Originally posted: 4/17/02

Title: Twist of Fate: Chaos
Author: Whoa Nellie

Series: Voyager
Rating: PG-13
Codes: C/f
Synopsis: Chaos Theory becomes reality when Voyager's crew finds itself lost in Chaotic space. This is a rewrite of the episode The Fight (SPOILER ALERT-- but changes have been made).

Helpful tidbit of information: Aalm is a Mayan word meaning heart with a connotation of soul --the essence of a person so to speak.

Author's Note1: Feel free to archive to any pertinent site. Not necessary to have read any of the previous stories except for more detailed background information on Ceshlyta and how she got there. Previous stories from the Twist of Fate storyline (in order): Blessings of the Sky Spirits, Wyrd, What Comes Naturally, Fresh Perspective and Culinary Delights.

Author's Note2: After much debate in the editorial process, it was decided to change the nickname for Chakotay's boxing experience established in canon, since he could not have been named the Tattooed Terror in Starfleet since he didn't have the tattoo in question until after he left Starfleet following his father's death. Trebus is the name of his home planet so we simply replaced Tattooed with Treban.

Timeline: Twist of Fate picks up and takes off of the canon universe early in season five just after the episode Timeless. With this story, we are at the episode The Fight, same basic plotline so serious SPOILERS.

As always Paramount owns all the marbles, we just have a lot more fun playing with them. The Fight episode script was written by Joe Menosky from a story by Michael Taylor.

Feedback is always appreciated.

This is an edited down version of the original. If you are 18 or older and would like to read the original version, it can be found at Whoa Nellie's Sci-Fi Romance Website. The link can be found on our author page.

CHAOS

"Are you sure you don't want to come and watch?" Chakotay stood near the door of the quarters that he shared with his wife. He was dressed in workout clothes and his boxing gloves were strung over one shoulder.

For her part, Ceshlyta had just settled into position to begin her nightly meditation. Her tawny skin was highlighted by the light peach shorts and matching blouse that she was wearing; her long, dark tresses hanging loose, framing her face. Looking up from the contemplation of her bracelet, she remarked. "Hmm, let's see, meditate to maintain my mental, physical and spiritual balance so that I can enjoy inner peace and contentment or sit in a smelly holodeck simulation and watch some other guy beat you to a bloody pulp. While the prospect of seeing you all sweaty does have its appeal, I think I'll just meditate." Winking at him with a sly smile on her face, she added. "I can always get you sweaty myself, later."

He ignored the salacious innuendo. "I have no intention of letting any other guy beat me to a pulp, bloody or otherwise. You forget that you're talking to the Treban Terror."

Already slowing her breathing to begin her descent into a meditative trance, she shot back. "Well, then may I suggest that you not program your opponent as a Nausican?"

Laughing at her reference to his one defeat in the ring, he turned to leave. "I'll be back in a while." He remembered something and stopped in the doorway. "By the way, we're having dinner with Tom and B'Elanna tomorrow. Tom's programmed a concoction he described as deep dish pizza and invited us over to try it and play some x'arin."

'Great', the thought distracted her from her breathing. 'An entire evening playing cards with the Klingon.' B'Elanna might be a good friend to Chakotay but she was also annoying. Unfortunately, her loving, sweet, sensitive and considerate husband was totally oblivious to the dislike that the chief engineer had for her and vice versa; so that meant socializing with Paris and Torres on a weekly basis. Tom was fun, Ceshlyta wouldn't have minded the dinner if B'Elanna weren't part of the package. "Do we need to bring anything?" No sense in saying anything, it was a small ship and creating unnecessary problems wouldn't help anyone.

"I thought I'd grab a bottle of cider from the cargo bay to take along," Commander Clueless offered. He desperately wanted his wife to be happy on Voyager and, knowing that she was a very social person, always looked for any opportunity to socialize with other crew members. Tom and B'Elanna's relationship made for a perfect situation, the four of them could participate in any number of activities on the holodeck together or just have quiet evenings over cards. He knew that Tom also enjoyed the time the four of them spent together. There weren't many other couples openly involved and double- dating, according to the pilot, made him really feel like part of a couple. The two men often discussed activities for the four of them during their shifts on the bridge.

Sassy made the expected comment in a carefully neutral tone. "Sounds nice, sweetheart." As the door slid shut behind him, she refocused on her bracelet. A long conversation with her spirit guide might help her almost enjoy the upcoming evening.

...

An insistent door chime interrupted Ceshlyta. Suppressing a wave of irritation -- she had been almost to the Zen state and she hadn't spoken to her spirit guide in so long -- she sighed and called for the door.

"Hi, Sassy, is this a bad time?"

"Harry, no it's fine, please come on in. Computer, normal illumination." She stood, moving to the center of the room as she greeted Ensign Kim. "Chakotay's off in the Holodeck getting in a workout." Harry was one of the crewmembers whom she counted as a close friend of her own, beyond any relationship with her husband.

"Thanks, actually I came to talk to you." Harry stepped inside, the door sliding shut behind him. "I haven't been able to put in much time in the garden lately."

Sassy motioned toward the sofa, tacitly inviting the young man to sit. Seating herself on one end, she assured him. "That's fine, Harry. I enjoy the extra hands when people have time but I don't expect it."

"I know, it's just that I kind of need your advice on something," came his hesitant reply.

"I see," she curled up in a more comfortable position. "You don't have to work in the garden to talk to me. It's not like you don't know where I live." Coaxing him into cracking a smile she continued. "Would you like something to drink?"

"No, thanks," he waved off her offer.

After almost a full minute of silence, Sassy spoke up. "You know, my advice is often more helpful when I know the specific dilemma that I'm advising on."

Harry sighed, searching for the words to explain. "There's something that's been bothering me for a few weeks now. Do you remember that oyster dish that Neelix served a while back?"

Fondly recalling the effects of that particular lunch, she smiled wistfully. "Oh, yes."

"When I was in Sickbay, another member of the crew came in and, well . . ." his voice trailed off.

"You resolved things the old-fashioned way," Sassy finished for him.

He nodded yes.

"Is this someone whom you could have feelings for?" Not sure what the problem was, she started to dig deeper.

Again, he nodded yes.

"Does this person know that you have feelings for them?" Okay, at this rate it would take an hour just to get the background of the problem.

Harry pondered. "I don't know. I think so, but I've never really come out and said as much to her."

What was it about men that made them take the most simple, natural human experience and complicate it beyond reason? "Have the two of you talked about what happened?"

"No, I don't know how to bring it up and, after Tal, Seven probably wrote it off as aberrant behavior," his face fell at the thought.

Seven? That explained the nervousness, not to mention the problems with communication, but there was still one question. "What about Tal? I thought things were pretty serious between you."

