The following is a Voyager P/T story. This is rated PG13 for sexual situations. It is a stand alone story, but if it is well received I may write a companion story about the "other" B‘Elanna‘s experience (you‘ll get that once you read the story). Hope you like...
Standard disclaimer- Star Trek and its characters are the property of Viacom/Paramount, I am just borrowing them for fun, not profit.
Down the Rabbit Hole by Julie Evans (comments toJuli17@aol.com)
B‘Elanna Torres adjusted the flow of the plasma input conduit carefully, then checked her tricorder again. A minuscule amount of leakage still registered. Any amount was unacceptable. She scanned the connecting valve again, looking for any small, barely detectable cracks. Nothing.
B‘Elanna sighed. It was almost the end of her shift and she was not in the mood for this sort of frustration. There had already been enough of that in the past couple of weeks of dealing with the Borg.
There! The fissure was so tiny it barely registered. B‘Elanna silently cursed the lack of new replacement parts Voyager had to endure, especially for its continually repatched shuttlecraft. She picked up a small tool from the assortment beside her and positioned it to apply the metallic sealant to the valve. Just as she began the procedure the readings on her tricorder spiked and B‘Elanna saw a sudden, intense flash as she dropped the thermofuser in surprise.
A moment later- at least she thought it was a moment later- B‘Elanna shook her head to clear the dizzy sensation that had overtaken her. She realized she had slumped against the shuttle‘s operations console. She pulled herself into a sitting position, wondering for a moment if she had passed out briefly. Strange...stray arkenium particles shouldn‘t have that effect. She checked her tricorder again. The valve was completely sealed. She must have injected enough sealant even as the leak briefly expanded to close it.
"B‘Elanna, are you all right? I registered some sort of brief energy surge just a minute ago."
"I‘m fine, Harry," B‘Elanna said, though she still felt just a little disoriented. She looked over at Harry, who had stepped through the open shuttlecraft door and was looking at his tricorder. "It was just a brief surge of arkenium..." B‘Elanna‘s voice trailed away as she stared at Harry, who was wearing some sort of gray wraparound shirt and darker pants. It was the middle of the Alpha shift, why was he out of uniform? For that matter what was he doing in the shuttlebay? "Harry, what are you doing here? And why are you wearing that outfit?"
Harry looked at her with a confused expression and moved toward her. "B‘Elanna, what are you talking about?"
B‘Elanna didn‘t answer immediately, because she was staring past Harry, toward the spot where he had been standing a moment ago. From her position she could just see a sliver of area through the open shuttle doorway. What she could see was not the interior of the shuttlebay but...dirt. And just beyond that, grass, and in the distance, trees.
"B‘Elanna, what‘s wrong?"
B‘Elanna pulled her gaze away from the scene outside and stared dumbly at Harry, who was kneeling down now, looking at her with an alarmed expression on his face.
"Did you hit your head?"
B‘Elanna touched her head, absently responding to Harry‘s question. The color green flashed in front of her and she looked down and suddenly noticed what she was wearing. A kelly green jumpsuit made of some sort of lightweight material. Not her uniform. She looked at Harry. "What...where...?"
B‘Elanna was spared from trying to get her numbed thought processes to form a coherent question when Neelix suddenly burst in through the shuttle doorway carrying a food laden tray.
"Lunch is served," Neelix crowed. "I thought I would bring it to you since you haven‘t..." Neelix paused as he noticed Harry and B‘Elanna on their knees on the floor of the shuttle. "Is something wrong?"
"B‘Elanna isn‘t feeling too well," Harry replied. "Maybe you should go get the doctor."
"Oh, my," Neelix said, looking more alarmed than Harry. He glanced around for a moment, obviously looking for a place to sit the tray.
"Just put it on one of the chairs, Neelix," Harry said impatiently.
"Oh, oh, yes." Neelix hurriedly sat the tray down on the copilot‘s seat. "I‘ll go right now."
"Wait!" B‘Elanna wasn‘t sure why she stopped Neelix, but she had a feeling she needed to know what was going on before she got pulled in any further. She needed a moment to collect her thoughts. Or her sanity. Maybe it was some kind of dream. Or hallucination. She bit the inside of her lip hard. It hurt. But that didn‘t prove anything...
Harry had placed a hand on B‘Elanna‘s shoulder. "B‘Elanna, you act like you‘re confused. Do you know where you are?"
B‘Elanna stifled the urge to laugh. This wasn‘t funny. Her eyes made a quick sweep of the shuttlecraft. It was the Cochrane, where she‘d been working for the past hour. But several details were slightly different. Minor surface damage to the paneling along one wall that hadn‘t been there before. A replicated circuit casing under the Ops console, slightly offcolored, that had been the original just a few minutes ago. A few other small details...
B‘Elanna focused her attention back on Harry. "I‘m on the Cochrane, Harry," she said, with a purposeful note of annoyance in her voice. She couldn‘t help sparing a quick glance at the view through the doorway again. The question was, where was the Cochrane? "And I‘m fine, Harry. I just felt dizzy for a minute, probably from leaning over this console too long."
"Ahh," Neelix said, as if he‘d had a sudden revelation. "That‘s normal in your condition, so I‘ve been told." He pulled the tray off the copilot‘s seat and held it out to her. "You just need to eat something and you‘ll feel better."
Harry stood up and surveyed the offerings on Neelix‘s tray. "I don‘t know about that."
Neelix looked offended. "Really, Harry, I know the first few months we were here I had some...difficulties with the local flora, but I‘ve learned which roots and bulbs provide the most promising flavorings. My latest creations have been roundly praised."
"They‘ve been edible, anyway," Harry muttered. He held out a hand to B‘Elanna and she accepted it. He was watching her carefully as she stood up.
Whatever lingering dizziness B‘Elanna had felt had disappeared and she found her balance easily. At least her physical balance. Her mental balance was another matter. Her mind was still focusing on Neelix‘s comment. Months? They‘d been here for months. She‘d been here for months? Obviously Harry and Neelix didn‘t see her presence as anything out of the ordinary. They spoke to her as if she‘d always been here with them.
Wherever here was.
"B‘Elanna, are you sure you‘re all right? The doctor can run a quick scan-"
"I‘m fine, Harry. I‘m just...hungry. Like Neelix said, I probably just need to eat something."
Harry still looked doubtful. "If you‘re sure, B‘Elanna..."
"I brought enough for you also, Harry," Neelix said brightly.
"Thanks, Neelix, but I‘ve got some more work to do on the satellite system if it‘s going to get up and running anytime soon." He grabbed a piece of fruit from Neelix‘s tray and clapped him on the shoulder as he walked by. "Why don‘t you stay here and have lunch with B‘Elanna and make sure she doesn‘t get dizzy again?"
Harry just smiled when B‘Elanna sent him a baleful look. She really wanted to be alone right now. To figure out what was going on. To try and gather her scattered wits. Or just to hide in a corner, close her eyes, count to ten, open them, look out and see that she was back on Voyager, on the Cochrane. The real Cochrane. She didn‘t want to listen to Neelix talk non-stop.... Hmmm. Neelix would talk non-stop if she‘d let him.
"Come on, Lieutenant," Neelix was saying. "Why don‘t we eat outside, it‘s a beautiful day." He was already following Harry out of the shuttle. "The fresh air will be good for you."
B‘Elanna waited for Neelix to leave the shuttle, then quickly uttered, "Computer, end program." Nothing happened, as she‘d expected. She hadn‘t seen any evidence of the nearly imperceptible flickerings and barely blurred edges that the trained eye could pick out in a holographic program. But she‘d had to try, if only to discount one possibility, a more desirable one than those she was left with unfortunately.
B‘Elanna followed Neelix outside and sat down in the narrow shadow of the Cochrane. Neelix began a detailed recitation of the items he had brought for lunch, but B‘Elanna heard little of it. She was staring across the short bluish grass in front of her toward the small grouping of buildings two hundred meters away. A little town. Village? She wasn‘t sure what to call it. Several large reddish rectangular buildings lined two sides of a grassy square with what looked like a some sort of well in the middle. Surrounding that area were smaller structures, perhaps several dozen, scattered among large groups of trees. Dwellings, houses... Pathways wound between the structures.
She couldn‘t tell if they were paved...
"Here." Neelix held out a small shiny yellow fruit with a loosely hanging skin. "I know this is one of your favorites. Yellow Jacket is an appropriate name for it, isn‘t it?"
B‘Elanna took the fruit from Neelix and watched him pick up another one and peel back the loose skin. She did the same and took a bite. It was cool and tart.
"It‘s a great source of several vitamins," Neelix said, taking a bite of his. "That‘s very important now that you‘re expecting. A baby needs the best start it can get even if it‘s just a little bit of a thing right now."
B‘Elanna choked on the piece of fruit she was eating, then swallowed it with effort, barely avoiding a coughing fit. Baby??? That was ridiculous. Gods, what had she dropped into?
Someone else‘s life- no, some other B‘Elanna Torres life. She looked at the village again, and recognized several of the people traversing the square. A B‘Elanna Torres who was living on this planet with the rest of the Voyager crew, settled here willingly or not. A B‘Elanna Torres who was...
She couldn‘t even think that, it seemed so ludicrous. At that moment she caught a small movement out of the corner of her eye, and jerked back. A small animal had appeared through the grass a meter or so from her. It was round and furry and had long, hanging rabbit-like ears. It sat on its haunches staring at her curiously.
"Oh, look," Neelix crowed. He reached past B‘Elanna and held out a small piece of the yellow fruit toward the animal. "They‘re such cute little things. And so friendly. Not like those awful zebra cats."
B‘Elanna stared at the small creature. Its fur was thick and white, except in a pattern along its forelegs and across its chest and stomach, where it was an inky black. It looked almost like it was wearing a coat. Something tugged at B‘Elanna‘s memory. A story her father had told her when she was very young, before he had left forever. About a girl who had fallen down a rabbit hole into a strange land. A girl named Alice...
The small creature, which had been looking at Neelix‘s offering hesitantly, suddenly lunged forward and grabbed the piece of fruit with one front paw. It shoved the treasure somewhere in the fluffy pile of black fur on its belly, then it turned and scampered away through the grass. B‘Elanna briefly considered the possibility that she had gone completely nuts.
"Saving for a rainy day, I guess," Neelix commented. "Though luckily this planet has turned out to be very fruitful. We‘ve never been in any danger of starving, that was always a positive of being stranded here."
B‘Elanna tore her eyes away from the slightly waving grass and looked at Neelix. Stranded. So this wasn‘t a voluntary exile. Where was Voyager then? She suddenly remembered that she needed information, and Neelix was sitting next to her ready for her to lead the conversation. That should be her focus right now. "Neelix, do you ever miss Voyager?"
Neelix was spreading something on two pieces of dark bread. "We Talaxians are a very adaptable people. I can be happy on a ship, a planet, a space station, wherever. As long as my basic needs are met. I miss Voyager mostly because I know how important she was to the crew. I know morale here was not great at first, but once everybody started working together to build the village, build our new homes, well... it took awhile but I think the crew is pretty happy here now, don‘t you? It wasn‘t by choice, and I know even I miss some of the conveniences on Voyager..." Neelix‘s voice trailed off and he looked up from his preparations. "Do you still miss Voyager?"
"Sometimes I think about her," B‘Elanna said, then added vaguely. "About what happened to her..."
"It wasn‘t your fault," Neelix said sympathetically. He handed her one of the sandwiches he had prepared. "It was hard for everyone to watch your beautiful ship destroy herself, especially for the captain. But you did everything possible to save her. Everyone did. Those last hours were a nightmare for us all. But it was just a freak thing, as Tom says..."
Over the next half hour B‘Elanna accomplished exactly what she‘d hoped. With a few carefully worded questions and comments she elicited a fountain of information from Neelix as he willingly replayed every major event that had occurred in the past few months of his experience. A history of the past seven months that diverged from the one B‘Elanna knew.
Just after the run in with Captain Braxton and Voyager‘s return to the Delta quadrant from Earth‘s past a repeating error had shown up in the warp propulsion system computer program. B‘Elanna, Joe Carey and Harry Kim had spent several hours trying to track down the origin of the error which had threatened to set off a cascade reaction. The error had inexplicably corrected itself before that happened, and the Engineering report had attributed the problem to the strange effects of traveling between the past and the present across thousands of light years and hundreds of years in time. The mystery of the error‘s origin and subsequent self-correction had simply been added to the long file of mysteries that one encountered traveling around the unknown areas of a galaxy full of often unfathomable phenomena.
That was how B‘Elanna remembered the incident, but Neelix related a different chain of events, where the error had not corrected itself and had indeed set off an error cascade. Like a virus, the error cascade had infected the entire warp propulsion system. Backup systems had failed, then the warp core ejection system had failed. The feverish attempts of the Engineering crew to stop the continuing carnage had failed. The containment field had begun to slowly disintegrate. By luck the ship had been in the vicinity of a solar system with a class M uninhabited planet. A system B‘Elanna vaguely remembered her Voyager passing in an empty, uninhabited stretch of space before going on to the Murash systems to mine one of the asteroid fields for needed metals, then proceeding to the home planet of the Ilari a week or so later. The system had been of little interest because it was deficient in metals and other useful energy sources.
But apparently it had been a suitable place for this Voyager crew to abandon their doomed ship. They had used the waning time to beam as many supplies and materials down with the departing crew as possible. At the last minute the senior officers had fled the ship in the remaining shuttlecraft and the Aerowing, barely keeping in front of the forward wave of the warp core explosion that had scattered Voyager into bits of interplanetary dust.
"I‘m talking too much," Neelix said suddenly, looking at B‘Elanna with concern. "It‘s too distressing for you to remember."
"No it‘s not, Neelix," B‘Elanna lied. It was horrifying to imagine Voyager succumbing to such an ignominious fate. "It‘s better to face it and work through it then try to pretend it didn‘t happen." But it didn‘t happen, she assured herself. Not to her Voyager.
"Well, we were lucky that this planet turned out to be so habitable. Really it‘s been a paradise compared to some of the planets I‘ve lived on. Why there‘s plenty of water, lots of edible plant and animal life..." Neelix continued on in a cheerful tone, pointing out the positive aspects of their exile on the planet they had named Aurora, after the brilliantly colored lights those landing in the shuttles had seen dancing along the planet‘s strong magnetic field. He prattled on about their early efforts to build suitable shelter, the abundance of foodstuffs, the necessity of conserving energy on a planet with so few metal and energy sources. He mentioned the difficulties they‘d learned to deal with, including the local carnivorous animals and the occasional cyclonic storms that appeared without warning. For Neelix it had all been one more adventure in a life full of them.
