CHAPTER 7

B'Elanna Torres on the Alternate Voyager

"How do you feel?" B'Elanna asked the two boys.

"It was like getting to know my father all over again," Diego said. "I'm glad you didn't just let him see us from a distance, Mama. I guess I missed him a lot…in the beginning. But now…I was hoping he might return with us."

Peter remained quiet.

"And you? What do you say, Peter?"

" I wanted him to come with us. I will never see him again."

"I'm afraid not. He has his own children in his own reality to think of. He told me they could communicate with Earth and that his Diego and Peter missed him too."

"He couldn't come with us? I really liked him."

"People cannot just switch universes and stay here just as they like, Peter," she said softly.

Her own eyes were sad. She'd received an almighty shock when Mike appeared so suddenly in Engineering. They'd always been great friends and later had become lovers. His sons had called her 'Mama' even on the Liberty. But the Ayala of that reality was not hers, even if she felt like chaining him to their own timeline. He'd awakened old memories in her. No, he had his alliances on his own vessel. If it weren't for his sons, though… She gave a sigh.

"Why not?"

"Because we each belong in our own time and place. Everything we do or even don't do, impacts on the future of our timeline, remember? It doesn't matter how good or bad this universe is, we must make it a better place for us."

The boys nodded.

"But I am glad that I've seen him, Mama," Peter said. "He misses his boys; he must return to them."

"He told me that seeing you gave him great heart. It showed him what his own sons would be like when his ship returned home."

B'Elanna looked at Diego, who looked so like his father. Diego who'd cried himself to sleep every night for weeks because he'd seen his father ram the Liberty into the Kazon vessel.

"I'm glad I got to know him a little bit. But he belongs to his world."

"I knew you'd understand."

Mike Ayala on Voyager Prime

Standing on the bridge of Voyager after relieving Tuvok who had gone off duty, Ayala thought about his sons.

He had hope. That was the overwhelming feeling that filled him after he'd seen the boys who called B'Elanna Torres "Mama". He had told her he was glad that they had her as their mother and not the woman who had been his wife.

Selina had never been a very protective woman in the way he'd witnessed the maternal instinct kick in with young mothers, whatever their race. Like animal mothers, he had seen how they bared their teeth if their young were threatened. B'Elanna had sounded proud when she spoke of her sons. Selina had always found it comfortable just leaving the boys with her mother. She found motherhood stifling; she found marriage stifling. Her death, when it came, was accepted by the boys with a shrug.

B'Elanna had not only allowed him to see the boys, but after speaking to them, had allowed him time with them. They knew exactly who he was. He was not their father, and with that knowledge between them, they spent a good fifteen minutes together. He was bleeding inside. He remembered how he had missed his sons so much that it affected his work on Voyager. Now, seeing how tall Diego was for his twelve years, how handsome both boys were, how the strength of pending adulthood was already etched on their faces… He could see now what his own sons would look like, what they would be like.

Selina was nothing like her mother, the boys' grandmother, who took care of them. Dorinda Perez was kind, loving, critical of her daughter's lifestyle, sympathetic to the father who hadn't seen his sons in years. He knew what they sounded like, read their messages, detected the longing in them.

When was he coming home?

He couldn't say. But he was glad the burning longing for them had been assuaged by having seen and spoken with the sons of another Mike Ayala who had died a hero.

Ayala smiled to himself. No more displacement, just a calm peacefulness that filled his whole body.

Nick Locarno on the Alternate Voyager

He'd have something to tell his mother when he got home. If they made it home and if his mother was still alive. As a doctor on Bajor, she remained out of the public eye. His father had a wife, Tom's mother. Only thing was, Tom hated his guts. What for? For being the result of a side-affair between Owen Paris and Maris Locarno?

He had to hate Tom. His half-brother who knew how dangerous and illegal the Kolvoord Starburst was. But he was no stranger to challenges and bets, either. Tom's bet rested on his failing. And like Tom, he was drawn to challenges, however outrageous.

He'd failed. When Cadet Joshua Albert died, Wesley Crusher and the rest of the Nova Squadron only lost their year's credits while he… Sighing, Nick pulled his thoughts away from that period. Expelled from the Academy he had nowhere to turn. Nick shook his head. Admiral Owen Paris - with two sons, both on a downward spiral. Disappointment had run deep in the old man. Nick eventually had found himself in jail while Tom… Nick couldn't decide if being a barfly in a seedy Marseille tavern was any better than doing time. Had Nicole Janeway not taken pity on him, believing he was still a great flyer, he would still be rotting in New Zealand.