"I thought so too, it felt so overwhelming," Harry shrugged. "The more time that passes, the less real it feels. Remember when you asked if there was someone on the ship who I wouldn't have met if we hadn't gotten stuck out here in the Delta Quadrant?"

"Voyager rescued Seven from the Borg," understanding dawned. "If you weren't here, she'd still be a drone."

His response was to suddenly find the stars outside the viewport fascinating.

Sassy had dealt with the Borg on a limited basis and, while she was efficient and highly intelligent, the former drone tended to be fairly literal in verbal communication. She doubted if the stammering ensign had approached Seven of Nine in anything even remotely resembling a direct fashion.

"Harry, Seven has an extremely logical, pragmatic worldview; think of her as a human-Vulcan. You have to express your interest in very cognitive terms if you want to be effective in communicating. You ought to try something like: 'would you be interested in interacting with me on a social level?'" She studied Kim's face to see if she was making any sense.

"But that's not exactly something that would sweep a woman off her feet."

Sassy tried to rephrase her advice. "She's not just any woman, she has spent the majority of her life as a human cybernetic organism--more machine than organic. Her brain is accustomed to thinking of things in a machine-like way. If you use innuendos or subtlety, she's probably going to misinterpret your message." He was starting to look nervous again. "The two of you are about the same age, aren't you?"

Doing some quick calculations, the ensign nodded yes.

"I think you'd make a cute couple, just take care to speak her language, at least until she gets to know you better." Suddenly she was immensely grateful that Chakotay and she had not had to deal with this aspect of dating. The first month or so that she'd been aboard Voyager had been awkward but she'd known that Chakotay was her soulmate, her destiny, from the very beginning.

"But what about . . . ?" Harry tilted his head in a meaningful gesture.

Trying to see it in a purely cognitive perspective, she offered, "Leave it for now. If a relationship evolves between the two of you, then you can laugh about it; otherwise . . ." Sassy left the rest of the statement unsaid.

Sighing deeply, he stood. "Be direct."

"But not forceful," she rose to escort him to the door. "Analyze and delineate your points of compatibility to her."

"Maybe I should just leave the whole thing alone." Pausing by the door, it all seemed more intimidating than an entire cube of Borg drones.

"The unasked question is forever unanswered," Sassy countered.

"If I don't ask, I'll never know," Harry paraphrased.

Patting his shoulder comfortingly, she nodded. "Exactly."

...

On the holodeck, Chakotay was getting wisdom of a different sort.

"Stay away from the ropes, son!" His trainer, Boothby -- a holographic representation of him anyway -- yelled instructions and encouragement to him. "That's it."

Moving closer to the center of the ring, he continued to dance around his opponent. The Terrellian threw the occasional swing, but Chakotay kept his footwork going and avoided most of the blows. He took a few jabs at his opponent, landing a few but not doing any real damage. Finally the bell rang, signaling the end of Round Three. Finding his corner, he sat on the stool that Boothby slid into place and spit out his mouthpiece.

"That wasn't so bad," Chakotay gasped, taking a mouthful of water and spitting it back out.

"It was terrible," his trainer shot back.

He looked at Boothby, confused. "Am I missing something? He barely landed a glove on me."

"Yet," came the ominous retort. "Give him time, you're not reading him. You think he's slow and stupid but I know better. In fact, I know his kind in my bones, literally. I can count the fractures, if you'd like."

This was a different training than he usually had in this simulation. "I don't understand, he's not landing any punches."

"That's the problem," Boothby shook his head. "You're not letting him make contact."

"I thought that was the whole idea of this sport."

As if he were talking to a raw recruit, Boothby explained. "Boxing is more about taking the shots than dishing them out. You shouldn't be dancing away from this fellow -- let him punch himself out a bit. It all comes down to heart." Searching the brown eyes of his fighter, his voice took on a challenging note. "Do you have the heart for this? That's the test--it's not against him, it's against your own natural human desire not to get hurt. That's the real fight, son."

Trying to absorb the philosophy his trainer was putting forward, Chakotay heard the bell sound to begin Round Four. The Terrellian came out of his corner with vigor, but the Treban Terror was ready for him. He concentrated on getting in closer, letting his opponent land a few good shots. It was a struggle to accept the blows and feel the impact throughout his body. Chakotay felt a surge of triumph as he took the shots and landed several good blows of his own. In his corner, he could hear more words of encouragement. Just as he began to get an edge over his opponent, the Terrellian grabbed him in a clinch. Shoving him away, the other boxer went stumbling toward his corner. Taking a quick breath, Chakotay started to follow him when the space behind the Terrellian suddenly became distorted. Looking closer, he blinked in an attempt to clear his vision. Time itself seemed to join space in the distortion of reality. He looked to his own corner to see Boothby yelling and gesturing in slow motion for him to get his gloves up. Turning back toward his opponent, he never saw the blow that sent him to the canvas, unconscious.

"Injury detected, holodeck program deactivated." The holodeck sensors registered the loss of consciousness and the safety protocols automatically engaged. "Medical team to Holodeck One."

...

"Doctor, how is he?" Sassy rushed into Sickbay breathless after receiving the message from the EMH about Chakotay's injury.

"We'll find out in a moment," the Doctor clipped, not looking up from the tricorder he was scanning the prostrate man with. "He's waking up now." As his patient's eyes fluttered open, he held up his hand. "How many?"

Chakotay blinked a couple of times and looked around. His wife was on one side trying to appear calm but obviously worried; on the other side was a very irritable-looking doctor holding up three fingers. He patted Sassy's hand reassuringly and answered. "Three."

"Good guess," the Doctor retorted sarcastically even though he helped the commander sit up and swing his legs over the edge of the biobed. "I have a good mind to use a needle and thread -- add a little authenticity to your fun."

"Be my guest," Chakotay shot a sideways grin to his wife. Ceshlyta and the Doc hadn't gotten off on the best terms and she seemed to take delight in baiting Voyager's EMH. There were days when he could see the enjoyment in that endeavor as well.

Tonight, the Doctor refused to rise to the bait. "You'd like that, a manly scar above your eye. 'Chakotay - the Maquis Mauler' --"

"Treban Terror," Sassy corrected the EMH on her husband's nickname as a boxer. She didn't enjoy the sport but Chakotay did and he deserved respect for his efforts and talents.

"Pointless violence." The Doctor guided the dermal regenerator over the wound as he muttered. "That program shouldn't even be in our database."

"There's nothing like a good fight, Doctor," he made a valiant effort to explain the lure of the 'sweet science.' "I was there when Pryce-Jones went 23 rounds with Gul Tulet." Chakotay smiled at the memory. "'The knockout in the Neutral Zone'; best match I ever saw."

