Time nor Tide

Rated PG13

Summary: A post- Endgame fixer upper of sorts. Kathryn has a surprise visitor who sets in motion an adventure that involves Voyager, time and new enemies.

Happy birthday, audabee. This is a little late but it seems to be the rule these days. 😀

Thanks again to Kim J for the wonderful beta and to Corinna for the read through. I have, however, fiddled with it since so any mistakes are mine.

A story in Three Chapters.

Disclaimer: CBS/Paramount owns everything. No infringement intended.


 

Chapter One.

Kathryn watched from the upper gangway as the latest transport from Romulus docked at the Bracketville spaceport. It settled on the decking with a loud clang and as soon as the whine of the inertial dampeners faded, a small complement of Starfleet security quick-marched towards the small vessel. The hatch hissed open and within moments, the first of many weary Romulan refugees tentatively made their way out of the transport to be ushered towards the Customs area.

As with all those before them, this new group of exiles consisted mostly of women and children. There were a few elderly men amongst them but the vast majority of their youth were either dead or still battling the Remans back in their home space.

The civil war – sparked by Shinzon’s abortive attempt to take over the Romulan senate – had devastated the once proud Empire and Kathryn shook her head sadly as she cast her eyes over the forty or so evacuees slowly making their way towards the decontamination bay. She admired their stoicism, particularly under the circumstances. The fortunes of war were rarely kind to civilians and Romulan pride had suffered a grievous blow when they’d been forced to ask for Federation assistance to deal with their displaced population.

The Shinzon fiasco and the disintegration of the Romulan governmental system had caused a monumental upheaval within their realm. The disgruntled Remans had gone on a rampage throughout the sector, thousands of Romulan citizens had been killed and many more displaced. Forced to flee their homes, they’d scattered to refugee camps along the edge of the neutral zone eventually finding sanctuary outside the Empire.

In accordance with the Federation’s humanitarian edicts, they were accepting hundreds of refugees every week for relocation and integration, and it was Kathryn’s job to oversee the deployment and repatriation of the exiled aliens.

Ever since the first refugees had begun arriving over a month ago, she’d spent every day here. In a convoluted way, Kathryn felt responsible for their plight. It was she who had ordered the Enterprise to Romulus – although it was an order issued from higher in the ranks and against her better judgement. The memory of it still rankled but, as the newest, and supposedly least experienced Admiral in Starfleet, she’d had little say in the matter. Her orders had come from those apparently more ‘conversant’ with the Romulan/Reman situation than she was.

That particular concept evoked a derisive snort. She’d come to realise that for the most part, the upper echelons of Starfleet’s admiralty had their heads so firmly wedged up their own asses they wouldn’t know a ‘situation’ if it reared up and smacked them right in the middle of their collective foreheads.

Taking a deep breath to stop the irritation from leaching too close to the surface, Kathryn glanced at the security officer standing to attention at her right. Luckily, he couldn’t read her mind – at least she hoped not – and her lips twitched at the thought. She looked very much the ‘admiral’ on the outside but on the inside it was a different story altogether.

And this was causing her more than a little grief.

She’d been frustrated by the constraints imposed upon her by Hayes and his cronies. Right from the initial briefings about the Romulans, her gut instincts had told her that acquiescing to Shinzon’s demands was a mistake.

The moment the self-professed Praetor insisted that Picard be sent as the Federation envoy, coupled with Starfleet’s reluctance to send back up for the Enterprise, Kathryn’s inner red alert had blared insistently. Gathered intelligence regarding Shinzon had been scarce – not to mention questionable in its veracity – and they knew so little about the Remans that no one had even seen Shinzon before Picard and his team beamed over to his Warbird and were confronted with the mind-boggling truth. As far as she was concerned, the entire mission had disaster written all over it right from the word go.

It didn’t take a genius to realise that Shinzon’s overtures of friendship were a smokescreen for something far more sinister, but there was no way she could convince the powers that be to postpone the mission or at least investigate further before putting the Enterprise at risk.

Starfleet and the Federation were allowing themselves to be manipulated and although she’d tried her damnedest to convince them to delay, her instincts were not considered evidence enough of potential disaster. They’d been so vehemently opposed to the idea of aborting the mission – unreasonably so, in her opinion – that it still made her angry just to think about it.

Even after all these weeks, no matter how hard Kathryn tried to convince herself that it was merely her imagination, something still niggled in the back of her mind. Her stomach had been in knots from the moment she’d given the assignment to Jean-Luc and as much as she wanted to ignore it, the word conspiracy kept rearing its ugly head.

The situation had been a harsh reminder of where she was situated in the pecking order – apparently at the very bottom of the heap – and her absolute and unquestioning obedience was now expected. As Tom had so succinctly put it, she wasn’t the ‘Queen Poobah’ anymore; she was merely a cog in the wheel of the great lumbering machine that was Starfleet.

The thought was somewhat daunting and demoralising.

What made it all the worse was that she knew she’d been used and hated the fact. She was convinced that Hayes had some sort of agenda and she’d been the patsy who’d taken the fall – not to mention poor Jean Luc and his crew. The realisation had prompted some very serious soul-searching in regard to what her future might hold. Her part in Shinzon’s demise, the subsequent near-destruction of the Enterprise and the loss of so many of its crew – most significantly, Data – had led her to question her true motives behind staying in Starfleet. Convenience and complacency weren’t good enough reasons anymore. Her time in the Delta Quadrant had changed her so profoundly that her unquestioning loyalty to the Federation juggernaut had become difficult to justify and sustain.

But there was also the disturbing notion that because she’d been on her own for so long – the lone master of hers and Voyager’s destinies – that she was unable to take an order or quietly acquiesce to a command. Had she become so arrogant and pigheaded that she was incapable of following a directive without argument? Did she really know better than those whose authority she felt compelled to debate? Or had megalomania set in? It was food for thought. But whatever the reason, her life since arriving back in the Alpha Quadrant hadn’t panned out quite how she’d imagined it would. The crew had disbanded, slowly but surely, drifting away from one another and, although she was in contact with many of them, her relationship with Chakotay had suffered the most. During those last harrowing days onboard Voyager, he’d been remote and uncommunicative. She’d eventually discovered why, thanks to the Admiral’s callous declaration of what their futures held, but the damage had been done and they’d spoken only a few times since their return. She missed him. She missed them all but it was the path that life had chosen for her and it was up to her to make the best of it. Her shoulders sagged. It was easier said than done.

Turning her head, she could see her reflection in the window of the decontamination bay and stared for a long moment at the stony-faced woman in the unflattering grey uniform. For God’s sake, she looked as though she’d aged years in the last few months and although she’d been wearing the new uniform for almost half a year now, it still didn’t look right. She felt a stab of nostalgia for her old maroon-shouldered jumpsuit; it had represented happier and, in many ways, simpler times. Taking a deep breath, she chided herself for her pathetic thoughts and for indulging in this wallowing pity fest. Shying away from the jarring reflection, she returned her gaze to the line of Romulan civilians and concentrated on her duty.

The Starfleet security officers were efficient, aloof and appeared to be treating the new arrivals with an acceptable degree of respect, but inwardly Kathryn cringed as she watched the long line of women and children herded like cattle through the quarantine and customs areas. She wasn’t sure why the Med corps felt it was necessary to put them through the humiliation of decontamination but it seemed that no matter how redundant or outmoded, regulations were regulations. The most virulent disease they’d found so far had been two cases of Rigellian Flu – something that could have been contracted anywhere and Kathryn made a mental note to speak to the Doctor to see if there was anything that could be done to at least spare the new arrivals this one indignity.

It made Kathryn curse the vagaries of fate and selfish desires of bastards like Shinzon. How many of these bullies had she dealt with over the years? They were all the same, merely endowed with varying degrees of unprincipled malevolence.

Walking down the gangway, she moved away from her reflection and a little closer to the line of refugees. A young boy stared up at her with wide, frightened eyes but she smiled at him reassuringly and was pleased when he gave her a shy smile in return before moving on towards the officials.

She looked along the line again as it inched forward and a young woman caught her gaze. She was staring at Kathryn as if she knew her; the look was so intense it bordered on challenging. Kathryn acknowledged her with a slight nod, which prompted the woman’s shoulders to relax. With a broad smile, she inclined her head before reaching into her cloak.

In an instant, a Security guard pounced, dragged her from the line, pinned her arms behind her back and aimed a phaser at her side. The women and children closest to them scattered, and some of the little ones started to whimper.

Bolting into action, Kathryn strode towards the fracas, barking orders. “Lieutenant, let her go and put away that weapon.”

“Admiral, my orders are to …”

Kathryn’s voice was quiet but as hard as flint. “What? Shoot unarmed civilians?”

“No Ma’am but…”

“Are you arguing with me, Lieutenant?”

“No Ma’am.”

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed.

“I mean Admiral.” He let the Romulan woman go, but kept his phaser surreptitiously aimed at her midriff.

Kathryn ignored him and addressed the woman. “Are you all right?”

“I am unharmed. Thank you.”

“It might be wise for you to show us what you were reaching for… but slowly.”

“I have no wish to harm anyone. I only wanted to give you this.” She again reached into her cloak, but held it open so that both Kathryn and the guard could see what she was doing. From the inside pocket she retrieved a small data node – an old one by the look of it.

Puzzled, Kathryn pointed to it. “That’s for me?”

“You are Kathryn Janeway?”

“I am.”

“Then, yes, I am to give it to you.”

The guard stepped forward, took the node from the woman and quickly scanned it. He nodded to Kathryn that it was safe and placed it in her hand.

Kathryn took the small disc and then studied the woman for a moment. There was something vaguely familiar about her but it was difficult to put her finger on exactly what it was. Perhaps she was someone whose image she’d seen in passing during her briefings on the Romulan situation. Nodding at the guard, Kathryn snapped out an order. “Lieutenant, please escort…” She looked towards the woman, silently prompting her for her name.

“Onara, Onara R’mor.”

“…Ms R’mor to the briefing room after she has been through customs.” She turned to the woman. “I’m sorry but you will have to go through the quarantine check before we meet.”

“I understand and thank you, Admiral. I look forward to it.”

The guard escorted the woman back into the line and Kathryn watched for a moment longer, trying to figure out why she seemed so familiar. With the data node clutched in her hand, she began to climb the gangway towards the briefing room.

Onara R’mor. She knew that name too. R’mor, R’mor.

R’mor!!

Kathryn swung around just in time to see the Romulan woman disappear into the quarantine area.

Her memories swept her back almost seven years to the first of their many great disappointments. Captain Telek R’mor – presumably the woman’s father – had been the Romulan captain whom they’d contacted through Harry’s temporal micro-wormhole all those years ago.

********************************

It had been only three months into their journey and hopes were still riding high that around the next corner they would find a way home. When Harry stumbled upon the subspace anomaly, they’d pinned their hopes on it being a route back to Earth. It had indeed been a wormhole that led back to the Alpha Quadrant but the aperture was minuscule; its pathway filled with gravitational eddies and the entire thing was in a state of advanced decay.

After making contact with Telek’s vessel on the other side, B’Elanna came up with the idea of transporting the crew through the wormhole to the Romulan science vessel – if they could convince the ship’s captain to agree. It had all looked feasible for a short time but there was a glitch – as always.

Captain Telek R’mor had agreed to meet with Kathryn by beaming through the wormhole and it was then that they’d been able to identify the phase variance within the anomaly – it was temporal in nature and would have landed them some twenty years in Earth’s past. Despite their intense desire to go home, the ramifications to the timeline were too extreme to contemplate going ahead with the scheme.

Disappointment had been acute and Kathryn’s optimism had taken a grievous blow.

The only things left to do were to entrust Telek with a computer chip containing messages to loved ones and ask that he notify the Federation in twenty years time to let them know of Voyager’s plight. It had been so tempting to ask him to contact Starfleet at an earlier date and stop the entire mission but – as Chakotay had pointed out at the time – they’d already made their mark on the Delta Quadrant. If Voyager failed to appear, the people and events there would be drastically affected. It was only after the Romulan Captain had transported back through the wormhole to his ship and time period did Tuvok inform them that Telek had died in 2367, four years before Voyager left to pursue the Maquis into the Badlands.

They’d been devastated and it had become the first of many blighted moments in Voyager’s history of bad luck.

The incident had also heralded another first – it was the only time that Kathryn ever cried on duty. After leaving the transporter room, she’d handed the Bridge over to Chakotay, entered her Ready Room and stood by the viewport, arms wrapped tightly around her middle as she sobbed. The unfamiliar stars had blurred behind the haze of tears; it was a bitter reminder of where she was and where she was destined to stay for the foreseeable future. The catharsis had been intense but short-lived and, within ten minutes, she was back in her command chair. Still, it had been a moment of profound regret and harsh realisation that they may not make it home in her lifetime.

************************************

At the wash of emotion the memory evoked, Kathryn closed her eyes for moment and then opened them again to peer down at the data node in her hand. She was sorely tempted to view its contents but decided to wait for Onara R’mor and hear what she had to say. The Romulan woman appeared to be in her mid-twenties which would fit with the timeline and the daughter of whom Telek had spoken all those years ago.

It never ceased to amaze Kathryn just what the universe managed to throw at her. Who could ever have imagined the extraordinary set of circumstances that would bring the daughter of that distant – in both time and space – Romulan captain literally to her doorstep?

She waited, her fingers fiddling with the data chip in her pocket until, ten minutes later, a stiff-backed Security officer escorted the young Romulan woman into the room.

Kathryn dismissed the guard and gestured that they should sit at the small table near the window. “Can I offer you something to drink, Ms. R’mor?”

“Thank you, Admiral. A coffee, if I may?”

“Coffee?”

“My father drank it all his later life – a legacy from his visit to Voyager all those years ago.”

Kathryn tried to remember if they had offered refreshments to the Romulan captain. They must have done so, but she had no recollection. She smiled at the young woman. “It’s my favourite drink.”

“So my father told me.”

Kathryn looked puzzled. “I’m surprised your father knew. We only met briefly.”

The young Romulan woman shifted uncomfortably in her chair but then smiled. It was dazzling and changed her face remarkably. “I confess, Admiral, that my father was rather taken with you. Your fate was important to him and before he died, he made me promise that I would attempt to find you if the opportunity ever presented itself.”

Astonished, Kathryn stared at the young woman but quickly gathered her wits. “I only wish it was under better circumstances.”

A flash of hurt passed across Onara’s face. “As do I.”

Kathryn nodded her understanding then looked down at the chip in her hand. “Do you know what’s on here?”

Onara nodded but her eyes flicked towards the guards hovering on the other side of the glass partition. “Yes, but it’s perhaps something that you might prefer to watch at your leisure.”

Without making a fuss, Kathryn nodded her understanding as she slipped the chip back into her pocket then tapped her combadge. “Lieutenant, could we have two cups of coffee please?” Looking at Onara, she raised her brow in question. “Black?”
Onara nodded.

“Both black, thank you, Lieutenant.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

One of the guards hurried off to fulfil Kathryn’s request as she sat for a moment and studied the young woman sitting across from her. “Tell me something about yourself, Ms R’mor. Were you based on Romulus?”

“Please call me Onara, Admiral. I feel as though I know you.”

She smiled again and Kathryn found herself smiling in return.

“Thank you, Onara.”

“Yes, my home was on Romulus and I recently graduated with a doctorate from the Romulan Science Academy. I was awaiting placement on a science vessel when the Senate was destroyed. I am an astrophysicist like my father.”

“He must have been very proud.”

“He would have been.”

Kathryn nodded sympathetically. “And your mother?”

“My mother died when I was very young, so it has only ever been my father and myself – and of course stories of the beautiful and courageous Captain Janeway.”

Rather astounded by this revelation, Kathryn’s brow knitted. “I’m at something of a loss as to why your father would think that. We spoke only a handful of times and met only once. I think he must have embellished his memory of me.”

“Deified is probably more accurate.” Onara chuckled quietly at Kathryn’s consternation. “But I never begrudged him this indulgence. You and your crew made a significant impression upon my father and he was not a man easily impressed.”

“I’m truly surprised – as you may have gathered – and I feel wholly unworthy of his admiration. We did little. It was your father who risked his life by transporting through the micro-wormhole – a bold and brave move in light of the time and circumstances.”

Onara nodded and seemed pleased with Kathryn’s assessment. “He was incurably inquisitive. I don’t think you would have been able to stop him even if you’d tried.” She tilted her head to the side. “And it was one of his dearest hopes that you would find your way home. He would have been pleased to know that you were successful.”

Onara’s revelations had astonished Kathryn, but she couldn’t help feeling a small surge of pride. Voyager’s legacy had reached far and wide – through time and space, it seemed. Still, she was slightly puzzled and leaned forward. “Did you father ever tell anyone about Voyager’s situation – apart from you, that is?”

“The chip will tell you everything, but I do know that the Romulan government was aware of what would happen to Voyager. Whether they forwarded that information on to Starfleet, I have no idea, and I don’t think my father knew either. Romulans are by nature a suspicious and xenophobic race. It’s considered a strength but it is really one of our greatest weaknesses.” Onara looked almost pained for a moment.

“My father was not like that. His chance meeting with you and your crew gave him a unique perspective and he passed on his beliefs to me. He was considered something of a maverick in his time and an avid proponent of the Unification movement. When Ambassador Spock came to Romulus, my father was to be one of his first contacts but unfortunately, he died before they could meet.”

Kathryn sat back in her chair and opened her mouth to say something, but there was a knock at the door. The guard entered – carrying a tray loaded with coffee, cups and an assortment of finger food. With a nod to Kathryn, he placed it on the table.

“Thank you, Lieutenant.”

He spun on his heel and left the room as Kathryn picked up the pot and poured a cup for Onara and then one for herself. She offered the young woman the plate of food and Onara gratefully took a small cookie. It was only then that Kathryn noticed the tremor in Onara’s hands and, as her sleeve slipped up her arm, saw the bony prominences of her wrist. The girl was starving.

Kathryn looked up and met the Onara’s eyes even as the young woman hastily pulled down her sleeve.

A wave of protective concern washed over Kathryn and she spoke, half-turning to call back the guard. “We have to get you a proper meal.”

Onara shook her head. “No, this is fine for now. Food has been scarce for some weeks but I will soon regain my strength – depending on where I am relocated of course – but I appreciate this.” She lifted her cup and took a sip, then sighed happily, as she placed the cup back in its saucer. “Ahhh, that is good.”

Kathryn laughed quietly. “The Doctor and Chakotay would be horrified to know that I singlehandedly – although inadvertently – contaminated your culture with coffee.”

Smiling, Onara shook her head. “It may be the one thing that could unite our people. Coffee has become quite popular amongst those of my generation.” She took another sip then looked up. “The Chakotay you speak of was your first officer?”

Kathryn nodded. “Yes, Commander Chakotay.”

Onara looked around her. “He isn’t here? My father said that he rarely strayed from your side. He and the Vulcan, Tuvok, were your constant escort.”

“Tuvok is now on Vulcan with his family.”

“And the Commander?”

Kathryn smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Chakotay is here in San Francisco but he did not remain in Starfleet.”

Onara looked pensive. “I see. And as a Starfleet officer you are not allowed to fraternise with non-Starfleet personnel. Now it’s my turn to be surprised; my father led me to believe that your society was less rigid than ours.”

As a delaying tactic, Kathryn took a deep draught of her coffee as she tried come up with an answer that would satisfy the ‘incurably inquisitive’ Ms R’mor – obviously a trait she’d inherited from her father.

“The Commander or rather, Chakotay, has embarked on a new life since his return. And due to time constraints, etcetera, it is difficult to organise meetings. Fraternisation is not disallowed however.”

“I am pleased to hear that because I would very much like to meet with him. My father thought very highly of him and Tuvok.”

Kathryn topped up their coffee and nodded vaguely. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, Admiral.” Onara reached for another cookie. “May I?”

Pushing the plate towards her guest, Kathryn nodded. “Of course; have as many as you like. Are you sure you don’t want something more substantial?”

Chewing and smiling at the same time, Onara shook her head and mumbled. “No, these are delicious, but thank you.”