Nick smiled inwardly. The Tom of the other reality had given him programmes he'd created for their Voyager's holodeck. He was going to enjoy playing pool in Sandrine's, being Captain Proton. Thomas Eugene Paris - bloody snot was a genius, and married to B'Elanna too.

Tom had also given him a message to show his counterpart. He'd watched it hours after Commander Chakotay had been beamed off their ship to join his own crew. Now that some normalcy had returned to their own vessel, with the ship again into its old routine, Nick recalled the message of Tom to his counterpart.

Hey…

I know you were instrumental in getting our captain Kathryn Janeway back to her own reality five years ago. That's just the kind of thing I would have done. Act first, count the costs later. It must have been liberating, right?

My old man forgave me. I'd hurt him something bad, but I changed. What do they say about men who change? There must be a woman somewhere involved there, right? Well, the woman in my life is B'Elanna Torres. We're having a baby very soon. I can tell you B'Elanna can be a virago at times, but she took me warts and all and scraped away some of them.

Just wanted to tell you: B'Elanna Torres, the notorious Maquis your captain was sent to capture, can do the same for you. When Voyager is home, go and see her. Make a date. She is raising two sons. Not hers, mind you. They are Mike Ayala's boys, but she's the only mother they know. Yeah, look her up. She needs a Tom Paris in her life, even if I say so myself.

Got to go. I have a ship to take home.

Nick gave a sigh of satisfaction. Tom Paris was going to get one hell of a surprise when they got home.

Tom Paris Voyager Prime

The first thing he was going to do when they got home, no matter how long it took, was to look up Nick Locarno. He was certain, now more than ever, that Nick was related to him. He had been at loggerheads with his father for so long without understanding the old man, and he'd never ever understood what drove Owen Paris.

Now he knew. Guilt can drive anyone, and his father had not been exempted. It was a human failing when a man strayed from a perfectly good marriage. He didn't think Maris Locarno a vixen, just a young doctor who had fallen under the spell of Owen Paris.

With two sons going off the rails…what father would not be heartbroken?

There was reparation to be done when he got home, and he was going to go on his knees seeking forgiveness.

Seven of Nine Voyager Prime

Seven of Nine stood in front of a long mirror in the quarters Captain Janeway assigned to her whenever she felt the need for privacy. She ran her hands down her hips, the flat planes of her stomach, touched her bosom gently.

Then her fingers touched the two rank pips on the collar of her shirt. What did it matter if she wore teal or red or gold? The boots were regulation black, the heels no more than four centimetres high, a far cry from the high heeled boots she wore with her cat suits.

She admitted reluctantly that the uniform was an adequate fit. Pleasing, she amended. Even with the new boots she still appeared tall, haughty.

On the alternate Voyager, Annika Hansen had an approachable look, one that seemed to invite amiability. She had the ability to look wholesome as well as gracious and others of the crew were very friendly with her. There was none of the hesitancy that seemed to attack crewmen who approached Seven.

It was worth cultivating, Seven thought. But was it worth it at all? What would change about her? Only her mode of dress? What about her inherent, instinctive tendency to push away others? It had never bothered her before, why did it trouble her now? How would wearing a Starfleet uniform make any difference?

She imagined the reaction of crewmembers.

"Why, Seven of Nine! Does that mean you've sheathed your claws as well?"

"Looking good, Seven. Now how about doing human-speak?"

"Nah…Seven, get thee into thy cat suit!"

"You have no business wearing that without the captain's permission, let alone Starfleet!"

"What, are you bucking for a field commission too?"

"Why, Seven…the uniform really suits you."

"Oh, dear, just when I've become used to seeing you in silver jumpsuits."

She had no time to allow the opinions of others to sway any decision she wanted to make. Whatever they wanted to say, it wouldn't deter her one way or another. Since they already held such a blighted view of her, she could very well be walking about wearing a caftan.

She took a few steps back, then stepped forward again, testing the feel of the garment on her body.

"I am still Seven of Nine," she murmured reflectively. "Nothing has changed."

Then she calmly stripped off the uniform and minutes later she welcomed the silver cat suit that blended into her skin.

"There. Much, much better."

Annika Hansen on the Alternate Voyager, bound for Earth

She'd replicated the striking silver cat suit her counterpart wore on the other Voyager vessel. Now she stood in front of her mirror and stroked her body with her palms. She had been Annika for so long, she didn't know how to be Seven of Nine anymore.