Neelix‘s revelations were enough to provide B‘Elanna with a theory, one that seemed fantastical to her orderly mind. She had always considered the idea of a multitude of coexisting multiple universes or timelines to be in the realm of the theoretical, despite the occasional anecdotal accounts contained in Federation records. She was more comfortable with the science of practical application. But her choice seemed to be one of two outrageous possibilities. Either she had somehow been transplaced into an alternate reality, a concurrent timeline that had diverged from the one she knew some seven months ago....or she was experiencing one incredible hallucination. She didn‘t feel prepared to deal with either scenario.
Neelix had begun packing up the empty containers and few bits of food they hadn‘t eaten. "Strangely, I think being stranded on this planet has made us all closer even than we were on Voyager.
You and Tom, for instance, are so happy together. If we were still on Voyager, would you two-"
B‘Elanna completely tuned out Neelix‘s voice. Tom. Her and Tom. Of course she had known the truth in her gut. After all, who else would it be? While Neelix had talked on she had conveniently forgotten that part of this...other life she had suddenly popped into. It hit her with full force again. Another version of herself was living here, involved with Tom Paris. Involved enough to be pregnant with his child. B‘Elanna felt a flush creep over her skin at that thought...
"Hello, Janine," Neelix was saying cheerfully, looking up at the figure who approached them. "I‘m afraid you just missed my picnic lunch."
Janine Lamont smiled. "That‘s okay, Neelix. I ate some of sandwiches in the mess hall earlier." She turned her attention to B‘Elanna. "B‘Elanna, the captain wants to see you. Looks like another storm may be coming in. Tom just called in to warn us. I‘ll get the Cochrane back into the shuttlebay."
B‘Elanna followed Janine‘s glance toward the open sided garage style building some twenty meters away. She‘d noticed the Aerowing sitting in it earlier and had assumed it was used to house the shuttles. "Thanks, Janine."
"You‘re welcome," Janine replied, heading toward the Cochrane‘s entry door. "See you later, probably in the underground shelter."
Neelix was already up and ready to go. "Looks like we‘ll be battening down the hatches in New Lourdes again. Hopefully Cheri Daumier is right and these storms will disappear come summer."
Ensign Daumier from geology, B‘Elanna thought, walking with Neelix toward the grassy square. She glanced at the sky, it was a clear aqua blue color, and she couldn‘t see any real evidence of a storm coming except some haziness along the far horizon.
"Tom and the others are probably on their way back right now," Neelix said as they approached the square. "Although there‘s lots of places they can take shelter over in northwest sector 3 if the weather‘s too rough to fly."
B‘Elanna wasn‘t sure which she would prefer. The idea of facing Tom here after everything Neelix had told her was...unnerving to say the least. But she didn‘t have any idea how bad these storms were, and if it was a question of safety, then there was no
question. She wanted him safe.
As they walked into the "village" Neelix called New Lourdes, B‘Elanna noted that the buildings on the square were adorned with signs indicating their function. Mess Hall, Equipment Center, Food Storage, Sickbay, Meeting Hall. A mix of designations common to starships and to colonies. The buildings were constructed of a reddish wood, probably local, and what looked to be replicated metals. They looked like they had been built for durability and permanence. Janeway, Chakotay and Tuvok stood outside the meeting hall, deep in conversation. Chakotay smiled at B‘Elanna as she approached.
"B‘Elanna," Janeway greeted her. "I think you may get a chance to test your scattering forcefield design sooner than we expected, prototype or not."
B‘Elanna could only wonder what kind of forcefield she had designed. Or rather, her alter ego had designed. She felt an urge to just confess everything right now. As if she were guilty of something, rather than the victim of some senseless cosmic mix up. She could just tell Janeway that she‘d popped in from an alternate universe for a little visit. Or worse, maybe a long visit.
"B‘Elanna, are you all right?" Chakotay asked, making B‘Elanna realize that she‘d been standing there mutely for several seconds.
"Of course," B‘Elanna said quickly. Tuvok raised an eyebrow.
"Come on," Janeway said, putting a hand on B‘Elanna‘s shoulder briefly and guiding her toward the open doorway of the meeting hall. She hadn‘t reacted to B‘Elanna‘s visible preoccupation. Something else was obviously on her mind. "Tom called from the Sagan. A cyclonic storm came up unexpectedly...hmmm, is there ever much warning? There was already too much atmospheric interference to use his combadge, so he used the shuttle‘s communications. It‘s a pretty bad one apparently and Tom didn‘t want to try and fly through it. He and the others are going to take shelter and wait it out, then fly back in the morning."
They entered the meeting hall with Chakotay and Tuvok right behind them. In the middle of the room was the huge marble topped conference table that had been in the main briefing room on Voyager.
"Northwest section 3 has a lot of rocks and caves so they shouldn‘t have any problem finding a safe place. The shuttle is in more danger of being damaged than the crew."
B‘Elanna could tell Chakotay was trying to reassure her. She just hoped he believed what he was saying. She was getting a bad feeling about this storm.
"In the meantime, we have some work to do." Janeway walked over to where a row of portable computer consoles, a communications grid, and several other portable modules and monitoring stations lined the wall, including the portable replicators that Neelix said had provided many of the items needed to start the fledgling colony. Now they were reserved for emergency use only, since their energy reserves had been depleted and further energy sources had proved difficult to come by on Aurora. In the farthest corner was the housing for the Engineering computer core, the smallest backup core for Voyager‘s critical systems, and the only one that was removable.
"Tom said the storm is headed directly for us. We probably have an hour or so before it hits with full force," Janeway said as she stopped in front of one of the computer consoles. "Computer, call up schematics for Scattering Forcefield Design Torres 2."
Several moments later a complicated looking set of schematics filled the screen. Janeway moved back slightly to allow B‘Elanna access. B‘Elanna sat down and studied the schematics for several minutes. The theory and application were almost immediately clear to her, mostly because it was somewhat... primitive. It was obvious her counterpart had limited resources to work with, despite the herculean salvage job that had been done during Voyager‘s final hours. So much was an irretrievable part of the ship itself.
B‘Elanna set the test parameters and activated the scattering forcefield. Janeway had moved over to another console to monitor the field. She looked intently at the screen for a few moments.
"At 56 degrees and 213 degrees. The remote relays aren‘t responding."
B‘Elanna nodded at Janeway‘s assessment and made several adjustments that were unsuccessful. She and Janeway tried several other modifications to no avail.
Janeway had already sent for Joe Carey and Harry Kim when they finally stood up and abandoned their efforts.
"We‘ll have to go to the sites and manually activate them." Janeway voiced what B‘Elanna and Chakotay already knew as they walked outside. She glanced at the sky in the distance. "We‘ll go on foot, with any luck we‘ll be back within 20 minutes."
Chakotay and B‘Elanna were looking at the sky also. The clouds along the horizon were darkening ominously. To B‘Elanna it looked like they had plenty of time, but she couldn‘t tell how fast the clouds were moving from this distance.
"You‘d better hurry then," Chakotay said, his voice sounding a little urgent as he looked at the gathering clouds.
Janeway nodded as Harry Kim and Joe Carey approached with Tuvok. She filled them in quickly. "B‘Elanna and I will take the 56 degree location and Joe, you and Harry take the 213 degree. If you can‘t get the activator to respond within 10 minutes, give up and get back here. We‘ll weather the storm as we have before. Keep an eye on it. I don‘t want anyone to take any chances."
"We won‘t, Captain," Joe Carey responded. "We know how fast these storms move."
"Here." Janeway handed Carey a combadge she had grabbed from the meeting hall. B‘Elanna had noticed them on a side table as they left the hall and assumed they were probably not worn on a regular basis inside the confines of the village area. "I guess this isn‘t much of a birthday for you, Joe."
Carey shrugged. "I try not to notice ‚em, anyway."
"This one my be hard to forget," Janeway said. "Call us when you get the activator to respond, and we‘ll do the same," she added, pinning the other combadge to her shirt. "Or if you need a little brainstorming to get it up and running." She looked at Tuvok and Chakotay.
"I will activate the intercom alert and sound the alarm immediately," Tuvok said, anticipating Janeway‘s request. It was a mere formality since everyone was aware of the impending storm and already moving purposefully about the village.
"Chakotay, make sure everyone is in the shelters with plenty of time to spare. Secure what you can, but I don‘t want anyone taking any unnecessary chances."
"I‘ll see to it," Chakotay said soberly. "Be careful and good luck." Chakotay addressed the group, though his hand rested briefly on Janeway‘s back as he and Tuvok turned back toward the meeting hall.
Carey and Kim quickly took off in one direction, and B‘Elanna and Janeway in another. B‘Elanna had noted the locations while she was working on resetting the activators. The base of the forcefield was a 360 degree circle, typical of those of the most simple design, and set along the general border of the "compound" that included the village and the closely outlying areas. Their destination was just beyond the planted fields Neelix had mentioned briefly earlier. As they walked at a fast pace past what looked to be rows of corn and wheat and other crops B‘Elanna didn‘t recognize Janeway was very silent. B‘Elanna wondered if the captain‘s sense of responsibility toward the crew weighed on her more here in new and isolated surroundings than it had even on Voyager. Especially now that the goal of getting home was gone.
"Carey to Janeway. We‘re at our site now."
"Good," Janeway replied. "We‘re about there, too. Call when you activate the relay." She didn‘t mention the unwelcome possibility of failure.
A gust of wind ruffled through B‘Elanna‘s hair as they approached the small relay box situated just beyond a narrow metal pole. B‘Elanna guessed from the miniature speaker that this was one of the sonic emitters Neelix had mentioned that were used to keep some of the more dangerous animals out of the compound area.
Janeway had muttered the words almost under her breath but B‘Elanna heard her and looked up. The clouds had moved halfway across the sky now, more quickly than B‘Elanna would have thought possible. Storms weren‘t uncommon on the colony where she grew up, but this was something different. She stared at the gray and black clouds, swirling around and over each other like waves, wispy fingers entwining like living beings. She could see the storm front now. Driving rain and lightning was visible in some places along the horizon, intermingled with viciously swirling winds that swept across the landscape.
"Dorothy clouds?" B‘Elanna repeated questioningly, not sure of the reference. They looked incredibly destructive to her. She wondered how the fledgling colony had survived if this was even an "occasional" occurrence.
"Tabitha Wildman‘s fanciful term, remember?" Janeway asked, kneeling down next to B‘Elanna to look at the relay casing. "My mother read the Wizard of Oz to me when I wasn‘t much older than Tabitha. I had nightmares about tornadoes for weeks afterwards."
Those clouds certainly looked like the harbingers of nightmares, B‘Elanna thought as she accessed the small control panel on the relay casing. She entered several sequences on the panel.
"This looks to be almost as bad as the first one," Janeway said, her mouth set in a grim line. "That storm destroyed nearly everything we built that first month."
"But we survived it," B‘Elanna said, and obviously they had. "And we‘ll survive this one, especially once we get this force field up," she added, punching in a second sequence.
"Carey to Janeway. We‘ve fixed the relay here and it should respond now."
"Good job, Carey. Kim. Now get out of there. We‘ll see you back at Shelter 1."
As Carey acknowledged and signed off, Janeway reached in front of B‘Elanna. "Let‘s try the default setting." She punched in a sequence of commands.
B‘Elanna moved aside to give Janeway more room. The captain was knowledgeable enough in engineering to have designed this forcefield herself.
B‘Elanna raised a hand to hold her hair out of her face. The wind was picking up and she didn‘t have to look to know the storm was now almost above them.
"Dammit!" Janeway cursed at the unresponsive panel, and glanced hurriedly at the sky. "I can‘t get...wait!"
B‘Elanna saw it also, and repeated Janeway‘s last sequence, with one small change. She was rewarded by the sudden flash of a green light, indicating the relay was functional.
"Chakotay, activate the forcefield."
"Activating now, Captain." Chakotay‘s voice came through with a burst of static.
A moment later B‘Elanna heard a slight hum from the relay and the wind that had been whipping at her hair and clothes suddenly died completely. She looked up and saw the roiling clouds now moving rapidly overhead in the darkening sky. Rain was beginning to fall but it didn‘t reach the ground. The field was working.
"It‘s working, Chakotay." Janeway sounded relieved.
Chakotay‘s voice came back clearer this time. "Good. Everyone‘s in the shelters and Tuvok and I are on our way. Get back here as fast as you can. It‘s still dangerous out there when that field fluctuates and we don‘t know if it will hold."
"We‘re on our way. Janeway out."
B‘Elanna closed the relay casing and then stood up. Her gaze fell on the approaching storm and she was momentarily rooted to the spot, staring at the maelstrom. The winds were no longer simply sweeping across the ground, they were spinning like rows of violent whirlpools, tearing up grass and trees in front of them. She saw several small animals running blindly in front of the advancing front of the storm. One ratlike animal ran into the forcefield edge just a meter from her and bounced right off, stunned. Any moment now the storm would hit the forcefield with far more impact.
"B‘Elanna!" Janeway grabbed B‘Elanna‘s hand and jerked unceremoniously. "Let‘s go."
B‘Elanna pulled her gaze back to Janeway and they turned together and began to run at steady pace toward the compound. B‘Elanna suddenly remembered Tom was out there somewhere on the other side of that storm, without even a substandard forcefield to offer some protection.
"Tom, Vorik and Freddie no doubt took shelter in the cliffs," Janeway said, as if reading B‘Elanna‘s thoughts. "The cave systems in there are very stable. They are probably safer than we are at the moment."
B‘Elanna and Janeway halted for a moment as an isolated swirl of wind and rain broke through the forcefield and wreaked minor havoc across a small section of the planted ground a few meters in front of them. They heard the deafening shriek of the storm. Then it was gone as quickly as it came as the momentary gap in the forcefield closed.
B‘Elanna couldn‘t help glancing up. The forcefield boundary was clearly visible, not of its own properties, but because of the multitude of debris carried by the winds that was bouncing off it, and the lightning strikes that were starting to release their energy on its surface. And she knew this was only the leading edge of the storm. She gave the forcefield perhaps a 25% chance of holding all the way through the storm.
"We‘ll go to Shelter 2, it‘s closer," Janeway yelled as they approached the village at a full run. B‘Elanna followed her lead as they rounded the mess hall. Surrounded by the solid buildings, the deserted stillness of the village seemed eerie.
Janeway pulled B‘Elanna to a stop abruptly and stomped her foot on a large door built into the ground. A moment later the heavy door swung outward. At the same moment swirling gusts of wind suddenly hit them both, and neither could stop from being slammed backwards to the ground, away from the door. They both managed to get to on their hands and knees, but neither could fight the force of the wind well enough to stand.
Janeway and B‘Elanna managed to crawl a few inches toward the door. Through the strands of hair that whipped around her face, B‘Elanna could see Tuvok pushing against the door with his Vulcan strength to keep it open. Chakotay and Ethan Simms appeared through the doorway and Chakotay reached out and managed to get a hand around Janeway‘s wrist. At the same time Janeway‘s other hand closed over B‘Elanna‘s arm in a tight grip. Another, stronger gust pushed at them, and Chakotay gritted his teeth with effort and managed to pulled Janeway slightly closer to the door, close enough for Simms to grab onto her also and help drag her to the doorway.