They were silent for a moment. Mention of Chakotay had altered the tone of their conversation and there was a tension in the room that hadn’t been there before.

Onara broke the silence. “Admiral? What is to become of me?”

There was a ‘company policy’ regarding the refugees but Kathryn felt a strong bond with this young woman.

The mere thought of sending her off to take her chances in whichever relocation program she found herself disturbed Kathryn deeply. The only solution was to do what was right. Without thinking too hard about it, she blurted. “Perhaps you could stay with me for the time being?”

Onara almost choked on her cookie. “Really? You would welcome me, a Romulan, into your home without knowing anything about me? Would your superiors allow this?”

Kathryn was startled by her own impetuousness. Since arriving back in the Alpha Quadrant, spontaneity had not been her strong suit. She’d spent the last six months maintaining rigid control and a tight rein on her emotions. This was the first time in months that she’d felt any sense of true purpose. With this realisation came the determination to make this work. She would somehow rescue this young woman from the possibility of a grim future, much as Onara’s father had been willing to rescue Voyager’s crew all those years ago. It was the least she could do for a man who had risked so much – it was her turn to take that leap of faith.

“I will make it my highest priority, Onara. I owe your father this at the very least.” She smiled warmly and reached across the table, placing her hand over the young Romulan woman’s.

Onara matched her broad smile. “I don’t know what to say, except that my father was right. You are courageous and honourable, and I did the right thing in finding you. Thank you, Admiral. I’m eternally in your debt.”

“Don’t thank me just yet. There will be a good deal of red tape to wade through before this comes to fruition, but if you could wait here, I’ll get started on organising clearance for you. Hopefully it won’t take too long.”

Grinning, Onara pointed towards the plate. “The cakes and I will keep each other company while you’re gone.”

“If you want more, just ask the guard.”

Onara eyed the stern looking security officer and shook her head. “Oh, I think I’ll be fine with what’s here.”

Kathryn followed her gaze and nodded. “We should be home for dinner if all goes according to plan. I’ll be back shortly.”

Onara stood as Kathryn left the room, then sat again slowly, taking a deep breath before pouring herself another cup of coffee.

Kathryn watched her through the one-way glass to gauge her behaviour now that she thought she was on her own. Onara picked up her cup, took a long sip and, closing her eyes, savoured the mouthful; she then took a moment to choose which cake she would eat next, obviously having trouble deciding between the chocolate cream and the fruit tart. Nothing in the way she behaved led Kathryn to believe that Onara R’mor was anything other than genuine. Besides, it was time to trust her instincts; they’d always stood her in good stead.

Taking a deep breath, Kathryn turned to the guard and spoke carefully. “Please ensure that Ms R’mor remains safe while I am gone and if she requires anything, contact me and I will inform you as to what to do. I am holding you personally responsible for her wellbeing. Do you understand, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Admiral.”

With one last glance at the young Romulan woman, Kathryn marched towards the transporter room. Her first stop was Starfleet Headquarters. She tapped her combadge as she walked. “Janeway to Admiral Hayes office.”

“Lieutenant Arbuckle, Admiral Janeway. How may I help you?”

“I wish to see Admiral Hayes at his earliest convenience.”

“The Admiral is at lunch at the moment but should be back in approximately twenty minutes. I shall inform him that you wish to see him.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll be there shortly.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

She strode through the doors of the transporter room and jogged onto the platform. The technician looked up and, in her best Admiral’s voice, Kathryn snapped out a quick. “Starfleet Admin building. Level fourteen.”

The tech tapped the co-ordinates into the console and within seconds, she was materialising in an almost identical room halfway across the continent.

“Good afternoon, Admiral Janeway.” The middle-aged engineer behind the console gave her a broad grin.

Kathryn walked towards him and shook his hand. “Chief! It’s good to see you. I hope you had a nice vacation?”

“That I did, ma’am.”

“When I have a moment you’ll have to tell me all about it but I’m afraid now I have to dash.”

“Not a problem, Admiral. I’ll see you around.”

With a pat to his shoulder, she turned towards the door. “Excellent. Say hello to Rebecca for me and welcome back. We missed you.”

“Thank you, ma’am, I will.”

Moments later, she was walking through her office doors. She had fifteen minutes before Hayes would be back and she wanted to have a quick look at the data chip before she confronted him. With a quick wave to her secretary, she marched through the doors of her inner sanctum, shutting them firmly behind her. Seating herself at her desk, she quickly scanned the information from the disc into her computer console.

“Computer playback data.”

The screen sputtered to life. The time index of 44127.62 – the equivalent of mid February 2367 – scrolled across the screen before the aged and ailing visage of Telek R’mor came into focus. He nodded slowly and gave a small smile before he began to speak.

“Greetings Captain Janeway. I will assume that if you are watching this you have made contact with my daughter and Voyager is safely returned to the Alpha Quadrant. I congratulate you. I never doubted that you would succeed in your quest; I only wish that I had better news concerning the undertaking I was to perform on your behalf.

“It had always been my intention to keep your messages secret and when the time was opportune, forward them to Starfleet without my government’s knowledge. Unfortunately, on my return to Romulus, the Tal Shiar operative onboard my vessel confiscated the chip containing all your messages and my logs were subsequently scrutinised. I was also taken into custody and questioned for many days about Voyager and her technology. I explained that I had only been on your vessel for a short time and saw nothing in great detail but they were determined to find out as much as they could.

“I was eventually released but there was no way to inform you of this development or to know what our government intended to do with the information they now possessed. I fear though, as is the practice with the Tal Shiar, that it would be used against the Federation and Starfleet. It was not something that either of us had anticipated when you initially requested my help and I regret this turn of events most sincerely.

“It was still my intention to notify the Federation covertly, but in a bitter twist to this tale, it seems I am dying. A degenerative disease contracted only a month before the end of my two-year assignment to the micro-wormhole has ravaged my body and will soon affect my mind – death hopefully will not be far behind. With four more years to go before you leave on your mission and my demise imminent, I very much doubt that there is any way that the information will reach your authorities. I am entrusting this chip to my daughter’s care but she is young at present – merely fifteen – and I hold grave fears for her safety if she should try to contact the Federation or Starfleet on my behalf. As much as I wish to fulfil your request, her wellbeing is my paramount concern. Once she is older, I hope that she will find a way to get this chip to you so that you can know what happened and understand the dangers you might face from the Tal Shiar’s knowledge of Voyager and the Delta Quadrant. I also beg of you to keep Onara safe. She will risk much by bringing this to you.

“Although it was unintended, my meeting with you and your crew radically changed my way of thinking. I have come to realise that many of our ingrained attitudes and teachings are merely propaganda and misinformation encouraged by our authorities to breed an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. However, there is a growing movement amongst certain Romulan factions to abolish our isolationist ways and instead embrace these differences by building bridges of understanding – especially with our brothers, the Vulcans. I have it on good authority that Ambassador Spock will make his way to Romulus in the near future to help us take the first steps along this road. I hold close the concepts of Unification and if the gods are willing and I have an opportunity to meet with the Vulcan Ambassador, I shall pass on your information to him with the hope that he will be able to forward it to the appropriate authorities.”

Kathryn paused the playback to check the dates of Spock’s visit to Romulus. As far as anyone could estimate, he’d arrived early in 2368 long after Telek’s death, so the opportunity to pass on information about Voyager had again been thwarted. It seemed that the gods were against them at every turn.

Heaving a sigh, she resumed the playback.

Telek R’mor took a shuddering breath. “I am growing weary and must rest now. My time is short, so I bid you farewell, my dear Captain, and wish you a long life and happiness. If the opportunity arises, tell Onara that I love her and that your meeting is something that would have made this old man very happy.

“It was an honour knowing you, Captain.” He paused for a moment and then bowed his head. “Jolan tru, Kathryn Janeway; arham s’ten u’dheyyam daehlen.” *

The playback ended with Telek R’mor’s face frozen on the screen. Kathryn stared at him for a long moment before whispering a quiet, “Jolan tru, Telek R’mor.”

She tapped the end button and the screen went blank. Kathryn slumped back in her chair, tapping her fingers to her lips as she mulled over what she’d learned. The Romulan government had not informed Starfleet – or so it appeared.

Kathryn’s eyes narrowed at the thought. If Starfleet had been informed, they’d kept the knowledge well concealed. The least they could have done was alert the crew’s families but not if they had something to hide. These sorts of circular arguments would get her nowhere so she sat up and stared again at the blank screen.

She frowned. The current Romulan situation threw a different light onto all of this. The Tal Shiar most certainly still existed even though the governmental system was in disarray, but the nature of their powers and where they were based remained a mystery.

Although the workings of Section 31 were well removed from Kathryn’s purview, she had no doubt that any information the Tal Shiar harboured regarding Voyager’s plight, Starfleet’s ‘undercover operatives’ would be privy to as well. And as Fleet Admiral, it would stand to reason that Hayes knew something, too. She resolved to carefully gauge his reaction during their coming meeting. This all came as a timely warning, and she was grateful to Telek.

Kathryn checked the chronometer and then tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Admiral Hayes office.”

“Arbuckle here ma’am. The Admiral has just returned and will see you now.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant. I’m on my way.”

Kathryn quickly deleted Telek’s message from her computer and picked up the disc. It rested in her palm and she stared at it for a moment before making a purely impulsive decision. She quickly scribbled a note on a piece of paper and dropped it and the disc into a mail pouch. Since hearing the Romulan captain’s revelations, the blare of her inner red alert had increased in pitch and volume. The situation clearly had become all about trusting her instincts and this time she refused to ignore them. With that in mind, she addressed the pouch and then took a moment to question why she’d chosen that particular person as the recipient of the disc. It didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Of all the people in the known universe, she knew that no matter what had come between them, she could trust him with her life. She just hoped it wouldn’t come to that.

Tucking the envelope under her arm, Kathryn strode out of her office and took the lift to the foyer. She stopped at the public mail ‘box’ and placed the parcel on one of several small transporter pads. She typed in the address and watched it disappear. Using the public facility wouldn’t stop security from finding out where she’d sent the pouch but, as she watched three other people use the transporter pad after her in quick succession, she knew it would take them a great deal longer to sort through the files than if she’d sent it from her office. Besides, by the time they found the address, the deed would be done.

Returning to the lift, she took it to the top floor of the Administration building and exited directly into the foyer of Hayes’ office.

“Admiral Janeway, Admiral Hayes is waiting for you. Go straight in.”

As she passed the aide, Kathryn smiled and nodded before stepping through the heavy doors of Hayes inner office.

He was seated behind his impossibly large desk but he ‘graciously’ lifted himself an inch off his seat as Kathryn entered the room. It was his interpretation of gallant and she thought sarcastically that it could do with some work. He harrumphed a few times indicating that she should take a seat, while at the same time he settled back into his.

“Janeway, it’s good to see you. How are you finding the big chair? Nice corner office and not too much hard work, although this Romulan business has been something of a nuisance. Tossed you straight into the deep end, didn’t we? But you’ve performed well and I gather that Picard and his crew are getting on with things. Their new android seems to be working out. Damn shame about Data though and hell of a situation with the Remans. You’ve been heading up the repat of the Romulan refugees nicely but there was a bit of a kerfuffle over at Bracketville this morning, I hear.”

Gritting her teeth, Kathryn suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. He was still a windbag – he’d barely drawn a breath throughout the entire meandering ramble. He gave the impression of being a garrulous and absentminded old uncle but he was anything but. He was a canny old fox. One didn’t make it to the rank of Fleet Admiral by being dim-witted. Most of his blathering was an act to put people off their guard, but Kathryn was a wake up to him and she could be equally evasive and circuitous.

“Kerfuffle? Oh, you mean the young Romulan woman. No, there wasn’t a problem – just a misunderstanding with an overzealous security guard. As it turns out, she’s the daughter of the Romulan captain whom we contacted through a micro-wormhole back on stardate 48579.4. I’m sure you remember, Admiral?”

His brow creased for a moment, but she caught his eye. It was clear and his gaze sharp – although he blustered on with his curmudgeonly act. “Micro wormhole? Hmmph. Oh, yes, of course. The one with the temporal glitch. I remember it vaguely.”

She almost snorted. Vaguely, her ass. Reports of the incident with Onara would have come through to him almost the instant it happened. Within moments, he would have ordered half the admiralty staff to dig around to find any pertinent information; such as Onara R’mor’s background and her connection to Kathryn and Voyager.

Smiling, Kathryn shrugged noncommittally. “I thought you might.”

“Would you like a coffee?” It was another diversionary tactic to throw her off her guard and before Kathryn could answer, he’d hit the intercom. “Arbuckle, coffee and cakes for the Admiral.” He looked at her again. “You look like you could use a cup. What did the young woman have to say for herself?”

Another attempt to unsettle her, but she bided her time. “Coffee and cakes would be lovely, thank you, Sir.”

“Well?”

It was like a game of cat and mouse with blindfolds and bat’leths. If she wasn’t careful, there’d be an eye out. “Well what, Sir?”

“The girl. What was her problem?”

“No problem to speak of, Admiral; only that she knew of me through her father and wished to make my acquaintance. Telek, her father, had told her stories of Voyager and she wanted to convey his apologies.”

“What on earth did he have to apologise for?”

“We had asked him to inform Starfleet at the relevant time that we were alive and well in the Delta Quadrant. He had intended to do so but unfortunately died four years before Voyager left on her mission. We already knew this but had hoped that the messages would somehow be delivered.”

“What? You asked him seven years ago?”

“Yes, in our timeline, Sir; in his, it was twenty-seven.”

“Hmmmph. Temporal anomalies give me indigestion.”

Kathryn smiled in mock sympathy. “They give me headaches.” She waited a heartbeat before she asked. “Starfleet didn’t know, did they, Sir?”

“Know? Not to my knowledge – at the time.”

That was as good as a yes in Kathryn’s book and the wail of her internal red alert hiked up a notch. But the game wasn’t over yet. “I thought as much.”

“Did she say anything else that could be of use?”

“No, but we only spoke briefly. There is another part of my reason for seeing you. I offered to keep her with me for the time being. She seems to trust me and it’s probably wise considering her connection with Voyager. I might be able to glean more information as she becomes more comfortable in my presence.”

“Good thinking, Janeway. Take a few weeks off and see what you can come up with.”

Kathryn was stunned. If she were a suspicious person, she might think that he was trying to distance her from the situation. But just as she was about to voice her objections, the coffee arrived and precious moments were taken up with idle chatter and the ritual pouring of the bitter brew.

She could feel Hayes’ eyes on her as he went about the business of filling each mug, offering cream and sugar – which she declined – before passing her a steaming cup.

“Admiral, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to take time off.”

“But I do, Janeway. You can’t monitor the Romulan if you are at work every day. She’d be in your home; have access to all and sundry. No, I insist. Whilst she’s in your care, you are to take as much time off as is necessary; otherwise, I’d send her to a repat camp.”

Her options were limited and Hayes knew he had her over a barrel. However, he’d said nothing about restricting her access to her office, files or privileges.

Kathryn acquiesced. “A vacation is always welcome and Indiana is nice this time of the year.”

He nodded almost absentmindedly before insisting that she try one of his wife’s macaroons. She did so with a smile, taking a small bite and commenting on how delicious they were, before placing the remainder on her saucer.

Kathryn sighed as she took her first sip of coffee. “I still haven’t tired of the taste.”

“I’m glad to hear it. How’s your mother?”

“She is very well, Sir.”

“Say hello to Gretchen for me. It’s been too long.”

“I will.”

Suddenly the niceties were over and, like flicking a switch, his mood changed and they were straight back to business. “Take the girl home with you, Janeway. Keep an eye on her and let me know if there is any useful information on that chip she gave you.”

Kathryn didn’t bat an eyelid. “I’ve already tried to download the information but the node is too damaged and fragmented. According to the girl, her father made the recording just before he died and he was barely coherent. I can send it to Starfleet comm. labs and see if they can piece it together but I don’t like their chances.”

“When you have a moment that’s probably wise. Considering the state of the Empire and the age of the recording, I can’t imagine that what’s on it would be of any use, but it’s important to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s.” His demeanour appeared indifferent but there was a veiled threat neatly hidden beneath the innocuous words.

“Consider it done, sir.”

“Good girl.”

Kathryn’s teeth ground together almost audibly but she smiled benignly as she placed her cup on the table. “I should get back to Bracketville. I need to review the latest list of evacuees.”

“Hell of a job but someone’s got to do it, eh?”

“Aye, sir.”

Standing up, she nodded towards Hayes. “Admiral.”

“Keep in touch, Janeway and have a nice vacation.”

“Oh, I will.”

Not waiting to give him the satisfaction of dismissing her, Kathryn turned quickly and exited his office. Damn the prattling and conniving old bastard. She’d known that word of the data node would have gotten to him. Sending it to Chakotay had been the right thing to do and if B’Elanna could do what Kathryn hoped she could, then all would be well.

Kathryn knew that Hayes would now be keeping tabs on her and decided that she wouldn’t return to her office but go straight back to Bracketville. There was something afoot, she could ‘feel it in her waters’ – as Aunt Martha used to say – and Hayes knew far more than he was letting on. She needed to speak to someone she could trust. Admiral Patterson was off world. He’d retired to a planet in the Caldos system not long after Voyager had been lost. From what she understood, it had been a hurried retirement but now she wondered if it had something to do with Voyager’s situation.

Her next thought was Admiral Paris but with Tom, B’Elanna and Miral in the picture, she didn’t want to compromise their fragile but developing relationship with Owen. She wasn’t sure if she was being paranoid, but now that the seed of doubt had been planted, it was difficult not to see conspiracies around every corner. As someone had once said: “just because you think you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Suddenly, life in the Delta Quadrant seemed like a stroll in the park. At least out there it was a given that almost everyone wanted them dead and no one pretended to be friendly.

Within twenty minutes, she was striding up the hallways of the customs building at Bracketville spaceport. Rounding the corner, she could see only one guard outside the door of the briefing room; the other one was missing.

She approached without breaking her stride. “How is everything, Ensign?”

“Fine, Admiral. The pris… your guest is fine.”

Kathryn ignored the slip but wondered just how close it was to the truth.

She opened the door to find the other guard sitting opposite Onara but he bolted to his feet nearly knocking his chair over when Kathryn entered the room. “Admiral Janeway, I was just keeping Ms R’mor company.”

“I’m sure you were. Thank you, Lieutenant.”

He spun on his heel and was gone almost before she’d finished speaking.

“Are you all right, Onara?”

“I’m fine. He seemed quite friendly.”

“Did he ask you many questions?”

“Some, but mostly he talked about the Remans and the war. He didn’t question me about Voyager or the Delta Quadrant. Still, I was… evasive.”

Kathryn’s mouth twisted into a wry smile. She had the feeling that her interruption had been timely. He hadn’t had a chance to get to the ‘good’ stuff. It was no more than she’d expected.

“Well done, Onara, and I’m sorry I had to leave you to fend for yourself but we’ll be out of here shortly. I’ve spoken to my superiors…” There was a telling pause and Kathryn had to make a concerted effort not to let her lip curl in distaste – superiors, pfhttt! “… and they’re happy for you to come home with me. They’ve also given me some time off. I thought we might go to my mother’s house. It’s quieter there and she’s a wonderful cook.”

Onara swallowed several times and Kathryn saw her eyes fill with tears. So far, the young woman had maintained a brave front but now that the urgency of the moment had past, chinks were beginning appear in her armour. Over the past few months, her entire life had been turned upside down and a reaction was inevitable.

Giving her a moment to regain control, Kathryn turned to the guard and signalled for him to enter. It didn’t escape her notice that the Lieutenant was gone but she ignored it as his young offsider snapped to attention. “Ensign, could you bring me the files for today’s arrivals.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

Kathryn turned back to Onara. She appeared to have regained her equilibrium.

“Once I’ve reviewed the files, we can leave.”

“Thank you, Admiral. I can’t tell you what this means to me. I’m in your debt.”

“Not at all, Onara. It is the very least I can do after what your father was willing to risk and what you yourself have done.”

Onara shrugged. “It was important to him and therefore important to me.”