"Really?" Setting the regenerator on the tray and picking up the tricorder, he asked. "Most blood spilled? Or did Pryce-Jones drive Gul Tulet's nasal bone up into this brain?"

Sassy suppressed her chuckle at the banter -- Chakotay didn't. "You've got the wrong idea." He tried to elaborate, but the EMH shot back.

"The idea seems simple enough; do enough damage to your opponent to render him unconscious," the Doctor summed up his perception of boxing with one sentence. "How's the headache?"

Watching her husband admit that his head hurt, Sassy ran her fingers through the soft, dark hair, still slightly damp. No matter how much she enjoyed seeing the Doctor's holographic 'britches in a bunch', to borrow a phrase from one of her more colorful college professors, she was worried about the man who had come to mean everything to her. "Is he all right, Doctor?"

Scanning quickly, the EMH analyzed the readings. "He's got an edema beneath the anterior fossa of the cranium and a hairline fracture of the septum."

Chakotay interrupted the long-winded diagnosis. "I saw something strange in there."

"I'll bet you did," the Doctor was still cranky.

"No, before I got hit."

Sassy began to feel a sense of alarm. "What do you mean?"

"I looked over at Boothby," he closed his eyes, picturing the last minutes of the fight. "He yelled at me, I turned back, the ring was all distorted."

"An hallucination," the Doctor opined. "You probably had some pressure building up along the optic nerves from a previous blow."

Chakotay's glance darted between Sassy and the Doc. "No, I was keeping away from him the whole time. He never touched me."

At the insistence in the commander's voice, the Doctor opened the tricorder back up to scan him again. "Hmm, a number of the ganglia in your visual cortex are hyperactive. Your opponent wasn't firing on you with an energy weapon, was he?"

"Just his gloves." With a strained smile, he waved one of his own taped fists in front of the EMH.

"Could there be a malfunction of the holo-emitters?" Sassy's forte was natural sciences, but she had gotten decent grades in her physical sciences courses in college.

Before either man could respond, the ship rocked violently. An instant later the red alert klaxon sounded and Janeway called senior officers to the bridge. Chakotay hopped off the bed and strode toward the door.

"I want you back in here for some tests -- unless you want to be seeing things on a regular basis," the Doctor called after him.

Sassy watched him leave. As a civilian, during red alerts she stayed put wherever she happened to be or she headed for the nearest station if she was enroute. Being stuck in Sickbay with the Doc for who knew how long wasn't ideal, but Chakotay's instructions on the matter when she first came aboard had been clear. It was important to him that he knew where she was and that she wasn't wandering the corridors in an emergency. He knew she was in Sickbay, so Sickbay was where she'd stay until the alert was cancelled.

...

"It's back, off our port bow," Harry called out from his station. Voyager rumbled as the anomaly's proximity sent shock waves across the shields. "It's gone again, Captain." He continued scanning his readings, watching for the energy signature to show up. He barely acknowledged the commander stepping from the turbolift still in his workout clothes.

Chakotay skirted the rail and reached his chair just as the energy field reappeared on the viewscreen. "Ion storm?"

"Not exactly," Janeway studied the readouts from the command chair. "It's two light years across, emits enough energy for a dozen stars and doesn't match any profiles in the database." Jabbing the console in frustration when the anomaly disappeared again, she exhaled deeply. "And, right now, it won't sit still."

Just then the anomaly reappeared right on top of them.

"Full reverse," Tom yelled, not needing to wait for the order.

"Full power to forward shields," Janeway instructed.

In spite of their best efforts, the ship lurched as they were enveloped by the distortion. The very space around the ship swirled chaotically, buffeting Voyager relentlessly.

"All stop." Janeway stood and straightened her uniform jacket. "Anyone care to hazard a guess as to where we are?"

From his post at the tactical console, Tuvok provided an update from the department of the obvious. "It would appear that we are inside the disturbance."

"Captain," Harry called out. "I've got massive amounts of data coming in; subspace flux, graviton waves, . . ." His fingers flying over the ops console, he shook his head. "The sensors must be affected by the distortion. The readings are shifting around so much that I can't make heads or tails of any of it."

Janeway started toward Harry's station to check his readings when she was commed.

"Seven of Nine to the captain, please report to Astrometrics."

"Chakotay, Tuvok, you're with me. Harry, you have the Bridge." Briskly, she continued up the ramp toward the turbolift joined by the two officers.

...

Sassy winced as the Doctor hit a particularly strident passage of Rigoletto. The alarm had been turned off but the red alert lights were still flashing. He was doing this on purpose, being spiteful for her not allowing him to sing opera in the garden. With his autonomy protocol, for all she knew if she turned him off he'd just re-activate himself. Not really expecting it to work, she whispered, "Computer, pause EMH program."

Dead silence filled the room. Across Sickbay, the Doctor stood frozen, his mouth open but no sound.

"That's more like it," she stated in surprised satisfaction, situating herself on a nearby biobed to wait out the red alert.

...

Seven brought the image on the viewscreen in Astrometrics into focus. "The Borg have been aware of this phenomenon for many years. It is a zone where the laws of physics are in a constant state of flux-- spatial anomaly 827."

"Why didn't the long-range sensors detect this 'chaotic space' earlier?" Janeway studied the screen.

"This anomaly appears randomly and unexpectedly. The Borg have observed it throughout the galaxy," Seven noted.

Tuvok pondered the statistical probability of chaotic space appearing in the Alpha Quadrant. "Why have no Federation vessels encountered one previously?"

"Some may have," Chakotay pointed out. "A number of vessels have disappeared mysteriously, it's a good bet that at least a few of them have gone rounds with this and lost."

"Of all of the Borg vessels that have encountered this phenomenon, only one survived the experience," Seven added.

"Those aren't good odds," Chakotay turned to meet Janeway's gaze.

"If the physical constants are shifting in this region, then our sensors cannot function," Tuvok observed.

Seven indicated a mass in the center of the region. "The problem is here; changes in the gravitational coefficient will cause sudden shear forces against our hull. Shields will protect us, but only for a time."

"How much time?" Janeway was already thinking about strategy.

"Unknown." Seven was unable to even venture a conjecture.

"We've got to recalibrate the sensors -- redesign them if necessary," Janeway put out the priority. "Otherwise we're flying blind. Let's get to work."

...

"Chakotay to Sassy."

Scanning idly through the botany database, Ceshlyta sat up and responded. "Yes."

"I'm on my way back to our quarters to clean up and change. We're going to be stuck here for a while so why don't you meet me there. Unless, of course, you'd prefer to wait in Sickbay with the Doctor?" Chakotay was grinning in the turbolift as he spoke.

