there myself-"
"Kes is on her way. Harry has been in the Meeting hall with Tuvok. He insisted on coming also. Make sure you bundle up, it‘s cold outside. I‘ll see you shortly."
B‘Elanna heard the click of the doctor‘s comm channel closing and had no chance to utter a protest or any other comment. Not that she really wanted to protest.
Several minutes later she was ready to go. She‘d cleaned up as well as she could, put on her robe and then her heavy coat and boots. She didn‘t have much time to think about anything, since Kes and Harry were in her entryway calling her name just as she pulled her coat on.
"B‘Elanna, are you ready?" Harry asked as she entered the living room. He walked up to her and pulled her coat more tightly closed around her, a gesture reminiscent of Tom. "The doctor is anxiously awaiting your arrival," he added with a quick grin.
"I‘m ready." She hoped she was ready. B‘Elanna met Kes‘s gaze, and haltingly returned her smile.
"It‘ll be wonderful," Kes said softly, slipping her arm though B‘Elanna‘s.
B‘Elanna wasn‘t sure about wonderful. Harry put an arm around her shoulders and led her out the door. The air outside was cold and the wind was biting. But Harry and Kes were gathered so closely to her that most of it didn‘t reach her. She almost protested their solicitousness as they bustled her down the porch steps, but it was somehow comforting to know that they cared so much.
B‘Elanna turned and followed Kes‘s rapt gaze toward the distant horizon. Beyond the planted fields, along the low edge of the horizon, an aurora was in bright display, its changing hues moving in slow, rhythmic waves, seemingly dancing across the distant hills. B‘Elanna stared for a moment, as mesmerized as Kes and Harry, before she remembered that the stunning brightness of the auroral display was the effect of the magnetic activity that had stranded Kathryn and Chakotay. And Tom. It suddenly looked a lot less fascinating. She shivered slightly, and felt Harry tightened his arm around her.
"Let‘s go," Harry said. Before they were halfway down the walkway the commbadge he was wearing beeped. Harry just rolled his eyes at Kes and B‘Elanna. "We‘re on our way, Doc."
"Very well. I‘m prepared here. Is B‘Elanna dressed warmly?"
"Yes, she is."
"Good. Has she had any further contractions?"
"I‘m here, Doctor," B‘Elanna interrupted Harry.
"Can you not talk about me like I‘m unconscious. And I haven‘t-" B‘Elanna paused and grimaced slightly. Harry and Kes looked at her with concern, but she just shook her head. "I just had another one."
"Ahhh, right on schedule."
"We‘ll be there in a couple of minutes, Doc." Harry sounded a little worried, but Kes just smiled reassuringly at him and squeezed B‘Elanna‘s arm.
"No cause for alarm, first babies are notoriously slow. B‘Elanna‘s not going to give birth in the middle of the square." The doctor sounded positively cheerful, which somehow grated on B‘Elanna‘s nerves nearly as much as being talked about in the third person. "It will likely be many hours before that baby is born."
Kes caught B‘Elanna‘s irritated look and broke in. "Doctor, we‘ll be there in a minute. You can prognosticate all you want then."
Harry slapped his commbadge and cut the doctor off, hoping B‘Elanna wasn‘t too upset by the doctor‘s prediction of a long labor. They headed quickly into the square and he did his best to shield B‘Elanna from the wind as they crossed toward Sickbay. He reached his arm further around B‘Elanna and gripped Kes by the shoulder, equally concerned that she not be buffeted too much by the wind. Kes just smiled at him and huddled closer to B‘Elanna.
They walked across the square, huddled closely together, and B‘Elanna silently, protectively rested her hands on her belly, where her baby was preparing to be born. Her and Tom‘s baby. She wasn‘t concerned about the pain, or how long the labor might take. Physical discomfort didn‘t scare her. Soon enough a new life would be in her arms, a helpless new life. A life waiting to be shaped by all the love, nurturing and guidance she, and Tom, could find in themselves to give. As Harry opened the Sickbay door and they stepped through, B‘Elanna wished desperately that Tom was with her.
Tom held B‘Elanna close while they danced, one hand pressed into the small of her back, and the other cradling her neck and
teasing the soft strands of her hair. Her slender arms were wrapped loosely around his neck and she rested her head on his shoulder, and the soft release of her breath caressed a spot at the base of his throat. And aroused him incredibly. He wasn‘t sure how long he could wait before showing her just how much. It was, after all, his wedding day.