Yet, Seven of Nine had been so proud when she spoke of her precious individuality, her identity, her uniqueness. Annika's eyes filled with tears as she touched her left temple gently. Only a softness remained from the implant that had been there, the one she had wanted to obliterate completely but couldn't quite succeed. Had she been so busy fitting in with life on Voyager that she forgot her distinctiveness which was what defined her?

She stared long at herself in the unfamiliar attire, the high heeled boots, the striking way in which the fabric enhanced the lines of her bosom. She tried to project a possible future after their return home. How would she be remembered? As just one of the Voyager crew or as Seven of Nine who was a member of the Voyager crew?

Sighing, she stripped the garment from her body and dressed in uniform again.

"I've been Annika Hansen too long…" she muttered.

Nicole Janeway on the Alternate Voyager

There had been that sudden, hopeful rush through her body when their transporter malfunctioned, leaving a despairing Chakotay behind. For a few brief, mad moments she'd thought he'd agree to stay. Why she entertained that particular thought in that moment could only be ascribed to a cowardly wish, she supposed, that she had her husband back.

Her rational mind knew it could never be. There could not be two Chakotays in her timeline. On some level she supposed it could, but somewhere a Kathryn Janeway was waiting for her husband.

How could a fault have crept in at such a critical moment? Katie had been over the moon. In her mind the man left behind on the transporter platform was her daddy. The one waiting at home was still only a memory, an echo or a figment. Admiral Chakotay was a hazy entity, a distant man her little girl only knew from stories and holovids. That man didn't even know a daughter existed.

But Chakotay, Kathryn's husband, displayed for a few heart breaking moments the extreme anguish she had experienced in the first weeks after they'd been trapped in the Delta Quadrant with no hope of getting home within a few days. Through Kathryn she'd learned that her Chakotay, back home in San Francisco was a sad, lonely man.

She couldn't see this Chakotay, Kathryn's husband go through the same thing.

Yet, as she'd looked at him and witnessed his torment, she knew finally how her own husband must have experienced the disappearance of his wife.

Katie had been inconsolable and it had taken a long chat with her in order for her to understand how she could not have the wrong man as her daddy, that her daddy was at home, waiting for them. Katie had not been much convinced. Gradually she'd come to accept that the Chakotay who'd remained stunned on the transporter platform, who went down on one knee to try and explain to the child that he couldn't stay behind with them, was not her father.

Nicole had hardly had time to join Mulcahy behind the transporter console to try and beam Chakotay back before they passed through the rift, when suddenly he was engulfed in the transporter beam and dematerialised before their eyes.

One moment he was there with them, the next he was gone.

Now she sat in her command chair, with her first officer looking at her with some concern.

"I think Kathryn Janeway would have turned our universe inside out to get her husband back," he said.

"They certainly had the technology, remember?"

"True. But she's you, Nicole. The never give up, never surrender type I know too well."

"At least now I'm hopeful we'll make it home, perhaps sooner than we think."

Kathryn Janeway on Voyager Prime

She heard deep, pained moaning, like someone in a dream, a bad dream. Her eyes flew open. Chakotay was tossing restlessly, his forehead beaded with perspiration.

Kathryn braced herself on her elbow and touched his cheek.

The moment she touched him, he woke. It was a slow, troubled emergence to wakefulness. He gazed about him, disoriented, a torturous look in his eyes. When he saw her, he sagged against the pillows, relief streaming through him.

"You dreamed."

"We were standing together on a beach, facing one another. Then you moved away from me, further and further away until I could not see your face anymore. I couldn't move. It felt as if the sand had turned into rock and my feet were chained to it."

"I am here, Chakotay."

"All around me the beach was deserted, an endless shoreline. I started walking…running…the chains kept me moving on the same spot."

Kathryn touched his face, moved her fingers along the lines of his tattoo. Just touching him would help bring him back to her, for he was far away, caught in the echo of a fear long gone. But Chakotay couldn't stop as his hand gripped hers tightly.

"All the time I was aware that you had gone, that I was never going to see you again. I tried breaking free. It seemed impossible. I called your name, over and over, but no sound issued from my mouth."

"It's over. I am here. I am your living echo. When you dream again, I will hear you call me."

"Kathryn?"

"Yes, it's me…"

"I despaired again. That moment on the other ship, when I was left behind, I experienced the anguish that Nicole's husband must surely have felt. Desolation lay before me like a lonely desert stretching into forever."

"Your dreams are receding. It will go away eventually," she consoled him.

"I know," he said, sighing as he settled back and pulled her into his embrace. "I was a lonely man, Kathryn, until you came into my life. I will love you forever."

Kathryn gave a deep sigh as she too, drifted into sleep. Her last waking thought was how love sometimes can be too much to bear.

END