Looking Glass Milk -Part Two
Chakotay groaned and struggled fitfully with the bedcovers. The Doctor hurried over to check his patient and gave a deep, almost-human, sigh of combined relief and concern. Although the sedatives hadn't worn off as the Doctor had feared and Chakotay was still sleeping; he certainly wasn't resting. His tossing head was sweat-sheened, his eyelids were flickering with the unmistakable signs of REM sleep, and from his knotted brow and the occasional whimpers that hissed through Chakotay's clenched teeth, it was obvious that his dreams were far from peaceful.
The Doctor hovered uncertainly, unsure whether it would be a mercy to wake Chakotay from his nightmare or a cruelty to force the grieving man to face the horror of reality. He was only a hologram, but he understood emotion; he understood grief. He had loved and lost a holographic daughter. So he knew what Chakotay was suffering.
His own initial solution to his own grief had been to re-write his matrix to remove the painful memories. That wasn't an option he could offer Chakotay, even if he thought the First Officer would agree to have his memories of Tom removed. Perhaps B'Elanna had even been right to bring the wedding picture that stood sad vigilance over Chakotay's bed.
Only. looking at it himself, seeing the way the two men were entwined so closely that their sparkling smiles seemed to blend together into just one rapturous expression, the Doctor couldn't imagine it doing anything except driving home to Chakotay the extent of his loss.
The Doctor had been one of the few guests invited to the private and very personal wedding ceremony, one of just five people who had witnessed that embrace first hand. Now, although that moment was captured for all eternity in the photo, it was no longer a picture of hope but rather of loss. And, although holograms weren't meant to be superstitious, he shivered a little as he looked at Tom in the picture.
Had Tom somehow known?
Was that why he'd worn black to his own wedding?
"TOMMY?" Chakotay yelled. He pushed against Tom's bathroom door impatiently, swearing when it refused to open..
"It's locked, doofus," Tom's voice pealed out. "You aren't supposed to see me this morning, remember? And I told you NOT to call me Tommy!"
"We're going to be late," Chakotay pointed out, nerves making him sound irritable.
"We can't be late," Tom chuckled back. "They can hardly start without us, can they?"
"That's not the point, and you know it," Chakotay snapped back.
There was a long, pointed silence from behind the bathroom door.
"Tom?" Chakotay wheedled, tapping the door more gently this time. "I'm sorry babe, I didn't mean to yell. I'm just strung up tighter than a warp core here. I spent the whole night thinking you were going to change your mind."
The door swung open abruptly and Tom was there before him, his blue eyes soft with obvious love, his mouth set into a gentle, almost sad smile.
"I love you big guy," Tom said, then his lips quirked cheekily. "Even if you are a doofus."
Chakotay gave a laugh of relief, and it struck him suddenly what a strange thing love was. It cast a filter over your vision. Offered a new color palette with which to paint the world. It changed your perception of everything. It changed Tom's irreverence to something endearing rather than irritating and. in allowing himself to drown within those blue blue eyes Chakotay felt himself reborn.
Then, like the sensation of a cloud passing over the sun, Chakotay shivered with a strange chill.
"Tommy?" he began.
"I told you not to call me that," Tom growled, but his eyes sparkled with inner amusement.
"I know we said we weren't going to be traditional," Chakotay said cautiously. "but don't you think black is a little inappropriate under the circumstances?"
Tom looked down at himself thoughtfully and ran his fingers slowly over the fine black silk on his chest. Chakotay swallowed heavily as the material tightened over Tom's nipples.
"I think it's a good look for me," Tom argued. "Don't you think I look good in it?"
"Yeah," Chakotay choked "But you'd look better *out* of it!"
Although he'd only reluctantly agreed to having a private ceremony without even a reception afterwards, he abruptly decided Tom's plan to have the shortest wedding ceremony in the universe was a damn good idea after all. A couple of "I do's" and they could back here again within twenty minutes. His fingers itched in expectation of ripping through that black silk to the treasure it concealed.
Tom just smirked as though he could read Chakotay's mind.
Tom was sitting on the floor of the corridor, his back pressed into the wall, his hands hugging his lower legs and his chin resting on his knees. He was attempting to make himself as small as possible to reduce the likely hood of being trodden on by any passing crewmember. He'd realized that people tended to walk down the middle of the passage ways, unless they were in groups, so although he felt vulnerable and shivered with fear whenever anyone approached, he had only been the recipient of two kicks in the last few hours.