Tom looked down at his new wife, liking the way that sounded. Wife. Her tanned skin glowed against the stark white satin of her dress, a dress he most definitely appreciated. He loved the way the material clung to her- to her shapely derriere, to the newly generous curve of her breasts, and especially to the gently rounded swell of her stomach, where her pregnancy was just becoming entrancingly evident. She was definitely a vision to behold.
Tom ran his hand slowly up her spine, caressing her slightly raised vertebrae beneath the smooth satin, and B‘Elanna responded by pressing closer to him and wrapping her arms tighter around his neck. He smiled and hugged her. When he looked up he crossed glances with Harry, who was on the hastily constructed bandstand, playing his clarinet in tune with Mikel Simms on the sax, and Chell on the Bolian lute. They‘d played his and B‘Elanna‘s chosen wedding songs and then moved into an eclectic mix of their own choosing. Harry winked at him and Tom winked back.
Tom looked around at the rest of the crew- colonists now- who had gathered for the wedding and were now dancing on the grass, or milling around the tables laden with dozens of items of food and drink that Neelix had set up at the end of the square. In the middle of all the food sat the wedding cake, a monstrous mountain of white dripping with purple and green flowers and topped with a rotund pair of Talaxian love sprites, or something of the sort. Neelix had insisted the little creatures would bring good fortune and prosperity to the wedded couple. And fertility, apparently. B‘Elanna had been appalled when she‘d seen their rather generous- and nakedly displayed- attributes. Tom had just laughed. In fact he could almost laugh now remembering the look on her face...
"Something funny, Tom?" B‘Elanna asked softly, and Tom looked down to meet her questioning eyes. He realized he must have chuckled out loud.
"No," he said softly, reaching up to capture her right hand where it had dropped to rest on his shoulder. He held it palm up, looking at the small cut he had inflicted during the Klingon part of their wedding ceremony. "I was just thinking that I love you very much." He lifted her hand and touched the mark gently with his lips.
B‘Elanna stared up at him, a small smile lighting up her face. "I know." She curled her hand around his. "But you didn‘t have to do this to prove it to me."
"I wanted to, B‘Elanna," Tom said softly. When he‘d first brought the subject up, she‘d protested that marriage wasn‘t necessary. He knew she doubted the institution, didn‘t believe it had any real meaning. It hadn‘t to her father, who had gone through the whole Klingon ceremony, including the lifetime oath, and still walked out on B‘Elanna and her mother. Which, he was sure, was why she‘d balked at a Klingon ceremony, and had only reluctantly agreed to the human ceremony and the simple blood joining oath. "I know in many ways it‘s just words and trappings, but there is something to be said for tradition. And I kind of liked reconfirming our bond to each other, even if it‘s just a formality. You already know I‘m here to stay, no matter what."
"We‘re all here to stay, Tom," B‘Elanna said lightly.
"You know what I mean." He squeezed her hand, and lightly rubbed his thumb against the smooth metal of the ring he‘d put on her finger such a short while ago. "Did you know that in human tradition the happiest day in a woman‘s life is supposed to be her wedding day? For the man, his wedding day is supposed to be the day his freedom ends, and he gets tied down, as if it‘s something he should avoid at all costs. But, B‘Elanna," he pressed her hand against his cheek, "I want you to know that this is the happiest day of my life."
B‘Elanna eyes darkened with emotion, and her hand held firmly in his stroked his cheek. "Tom, this is the happiest day of my life, too."
Tom smiled and kissed her, their lips gently exploring for several moments. The changing tempo of the music brought them back to reality. He pulled his mouth reluctantly away from hers, but compensated for the loss by wrapping his arms tightly around her and pulling her close. "I‘d recite Klingon marriage poetry to you now, but I know how you get."
B‘Elanna laughed softly against his throat.
"Maybe tonight, Tom."
"Oh, definitely tonight," Tom whispered against her hair. He slid a hand across her hip and rested it against the slight swell of her stomach. He imagined he could feel the pulse of the small life within her, even though she was just entering her fifth month. The doctor had assured them that soon they really would feel the baby moving inside her, and Tom could hardly wait. He smiled at the thought, hugging her close again, then frowned as he noticed a small red stain on his fingers.
Blood, he realized, surprised. Fresh blood. He raised his hand and looked closer, expecting that the small cut he‘d received from B‘Elanna during the ceremony had reopened. But the cut on his palm was a closed reddish brown line of dried blood. At that moment B‘Elanna pulled away from him, and her hands and slid down to grip his shoulders tightly.
"Tom-" He caught only a glance of her confused expression as she said his name, he was already looking down at the front of her dress. The stark white satin was marred by several small splotches of bright blood. Red blood, but now he saw the purplish tinge. He stared, stunned into inaction for a moment, until he realized the splotches were spreading, getting larger.