Kathryn gave her a knowing look. “I understand.”

Before they could say anything more, the security guard returned with two PADDs. He deposited them on the desk in front of Kathryn before returning to his post outside the door. It only took a few moments to glance through the list to ensure that all the evacuees had been billeted and transportation organised for those travelling to other Federation planets.

Pressing her thumbprint to both PADDs, Kathryn smiled at her companion. “All done. Are you ready to leave?”

“Yes, but I had a small bag of belongings that I would like to take with me. We were told to leave our personal items in the shuttle; I’m not sure where it is now.”

“I do. Come, we’ll find it.”

Kathryn ushered her towards the door and, after handing the PADDs to the guard, she and Onara walked down to the customs area.

The rest of the Romulan evacuees were gone; sent to temporary accommodation until transports arrived to take them to their next destination. Kathryn thought for a moment about the small boy whom she’d seen that morning and hoped that he was being cared for. As much as she hated to admit it, Hayes flippant comment was close to the money; it was a hell of a job.

Onara’s bag was the only one left in the customs area and after quickly picking it up, they headed towards the transporter room.

They beamed to Kathryn’s apartment complex and took the lift to the forty-seventh floor.

“It won’t take me long to pack and we’ll be at my mother’s by dinner time. She’ll be very pleased to have someone to dote on. With both my sister…”

While Kathryn was talking, the lift doors opened. She stepped out into the foyer, only to come to a dead stop.

Chakotay was standing by the door and upon her arrival, came striding towards them.

“Kathryn, are you all right? What the hell is going on?”

“What are you doing here?”

He looked surprised. “What am I doing here?” He pulled the postal pouch from his pocket. “I haven’t heard from you in months and then this arrives out of the blue with a cryptic note. Give me some credit. I know when you’re up to something.”

At this point, Onara peered around the door of the lift and Chakotay snapped his mouth shut as he stared at her.

Kathryn glanced over her shoulder before stepping to the side. “Chakotay, this is Onara R’mor. Onara, this is Chakotay.”

The young Romulan woman came forward. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chakotay.”

Chakotay stared at her for a long moment. “How do you do, Onara?” He paused, and then peered at her more closely. “R’mor…” He glanced at Kathryn and she nodded.

“Telek R’mor’s daughter. Do you remember?”

He frowned. “Of course I do.”

Kathryn had to stop herself from heaving a weary sigh. Chakotay was angry, but she didn’t know why. And out here on the landing certainly wasn’t the place to discuss any of this. “We can’t stand out here all night. Come on; it must be time for a coffee.”

Onara grinned. “Isn’t it always time for a coffee?”

With a quick glance at Chakotay’s puzzled face, Kathryn stepped past him with Onara by her side and walked up the corridor to her door.

She could feel Chakotay’s eyes drilling into her back, but at the threshold, she turned. “Are you coming in?”

Without a word, he strode after them.

Chapter Two

Kathryn stopped inside the front door of her apartment and turned to her companions. Chakotay’s brow still looked like thunder but as he opened his mouth to say something, Kathryn put her forefinger to her lips for quiet.

Delving into her bag, she pulled out a tricorder and began to scan the room. As she was doing so, in a light, conversational tone she asked, “Coffee for everyone?”

Onara caught on quickly and answered. “Yes, please.”

Chakotay looked puzzled. “I’ll have a tea thanks, Kathryn. What… ?”

Kathryn glared at him and mouthed an angry ‘Shhh’

There was a telltale blip on the tricorder screen as it picked up the EM signal from a bugging device hidden in the desk lamp – Section 31 were damned efficient if somewhat clichéd. This meant they wouldn’t be able to talk inside but in overcoming the problem, sometimes the simplest methods proved best.

She signed to her guests by tapping her ear and pointing towards the lamp before moving over to the balcony doors and quickly scanning that area. There was nothing out of the ordinary in the vicinity so she gestured for Chakotay and Onara to move out onto the patio. “Shall we sit outside? There’s a lovely afternoon breeze and we can watch the sunset. I also have a yen for a bit of Klingon opera; something to blow the cobwebs away.”

Chakotay stared at her, completely dumbfounded.

She quickly ordered their drinks from the replicator and with tray in hand, she moved towards the balcony doors. “Computer, play the third act of Aktuh and Melota, volume eight.” She handed the tray to a still stupefied Chakotay as she stepped out onto the patio. She then slid the doors shut behind her just as the first discordant strains of the opera assaulted their ears. They all cringed.

Kathryn winked at Onara. “That will serve Hayes right. He’s always hated Klingon opera.”

Chakotay shook his head as Kathryn offered him his tea.

He seemed at a loss and obviously agitated. “Hayes? What has he got to do with this?”

“Sit down, Chakotay, have your tea and I’ll try to explain.”

He sat, frowning as he cradled the cup between his hands and waited for her to speak. “Well?”

Her ex-first officer looked out of sorts. Kathryn knew it was in part due to her rather strange behaviour but there were other issues as well. They hadn’t seen or spoken to one another for months and things had been strained and awkward. They were each as stubborn and bull-headed as the other, and neither had been willing to make amends. But these were problems for another day. On top of that, she had a feeling that when it came to her concerns about the Romulans, he wasn’t going to be easy to convince.

She took a sip of coffee to centre herself. “You’re aware that after Shinzon and the Scimitar were destroyed and civil war broke out in the empire I was assigned to Bracketville to oversee the repatriation of Romulan refugees.”

He nodded.

“Well, today Onara arrived looking for me and brought that data node with her. Where is it, by the way?”

“I did what you asked and B’Elanna has it now.”

“Thank you. Did you watch it?”

“Yes and…” He glanced at Onara. “Please don’t take offence, Onara, but I’m not convinced of the validity of your father’s concerns. I can’t see how our messages would be of any value to the Romulans. I vetted the letters myself and there was nothing in them.”

“I don’t think the letters are the issue. What concerns me is the fact that the Tal Shiar has known about Voyager for all this time and one would have to assume that Starfleet knew as well. Yet they sent Voyager anyway.”

“Perhaps they felt compelled to. Don’t forget the temporal prime directive.”

Kathryn huffed derisively. “How could I? But even keeping that in mind, why didn’t they tell us afterwards – when we finally made contact with the Alpha Quadrant? At that point in time, the messages were from our past, so how could they impact on our future? No, there is something else going on here.”

His voice was conciliatory but there was an edge of irritation. “I think you’re seeing conspiracies where there are none, Kathryn. Why would the Tal Shiar be interested in Voyager now? We’re back in the Alpha Quadrant; they have nothing to gain. I think you’re being a little paranoid.”

Kathryn’s hackles rose and she stiffened. Her voice was like ice. “Oh, am I? Thank you for the input. I’ll be sure to take it under advisement.”

He heaved a sigh, then sat back crossing his arms. “Don’t do this, Kathryn.”

Her jaw clenched. She didn’t want to argue but he was making it damned difficult not to.

Onara stood, obviously uncomfortable about coming between the two combatants. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just go and freshen up.”

“Of course. The bathroom is at the end of the corridor on the right.”

As Onara opened the balcony doors, a blast of bellowing Klingonese hit them before she shut the doors again, muffling the sound.

After watching the young Romulan woman go, they turned back towards one another.

Irked by Chakotay’s attitude and feeling as though she had every right to be, Kathryn met his gaze head on. “If you prefer not to be involved in this, you’re welcome to leave anytime.” She blinked slowly and muttered under her breath. “It was a mistake, I shouldn’t have contacted you.”

“Yes, you should have and I’m glad you did, but you could have done it sooner – without having to manufacture some crisis as an excuse. I haven’t heard from you in ages.”

“An excuse? That’s what you think this is? Give me some credit! But on that subject, I don’t remember any comm. messages from you either. It works both ways you know. There was nothing stopping you from contacting me.”

“So there was something stopping you?”

The man was irksome but not stupid. “Now isn’t the time, Chakotay.”

“It never is the time, is it, Kathryn?”

“Oh, stop being so melodramatic. You have your life, just be grateful.”

“And you don’t have one, I suppose.”

If she’d been on her game, she would have shot back a withering reply about how full and all-encompassing her life was as an admiral; filled with the daily excitement of making life and death decisions, and her evenings just one endless party or soiree after another but she hesitated and her cover was blown. “Of course I have a life. I’m an admiral with responsibilities.”

“You were a captain with responsibilities. They’re all you’ve ever had since the day I met you. It’s a hell of a life, Kathryn.”

Hayes’ snide words came back to haunt her once more and she mumbled under her breath, “Yeah, but someone’s got to do it.”

“I beg your pardon.”

Kathryn looked up and met his eyes. “Nothing. Just something someone said to me today.” His brow was still furrowed but his eyes were filled with a mixture of hurt and worry. He’d been looking at her like that for years and she wished he would stop.

Maybe he was right.

Her anger fizzled out, replaced by embarrassment and she could feel herself tensing as she tried to suppress the emotion. “Look, I’m sorry Chakotay. I shouldn’t have dragged you into this. You’re probably right; I’m just being paranoid – seeing a conspiracy where there is none.” She took a deep breath. “Thank you for your help; I won’t keep you any longer.”

Kathryn averted her gaze to stare over his shoulder at the setting sun. At that moment, she hated him for making her see just how pathetic she’d become – manufacturing this ridiculous plot so she could pretend her life still held some meaning. She hadn’t seen him for months and at their first reunion, she’d merely proven to him just how lucky he was to have escaped her.

God, she hated her life.

Chakotay pushed back his chair and stood to leave.

Kathryn’s chest constricted painfully. She’d succeeded in putting the final nail in the coffin of her relationship with this man. They’d been so close for so long but she’d pushed him too far and this was the result. She realised now that, although he carried some of the blame for the breakdown in their relationship, the bulk of the fault rested squarely on her shoulders.

She waited for another blast of Klingonese as he departed – leaving her for the last time – and, if her heart hadn’t been aching so badly, she might well have laughed. Fancy having one of the most momentous events of her life accompanied by the bellowing of Aktuh and Melota – it was farcical. Closing her eyes, she steeled herself for it all, but was met with silence instead.

The instant she was about to turn to see where he was, she felt warm hands rest on her shoulders.

Her eyes shot open. “Chakotay?”

“Just relax, Kathryn.”

All her instincts told her to bolt; to pull away from him but she couldn’t move. “What are you doing?”

“I’m massaging your shoulders. They’re so tense that I was worried your head was going to snap off at the neck.”

“Nice image, thank you.”

His fingers dug into the knotted muscles at the base of her neck and those along her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Kathryn.”

“Don’t apologise. It’s my fault.”

“No, it’s not. It’s mine.”

“I don’t see how it could be. I’m the one who sent you the damned data node.”

His hands stilled for a moment, then resumed. “I actually wasn’t talking about that.”

She did a quick rewind of the conversation, and then asked. “What are you talking about?”

“Our last days on Voyager.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“I avoided her… and you. I couldn’t stand to be near her.”

“Who? The Admiral?” Kathryn was astonished but not sure whether to be hurt or angry. She swung around and his hands slid from her shoulders, as she demanded, “You’re going to have to explain that one.”

He heaved a deep sigh and stepped back, rubbing his hand across his chin. “I’d assumed that we would always be a part of each other’s lives and it was apparent from what she said that I wasn’t a part of yours and never had been. I couldn’t believe that we would just stop…” He gestured back and forth between them.

Kathryn felt like laughing. He blamed her for the fact that they’d become estranged in the Admiral’s timeline. Great. That was just typical.

Bitterness surged again and she shot back, “You were already dead when she arrived on Voyager; being part of her life at that point would have been a bit difficult.”

He appeared taken aback by her rancour but Kathryn was almost past caring.

The hard edge to his voice matched hers. “I know that, but she told Seven that we were estranged.”

“And you think that it was her fault… or mine?”

“No, probably not, but I didn’t know what to think. You kept me in the dark about most of what was going on.”

“I’m not the one who turned down my lunch and dinner invitations. I would have happily spoken to you about it but you were being elusive and distant. Besides, I was a little busy dealing with a ‘me’ from the future, preparing the crew for a mission that had the potential to go horribly wrong and getting Voyager ready to confront the Borg. So you’ll have to excuse me for not being chatty.” Kathryn hands clenched into fists and she could feel her nails biting into her palms. “And speaking of the Borg, you were somewhat preoccupied at the time.”

“So I hear.”

Kathryn almost rolled her eyes again. “Don’t be so flippant! You and Seven were an item. Everyone knew it and, in the Admiral’s timeline, you married her.”

“I apologise.”

“What for? Making a life for yourself? Please don’t. I don’t blame you for that. I’m sure the Admiral was as happy for you as I am.”

“You are?”

Kathryn stood up slowly and she stared at him in disbelief. “So, you want me to be unhappy? You don’t think that’s somewhat arrogant, not to mention, presumptuous? I’m not a child, Chakotay. I’ve dealt with a great many sorrows in my life; I just added that one to the list. I’m not going to pretend that I was thrilled about it and that I don’t miss you, but I can live without you.”

“I know. The Admiral was evidence of that.”

That wasn’t the resounding endorsement it might have appeared to be. The Admiral had scared the hell out of Kathryn – she’d scared the hell out of a lot of people – and she dreaded the thought of finishing up like her. As of this moment, however, she made a pact with herself never to become as embittered as her older self and forgiving Chakotay would be the first step in that process.

She didn’t want to fight anymore. Her shoulders slumped and after taking a step forward, she patted Chakotay’s upper arm a couple of times. It was a blatantly platonic touch. “Look, I don’t want to argue anymore, Chakotay. I’d like us to be friends if we can but only if it’s not going to interfere in your life with Seven. She’s your priority now.”

He shook his head. “She’s not.”

“What?”

“Our relationship – if you can even call it that – ended before we left Voyager.”

“But it shouldn’t have. You and she are supposed…”

“Temporal mechanics, Kathryn. Once the Admiral arrived, everything changed.”

Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose. He was right of course; the minute her older self opened the spatial rift, the previous timeline was corrupted. She was still of two minds as to whether that had been a good idea or not. So many variables, so much potential for disaster. She certainly hadn’t gotten any less reckless as she’d aged.

Kathryn looked up at Chakotay, her mouth twisting into a wry smile. “It seems I do owe you an apology after all.”

“What for?”

“Interfering with your relationship with Seven.”

“It wasn’t you, so don’t worry about it. I’m fine.”

“And Seven?”

“She’s happy and settling into life in the Alpha Quadrant very nicely.”

“I’m pleased.”

“So am I.” His face softened. “Headache?”

“How did you know?”

“Educated guess and don’t forget, I’ve known you for years.”

“It’s been a long time hasn’t it?”

Chakotay nodded. “A good long while and I wouldn’t change a minute of it.”

“Not a minute of it? You must have been on a different Voyager than the one I was.” She gave him a lopsided smile. “I know I wasn’t an easy captain to serve under at times but I couldn’t have done it without you. I hope you realise that?”

The small smile that had been hovering at the corners of his mouth broadened. “Of course I do.”

“Humble to a fault, I see.” Taking a deep breath, Kathryn smiled warmly and extended her hand. “Friends?”

Chakotay clasped her hand in his and held it firmly. Her eyes met his and, for the first time in many years, his look was bright and clear. “Always.”

Now it was Kathryn’s turn to frown. The sudden clarity in his eyes and the smile lighting their dark depths tempted her to lean closer but before she could get near, her combadge chirped.

It had to be one of her old crew; their timing was impeccable.

“Doctor to Admiral Janeway. Are you there, Admiral?”

Reluctantly pulling her hand from Chakotay’s, she gave him a wry smile as she tapped her combadge, “Hello Doctor. What can I do for you?”

“She’s missing, Admiral. Gone! I can’t find her anywhere.”

“Who’s missing?”

He sounded agitated. “Seven of Nine. She was due this morning for her weekly maintenance check but missed her appointment. I haven’t heard from her and she’s never late.”

“That doesn’t sound like her but there’s a first time for everything, Doctor. Perhaps it’s a sign that she’s embracing her humanity and acclimating.”

Kathryn could hear the caustic edge to his voice. “I very much doubt it. That is not in her nature. However, she’s not in her quarters, no one from her lab or family has seen her since yesterday and she’s not answering hails. It is very out of character and I think it warrants a planet-wide scan.”

She answered reassuringly but a niggle of concern began to worm its way into her middle. “I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, Doctor, but I’ll see what I can do.”

He seemed relieved, but only slightly. “Thank you, Admiral. I have a very bad feeling about this.”

“I’ll get back to you, Doctor, and try not to worry.”

Kathryn closed that link and looked towards Chakotay. “What do you think?”

“It’s worth checking out. Your thoughts?”

“As much as I hate to say it, I have to agree with the Doctor; it’s very out of character.” Kathryn tapped her combadge. “Janeway to Seven of Nine.”

There was nothing. “Seven, this is Kathryn, come in.” Still nothing. She frowned and met Chakotay’s equally concerned gaze.

Tapping her badge again, she opened another channel. “Janeway to Starfleet communications.”

“Starfleet communications. Lieutenant Rogers here, ma’am.”

“Lieutenant I want you to locate a combadge; issued to Seven of Nine, Annika Hanson. We’re unable to contact her.”

“Just a moment, Admiral. I’m scanning for it now.” There was a few seconds pause and then Roger’s reported back. “I can’t find it Admiral. It’s not registering at all.”

The cold wash of dread seeped deeper into Kathryn’s middle. “It could be damaged. Try for the subspace beacon.”

Another moment’s pause, “It’s just not there, ma’am. I’ve scanned subspace and then rescanned. It’s not on the planet or anywhere in the surrounding space for a radius of two light years.”

“Keep scanning, Lieutenant, and contact me if you find anything. Janeway out.”

Kathryn turned to Chakotay, worry written plainly on her features. “Something’s not right and this time I’m not imagining it.”

Chakotay nodded. “I agree. Who do we contact?”

“That’s the problem; I’m not sure who to trust. I’m sure Hayes knows more than he’d letting on and I certainly don’t want word to get back to him if we start asking questions. It seems an unlikely coincidence that we find out that Voyager has been the target of covert involvement with Tal Shiar and then one of our crew goes missing. They would’ve had knowledge of the Borg and been aware that their home space was the Delta Quadrant. There were more than a few Romulans amongst the drones we’d encountered.”

“Do you think Onara has anything to do with it?”

“She might, but I don’t see how. She only arrived today and hasn’t had the opportunity to contact anyone. But then we have no proof of who she really is. She could be a Tal Shiar operative for all we know and we’re merely puppets in this mess.”

Chakotay glanced towards the glass doors that led into the apartment. Kathryn followed his gaze and could see Onara at the bookcase, hands over her ears as she read the titles of the antique volumes.

Leaning forward, Chakotay touched Kathryn’s hand. “For what it’s worth, I get the impression that she’s genuine. But then again, I’ve been fooled before.”

Kathryn gave him a sympathetic smile. “We’ve all been fooled before, but I’m inclined to agree. None of my usual alerts trigger with her and I have to trust my instincts. It won’t do anyone any good if we start second guessing ourselves.”

“You’re right, and I’m sorry I doubted you.”

Kathryn waved off his apology; she didn’t want to rehash all of that and for what it was worth, his concerns were legitimate. Seven’s disappearance might have nothing to do with the Romulans but to her way of thinking, it was just too convenient. Although the Tal Shiar had been in possession of this knowledge for years, it was only today, after her meeting with Onara R’mor that this information had become known. If the Tal Shiar had a plan they had to act now.

She looked up at Chakotay, her eyes meeting his in grim understanding. This was familiar territory. They’d always been good together when a problem needed solving. This was one of the things they did best.

Chakotay gathered himself. “Okay, where do we go from here?”

In Kathryn’s mind, it was simple. “First of all, we find out what’s happened to Seven and – if she has been taken – where she’s being held; then… we rescue her.”

“Do I have to remind you that you’re an Admiral now with responsibilities? You can’t just swan off on some search and rescue mission without informing your superiors of your whereabouts.”

“I’m on leave. Hayes insisted that I take some time off while Onara is with me.” Her brow knitted. “You don’t think that he was already aware of Seven’s disappearance and…?”