Despite his fear, and the discomfort of the cold, hard floor on his ass, he was too exhausted to keep his eyes open. Not that he slept, exactly, he just dozed fitfully, always jerking awake whenever he heard footsteps approaching.
He didn't *want* to sleep. If he had, he'd have crept into a corner of the cargo bay or something. What he *wanted* was to get inside Sickbay. Only no-one had gone in or out of the room for hours. He could only suppose that the Captain had left standing orders that no-one was to disturb Chakotay and, baring some crisis, that meant no-body visiting Sickbay.
So he just sat there on the floor, trying to ignore the chilly metal against his ass and back and the low insistent growling of his empty stomach, and he occasionally prayed that someone would injure themselves.
He knew it was an uncharitable thought and was vaguely ashamed of himself but, on the other hand, since he was literally fighting for his life here, it didn't seem too mean to wish a few cuts and bruises on someone else.
Come to think of it, maybe he could create his *own* crisis to speed things along. Maybe he ought to go find Harry since he seemed to be the person most sensitive to his presence.
"I know you're grieving, Harry," Kathryn said sympathetically, as she turned from the replicator with a fresh cup of coffee. "Tom was your best friend. It's only natural that you are very upset, but you must see that what happened on the Bridge was simply in your imagination."
"No," Harry replied firmly. "It was Tom. I can't explain *why* I know it was really him, but it was. I heard this really faint voice calling my name, and then he touched me, Captain."
You tell her, Harry, Tom grinned smugly from his perch on the side of the ready room table. He had barely arrived at Harry's quarters before the door had opened and Harry had hurried out towards the turbolift. Tom had followed him, keeping as close to the Ensign as he could without suffering physical damage, and they had ended up here, visiting the Captain herself.
Kathryn seated herself, put down the cup and gave Harry a sad look.
"The gas flare from the nebula caused an anti-matter explosion in the shuttle, Harry. That same gas was inside Tom when we tried to transport him. Tom's pattern was filled with baryon particles. Even if we'd managed to stabilize his signal, the moment he solidified he would have...well...he would have..." She paused, uncertain how to put it nicely.
"He would have imploded," Harry finished, with surprising bluntness.
Kathryn swallowed heavily and nodded.
"So that's why we know, beyond any doubt, that he's really dead, Harry."
"I *know* he's dead," Harry snapped, then blushed at the rudeness of his tone.
"Then he couldn't have been on the bridge, could he?" Kathryn pointed out gently.
"I never said he was," Harry replied quietly. "I said his ghost was on the bridge."
"There's no such thing as ghosts, Harry," Kathryn said, with a tired sigh.
Harry's face stiffened.
"With respect Captain, the belief in ghosts is part of my culture. I know you don't share that belief, but that doesn't mean that I am wrong. Whether you chose to believe in ghosts or not, I *know* Tom is still on Voyager and he needs my help."
"Exactly what form of help?" Kathryn asked, regarding Harry cautiously.
Damn, she thought. You always had to watch the quiet ones. She'd always considered Harry to be one hundred percent straight-laced and reliable. Now it seemed that the quiet ensign wasn't as stable as he'd always appeared.
"The only reason Tom's ghost would be trapped here is if he needed something before he moved on. I expect it's just closure with Chakotay but since you've had him sedated, Tom couldn't resolve whatever it is that is keeping him here. So he came to me. When Chakotay wakes up, I'll be able to tell him Tom is here. Chakotay will know what he needs to do. He believes in ghosts too."
Yeah! Go Harry! Tom cheered. His friend's belief in ghosts was a bit fucked-up, but at least he *knew* Tom was really here. Surely he'd be able to convince Chakotay to at least start looking for him.
"I'm really sorry, Harry, but I forbid you to talk to Chakotay about this. The poor man is already grief-stricken. You running to him and telling wild ghost tales is likely to drive him over the edge, and so for his sake, and that of the whole crew, I'm making this an order, Mr. Kim."
BITCH! Tom screamed, jumping up and down furiously.
"I can't tell you what to think, and I am not trying to interfere with your cultural beliefs, but I cannot, and will not, allow you to infect other members of the crew with your theory. I've already received numerous reports of people claiming to have felt cold spots all over the ship. There's already an unhealthy rumor that Tom is haunting the ship and I refuse to allow you to feed it."
She saw Harry opening his mouth to argue, sighed and grabbed her coffee, deciding she needed more caffeine-assistance to cope with Harry's hysteria. She raised the steaming cup to her mouth, inhaled the coffee aroma with pleasure and then she dropped the cup with a yelp.