"B‘Elanna!" Tom met her shocked expression, then watched in horror as her eyes slowly went blank, unseeing. Her strong grip on his shirt loosened, and he barely reacted quickly enough to keep her from sliding through his arms to the ground. And then he saw the blood dripping copiously on the grass at their feet.
"Doctor, someone, help!" Tom couldn‘t keep the rising wail of panic out of his voice as he gathered B‘Elanna against him. He looked around frantically, for the doctor, Kes, Tuvok, expecting to see someone rushing over to help B‘Elanna, but he couldn‘t see them in the crowd, he couldn‘t see anyone. Not anyone he knew. How could that be possible...
"Help us!" Tom all but shrieked, terrified now and not caring how he sounded, and unable to comprehend why not one person even turned around. They were gathered around him, talking, laughing, dancing, and looking everywhere but where he stood holding B‘Elanna‘s limp body in his arms. People he didn‘t know, didn‘t recognize at all, who didn‘t hear him screaming as B‘Elanna bled to death, as he lost her...
Tom Paris sat straight up, his hands still clutching B‘Elanna to him, trying to hold on to her, to keep her from slipping away. It took him several seconds to realize that it wasn‘t B‘Elanna he was holding in a death grip, it was the now twisted blanket that had been over him. He was in the Cochrane, and B‘Elanna wasn‘t even here. She wasn‘t hurt, she was safe at home. It was just a dream. A very bad dream, but only a dream.
Tom took several deep breaths, trying to calm his still pounding heart, and consciously uncurled his fingers from their desperate grip on the blanket. He buried his face in his hands for a moment, then ran his fingers through his damp hair, realizing that he was in a fine sweat. He looked over at Joe‘s form, huddled in his blanket, still fast asleep. At least he hadn‘t screamed out loud and made a fool of himself.
Tom pushed the blanket completely off him and let the air in the shuttle cool his heated skin. Gods, why would he have a dream like that about B‘Elanna? Not that he minded reliving every moment of their wedding day, but that horror vid twist at the end...
He shook his head, trying to clear out the images. A lifetime ago, before Voyager, he‘d awakened like this, in a cold sweat from a terrifying dream, on more than one occasion. Sometimes with someone next to him, whichever woman had agreed this time to help him forget another day of wasted living by letting him lose himself briefly with her in physical pleasure. But never someone who had any real interest in comforting him or hearing about his nightmares, sleeping or waking. And later, in prison, there had been no one at all, and he had simply shivered alone and tried to banish the images, swallow the fear...
B‘Elanna. Gods, he wished she was here. Or he was home with her. He rubbed his right hand over his left and twisted the platinum band on his finger. She was fine. Of course, she was fine. It was just a stupid, nonsensical dream. There was nothing to worry about. She was surrounded by friends- family now- just moments away. And Tuvok was in the Meeting hall, keeping vigil. He would have called if anything were wrong. B‘Elanna was safe at home, asleep.
Tom pulled the blanket up around him again, and as he did he noticed an eerie pinkish light flash along the interior walls of the shuttle. He glanced at the front viewscreen and saw not the deep blackness outside that had descended earlier, but a soft, pulsing diffuse light shining into the shuttle. He hadn‘t noticed it, but it must have been shining as he woke up from the dream. He stood quickly, dropping the blanket, and walked quietly toward the front of the shuttle. Before he even leaned over the front console to peer out the viewscreen, he realized what it must be.
An aurora. And a very spectacular one. Tom watched the shimmering waves of light, in every soft shade of the rainbow from pink to yellow to blue, billow across the sky, high above the horizon. It threw an iridescent glow on the snow capped peaks and lit up the shadowy alpine valley around him. This new home of theirs had no moons, but the light from the brilliant aurora was as bright as the light of a full moon on Earth.
Tom watched the aurora for several minutes, mesmerized by the hypnotic waves of undulating light. Finally he turned away reluctantly. Beautiful as it was, it was a reminder of the magnetic activity that had stranded Kathryn and Chakotay, and forced him and Joe to settle here for the night. He looked at the backlit chronometer on the front console. 0016. Not very long after midnight. He‘d barely been asleep when that dream had assaulted him.
Tom turned away from the front console, fighting the urge to call New Lourdes. He knew Tuvok would answer, would be sitting in the Meeting hall monitoring, waiting. But he also knew Tuvok would call him immediately if there were any problem. And there was no problem. Nothing was wrong. No doubt it was just his natural worry as an expectant father that had brought on the dream, it was hardly a premonition of things to come...