“I don’t think we should get ahead of ourselves. First things first, we need to retrace Seven’s movements.” Chakotay frowned. “What I don’t understand is why they would take her.”

Kathryn gave him an intense look. “We take her expertise for granted but don’t forget she’s unique; a one of a kind walking Borg database. She has knowledge of technology from species throughout this galaxy and possibly others. In light of the current Romulan situation, anything that would give them an advantage or leverage would be highly sought after.”

“Good point.”

Kathryn’s combadge chirped again. “Doctor to Admiral Janeway.”

“Janeway here, Doctor. Any news?”

“No, Admiral, and it’s worse than I thought. I’m at Seven’s apartment and there is clear evidence of a struggle. There are traces of Seven’s blood and it looks as though her alcove has been literally ripped from its housing. She was definitely taken by force. I’m going to contact Starfleet Security.”

Chakotay interrupted. “Hold off on that for the moment, Doctor. We’re not sure who is involved and for Seven’s sake, the fewer people who know about this the better.”

Kathryn nodded. “That’s right, Doctor. Gather up any evidence that you can find, and meet us at Tom and B’Elanna’s house as soon as you can.”

“Aye, Admiral. Doctor out.”

Kathryn hissed. “Damn it.”

“Well, that clinches it. Now we have to work out who and why.”

Just then, Onara stepped back onto the balcony and quickly shut the doors on the dying strains of the opera. Both Kathryn and Chakotay turned towards her, but neither of them spoke. Onara frowned in concern.

“Is there a problem, Admiral?”

Kathryn glanced at Chakotay, then back to the Romulan woman. “Yes there is, Onara. Do you know anything about Seven of Nine’s disappearance?”

Onara looked confused. “What is a Seven of Nine?”

“She is one of my crew and a friend. She’s missing.”

“I’m so sorry but I have no idea. I don’t know anything about her or where she is. Do you suspect Romulans?”

“We’re not sure but the coincidence is hard to ignore.” She gave the young woman a brief smile. “Chakotay and I have to contact the crew and sort this out, but I can’t leave you here on your own.” Kathryn turned to Chakotay. “I’m going to take Onara to my mother’s and get Harry to stay there with her. I’ll meet you back at Tom and B’Elanna’s. We’ll put together a plan from there, okay?”

He nodded and stepped towards the doors, then turned back taking Kathryn’s hand in his. “It will be all right. We’ll find her.”

“I know.”

“And Kathryn, I’m sorry – for everything.”

“Me, too.”

Without hesitating, he leaned over and kissed her cheek before walking out of the apartment. Kathryn watched him go then turned to Onara.

The girl was smiling – her look questioning – and Kathryn opened her mouth to explain but then changed her mind. It didn’t really require an explanation.

Instead, she nodded towards the living area. “Grab your bag while I quickly change and contact my mother and Harry.”

Ten minutes later, Kathryn and Onara left the apartment, the cacophonous strains of Aktuh and Melota on continuous playback still blaring through the speaker system.

**********************

They beamed directly to the transport terminal in Bloomington, Indiana.

The technician stared at Onara for a moment but quickly recovered before turning to Kathryn with a beaming smile. “Kath… I mean Admiral Janeway, it’s good to see you.”

“You too, Jeffrey, and please no more ‘Admiral Janeway’. We’ve known each other for far too long.”

The balding man, laughed. “That’s a relief.”

“This is my friend, Onara R’mor. She’s come for a visit. Onara, this is Jeffrey Jarman.”

Onara offered her hand hesitantly. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Jeffrey Jarman.”

Jeffrey took her hand and shook it heartily. “The pleasure is all mine, Ms R’mor. Welcome to Bloomington.”

Kathryn asked hastily. “Jeffrey, I know this is a little out of order but could you beam us straight to the farm, please? I’m in a hurry and have to be back in San Francisco as soon as possible. Also, one of my crew, Harry Kim, will be beaming through any minute now; could you send him over directly?”

“Sure thing, as long as you don’t mind taking these with you. Your mother called through earlier and had Layla drop them here. I think it’s your dinner.”

Smiling, Kathryn reached for the two carry bags. “Do you know what she’s cooking?”

Jeffrey’s mouth twisted into a smile. “Yes, but that would spoil the surprise.”

“Thank you, I’ll see you soon.”

“Goodbye, Kathryn, Ms R’mor.”

The room faded around them, replaced by darkness and a star filled sky. Due to the time differential, it was well into the evening in Indiana and they were standing in the front yard of Kathryn’s childhood home.

Hoisting one of the carry bags, Kathryn gestured towards the front porch of the house. “This way, Onara.”

They climbed the stairs and Kathryn opened the unlocked door. “Mom, we’re here.”

“There you are. That was quick.” A woman slightly shorter and a little broader than Kathryn came bustling from the living area, brushing at the front of her trousers. “I was just getting the fire lit.” She gave Kathryn a kiss on the cheek. “What a lovely surprise.”

“Mom, this is Onara R’mor. I met her father in the Delta Quadrant. It’s a long story but she’s from Romulus and is without a home at the moment.”

“Oh, I’m so very sorry, my dear. I’ve been watching the news feeds; it’s a dreadful mess. Come in and make yourself comfortable.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Janeway; I appreciate you welcoming me into your home.”

“Kathryn has mentioned your father, but you must tell me more.”

“Mom, I’ll just drop these in the kitchen and then I have to go.”

“So soon?”

Kathryn hated disappointing her mother, but there was nothing else she could do. She continued speaking as she made her way to the kitchen, “I really have to go, but I’ll call you from San Francisco. I wish I could stay, but it’s important.” She joined her mother and Onara in the living room. “Harry will be here any minute and I’ll let you know what’s happening as soon as we have the whole story.”

“Very well, dear.”

There was a knock at the door. It was Harry.

Kathryn embraced him quickly. “Thank you for coming, Harry. Did Chakotay fill you in on what we know so far?”

“Very briefly, but Tom said he’d call later with the lowdown. I know you’ll find her, Admiral.”

“If she’s been taken by someone, she’ll be making their life a misery by now and no doubt planning her escape, so it shouldn’t take us too long. Are you all set?”

Harry patted his pocket. “I’ve got a phaser and communicators. We’ll be fine, Admiral. I promise. Good luck.”

“Thanks Harry, I know you’ll look after them.”

He smiled reassuringly and then moved into the living area. Kathryn watched Harry give her mother a hug – Gretchen adored him – and then gauged Onara’s reaction upon meeting the young lieutenant. She seemed comfortable and Kathryn felt confident leaving them.

“I’m going, Mom. I’ll see you later.”

Gretchen came to the front door. “Be careful, dear. I know what you’re doing is dangerous. You wouldn’t have left someone here to guard us otherwise. We’ll be fine, though.”

Kathryn smiled grimly. Her mother was astute. “Lock the door and listen to Harry, Mom. He knows what to do.”

Gretchen merely nodded and gave her daughter a firm hug. Kathryn trotted down the front stairs and called for a beam out to Bloomington before going straight on to San Francisco.

*******************

Chakotay met her at the door of Tom and B’Elanna’s house and although she could tell by the look on his face that the news wasn’t good, she felt compelled to ask. “Anything?”

“The Doctor has analysed the blood and residual DNA he found in the apartment. There wasn’t a lot of it, thank goodness, but some of it is Seven’s. The bulk of it is from a Tellarite and the DNA was from another human and a Nausicaan. She certainly put up a fight. We don’t know who they are and I’d hazard a guess that they were hired goons, but B’Elanna is accessing the Starfleet Security files now to see if she can match the samples.” He took her elbow and led her inside. “How are you?”

“I’m fine. Worried about Seven of course, but we’ll get her back. We have the best people and we’ve had plenty of practice at this sort of thing.” It was her turn to check on him. “Are you all right?”

He looked confused for a moment, but then seemed to catch her meaning. “Yes, I’m fine, too. I’m worried that one of our own is in trouble but, like you, I know that we’ll find her.”

Kathryn studied his features as he answered and was satisfied that he was, in fact, all right. The man wore his heart on his sleeve and, if he did have deep feelings for Seven, he wouldn’t be able to hide them from her.

“I’ve got them!” B’Elanna called from the other room, interrupting their conversation and Kathryn’s thoughts.

As she entered the living room, Kathryn was greeted by several members of the crew – Ayala, Dalby, Henley, Edwards, Dorado and Gerron – all gathered around the desk where B’Elanna was working.

B’Elanna spun the console around so everyone could see. “These are our kidnappers.”

They were a disreputable looking trio. The human was thickset and thuggish, the Tellarite, ruddy and unkempt, and the Nausicaan, huge, ugly and brutish – in other words, typically Nausicaan. The files listed their last known addresses and several of their associates. It was a start.

Chakotay divided those present into groups of three and assigned each to find and question one of the suspects. Combadges were distributed; everyone was advised to keep a low profile and to report back every two hours. They would reconvene in four hours and go over what intel they’d gathered.

B’Elanna was staying put to look after Miral, monitor the comm. lines and essentially maintain a base of operations.

Ayala, Dalby and Henley headed off to find the Tellarite and Tom, Dorado and Edwards were given the unenviable task of finding the Nausicaan.

Kathryn, Chakotay and Gerron went in search of the Human member of the gang – a lowlife called Reggie Dorset. His last known abode was a house on an estate in the industrial outskirts of Birmingham, England.

* * *

They beamed in to find themselves on a narrow street with identical dark brick terraced houses lining each side of the road. They checked the number on the PADD with that on the door and approached. Chakotay knocked.

There was no answer, but a wizened old woman from the house next-door stuck her head out the window and screeched at them. “E’s not ‘ome. Try the Three Weeds.” She pointed down the street and started to close the window, but added. “Ye’ll wanna ‘urry. It’s late an’ ‘e’ll be well soused by now.”

The window slammed and Kathryn shrugged at her two companions. “To the Three Weeds then, I suppose.” She tapped her combadge. “Janeway to the Doctor.”

“Have you found her, Admiral?”

“No Doctor, but you’ll be the first to know when we do. I need your help however. Could you send an alcohol detox hypo to these co-ordinates, I have a feeling we’re going to need one for Mr. Dorset.”

“It’s on its way. Doctor out.”

A moment later, the Doctor – with a medkit in hand – materialised in front of the trio.

He shrugged. “I thought I’d accompany the hypo; you never know when you might need me.”

“True. Welcome, Doctor. This way.”

They headed down the narrow street in the direction the woman had pointed them to and at the next intersection, they found the local public house – The Rose, Shamrock and Thistle.

Chakotay turned to Kathryn. “The Three Weeds, I presume.”

“I’d say so but there’s only one way to find out.”

From outside, they could hear the dull thump of music and the rumble of voices but the noise increased tenfold when they opened the door. The music was a throbbing pulse in the background and there were several tables filled with groups of people laughing and singing. Booths lined one wall and the obligatory gnarly old troopers held up the bar, staring blankly at their ales through rheumy eyes.

It didn’t take them long to spot Dorset. He was sitting at a table by himself – clasping a bottle of liquor in one hand and a shot glass in the other. Someone walked past him and bumped his chair. He lurched to his feet and reeled towards the interloper, swearing at him and throwing a poorly aimed punch. The man grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and was about to dispatch him, when Chakotay leapt forward.

“Hey, I’ll take care of him. He’s had a bad day and didn’t mean any harm.”

The man seemed reluctant, but Chakotay persisted.

“Look at him, he can hardly stand; where’s the sport in that?”

The burly bystander gave Chakotay the once over then nodded. “You saved his day from getting a hell of a lot worse. Tell him to keep his trap shut from now on or I’ll shut it for him.”

“I’ll be sure to pass on the message. Thanks.”

With that, the man let Dorset go and moved on. Their kidnapper slumped awkwardly into his chair and in almost in same move, reached for the bottle of liquor.

Chakotay snatched it away from him. “I think you’ve had enough of that.”

He slurred a charming, “Who the fuck are you? Gimme that, you bastard.” and took another ungainly lunge at his bottle.

The Doctor had moved behind him and deftly injected the contents of the detox hypo into his neck.

Dorset stared, stunned for a moment, then yelped and grabbed at his neck. “What are ya doin’? I’ll ‘ave ya, I will. I’ll ‘ave the lot of yas.”

The Doctor counted down. “Five, four, three, two, one.”

They all cringed, waiting for the moment.

Then it hit. Dorset’s eyes nearly bugged out of his face and he grabbed his head. “Sweet mother of God. What was that? Are you trying to kill me?”

The Doctor’s acerbic tones cut through the complaints. “No, you were doing a splendid job of that yourself. The hypospray was given to sober you up.”

“I don’t want to be sober, you pillock. It took me half a bottle of Gordie’s best to get that munted. Gimme me bottle back!”

At this point Kathryn stepped forward and took the seat opposite the irate man. Chakotay and Gerron stood vigil on either side of her.

After snapping her fingers at the passing waiter, she pointed to the shot glass; he then placed another one on the table. Kathryn reached forward and poured herself a drink from the bottle and one for Dorset. She picked hers up and tilted it towards him, then slugged down the lot in one go. Dorset followed suit, slamming his glass down and wiping his sleeve across his mouth.

Kathryn’s voice was slow and controlled; she almost sounded bored as she rolled the base of her glass on the table. “Mr Dorset, we’re looking for someone and I have it on good authority that you know where she is.”

He leant forward, wheezing slightly as he drooled. “Anything that I know comes at a price, lovely lady, and I don’t think you’d be willing to part with what I want.” He licked his lips and leered at her.

Although she could sense Chakotay tensing behind her, Kathryn didn’t blink and drawled dispassionately, “You’re absolutely right, Mr Dorset. But I’m sure I could have my friend here persuade you.” With one eyebrow quirked, she looked up at the Doctor. Dorset followed her gaze.

The EMH looked bewildered for a moment before cottoning onto the charade. His lip curled in disdain as he hefted the hypo spray menacingly. He pressed several buttons on the side, peering at Dorset as though he were a bug. “That should be enough to turn him into a something resembling a boiled cabbage, unable to move or speak for several days. The paroxysms and rigors should be amusing and the bloating and prurience should subside within a week or two. How long did you want him rendered senseless, Boss?”

Kathryn shrugged and sat back in her seat, buffing her nails on her sleeve before inspecting them, not bothering to look up as she answered. “I’m not in any hurry; she’s your friend. Whatever takes your fancy, Doctor.”

“Hmmm, thank you.” He leaned over Dorset’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. “She doesn’t let me have my way often so I’m going to make the most of this. I’ll give you the drug in small doses – so you can feel every increment of control leaving your body and we can enjoy the show.” The Doctor laid his hand on the man’s shoulder – his holographic grip as strong as a Vulcan’s – and pressed the hypo against Dorset’s neck.

As cool as could be, Kathryn reached forward and picked up the liquor. She filled her shot glass to the brim again before lifting it and tossing the contents down in one gulp. She placed the empty glass on the table and looked up at the EMH. “At your leisure, Doctor.”

At the sound of the hypo spray’s hiss, Dorset began to struggle. Kathryn gave the Doctor a single nod and he lifted the instrument away from the man’s neck, before whispering, “This could be your lucky day Dorset – if you do the right thing. If not…” He didn’t elaborate but instead waved the hypo in front of the man’s face, before tucking it into his pocket. Still, he didn’t move his hand from his shoulder or shift from his place behind the villain’s chair.

Kathryn quirked her eyebrow, “So, Mr Dorset, are we going to do business?”

He looked slightly panicked and was clenching his hands frantically. “I can’t feel my fingers.”

“That will wear off within the hour – but it means you won’t be able to fire that weapon you have hidden in your belt. The information, Mr Dorset or…”

“What do you want to know?”

“First of all, is she all right?”

“The Borg? Yes, she’s fine. Well, she was when we left her. I can’t say the same thing about Nalar. The bitch is strong; she almost killed him.”

“Who ordered the kidnapping?”

“I don’t know.”

The Doctor tightened his grip on Dorset’s shoulder and brought the hypo into view.

Dorset’s voice shot up an octave. “I don’t know, really, I don’t. We never saw the contact. He always wore a hood and kept to the shadows. He wasn’t human though – that I could tell.”

“Where did you take her?”

“To a ship orbiting Ganymede but we couldn’t see it. It was cloaked. We just beamed her over and left.”

“How were you paid?”

“Latinum in Ferengi accounts. No red tape and no paper trail.”

“What’s the name of your ship and where is it now?”

“It’s being repaired. Once we’d transferred the Borg, the other ship hit us with an electromagnetic pulse that fried the engines, computers… basically everything. Our life support was offline and we nearly died.”

Kathryn leaned forward again and asked in a whisper. “That’s not what I asked. Where is it?”

“Portsmouth shipyards.”

“Name?”

“The Hercules.”

With that, Kathryn stood abruptly then slapped her hands on the table and stared at Dorset. “Just so you know, you pathetic excuse for a living being – you’ve been injected with a viridium tag that will stay in your bloodstream for at least a year. If you’ve lied, we’ll find you. There’s nowhere you can hide. Be warned, Mr Dorset.”

He made a menacing move to stand but Kathryn propped towards him and he backed off.

To ensure their safe departure, Kathryn picked up the bottle of liquor and handed it to the next table, calling out to the patrons. “Drinks are on Dorset. Give the man a cheer.”

She gave him a cocky salute – just before the place erupted and fellow drinkers from the surrounding tables grabbed at the man, hauling him into drunken huddles and embraces whilst others bellowed their orders over the hullabaloo.

Without wasting another moment, Kathryn, Chakotay, the Doctor and Gerron wove their way through the tables and out the front door. They then called for B’Elanna to organise a beam out to the Portsmouth shipyards.

* * *

They materialised in the yard near the administration building. It didn’t take them long to find the log sheet and the location of the Hercules.

A two hundred metre jog and a quick rerouting of the door’s opening mechanism later and they were in. Either Dorset and his friends had a sardonic sense of humour or it was purely wishful thinking, but their ship was anything but Herculean. A cobbled together piece of space junk was a better description for it, but it was their only lead at this point. Kathryn accessed the mainframe but it was as Dorset had told them; the computer was fried. Reefing the entire mainframe from its housing, Kathryn handed it to Gerron.

The Doctor was scanning the interior of the vessel and Chakotay turned to him. “Anything, Doctor?”

“She was definitely here; her DNA is all through this area. We’re on the right track.”

“Take scans and readings of everything and we’ll analyse them back at Tom’s.” Kathryn looked around quickly but there wasn’t anything else that seemed to be of interest. Before they were discovered, she tapped her combadge again. “B’Elanna, bring us home. We’re done here.”

* * *

Two minutes later, they were in the Paris’s living room again – plugging the Hercules’s mainframe into B’Elanna’s computer. She turned to Kathryn. “This may take awhile. Why don’t you get a coffee or something? Chakotay, you know where everything is.”

“Sure. Kathryn, a coffee?”

She heaved a sigh. “Yes, that would be a godsend, thank you. Any news from the others?”

B’Elanna talked while she tapped at the console in front of her. “Ayala and his team are on their way back. The Tellarite is in a medical facility with head and internal injuries. He won’t be speaking to anyone for a day or two. Tom and the others are still trying to find the Nausicaan, but word is he’s left the system. Your lead seems to be the only one we have for the moment.”

Kathryn nodded. “Okay. Let me know if you find anything on that. I’ll be outside with my coffee. Oh and, Doctor. Nicely played… even I was frightened.”

The EMH beamed. “Thank you, Admiral. All those hours playing Don Giovanni and Rigoletto on the holodeck finally paid off.”

She grinned and could hear Chakotay chuckling behind her. “In spades, Doctor, in spades.”

Turning to follow Chakotay, Kathryn checked the chronometer. They’d been on Seven’s trail for just over two hours now and they were making progress but they were still a long way from finding her exact location.

Chakotay poured her a coffee and one for himself from a pot sitting on the bench. “Did you want something to eat?”

Kathryn shook her head. “I’m not all that hungry.”

“I’m going to have a sandwich.”

“I’ll have a bite of yours then.”

He smiled gently. “What if I don’t want to share?”

“Then I’ll sic the Doctor onto you with his evil hypospray from hell.”