No sooner had she registered the feeling of freezing numbness that had caused her fingers to lose their grip on the cup handle, than she screamed in true agony as her lap and thighs were scalded with near-boiling coffee.
As Harry called for an emergency medical transport, Tom jumped into the Captain's lap and threw his arms around her neck. Her cries of pain were choked off abruptly as a feeling of intense cold soothed her burns. Tom clung on tight and prayed as the transporter beam caught the Captain and Harry. He didn't know whether he'd be transported with them or left hugging the chair, so he closed his eyes and simply prayed.
"Please state the nature of...oh it's you Captain. What happened?"
Hearing the Doctor's voice, Tom snapped his eyes open in disbelief, gave a holler of excitement and, leaping off the Captain's lap, he raced toward Chakotay.
As soon as the numbing coldness left her, Kathryn was assaulted again by the fierce agony of her burned thighs. She gave a gasp of pain, then passed out.
Wake up, Chakotay. It's me. It's Tommy. I'm here. Please Chakotay. Please wake up. Please see me, Tom chanted in a ceaseless mantra, almost oblivious to the small drama happening behind him as the Doctor attempted to remove the Captain's pants without taking half her scalded skin away with the material it was fused to.
He felt vaguely guilty, of course, but he knew she'd barely felt the pain because of his immediate jumping into her lap and, besides, the doctor could just swipe a regenerator over her burns. All in all, she was in a far better position than he was. Even if he somehow managed to survive this whole experience, he'd probably end up in the brig for attacking a superior officer.
Shit, Chakotay. You've gotta wake up.
He stroked desperately at Chakotay's forehead, tracing the pattern of the tattoo that now graced Chakotay's right temple, but although the older man flinched from Tom's icy touch, he just moaned and continued to sleep.
CHAKOTAY! Tom wailed, tears of frustration rolling down his cheeks. He leant down and pressed his lips against Chakotay's mouth. He tried to press his tongue between the slightly parted lips but they wouldn't allow him in, so he just sucked desperately, drinking in the taste of his beloved, his tears dripping down onto Chakotay's face.
He didn't hear Harry run over, he only felt the violent shove that knocked him off the bio-bed to land heavily on the floor.
"Doc," Harry yelled. "Come here. There's something wrong."
The Doctor raced over and Tom scrambled backwards hurriedly, unsure whether a collision with a hologram would hurt but unwilling to find out.
"His lips are blue," Harry explained, frantically.
The Doctor impatiently thrust Harry out of the way and ran a tricorder over the sleeping man. He looked at the results and looked puzzled.
"It's not oxygen deprivation, it's just a reaction to cold," he told Harry. "Which is peculiar since the ambient temperature in here is more than adequate for a human and the rest of his body is normal."
Harry blinked. He'd been in too much of a panic to register it at the time, but now his heart had slowed down a little, he remembered hitting an invisible wall of intense cold as he had approached Chakotay's biobed.
"Tom?" he questioned warily, looking around the room with an expression of combined fear and hope. "Are you here?"
"What ARE you talking about, Ensign Kim?" the Doctor snapped impatiently.
Harry glanced worriedly over to the Captain. He saw that she was still unconscious but he still lowered his voice cautiously before replying.
"Tom's here," he said with confidence. "That's why the Commander's lips are cold. Tom kissed him."
Oh shit, Harry. I LOVE YOU, Tom yelled, surging to his feet and hugging himself gleefully.
"Tom's here?" the Doctor asked, his face a mask of polite interest.
"Tom's ghost, I mean," Harry clarified. "You've got to wake the Commander up."
"Yes," the Doctor replied calmly. "If Tom is here to see him. I'd better wake the Commander up."
Harry grinned in relief as the Doctor reached for a hypospray.
"Tom won't be at peace until he's said goodbye," he chattered happily, relieved that at least the Doctor was taking him seriously. "It's okay Tom," he called out to the room. "We're going to wake him up for you."
Which was when the doctor pressed the hypospray to the back of Harry's neck.
FUCKER! Tom screamed at the hologram. He raced forward and aimed a punch at the back of the Doctor's head. His arm passed right through the holographic image and smacked into Harry's face. Fortunately, the only damage Tom did was to his own knuckles.
That's interesting though, he told himself, as he watched the Doctor haul the now unconscious Harry over to a spare bio-bed. I can see the Doc, but he's no more real here than I am.