Tom snorted at himself for even entertaining that thought, and walked back toward his sleeping pad in the back of the Cochrane. His own psi rating was so low as to be almost non-existent and B‘Elanna‘s was not much higher. As much as he loved B‘Elanna, he could be pretty sure it wasn‘t some psychic connection between them that had brought on those horrifying images.
He settled into his makeshift bed and pulled the blanket up over him and his thoughts drifted to a more comforting image. Of B‘Elanna, asleep as she always slept, curled up on her side, one hand curved loosely near her face, the other resting protectively over her belly. He wished he was there cuddling her, his arms wrapped securely around her. Instead he lay on his back, alone, staring at the ceiling of the shuttle, watching the soft changing light from the aurora play among the shadows until it slowly dimmed and disappeared, and he fell into a restless sleep.
She was on Voyager, engines humming beneath her, status monitors beeping and clicking at a level just barely audible to the human ear, her crew moving around her, working diligently, efficiently. Well, of course, where else would she be? Captain Janeway stared out the front viewscreen, at the stars passing by, in elongated streaks of light, the effect of FTL travel- warp speed- as interpreted by the computer for the limited mechanics of the human eye. The stars of the Delta quadrant, passing by one by one, as Voyager drew ever closer to the Alpha quadrant. To home. Janeway watched the passing with a solid sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment.
After all, it was her single most pressing goal, to get her crew home. Exploring the expanses they passed through, gathering data on the cultures they briefly visited, the phenomenon they witnessed, recording it all for posterity, in hopes of expanding their knowledge of the galaxy, that was all pursued along the way. But the ultimate goal was to return that knowledge back to the Federation, and to get her crew back home, so they could take up their lives again, and regain everything that had been taken from them.
Janeway watched those stars streak by for several minutes, dimly cognizant of the crew activity around her, the subtle background murmur of voices and peripheral perception of movement, but never really focusing on it, on them. She gripped the arms of her captain‘s chair almost caressingly, feeling the subtle vibration of her ship moving beneath her, humming, breathing, almost alive with purpose. She sighed contentedly and finally turned speak to her first officer.
Funny, she smiled to herself, as she looked at Chakotay‘s empty seat. She had been so engrossed in her thoughts she hadn‘t even realized he wasn‘t right beside her. He‘d just left to attend to some duty, no doubt. Janeway looked toward the turbolift, her brain processing a moment after that fact that her eyes had encountered no one as she swung her gaze across the bridge. She looked back toward the Ops and Science stations, where Harry Kim and Amanda Lang should be. The section was empty, silent, save the flash of status lights and the low beeping of monitor signals along the consoles.
She stared toward the front viewscreen again, where she usually looked past the fair head of Tom Paris, always inwardly aware of his presence at the helm. There was no one there now. But hadn‘t he just been there, or had she simply not noticed his absence?
Janeway rose quickly to her feet, her gaze now taking in the entire bridge, turning to lock on the Security station, where Tuvok was always present. Except now. She was entirely alone on the bridge, which wasn‘t possible...
Janeway slapped her commbadge, unexpectedly reassured by the warbling beep. "Janeway to Chakotay."
The several seconds of silence seemed interminable. "Janeway to Tuvok."
Janeway‘s hands clenched. "Janeway to Engineering."
She gritted her teeth against the anxiety clutching at her stomach. "Janeway to Sickbay...Janeway to Paris...Janeway to Torres...Janeway to anyone on this ship!"
Janeway took a deep breath to quell her rising panic, and tried to focus her thoughts. "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."
"Commander Chakotay is not aboard this ship."
Dammit. "Computer, locate...never mind! Computer, just tell me how many crewmembers are aboard this ship?"
"There is one crewmember aboard, current location is on the bridge."
What the hell was going on? She was speechless. Just a few minutes ago, her crew had been here, she had seen them, spoken to...who? They must have been here. Hadn‘t they been?
A slight movement caught Janeway‘s attention and she turned toward the turbolift, so quickly she banged her shin against her own chair. "Who‘s there?"
No one was there. Just shadows. No, something moved again, near the Science station. This time she saw it. Or him. Some sort of apparition, not quite fully formed. Something, someone, standing in flowing robes. She squinted, unsuccessfully trying to bring him into focus. "Who are you?"
The apparition, its depth flickering, waxing and waning like a bad holographic image, made no reply.
Janeway advanced several steps. "Where is my crew?"
The apparition spoke, and its voice managed to imply perplexity. "They are...home."