Janeway hadn‘t loosened her grip on B‘Elanna‘s arm and she was dragged along as she tried to ignore the sting of the wind and rain slapping hard against her face. Chakotay bodily pulled Janeway through the doorway into the shelter, and B‘Elanna felt Ethan Simms‘ hand grip her wrist as Janeway let go of her. At the same moment the force of the wind suddenly dropped off and B‘Elanna was no longer being pulled between it and Simms‘ hand trying to anchor her. Chakotay reached out as she crawled to her feet, and he and Simms helped her down into the shelter. Tuvok waited just long enough for B‘Elanna to clear the entrance before slamming the door shut and bolting it.
"That was cutting it very close," Chakotay said, sounding a little irritated.
Janeway pushed her tangled hair out of her face and rubbed her wind-chapped hands. "At least the damage will be minimized now."
"If the field holds, and that may be asking for too much."
"The quick regeneration of the field moments ago is a positive indicator," Tuvok said in response to Chakotay‘s pessimism.
B‘Elanna looked around the room briefly as Tuvok and Chakotay issued their differing, and to her strangely out of character, opinions. She saw a medium sized room lined with cushioned benches and shelving that was filled with a variety of survival items from foods to blankets to ropes and tools. The room was now crowded with 70 or so people, conversing in groups or resting on the benches. She intercepted a smile from Gerron, who was sitting very close to Meghan Delaney. Several others gave her smiles or looks of concern.
"Gentlemen, time will tell. We‘ll hope for the best."
Tuvok nodded and Chakotay gave Janeway a strange look. "Kathryn, are you all right?"
Janeway followed Chakotay‘s gaze where her arm was raised to hold back her hair. A long red scrape ran along it. "We just got a little knocked around. No real damage."
Chakotay looked at B‘Elanna. "The doctor should at least check you over, but he went to Shelter 1 to take care of a sprained ankle."
B‘Elanna touched her hand to her face, which stung a little. "Just a little windburn. Otherwise, I‘m fine. Really, " she added as Chakotay continued to look doubtful. What was his problem?
"Just be glad Tom‘s not here," Janeway said, her voice amused. "I don‘t know why men insist on seeing pregnancy as some sort of disability."
Oh, that. B‘Elanna kept trying to forget. And kept being reminded.
"Vulcan men have no such attitude since few facts would support such a generalized assumption." Tuvok apparently couldn‘t resist throwing his two cents in.
"Here, Captain, B‘Elanna." Janine Lamont had walked over to join Ethan Simms and she held a small first aid kit in her hands. "No dermal regenerator, but there is some cream that would probably soothe your skin."
"Kim to Janeway."
"Janeway here," the captain answered the summons as she took the tube of cream from Janine and began to awkwardly apply it to the underside of her arm. "B‘Elanna and I made it back safely to Shelter 2. It was closer, and it was getting a little rough out there."
"I‘m glad you‘re both all right."
"Everything fine over there?" Janeway asked. Chakotay had taken the tube from her and began applying the cream smoothly along her arm. Janeway looked at him but didn‘t say anything.
"Everyone‘s fine. Neelix has decided to be our activities director in Tom‘s absence. Kes tried to dissuade him, unsuccessfully. Someone told him about Charades and he‘s trying to get a game going. I‘m sure we‘ll survive anyway."
Janeway chuckled. "I‘ll contact you once it‘s clear. It could be several hours by the look of this storm."
"I hope we‘ll survive. Kim out."
Janeway looked at B‘Elanna with a gleam in her eye. "Tom‘s strip poker game was much more popular. Until you took the cards away."
Tom? Strip poker in a storm shelter crowded with 70 people? Now there was a surprise. B‘Elanna couldn‘t keep her lips from turning up at the thought.
Janeway squeezed B‘Elanna‘s shoulder and looked toward the rest of the assembled crewmembers in the shelter. "Everyone, you might as well get comfortable and pull out books, cards, whatever you brought with you to pass the time. We may be here awhile."
In fact it was nearly five hours before Tuvok announced the all clear. B‘Elanna spent the time trying avoid conversation and simply listening in on what was going on around her. She found herself feeling a little distanced from the situation, like an observer in some sort of incredible stage drama. She had relegated her emotions to the background while she watched the people she knew so well. They were the same people she‘d seen every day, lived with for over three years. But seven months in a different life, and they were subtly different people, with different goals and motivations. A change forced on them, yet most appeared to have adapted with ease. B‘Elanna didn‘t think she could‘ve adapted so well. Yet her counterpart apparently had.
B‘Elanna was one of the first to climb the ladder and step out of the shelter. It was completely dark, but when she looked up there were no clouds in the sky, only the sparse scattering of stars that shone in this remote part of the Delta quadrant. On the horizon shimmering lights danced in waves of brilliantly changing colors. Watching the auroral display it was hard to imagine the darkly ominous clouds that had gathered in the same spot a few hours ago.
B‘Elanna walked out into the grassy square with everyone else to survey the damage, and there was a collective feeling of relief to see that the damage was minimal. The forcefield had done its job surprisingly well. A few minutes inspection had revealed that the brief and sporadic gaps in the field had only knocked over a couple of trees, caused minor roof damage to two houses, and buckled in the side of one of the food storage buildings. Most importantly, the power grids had been unaffected and light and power were readily available. B‘Elanna had gathered from comments that this was often not the case after previous storms.
"The sonic emitters are functioning normally," Joe Carey reported as they all rejoined in the square. "We won‘t have any unwelcome visitors this time."
"Good," Janeway said. "B‘Elanna, you did a wonderful job on that forcefield. With so little to work with, you still manage to perform wizardry."
Several people applauded, to B‘Elanna‘s embarrassment. It wasn‘t something she would consider wizardry and besides, she hadn‘t even done it.
"If we can get our hobbled together satellite system up and running, we‘ll even have some advanced warning about these storms," Susan Nicoletti added.
"Joe, Harry and I might have it ready for deployment in the next few days."
"I know Tom will be ready and eager to shuttle the system into orbit," Janeway said. "In the meantime, everyone," she raised her voice to include the hundred plus gathered in the square. "I suggest we retire for the evening and get some rest, and we can clean up the debris and take care of repairs tomorrow."
The group began to disperse and B‘Elanna noticed an inordinate amount of the crew- or maybe she should think of them as colonists- paired off as they walked away. Joe Carey and Susan Nicoletti? Harry and Kes? On Voyager pairing off had inevitably started to happen, though many with commitments back home held out hope of returning soon to those they‘d left behind. But here perhaps the very dim prospects of ever returning to the Alpha quadrant had opened the floodgates. Here more than ever all they really had was each other.
"B‘Elanna, shall we walk together since we‘re going the same way?"
Janeway‘s words made B‘Elanna realize that she had no idea where her "home" here was. She nodded at the captain‘s suggestion. Perhaps this would be the opportunity to explain her...predicament to someone.
"Just a second," Janeway took a couple of steps and said something quietly to Chakotay that B‘Elanna couldn‘t quite hear. Chakotay nodded, said something quietly in return and then turned and walked away with Tuvok.
"We‘re getting better at this." Janeway said as she and B‘Elanna left the square and took the pathway that wound behind the mess hall past a row of small neatly built houses. B‘Elanna thought there was a weary note in the captain‘s voice. "One of these days soon dealing with these storms, the zebra cats and anything else this planet has to throw at us will be second nature. We‘ll be the natives rather than the unprepared and unexpected guests."
Unexpected was too small a concept. B‘Elanna decided she should just blurt it out and instead of trying to analyze any further.
Captain, I‘m from another dimension...timeline... "Captain, something strange is going on with me. I don‘t know how to explain it, but-"
B‘Elanna realized Janeway had stopped suddenly in front of a walkway leading to one of the houses. She looked down the short walkway, lined with some sort of wildflowers. A dim light shone on the small porch. B‘Elanna knew immediately that this was where she lived. She and Tom. No- not her and Tom. The other B‘Elanna and Tom... "I don‘t belong here," B‘Elanna spoke, barely aware of the whispered words that sounded the tiniest bit wistful.
Janeway not surprisingly misunderstood. "I sometimes feel that way, too, B‘Elanna. But strangely enough, I sometimes think you belong here the most. Or maybe it‘s not necessarily that you belong on Aurora, but that you belong with Tom, and that happened partly because of our being stranded here."
"Tom..." B‘Elanna murmured. She couldn‘t deny the attraction that existed between them, that had for some time... But that it had progressed into something so permanent here... "How did it get this far so quickly-"
B‘Elanna didn‘t realize she was speaking out loud until Janeway grasped her firmly by the shoulders. "Because it‘s what you both wanted, B‘Elanna. I know you didn‘t plan on getting pregnant so soon. None of us planned on much that‘s happened in the past few months..."
Janeway dropped her hands and sighed. "B‘Elanna, I know that you and Tom got off to a rocky start. But I have to be honest with you. I think perhaps Vorick did you and Tom a favor. Maybe being suddenly forced into a relationship because of Vorick‘s pon farr wasn‘t a textbook way to go, but if that‘s what it took for you and Tom to eventually see what you mean to each other," Janeway‘s mouth curved into a wry smile, "then maybe it was worth the turmoil you two put us and yourselves through for the next month."
So Vorick and his pon farr had wreaked havoc in B‘Elanna‘s life here as well. But here Tom hadn‘t held himself back. Or her fever induced come ons had been far more...persuasive. Or maybe a little of both. And apparently she‘d given him hell for it afterwards, for awhile anyway. But she‘d never been able to stay mad at Tom for very long, not on Voyager, and not here apparently.
"After that incident, everything else between you two seemed inevitable. And somehow I think that might have been the case even if we hadn‘t lost Voyager..." Janeway‘s amused smile faded a little and she looked pensively up at the sky.
"Perhaps..." B‘Elanna murmured. She realized she really didn‘t know. But she did know that although the pon farr incident had ended differently on the Sakari planet, it had caused serious repercussions to her and Tom‘s relationship. She was no longer able to honestly convince herself that they could be just casual friends. But she had deliberately tried not to think about the direction she and Tom were heading, or where it might lead... She‘d certainly hadn‘t thought this far.
"Of course, a lot of things would have happened differently if we were still on Voyager," Janeway added, still staring up at the sky. A haunted look briefly crossed her features, and B‘Elanna had the feeling the captain had gone somewhere else for a moment. The look was gone when she turned back to B‘Elanna. "Maybe I just believe some things are meant to be, especially in your and Tom‘s case. I hope it‘s not too shocking to find out your captain is an incurable romantic."
B‘Elanna returned Janeway‘s smile. "I‘ll forgive you, as long as you don‘t ask me to join the ranks of incurable romanticism."
Janeway chuckled, all sign of her momentary melancholy gone. "I think Tom can handle that area for the both of you." She sobered. "B‘Elanna, I‘ve been talking so much, I‘m not sure you told me exactly what‘s bothering you."
B‘Elanna was still a little disturbed by Janeway‘s obvious unhappiness when she spoke of Voyager. How could she tell the captain that just several hours ago she had been on Voyager, a whole and functioning Voyager making it‘s way to the Alpha quadrant, toward the home Janeway had so passionately promised her crew? Telling Janeway that Voyager still existed and was plying a course toward home, even if it was in some other reality, seemed...cruel. "I think I‘m just tired," B‘Elanna said instead. "That‘s probably why these strange thoughts are running through my head. I just need some sleep."
Janeway nodded. "Don‘t discount your pregnancy, B‘Elanna. You‘re half human and tired goes with the territory. Sometimes the hormonal changes tend to wreak havoc, too. Occasional mood swings are to be expected."
Given that she was not known for her even temper to begin with, B‘Elanna had to wonder that everyone in the village wasn‘t completely avoiding her in her "condition".
"Goodnight, B‘Elanna," Janeway said. "And if you‘re worried about Tom, don‘t be. We didn‘t expect to hear from him tonight. They probably found a nice solid cave for shelter and the minimal range of the combadges now won‘t carry through a solid wall of rock. And despite Tom‘s occasional careless attitude, he is very good at taking care of himself and those with him." She reached out and touched B‘Elanna‘s hand. "If you get lonely, and you want someone to talk to, you know where I am."
"Thank you, Captain. I‘ll be fine." B‘Elanna watched Janeway walk away down the paved pathway.
"She still hasn‘t completely accepted losing Voyager."
B‘Elanna jerked around to see Kes stepping lightly out of the shadows.
"I‘m sorry, B‘Elanna, I didn‘t mean to startle you," Kes said, smiling softly. Then her smile faded slightly and she gave B‘Elanna a penetrating stare.
"Kes, what are you doing here?"
Kes didn‘t appear to hear B‘Elanna for a moment. "I was just walking back from telling Harry goodnight, and I saw you and the captain talking," she finally said.
"You and Harry..."
"Should just move in together?" Kes suggested, with a throaty laugh. "I guess it is about time."
"I‘m happy for you, Kes," B‘Elanna said, and she meant it. She‘d never thought about Kes and Harry before, but now she realized that it didn‘t surprise her very much.
"Thank you." Kes glanced toward the pathway where Janeway had disappeared. "I wish she would quit blaming herself," Kes murmured. She looked at B‘Elanna again. "Like you did."
B‘Elanna wasn‘t sure if Kes meant she‘d blamed herself or had quit blaming herself. But she had to say something. "It‘s hard to accept that we couldn‘t save Voyager." B‘Elanna itched to read the actual logs of the incident, Neelix‘s colorful descriptions notwithstanding. She couldn‘t help feeling that she could have found some way to save the ship if she‘d been there. But of course B‘Elanna had been there, and Voyager was still gone.
"Tuvok told the captain the illogic of feeling guilt for something that was random and unavoidable. But she doesn‘t seem to be able to entirely let go of it."
"The captain must feel like she failed everyone after promising so often that she would get us home no matter what. Especially since she believed it so passionately herself."
Kes nodded. "No one blames her for that, but she still holds herself apart. We‘re colonists now, rank has no real meaning any longer. But while everyone pretty much uses first names now, we all still call her ‚captain‘. It‘s not just a matter of respect, and acknowledgment that she is still our leader. But also an acknowledgment that she holds herself slightly apart."
"Chakotay calls her Kathryn," B‘Elanna said. Well, he did occasionally on Voyager, and he had once or twice in the shelter.
"Sometimes," Kes agreed. "Chakotay is prepared to wait as long as it takes for the captain to fully accept this new life. He‘s a very patient man." A small smile curved Kes‘ lips. "At least the captain admits to being a romantic at heart, even if she doesn‘t recognize her own situation yet. But she was right about you and Tom. You compliment each other."
"Funny, I always thought we were a little too much alike," B‘Elanna commented.