“Fair enough. What’s mine is yours then.”

“Cheese and salad would be good.”

He turned to the replicator, complaining. “First she’s not hungry and now she’s telling me what I should have. Computer, two number seventeen cheese and salad sandwiches on rye.” The food materialised and he turned back towards her. “I hope that meets with your approval.”

“Rye is my favourite.”

“I know.” He winked and carried the plate and his coffee outside to the patio. Kathryn followed.

They sat and Kathryn took a proffered sandwich and began to pick at it, breaking off and eating small bites of bread and cheese.

Chakotay smiled. “If you’re going to massacre it, I’ll get you a bat’leth and a plate.”

Kathryn took a big bite just to prove a point then raised her eyebrows in surprise. After she’d swallowed the mouthful, she pointed to the sandwich. “That’s delicious, what’s in it?”

“My secret recipe. If I tell you, I have to kill you.”

“Oh, pickles then.”

He patted his pockets. “That’s it, where’s my phaser?”

Kathryn screwed up her nose then laughed. “Charming.”

His eyes met hers and he smiled but didn’t say anything.

After a moment, Kathryn sat back and gave him a questioning look. “What’s wrong, have I got pickles on my chin?”

“No, I was just thinking that it’s so good to see you and even better to hear you laugh. I’ve missed both.”

“I was always here.”

“I know and I’m sorry.”

Kathryn shook her head and reached across the table to pat his hand. “Oh God, let’s not start this again. It’s water under the bridge and time to put it behind us.”

“I’m game if you are.”

“I’m always game.”

“Don’t I know that. You scared the hell out of Dorset tonight. If you ever give up Starfleet, there’s a protection racket out there with your name on it.”

“Don Katarina.” Kathryn appeared to mull it over and then nodded. “It’s got a ring to it and it’s probably more profitable than what I’m doing now.”

“Undoubtedly.”

“You could be my consigliere and we could rule the galaxy.”

“Have a sip of coffee, Kathryn; I have a feeling your caffeine levels are dangerously low.”

“I think it’s the pickles.” Smiling, she sipped her coffee then sighed. “As I said to Hayes today, I still love the taste of Earth coffee.”

“Speaking of Hayes, he’s going to know by now that you’re up to something. All this beaming from one place to another; I’m sure someone will have alerted him.”

“Yes, I’d figured that, but there’s nothing we can do about it. The longer we go without hearing from him, the more I think he knows something. I just wish I knew what it was.”

“Oh, I forgot to give you this.” Chakotay pulled Telek’s data node from his pocket and handed it to Kathryn. “B’Elanna worked her magic and the bulk of it is unreadable. According to the lady herself, she’s fragmented it with an algorithmic axe. They won’t be able to put it back together- ever.”

“I’ll have to thank her. Do you have a copy?”

He nodded. “Yes, and it’s safely hidden away.”

“Excellent, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Kathryn was silent for a time, looking out over the lights of the city.

Chakotay reached over and touched her hand. “Seven will be okay. They want something and they’re not going to harm her after going to so much trouble to get her.”

“I know and that’s what I’ve been trying to work out. If it’s the Romulans, and it looks as though it is – the cloaked ship seems like irrefutable proof – why Borg technology?”

Chakotay shrugged. “Like you said earlier; she’s a walking-talking repository for most of the known galaxy’s technology – slipstream, ablative shielding, regenerative ship systems, nanoprobes, assimilation… There must be so much that Seven knows that would be of use to them in their war against the Remans.”

Kathryn’s breath caught as the penny dropped. She whispered. “Temporal mechanics.”

“Time travel?”

She jagged forward and began gesticulating. “Don’t you see? With Data gone, Seven is the only individual with complete knowledge of how to create a temporal vortex like the one the Borg used to go back in time and stop first contact. You’ve read Picard’s reports?”

Chakotay nodded.

Kathryn thumped the table lightly with her fist. “Seven even mentioned the incident once – referred to it as the Pogo Parallax and short of hijacking a Federation Starship, the only way the Romulans could get their hands on the technology is to get it from the source. Seven of Nine.”

“They want to go back and save the Empire. That makes sense.”

“We have to stop them.”

“Do we?”

“I know it seems hypocritical of me but this will change the lives of millions, not just a handful.”

“What the Admiral did was virtually the same. We have no idea how many lives were affected because of what we did in bringing Voyager home sixteen years early.”

“I know, and to this day I have nightmares about it, but there was nothing I could do. I know it was essentially an older and obviously less wise me but once the Admiral arrived in our time it was too late and I felt compelled to make the best of it.”

“I’m not blaming you; I know the dilemma you faced. I’m just asking you to consider what the Romulans might have in mind.”

“It depends. There are so many variables, so many ways this could go wrong – not just for the Federation but for life throughout this galaxy. I need to know more about what their plans are and we can’t find that out until we rescue Seven.”

“You’re right. There’s no point speculating.”

“Although, it might explain why Hayes is playing things so close to his chest. I have an awful feeling that we’re being manipulated – manoeuvred into doing Starfleet’s dirty work. Maximum benefits for Starfleet with minimum input or risk. Sound familiar?”

“Same old story.” Chakotay heaved a sigh. “A step back in time would save the Federation enormous resources. The Enterprise would be intact for a start. Data would be alive and thousands of refugees would have their homes back. Who’s to say that by changing things we wouldn’t be better off?”

“Playing devil’s advocate? However, you make a compelling argument. The problem is, we still have to find out specifically what it is they’re going to change. We might end up as part of the Empire, back in the Delta Quadrant, assimilated by the Borg or worse.”

Chakotay nodded. “You’ve got a point.”

“I usually do.”

He smiled. “But a valid one and I won’t ever question your paranoia again. No wonder you were angry with me. I’m an idiot.”

“No you’re not. I was just as angry with myself for doubting my instincts. This would never have happened in the Delta Quadrant.”

“It did; I can remember a few memorable incidents. But Kathryn, I always had your back and I’m sorry for not doing so this time.”

“We’re better as a team, aren’t we?”

“I’d like to think so.”

*************

They sat looking at one another for a long moment before Kathryn shifted her gaze and stared down at her coffee. “This probably isn’t the time or the place but I’ve let so many of these moments pass over the years. I’m loath to let it happen again, so, when this is all over, do you think we could discuss us?”

Chakotay snapped out a quick, “Yes.”

Kathryn laughed. “You don’t want to give it a bit of thought?”

“Nope.” He leant forward and grinned. “I’ve been thinking about ‘us’ for almost eight years. I’d wager that’s long enough.”

Nodding, Kathryn reached for his hand again and gripped it. “I love you, my friend.”

B’Elanna’s voice cut through the moment. “I’ve got something!”

Kathryn rose from her seat but Chakotay held her arm to stop her from leaving. “Kathryn, just a moment.” He stood and pulled her into his arms before pressing his lips to hers in a gentle kiss. “I love you, too.”

She touched his cheek. “I hadn’t banked on this happening tonight but I’m glad it has.” She glanced over his shoulder then, inclining her head towards the other room. “We should get in there.”

“I know.” He kissed her forehead before letting her go. “We’ll pick this up later.”

“You can bet on it.”

They walked back into the house, side by side.

*********************

In the meantime, Tom and the others had arrived back and were gathered around B’Elanna’s computer again.

Kathryn patted Ayala and Dalby on the shoulder as she made her way to the monitor. “What have you found, B’Elanna?”

“The ship was definitely Romulan but it also carries some integrated Reman technology – in the shielding and weaponry. Dorset’s ship must have been monitoring it and I’ve pieced together some of the vessel’s internal communications. It’s in Rihannsu – more evidence that it’s Romulan – but it’s mostly environmental updates and engine stats – nothing of much use. There’s no telling where they were headed. I have no idea how he managed to scan through the cloak but I’d like to find out. The only other uncorrupted information I can find is a number – seven one eight. I don’t know if they’re referring to Seven or that the one eight means something, but that’s all I can find.”

Kathryn held up her hand. “Starbase 718. It’s on the border closest to Romulus – about fifty light years distance from Earth.” She began to pace. “The engine stats – what warp factor are we looking at for the Romulan ship?”

“From the size and specs, I’d say it’s a shuttle. So top speed is about warp six – maybe seven at a push.”

“Then we need a ship that can go faster than that.”

Kathryn looked around at the faces of her dear friends and comrades. Her eyes met Chakotay’s and he gave her the slightest of nods.

It was reassuring to know that their thoughts were in accord; she turned to the others. “I have to contact Hayes and let him know what’s going on. We need Voyager.”

B’Elanna stood up and gestured towards the chair. “It’s all yours. Good luck.”

* * *

Kathryn heaved a sigh. This could quite possibly mean the end of her Starfleet career, but the pangs of grief she expected to feel at the prospect didn’t appear. Perhaps this was meant to be. She logged into the communications system and hailed Admiral Hayes. He answered his comm. almost immediately.

“Janeway, I’ve been waiting for your call. Have you found her yet?”

“Admiral?”

“Give me some credit, young lady. I wasn’t born yesterday and it’s my job to know what’s going on under my roof. I was alerted to the drone’s disappearance at the same time you were, but it would’ve taken us at least twenty-four hours to mobilise a security force with enough expertise to find her and mount a rescue. You’ve achieved the same in just over two. If nothing else, Janeway, you know how to get a job done. So when do you need to leave?”

Kathryn, along with everyone else in the room, was stunned. “Sir?” She shook herself to get her brain functioning again. “You knew?”

“Of course I knew! But plausible deniability is the name of that game and will continue to be. We don’t want the Tal Shiar on our doorstep – or Section 31 for that matter. I needed you on your game and doing what you do best. I assume you’re going to get her.”

Kathryn nodded.

“Then Voyager is yours.”

“Thank you, sir. My crew…”

“Most of them are onboard. I spent the afternoon plucking them from places all over the globe and beyond. I’ve never met a crew more eager to be back aboard a ship before. You’d think they’d been debarked against their will. They are the most unusual and dedicated individuals.”

“I’m very proud of them, Admiral. You won’t find better in this galaxy or the next.”

“That’s exactly what they said about you. Quite extraordinary. But that’s by the by. You should be ready to leave within the hour. The old girl’s been overhauled and is in tiptop shape. Take that Romulan woman with you, too; she might come in handy. We’ll be monitoring your progress, but don’t expect any backup – something you’re used to, which makes you perfect for the job. You and your crew are operating in an unofficial capacity, so try not to start a war.”

“Aye, Sir.”

He nodded once and she swore she saw a ghost of a smile. “God’s speed, Kathryn.”

“Thank you, Sir.” The screen went blank and Kathryn muttered, “I think.”

Then she pivoted in her chair to stare at everyone in the room. “I had him all wrong, didn’t I?”

B’Elanna grinned. “Yeah, but he’s still a windbag.”

There were only a couple of huffs of laughter before they all kicked into gear. B’Elanna comm’ed Harry asking him to transport back with Onara. Tom contacted his parents and within minutes, Owen and Elizabeth Paris arrived on the doorstep to babysit their granddaughter.

Owen was quickly brought up to speed on the situation, and before the hour was up, Kathryn, Chakotay and the rest of the crew had beamed to Voyager.

Each of them heaved a sigh of relief but it was Harry who voiced their thoughts. “Man, it’s good to be back. I’ve missed her.”

Tom slapped him on the shoulder as he moved past his friend. “You can say that again. But we’ll have to hold off on the celebrations ’til later.”

The team all made their way to their respective stations. Kathryn turned to Onara. “We’ll head to the Bridge. Harry, will you look after her?”

“Yes, Admiral.” He smiled at Onara and together they followed Voyager’s command team to the turbolift.

* * *

With a rapidly beating heart, Kathryn stepped onto the Bridge of her beloved ship and took her place in the central seat. She looked across at Chakotay and smiled.

He reached over and took her hand in his. “How does it feel?”

“Like normal. I feel like me again. Isn’t that ridiculous?”

He shook his head. “No, you look like you again.”

Tom swung around from the helm. “B’Elanna reports that the engines are online. She’s just waiting for the word.”

“Consider it given, Mr Paris. Full impulse to Ganymede.” She turned to Chakotay and winked as she gave his hand a squeeze before letting go. “Let’s do it.”

“Aye, aye, Admiral.” Tom spun back to his console and they all looked up at the screen as Earth faded into the distance behind them.

Ayala was at Tactical in Tuvok’s place and informed the Bridge. “Switching to forward view. Twenty minutes to Ganymede.”

“Harry, scan for residual ion trails and warp particles as soon as we’re within range.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, the gas giant that was Jupiter filled the screen and Voyager headed towards its largest moon. Kathryn turned towards the Ops station, anticipating a sensor report.

Harry looked up. “I’m picking up an ion trail with residual tetryon particles from their cloak. I’m sending the co-ordinates to the helm.”

Kathryn swung forward. “Tom?”

“Got them. Engaging warp nine.”

“The trail disappears, Admiral – almost as soon as we leave our system. Initial scans show that they’re on course for Starbase 718, but as soon as they jumped to warp, we lost them.”

“It’s the only lead we have, so maintain heading. Tom and Harry, keep scanning for tetryon particles; they may drop out of warp somewhere en route.”

Chakotay looked up from his console. “We could try using a long-range tachyon scanner.”

“Good idea, Commander. Harry?”

“Yes, ma’am. I’ll have to reconfigure the deflector array, but it should be up and running within the hour.”

“Well done. Stay on course for Starbase 718 until we get confirmation. Approximate ETA?”

“If we average warp nine we’ll be there within fourteen days; the Romulans will be a day or two behind us.”

“Good. That gives us some time to put together a plan. I want all senior staff in the briefing room in two hours. Tom, you have the Bridge. Commander, my Ready Room.”

There was a chorus of, “Aye, Admirals,” as she and Chakotay strode off the Bridge and disappeared behind the closed doors of her Ready Room.

* * *

Kathryn jogged up the stairs and pointed towards the replicator as she spoke. “I’m still not used to it – and it sounds even stranger here.”

Chakotay nodded a yes to the silent offer of a tea. “What’s that?”

“Being called Admiral.” She turned to the replicator. “Coffee, black. Tea, blend twenty-three.” The drinks materialised and she carried them to the couch, placing them on the table as she sat down. “And I think I’ve come to a decision.”

Chakotay took a seat beside her and picked up his tea. “About what?”

“My life and career. I’m going to ask for Voyager back. I’ll accept a drop in rank if that’s what it takes, but I’m miserable behind a desk. This is where I want to be, even if it is just trundling around the Alpha Quadrant on diplomatic missions. At least I’m out here amongst the stars. I miss them.”

There was a telling pause that Kathryn noticed before Chakotay responded. “I’m pleased for you, Kathryn.” He sipped his tea quietly.

“You don’t sound very pleased.” She watched him, understanding the dilemma. He was such a good man. Even though they’d established new parameters for their relationship, he wasn’t going to overstep the boundaries she’d established all those years ago.

It was time for her to set the record straight.

“I’m going to ask B’Elanna and Tom if they want to stay on, but with the option of having Miral with them. And I’m going to offer the same to any other crewmember who would like to bring their family onboard. Fortunately, many of them are already paired up with each other so there should be plenty of room. What do you think?”

“I think that if we can get Seven back – without causing an interstellar confrontation – you’ll be able to get whatever you want. Hayes’ will be in your debt.”

“Good; then we’ll start moving your things into my quarters as soon as our shift is over.”

Chakotay sputtered into his tea. “Your quarters!”

“I consider you family.”

“We’re not talking brother or cousin, are we?”

“Of course not. More like a life partner – or de facto if you prefer.”

“Not husband?”

Kathryn shook her head. “No; I’ve not had the best of luck lining those up over the years. And besides, I think we’ve proven our commitment to one another. I trust you with my life and my heart, and I don’t need a thumb print on a PADD to prove it. So, do you think it’s a good idea?”

Chakotay sat back with his hands locked together over his stomach and studied her. “I think it’s probably one of the best ideas you’ve ever had – and you’ve had a few choice ones since I’ve known you.”

Chuckling, Kathryn tilted her head to the side and met his gaze. “A few huh? Well, I’m glad you think this is one of them.”

He leaned forward and ran the back of his fingers down her cheek. “After all these years, I’m finding it a little hard to believe.”

“Well it’s true – and I’ll prove it to you tonight.” She grinned at the look on his face, before pressing her lips to his softly. “But now, however, we have to come up with a plan to rescue our wayward Borg.”

Chakotay sat back again and frowned. “It’s going to depend on what we find at Starbase 718. There’ll be Tal Shiar operatives there for sure and if they’re planning what we think they are, they’ll want to get her to Romulus as quickly as possible.”

“And we can’t let that happen.” Staring into her coffee, Kathryn mused. “Onara might be able to help us there. She’ll be able to get closer to the Romulans than we can. I’ll ask her if she’s willing to help. I think she will be.”

“Finding Seven shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Her bio signature is fairly unique.”

“Yes, but I think we have to assume that they’ll have masked her bio-readings.”

“True, they’re not stupid but they are desperate. And in a way, that gives us an advantage.”

She gave him a grim smile. “I just hope they’re not desperate enough to do something stupid.”

“Me too.”

Kathryn blew a breath through pursed lips then stood up and began pacing. “We have to get on and off the ship quickly. Handpick a strike squad. You know who’s cool under pressure. I have a feeling that it won’t just be the Tal Shiar we have to worry about. Reading between the lines of what Hayes said, I’m expecting Section 31 to be hovering close by as well.”

Chakotay leaned forward. “The latest Romulan cloaking devices can be disrupted for a few seconds by an antiproton beam. That should give us enough time to transport a team through. Once on the vessel, it’s just a matter of disabling the cloak and beaming the away team with Seven back to Voyager – mind you we have to avoid capture, death and causing a war.”

“No pressure, huh?” She folded her arms and leant against the railing. “But I like the idea of the antiproton bursts. Get B’Elanna onto it right away and run some simulations.”

“Will do.”

Kathryn pushed herself away from the railing and sat by his side again. “I also thought we might try to tap into Seven’s interplexing beacon once we get closer. That’s if we can transmit through the cloak.”

“It’s worth a try. Perhaps you can speak to the Doctor about that; he’s the one most familiar with her implants.”

“You’re avoiding him, aren’t you?”

“You can see right through me.”

Kathryn shook her head and smiled. “I always have.”

Chakotay gave her a broad grin. “I’m not going to buy into that one.” He chuckled. “If that’s all for the moment, I’ll head to my office and organise the away team.”

Kathryn nodded, her mind now preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming mission. But as Chakotay stood, she smiled at him and held out her hand. He pulled her up into his arms. She placed her hand over his heart where it beat strong and steady under her palm. “See you in the briefing room.”

“Aye, Admiral.” He clasped her hand, brought it to his mouth, and kissed her fingers. Stepping back, he smiled again before turning and exiting the room.

Kathryn flopped back onto the couch and stared out the viewport for a long moment. Life was at last falling into place. She and Chakotay had found their way to one another after years of sidestepping and missed opportunities. She had a vision of the future – something she’d been lacking since her arrival home.

Now all they had to do was retrieve Seven and get on with their lives. It was supposed to be that simple. And that’s when Kathryn felt the yawning chasm of dread draw near.

Nothing was ever that simple.

Chapter Three

The days flew by. Chakotay’s chosen away team – all ex-Maquis – practiced drill after drill, honing their skills and covering every possible angle and potential pitfall of their proposed foray. Voyager, with her overhauled engines and updated technology, hummed along at warp nine – taking them ever closer to their rendezvous with the Romulan shuttle and Seven.

Using the long-range tachyon scan, they’d picked up a resonance trace from the shuttle’s warp core on several occasions and knew they were on the right track. By the tenth day, they’d passed the shuttle and were maintaining a thirty hour lead. They would be on Starbase 718 a full day or more ahead of the shuttle and have their preparations comfortably in place by the time it arrived. So far, all was going as planned.

Onara had settled in, almost as though she were one of the crew. Kathryn had asked the Doctor to monitor her progress. She was still frightfully thin despite the medic assuring Kathryn that she was in good health. Nevertheless, he continued to keep an eye on her and update the captain on the girl’s progress.