Tom narrowed his eyes in thought. The Doctor was a collection of photons, just a trick of light really, and although he was visible to Tom, he had no real presence. Tom had flunked most of his science classes as the academy, only staying enrolled (until his ignominious dismissal) by virtue of his high scores in computer programming and flying. So although he had a niggling suspicion lurking in his subconscious, he couldn't quite get his head around the problem. But it had something to do with the properties of light, he was sure of that, even if he didn't know what those properties were.
No-one, including the Doc, could see him but he could see them. So they fit within the spectrum of his vision but he didn't fit within theirs. So, in a way, he was like a hologram here himself, only he was a *different* kind of hologram. He looked at Chakotay again, narrowing his eyes at the tattoo.
If he worked on the assumption that everything on Voyager was normal, then rather than everything (like Chakotay's tattoo) being reversed, it was he himself who was reversed, and maybe that meant his 'light' was reversed too. So instead of being visible light like the Doctor, he was *invisible* light.
Tom had no idea what it meant if he was right, but somehow it still made him feel better. He had a hypothesis to work with, which meant he maybe had a chance to solve his own problem.
Which was just as well.
Seeing the way the Doctor had responded to Harry, Tom was suddenly sure that it would be a seriously bad idea to be here when Chakotay woke up. If Chakotay *could* see him, Tom had better make damned certain that he approached his husband when they were alone.
"Tommy!" Chakotay screamed.
"I told you....umnnn....not...uhh...to call...argh...me that...ohhhhhh," Tom gasped, as he ground his hips and gave a few last quivering jerks as Chakotay's contractions viciously squeezed the last drops out of his cock. He collapsed on top of the older man, his face burrowing into the strong, hairless chest, his lips laving hungrily at Chakotay's nipples.
"Don't move," Chakotay whispered. "Stay there."
Tom just grunted his agreement since he was too exhausted to move anyway, and Chakotay lay there in contentment. He knew Tom's softening cock would eventually slip out from between his thighs, but in the meantime he wanted to savor this joining for as long as possible. His ass tingled as an army of would-be Parises surged around in a hopeless quest for immortality. He felt slightly sorry that the marriage had effectively rendered Tom's sperm redundant. The universe would probably be better for the presence of more Toms.
Maybe if they ever got home, Chakotay would bring up the subject of children. In the Alpha Quadrant they'd just have to visit a clinic, donate some DNA and return nine months later to pick up the baby. Then again, he didn't see either Tom or himself as the type to change nappies.
"Maybe we could collect it when it's a toddler," he murmured aloud.
"What?" Tom mumbled sleepily, before returning to suck placidly on Chakotay's right tit.
"Nothing," Chakotay replied with a shudder, remembering that toddlers turned into teenagers. Maybe they should collect the kid when he or she was past puberty.
Then, as Tom continued to suckle hungrily, Chakotay wondered why he was even thinking about children at all. Just because he'd always equated family with kids, was no reason he had to follow that path. The truth was that Tom was all the family he ever needed. Tom was all the *anything* he ever needed and no amount of children would replace the gaping hole that Tom's absence in his life would create.
He shuddered a little and hugged Tom tightly, abruptly aware of how fragile and mortal the man in his arms was.
"I love you Tommy," he whispered fearfully. "Don't ever leave me."
"I ain't going nowhere, big guy," Tom promised.
Chakotay snapped awake with a howl of "TOMMY!"
He jerked upwards in the bio-bed, looking around the room with blind, helpless panic.
The Doctor rushed over, hypospray in hand.
"Commander?" he asked cautiously.
Chakotay just looked blankly at him, silent tears streaming down his cheeks, but before the Doctor could make the decision to sedate him again, Chakotay caught sight of the wedding picture.
"He lied," he whispered.
"He said he wouldn't leave me," Chakotay explained quietly, "but he lied."
"I want to go back to our quarters," Chakotay said with quiet dignity. "I have preparations to make."
"For the memorial service," Chakotay explained. "There are certain rituals that I need to perform. I need to meditate and I have to do that in private."
"Of course," the Doctor agreed. He understood that humans used rituals as part of their grieving process and since the Commander seemed in control of himself, he could think of no medical reason to keep him in sickbay.
Tom crouched under a vacant table, out of the way of passing feet, until the Mess Hall emptied. Only when even Neelix had left did he find the courage to scurry out and approach the galley. He was so thirsty that his voice was now little more than a croak, not that anyone could hear it anyway, but his main problem was that his lips were beginning to crack and scab. He'd spent the last hour practically drooling at the thought of pressing his mouth against the side of the cold food compartment. Neelix hadn't defrosted it yet this week and there was a thin layer of ice crystals along the edges of that section of the galley.