"You both have strong personalities," Kes conceded. "But Tom has a tendency to act impulsively, to jump head first into anything. Your approach to an unfamiliar situation is much more cautious, as befits an engineer. On the other hand you express your feelings openly. If you walk into a room and you‘re upset, everybody knows it." Kes smiled when she said that and B‘Elanna could hardly take offense to what she knew was all too true. She was no game player.
"Whereas if Tom walks into a room upset about something, you might never know it. Tom is very adept at hiding his feelings behind humor or sarcasm when he wants to."
That was true also, and it was the one thing that had kept B‘Elanna hesitant about moving further into a relationship with Tom. The fear that the feelings Tom professed were part of an act, no matter how much she wanted to believe him, no matter how sincere he seemed.
"But you‘re the one person Tom shares himself with openly and sincerely." Kes touched B‘Elanna‘s arm lightly as she spoke in her throaty voice, "You and Tom have gone through a lot to get here, B‘Elanna. Not just overcoming your pasts, but learning to trust your own feelings and each other‘s. Somehow I know your relationship can withstand anything that comes along, no matter how.... unusual."
B‘Elanna felt a prickling sensation crawl down her spine. When Kes got into these auspicious moods and looked at everyone as if she could see right through them, B‘Elanna got uncomfortable. And Kes was looking at her that way now, as if she could read her thoughts. As if she knew B‘Elanna wasn‘t really the B‘Elanna who belonged here.
"I‘d better go in now, Kes," B‘Elanna said, taking several steps up the pathway.
Kes didn‘t seem to notice B‘Elanna‘s sudden and obvious discomfort. She smiled in her madonna-like fashion. "Goodnight, B‘Elanna. Sleep well."
"You, too." B‘Elanna reached the door then turned around. "Kes..." She didn‘t know why she suddenly felt the need to call Kes back, but it was already too late. Kes had disappeared into the shadows.
B‘Elanna tried to ignore the sudden forlorn feeling she felt as she opened the door and walked into the empty house. She closed the door behind her and leaned against it, allowing the darkness to engulf her for a moment.
Nothing happened, which was what B‘Elanna expected. She‘d already noticed that the lighting throughout the village seemed to be simply electrical. She touched her hand to the wall next to the door and felt around until she came across a panel. When she pressed it a soft white light flooded the room and B‘Elanna got a first look at the home of her counterpart on Aurora.
The living area was simply furnished with a couch, chairs and several low tables. In a small alcove beyond was a table and chairs and a standing cupboard, the dining area apparently. On the walls were several prints. One in particular B‘Elanna remembered seeing in Tom‘s quarters on Voyager, a snow covered mountainous climbing area on Earth Tom had once visited. The Himalayas, she remembered suddenly. The first time she had seen the picture it had made her shiver.
B‘Elanna walked past the living area to the small kitchen nook off the dining area, which was simple and functional, with several cooking surfaces and a row of cupboards. She glanced in a couple of them and found a partial loaf of dark bread, some pasta type grain and a few other staples. Apparently they didn‘t dine in much. Luckily B‘Elanna wasn‘t particularly hungry since there had been plenty of food available in the shelter.
B‘Elanna glanced past the dining area toward the open doorway leading to the rest of the house, which was shrouded in darkness. The bedrooms. Or, simply, the bedroom. She took a deep breath to steel herself and walked into the hallway, palming the shadow enshrouded light panel as she did. Light filled the small hallway and spilled into the room directly beyond.
As B‘Elanna walked through the hallway she passed a small unlit room on the right. She glanced in and saw that it was empty, except for a small pile of items on the floor by the open door. She knelt down. A teddy bear, a stuffed pink pig and a haphazard pile of paper bound books.
B‘Elanna looked closer at the books. A couple by Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, the Tales of Peter Rabbit, Mar‘chQ‘ B‘lagh. She remembered her mother reading that classic Klingon fairy tale to her when she was a child. She reached out and pushed the books slightly out of place to expose the one buried deepest, so she could read the title. Alice in Wonderland.
B‘Elanna stood up abruptly and stared again into the darkened room, biting her lip. She had no doubt the small inventory on the floor was the beginnings of a nursery. A room waiting to welcome a baby in seven months.
B‘Elanna reached for the doorknob and closed the door to the small room with a resounding thud. She walked into the larger bedroom, a room furnished simply also, with several small tables and a bureau made of local wood, and a large bed dominating the room and topped by a multicolored comforter, probably replicated. A few personal items, some hers and some Tom‘s, were scattered on the table tops. In the open closet their clothes hung side by side. Some she recognized from Voyager, like her red dress. And Tom‘s loud Big DaddyO shirt.
B‘Elanna sat on the edge of the bed, not because she felt weak kneed at seeing the flagrant evidence of the mingling of her and Tom‘s lives and possessions in this house. Not because she was seeing what might have been her life, what was her life in another reality. Not because she realized exactly what took place between Tom and her alter ego right here in this bed, and somewhere inside she felt the smallest bit of envy...
B‘Elanna stood up abruptly, telling herself it was none of those. But she decided she had made the right decision as she walked into the bathroom. If this she didn‘t wake up from this crazy dream soon, if she was somehow remained stuck here in this place, then she owed it to Tom- this Tom on Aurora who thought she was his...wife? lover? and about to be the mother of his child -she owed the truth to him before anyone else. No matter how strange or unsettling.
But right now, she decided, she would take a nice, long shower. She looked away from the scattered, intimately intermingled selection of toiletries on the shelf above the sink. The biggest decision she wanted to think about for the next few minutes was whether to turn the old fashioned water knob to hot to relax her tense muscles, or to cold to chill her fevered musings.
Half an hour later B‘Elanna stepped out of the bathroom, hair damp, and dressed simply in a short white cotton nightgown she had found in the closet. She had made a split decision, cool water first, then warm. She‘d stayed under the spray for awhile, especially enjoying the feel of the warm water cascading over her skin. And now she realized the bedroom felt chilly to her bare arms. She walked to the closet and pulled out a robe she hadn‘t noticed before. It was a rich blue color, and silky to the touch. It was also too big for her, she realized, as she held it out and let the soft folds fall across her arms. She brought the smooth silk to her face. It had a musky scent, a little spicy, definitely male. It smelled like Tom.
"Ah, Lieutenant B‘Elanna Torres. You don‘t know what I‘ve gone through to get here!"
B‘Elanna dropped the robe and spun around, unconsciously raising her hands in a defensive position. Then she stared at the figure sitting crosslegged on the bed, giving her a long suffering look.
"It‘s taken me hours, in your linear sort of time that is. It‘s not easy to cross the temporal boundaries of the Universe. My stars, I actually have a headache!" Q raised a hand melodramatically to his head and sighed.
B‘Elanna had spent the better part of the day suppressing her usually volatile personality, partly in response to the unfamiliar circumstances in which she found herself. But the sight of Q released that pent up frustration, and she exploded.
"You did this, Q!" she hissed, throwing herself against the bed and pushing her face to within centimeters of his. "You put me here!"
Q reacted to her barely contained fury with a raised eyebrow and a quirk of his mouth. "Moi? You think I plucked you out of your comfy little reality on that teensy tub you call a starship and dropped you here in the middle of these...corn fields? This quaint little collection of rustic habitats? This bucolic paradise?"
Q shrugged. " I realize you think I‘m omnipotent, of course I actually am in comparison to the puny company you travel in. But even I must defer to the unknowable power of the Universe itself."
"Why don‘t I believe you?" B‘Elanna snapped.
Q‘s face assumed a hurt expression. "I don‘t know what I‘ve done to deserve that." Then he floated off the bed and moved to a standing position next to B‘Elanna. When she turned and refocused her glare on him he smiled and said with exaggerated slowness, "It wasn‘t me, angel."
"Don‘t call me that!," B‘Elanna snapped. "And if you didn‘t do this, then why are you here?"
"Hmmm, Lieutenant is so formal. And B‘Elanna is...I know!," Q snapped his fingers, "Why don‘t I call you Lani. Less syllables to deal with."
"Why don‘t you not!"
Q wasn‘t listening to her. He was surveying the room. "Hmm, this is rather primitive, even for you." He looked back at the bed. "Though not without its charms, I‘m sure, for certain activities." His black eyes shone with malicious amusement.
B‘Elanna just fixed her glowering look on him and crossed her arms. She thought she might be able to be patient for one more minute before she decked him, futile as that might be.
"Oh, all right," Q said, acquiescing ungracefully. "Hmm, how can I explain this so you can understand. Well, I can‘t but I‘ll try. Being a somewhat more sensitive being to the energy emanations of the Universe than yourself, I felt a disturbance in the...force...no, make that the energy field of the Universe. As if something had briefly torn the fabric of that energy somehow. That‘s where you come in, Lani. Your sudden displacement tore that fabric briefly."
"Are you trying to tell me I‘m in some alternate universe?"
Q rolled his eyes. "Ah, primitives. There is only one Universe, simply billions of temporal variations within it, all existing when there is someone to exist for." Q put his hands together in a gesture reminiscent of Vulcan contemplation. "It‘s rather like your primitive theory of quantum mechanics, an example of the limited understanding of your species. Nothing is real if unless there is someone there to observe it. Therefore the real Universe is the one you and I are in right now. In fact that‘s why I have such a headache, I didn‘t move to join you here, I had to move the Universe to join me. A tiring business, I assure you. But this is completely beyond your understanding, Lani, so don‘t worry your little head about it."
"I understood everything you said," B‘Elanna replied shortly.
Q gave her a patronizing smirk. "No, you didn‘t. Not it‘s true meaning. Suffice to say, you are now existing in an alternate timeline that diverged from the one you knew some..." Q paused. "seven months ago in your simple terms. But luckily for you, the Universe chafes when any part is out of place, or time as it may be. The Universe is not as chaotic as you primitives seem to think it is. It has its own sublime order. When these little...crossovers occasionally happen, a lot of energy is expended trying to regain a balance. The Universe makes every effort to avoid that waste."
"What does that mean exactly?"
Q sighed dramatically. "Lani, do I have to spell everything out for you? You and the B‘Elanna Torres who belongs here- that would be the one carrying Helmboy‘s baby- were emitting the same energy signature at the same time, so exact that the temporal and spatial energies of the Universe became entangled, lost track of who belonged where, and you switched places. Well, ok, it‘s a little more complicated than that, but believe me- and I mean no disrespect- your brain is too small. Let‘s just say the Universe is eagerly awaiting the moment when it can set things to their proper order and put you both back where you belong."
"I‘ll overlook the kindergarten explanation, Q-"
"Believe me it‘s the only one you can understand."
"-and why don‘t you just tell me when the Universe plans to put things back in their proper order."
"When?" Q echoed. He shrugged expansively. "In your sort of linear time, tomorrow, next week, next year, even next century, which means of course you would both be dead and the crisis would be solved. Time is after all relative to the Universe."
"Q-" B‘Elanna advanced on him.
Q jumped back in mock fear. "Hey, don‘t kill the messenger. It wasn‘t my idea to add this temporal shift stuff to the Universal matrix."
"The only thing I‘m interested in hearing from you, Q, is whether you‘re here to help me get back to where I belong. Given your magnificently superior understanding of the Universe, that I in my primitive state can only dimly imagine, I‘m sure that would be child‘s play."
"Ouch! What a way to ask for a favor." Q grinned. "Actually I rather like your...hostile nature, Lani. Helmboy must not be too put off by it either. And in fact I just might be able to assist you. Not that I can control the Universe of course, but I do have some small sway here and there. I may have a way to... enhance your chances of returning to your own little reality."
B‘Elanna waited several moments for Q to elaborate, then said impatiently, "What is it?"
Q folded his arms and smiled slowly. "Say please."
B‘Elanna rolled her eyes.
"Some gratitude here, Lani," Q prodded, an insufferable grin on his face.
B‘Elanna gritted her teeth. "Please."
"I guess that will do." Q unfolded his arms and waved a hand. A small glass appeared in his palm. Inside the glass was something thick and muddy brown. "This is a small concoction I borrowed from the vast knowledge of the Q Continuum. I did neglect to fill out the proper requisition forms first, so this will have to be our little secret."
B‘Elanna stared at the "concoction". It had a slimy shine to it and she though she could see it...moving.
"It‘s a combination of matter and energy matrix. To put it simply, once inside your body it will absorb into your tissues, blood vessels and all that other yuck stuff that make up your corporeal body. It will realign the energy signature in your atoms and hopefully drastically improve your chances of crossing temporal paths with your alter ego and returning to your own timeline. That‘s the kindergarten explanation, of course." Q smirked. "And it wears off slowly after several of your days, so if it works it should be fairly quickly," Q finished, holding the glass out to B‘Elanna.
The stuff inside the glass was definitely...pulsing. B‘Elanna hesitated.
Q sighed. "Do you need more specific instructions? Here." He shoved the glass toward her face, and writing appeared on the outside. B‘Elanna looked closer. It said "Drink Me".
"Very funny, Q," B‘Elanna growled. She took the glass from him. She knew she really had nothing to lose. Q was an annoying pest, but if he wanted to hurt her he certainly had the power to do so easily, without devious means. Still it was hard to force the glass to her lips. She swallowed the stuff in one gulp and was surprised to find it had no taste at all. It did however have texture. Slimy texture.
"Now that wasn‘t so bad, was it?" Q took the glass from her and with a wave of his hand it was gone. "Now remember, there are no guarantees. And if it does work you may experience some dizziness and nausea. Perhaps severe."
"Great," B‘Elanna muttered.
"Oh well, there‘s always a price. And if it doesn‘t work..." Q‘s glance swept around the room, "then it‘s possible you may be marooned in this little love nest for awhile. But look at the bright side. Helmboy‘s not really my type, but apparently he‘s yours, no matter which timeline, I can tell you that. And here you don‘t even have to go through all that courtship stuff. Once he‘s back from wherever, he‘ll be on you like matter on a black hole."
"You‘re disgusting, Q."
Q snapped his fingers and the blue robe lying in a heap on the floor flew into his hand. "A little large for you, Lani, isn‘t it?" He sniffed it and made a face. "Yuck, smells like your Helmboy." He tossed it to her.
"His name is Paris," B‘Elanna growled. She felt possessive of that nickname for Tom and didn‘t appreciate anyone else using it, especially Q in his patronizing manner.
"Oh, whatever." Q smirked at her. "Well, I must be going-"
"What a shame."
"I note with disappointment that you haven‘t even thanked me properly," Q pouted. "I‘m stunned by my own benevolence, and yet I‘m faced with ingratitude."
"If I thank you, will you really leave?" B‘Elanna asked sweetly.
"Oh, I‘m leaving," Q said with exasperation. "But if my efforts fail, and they might, I may be back to watch you explain where the little Paris-ite in your tummy disappeared to. Hmmm..." Q tapped a finger on his cheek. "But just imagine the look on your Lt. Paris‘s face when your counterpart on Voyager tells him she‘s expecting his baby. All the responsibility and none of the fun! Now that I think about it, that‘s the confrontation I want to see! Ta ta."