********************

The change in Kathryn and Chakotay’s relationship didn’t go unnoticed by the crew, but in a show of typical Voyager solidarity, they merely shrugged as one and wished them well – accepting the momentous but inevitable evolution of their commanders’ involvement without question. It was positively anticlimactic considering all the angst their non-relationship had caused, but the new lovers didn’t question their good fortune and considered themselves blessed as they slid seamlessly into their new life and embraced this deepening of their long-held bond.

They’re first night together was spent laughing and goading one another as they first packed, and then unpacked, Chakotay’s few belongings. He teased Kathryn that the Kitomer Accord involved less negotiating than was required to divide up the space in her closets and drawers.

The entire uproarious process left them breathless and elated. In celebration, they opened a bottle of champagne to toast with gusto their new life followed by reminiscing over old times. Some were good – those idyllic weeks on New Earth and their many shared, though frustratingly platonic, shore leaves. But there were also those less than stellar moments – their first encounter with the Borg and their run in with the Equinox. Chakotay helpfully pointed out that if they could have just kissed and made up, it would have made life that much easier.

This earned him a dig in the ribs and a glare from Kathryn, but as he slowly divested her of her uniform and made love to her for the first time, she was inclined to agree.

They made a pact that night to relegate the past to the past and from that moment forward, to only look towards their future. It was something that Kathryn hadn’t dared to do before, but for the first time in years, there was a sense of permanence and stability in her life; it was definitely something to celebrate and embrace.

Still, it wasn’t until later that night when the simple truth of her new life revealed itself. Staring idly into the bathroom mirror as she cleaned her teeth, Kathryn was suddenly struck by the unremarkable but soul-searing certainty of their love – his and her shampoo bottles nestled together on the shower ledge, his toothbrush waiting beside her toothpaste and his comb resting with her brush on the shelf above the sink. Despite being such mundane and ordinary objects, these simple things cemented their already powerful commitment to one another. She couldn’t stop smiling with the realisation and when he walked into the bathroom, wrapping his arms around her from behind, she’d pressed herself back into him and closed her eyes, letting the moment take her. He carried her to bed and they made love again in the shadowy light of the stars.

They’d made love every night since and already it was difficult to remember a time when they weren’t together in this way. It seemed so right.

Their days – as well as a goodly portion of their evenings – were filled with the mission’s urgency, but they always found respite in each other’s arms. It kept them on an even keel. For the first time in years, they had balance in their lives and both Kathryn and Chakotay were the better for it.

* * *

On the thirteenth day of their pursuit, Harry hailed them just before the start of alpha shift. He’d picked up the Romulan ship on long-range sensors. It had dropped out of warp – the vessel’s cloak wavering momentarily as it veered off its heading to Starbase 718 – and was now speeding towards the Neutral Zone on a direct course to Romulus. This didn’t bode well. So far, Voyager had maintained a thirty-two hour lead time on the Romulan vessel and to double back now would mean that they would lose that advantage – trailing behind the shuttle as it entered the Neutral Zone.

To pursue the vessel would mean crossing the Neutral Zone, violating Romulan space and breaking the Federation/Romulan treaty, all of which were considered acts of war.

Hayes’ orders were looking decidedly rickety at this juncture.

The senior staff met in the Briefing room to try to find a way around the problem. They weren’t making much progress until Harry put forth a proposal.

“I still have the specs for the Kraylor cloaking device. With B’Elanna’s help, I think I could have it up and operational within eight hours.”

Kathryn looked uncomfortable. “The Treaty of Algeron clearly states that there are to be no cloaking devices on Federation vessels; we’d still be breaking Federation law.”

“I know, but there’s no way to sneak past the outposts without one, especially this close to Romulus. Long-range scans show that area to be heavily guarded and teaming with warships. We’d be obliterated within moments of crossing the border. And we’re acting outside of Federation law.” Harry looked apologetic and shrugged. “In case you were splitting hairs.”

Kathryn stood up, turned her back on the table and looked out the window at the passing stars. Harry was right; there really wasn’t any other choice. With no backup from Starfleet, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. God, how many times had she faced these dilemmas in the Delta Quadrant? There was a great deal at stake – not just Seven’s life but perhaps the lives of millions. She heaved a silent sigh. Saving the galaxy every other week was exhausting.

Her shoulders sagged momentarily as she made her decision. Taking a deep breath, she stood tall and turned to her crew. “Harry, B’Elanna and I will meet you in Engineering. I want it done in six hours if we’re going to give ourselves a little leeway.”

Harry jumped to his feet. “Aye, ma’am. I’ll pull up the specs and get started. B’Elanna, are you coming?”

The engineer received a nod from Kathryn before dashing out of the Briefing room behind Harry.

“Anything else on the agenda?”

After being met with shaking heads and silence around the table, Kathryn waved her hand towards those who remained. “Dismissed.”

Only Chakotay stayed as the doors hissed shut behind the retreating senior staff. He came to stand beside Kathryn and she turned, giving him a sad smile. “You know that war we were told not to start…?”

He wove his fingers through hers and held her hand, nothing more. “It’ll be okay. The Romulans and Remans have a lot on their plates at the moment and their preoccupation gives us the upper hand. We’ll make it through.”

Kathryn sat at the table again, pulling him with her, their hands still clasped. “Plausible deniability – those words keep rattling around in my head. There’s no rescue for us if we’re caught.”

“I know, but we won’t get caught. We’ve got an advantage.”

She looked at him with a puzzled frown. “An advantage?”

“We’ve got you.”

She leant forward – elbow on the table, her chin resting in her hand as her mouth twisted into a wry smile. Her eyes sparkled as she stared at him. “You’re just saying that so you can get into my pants.”

Chakotay laughed and lifted her hand to his lips. “Maybe, but just remember, we’ve been through worse and survived – and in those instances there was no pant-delving involved. This should be a piece of cake.”

She smiled and touched his cheek. “Let’s hope so.” Heaving a deep sigh, she pulled herself together and stood up. “Well, cloaking devices don’t manufacture themselves. I should get down there. Wish me luck.”

“Break a leg, Admiral.”

“Thanks – I think.”

“I’ll bring dinner down to you later.”

She kissed him quickly. “Sounds wonderful. See you then.” With a quick wave, she headed out the door without looking back.

**************************

They managed to get the Kraylor cloaking device up and running in five hours, giving them precious extra time to make the treacherous journey across the Neutral Zone and follow the shuttle towards Romulus.

Kathryn sat rigid and still in the central chair, her legs crossed and her knotted hands pressed into her lap. She was supposed to give the impression of calm assurance but she was sure that crewmen on deck fifteen could feel the waves of tension rippling off of her and permeating the bulkheads.

Once across the Neutral Zone, the shuttle had dropped to impulse and Voyager was again able to track its ion emissions. They were hot on the vessel’s trail, moving with it through forbidden territory as it headed towards its populated home planet.

Chakotay and the strike team were in the transporter room, waiting to beam aboard the shuttle. All Kathryn had to do next was destabilise the cloak with the antiproton beam. She tried in vain to still the rapid beating of her heart and the gnawing sense of foreboding that was eating away at her insides, but it was impossible. All she could do was tamp it down and ignore it.

As they neared the scarred and ravaged planet, scans showed a relatively open area of space devoid of either Romulan or Reman warships.

Ayala had joined Chakotay’s assault team so Mariah Henley replaced him at Tactical; Kathryn gave her a nod. “On my mark, Ensign.” She took a deep breath. “Janeway to Chakotay.”

“Chakotay here, Admiral.”

“Good luck, Commander. Firing antiproton burst in three, two, one, mark.”

The blue stream streaked across the view screen, lighting up the small vessel.

Harry called out from Ops. “Away team has been transported. They’re on the Romulan shuttle.”

Kathryn let her shoulders relax a little but she knew the hardest part was yet to come. They still had to retrieve both the team and Seven and hightail it out of Romulan space without being captured, destroyed or worse. Chakotay had fifteen minutes in which to carry out their mission and return to the beam out co-ordinates. They’d practiced their raid down to the millisecond and he’d assured her that nothing could go wrong. Kathryn wanted to believe him but over the years, she’d acquired an old campaigner’s cynicism that was hard to overcome. She glanced at the countdown chronometer; only fourteen minutes and ten seconds left. She had the feeling that this was going to be the longest quarter of an hour of her life.

They were seven minutes in when Harry’s startled voice sent Kathryn pivoting to her feet.

“I’m picking up chronometric particles coming from the Romulan shuttle.”

“What?!”

“They’re opening a temporal vortex.”

“Hail the away team. Now!”

“I can’t, Admiral; the temporal fluctuations are distorting the signal.”

“Try transporting.”

“The beam is getting through, but there’s nothing there to transport. The lock is beginning to destabilise.” Harry frantically fought with the controls, but to no avail. His voice was rough with emotion. “They’ve entered the vortex.”

“Try tapping into Seven’s interplexing beacon.”

“I’ve tried, but there’s too much chronometric interference.”

They all watched in horror as the Romulan shuttle, with seven of their crew aboard, disappeared into the gaping tear in space-time.

Harry stated the obvious. “They’re gone, Admiral.”

Kathryn’s mind was reeling. Still, training took over and she heard herself demand, “Readings?”

He looked down at his console. “The vortex is still open, but the planet is enveloped in a tachyon-based radioactive haze; there’s evidence of a cataclysmic event…I can’t date it accurately yet. But the population numbers only two million, all Romulan.”

Henley called from Tactical. “The vortex is closing, Admiral.”

Kathryn gripped the railing.”Whatever they planned backfired, but we have to get our people back. Follow them in. All hands, we are entering the temporal vortex, brace for impact.”

Without hesitation, Tom sent Voyager hurtling into a different future but, as they entered, his body faded before disappearing from the helm.

Kathryn leapt forward and took the controls – settling them into a high orbit around a planet pockmarked with craters and seemingly devoid of life.

Ensign Lang then took over at the helm as Kathryn turned and surveyed the Bridge. Half her crew was missing.

“Admiral?”

It was Harry and he was looking around the deserted Bridge. Henley was gone, as was Doyle and Jackson.

Kathryn made her way to Ops and stood beside Harry at his station. She was horrified at the turn of events but her training came to the fore once more. “Computer, open a ship wide channel. This is Admiral Janeway. We are through the vortex. Could all crew sound off by reporting to Operations?”

The console lit up but it was as Kathryn suspected. They were now an all Starfleet crew. The Maquis and Tom were gone. They had vanished in this timeline. She stared at the console for several heartbeats – almost too shocked to comprehend what had happened, let alone even begin to speculate about the why’s and wherefore’s of the disaster. There was, however, one name on the list that surprised her.

Onara was still with them.

***************

She needed to think.

She needed to figure out what the hell had happened that would alter their existences so drastically. But all she could hear was the scream in her mind – he’s gone!

After all these years, they’d finally found one another. And now Chakotay had been ripped away from her by a glitch in time. But it wasn’t just him. They were all gone. B’Elanna, Tom, Ayala, Henley, young Gerron; all of them. It was a cruel, cruel blow. Kathryn took a deep shuddering breath to centre herself. And Harry – bless him – laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. It was all she needed to bring herself back to the here and now.

Swallowing her despair, she turned to the young ensign, giving him the barest of smiles.

“Thank you, Harry.”

He nodded and lifted his hand away from her shoulder.

Kathryn was all business now, striding across the upper Bridge. “We need to know what happened to the crew. Is there any sign of them, their combadges, anything?”

Harry shook his head. “No, they’ve just disappeared.”

Gripping the upper rail near the science console, Kathryn glared at the viewscreen, willing something to show her the way. “I think our only option is down there. We have to go to the planet.” Kathryn pointed to the viewscreen. “Can you give me an approximate stardate?”

Rollins had taken over at Tactical and checked his console. “It’s 55703.8, Admiral. An estimated fourteen months into our past.”

“Yes, but what past? It’s definitely not the same reality we’ve come from. Is there any sign of the Romulan shuttle?”

Harry turned to the scanning array behind him then spoke over his shoulder. “No, Admiral, but it likely travelled back to an earlier time period. Seconds can mean years when we’re talking temporal thresholds. Remember Captain Braxton?”

Kathryn closed her eyes. How could she forget? Chakotay and the others could be dead for all she knew. Opening her eyes, she turned to Ops. “Is there any way to find out what year the shuttle was aiming for?”

Harry shook his head. “No, the readings were too distorted – but I’d guess that it was approximately thirty years ago, triggering the event that destroyed most of the planet. Ionospheric composition shows a significant level of both tachyon and chroniton residue; the explosion was definitely temporal in origin.”

Kathryn nodded. “You’re probably right, but it’s still speculation at this point.” She started for her chair but turned and asked. “Is the cloak still operative?”

“Yes Admiral. Still online and undamaged.”

“Well, that’s one thing in our favour. And we can use all the help we can get.”

The lift doors opened and Onara stepped onto the Bridge. She glanced at Kathryn before her attention was drawn to the planet filling the viewscreen. Her face registered horror and disbelief. “Romulus?”

Kathryn nodded before indicating that Onara should join her on the command deck. “Have a seat, Onara.” Kathryn gestured towards Chakotay’s chair, her hand shaking slightly.

The younger woman hesitated but then sat gingerly on the edge of the seat. “What’s happened, Admiral? I was in sickbay; the Doctor had just finished my check-up when we heard that Voyager had entered the temporal vortex. I suddenly felt lightheaded and peculiar. According to the Doctor, I was fading from this reality. He injected me with a chroniton infused serum – it was a very strange sensation. He said to tell you that his quick thinking and superior skills saved me.”

Kathryn nodded, ignoring the Doctor’s self-adulation, but again, it made sense. “The shuttle created a vortex. We followed it through and are now in a different reality. Something tells me that it wasn’t the one the Romulans were hoping for, however.”

Onara nodded. “I see.” She looked towards the planet again. “That’s not my Romulus?”

Kathryn shook her head. “No. But perhaps with your help, we can find our way back to your planet and our time period.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“We need to contact someone on the planet and find out what changed in Romulus’s past that caused such a drastic alteration in our timeline.”

Onara’s eyes were still riveted to the viewscreen. “I’ll do anything you ask.”

“Good. Then you and I will beam to the planet.”

Onara frowned looking uncertain. “Your presence might attract attention.”

“The Doctor will alter my appearance so that I look Romulan but having you there with me will be of great assistance.”

“Who do we contact?”

“The year is 2378, fourteen months into your past. Is there a family member or close friend that might be on the planet?”

Onara nodded. “I guess my residence would be the best place to start. My housekeeper would help, I’m sure. We just have to hope that my home still exists in this reality.”

Kathryn nodded. “There is no way of knowing, but it’s a good starting point; the sooner we get there, the better chance we’ll have to set the timeline to rights.”

Onara glanced once more at the screen but then nodded towards Kathryn. “It’s distressing to see Romulus like this. It seems we are destined for destruction in both realities.”

The two women held one another’s gazes for a moment, reading the sorrow and determination in each. Then Kathryn stood. “Ensign Kim, you have the Bridge. Keep scanning the sector for any sign of the shuttle and I’ll keep an open comm. line.”

“Aye, Admiral. Good luck.”

Together she and Onara entered the turbo lift. “Deck five. My combadge will suffice as a translator but I’ll leave you to do most of the talking.”

“Certainly, Admiral.”

“And you’d best call me Kathryn if we’re going to maintain this charade.”

“May I suggest that you choose a different name, something more Romulan?”

Kathryn looked towards her young companion. “Any names come to mind?”

Onara thought briefly. “Sienae.”

“Sienae. That’s beautiful.”

“It was my mother’s name.”

“Oh. Are you sure?”

Onara nodded. “I’m sure. You will be Sienae T’Laveth. A minor noble person from one of the Northern provinces. If you are not going to be speaking, your station will explain your aloofness.”

“Thank you, Onara. Your help will be invaluable.”

They arrived on deck five and made their way to Sickbay. And twenty minutes later, Kathryn emerged – disguised as a Romulan noblewoman. She was virtually unrecognisable. After analysing the radiation in the atmosphere, the Doctor inoculated both women and they were now headed towards the transporter room. Without wasting any more time, Kathryn collected an away mission kit and they beamed to the planet.

* * *

Onara and Kathryn materialised in a shaded spot to the rear of what they hoped was the young woman’s house. It was small squat and functional. There were no gardens, no embellishments; it was merely a shelter from the harsh environs.

Kathryn pulled a tricorder from her pack and aimed it at the dwelling. “There are two lifesigns within this building. One female and one male.”

Onara pointed to the path that led to the front door. “Hopefully, the female will be D’elon my housekeeper, but I don’t know who the male is. Perhaps a workman.”

“We’re about to find out.”

They approached the door of the steel grey building and Onara tapped a code into a panel on her right. The door opened and she looked towards Kathryn with a satisfied smile before stepping inside. An elderly Romulan woman bustled into the entrance hall and, upon seeing them, stifled a scream with one hand, her other flailing as she reached for the wall to steady herself.

She began to wail, “It cannot be, a’rhea Sienae, my beautiful lady, Sienae.”

Kathryn baulked for a moment before realising that the old woman hadn’t even registered her presence. It was Onara at whom she was staring and pointing.

The young woman moved forward and helped the elder one into a chair. Stroking her hair, she tried to calm her. “Please, D’elon, hush; it’s me, it’s Onara.”

A man’s voice whispered huskily from behind them. “Onara? How could it be?”

Both women turned and their mouths opened in stunned surprise.

It was Telek R’mor!

Onara took a couple of tentative steps forward and muttered, “Father?”

But before she could say more, he took two long strides towards her, scooped her up into his arms and held her in a crushing embrace. “Where have you come from? Where have you been? I buried you and your mother almost twenty-six years ago.”

Onara slid from his arms and glanced over her shoulder at Kathryn. “It’s a long story, Father – and one that I will gladly tell you – but we must tend to D’elon first.”

The elderly woman was on her feet again now and moved over to Onara. “I’m fine, I’m fine. I’m so sorry, a’rhea. You look so like your mother, so beautiful.” She hugged Onara and then cupped the girl’s face between her hands. “This is a miracle. Welcome home, my sweet girl.”

Onara smiled at the old housekeeper. “It’s good to see you, d’irhein. I’ve missed you.”

“And who is this?” Telek was staring at Kathryn.

Still holding her old friend’s hand, Onara looked towards her father then gestured towards Kathryn. “Father, D’elon, I would like to introduce Jaieh T’Laveth.”

Telek continued to look closely at Kathryn before bowing his head and snapping his heels together. “It is an honour, Jaieh T’Laveth. Welcome to my home.”

Kathryn inclined her head in return but didn’t speak. Onara filled the silence. “Father, we are here to discuss an urgent matter.”

He nodded and with a sweep of his hand, indicated that they should precede him into the small and spartan living area. “Please have a seat. May I offer you some refreshments?”

Kathryn shook her head and Onara declined as well. “Father, we need to know what happened three decades ago. What cataclysm befell Romulus?”

“It was the same disaster that killed your mother and… you. You were only a baby at the time.” He studied his daughter once more. “I realise that you must be from another reality, but it is extraordinary to see you. I was a broken man for many years after your deaths.”

“I’m so sorry, father. What was the cause of the disaster?”

“A cloaked Reman vessel crashed into the planet. It killed billions. The weapon it carried was chroniton based and the subsequent temporal explosion decimated most of the planet. Small pockets of life survived, but we number only a few million individuals now. The Empire is gone.”

“How did you survive?”

“I was off planet on a scientific mission to the Kazahra sector monitoring a micro-wormhole.”

Kathryn had to stop herself from speaking out of turn.

Onara glanced at her, before questioning her father once more. “A micro-wormhole? Did something happen there, something unusual?”

Telek looked at Kathryn and then redirected his attention to his daughter. “Yes, we made contact with a Starfleet vessel via the wormhole. They were trapped in the Delta Quadrant; apparently pulled there by a powerful entity. I transported to their vessel and met their captain and several of their crew.”

“And then what happened?”

“They had initially planned on using the wormhole as a transporter conduit in order to beam their crew to my ship, but in the end they could not. We discovered that there was a temporal displacement within the anomaly and that I was from twenty years in their past.”