He approached the galley with trepidation. He'd run the idea through his head a thousand times over the last hour and he still didn't know whether there was any scientific basis for his theory. It was just that he'd been thinking about his inability to drink the gravy. Perhaps it had been as much to do with temperature as anything else. He understood why food would be a problem. He seemed to have a far lighter density than the rest of the ship. Even if he managed to swallow something it would probably sit like a lead balloon in his stomach. Which would be interesting if people could see the morsel of food floating around. He surely should be able to ingest a little liquid though. Perhaps he'd simply congealed the gravy by touching it. It was possible that a more simplistic liquid would be easier to ingest.
He knew he was taking a risk with the ice. Considering the fact that his touch was icy to everyone on the ship, there was the distinct possibility that he'd touch the ice and turn it even colder. Which would leave him adhered by the lips to the side of the compartment. But maybe, just maybe, he would have the reverse affect on the ice. Perhaps in this fucked up reality, his touch would melt the ice and maybe, in the act of changing it into water, he'd also somehow transform it into a substance that he could absorb. He knew it was a pretty fucked-up and desperate theory, but it was the best he could come up with.
He touched the ice tentatively with the tip of his finger, deciding it would be less painful to rip the skin off his hand than off his lips. For a moment nothing happened, and then instead of the biting sensation of cold, he felt a tiny drop of moisture on his finger. He lifted the finger to his mouth and licked. It was impossible to tell whether it had worked or not, since his finger remained damp. Deciding what the hell, he stuck his face into the compartment and thrust his face against the ice crystals.
Oh GOD, Tom groaned in ecstasy as he rubbed his chapped lips over the ice. He didn't know whether he was managing to drink any of the melting liquid, but it sure as hell felt fucking wonderful against his mouth.
There was nothing except a blackness so intense that it was less a color than simply a complete and absolute absence of light.
Chakotay's eyes struggled bravely to adjust, but this was not gloom, it was *nothingness* and there was nothing to adjust to. There was no spirit guide here to guide his way, no path to follow, no understanding to be reached.
Just the frigid blackness of complete vacuum. It drained the strength from his legs and the courage from his spirit until all that was left, in that terrible, lonely place, was the slow pounding of his own broken heart.
"What the hell is going on this ship?" Kathryn growled, slamming herself into her chair then wincing as the newly regenerated skin on her thighs punished her with a resentful twinge. She glared at Tuvok angrily as though he was personally responsible for the chaos of the last few hours.
Since, as Security Chief, Tuvok *did* feel slightly responsible, he took her unfair attitude in his stride.
"I believe it is a collective case of mass-hysteria, Captain. Tom's death has affected the whole crew very deeply it seems and they are responding in a most illogical manner."
"To put it mildly," Kathryn huffed. "Have you isolated the problem with the environmental controls yet?"
"There is no problem," Tuvok replied. "We have run a level three diagnostic over the whole infrastructure of the system and the ambient temperature is remaining constant all over the ship. The incidents people are reporting must therefore be psychological in nature."
"Bullshit," Kathryn snapped.
Tuvok raised one eyebrow in a gesture presumably meant to convey both surprise and disapproval. The Captain decided she didn't give a damn.
"I experienced the phenomena myself, Tuvok, and I am most certainly NOT hysterical."
Tuvok gave her a slightly doubtful glance, but merely nodded.
"I will run a more thorough diagnostic," he offered.
Tom finally tired of racing around the ship like a capricious spirit, frightening the bejesus out of everyone he passed.
He'd discovered that if he stood far back enough from people before punching them in the face he was less likely to be struck by them as they flailed in panic. It took a full-fist blow to affect them enough to nearly jump out of their skin, and his fist was beginning to swell to the size of a basket-ball, but the 'rumor' of his haunting was becoming the only conversational topic on the ship.
Harry might be doped up in sickbay, and therefore unable to tell Chakotay he was here, but Tom was making damned certain that the rumor reached Chakotay anyway.
It had begun as an act of desperation, then he had started to enjoy himself, but now all he wanted to do was return to Chakotay. He had overheard that Chakotay was back in their quarters, so all he needed now was a way to get inside and it seemed he had just lucked out. He'd emerged into engineering just in time to hear B'Elanna say she was on her way to check Chakotay was alright since he wasn't answering her hails.