Q vanished abruptly with a delighted grin still on his face. B‘Elanna sat heavily on the edge of the bed, feeling suddenly exhausted. She had a definite headache and she rubbed the back of her neck absently. She hadn‘t thought much about what might be happening on Voyager, in her real life, or what had been her life. Now someone else was there living it. Another B‘Elanna. Yet seven months ago they had been the same person. One person. And now there were two of them. But if there was just one real Universe and all the other timelines were just potential realities, then how could they both truly exist? And how many more had diverged...
B‘Elanna fell back on the bed and sighed. This didn‘t bear thinking about right now. It was just making her head ache worse. She couldn‘t think about Q, or Tom...
B‘Elanna kicked her feet up on the bed and curled up, too tired to bother pulling down the comforter and settling in. She realized then that she was still clutching Tom‘s robe in her hand. Without much forethought, she pulled its silken folds closely around her body and cradled her aching head in her hands. Then she promptly fell into a restless sleep.
"You look a little tired this morning, B‘Elanna. Did you sleep well last night?"
B‘Elanna looked at Chakotay, who was sitting across from her in the mess hall, having just joined her to partake of Neelix‘s latest porridge creation, tasty enough if you ignored the bright purple color. Even here Neelix managed to concentrate his culinary offerings on the brighter parts of the color spectrum.
"I slept fine," B‘Elanna said. But despite her exhaustion she hadn‘t slept well at all. She had tossed and turned. And dreamed. She could only remember bits and pieces. Being caught in a whirlpool. Q reaching in to pull her out, then snatching his hand away and laughing as she fell back into the swirling waters. Various Voyager crewmembers calling for her and angry that she was hiding. But she wasn‘t, she was screaming for them to find her. A baby crying, and Tom yelling at her to find it, but she couldn‘t because there was no baby. A large rabbit checking his pocketwatch and repeatedly asking her what timeline this was. She finally awakened feeling totally disoriented, thinking for a moment that she was on Voyager. Then with a sinking feeling she saw the sunlight peeking in through the window, and she realized exactly where she was.
B‘Elanna looked up and caught Chakotay‘s intense gaze fixed on her. "I guess I was a little restless," she admitted.
Chakotay took a sip of Neelix‘s local version of coffee, which B‘Elanna had already noticed tasted closer to tree bark. But it did pack a jolt. "I take it Tuvok told you Tom checked in. He should be flying in shortly, unless the Sagan sustained damage from the storm. In that case we‘ll fly out in the Cochrane and give him a hand with repairs if he needs it."
B‘Elanna nodded. Tuvok had walked in just after she‘d arrived twenty minutes ago and told her Tom and the others were on their way back to the Sagan from the caves where they‘d sheltered for the night. Just another reason why her stomach was feeling unsettled this morning.
Chakotay was still staring at her. "Is something else bothering you?" he asked.
B‘Elanna looked back at her friend, the one person who had been a friend, a true friend, from the moment they‘d met. She glanced around the room, where only a handful of other early risers were gathered. Neelix was busy serving one of them his purple porridge. "I‘m sure Tom‘s fine," B‘Elanna murmured. "It‘s just that..." she hesitated.
"B‘Elanna, I hope you know you can tell me anything," Chakotay said, reaching out and laying his large hand over hers. He squeezed gently. "I know I wasn‘t particularly supportive of your and Tom‘s relationship in the beginning. I thought Tom took advantage of you after Vorick infected you with his pon farr, and I was worried that you‘d end up hurt. I freely admit I was wrong. I don‘t know exactly what happened between the two of you that day, but whatever it was, it led you to where you are now. I see how much you love each other, despite the sparks that sometimes fly, or maybe because of them. If some other‘s still doubt Tom‘s commitment to you, well I can tell you I am honestly not one of them anymore. And I hope my earlier doubts haven‘t affected our friendship."
"Don‘t be ridiculous," B‘Elanna said honestly. "Nothing could do that." She didn‘t have a chance to say anything else before Neelix‘s voice carried across the room.
"Captain, let me get you a cup of freshly brewed coffee!"
B‘Elanna and Chakotay turned to see Janeway entering the mess hall. She frowned a little a Neelix‘s offer, then nodded in assent.
"Bring it over here, Neelix," Chakotay said as Janeway approached the table.
Janeway sat down next to Chakotay as Neelix sat a steaming cup in front of her. B‘Elanna noticed the captain didn‘t look as if she‘d slept too well either.
"I talked to Tuvok," Janeway said, picking up the cup and cradling it in both hands. "Tom should be checking in shortly if he can‘t fly the Sagan straight back." She took a sip of the coffee and grimaced.
Chakotay smiled at Janeway‘s expression and rolled his eyes when she looked at him. Janeway shrugged and shook her head, smiling a little herself. B‘Elanna got the impression this was some sort of morning ritual.
"Next year we will get those coffee plants to grow, somehow," Chakotay vowed, a twinkle in his eye.
A chirping sound got everyone‘s attention, and B‘Elanna realized Janeway was wearing a combadge.
"That may be Tom now," Janeway said.
"Mother hen," Chakotay whispered.
"Paris to New Lourdes."
"Go ahead, Tom," Janeway replied, giving Chakotay an admonishing ‚be silent‘ look.
"Captain, we‘ve got a problem."
The fluttering in her stomach that B‘Elanna had felt at hearing Tom‘s voice intensified when she recognized the strain in his tone. Janeway seemed to realize it too and frowned.
"What‘s wrong, Tom?"
"We were attacked by several zebra cats just a few minutes ago outside the shuttle. We managed to chase them off, but they took us completely by surprise. Freddie‘s been clawed pretty badly. And the Sagan got knocked around a little by the storm. Several hours repair here at least. Captain, I think you need to send in the cavalry."
Janeway and B‘Elanna exchanged a look. Despite Tom‘s attempt at lightness, there was no humor in his tone.
"The cavalry is on its way, Tom," Janeway replied. "Just sit tight."
"Oh, we‘re not going anywhere. And, Captain...tell B‘Elanna I‘m all right."
Janeway gaze hadn‘t left B‘Elanna‘s face. "I will, Tom. Janeway out."
"I‘ll get a team together right now, Captain," Chakotay said. He motioned to Simms, who was several tables away eating breakfast with Janine Lamont. The ensign had already sensed trouble and was on his feet. "Meet me at the shuttlebay in ten minutes with Tuvok and Hudson."
Ethan Simms nodded, not bothering to ask for details, and was on his way out the door as Janeway touched her combadge.
"Janeway to Sickbay."
"Doctor, please report to the shuttlebay immediately, and be prepared to treat a zebra cat attack."
"There‘s been an attack within the compound boundaries?" The doctor‘s voice sounded incredulous. "I thought the sonic emitters were functioning-"
"The attack took place at the sight where the Sagan is stranded."
"Ah, I see," the doctor replied. "I‘m on my way."
B‘Elanna stood up. "Let‘s go, Chakotay," she said impatiently. She didn‘t want to hear any more about these zebra cats or think about what kind of injuries they might inflict. She just wanted to get out there and do something about it.
"B‘Elanna, I don‘t think-"
"Chakotay, I don‘t care if you don‘t want me there. I don‘t care if Tom doesn‘t want me there! I‘m going." And she‘d deck him if he said anything about her "condition".
Chakotay exchanged a glance with Janeway at B‘Elanna‘s outburst.
"Both of you be careful," Janeway said quietly. "The zebra cats have never attacked in daylight before."
"They haven‘t," Chakotay agreed. "Maybe the storm affected them somehow. But we‘re forewarned now, and we‘re taking plenty of firepower."
"Be careful anyway," Janeway said.
Chakotay held Janeway‘s gaze and brushed a hand across her arm as he stood up. "We‘ll be fine." He smiled confidently and Janeway returned his smile with a hollow one of her own.
Chakotay walked around the table and gripped B‘Elanna‘s shoulder lightly. "Let‘s go."
Less than twenty minutes later the shuttle Cochrane was approaching the Sagan landing site. B‘Elanna sat in the copilot‘s seat next to Chakotay, the doctor sat behind him, and Tuvok was in the back with Hudson and Simms, all armed with phaser rifles in case the zebra cats were still in the area. Unlike replicators and transporters, the basic energy requirements for phasers were fairly mundane, so they could be recharged on a regular basis.
B‘Elanna had impatiently been watching the passing landscape as they flew the 45 kilometers from New Lourdes, past the newly planted fields and the small river beyond the Compound border that provided water for the fields, and over the hilly grass covered terrain beyond. They now approached an area with rock strewn cliffs rising on both sides, as the grassy land diminished into a narrow valley. The Sagan sat just past the valley entrance, alone and dwarfed by the rising cliffs nearby.
Strange that the three men who had actively pursued her on Voyager were together on that shuttle, B‘Elanna mused. Two of them she had never felt any interest in at all. And the other...when she‘d first met him she would have sworn he‘d be the last man on the ship she‘d ever consider getting involved with. Yet three years later, he was the only man she was thinking about at all.
As they approached for a landing, B‘Elanna could see the Sagan had sustained damage from the storm. Several dents along the exterior suggested that large rocks had hit the shuttle. As Chakotay brought the Cochrane down a few meters away from the target, B‘Elanna noticed a ragged tear along one of the engine casings of the Sagan, the probable reason for Tom‘s estimation of several hours of repair work to get the shuttle flyable. Tuvok and his team exited the Cochrane first, then motioned for Chakotay and B‘Elanna to follow.
B‘Elanna stepped onto the grassy ground just as Vorick stepped out of the Sagan to greet them. Like Tuvok, Vorick spoke using formal address in the typical Vulcan manner.
"Doctor, Ensign Bristow is inside. Lt. Paris has cleaned his wounds as best he could with the shuttle‘s medikit. But I believe he will need to be returned to Sickbay as soon as possible to improve his chances of survival."
"Get him stabilized, Doctor, then we will transport him back in the Cochrane," Chakotay said as the doctor moved purposefully past him.
"Four zebra cats attacked us just before we reached the shuttle," Vorick addressed Tuvok. "Unfortunately the attack was completely unexpected and we were momentarily surprised. We managed to stun them and return to the shuttle. Perhaps they have returned to their lair by now."
"Perhaps not," Tuvok said simply, looking toward a low rock formation fronting the nearby cliffs.
"Right there!" Ethan Simms said simultaneously, pointing at the same rocks about a hundred meters away. He raised his rifle into a slightly more ready position, even though the cat was making no move to approach.
To B‘Elanna the large, cumbersome looking creature resembled pictures she had seen of Earth hyenas more than anything else, but twice the size. Its hind legs were set lower than the its front, and its rough fur was colored in an uneven black and white stripe pattern. Only it‘s high tufted ears and rounded face identified it as a likely feline species. The animal suddenly jumped from its rocky perch several meters to the ground in one graceful motion, belying its clumsy appearance. It looked directly at them and bared its jagged teeth in what appeared to be a yawn. Then it turned and disappeared into the rocks.
Tuvok nodded to Simms and Hudson. "We will accompany you to inspect the outside damage, Mr. Vorick, in case the cats return. I believe Mr. Paris estimated several hours for repairs."
"I would estimate 5.2 hours to repair the damage sufficiently to bring the engines back online," Vorick replied. "There is some less extensive damage to the interior controls, however the engine casing sustained the most severe damage."
"Very well," Chakotay said. "B‘Elanna and I will assist inside for the moment. Tuvok, as soon as Freddie is ready to be transported I will take him back in the Cochrane. Tom and B‘Elanna can stay here and finish repairs with Vorick, then you and your team can return with them."
Tuvok nodded, obviously in agreement with the eminently logical plan.
"Lt. Paris was injured also," Vorick spoke as Chakotay and B‘Elanna turned toward the Sagan. "His injuries were surface only, but he will require treatment for the venom."
"Then Tom will return with me also."
B‘Elanna heard Chakotay‘s words and felt his hand rest lightly on her back as they stepped into the Sagan, but her mind was on what Vorick had said. His comment about surface injuries had immediately reassured her, until he‘d mentioned venom.
The interior of the shuttle looked like it had been shaken. Obviously it had been knocked around by the storm. Loose items littered the floor. Chakotay and B‘Elanna stepped over them and moved to the back of the shuttle, where the doctor and Tom Paris were bent over Freddie Bristow. B‘Elanna could quickly see that Freddie had endured some very deep cuts- claw marks- down his chest. Freddie had always been something of an annoyance to her, but she felt sympathy for him as he moaned in obvious pain.
"This will help regulate the antivenin dosage, and should also lessen the pain," the doctor was saying as he pressed a hypo to Freddie‘s arm.
B‘Elanna was observing the doctor‘s actions distractedly, since her gaze had moved to focus on Tom, who was kneeling on the other side of Freddie and holding him still to keep him calm and allow the doctor to administer treatment. The hypo almost immediately quieted Freddie, and Tom looked up at B‘Elanna and Chakotay. Then he stood up and walked toward them.
B‘Elanna stood rooted to the spot, appalled by what she saw. The dove grey shirt Tom wore was shredded across one shoulder and several jagged, angry looking red marks ran along his collarbone, stopping at the base of his throat. If a zebra cat had tried to disembowel Freddie, it was equally clear that one had made every effort to rip Tom‘s throat out. That it had managed nothing more than surface scratches didn‘t lessen the horror of the obvious intent.
Tom stopped just in front of B‘Elanna, drawing her attention to his face, and locking his intense gaze with hers. She noticed there were beads of sweat on his brow, and a tight strain on his features. He was visibly in pain.
B‘Elanna hesitated a second more, her throat dry with indecision, unable to look away from Tom‘s expressive blue eyes. But on this world she was intimately involved him, and she knew what her action would be without question. She took a step forward and put her arms around Tom‘s neck, careful to avoid the scratches , and hugged him closely. She felt Tom‘s arms slide around her back.
"I‘m okay, B‘Elanna," he said quietly against her hair, his arms tightening around her.
"Not entirely, Mr. Paris," the doctor replied. "Those scratches are not serious despite their unpleasant appearance, but your body has been infected with venom from the zebra cat‘s claws. You need treatment soon. In the meantime, if Mr. Chakotay will be so kind..."
B‘Elanna pulled back slightly from Tom, her fingers still lingering in the damp curls at the base of his neck. Tom raised a hand to brush her hair back and dropped a soft kiss on her brow.
"Tom." Chakotay held a hypo to Tom‘s arm and then released its contents with a soft hiss.
"Mr. Bristow is stabilized," the doctor spoke loudly. "He is ready to be moved to the Cochrane. I suggest we not delay."