"Very funny," she shot back, hopping off the bed. She closed the channel and looked over at the Doctor, still frozen. "Computer, resume EMH program."

The Doctor, for his part, picked up right where he'd stopped in the aria.

"Doctor," Sassy yelled to get his attention. "The immediate threat is past, we've downgraded to yellow alert so I'm going back to my quarters."

"Already?" The Doctor checked his program's chronometer against the ship's and was astonished to find that twenty minutes had indeed passed. "Time certainly flies when you're having fun."

Inwardly thrilled that the pause of his program was not immediately detectable, Sassy merely smiled. "It has been memorable, Doctor."

...

Back in their quarters, Sassy ran a brush through her long hair while Chakotay worked on the computer at his desk.

"Begin Round One."

Looking up from his work at the sound of the announcement, he glanced over to his wife. "Did you say something, sweetheart?"

"No," she shook her head.

Distinctly hearing applause and the roar of a crowd, he checked the computer's log. "Computer, state source of communication."

"Unable to comply, please restate request."

Just then, across the room he spotted a pair of boxing gloves decorated with an American Indian design. Cautiously, he crossed the room to stand over them, the roar of the crowd growing louder.

"Honey, are you all right?" Sassy put the brush on the coffee table, watching her husband walking toward an empty chair with an expression of rapt absorption.

"Pick 'em up, son." Sassy's question was drowned out in his mind by the sound of Boothby goading him. "It's the fight you've been waiting for."

A bell rang twice. "Begin Round One."

He began to reach for the gloves.

"Chakotay," calling to her husband, louder this time, she rose from the sofa.

"Commander Chakotay, please report to the bridge," Tuvok's voice over the comm pierced the din of the crowd.

"On my way," the confused First Officer acknowledged. Briefly stroking Ceshlyta's soft, tanned cheek, he dropped a quick kiss on her lips. "I'm fine." He turned back to look at the mysterious gloves -- they were gone.

...

Harry reported his readings without taking his eyes off his console. "Graviton wave displacement indicates that we're moving at warp six, but navigational sensors show no movement at all."

"We can't be too far from the edge, yet," Tom spun around in the pilot's seat. "Maybe we should just set a course, go to impulse and see what happens."

"Assuming that the course doesn't move us further into the anomaly," Tuvok pointed out. "We would most likely collide with an asteroid field or other celestial body."

"It's better than just sitting here," Tom shot back just as Commander Chakotay exited the lift.

"Report," he ordered, standing at the rail.

Harry supplied the status report. "Torsional shear forces have increased by twenty percent but shields are holding, sir."

"Like I was saying," Tom jumped in. "We need to try something, anything would be better than just sitting here waiting for our hull to breach."

"Perhaps," Tuvok voiced a suggestion. "We could deploy a series of beacons to assist the sensors in navigation."

"Program the beacons," Chakotay began to issue orders when the roar of a crowd sounded. "What was that?" Looking around the bridge, he asked. "Didn't anyone else hear that?" Once again a bell rang twice followed by a voice, 'begin Round One.'

"I'll plot a course and take it slow," Tom started to turn back to his console, pausing for confirmation from the First Officer.

The sounds that Chakotay were hearing grew louder. An announcer introduced him as the challenger. "Don't you hear that?" He asked the bridge crew again in desperation. The boxing gloves appeared sitting on top of the operations console. Pointing at the apparition, he yelled. "Look!" He started for the console.

"Commander?" Tuvok slipped out form behind the tactical station and moved into position near Chakotay. "Are you all right?"

The gloves were real and he stroked the design as Boothby spoke to him. "Put on the gloves, son."

Chakotay pulled his hands away from the gloves. "I'm not ready."

"Commander?" Harry exchanged confused glances with Tuvok.

"In this corner," the announcer intoned, "wearing the red trunks . . ."

"Begin Round one," the announcement followed the now-familiar bell.

Alarmed, Chakotay tried to get his footwork going. He got his hands up and danced from one foot to the other. His opponent grabbed his arm and he quickly shook it off.

"Paris to Sickbay." Tom watched the First Officer jerk his arm out of the security chief's grasp. "Medical emergency on the Bridge." Even as he spoke, Chakotay began swinging at the Vulcan who calmly dodged the blows and reached in to apply a nerve pinch.

...

Janeway and Sassy reached Sickbay at the same time. Following Kathryn in, she rushed to her husband.

"Doctor, report," the captain stopped at the foot of the biobed that Chakotay was lying on.

"His hearing and vision are both normal," the Doctor began. "I'm afraid the source of the trouble may be a little deeper."

"The family curse," Chakotay bit out, closing his eyes.

Sassy found his hand and cradled it in hers as the EMH elaborated.

"Commander Chakotay has the genetic marker for Sensory Tremens. It's a cognitive disorder manifesting as auditory and visual hallucinations."

Opening his eyes, the patient in question met the soft, brown eyes of his soulmate. "My family doctor suppressed the gene before I was born so that I'd never have to go through what the others did . . . like my grandfather," his voice trailed off as nearly-forgotten memories haunted him.

"For some reason, the gene has reactivated. I would guess that the reactivation of this gene is the cause of the commander's hallucinations. The Holodeck boxing simulation was where he was when this began, add in a few misfiring neurons and the rest is history."

Sassy felt completely out of her depth. All she could do was let Chakotay know that she was there, hold his hand and hope that his friends could find a way to help him. 'There are only three things that are stronger than time itself,' she could almost hear her grandmother's voice. 'Faith, hope and love.' She had complete faith in her husband's strength and that she loved him completely and unconditionally went without saying. Her hope was standing at the foot of the biobed.

"Could this chaotic space be causing this?" Janeway asked, gesturing in the direction of her prostrate First Officer.

"There's no way to be sure until we get out of this region. In the meantime, he'll need to remain in Sickbay." The EMH took the tricorder with his latest scans into his office to run more analyses.

"Tuvok tells me you've got a mean left jab." Walking up to fill the spot near the bed that the Doctor had vacated, Kathryn sent a comforting look to Sassy.

Chakotay managed a subdued chuckle. "Never spar with a Vulcan."

"How are you doing?" Janeway's voice took on a more serious tone.

"I'm all right," he let out a long sigh, his eyes moving from his wife to his friend and captain. "When I was a boy, my grandfather started seeing things nobody else could see, hearing what nobody else could hear." His voice held an adolescent's frustration. "A couple of hypospray's a day -- that's all he would have needed, but he was stubborn." Remembering the gentle, old man's words, he continued. "He said his spirit was in pain but that the wound must be honored." Almost to himself, his next words were barely a whisper. "Crazy, old man."

Raising her gaze, Kathryn addressed Sassy. "After we get all of this worked out, we'll have tea. We can talk about the next holonovel we want to do. I was thinking about Pride and Prejudice."