Home? Ridiculous. "What have you done with them?!"
"I have not affected them. They are home and well, on Aurora."
Aurora... Aurora. Janeway glanced around the bridge of Voyager, and it hit her. Her ship had been destroyed a year ago. Voyager no longer existed. How could she have forgotten? And why was she on a ship that didn‘t exist? She looked at the apparition again. "Then why have you brought me here?"
"You brought yourself. You dream of being on Voyager, of having your ship back, do you not?" The apparition flickered but the words were clear.
"Yes, I..." Janeway paused, glancing around, taking in the stations, the consoles, the panels of monitors and status bars, and the silent, empty seats on the abandoned bridge. "I mean I..." Of course she‘d wanted her ship back, she‘d wished- daydreamed- numerous times that she was still here, still captaining Voyager, with her crew behind her. "But not just for me, for my crew..." She returned her gaze to the apparition, to protest, and found herself looking at...nothing. The apparition was gone, leaving only empty space.
"Wait!" Janeway searched the bridge quickly, but it was nowhere to be seen. "Are you here?" No answer.
Well, this was ridiculous. A dream. Right, this was some sort of dream- a nightmare- some psychological mind game she was playing on herself. She stared around the deserted bridge, the silence punctuated only by the beeping and chirping and humming of the ship‘s systems, and the regular, mechanical sounds drove right into her brain. If this was just a dream- her dream- then why couldn‘t she control the rising panic that was numbing her limbs, constricting her chest, threatening to explode from her throat. She wasn‘t alone, someone else must be here.
Gods, please, someone...
Kathryn jerked awake, her heart thumping against her ribcage, her breath coming in small, quick gasps. She was shivering and sweating at the same time. Warmth radiated from one side, but a cold chill hit her from the other. She stared into the shadowy darkness for a moment, fighting her disorientation. The ceiling. Shadows dancing on it. And the warmth, pressed against her back, wrapped around her waist. Chakotay, who was spooned around her, his arm holding her to him loosely. She could feel his even, soft breathing ruffling her hair.
Kathryn shifted onto her back, still trying to steady her breathing. Chakotay‘s arm moved slightly in response and his hand settled softly against her stomach. She was in the cave, on Aurora, with Chakotay, where they had been stranded for the night. Not on Voyager. It had all been a dream. Just a dream.
Kathryn sighed in relief, and shivered where the chill of the cave‘s air touched her. The small fire was burning steadily, but the warmth that came from it wasn‘t enough to do more than keep the temperature above freezing. She pulled the blanket up around her. She must have kicked it down while she was dreaming. She looked at Chakotay, sleeping soundly under the blanket next to her. She was glad she hadn‘t wakened him with her restlessness. That she hadn‘t screamed his name out loud....
The dream. A very unpleasant dream. Kathryn focused on it again, as always convinced that there was a reason, an explanation that she should find. What had it meant? Just another way her mind was telling her that she needed to accept her circumstances on Aurora, start living again as if she meant it and wasn‘t simply biding time? That she should look past the bad, and embrace what could be good, what was already good...
Chakotay shifted slightly and his arm tightened around her waist. As his hand inadvertently pulled her closer, Kathryn almost laughed at the irony of her thoughts.
Embrace the good. Here she was virtually in the embrace of one good thing, perhaps the best thing she‘d ever been offered, that she had stubbornly pushed away, even while they‘d still been on Voyager. She felt a sudden urge to burrow herself deep against Chakotay‘s warm, solid body, to lose herself completely in him. And why not? Maybe it was about time for her to quit resisting and admit her long denied feelings-
Kathryn sat straight up, dislodging Chakotay‘s arm. She stared across the shadowy confines of the cave toward the small, low entrance. Someone was there. She heard a voice, a whisper, someone speaking to her. Calling to her. Someone from New Lourdes who had come to rescue them? No, somehow she knew it wasn‘t that. She didn‘t know how, but she knew she was quite sure... There was someone else on Aurora.
She pushed the blanket back, this time barely even noticing the cold air around her. Her eyes were narrowed, watching the entrance closely. A strange glowing light shone through the cave entrance. An eerie, dancing light. She tried to make out the figure standing in that light. She was sure someone was standing there, just outside the cave.
Kathryn kicked the rest of the blanket from her, and almost without conscious volition tucked it back around Chakotay. She stood and walked quickly toward the entrance of the cave, right past her heavy thermal jacket and gloves laying next to the small stack of supplies, too entranced by the whispering of the voice that was filling her mind to think clearly. Outside. He was outside, waiting.
She had to go outside.