Tom and B‘Elanna moved apart to give the doctor room to maneuver. Chakotay called Tuvok for assistance, and with the doctor‘s help they quickly moved Freddie out of the Sagan and to the Cochrane. B‘Elanna used the time to look again surreptitiously at Tom‘s injuries. She noticed that he had some puncture-like tears in the sleeve of his other arm, where the zebra cat must have landed one of its paws. The grey fabric around the small tears was stained a deep red.
"I‘ll be fine, B‘Elanna, really," Tom said, taking her hands and pulling her in front of him. "It looks worse than it is. We got the cat that attacked Freddie, then there was another one. I didn‘t even see it until Vorick yelled my name. I barely had time to turn and it was jumping at me. But Vorick stunned it in mid air and it barely got its claws on me. No real damage done, and I‘m already feeling better thanks to the doc‘s happy shot." He gave her a nonchalant smile and squeezed her hands reassuringly. Then he let go and moved a hand up to touch her cheek. "What happened to your face?"
B‘Elanna automatically reached a hand up to her face, brushing Tom‘s hand in the process. "Just a little windburn, from the storm last night. The captain and I got a little caught up activating the scattering forcefield."
"Hmmm." Tom caressed the reddened skin of her cheek lightly with his fingertips. "Did it work?"
B‘Elanna nodded, trying not to notice the way Tom‘s simple touch made her feel, and steeling herself not to pull away self protectively. Trying to remember that on this world simple caresses between them would be the norm given their relationship. And trying to deal with the fact that she very much liked it.
"There was a little damage, since the field isn‘t all inclusive. But considering the alternative..."
Chakotay stuck his head back in the shuttle doorway. "Freddie is ready to travel. Let‘s go, Tom."
Tom nodded to Chakotay, then looked at B‘Elanna again. He leaned forward and dropped a light kiss on her mouth. "See you soon," he whispered against her lips. "And be careful out here."
"Tuvok and his team haven‘t seen any further sign of the zebra cat, or cats," Chakotay said for Tom‘s benefit, moving aside and motioning him through the shuttle entrance. "But they will be standing guard just in case." After Tom passed by, he winked at B‘Elanna and mouthed "he‘ll be fine".
B‘Elanna smiled at Chakotay‘s reassurances as she watched him and Tom cross to the Cochrane and enter the shuttle. She absently lifted her hand to touch her mouth, then realized what she was doing and suppressed the motion. She had more important things to do right now than staring after Tom, feeling bemused. Or hinking about how close he had come to-
"B‘Elanna," Mikel Hudson jumped up into the Sagan, startling her for a moment. "Sorry. Tuvok sent me to see if there‘s anything I can help you with in here. Or if not, I can always throw myself across the doorway here and offer my body as protection." He grinned at her.
B‘Elanna rolled her eyes. "I‘m sure I can find you something more useful to do," she said, motioning toward the front control console.
Mikel closed the shuttle door and then settled himself on the floor next to B‘Elanna as she pulled back the panel under the console. This was something that was second nature to her in any timeline. No guessing, no doubts, no mixed emotions. Just the simple satisfying completion of a well understood task. She handed Mikel the panel to set aside and heard the comforting sound of the Cochrane lifting off as she pulled out the first relay and started to work.
Vorick‘s estimate of 5.2 hours turned out to be a little short. It took nearly six hours to get the Sagan‘s engines online, including two trips by the Cochrane bringing spare parts. The zebra cats didn‘t make a repeat appearance, but B‘Elanna learned more about them through the natural channel of gossip.
Mikel had reminisced in detail about their first encounter with the zebra cats, reminding her how several had attacked just a few nights after they‘d arrived on Aurora. The encounter had left several crewmembers injured and the doctor had to scramble to concoct an antidote to the venom, which though slow acting had turned out to be resistant to most strains of antivenin. An alternating combination of strains had finally done the trick, though not before Taren Morani had almost died.
B‘Elanna had been grateful for Mikel‘s chattiness, if only to set her mind at ease regarding Tom. It might take twelve hours to flush the poison completely out of Tom and Freddie‘s systems, Mikel had commiserated, but they weren‘t in any danger. Since arriving on this unknown planet, they had learned by trial and error how to deal with the vagaries of nature, both animal and weather, that they had encountered. Like setting up a sonic emitter perimeter to pierce the cats sensitive hearing and keep them outside the compound‘s boundaries.
Some six and a half hours after they had departed from New Lourdes, B‘Elanna and the rest returned in the Sagan, landing the shuttle outside the garage-like shuttlebay. There were still some minor repairs to be completed, mostly cosmetic, before the Sagan was good as new. Or as close as it would get, anyway. Joe Carey joined B‘Elanna and Vorick and they worked the rest of the afternoon completing the job. Neelix dropped by several times with trays of food and drink, and Chakotay dropped by once to check on their progress and inform them that the storm damage in New Lourdes had been repaired and to casually mention that Tom and Freddie were receiving treatment and doing fine in Sickbay.
B‘Elanna walked back into the main square with Joe and Vorick just before sunset. Joe had mentioned the heat of the summer season on Aurora was almost upon them. She was hot and tired after spending the day working diligently at coming up with creative solutions to get thrice used parts to make the grade one more time. In that respect, life here wasn‘t too far different from life on Voyager. Limited resources demanded unlimited creativity. And it had kept her from thinking too deeply about her situation. Or about how much she wanted to get back and check on Tom.
Janeway met them as they entered the square. "B‘Elanna, Joe, Vorick. Good job as usual."
They had reported their progress to the captain several times during the day, so they simply accepted her accolade.
"Going to Sickbay?" Janeway asked B‘Elanna, as Joe and Vorick walked toward the mess hall in search of dinner.
"I thought I‘d check on Tom," B‘Elanna said. It was certainly what she‘d be expected to do. And what she wanted to do.
"I‘ll walk with you," Janeway offered. "I did check on Tom and Freddie earlier," she added as they crossed the square, "and they were doing fine. The poison was dissipating from their systems, slowly but surely."
"That‘s good to hear," B‘Elanna said as they approached the doctor‘s small sickbay next to the meeting hall. "Thank you, Captain."
The doctor greeted them immediately as they entered, or perhaps intercepted them would be a better word. "Mr. Paris and Mr. Bristow are resting comfortably."
B‘Elanna looked past him into the sickbay. A small office, presumably the doctor‘s, was on the left and the doctor‘s lab was on the right. The short hallway opened into a larger room straight ahead, the main sickbay equipped with several diagnostic beds. Tom and Freddie lay on two of them. Kes looked up from where she had been monitoring them and smiled reassuringly at B‘Elanna and Janeway.
"As you know," the doctor was saying, locking his gaze with B‘Elanna‘s, "the antivenin treatment has a soporific effect. I prefer not to disturb them until the treatment is completed."
No, B‘Elanna didn‘t know, but she was getting good at pretending.
And she was also getting tired of it. "Doctor-"
"Lt. Torres, I promise to return Mr. Paris to you in the same condition he left you yesterday," the doctor continued in his favorite brook-no-interference tone. "You will simply have to be patient for a few more hours. And somewhere else besides my sickbay, for his sake and yours," the doctor finished brusquely, though his expression softened somewhat.
"In the meantime, Doctor," Janeway said, "perhaps you can run a precautionary scan on B‘Elanna in light of the events of the past couple of days."
"Ah, yes." The doctor glanced at Kes as if verifying to himself that matters in the main sickbay were under control, then turned back to B‘Elanna. "I can take care of that in my office.
Perhaps you can also check my holo-emitter, since its almost time for its monthly maintenance-"
"No, Doctor," B‘Elanna said quickly, ignoring Janeway‘s startled look. It had taken her a minute to recover from her own surprise at the captain‘s statement. "Tom and Freddie are who you should be focusing on now. I‘m fine, I can stop by tomorrow once everything has calmed down."
"Don‘t be ridiculous. I can perform a simple scan-"
"Tomorrow, Doctor," B‘Elanna said shortly, turning and striding toward the door, ignoring the surprised expressions of the doctor and Janeway.
"I‘ll check your holo-emitter then," B‘Elanna said, pushing the door open. "I‘m sure it‘s just fine."
"That holo-emitter is the only thing that keeps me "here", so please don‘t treat my concern so cavalierly-"
B‘Elanna didn‘t hear anything further the doctor had to say as the sickbay door shut firmly behind her. She strode several steps toward the square, then stopped to take a full breath. She definitely didn‘t want the doctor scanning her and finding out she wasn‘t...who she was supposed to be. She wanted to tell Tom what had happened, who she was- or wasn‘t- before everyone else found out. And there still might be a chance....
B‘Elanna turned to meet Janeway‘s uncompromising look.
"I‘d like to know what that was all about."
B‘Elanna‘s growing sense of frustration overcame her. "Captain, I‘m an adult. I think I can decide when and if I need medical treatment. I am not helpless. I can take care of myself, pregnant or not !"
Janeway didn‘t flinch the slightest at B‘Elanna‘s furious tone. "I see. I have no doubt you can take care of yourself. Pregnant or not. My concern, and Harry Kim‘s..." Janeway paused at B‘Elanna‘s surprised look. "Yes, he told me about your dizziness. Our concern is the concern of friends. And if it seems were overreacting, well, it pales next to your overreaction just now."
"Captain, I‘m sorry," B‘Elanna said quietly. And she did regret her outburst. It was all starting to get to her. "I promise I will see the doctor tomorrow morning and he can perform every scan he can think of on me." Just give me that long to sort this out, she thought silently.
"I‘m not really in a position to make it so, but consider that an order anyway, B‘Elanna," Janeway said shortly. Then her expression softened. "In the meantime, go get something to eat and relax for awhile. I expect Tom will be released in the next couple of hours, good as new." She put a hand lightly on B‘Elanna‘s shoulder. "Then I don‘t expect to see either of you until tomorrow morning."
"I second that, B‘Elanna."
B‘Elanna turned and intercepted Chakotay‘s smile. "All right, all right. I know when I‘m outnumbered." She looked at Janeway again. "Thank you, Captain. I‘ll take your advice."
"Always advisable," Chakotay quipped. Janeway gave him an admonishing look.
"Enjoy your evening, B‘Elanna." Janeway smiled at her. Then she glanced at Chakotay again. "And you...I suppose you‘re still looking for a rematch after I checkmated you in twelve moves last time."
"Lead the way, Captain," Chakotay said. "But don‘t expect me to let you win this time." He grinned at B‘Elanna then at Janeway, who just snorted her opinion.
B‘Elanna watched them walk away, Chakotay‘s hand lightly resting on Janeway‘s back. Then she walked through the square deep in thought, until she realized she was standing in front of her house.
That thought gave B‘Elanna pause. She stared at the small house, its red wood gleaming in the soft glow of the setting orange sun. She‘d only been here a little over a day, and she was already thinking of this place as ‚home‘. She swallowed and walked up the few steps to the door. When she reached out to open it, a sudden, intense wave of dizziness hit her.
B‘Elanna‘s grip on the door handle slipped and she slid to the ground, her hands cradling her head as it was pounded by continuous waves of vertigo. She sat with her face pressed to her curled up knees, for a moment concentrating only on fighting the swimming feeling in her head. Somewhere beyond the bright dizziness a rational thought came to her. This was it, what Q had warned her would happen when she crossed the temporal boundary, and returned to her own timeline.
It could have been seconds or minutes later when B‘Elanna realized the dizziness was slowly fading. As she came to that realization, the dizziness abated completely, and just a lingering throbbing in her head remained. She moved her hands slowly away from her head and raised her face from her knees. Directly in her field of vision was the small flower lined walkway leading from the house to the paved pathway. Across from that were several trees and beyond their branches the back of one of the food storage buildings.
She was still on Aurora, sitting hunched self protectively against the front door of her- and Tom‘s- house. She sat there unmoving for a moment, trying to make sense of what had just happened. She should be back on Voyager now, at least according to Q‘s version of things. But very obviously she wasn‘t. The simple explanation was that Q‘s concoction had failed to work as planned. And Q hadn‘t said whether it was a one shot proposition. But she feared the likelihood was that she was stuck here, with no clue if it might be for...what? Days? Months? Years? Forever?
Dammit! B‘Elanna dropped her head back against the door with a thud. It was the total uncertainty of her position that was eating at her. Was her life here now, and if so, for how long? She was a reasonably adaptable person. Well, she was if she knew the rules. If there were rules.
B‘Elanna jerked her head up and looked into the concerned eyes of Janine Lamont.
"Are you all right?"
B‘Elanna stood up hurriedly. "I‘m fine. I was just..." Well, just what? Having an attack? Getting mind stretched in some temporal shift gone horribly wrong? "...just thinking."
"Oh." Janine looked seriously unconvinced. "I hear Tom is going to be just fine," she offered.
"Yes, he is." B‘Elanna reached a hand behind her and opened the door. "In fact I have to go get ready for..." For what? Tom‘s homecoming? To drop the big surprise on him? She should just weld her mouth shut. "Goodnight, Janine."
B‘Elanna slid through the door as Janine echoed her goodnight and shut it quickly behind her. She reached out and palmed the panel and the darkened room lit up. She glanced around again at everything she shared here with Tom.
B‘Elanna sighed. It had seemed like a good idea to play along for awhile, pretend that she fit in, like she was the B‘Elanna who belonged here, and just wait for reality to right itself. Especially after Q had shown up and let her hope it would happen quickly. But Tom would be here in a couple of hours. And then she would have to tell him. Everyone else she could fool for awhile. But she couldn‘t fool Tom. Not the Tom Paris of this world who loved B‘Elanna Torres and had fathered her child. Not here, alone with him.
B‘Elanna‘s hand strayed unconsciously to her abdomen. The last thing she wanted to do was to cause this upheaval in Tom‘s life here. In hers. In everyone‘s. But what choice did she have?
An hour later B‘Elanna stood in the kitchen area drinking a glass of juice that tasted like grapefruit. Only more tart. She had showered for a long time, letting the warm water relax her tense muscles, then put on long satiny lounging pajamas, presumably her counterpart‘s, that she had found in the bureau. She had left the blue robe hanging in the closet. Tonight she already felt overly warm for some reason, and sensitized enough to Tom‘s impending presence.
B‘Elanna finished the last of the juice and glanced down at the red pajamas she was wearing. She enjoyed the smooth feel of them, but perhaps she should change into something more neutral, less suggestive of nightwear, before Tom showed up in awhile. She rinsed her glass and decided to do just that when the door opened and Tom walked in.
B‘Elanna stared dumbly at him for a moment as he strode across the living area, then jumped to stop the glass that had slid from her hand and hit the edge of the counter from falling on the floor. She managed to upright it onto the counter and when she looked up Tom was standing in front of her.
"Be careful," he said, catching her hand in his. "Don‘t cut yourself." He caressed her hand lightly with his thumb. "Did I startle you?"
"I didn‘t think you‘d be back so soon," B‘Elanna managed.
"The doctor let me off early for good behavior," Tom said, then grinned at her raised eyebrows. "Really, I can behave."