Onara turned again to Kathryn.

Kathryn nodded her encouragement. Now they were getting somewhere.

“What happened when you returned to Romulus at the end of your mission?”

“I did not complete my mission. The Reman invasion cut it short. All ships were recalled to Romulus. I came home to bury my wife and my child. You were only eleven months old.” His voice hitched slightly and his eyes misted. “A babe in arms.”

Kathryn sympathised with Telek’s losses from the temporal disaster, but it was also this same temporal disaster that maintained his existence. He’d never been exposed to the degenerative illness that led to his demise in the original timeline and Kathryn could guess the rest of the story but she needed to hear it from Telek to ensure that she was correct. Unable to contain herself any longer, she spoke up. “I’m so sorry for your loss, Telek, but may I ask you a question?”

His brow furrowed when he realised that she wasn’t speaking Rihannsu, but Kathryn was too close to finding out what had happened to stop now. She leaned forward. “Please, Telek.”

He looked closer. “Kathryn Janeway?”

Kathryn glanced at Onara then back at Telek. “Yes, it’s me, and my questions are very important.”

“You made it back to the Alpha Quadrant; I’m pleased.”

“Yes, but there has been a temporal accident and I think the vessel that crashed into your planet may have been the cause. Could you please tell us what happened next? What happened to the messages we asked you to deliver to Starfleet?”

“I was grief stricken at first and then conscripted to fight in the subsequent war that followed the invasion. It was a short but bloody conflict that led to the destruction of the Reman homeworld. During the war, I forgot about all about your messages. But once it was over and life settled into a routine, I had a chance to look over my logs and found the messages and your request. Because of our closer ties to the Federation – they lent aid and resources after the initial attack – I made it my priority to deliver your request and messages to them personally. What Starfleet did with them, I have no idea – but if you wish, I can find out for you.”

“Could you? The information might prove pivotal to working out the answer to this puzzle.”

“Certainly. I have access to several Federation databases.” He stood up and moved to sit behind a large stone desk. Flipping open a console, he tapped in several commands. “Since the Devron Treaty, both our governments have been making strides towards a greater exchange of information. These are merely public access databases, but they will have the basic information. Computer, download all information pertaining to the Federation Starship Voyager.”

Kathryn stood and made her way to the desk in order to peruse the information.

Telek frowned. “That can’t be right. There has to be some mistake.”

“I don’t think so.”

“According to this, Voyager was never lost in the Delta Quadrant but fought in the Dominion war instead. This is wrong; I met you in the Delta Quadrant. I didn’t imagine it.”

“No, you didn’t, which means that the shuttle accident is the key – the temporal catalyst.” She looked down at Telek. “The vessel that crashed into the capital wasn’t Reman in origin; it was a Romulan ship with integrated Reman technology. I’m speculating that the mission was an attempt by your government to prevent a war and the resulting destruction. They kidnapped a member of my crew – an ex Borg – and used her knowledge to create a temporal vortex to travel back in time and change history.” Kathryn closed her eyes for a moment then opened them again to look at Telek. “They succeeded, but not in the way they wanted or expected.”

“Romulus suffered almost complete destruction. Their plan caused this devastation and killed my wife and daughter? They were fools.” He shook his head sadly then looked at Onara. “However, I’m relieved to know that you lived on in another reality. What of your mother?”

Onara shook her head. “I’m sorry, father; she died when I was very young.”

Telek nodded grimly. “What is your profession?”

“I’m an astrophysicist – like my father.” Onara smiled and Telek beamed proudly.

“Like your father, I’m very proud of you also, daughter.”

While Onara and her father talked, Kathryn scrolled through all the information she could find on Voyager. Her crew had been decorated many times for valour and they’d deported themselves with honour throughout the Dominion war. The Janeway in this timeline had been injured – losing a leg and the sight in one eye during the Battle of Cardassia – and Voyager had almost been destroyed. Afterwards, she’d been awarded the Starfleet medal of honour and various other accolades before being offered a promotion to fleet commander. A holoimage showed that she looked as miserable as hell. There was no mention of the Maquis other than a small article regarding the Tevlik massacre. It wasn’t difficult to deduce that if Chakotay and the others hadn’t been tossed into the Delta Quadrant and perished there, they would have died on Tevlik’s moon – murdered with their comrades on that unforgiving piece of rock. Her heart ached.

She looked up and found both Telek and Onara watching her. The younger woman spoke. “My father and I will help you however we can. The timeline must be restored. What do you need, Admiral?”

“Is there anything remaining of the ship that crashed twenty six years ago?”

Telek shook his head. “It vaporised on impact. There were only microscopic remnants and all were of Reman based metals.”

She hung her head for a moment and then looked up at the Romulan captain. “I need to return to my ship and see if we have enough information to recreate the temporal vortex. You are welcome to accompany us.”

“I would relish the opportunity to visit your ship again.”

Kathryn nodded. “Voyager, three to beam up. Energise.”

* * *

They materialised in the transporter room and quickly made their way to the Bridge. Kathryn tapped her combadge as she strode up the corridor. “Janeway to the Doctor.”

“Yes Admiral.”

“Meet me in my ready room; I need my disguise removed.”

“I’m on my way.”

Kathryn strode onto the Bridge and turned to Harry. “Anything to report?”

“No, Admiral. We’ve maintained our position and the cloak is holding.”

“Carry on.” She jogged down the stairs, triggering the doors before standing back to usher Telek and Onara into her Ready Room. Kathryn took her place behind her desk. “Please have a seat. Can I get you anything?”

Both shook their heads.

Kathryn tapped her combadge again. “Harry, could you send through all the data on the temporal vortex. Also, if there is anything in Seven’s logs or in the database from the Enterprise E, send that too.”

Kathryn, Telek and Onara set to work. The Doctor arrived and with much simulated huffing and puffing, followed Kathryn around the Ready Room removing her disguise as she worked. Harry and Nicoletti joined them at the end of their shift and after piecing together all the information from various resources, they were able to reconfigure the warp field to match the chronometric readings of the Romulan shuttle. After scouring Seven’s logs, Harry found several entries on how to pinpoint a specific time for re-entry in either the past or future by modifying the chroniton residue.

After an exhausting two days of realigning the warp engines and deflectors, they were ready to put their theories to the test. First, they had to pick a time in which to return. The new senior staff had spent long hours analysing data from their pursuit of the shuttle and they’d decided that a moment closest to the temporal disaster was likely to give them the most favourable outcome. Still, Kathryn had been tempted to go all the way back to when Harry had found the micro-wormhole. She wanted to stop her other self from investigating the anomaly in the first place, eliminating contact with Telek, and any message sent to Starfleet. By doing so, Voyager’s mission to the Badlands would never have been called off in this timeline. It worked in theory but the temporal eddies of such a drastic shift had the potential to cause changes they couldn’t begin to imagine. Furthermore, the radical idea would risk Telek and Onara’s futures and that was unacceptable.

In the end, Kathryn decided that the point of re-entry would be when the Romulan shuttle’s ion trail became visible just shy of Starbase 718, before it veered off towards the Neutral Zone. The vessel had slowed to impulse at that point and the cloak had dropped momentarily. If they could place themselves in the shuttle’s path at the precise chosen moment, they could beam Seven to Voyager and destroy the ship before it reached Romulan space. It seemed simple enough on ‘paper’ but Kathryn had enough experience to know that the complexities of temporal calculations led to infinite possibilities of disaster.

In essence, it was a nightmare of grave risk – but considering the very shallow pool of alternatives, it was the best option available. So, with nothing to be gained by waiting any longer, Kathryn ordered the helm to set a heading for the co-ordinates near Starbase 718. Voyager retraced her trajectory and once they’d crossed the Neutral Zone back into Federation space, there was a collective sigh of relief.

The mission was scheduled for first thing the following morning. And as Harry had said as they’d left the briefing room, “Time would tell if they were successful.”

***************

Kathryn spent a sleepless night tossing and turning, going over and over the data in her mind. By the time she was up and dressed the next morning, the headache she was sporting had her almost seeing double.

Rubbing her temples, she closed her eyes for a moment, taking deep breaths to steady herself. It helped a little but so much was riding on the success of this mission that she could barely swallow past the fist of tension in her chest.

Exiting the lift, she surveyed the Bridge. Harry was at Ops, Nicoletti at Engineering, Rollins at Tactical, Harran at Sciences and Jenkins at the helm. All were competent officers – brave and resourceful – but she missed the familiar faces of her Bridge crew. As she took her centre seat, glancing at the empty chair beside her, she sent up a silent prayer for success to whoever was listening.

The lift doors opened and Telek and Onara stepped onto the Bridge. They’d decided to stay and see this through. The Doctor had inoculated Telek with the same chroniton infused serum he’d given Onara earlier – the one he’d formulated when the ship had been shattered into the different time zones in the Delta Quadrant all those months ago. It seemed like a different lifetime – and Kathryn supposed in a way it was – but now wasn’t the time to dwell on the intricacies of temporal conundrums.

Serum aside, Telek was aware that if the timeline was restored there was a possibility that he would cease to exist. But he was willing to take his chances if it meant spending time with his daughter. They stood on the upper deck side by side.

This was it.

Kathryn looked towards Harry and gave him a nod.

He tapped at the controls on his console. “I’m releasing the chronitons to match the shuttle’s readings.”

Sure enough, a temporal vortex formed.

Nicoletti announced from Tactical. “Readings from within the anomaly show a corresponding star field. We’re on target, Admiral.”

Kathryn moved to the edge of her seat, leaned forward and clasped her hands between her knees. She studied the space within the eye of the vortex. “Timeframe?”

“Not yet, Admiral.”

“Have transporters ready, Mr Kim. Phasers and photon torpedoes locked, Ensign Rollins.”

“Aye, ma’am.”

“Locked and ready, Admiral.”

“Take us through, Jenkins. Steady as she goes.”

They slipped through the opening and found themselves in an identical area of open space.

“Report!”

Harry looked up. “Starbase 718 is one light year to starboard and we’re in the correct timeframe. Initialising the long-range tachyon scanner.”

There was a moment’s pause, then Rollins continued. “The shuttle is on course and heading towards us. She should drop to impulse in five, four, three, two, one…” They waited, staring at the viewscreen, holding their collective breaths for what seemed like an interminable length of time; then suddenly, consoles beeped.

“Shuttle is at impulse. Cloak is down. Transporting now.” Another two heartbeats and then Harry confirmed. “Seven’s aboard.”

Kathryn bolted out of her chair and yelled. “Now, Rollins!”

“Firing phasers and photon torpedoes at full spread.”

Another breathless second and the shuttle was hit.

“We’ve taken out both their engines and weapons array, Admiral.”

They watched as the small ship began to break apart. The Bridge was bathed in the bright light of a warp core breach. As it took a long time to fade, Kathryn closed her eyes and could almost feel time shift around her.

As the searing brightness dissipated, Kathryn held her breath, opened her eyes and slowly turned.

Sitting in the chair beside hers was the most wonderful sight.

Chakotay.

He looked at her with a puzzled expression before standing and slowly surveying the Bridge.

Kathryn cast her eyes around at the bewildered faces of her newly returned crew. Suddenly, Tom stumbled from the turbo lift, but before he could say anything, Harry caught him in a bear hug – lifting him off the ground and pounding his back. Ayala had materialised next to Susan Nicoletti, who promptly burst into tears and wrapped her arms around him. Kathryn imagined that she could hear the shouts of joy coming from every deck as long-lost shipmates, friends and lovers returned.

Tom finally wrested himself from Harry’s clutches and demanded, “What’s going on?” He looked around at the distressed crew. “What did I break this time?”

That’s all it took to make Kathryn laugh but with one look at Chakotay, her face began to crumple. Before making a complete fool of herself, she mumbled a quick, “Harry, you have the Bridge.” and bolted into her Ready Room.

On the Bridge, tears gave way to laughter. Susan Nicoletti was making a strange hiccupping noise as she tried – without much success – to wipe the tearstains from Ayala’s uniform.

Chakotay still looked bewildered and turned to Harry.

The ensign pointed to the Ready Room doors. “I think she needs you, sir.”

He didn’t doubt it and headed straight for the entrance, hitting the override and stepping through the doors. Kathryn was on the upper level, sitting with her back to him.

“Kathryn, are you all right? What’s going on?”

She waved her hand behind her but didn’t turn. He wasn’t sure if she wanted him to go or stay. He decided to stay and strode up the stairs. Sitting behind her, he pulled her into his arms.

Kathryn made a similar noise to Nicoletti, a sort of gurgling hiccup. Then she swore. “Shit! This is only the second time. Damnit!”

“The second time for what?”

“That I’ve cried on duty.”

“Can I ask why?”

“It’s a long story but let’s just say, I’m so glad you’re here and that I love you.”

“O…kay. I love you, too, but Kathryn you’re scaring me here. What happened?”

“Check the chronometer.”

He walked over to the desk and looked at her console. “It’s the day before we crossed into Romulan space.”

Kathryn nodded. “We went back in time.”

“Why did we do that?”

“I had to find you. You didn’t exist.”

“What?” He joined her again on the couch – only this time he was facing her.

Kathryn tried to wipe her eyes but the tears were stubborn and plentiful. “After you beamed over to the shuttle, the Romulans opened a vortex and went through. When we followed, all the Maquis disappeared.”

“Disappeared?! What happened to us?”

“In the other timeline you were never here. Voyager didn’t go to the Badlands; she wasn’t taken by the Caretaker and was never in the Delta Quadrant. We never met, combined our crews, or spent seven years together.”

“Spirits!” It was more of a gasp than a word and he sat staring at Kathryn for a long moment trying to comprehend the enormity of what she’d just told him. He frowned, wracking his brain as he attempted to remember what had happened but it was all a blank. “All I can recall is beaming to the Romulan ship and then nothing.”

Kathryn mopped at her face and scowled. “I have to go and clean myself up; I can’t be seen like this.”

Chakotay took her face between his hands. “You look beautiful to me.”

She stared at him for a long moment, taking in every wonderful and beloved part of him, and then she grabbed the front of his jacket, pulled him to her and kissed him.

Hard.

Pulling away, Kathryn’s voice was still unsteady. “And you’re a sight for sore eyes – which of course, I now have from crying.” She took a steadying breath. “I won’t be a minute.”

She hurriedly made her way to the small bathroom off the Ready Room but left the door open so she could hear Chakotay. She still harboured a paranoid seed of worry that he might just disappear again.

He called to her from the upper deck. “Oh, and by the way, we seem to have gained another Romulan. Was that Telek standing next to Onara?”

Kathryn answered him from the bathroom. “Oh God, in my race off the Bridge, I didn’t even notice him! I’m so pleased he made it through. He’s from the other timeline. He remembered us and decided to come along.”

“I’m confused. If you didn’t go to the Delta Quadrant, how could he remember you?”

“The Pogo Parallax rears its ugly head or – in other words – if you’ve got a week, I’ll explain. It’s going to make for an interesting report.”

“You might luck out there and Hayes may not want to know anything about it.”

Kathryn stepped out of the bathroom looking almost her usual self. “Let’s hope so.” She glanced at the viewport and the stationary stars. “I think it’s time to go home.”

“And you’re still on vacation.”

“Some vacation – the enthralling sights and temporal radiation haze of a devastated Romulus in an alternate timeline. If I’d bought tickets, I’d want my money back.”

“Tell you what. You must be overdue for a couple of hours off. Go and run yourself a bath; I’ll take the Bridge for an hour, get things in order and point Voyager towards home. Then I’ll head back to our quarters and you can tell me the bare bones of what happened over a bottle of the best red wine I can find and some of my pesto linguine. How does that sound?”

“Like heaven. But it’ll have to wait for an hour or two. I need to check on Seven and then I’d like to visit the ship, deck by deck. I need to know that everyone is all right. Join me?”

“I’d love to. I suppose Harry and Tom can be trusted to get the ship headed in the right direction?”

“It’s not hard to do, really, as long as nothing gets in the way.”

“I’ll remember that for future reference.”

“Perhaps you’d better not. Some things are best kept secret.” Kathryn slipped her arm through his and gave it a tug. “Come on. Let’s get down to Sickbay and see how our newly rescued crewmember is going. I hope now that we’ve got her back, the Doctor will be in a better mood.”

“Don’t hold your breath.”

“Some things remain the same in all timelines, huh?”

“I’m afraid so.”

With that, they exited the room and walked up the stairs towards the turbo lift. Telek and Onara were near the Ops console with Harry.

“Admiral Janeway.” Telek, bowed slightly in her direction. “And Commander Chakotay. It is a pleasure to see you again.”

“You too, Telek. Welcome to this reality.”

“Thank you. It appears that life in this timeline is preferable to the one I came from although, Romulus is still in disarray, there is hope – something that was in very short supply in my time.”

Onara moved to her father’s side and smiled as she took his arm. “Thank you, Admiral. For everything.”

“We couldn’t have done it without you both. Thank you.”

The father and daughter smiled and stepped aside to allow Kathryn and Chakotay to enter the lift. As the doors closed, they heard Onara and Harry laugh. It was a wonderful sound.

********************

When Kathryn and Chakotay entered Sickbay, Seven was sitting straight-backed and unruffled on a biobed.

The Doctor was hovering around her like a giant black and teal bee. He was waving scanners in all directions and bombarding her with questions, but Seven sat stoically, responded sparingly and looked – in her own inimitable way – ticked off. Kathryn had to suppress the urge to smile.

She was very pleased to see her protégé and approached the young woman, laying a hand on her forearm. “Seven. It’s so good to see you. Are you all right?”

“It is gratifying to see you, too, Admiral. I am undamaged.” Her gaze rested on Chakotay and there was a strange look in her eyes. “It is good to see you, too, Commander.”

“Hello, Seven.”

Kathryn was curious about her reaction to Chakotay. “Is something wrong, Seven?”

The young woman was unnaturally reticent, which concerned Kathryn but Seven answered haltingly. “I… I am disconcerted. The temporal shift has affected my cortical array and my perceptions are not functioning at their optimum capacity. I require regeneration.”

It wasn’t difficult to see that Seven was hedging, trying to avoid the topic.

“All in good time. I don’t think the Doctor has finished with you yet.”

“And I won’t be for some time,” the EMH chirped, “I need to realign your cortical node, run diagnostics on all your systems and perform various other scans.” He then scowled and harrumphed. “They made a ham-fisted attempt to extract the information they wanted, but fortunately they didn’t do any permanent damage. Your cybernetic systems are regenerating as we speak.”

Kathryn glanced at Chakotay; his frown matched hers. “Are you sure you’re all right, Seven?”

“I am functioning adequately but I will be relieved when the Doctor has finished his work and I can regenerate.”

“Then you wouldn’t mind if we use this time to debrief you on the kidnapping and what happened on the shuttle?”

“Of course, not, Admiral.” Although she still seemed reluctant, she sat up straighter and began reciting from her internal logs. “I was taken from my apartment by three individuals. I attempted to fight them off but they drugged me and I was unconscious for some time. My next clear memory is of waking up, bound hand and foot, in a small runabout. They rendezvoused with a Romulan ship and I was transferred to that vessel. The crew was comprised of members of the Tal Shiar. They interrogated me for days about temporal vortices and Borg technology. I refused to answer any questions so they attempted to extract the information by tapping directly into my cortical array. Initially I fought to keep them away from me but I was eventually restrained and it was at that point I decided to guide them through the procedure – it was my only recourse if I hoped to survive the ordeal with some of my faculties intact. The procedure is time consuming and delicate but they became increasingly frustrated. Their physicians were preparing to terminate me, remove the node and attempt to extract the information manually when the Commander’s away team beamed aboard the ship.”

Chakotay shrugged. “We were there to rescue you.”

Seven gave him a small smile. “I thank you for your efforts, however unsuccessful they were.” She turned to Kathryn. “The away team were stunned the instant they materialised.”

Kathryn looked at Chakotay. “That explains why you can’t remember anything.”

Seven seemed reluctant to continue but Kathryn prompted her. “Did they extract the node and retrieve the information?”