He followed her into the turbolift and kept well back, worried that if she 'felt' him she might return to engineering to check on this new evidence of a 'cold pocket' in the lift. Then he shuffled impatiently from foot to foot as she wasted several minutes requesting that Chakotay let her in.
Just override the fucking door panel, Tom groaned.
And, although she didn't hear him, she did exactly that.
Tom punched the air in relieved celebration and began to follow her gleefully into his Quarters, only to collide painfully with her back when she abruptly halted.
"Chakotay?" she whispered.
Rubbing his swollen nose in annoyance, Tom skipped around her then froze too. Chakotay was sitting cross-legged in the middle of their living room. He was stark naked and swaying over his medicine bundle. His eyes were open, but they were blank in a face that was frozen in an expression of bleak hopelessness, and he was making small mewling noises of obvious distress.
B'Elanna opened her mouth to call for medical assistance, then abruptly changed her mind. This wasn't a medical crisis, she realized, it was a spiritual one and waking Chakotay abruptly could have tragic consequences. She raced for the bathroom, grabbed both Tom and Chakotay's robes and then draped them around Chakotay's rigid frame, praying that the warmth would somehow help to comfort him. Then she sank to the floor, crossed her own legs, took Chakotay's frozen fingers in her own and closed her eyes, willing herself to remember all he had taught her about spirit walks.
Tom, in the meantime, paced around the room in complete panic. It looked to him as though Chakotay had gone looking for him, and from the expression on his face, whatever he'd found was as much a nightmare as Tom's new reality.
He saw the way B'Elanna tried to help and his heart warmed. At least Chakotay had some *real* friends, people Tom could depend on to help the big guy get over him if he died. There was a certain amount of comfort in that thought, at least.
But not *that* much comfort.
Come on, Chak. Snap out of it. I need you! he shouted suddenly, smacking his palm against the side of Chakotay's face.
Or at least that's what he tried to do. Instead, his hand simply sank *into* Chakotay's face and stayed there. Tom panicked and tried to pull his hand out, but it wouldn't move. He wriggled his wrist and pushed forward until his whole arm disappeared. It wasn't like when he passed *through* the Doctor, this time he was actually being absorbed *into* Chakotay's body.
Closing his eyes, Tom made a leap of faith, and let his whole body fall against Chakotay's.
There, finally, in the midst of the darkness, Chakotay saw a tiny pinprick of light. Barely trusting his eyes, Chakotay staggered to his feet and began to stumble awkwardly forward towards the light that flickered like a candle blowing in a faint breeze.
TOMMY? he yelled.
All around him, the darkness constricted, then seemed to ripple and he was thrust forward at a sickening speed until he crashed heavily to his knees in front of the glowing form of his husband.
"Chakotay?" Tom asked cautiously. The tunnel was so bright around him that it blinded his eyes and he could barely see the figure crouching within the strange orb of dark light.
Tommy? Chakotay sobbed.
Tears of relief began to stream down Tom's face.
"I told you not to call me that," he sniffled. He tried to reach out to touch Chakotay but the dark light repelled him.
I miss you so much, Tommy Chakotay sobbed. But it won't be for long. Now I know you're here. Now I know you're waiting for me, I'll come to you. I swear Tommy. You won't be alone for much longer.
Tom's face blanched with horror as he understood Chakotay's meaning.
"No, Chak. You don't understand. I'm not dead. This isn't the spirit plane. Or maybe it is, I don't know, but I'm not dead. I'm still on Voyager. I'm just invisible. Well I'm more than invisible. I'm all fucked up. But I'm not dead."
You're alive. YOU'RE ALIVE!
Chakotay surged to his feet and dove for Tom. He wrapped his arms around him in an enveloping hug, too excited to see the way that Tom winced in pain as the dark light surrounded him. Chakotay drove his mouth against Tom's and pressed his tongue hungrily between Tom's lips.
Only to abruptly release him and stagger back, rubbing his mouth frantically against the sickly-sweet taste of Tom's flesh. His nose and mouth were filled with a smell and taste so foully repellant that he stumbled back in panic when Tom tried to follow his retreat.
Tom smelt and tasted of diseased rotting flesh
"Chakotay?" Tom wailed, heart-broken as Chakotay staggered away from him with wide repulsed eyes.
You're not Tom, Chakotay sobbed. You're an evil spirit mocking my grief
Then, before Tom could deny it, Chakotay simply disappeared. Then the tunnel of light disappeared too, and Tom found himself back in his quarters where Chakotay was busy throwing up on the carpet.
"What if it really was Tom?" B'Elanna asked, although she was only playing devil's advocate.