"Hmmm, why do I doubt that?" B‘Elanna asked, trying to keep things light, and keep her emotions on solid ground.
"Hmmm, why do you?" Tom returned teasingly, his hand still holding hers lightly. "Actually, the doctor finished his treatment, and I‘m back to my old self, good or bad as that may be."
B‘Elanna realized Tom was wearing a different shirt, loose and white, that the doctor must have given him. She glanced at his throat where the shirt was open and saw only smooth pale skin. All evidence of the zebra cat attack was gone.
"Good," she said softly, unaware of the double entendre. Then she felt her heart thud against her chest as the playful expression left Tom‘s face and he looked at her as if he wanted to kiss her senseless. Instead he raised her hand and brushed it softly with his lips, never taking his eyes off her.
"Let me go take a shower. It‘s been a long day and a half." He let her hand slip slowly from his. "I‘ll be back."
It was most definitely a promise. B‘Elanna bit her lip as he passed by the closet and pulled out the blue robe, then walked into the bathroom. She exhaled the breath she felt she‘d been holding since he‘d walked in.
For the next twenty minutes B‘Elanna sat curled up on the couch, thoughts racing through her mind. Thoughts about how to tell Tom the truth. About what would happen after he knew. Would he be able to simply adjust to the changed circumstances? To her, B‘Elanna Torres with different experiences over the past few months, but still the same B‘Elanna who‘d been with him in the Vidiian prison, who‘d helped him try and break the warp ten barrier, who‘d called him a pig, and who‘d later called him a friend. And who until recently had been reluctant to accept that he was becoming much more. Could she simply slide into this existence, with a Tom who wasn‘t just an attractive and disturbing possibility, but a Tom who was already intimately and completely entangled in her life? It was a little shocking to realize that she probably could.
B‘Elanna pulled her legs to her chest and rested her head on her crossed arms. Think about what you have to say, she told herself. Sorry, Tom, but I‘m not B‘Elanna...I mean, I am B‘Elanna, but not the B‘Elanna who‘s been living here with you...I‘m from a different reality...timeline, that is...we‘ve never slept together...not that I would object...no, no, forget that part...concentrate... where was I....
Tom, I‘m sorry, there is no baby....or rather, there might be a baby, but in a different timeline, where your B‘Elanna is now...you‘re understanding all this, aren‘t you...makes perfect sense...sure it does...
B‘Elanna jerked her head up and looked at Tom, who was kneeling next to the couch, concern in his eyes. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. I‘m fine," she murmured, "Except..." she tried to just blurt it out but the words wouldn‘t come. "Just a little tired, I guess."
Tom still looked worried. "The doctor mentioned when I left that you were going to see him tomorrow-"
"Just for a quick scan," B‘Elanna said. "The doctor worries too much. Really, I feel fine." Physically, anyway.
"Did you have something to eat for dinner?"
"Yeesss..." B‘Elanna lied. She didn‘t have the least interest in food right now.
"Good. Nutrition is important for someone in your condition."
At that unwelcome reminder B‘Elanna jumped off the couch, pushing Tom‘s hand away when he reached out to touch her. "I don‘t need a mother or a babysitter, and if I wanted one-"
"Okay, okay." Tom raised his hands in submission. "I‘m sorry."
"No." Tom reached out this time before B‘Elanna could move further away and grabbed her gently by the shoulders, pulling her to him. He grinned unapologetically at her frowning face. "Come on, B‘Elanna, it‘s the father-to-be‘s prerogative to worry and pamper. But feel free to bite my head off any time you want. That‘s always been your prerogative."
B‘Elanna could have pulled away as Tom turned and with one arm around her shoulders led her into the bedroom, but he held her so closely she didn‘t want to offbalance him, in more ways than she already would have to. She waited until he stopped next to the bed and looked down at her. Tiny beads of water still clung to his skin where his robe was open at the neck, and his hair was damp and curling at the ends. She looked at him and unconsciously ran her tongue over her dry lips. His blue eyes seemed to darken several shades as he looked back at her. Then she pulled away.
"Tom, we have to talk about something."
Tom looked at her questioningly for a moment. "We do? Okay." He dropped down on the bed and in one swift movement was stretched out across it. He propped one arm up at the elbow, rested his chin against his hand, and smiled expectantly. "What is it?"
Great. Was this how Tom and her counterpart carried on a serious conversation. In bed? B‘Elanna sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, brought one knee up and turned toward Tom. It wasn‘t the most comfortable position, but her other foot still touched the floor, giving her the secure illusion that she could still...what, turn tail and run?
"Tom, something...strange has been happening to me..."
Tom quirked an eyebrow. "Something strange?" he echoed.
"Well, it‘s sort of unreal...I guess you could say it‘s like being in the wrong place..." B‘Elanna groaned This was even harder than she‘d thought it would be. She could see now that she was going to make a mess of it. "This is a nightmare..." she whispered, just loud enough for Tom to catch the words.
He looked at her in confusion. "Are you having bad dreams, B‘Elanna?"
"I thought maybe that‘s what it was," B‘Elanna said. She closed her eyes for a minute, then laughed. "It‘s like that story, where Alice falls down the rabbit hole-"
"Alice in Wonderland?" Tom asked. He reached over and touched B‘Elanna‘s hand where it rested on the bed. "Don‘t tell me you‘ve been dreaming about mad tea parties and croquet games with the Queen of Hearts?" His tone was gently teasing.
"No, not exactly. It‘s more of an interdimensional shift.
Actually it‘s more like I was on Voyager yesterday, then suddenly I found myself here." Well, that was pretty much it, but perhaps she should be more coherent. "Tom-"
"B‘Elanna." Tom‘s hand that had been resting lightly on hers suddenly tightened around hers. "You‘re dreaming about Voyager again."
B‘Elanna noticed Tom said the words as a statement, not a question. "No, I‘m not-"
"Yes, you are." Tom leaned forward and rubbed her wrist of the hand he held absently with his thumb. "B‘Elanna, I know how hard losing Voyager was for you. But I thought you were over it, unlike the captain, who I‘m not sure will ever get over it."
"Tom, you don‘t understand-"
A high-pitched beep interrupted B‘Elanna. Tom let go of her hand and reached over to activate the small panel on the wall above the bed. B‘Elanna hadn‘t even noticed it before. She realized it must be part of the intercom system for the village.
"Yes?" Tom asked, his eyes still on B‘Elanna.
"Tom, this is Marco Ventrella. I hope I‘m not interrupting anything."
"What is it, Marco?"
"I just wanted to verify that you‘re still holding your flying class tomorrow morning, in light of what happened today."
B‘Elanna remembered Ensign Ventrella was an astrophysicist in the Science Department on Voyager. Probably not a full time occupation on Aurora.
"I‘ll be there, Marco. I‘m completely recovered."
"That‘s good to hear, Tom. I hope I didn‘t disturb you."
"You didn‘t disturb me, Marco. But you did disturb B‘Elanna."
There was a slight pause. "Oh."
"Goodnight, Tom, B‘Elan- uh, Ms. Torres. I‘m sorry-"
B‘Elanna narrowed her eyes. "Why did you say that, Tom Paris?" she demanded indignantly as he deactivated the intercom.
Tom shrugged and gave her a sly grin. "You‘re a lot scarier than I am."
"Thanks a lot."
"You‘re welcome." Tom moved back to his original position. His grin became suggestive. "But that‘s ok. I find your scariness kind of...stimulating."
B‘Elanna shifted uncomfortably. Tom was not the least bit afraid of her and never had been. That was one of the things about him that had unwillingly intrigued her from the start. But his flirtatious tone brought her back to reality and her mouth tightened.
Tom‘s grin faded and his hand closed over B‘Elanna‘s. "I take it you didn‘t sleep too well last night, if you were having that dream again."
"No, I didn‘t," B‘Elanna answered honestly, "but it wasn‘t the dreams-"
"B‘Elanna, maybe it‘s not all that surprising. Dealing with those cyclone storms is nerve-wracking. I wasn‘t enjoying it and the cave we took shelter in kept most of it out." Tom released her hand and touched her cheek lightly. "I‘m glad it wasn‘t any worse. But maybe that‘s why you dreamed about Voyager again. It was some sort of comfort mechanism-"
"That‘s not it, Tom. If you‘ll just-"
"Fine, if you‘re going to say you didn‘t have that dream again, then there‘s only one other explanation."
B‘Elanna sighed. Sometimes it was impossible to get a word in with Tom. She started to tell him to shut up when he suddenly grabbed her hand and jerked her toward him. She was already in an awkward position half on and half off the bed, and Tom‘s action completely unbalanced her. A moment later she found herself sprawled halfway across his body, one hand still trapped in his. His other hand came up to cup her face, his fingers entangling in her hair. She pressed her free hand against his chest to keep herself from falling flush against him. She was forced to look straight into his blue eyes.
"You couldn‘t sleep because you missed me." Tom rendered his opinion with a self satisfied smile.
B‘Elanna shook her head in exasperation. "Tom..."
Tom trailed his hand along the underside of her jaw and traced her lower lip with his thumb. He was staring at her mouth, and for a moment her mind went blank and she felt as if her heart skipped a beat. Then he locked his eyes with hers again and the smile had completely faded. "I missed you, too, B‘Elanna."
Damn. The fervent whisper of those words and the way he was looking at her sent a jolt of liquid warmth through her body. Tom pulled on her gently, bringing her face close to his. She should have pulled away, but she felt mesmerized by the desire in his eyes as his lips softly touched hers. The clean musky scent of him drifted into her senses. Then his hand moved up and his fingers entwined tighter in her hair as the kiss deepened. His other hand had loosed hers and was moving caressingly along her backbone.
B‘Elanna barely noticed that her own hands had crept up of their own volition to anchor themselves in the curls at the nape of Tom‘s neck. Their bodies were flush against each other and she could feel every inch of Tom‘s firm and aroused body pressed against hers. Her own skin felt on fire, and she moaned low in her throat as Tom dragged his mouth from hers and began to drop soft urgent kisses along her collarbone. She moved up to give him further access and stroked his blond hair. Why hadn‘t she realized how deep the attraction between them was, she thought hazily, as his mouth moved lower. Why hadn‘t she realized how Tom felt really felt about her, how she felt about him...
Gods, what was she doing?! B‘Elanna wrenched herself away from Tom and sat up on the bed, breathing raggedly. Tom pushed
himself up and stared at her with a thoroughly confused expression on his face. "B‘Elanna, what the hell-"
Then it hit her again. The dizziness. For a moment it crossed her mind that it was because of Tom, of how stunned she felt by her uncontrollable reaction to him. Then she remembered. It was happening again. This time...
B‘Elanna heard the urgency in Tom‘s voice as he spoke her name and felt his hands steadying her as the dizziness faded. Then he raised one hand to brush her hair off her face, and she saw the concern in his eyes as he looked at her.
"I‘ll call the doctor."
"No!" B‘Elanna grabbed his wrist as he reached for the intercom. "I just sat up too quickly." Her head was still swimming a little. It had been different, not as intense. Maybe the potency of what Q had given her was already fading...
Tom hadn‘t tried to pull out of B‘Elanna‘s grasp, but he was watching her face closely.
B‘Elanna loosened her grip on his wrist. "Tom, I‘m ok. I‘m just tired. Besides I‘m going to see the doctor tomorrow."
Tom still looked doubtful. "Then lay down. Rest." He pressed her gently back down on the bed. B‘Elanna didn‘t protest. She was still waiting for the dizziness to completely dissipate.
Tom reached out and stroked her jaw lightly. "Just don‘t scare me anymore. I‘ve had enough scares already today."
B‘Elanna felt Tom shudder slightly and knew he was thinking about the zebra cats and what had nearly happened to Freddie. And to himself. She had the sudden urge to comfort him, and herself. "Tom, I‘m so glad you‘re okay," she said earnestly, instinctively closing her hand over his and pressing it against her cheek.
"B‘Elanna." He whispered her name softly, tenderly, in a way she‘d never heard him say it before. And never realized how much she wanted to hear it. "We survived another storm. I survived the zebra cats, with some help." He pulled his hand from hers and moved it slowly, possessively along her arm and rested it lightly on her abdomen. "We‘re both fine. Our baby is fine." He moved his hand a soft caressing motion.
B‘Elanna felt a stricken sense of guilt wash over her. She had to tell him. Now. "Tom, I‘m not-"
"No more words," Tom murmured, moving his face close to hers, his breath mingling with hers. He kissed her before she could say anything else. A soft, sweet whisper across her lips. "And no more bad dreams, not tonight. I promise." His lips brushed hers again. "Just for tonight, it‘s just us, here together, nothing else. We can deal with everything else tomorrow." And he kissed her again, this time a slow, lingering exploration.
Somehow while she hadn‘t noticed, Tom‘s arms had wound around her, pulling her tightly against him. That she could hardly breathe had nothing to do with his weight resting partly on her, but everything to do with the desire that was suffusing her mind and blocking out any form of rational thought. Her arms had wrapped themselves equally tightly around him. She moaned softly as Tom‘s lips left hers and found the rapidly beating pulse at the base of her throat.
Maybe she could have found the strength to stop then, if she had tried a little harder. But then Tom raised his head and looked into her eyes, the darkened depths of his bright blue eyes mirroring his feelings. "I love you, Bella," he breathed softly, every word infused with emotion. And then she was lost.
Tom brought his mouth down on hers again and B‘Elanna responded by wrapping one arm around his neck, pulling him closer. Their mouths devoured each other, and Tom moved one hand to urgently push the edge of B‘Elanna‘s satiny shirt off her shoulder and stroke the soft skin over her collarbone. B‘Elanna responded by snaking her free hand between the silky folds of Tom‘s blue robe and running her fingers over the softly curling golden hairs on his chest. Through his heated skin she could feel his strong, racing heartbeat against her palm, and it made her own start to beat faster. She felt lightheaded with desire, as if she was falling and taking Tom with her. And then she was falling and she tightened her grip on Tom, trying to hold on...
The shock of what was happening hit her hard as the dizziness completely engulfed her. This time it didn‘t fade slowly, but strengthened. A strange suspended feeling overcame her, and she threw her hands out to stop herself from falling further, from spinning out of control...
B‘Elanna‘s eyes flew open. Her arms were stretched out, her fists clenched tightly in the folds of the bedclothes. "Tom..." she murmured once, then stared up at the dimly lit ceiling above her. Her fall had stopped. She was on Voyager, in her own quarters. Alone.
B‘Elanna sat up abruptly, pushing back the sheets tangled around her. She absently ran her hand across her swollen lips before she realized what she was doing and jerked her hand away. "Computer..." she cleared her throat after her voice came out a strangled whisper. "Computer, what is the date and time?"
"Stardate 51541.12, 1103 hours."