Grateful for the suggestion of normalcy, Ceshlyta replied. "Actually, I thought Mists of Avalon might be fun--of course I'd have to teach you swordfighting first."

"Sounds like fun." Returning to her First Officer, she laid her hand on his shoulder. "We'll figure this out, Chakotay."

...

"What do we know?" Janeway settled into her seat at the conference table a short while later. They had brought up partial sensors and set a course, which led to the discovery of a ship adrift in chaotic space. Automatically, she looked to her left before remembering that her First Officer was not there.

Seven of Nine began with her analysis of the ship's logs. "The other ship entered spatial anomaly 827 approximately fifteen months ago; their systems failed after 48 weeks in this region."

"There was a distress signal transmitted from the ship just before the systems failure." Tuvok noted. At a nod from his captain, he played it.

"Why won't you answer? Did you give up on me for being so late? Not my fault, we got lost in here. Why do the stars make such a noise? Let me sleep! I don't understand them. I don't want to talk to them. I just want to go home." The plaintive pleas of the final distress call amplified the futility of their situation.

"Their technology was more advanced than ours was; shields, sensors . . . " Harry looked glum. "Not that it made much difference.

"According to the medical logs, the captain and one of the Engineers began hallucinating shortly after they entered this space," the Doctor supplied. "The physician on board never found a way to treat them. After their systems failed, they all died of exposure."

"Wonderful," B'Elanna snorted.

Janeway spoke. "Let's see what we can learn from their efforts. B'Elanna, I want you to go over their technology and see if there's anything compatible with our systems. Harry, you and Seven study their logs, see if you can find out how they attempted to escape this space, maybe we can avoid repeating their mistakes."

...

"What's going on?" Chakotay was sitting up on the biobed with Sassy sitting next to him, her head on his shoulder.

She grazed his jaw with a kiss before pulling back to answer. "They found a derelict ship floating here, and a couple of the people on that ship apparently suffered from a similar affliction to yours. The Doctor got permission to bring the captain of that ship over here for an autopsy to determine if there's a correlation between their visions and yours."

"I'm sorry."

"For what?" Sassy was confused by the abrupt apology.

He brushed her hair back over her shoulder and tucked it behind her ear. "You didn't ask for any of this. You thought you were marrying a sane man in a known region of space and you end up with a doddering fool on the other side of the universe."

"Don't say that." She caught his face in her eyes and forced him to meet her gaze. "I married my soulmate and you're not a doddering fool."

"But-,"

"No, no buts," covering his mouth with a finger Ceshlyta continued. "I'm here with you, no matter what. You are my life now and I will not turn my back on that, nor do I regret that decision--not one iota. I don't want to hear another word about this from you. I want you to concentrate on yourself, your inner peace."

Chakotay kissed her finger before he removed it to speak. "If the Doctor can't find a way to cure me, I won't be able to return to duty even if we do get out of this region."

"So, I'll have a permanent assistant in the garden." Winking at him, she asked. "How are you at pruning?"

"Oh sure, give the lunatic sharp objects. That's always a good idea." It felt good to laugh, even a little. "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me." Reaching for her hand, his fingers brushed her bracelet. His eyes were drawn to the silver ring and bracelet connected with the four silver chains and adorned with selenite, diamond, emerald, aquamarine and ruby gemstones. The imagery and symbolism of the jewelry gave him an idea. "Chakotay to the Doctor."

"Is everything all right, Commander?" Without waiting for an answer, the EMH transferred his program back to Sickbay from the Holodeck where he'd set up to do the autopsy. He hadn't thought that doing that in front of the commander would have been a good idea.

"I need to go on a vision quest," the patient stood up from the biobed resolutely.

"I can't allow that," the Doctor's response was immediate and forceful. "A vision quest taps directly into your frontal cortex, it could agitate your condition."

"Or help me control it," Chakotay shot back.

"I forbid it."

Sassy joined her husband and took his hand. "You can't do that, Doctor. He wants to seek answers within his spirit, it is our way. You don't have the authority to keep him here against his will."

"But-" the Doctor made one last attempt.

"Don't make me shut down your program, Doc. We need you to keep working on finding answers that might lead us out of here," Chakotay's voice was soft but firm. He walked out, his hand still clasped in Ceshlyta's.

...

Back in their quarters, Sassy watched as Chakotay retrieved his medicine bundle. Silently, she sat on the sofa wanting to help but knowing that this was a journey he must make alone.

"Computer, dim lights." Unrolling the bundle, he laid everything out deliberately. He caressed the akoonah reverently before beginning the ritual. "Akoochimoya. I am far from the sacred places of my grandfathers. I am far from the bones of my people, but perhaps there is a spirit who will embrace me and give me the answers I seek."

The swirling colors carried him far away from Voyager and his confusion. When his eyes opened, he was sitting in a lush, green forest. The moon was full, casting a brilliant light across the vista. He heard footsteps, slow and soft, and sprang to his feet to see who it was.

"Grandfather! what are you doing here?" Chakotay rushed over to the old man who looked just as he remembered with long, white hair and strong, gentle features.

"I, uh... Seem to be . . . lost, just a little lost," the voice was both confused and eerily clear.

A long-suffering expression on his face, Chakotay sighed deeply. "You didn't take your medicine this morning."

"Which medicine are you talking about? There are many medicines,"

"The one the hospital gave us, you know what medicine," his voice held equal mixtures of love for the sweet, old man, and the frustration of trying to deal with the crazy, old man.

"Oh, that one," his grandfather wrinkled his nose and started off down a path through the trees.

Chakotay had no choice but to follow him. "Where are you going?"

"My spirit doesn't want that medicine," waving his hand at his contrary grandson, the old man continued on.

With a sense of deja vu', he replied. "I don't care what your spirit wants. You're going to take it."

Grandfather's retort was in a singsong voice. "I don't think so."

"Come with me back to the house."

"Now why would I want to do that?" He waved the youngster off. "It's better where I'm going. It... It's more interesting." Smiling in anticipation, he resumed his trek.

"Where are you going?" Chakotay paused, the way was dark and he wasn't certain of where he was.

Grandfather entered the darkness of the forest. "To the place where my spirit lives."

Emotions battling within him, Chakotay hesitantly followed him.

A bell rang twice. "Begin Round One."

"Mr. Chakotay, while time may be infinite, class time is not. What is the answer?"

Chakotay spun around to face a snickering crowd of Academy cadets and an impatient Professor Vassbinder. He had been in Vassbinder's temporal mechanics class in the Academy -- he had failed that course. "I can't understand . . . I don't know."

"Think, Mr. Chakotay, try harder," the professor snapped. "Do you want to fail?"