"How could it be?" Chakotay replied sadly. "He repulsed me, B'Elanna, and how could I ever feel that way about Tom? Everything about him was *wrong* somehow. It wasn't just his taste and smell, he didn't even... well somehow, he didn't even *look* like Tom."
"Well if he didn't look like him, why did you think he *was* Tom?" B'Elanna asked reasonably.
Yeah, you tell him B'El Tom sniffed from the corner of the room, hugging himself in misery and shooting decidedly unfriendly looks at his so-called soul-mate. I repulsed him? Fucking bastard. If I ever get rescued I'm gonna kick him in his fucking balls for saying that!
Chakotay frowned in confusion.
"He did look like Tom but he didn't."
B'Elanna gave an exasperated sigh of confusion that was echoed far less sympathetically by Tom.
"I can't quite put my finger on it, but he was *wrong* somehow." Chakotay stared thoughtfully at a picture of Tom on the wall, then snapped his fingers excitedly. "That's it. He didn't look like Tom. He looked like a picture of Tom, or more like a reflection, a mirror image maybe. His hair was wrong."
"It was parted on the wrong side!" Chakotay said triumphantly.
"But if he was an evil spirit, why would he have been trying to convince you NOT to kill yourself?"
Chakotay looked at B'Elanna in sudden terror.
"It's okay, Chakotay," she murmured, rubbing his fingers sympathetically. "I know you want to be with him, and I understand. What doesn't make sense though, is why this mirror Tom would have told you he was alive. Surely it would have made more sense for an evil spirit to confirm Tom was dead."
"What if he IS alive?" Chakotay asked, then surged to his feet in excitement.
"What if it WAS Tom?"
"You've lost me," B'Elanna said, completely bemused by Chakotay's about turn.
"I saw him in reverse, didn't I?"
"So you say," B'Elanna agreed cautiously.
"So maybe I sensed him in reverse too."
"Now you've definitely lost me."
"Look B'El. I adore Tom. I adore everything about him. The way he looks, the way he smells, the way he tastes. But if Tom was reversed, then maybe his scent would repel me."
"I need to talk to the Doctor and the Captain. I'm not good at science, but I've got a vague idea of what's happened to Tom. I think Tom IS alive, B'Elanna and with a little help I can maybe prove it."
Hallefuckinglulyah! Tom sighed, deciding he'd maybe hold back on the kick to Chakotay's balls after all.
"So what did he smell like?" the Doctor asked.
"Doctor," Kathryn interrupted, concerned that the EMH seemed to be feeding Chakotay's delusion.
"It's important," the hologram snapped impatiently.
"Wrong," Chakotay replied slowly.
Kathryn sighed impatiently but the Doctor ignored her.
"Explain," he demanded excitedly.
"I smelt something," Chakotay explained, "but it wasn't Tom, I can't explain what it was. Except that somehow it was the complete opposite of Tom. Almost a sickly sweetness like…like decay perhaps. It was repugnant."
"So in this so-called delusion, Tom's taste and smell was repulsive?"
"Yes," Chakotay admitted with a guilty sob. "But he *was* there. I saw him. I know it was him. Maybe my senses were just playing tricks on me."
"As it seems were your eyes," Tuvok murmured dismissively.
"IT WAS TOM!" Chakotay roared.
"Yes," the Doctor replied. "Perhaps it was."
Everyone, including Chakotay, turned to look at him in astonishment.
"I've got a theory," the EMH explained slowly. "I need to check on some things, run a few experiments. I need Seven's assistance I think because I'm not sure how the helicity of the nebula could have done it, but it makes some form of sense."
"Chirality," the Doctor replied. "If I'm right then it is possible that Tom Paris is still alive, in some fashion at least."
"What's chirality," Chakotay demanded.
To his surprise, it was the Captain who answered him.
"In simple terms, chirality is "handedness"; the existence of left/right opposition. Look at your right hand, Chakotay. It's asymmetric. Its mirror image is your left hand. If you tried to superimpose your two hands you couldn't do it. Something is chiral when it is not superposable to its mirror image."
It was the sudden excitement in her voice that broke through to him. He looked at her in wonder. Her previous expression of sorrowful skepticism had been abruptly replaced by a frowning look of intense concentration.
"Tuvok," she snapped, turning to the Vulcan . "I want you to double check the spectral analysis you ran on the ship directly after Tom's disappearance. Look for unusual wavebands of circularly polarized ultraviolet light."
"To what end?" Tuvok queried impassively.
