I heard the chime, but as if it had come over a great distance and had no importance for me. My mind was too lost in the darkness beyond the viewport, trying to make some sense out of Harry's final report and the unscrambled transmissions he had forwarded along with it. Of all the mysteries of the Delta quadrant, the deepest one had arrived from home.
A moment later, the unlocked door slid open. I saw the blur of Chakotay moving through my peripheral vision, stepping onto the raised platform of my ready room, sitting beside me, not quite touching, the way he always did. I stayed still, legs tucked under me, chin on my hand as I stared out. My other hand was flat on the cushion and he put his on it – a warm, comforting pressure I only rarely allowed myself. I did not pull away. I needed the anchor of human contact. Slowly, I blinked as if waking up and turned my face toward him with a slight head shake.
"I can't make heads or tails of it, Chakotay."
"You read Harry's final report."
"Yes. Did you watch the transmissions?"
He grimaced. "I watched enough. He found it, all right. It was definitely the same thing I saw in my quarters the other night."
I had managed to forget about that – waking up in his bed with Chakotay and his medicine bundle on the floor beside me, that urgent conversation during which he'd tried to look anywhere but at the uncaptainly spectacle I was putting on in my nightgown. I felt the blush rise on my neck and hoped my uniform would hide it.
"About that," I said, casting my eyes down for a few seconds. "I'm sorry for the way I imposed on you. I was … beside myself."
His hand squeezed mine lightly. "It was no imposition. I was happy to be able to do something for you. Are you feeling better?"
"I am. Well, the sleep deprivation is wearing off. But I can't seem to shake the question of who she was."
Chakotay shrugged. "Just an actor, apparently."
"Yes, I saw the biographical data Harry compiled. It didn't answer the big question of how she and I could be so much alike."
"Long lost ancestor, like Shannon O'Donnell?" Chakotay showed me his dimples.
"Maybe." I took my hand from my head and sighed. "For a while, I was afraid I was losing my mind. If I ever suggest that your experience in chaotic space was anything less than terrifying … remind me of today."
Chakotay looked amused. "I rarely need to remind you to torture yourself. It's over, Kathryn. Whatever it was. You know that I believe in symbols and signs and messages from ancestors, so if you need to take it that way, go ahead. Think of it as something reaching out to connect with you."
"But to what end?" I exclaimed. The images were still far too fresh in my memory, especially after watching Harry's full recovered "episodes". It was both a relief to know the source of my nightmares and deeply disturbing to see another form of myself in such a foreign context. "To remind me that I could have avoided all this hassle with space exploration and taken to the stage?"
"You make one hell of a Queen Arachnia."
I gasped and slapped his shoulder. "How do you know that? You were on the bridge the whole time!"
Chakotay just laughed at me. "Oh, I have well-placed spies. What did you ever do with that costume?"
"Tom has it, I suppose. I hate to think what he does with it."
A different sort of amusement, less jovial, crossed Chakotay's face. "You know, I didn't give you the whole story of why Tom wound up in the brig this week."
This was an intriguing change of topic, or even more intriguing if it was relevant to our conversation. "You said he abused his holographic privileges. I figured that was a euphemism for something I'd rather not know about."
He nodded. "We can leave it at that, if you'd rather."
"Not now that you've brought it up." He was trying to avoid my eyes. I leaned in. "Chakotay, what did he do?"
Chakotay rubbed his hand on his leg but still didn't let mine go. "He … uh … he programmed a women's prison simulation. A sexy women's prison. With you in it."
I couldn't entirely stifle my snort of laughter. "Oh dear." Chakotay was right, it was a terrible breach of regulation and protocol, but at that moment I felt almost giddy with relief at the end of my ordeal and ready to be amused rather than angry.
"Yes. I've disciplined him every way I have in my power, but if you'd like to take a run at him …."
"Oh no. I'm sure you were thorough. And this way we can mock him for thousands of light years to come. But Chakotay?"
His eyes were a little fearful as they rose to mine. "Yes?"
"You watched this holoprogram, I assume?"
"Only the beginning," he started to say, then paused. "That is to say – to be honest, I watched the beginning when I first caught him at it, and deleted it on the spot. But then – I'm sorry, Kathryn – I went back later and retrieved the deleted file. I told myself I wanted to see how serious his offense was, but I shouldn't have done it."
Suddenly his hand felt not just warm but sweaty on mine. His foot twitched nervously on the carpet.
"And how serious was it?"
Chakotay shifted his jaw and looked around the ready room in manifest discomfort. "I wouldn't know where to begin. But I could show you."
"Show me? You mean you saved it?"
He blew out his breath. "There is an archived copy. For purposes of the report," he hastened to add.
I rose and pulled him to his feet. "Let's see it, Commander."