"No," Chakotay turned to look at the board behind him; it was filled with numbers and symbols scattered randomly across it. "What was the question?"

"What are the coordinates of chaotic space in relationship to normal space? Think, your grade depends on your answer."

Quickly scanning the board, Chakotay's mind raced in a desperate search for the proper response. "The coordinates of the intersection between normal space and chaotic space fall at the 18th dimensional gradient."

Professor Vassbinder clapped his hands sardonically. "Very good, Mr. Chakotay. Now, how do you enter chaotic space?"

"Trimetric fracture," he blurted out, not sure where the answer had come from.

"And now, Mr. Chakotay, the all-important question. What is the proper, and indeed the only, means by which to leave chaotic space?" The professor seemed to grow in size as he spoke.

"I don't know. I . . . did we cover that in class?" Chakotay looked to his classmates for help, but they were gone.

"You must know, the lives of your crew depend on it!" Vassbinder yelled. "If you want to be a command officer, you have to be able to handle first contact situations."

Thinking -- listening-- as hard as he could, he stammered. "Our warp field, we need to alter it to a . . . rentrillic trajectory."

"How?"

Too many voices, too much noise; Chakotay held his head. "I don't know."

"You are killing your crew, Mr. Chakotay. You must know." The professor advanced on him.

Backing away, he spotted a door and ran, screaming, "Get out, I don't want to do this, just get out and leave me alone." He plunged into the darkness beyond and immediately stopped short. He was standing on a small ledge staring out into a sea of stars. A veritable maze of pathways crisscrossed one another in a chaotic jumble. Which path should he choose? How was he supposed to figure out which one was the right path? Frantically scanning the pathways, he tried to look down them as far as he could, hoping that an answer would present itself.

"You're late."

Chakotay blinked, his spirit guide was hovering in front of him -- well, that was new. "Late for what? I don't even know where I am, much less where I'm supposed to be going or how to get there."

"Let your spirit guide you." The vision began floating away.

"Wait!" Stepping off the ledge, he felt the smooth, firm pathway under his feet. "Where are you going?"

"Chakotay, you must join with me." Sassy stood across a jumble of pathways stretching her arms out to him.

She was completely naked and, for a long moment he simply drank in the vision of her. Her long, black tresses hung loose, cascading down her back, a silken curtain against the honey-toned skin. The sweet, delicate features of her face made a perfect canvas for the doe-eyes looking back at him, almost luminescent. Drawn to his love and soulmate, he started forward only to have the path disappear from in front of him.

"I can't," Chakotay called back. "I don't know how to reach you."

"Trust in our connection, don't be frightened," she implored him. "Come to me now."

He could almost make out a vague outline of where the path had been. He took a hesitant step.

The maze was gone, he found himself standing inside the ropes of a triangular-shaped ring. Across from him, his opponent had his back turned. The name on the back of the robe said Kid Chaos. The other boxer was dancing around in his corner, hood up, shadowboxing in preparation for the match. The crowd was roaring, making it difficult to think. Falling back on his training, he called in reinforcements. "Tuvok, move into position."

The command was immediately obeyed, the Vulcan stepping up to the ring with a phaser rifle in his hands. "Thompson and Sharr target the midsection. Ensign McAlister, you and I will aim for the head."

The other crewmembers materialized around the ring, taking aim with phaser rifles of their own.

"Set phasers to kill," Chakotay ordered.

Boothby appeared in Chakotay's corner. "Not exactly the Marquis of Queensbury rules, now, is it?" He sounded more disappointed than angry. "Set to kill? That's not even Starfleet." In a calm voice he suggested. "Put down the weapons, son."

Tuvok spoke up. "It is not logical to take tactical advice from an academy groundskeeper. We fire at your command, sir."

"Give that order and you'll be out for the count--the whole lot of you," Boothby's reply was more authoritative.

Sassy appeared standing next to the trainer. "Trust in our connection."

Chakotay was torn between his fear and his faith. "Lower your weapons."

"Commander," Tuvok protested, the voice of reason.

Chakotay nodded and waved them off. In a flash of light, he found himself decked out in the bright silks of a fighter with gloves already laced onto his hands.

Materializing at ringside, Tom Paris held up a PADD. "We just heard from Vegas, Mars and Orion Three. The odds are running 33 to 1 that he'll outpoint you 11:1 and that you'll be kayoed by the fifth."

B'Elanna appeared beside him. "Subspace radio is calling it 'the Disaster in the Delta.' We can still scratch the card. We can have the Doctor get you out on a medical."

Boothby leaned toward Chakotay. "They're trying to hornswoggle us, son. Double-check those calculations."

Chakotay reached out with a gloved hand for the PADD, but Tom yanked it away.

"No, fine," Tom snorted. "If you don't want to trust your friends, then you're on your own." He vanished along with B'Elanna.

Following the example of his opponent, he began dancing around and throwing jabs at the air around him. He snuck a look at the still-hooded boxer across the ring, his apprehension rising.

Neelix appeared and slipped between the ring ropes with a furious expression on his face. "I'm filing a grievance with the Delta Quadrant Boxing Commission. This bout came out of nowhere! There's some scheduling mix-up." Turning to Chakotay he urged, "You haven't had time to train. You're not ready. If you fight now you'll be destroyed!"

Chakotay looked to his trainer. "I can't fight now, I'm not ready for this." Boothby didn't reply, but the disappointment on his face hurt nonetheless. "I can't stay here!" Chakotay said helplessly, as Neelix dragged him out.

The next scene he saw was the gym where this had all started. He was back in his workout clothes working at the heavy bag.

Harry was holding the bag while Chakotay punched. "I follow your example. I learn from you, look up to you. I don't want to lose that."

"You'll find another role model," he assured the young man between shots. "You'll be okay."

The ensign was replaced at the bag by Janeway. "You're my first officer, your duty is to this crew. If something happens to me you've got to get Voyager home."

"Tuvok can take command." He hit the bag harder, increasing the speed of his blows.

B'Elanna appeared next. "You're being selfish, Chakotay."

"I'm doing this for you, for all of you!" he paused to try to make her understand.

"You must honor your spirit." Sassy was behind him, massaging his shoulders. "Your soul is incomplete, follow your path."

The Doctor walked around him, scanning him with a tricorder. "A delusion, dementia puglistica. You're punch-drunk, Commander."

...

"Drop another beacon, Harry," Janeway gave the order, reading off the spacing of the buoys.

Harry complied with the order and supplied a status report. "Torsional stress is increasing to almost double the intensity, Captain."

"Shields are holding at 81," Tuvok noted from tactical.

"There's nothing on sensors, maybe we should increase speed." Tom looked back at the captain.

With typical Vulcan logic, the security chief observed, "There are a great many unknowns that may pose a threat to the ship."