"We're looking for evidence of a circularly polarized violation that could have caused asymmetry between matter and anti-matter."
"I understand the theory Captain. With circularly polarized light, the electric field direction rotates along the beam, so it is a chiral phenomenon. "
"Exactly," the Doctor beamed.
"However it is highly improbable. Circularly polarized light is absorbed differently by left and right enantiomers. It would be unlikely to produce the necessary 100 % homochirality required for life."
"But it's possible," Kathryn argued.
Tuvok nodded reluctantly. "Highly improbable but, you are correct, that it is possible."
Chakotay surged to his feet, his eyes flashing dangerously.
"What the hell are you all talking about?" he demanded furiously. "IS Tom alive?"
"We don't know," Kathryn replied, "but it IS possible. You understand the Big Bang theory?"
Chakotay nodded cautiously.
"Well, it's a little complicated, but basically the Big Bang almost produced an equal amount of matter and antimatter, but not quite: for every 10 billion anti-baryons, 10 billion and one baryons were produced. One theory is that it was a violation of circularly polarized light that caused the asymmetry between matter and anti-matter in the Universe."
"What does this have to do with Tom?"
"Chirality," the Doctor interrupted. "You said that when you saw Tom he had somehow been reversed. You said that his taste and smell repelled you, rather than attracting you. Those are also reversed reactions, but more than that they are chiral reactions. The chiral opposite of sweet is sour and it can occur in a single molecule. So the right-hand of the molecule is the opposite of the left-hand."
"The transporter records confirm that Tom was altered at a molecular level," Tuvok added, his posture relaxing slightly as his resistance to the possibility began to transform into guarded interest.
"Most life molecules turn the polarity plane to the left. but amino-acids, which are supposed to be at the origin of life, are of right chirality," the Doctor continued.
"But what has this got to do with what happened to Tom?" Chakotay demanded.
"Well that depends on the helicity of the flares from the nebula, which is something Seven can check for us. In theory, a zero mass neutrino can only have a left helicity. It is very peculiar to the weak interaction, which produces only left helicity neutrinos. A neutrino could be of left or right chirality. But a zero mass neutrino having a left helicity would be always of left chirality... "
"Except that a wrong-handed amino acid disrupts the stabilizing a-helix in proteins. DNA could not be stabilized in a helix if even a single wrong-handed monomer were present, so it could not form long chains. This means it could not store much information, so it could not support life." Tuvok argued.
"The proteins that make up muscles, the glycogen in liver and blood, the enzymes and hormones, are all optically active and we can only speculate as to the origin of the optically active enzymes" the Doctor snapped.
Seeing Chakotay about to explode with frustration, Kathryn took pity on him.
"Put it this way, Chakotay. We don't know the true origin of life, but if we accept the big bang theory then we are saying that the Universe we see was created by a violation of circularly polarized light. Now since that universe is based on the principle of symmetry, chirality suggests that there is also a mirror universe that co-exists with this one. Only, in that universe everything would be reversed. What we're speculating about is that if the flares from the nebula were generating zero mass neutrinos of a right helicity, then they couldn't exist in our universe. They would enter the mirror universe instead.
"When the gas entered the shuttle it caused an antimatter explosion. That suggests that the balance of baryons was contrary to normal matter in our universe. But for some reason, as we attempted to transport Tom, his body's chemical balance altered so that only the left-hand of his molecules remained. His density, temperature, even the way he smells would have been changed. That way, he would have been able to survive the gas, but he should have rematerialized into the mirror universe and the Tom in that universe should have rematerialized here. By which we mean an asymmetrical mirror image. It would have been confusing for Tom because as far as he was concerned, everything would be back to front."
"Only he didn't, because NEITHER Tom rematerialized here," Chakotay argued.
"Perhaps he did in a way. Tom gained the properties of the mirror universe, but rematerialized on the wrong ship. He came back here, instead of going there and vice versa I assume." Kathryn answered. "Which leaves us with two options, as I see it. We return to the nebula, isolate Tom's pattern now we know what to look for and either try to convince this Tom to allow us try transporting him to the other universe, or simply attempt to reverse the chirality effect."
"What if they don't do the same in the other universe? What if our Tom ends up there and we don't get their Tom in return?" Chakotay asked.
"Then at least ONE of the Toms survives. Think about it, Chakotay. What is he eating or drinking here? His body is incapable of surviving in the wrong universe. Maybe that explains the increased reports of 'hauntings'. He's been getting increasingly desperate. He knows he's dying."