She shook her head and took a deep breath. “No, they did not.”

Both Kathryn and Chakotay waited for her to elaborate but she baulked again. This time the Doctor pushed her to continue. “What did they do to you, Seven? It might be vital to your recovery for me to know what implants they tampered with.”

“They didn’t touch me again. Instead, they used the away team as… incentive. They began to execute them, one at a time. For every minute that I refused to co-operate, they shot and killed one of the away team. You, Commander, were the first to die, then Ayala, Gerron; I…found it difficult to maintain my sense of purpose and resolve. They threatened to do the same to all the crew on Voyager and it was then that I capitulated – giving them what they wanted. I am sorry, Admiral. I failed.”

“Seven, you didn’t. Your reaction was perfectly normal. You behaved how anyone would.” Kathryn’s heart had skipped a beat with Seven’s dry delivery of the shattering news that Chakotay had been killed in that timeline. She unconsciously leaned closer to him.

“But I am not just anyone, Admiral; I am Borg and logic should have overcome my human frailties, but I was weak and succumbed. They forced me to reconfigure their deflector array but instead of taking them back to the time they specified, I took them back twenty-five years further. It had been my intention to thwart their plans but they realised the error and tried to reconfigure the emitters mid flight. This initiated a chroniton cascade and the last memory I have was of certain death. I knew it would have triggered a catastrophic temporal explosion.”

Kathryn nodded slowly and squeezed Seven’s arm. “That’s exactly what happened. But you performed admirably, Seven. You were caught in a situation that left you little room for manoeuvring – an unenviable position.”

“It was, Admiral, and I wish never to be put in that position again.”

“We are heading home now and hopefully nothing like this will ever be repeated.” Kathryn turned her attention to the Doctor. “When will Seven be discharged?”

“I am going to sedate her in a moment and perform a deep-tissue scan to examine all her implants. That should take about an hour, after which she should be clear to leave and regenerate.”

“Thank you, Doctor. Can I rely upon you to escort Seven to her new quarters on deck nine? A regeneration unit has been set up there.”

“I would be honoured, Admiral.”

Kathryn squeezed the young woman’s arm again. “Take your time, Seven, and come see me if you need anything or wish to talk.”

“Thank you, Admiral.”

Kathryn and Chakotay were about to turn and leave but Seven spoke again.

“And may I offer my congratulations, Admiral, to both you and the Commander. The Doctor updated me on your status and I am pleased to know that you have at last consummated your relationship. You appear content.”

Kathryn smiled broadly, her eye catching the look of horror in the Doctor’s face. She could sense Chakotay’s amusement as well. “Why, thank you, Seven.”

Chakotay glanced at Kathryn before nodding in Seven’s direction, his eyes crinkling in amusement. “Yes, we are very content. And it’s good to have you back.”

A small smile graced the younger woman’s lips before she swung her legs up onto the biobed and lay down to await the Doctor’s scans.

Kathryn looked towards the EMH. “Let us know how things go, Doctor.”

Already scanning again, he muttered a distracted, “Yes, Admiral.”

*************

A grinning Chakotay ushered Kathryn out of Sickbay, “She certainly has a way with words.”

Chuckling along with him, Kathryn gave him a sideways look. “At least she didn’t say she was pleased we were copulating. I think that might have completely overloaded the Doctor’s matrix.”

“He’s close to overloaded as it is. I just hope that Seven is gentle with him.”

Elbowing him in the ribs, Kathryn laughed. “He’s a hologram, he can take it.”

“I didn’t mean it like that – mind out of the gutter, woman – I meant when she refuses his advances.”

“What makes you think she’ll refuse him?”

He shrugged. “I just don’t think that she’s ready for any sort of relationship. Trust me, I know.”

“Do you now? I won’t ask how you know or there might not be any ‘consummating’ happening anytime soon.”

They just happened to be passing a storage unit; Chakotay grabbed her arm, opened the door and pulled her inside.

Laughing, Kathryn demanded, “What are you doing?”

As the door shut behind them, he pressed her up against the storage containers, wrapped his arms around her and kissed her soundly.

Pulling back after a moment or two, he grinned. “That’s what I’m doing. Just a little reminder of what it’s like to consummate.”

Kathryn hoisted herself up onto one of the storage containers and hooked her legs around his waist. “Fair enough.” And grabbing his head between her hands, she very happily kissed him back. But just as her hand was beginning to find its way under his tee, her combadge chirped.

“Bridge to Janeway.”

Her head flopped backwards and she groaned. “I swear they must be monitoring us.” She pecked his lips and then tapped her combadge. “Janeway here, what is it, Harry.”

“Admiral Hayes is hailing, ma’am.”

Kathryn blew out a breath through pursed lips and raised her eyebrows. “Send it through to my Ready Room, Ensign; I’ll be there momentarily.”

“Maybe it’s Hayes who’s monitoring you.”

As she hopped down off the storage container, she glared at Chakotay. “Don’t even think that – although, it wouldn’t surprise me. Conniving old so and so. I might get you to scan me for bugs later.”

Chakotay quirked his eyebrow. “I’m happy to search you anytime.”

“Now whose mind is in the gutter?” She pulled his arm and together they exited the storage room. Ayala and Nicoletti just happened to be passing at the time and the two couples exchanged looks and a nod.

Kathryn opened her mouth to explain but then just shrugged and smiled. “As you were, Lieutenants.”

They chorused. “Aye, Admiral.” And grinned as they watched their command team walk arm in arm up the corridor.

************

The command team stepped through the doors of the Ready Room and Chakotay sat on the chair opposite as Kathryn took her seat and opened her console.

“Admiral Hayes.”

“Janeway. How did it go? Got her back?”

“Yes, Sir. We were able to retrieve Seven of Nine.”

“Anything worth noting?”

“That may be the understatement of the century, Admiral – but rest assured, it will all be in my report.”

“No report is required, Janeway. Remember, this didn’t happen.”

“The Romulans might argue that. I destroyed their shuttle.”

“Don’t you worry about that. It’s being dealt with as we speak.”

Kathryn’s eyes flicked up and met Chakotay’s. He shrugged.

“I’m pleased to hear that, Admiral.”

“I thought you might be. Now, you still have some leave remaining, so I suggest you get yourself back here and straight to Indiana. Enjoy yourself for a change. The crew all accounted for?”

“Yes, all present and accounted for. But we do have an extra passenger.”

“You have a habit of picking up strays, don’t you, Janeway? Who have you nabbed this time?”

“Telek R’mor is with us.”

“I thought the man was dead?”

“In this timeline he was, but there were… complications of a temporal nature; this R’mor is from a different reality.”

“Temporal? That’s another bad habit you’re going to have to break. You do far too much time travelling.”

“Aye, Sir. I’ll try.”

“See that you do, Janeway. Find out what this R’mor fellow and his daughter want to do and we’ll see if we can accommodate them.”

Kathryn nodded. “I’ll let you know.”

“Anything else?”

“No, Sir.”

“You’ll have to tell me all about it one day over a coffee and a macaroon.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Hmmph.” He looked distracted for a moment and Kathryn realised that someone else was there with him. She didn’t even want to speculate as to who it might be. Hayes’ looked at her again. “Erm, well, job well done, Janeway. Excellent outcome all round. Pat yourself on the back.”

“Thank you, Admiral, but the crew deserve most of the thanks.”

“Humble to a fault, just like your father. See you when you get back, Kathryn.”

“Aye, Admiral.”

* * *

The screen went blank and Kathryn snapped the console shut. “Well, I still have a job. I suppose that’s a good thing.”

“It’ll keep the wolf from the door.”

“I’ll discuss my proposal for Voyager with Hayes when I get home.”

“It’s still the plan then, ‘Captain’?”

She grinned. “Yes, if they’ll let me.”

“And if they don’t?”

She shrugged. “I’ll just change my name to ‘Captain.’ I’ll be ‘Admiral Captain Janeway.’ What do you think?”

He shook his head, but smiled. “I think you might want to sleep on it.”

Grinning, Kathryn stood up and made her way around the desk. She placed her hand on his cheek, then traced the lines of his tattoo with the fingers of her other hand. “I don’t really care what they decide as long as you’re with me. We’ll make do.”

Nodding, he pulled her fingers to his lips and kissed her hand. “We always have.”

“Let’s go and see our ship and crew, shall we?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They visited each deck, talking to the crew, ensuring that everyone was all right and explained as best they could the circumstances surrounding their ordeal. Most of the Maquis had already heard what had happened from their Starfleet counterparts and although a little stunned by the bizarre events, they took it in their stride. As disconcerting as it had been, it wasn’t the strangest thing that had happened to them over the years.

A spontaneous party had begun in the holodecks with Tom Paris and Harry Kim directing the celebrations. It was a relief to see all the crew gathered en masse. Friends, comrades and lovers were all where they were supposed to be – together. It affirmed Kathryn’s resolve to follow her heart and ensure that they were never separated again. They were an extraordinary crew who had forged a bond so strong and enduring in their time in the Delta Quadrant that they warranted more than just the passing accolades that Starfleet had bestowed. They’d achieved something unique out there in unknown space; moving beyond affiliations and pretensions to become a family – steely, resilient and tempered in the unyielding travails of the Delta Quadrant.

Voyager was their home and this was where they needed to be; it was the least Starfleet could do for them after all they’d been through. Kathryn resolved that in the days ahead, she would confer with all of them and gauge their reaction to the idea of remaining on Voyager. It was comforting to know that after everything she’d experienced in the past few days, it was the first time she knew what the outcome would be.

***********************

Two hours later, Kathryn and Chakotay entered their quarters. While Chakotay replicated a bottle of wine and poured them each a glass, Kathryn took up a vigil by the viewports. The stars of the Alpha Quadrant elongated and streaked past her window. They were travelling at warp six on their way back to Earth.

Chakotay stood beside Kathryn – watching her reflection in the darkened window – and handed her a glass. “You did it, Kathryn. Accomplished the impossible, yet again.”

She shrugged. “I honestly could do without the stress.”

“Hear, hear. Couldn’t we all.”

“From your lips to whoever is listening.” She turned and tapped her glass against his, and then leant her head against his shoulder.

Chakotay tilted his glass in her direction. “Here’s to the present, and never forgetting to live for the moment.”

Kathryn nodded and smiled gently. “Yes, and never put off until tomorrow what you can do today… unless of course, you have the specs for a Borg temporal vortex, then you can do whatever you damn well like.”

“I think you’ve missed the spirit of the sentiment just a little.” He chuckled and pulled her against him. “Don’t forget what Hayes said. You’re not to go fiddling around with time travel again.”

“If I can help it.”

“That goes without saying.”

“Let’s go to bed.”

“No pesto linguine?”

She shook her head as she placed her glass on the window ledge and unzipped her jacket. “I’m not hungry for linguine.”

Chakotay placed his glass beside hers and followed as she backed towards the bedroom.

He grinned as she tossed her jacket onto the floor.

“Whatever you say, Boss.”

***************

Kathryn was lying on the grass in the shade of her mother’s maple tree. The dappled sunlight made patterns behind her closed eyelids in shapeless flashes of red and orange. She took deep breaths of the clear country air and tried to discern the different scents carried on the afternoon breeze. There was jasmine, mown grass, newly turned soil, her mother’s baking, and with a smile, she recognised one of her favourite scents – Chakotay.

Without opening her eyes she asked, “What are you doing? Trying to sneak up on me, huh?”

He kissed her before flopping down beside her and tucking her up against his side. “Me sneak? It’s beneath me.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“How did you know I was there?”

“You walk like an Alogorian mammoth.”

“I do not. I’m stealthy.”

“Hmmm, whatever you say.”

“Your mother sent me. The brownies are ready and so is coffee.”

“Mmmm, coffee.” She rolled onto her side and draped her arm over his chest, her head resting on his shoulder as she hugged him close.

“I thought that might get you to move.”

“That means that I have to get up, doesn’t it?”

“Unless your mother can siphon it down here, I’m afraid so.” Chakotay kissed her again quickly, lifted her arm away from his chest and then clambered to his feet. “I’ll even give you a hand up.”

“You’re such a gentleman.”

“We have some visitors too. Telek and Onara are here to say good bye.”

Kathryn leapt to her feet and ran her hand through her hair, then brushed off her shirt and pants. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You looked so comfortable and I did manage to get a kiss.”

“You’re an opportunist, Commander.”

“You’ve got me pegged but you love it.” He took her hand and they began walking up towards the house.

“I’m an open book.” Kathryn wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled his other arm around her shoulder.

Chakotay kissed the top of her head and smiled as they climbed the hill to the kitchen door.

**********************

Telek and Onara were in the living room with Gretchen when Kathryn and Chakotay arrived back at the house.

Kathryn gripped both of the young woman’s hands in hers and then pulled her into an embrace. “Onara, it is so good to see you. How have you been?”

“I’m very well, thank you, Kathryn. Very well indeed.”

Telek had stood when they’d entered and he now stepped forward and shook both Kathryn’s hand and then Chakotay’s. “Admiral, Commander, it is gratifying to see you both looking so well.”

“Telek, it’s good to see you, too. Have you been well?”

“Very, thank you.”

Kathryn gestured. “Please sit.”

Kathryn’s mother stood, holding her hand up to prevent the Romulan gentleman from getting up. “I’ll just go and get some tea and coffee.”

“I’ll give you a hand.” Chakotay rose and followed Gretchen into the kitchen – leaving Kathryn with Onara and Telek.

She looked at both father and daughter. “So Chakotay tells me that you’re leaving Earth. Where are you going?”

“For now, we are settling in the Devron system. It is small group of planets in the Neutral Zone, protected by both Romulan and Federation jurisdictions. In my time, it was where the first Romulan/Federation peace treaty was signed and I would like to work towards something similar in this timeline. I think it is achievable. I still hold the ideals of co-operation and understanding close to my heart and I think that you and I, Kathryn, have proved that it is possible.”

Kathryn smiled broadly. “Indeed we have, Telek, and I wish you all the very best with your endeavours. Onara, what are your plans?”

“I will assist my father and continue my studies for the time being. Once the war with Remus is over and the Empire resurrects its exploratory fleet, I’ll find placement on a science vessel. But for now, we will do what we can to find that peace.”

“A worthy pursuit and one at which I’m sure you will excel. Good luck, Onara and, if you can, keep in touch; I’d love to hear how your studies are going and how you are both faring.”

“We will, Kathryn, and if you are ever in ‘the neighbourhood’ there will be a cup of hot coffee waiting for you.”

Kathryn smiled warmly and nodded. “I will make a priority.”

Gretchen and Chakotay returned with a tray of coffee and brownies and Gretchen poured while Kathryn passed around the plate of treats.

Onara smiled. “I think I’m going to miss Earth food. I’ve become quite partial to your sweets. These are delicious, Gretchen.”

“Thank you, dear; I’ll be sure to pack you a good supply of them before you leave and give you the recipe as well.”

The young woman smiled. “Thank you.”

Kathryn grinned. “Coffee and caramel brownies; I think we’re well on the way towards that peace treaty.”

Telek inclined his head. “A rock solid foundation for mutual non-aggression.” He lifted his coffee cup in a toast. “To peace.”

They all held aloft their coffee cups. “To peace.”

* * *

After several minutes of light-hearted banter, Telek turned to Kathryn. “What are your plans once your leave is over?”

She took Chakotay’s hand. “We are going back to Voyager.”

“Congratulations.”

“Thank you. It took a little negotiating but she’s mine again. They wouldn’t agree to a drop in rank, so I’m Admiral Janeway for the duration. Voyager will be my flagship as long as I promise not to go near anything temporal; I’ve been given carte blanche as far as what sort of exploratory missions I wish to embark upon. Most of my original crew and their families have signed on and we will be leaving in three month’s time.”

“Where are you going?”

She grinned. “You know, I haven’t decided yet – but I thought that since this is a ship of volunteers, we might decide together.”

“An interesting concept. A democracy.”

“I like to think of it as a benign dictatorship. I’m still in charge, but as a crew, we know one another so well – our strengths and our weaknesses – I think it will work and allow all of us to have a life away from the Bridge and command. Something that we haven’t had until now.”

Telek nodded slowly. “I wish you the very best, Kathryn Janeway and if anyone can make this work, it will be you.”

“Thank you, Telek. I certainly hope so.”

*********************************

Voyager’s final overhaul was finished – the nurseries, schools and expanded living areas were complete. Admiral Hayes had ‘handed over the keys’ – as Tom had jokingly put it – and Starfleet’s newest flagship was theirs once more.

Kathryn and Chakotay had arrived by shuttle, taking the long way around to the docking bay as they swept over the sleek lines and familiar contours of their beloved ship. After landing, they headed straight for the Bridge.

As the lift doors opened, Harry came to attention and announced with a smile, “Admiral on the Bridge.”

Beaming, Kathryn stepped onto the upper deck and cast her eyes on the dear and familiar faces of her crew. Seven was at the Science station, smiling at Kathryn as she made her way slowly around the deck. Tuvok was at Tactical with T’Pel by his side. Kathryn greeted them both warmly. “Welcome back, Tuvok; we missed you. T’Pel, we are honoured.”

They both acknowledged her words with a nod and a quiet. “Admiral.”

Down by the helm, B’Elanna stood while Tom sat with Miral in his arms, each of them grinning happily.

The Doctor stood on the command deck looking very chipper.

Chakotay had waited by the open lift allowing Kathryn this moment.

She stood on the top step and turned, reaching out to him. “Commander?”

With a broad grin, he joined her, taking her hand as they made their way to the central seats. He motioned her into her chair with a gallant, “Admiral.”

And all eyes were upon them as they took their places.

Kathryn inhaled deeply. “Well, welcome aboard, everyone; and I suppose we should get this show on the road.”

Tom handed Miral to B’Elanna who in turn passed her to the Doctor. “Your Godfather duties start now, Doctor.” And she took her place at the Engineering station.

The Doctor moved to the upper deck and stood beside Seven as Miral gurgled happily in his arms.

Kathryn turned to Chakotay and whispered quietly. “I think this is going to be a very different experience.”

He looked around and shrugged. “Probably not so different, but I still think we should have gone with the command settee.”

Kathryn wriggled her bottom into her seat and gripped the armrests. “I draw the line at snuggling on the Bridge. Starfleet think we’re crazy enough as it is. To be honest, I think they’re just glad to be rid of us.”

Harry announced from Ops. “Speaking of which, Admiral Hayes is hailing.”

“On screen.”

His curmudgeonly visage loomed larger than life over the Bridge. Both Kathryn and Chakotay rose to parade stance, front and centre.

Kathryn addressed him with renewed authority in her tone. “Admiral Hayes.”

“Janeway.” He cast his frowning gaze around the Bridge and his eyebrows rose a fraction at the sight of Miral in the Doctor’s arms. “I see you’re ready to cast off. All your infants are in place.”

He’d quirked a brow and Kathryn tried not to smile. She’d developed a newfound respect for Hayes over the last few months; he was an astute and perceptive negotiator, and someone she’d come to admire. And from the look of it, the admiration was mutual. “Yes, Sir; all in place. On your word, Admiral.”

“The word is given, Kathryn. Safe travels and keep in touch.”

“I will, Sir, and thank you for the macaroons.”

“Likewise with the brownies.”

“Take care, Sir.”

“Keep the wind at you back and the stars in your sights.”

“Aye, aye.”

His face faded from the viewscreen and was replaced by a blanket of stars. Kathryn took a couple of steps to the front of the command deck and nodded. “Helm, release docking clamps.”

The hollow thunk could be heard throughout the ship.

“Ahead quarter impulse until we’re clear and then warp six to… out there.”

“Heading, Admiral?” Tom spun around towards the command team, his expression open and questioning.

Kathryn leaned forward a little and looked him in the eye. “Anywhere you fancy, Mr Paris.”

With a broad smile, he spun back to his console. “Yes, ma’am! Universe, here we come.”

With a contented sigh and a smiling glance at Chakotay, Kathryn sat back in her seat as she felt the warp engines come online. The stars streaked into a halo of rainbows and Voyager shot forward into the unknown.

They were home again.

Fin.

* my brave and honoured friend

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