"Look, the longer we're here the more the stress on the ship increases and the more chance we have of running into some of those unknowns," the pilot retorted.

Tuvok arched an eyebrow and reluctantly acknowledged. "His logic is undeniable, Captain. Perhaps, we should increase our speed."

Janeway shrugged, "Who am I to dispute logic? Increase speed to three quarters impulse."

"I've got something on sensors," Harry called out. The excitement faded quickly. "It's the first beacon we launched three hours ago. We've been going in circles."

"Hold our position," the captain sighed.

"All stop," Tom confirmed, dejected.

"Bridge to Astrometrics," she activated the comm.

Seven replied instantly. "I was just about to contact you, Captain. I believe I have something."

"I'm on my way." Nodding to her security chief to take the bridge, Janeway entered the turbolift.

...

Chakotay was being massaged. He was naked, lying on a massage table next to the strange, triangular ring, being rubbed by Ceshlyta, also nude.

"Trust in our connection, trust in your path," Sassy whispered. "It is our destiny."

"A hard shot to the head and neck collapses the carotid artery and cuts the flow of blood to the brain." The EMH was standing in the center of the ring, extolling the effects of boxing like a ring announcer introducing the participants. "The hook causes the head and neck to twist laterally, traumatizing the cerebral tissue. And who can forget the upper cut? The head snaps back, rupturing tissue in the cerebellum and upper spinal cord."

Chakotay looked from Sassy to the Doc. He was confused, his connection with Sassy felt so right, but the EMH made sense. Maybe he . . .

"Feel our connection," Sassy urged, gripping him tighter. "Let go and just feel."

"And the result of all this poetry in motion?" The Doctor leaned over the ropes toward him for emphasis. "Neurologic dysfunction, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, loss of balance," here he suddenly appeared next to the massage table, "and coordination. Loss of memory," leaning close to the commander's ear, the last part was a bare whisper. "Sound familiar?"

Sassy grabbed for his left hand and brought their palms together, touching their wedding ring marks. "Don't listen to him, he's your fear. Trust me, trust your spirit, our connection is growing stronger."

He could feel that he was striving for something just beyond his reach.

"You can do this, you just need to trust our connection," she urged.

"He needs to listen to his Doctor and not to his fantasies. Step into that ring," his holographic arm made an exaggerated sweeping motion toward the triangle, "and you'll become what you most fear."

Chakotay froze although Sassy didn't stop.

"Victory? Defeat? Knockout? T.K.O? It's all beside the point," the EMH leaned over the table, blocking out everything else. "We know how it really ends . . . a crazy old man."

Rattled, Chakotay slipped off the table and hurried toward the exit.

"It's your fate," the Doctor sneered behind him, "your destiny. There's no escape!"

As he stepped through the doorway, he was suddenly back in uniform and jogging through Voyager's hydroponics garden. Sassy was standing beneath an apple tree, a full basket of perfect, red apples in her arms.

"Strangers are merely friends that you have yet to meet," she called to him as he passed her.

"They want to destroy all that we know," he tried to warn her.

"The unknown is no more than something still waiting to be discovered," she pled. "Do not fear it -- embrace it."

Plunging though the genniberry hedge, the scene changed and he was running along a wooded path back in the forest of his home. He stopped to catch his breath and his bearings and spotted an old bench beside the path.

"They got away," Chakotay's grandfather walked slowly out of the trees and sat next to him on the bench.

"Grandfather. Where did you go?"

"Some people were shouting at me. They were going for a walk and they wanted me to come along but it's so hard to follow them. They go to strange places," his grandfather sighed his disappointment.

Chakotay felt the familiar frustration. "I'm supposed to be watching you. We're going to get in trouble if we don't go back home."

"Be a good boy and go," Grandfather nodded. "We understand."

"You have to come with me!" His plea held the exasperation of youth.

The old man countered. "They say you can come with us."

"There's nobody else here," Chakotay pointed out, looking around for evidence to the contrary.

His grandfather cocked an ear, listening to unseen speakers. "They say you're just like we are."

Chakotay jumped up and backed away in defense. "I'm not! I'm not like you."

"It's not so bad. When you get used to it, they're not so bad," the old man uttered softly.

"Come home," he pled once more.

Grandfather shook his head and waved his hand dismissively. "I'm too tired. This is a nice place...a nice place to call home."

Chakotay gave the crazy old man one last look and turned, fleeing into the safety of the forest.

...

"Report," Janeway issued the order as she entered the Astrometrics lab, not even waiting until she was completely inside.

Seven didn't waste any time. "I have applied 10,053 algorithms to the energy signatures produced by this region. There is a pattern."

"Order to chaos?" There might be some hope yet.

"Observe, an isolinear frequency," the Borg indicated a pulsing displayed among the sensor readings.

Janeway studied the display intensely. "Some kind of signal?"

"We have not located a source," Seven replied. "It may be a natural phenomenon--a star or a quasar that's managed to survive in chaotic space."

"But it could be a transmission." The captain still thought that held the best possibility for escape and didn't want to let go of that hope just yet.

"Possibly," Seven conceded. "However, I have tried all of the standard decryption algorithms as well as a few Borg decryption sequences with no success."

"Success seems to be in short supply lately," Janeway sighed. The pulsing was still drawing her attention although she couldn't put her finger on what was so interesting about it. Suddenly she recognized it. "Impossible . . . "

"Captain?" Seven tried to find what had sparked the captain.

Heading for the door, Janeway muttered. "And to think...that kept me from getting an 'A.' "

...

In Sickbay, the captain showed the readings to the Doctor. "It was the only question I missed in exogenetics my senior year."

"The nucleotide resonance frequency," the EMH recognized it immediately.

Voicing her suspicion about the pulse, she declared. "That signal was designed to activate DNA."

"It realigned his molecular bonds," the Doctor was also coming to that conclusion.

Janeway began to see a connection. "What if those hallucinations are being induced for a reason? Aliens who exist on some perceptual wavelength that our senses can't detect, and the only way for them to communicate with us is to alter our senses. Chakotay's 'bad gene' gave them the opportunity."

"What are you proposing?"

She paced as she put everything together for the EMH. "Remember the derelict ship? Two of their crewmembers claimed they were seeing things. Was somebody trying to communicate with them? Was somebody trying to warn them, help them?"

"Or trying to destroy them just as they're trying to destroy us?" the Doctor played Devil's Advocate.

That didn't make sense to Janeway. "Why go through all the trouble? We're trapped here anyway." She surveyed the room. "Where is Chakotay? Did you send him back to his quarters?"

"Not exactly," the EMH grumbled. "He left on his own and went back to his quarters to go on a vision quest." Activating his combadge, he called. "Sickbay to Commander Chakotay."