The shipboard time was a little later than the local time on Aurora, but the same amount of time had passed. She was back on Voyager, where she belonged. And on Aurora, Tom was holding his B‘Elanna- who was happily pregnant with his child- probably still unaware of the events that had nearly upended his life. It might be that the past thirty four hours had never happened. Nothing had changed, and the Universe was back in balance. And not saying anything had been the right decision.
B‘Elanna sighed. She hadn‘t made that decision, she had let it keep making itself. And somehow it had worked out for the best anyway, even if she was left with a faint sense of loss...
No. She was back in familiar surroundings, in the life that she knew, in her own quarters where everything was properly in its place. Then she noticed a data PADD sitting on the edge of the bed. It occurred to her as she picked it up that her counterpart had been stranded here on Voyager while she was on Aurora. But doing what?
B‘Elanna activated the PADD, expecting to see Engineering schematics or equations flash onto the screen, or perhaps the words from one of the Klingon romance novels she had recently downloaded. Words did flash across the screen, but she didn‘t immediately recognize them.
"What do you mean by that?" said the Caterpillar sternly.
"I can‘t explain myself, I‘m afraid, Sir," said Alice, "because I‘m not myself, you see."
"I don‘t see," said the Caterpillar.
B‘Elanna realized this was the story that had come to her mind when she‘d first found herself on Aurora. The one her father had read to her, and Tom had named for her. Alice in Wonderland. Her counterpart had obviously been reading it. How strange that she had thought of the same story. Or maybe not so strange. After all they had the same past, up until a random event had separated their lives seven months ago.
B‘Elanna deactivated the PADD and put it on her bedside table. "Computer, play back the personal logs for B‘Elanna Torres for the past two days. Authorization B Torres 06."
The computer immediately complied. The first log she had recorded herself that morning. Yesterday morning. Such a short time ago, yet it felt as if a lifetime had flashed by. She mentioned her intended schedule for that day. It was short and to the point, as her logs usually were. The second log she hadn‘t recorded. It was from yesterday evening.
B‘Elanna found it distinctively eerie to hear her voice speaking words that she had not said. Words about Joe Carey‘s birthday that the other B‘Elanna said she owed him to attend, as if she would have preferred not to go. But no real mention of her predicament, of the fact that she had arrived on Voyager by rather incredible means. Only a slight hesitation before she signed off. That wasn‘t unlike her. Them. B‘Elanna had never been comfortable examining her feelings, not even in her personal log.
The next log was from this morning and just contained some hurried comments about several activities scheduled in Engineering that day.
It was in the final log from earlier this evening that the other B‘Elanna finally alluded to her situation, after mentioning the main event of the day.
"I thought my upset stomach was...something else. But it seems that the flour Neelix used to make the cake for Joe Carey‘s party was contaminated. Three quarters of the crew were ill from it. Luckily the doctor was able to provide a remedy. And a culprit, a microscopic parasite with a bizarre molecular structure that initially eluded the bio-filters. That problem was fixed and the rest of the day was...normal for Voyager.
A harsh laugh proceeded the next part. I dreamed of that for months, being back on Voyager, back to what I thought of as my ‚normal‘ life instead of my banishment on Aurora. I hadn‘t realized how far I‘ve come from feeling that way. I don‘t belong here anymore. They‘re all the same people, but they‘re not. Especially Tom. He‘s not really my Tom. He‘s her Tom. Or will be soon enough, when she wakes up and realizes what she‘s got..."
The log ended abruptly, as if the other B‘Elanna had been too disturbed to go on or had thought better of saying anything further.
The logs provided some sketchy information about what had been happening on Voyager while B‘Elanna had been on Aurora. But she wasn‘t thinking about that right now.
"Computer, what is the location of Lieutenant Tom Paris?"
The answer came a second later. "Lieutenant Tom Paris is on Holodeck 2."
"What program is running?" She hoped the it wasn‘t a private one, but the computer would confirm that by refusing to name the program.
"Sandrine‘s is running on Holodeck 2."
B‘Elanna jumped out of bed and pulled a black jumpsuit out of her closet. She doubted Tom would be alone in Sandrine‘s and she didn‘t know what she‘d say to him, if anything. But she had to see him right now, and get her perspective back. If that was even possible anymore where Tom was concerned. She pulled off her nightshift and changed into the jumpsuit. She was out of her quarters and on her way to the holodeck in less than a minute.
Three minutes later, B‘Elanna stood in front of the door to Holodeck 2. Even in her rush to get there, she‘d found herself in need of reassurance that she was back. Really back. She‘d run her hand along the walls of the corridors, touched the bulkheads, gripped the railing in the turbolift, and been comforted by their solidity. It was all real. And she probably had Q to thank, though she was eternally grateful he hadn‘t shown up to preen.
B‘Elanna hesitated for another moment, then stepped forward. The holodeck door slid open and she walked into the dim, smoky atmosphere of Sandrine‘s. She stopped just far enough inside for the door to close behind her.
B‘Elanna spotted Tom immediately, since he was at one of the pool tables in the middle of the room with Harry Kim. There were perhaps a half a dozen other crewmembers in conversations at several tables. The holographic Sandrine stood behind the bar watching the room with a permanently inscrutable expression on her face.
B‘Elanna edged over to the side of the bar, watching Tom as he said something to Harry, then moved around the table. She watched as he leaned over and looked down the length of his cue stick to line up his shot, and reminded herself that this was not the Tom Paris she had left abruptly not half an hour ago. This was the Tom Paris with whom she verbally sparred, traded innuendoes, and played an endless game of cat and mouse, while they both hesitated to take that final step and expose themselves to that state of emotional vulnerability called a relationship. Or maybe it was she who had been doing the hesitating.
Tom took his shot, and the cue ball grazed the side of the five ball, teasing it into the corner pocket. He straightened and slapped a disgusted Harry, then moved around his friend to set up his next shot.
B‘Elanna started and turned to see Sandrine already sliding the drink across the bar towards her. "Why don‘t you join him?" Sandrine asked, flashing her an enigmatic smile.
B‘Elanna accepted the raktajino, then glanced over at Tom and Harry. They had already spotted her and Harry was waving her over.
"Where‘ve you been, B‘Elanna?" Harry asked, as she approached the pool table.
B‘Elanna wondered what Harry would say if she told him. She gave him a slight smile and looked at Tom, who was leaning over the table preparing to take his next shot. And what did you say to someone you‘d almost made love to a short time ago in another reality, yet never even kissed except under the throes of a chemical imbalance in this one? She almost giggled at the thought.
Tom took his shot and the two ball moved diagonally across the table, slowed at the edge of the pocket and teetered without falling. Tom straightened and shrugged philosophically. "Your shot, Harry."
B‘Elanna moved out of Harry‘s way as he set up his shot, and found Tom standing next to her.
"I thought you were heading back to your quarters after the Pigeon Point program," Tom commented, looking at her questioningly.
"I...couldn‘t sleep," B‘Elanna said. Pigeon Point?
"Isn‘t that the lighthouse program you told me about, Tom?"
Harry asked, as he knocked the eleven ball into the side pocket.
"Kind of damp and foggy, isn‘t it?"
There was nothing about that in her personal log. And how did her counterpart know about a Voyager holodeck program of Tom‘s that she had never heard about? B‘Elanna wondered what else had happened while she was gone that she would have to find out about.
Tom was looking at her strangely. "You still with us or have you gone off somewhere?"
"Sorry, I guess I was somewhere else. But I‘m back." B‘Elanna smiled slightly at the double meaning and sipped her raktajino. B‘Elanna held Tom‘s contemplative gaze for a moment, then turned to watch Harry take his next shot.
"Did you find Alice in Wonderland?"
B‘Elanna looked back at Tom, nonplused for a moment. How did he- Then she realized he meant the novel, in the databanks. "Uh, yes, I did."
Harry had missed his shot and walked toward them. "Hmm, curiouser and curiouser," he grinned at B‘Elanna.
"That‘s from Alice in Wonderland," Harry supplied at her confused expression.
"Oh." B‘Elanna could feel Tom‘s stare still focused on her. "I guess I haven‘t gotten that far yet."
"I always thought Alice‘s adventures were a little too absurd," Harry commented. "They didn‘t make much sense."
"Harry, Alice‘s adventures were an exercise in imagination," Tom said, as he turned to study the pool table. "They weren‘t supposed to make sense."
B‘Elanna barely remembered the story, maybe she‘d even deliberately forgotten it because it had been her father who‘d read it to her, just before he‘d left. She only remembered it as being rather fanciful, but at five fantasy and reality had seemed interchangeable concepts. "I don‘t know that they could be anymore unlikely than what I‘ve seen in- what we‘ve seen in the Delta quadrant."
Tom moved around B‘Elanna, close enough to brush against her back. Then he dropped a hand on her shoulder. B‘Elanna looked at his hand and felt a shiver run down her spine. Her head told her again that this wasn‘t the same Tom who had touched her—who had more than simply touched her—on Aurora such a short time ago. But her body didn‘t acknowledge the difference.
She raised her eyes to meet Tom‘s as his hand gently pressed against her. She realized then that she was in the way of his shot. She moved aside as she murmured a quick apology, and hoped the heat she felt on her face wasn‘t completely obvious. Tom held her gaze for a overly long moment, then moved to the corner of the table.
"Besides, life doesn‘t always make sense." Tom leaned over the table and lined up his shot. "For instance, I never would have thought I‘d be stranded on a starship 65,000 light years from home," Tom pulled back the cue stick and took his shot, "with a half Klingon engineer who can‘t wait to get her hands on me." The two ball dropped lightly into the opposite corner pocket.
Harry raised his eyebrows and looked at B‘Elanna.
B‘Elanna stared at Tom as he walked by, brushing closely against her again. He stopped right next to her without looking at her and surveyed the table as if he‘d said nothing out of the ordinary.
"Harry, I think you‘re about to pay up," Tom said, moving his cue stick into position. He leaned over and took his aim on the eight ball, an easy shot into the side pocket. "Eight ball, side pocket."
Tom may have read her face perfectly, but the smug audacity of his remark gave B‘Elanna back her equilibrium. This Tom she knew exactly how to deal with. She watched him set his concentration and pull back the cue stick, briefly admiring the flex of his muscles. Then she reached over and put her hand firmly on his butt.
Tom jerked up, lost his follow through and completely missed the shot. His cue stick hit the table surface and slid under the cue ball, which bounced once and rolled several centimeters. The eight ball remained untouched. Tom turned around slowly and stared at B‘Elanna.
B‘Elanna smiled shamelessly.
"Nice shot, Tom."
Megan Delaney smirked at Tom as she walked by with Gerron. Tom shrugged and smirked right back at her. Then he turned his attention back to B‘Elanna.
B‘Elanna eyes widened and she said softly, "I‘m sorry, Tom. I just couldn‘t wait any longer to get my hands on you."
Tom‘s eyes narrowed at the exaggerated innocence in her tone.
"Well, Tom, it looks like you‘re the one about to pay up," Harry said from across the table. He grinned at the pilot as he aimed his shot and knocked the thirteen ball into the corner pocket. "And..." he winked at Tom. "Eight ball, side pocket."
Tom watched Harry make the easy shot. B‘Elanna started to move toward Harry but Tom‘s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.
"Don‘t forget to put those replicator credits in my account," Harry said, grinning at Tom.
"I won‘t. Nice game, Harry."
B‘Elanna smiled at Tom‘s grudging acknowledgment. "Congratulations, Harry," she said. She felt Tom‘s hand tighten on her wrist and smiled wider. He knew she could pull away easily.
Harry looked from one to the other. He apparently could read the signs. But he couldn‘t resist one more jab. "Practice a little before the next game, Tom, and you might have a chance."
Tom gave Harry a close approximation of the Janeway death stare, and Harry laughed. "Goodnight, guys," he said, and walked toward the exit.
Tom turned to B‘Elanna. "Thanks a lot. I haven‘t got a lot of replicator credits to spare."
B‘Elanna turned her arm and slipped her wrist out of Tom‘s grasp.
"Then you shouldn‘t be betting them away."
Tom rolled his eyes. He reached across the pool table and pulled several balls out of the pockets. "Well, you could have at least hit Harry on the butt and made him completely miss a shot, in the interest of fairness."
"Who said I was fair?" B‘Elanna asked. "Besides, I‘m not interested in Harry‘s butt."
Tom turned around and stared at her for the second time in several minutes. B‘Elanna held his penetrating gaze.
"My, my, what‘s gotten into you lately, B‘Elanna?" Tom drawled.
"Something happen that I don‘t know about?"
B‘Elanna just smiled. "Finish setting up, Tom. I assume you think you‘re going to win back some of your lost replicator credits from me."
Tom held her gaze for another heartbeat. Then he grinned. "That‘s the plan, sweetheart." He purposely slid between her and the pool table instead of walking around her.
B‘Elanna didn‘t move, she simply raised her eyebrows as Tom‘s body grazed hers. And felt her blood pressure rise. But she met his suggestive wink with a placid smile, and was pleased as a charmingly disconcerted look crossed Tom‘s face before he turned back to the table.
B‘Elanna watched as Tom grabbed the rack, placed it on the table and started racking the balls. She realized that already Aurora seemed like some sort of dream. It was not real anymore, not for her. That was where the other B‘Elanna belonged with her Tom. Still, parts of the experience had revealed possibilities that were definitely appealing. And unsettling. But she found herself suddenly believing in those possibilities, rather than just consigning them to her wistful dreams. She‘d seen what she might have if she was willing to take the chance. She just had to trust in it, in him, here on a lone starship that still seemed a magnet of galactic interaction compared to Aurora‘s complete isolation.
"Do you want to break or shall I?" Tom asked, pulling the rack away with a flourish. The balls remained obediently still.
"Go ahead," B‘Elanna murmured, her gaze fixed on Tom as he replaced the rack and moved his cue stick into position to break. Her Tom., she thought, already starting to feel possessive. Then he looked up and his clear blue eyes met her smoky brown ones.
"B‘Elanna, are you trying to completely destroy my concentration?" Tom asked softly after a moment. "I‘m starting to imagine that you want to take advantage of me." His words were infused with a double meaning.
She knew what he meant and the idea had its attractions. Her reply was intentionally as ambiguous as his. "Really, Tom, do you think I‘d do anything just to...win something?"
Tom leaned forward slightly, his eyes locking on hers. "Would you?"
B‘Elanna couldn‘t mistake his meaning this time. He wasn‘t talking about pool.
"I would," he continued softly. "Because, B‘Elanna, there are some...things in life that are worth any risk to win. And keep." His tone was light, but the smoldering look in his eyes wasn‘t.
There definitely were, and B‘Elanna was just beginning to appreciate that fact.
"And, B‘Elanna..." Tom repositioned the cue stick he had let slip against the table. His eyes never left hers. "We Parises play to win. And we don‘t give up, no matter how long it takes."
B‘Elanna held his gaze, and a slow smile spread across her face.
Somehow she didn‘t think it was going to take very long at all.
"In that case, Tom, take your best shot."