"He's a little busy right now, Doctor," Sassy replied to the call. "He's still in his vision quest."

Janeway interrupted. "Sassy, can you talk to him? We think that the aliens in this space are trying to communicate by activating certain DNA sequences."

In their darkened quarters, Ceshlyta eyed her husband with concern. "He's trying to get rid of the chaos and confusion, Kathryn. If they're trying to communicate with him then he's working at cross-purposes."

"Can you bring him out of it to explain?" the Doctor chimed in.

The captain's combadge chirped. "Janeway here."

"Captain, " Tuvok was hailing her from the bridge. "The graviton shear has increased again, our hull pressure is rising to critical levels."

"Understood, I'll be right there." Janeway addressed Sassy again. "Did you hear that?"

"Yes." Thinking quickly, Sassy made her decision. "I don't know if I can get him out of it if the aliens are interfering. Even if I do, he might not be able to get back into the vision fast enough to be any help. I'm going to try to go into his vision after him."

The Doctor wasn't sure he'd heard that right. "Can you do that?"

"We're about to find out," she sighed, touching her bracelet for comfort. "Our souls are joined, if I use the akoonah to slip into a vision quest of my own, I can try sending my soul to find his. Don't do anything. If I can't find him, I'll bring myself back and try something else--if there's time."

"Good luck." Janeway closed the channel and headed for the Bridge.

Sassy sat opposite Chakotay, crossing her legs and trying to steady her breathing. She crossed her hands, the cold silver of the bracelet reassuring between them. The akoonah sat in the palms of her husband's hands and she reached out, covering it with her own palms. She had never used a mind-altering device to enter a vision quest before, but the prayer was familiar and timeless. "Akoochimoya, I am far from the sacred places of my ancestors. May the spirits protect and our ancestors guide me." A disorienting sensation began to overwhelm her consciousness. Focusing her thoughts, she chanted. "Aalm a aalm, seek and find. Aalm a aalm, seek and find. Aalm a aalm, seek and find."

...

Chakotay was back in that triangular ring, dressed to fight. His opponent, Kid Chaos was in the opposite corner, his back to him, and Boothby was in his corner offering up words of encouragement over the roaring crowd.

"Chakotay!" Sassy saw him standing amidst a swirl of gray. There was no noise and no signs of anyone else, it was eerily silent.

Hearing a familiar voice call his name, he turned to find his wife walking toward him. He assumed it was part of the hallucinations that he'd been trapped in and ignored it, trying to prepare himself for his upcoming bout.

"Listen to me." She jumped up on the ring apron and put her hand on his shoulder. "They're trying to communicate with you. Kathryn found a pulse on sensors that was designed to activate your DNA. You need to let them talk to you."

He pulled away. "You're not real."

"Yes, I am. I came on a vision quest through the akoonah to find you and tell you what they've found," Sassy tried to explain.

Chakotay shook his head as if to clear it. "Two people can't go on vision quests together. You can't be here."

"Our souls are bound, I sent my soul to seek yours along the dream path and it worked. Don't fight them, let them communicate with you," she reiterated. "They may be trying to help. It's Voyager's only hope."

"I can't. Take me back to Voyager, I'm not ready for this fight. I can't do this. You stay and talk to them, just take me home." His spirit was beginning to weaken, it was all too much.

Stroking his cheek, she shook her head. "I don't see anything. I can't hear anything. The stress on Voyager's hull is increasing, if you don't talk to them, ask them how to leave their region, we'll all die."

"Who are you talking to, son? You've got a bout to fight." Boothby pulled his attention back to the ring.

Sassy saw that his visions were speaking to him again. "You've got to let them in." She moved back behind him, hoping that she was out of the way of whatever he was seeing.

The announcer was introducing the participants. "In this corner, representing the normal space, the challenger, the Treban Terror. In the other corner, champion of chaotic space, Kid Chaos."

Chakotay turned to his trainer for some last-minute strategy, still not sure if he trusted Sassy's information. "Looks like he's got a lot of upper-body strength--a real puncher." He was still afraid, but determined to try to make first contact if, in fact, that was what was going on here.

"Just keep your elbow low when you throw the right, and don't come in too straight; you'll be okay," Boothby assured him.

Panic set in as he tried to remember first contact procedures. "Where's the scouting report? We don't know this guy. I don't know who I'm up against!"

Boothby's voice was calm. "You're up against yourself. That's all you've got to remember."

The bell rang. "Begin Round One."

Chakotay danced hesitantly toward the center of the ring. "Sassy, where are you?"

"Still here, mi aalm. I'm not going anywhere," she reassured him. On the very edge of her vision, Sassy thought she saw her grandmother. Refocusing her thoughts, she sent her concentration back to her husband's situation.

As he waited, Kid Chaos turned around. The boxer didn't have a face, just blackness swirling with stars--a miniature galaxy under the hood of his robe. A momentary panic set in, where was he supposed to aim? How could he talk to someone who wasn't there? He was about to find out. His opponent met him in the center of the ring and they touched gloves. The visions began to come in flashbulb-like sequences with people from his visions talking to him while Kid Chaos and he fought.

First was the Doc, "You--"

His opponent landed a right cross that rocked him, but didn't budge him from his toehold.

Then Janeway, "Are--"

He managed an uppercut.

Tom, "Far from where--"

Another blow from his opponent, a left hand this time.

His grandfather, "You call--"

The next blow from Kid Chaos sent him reeling backward several steps.

Sassy-- his vision Sassy, "home."

Neelix, "You--"

He recovered his footing and caught the other boxer with a body blow.

B'Elanna, "are--"

Chakotay followed his last blow up with a left hand to the area where a face should have been.

Grandfather, "lost".

Harry spoke somewhat more urgently, "Do you understand?"

'Sassy was right.' Was his first thought. 'They are trying to communicate.' Answering, he agreed. "Yes, we are far from home." He kept his footwork and his hands in motion as he spoke. "We are lost."

Now that he was listening, the communication was able to speed up although it still came in the clipped fashion as before. His grandfather began, "Our home is here."

Janeway appeared next. " In chaotic space."

"Hang in there, son," Boothby called to Chakotay. "Protect your head!"

"I understand!" he shouted back, grunting from a couple of hard blows.

Doc, "We are--"

Neelix, "Too alien for you. "

He staggered his opponent with a good combination.

Tom, "We are too strange."

Harry, "For you."

Chakotay tried to make the appropriate response. "Maybe we're the ones who are too alien...too strange."

His grandfather returned, "If you stay--"

Tuvok appeared, "In chaotic space--"

The EMH, "You'll be destroyed."

"We know that, but we can't navigate," he tried to make the aliens understand. "Our sensors don't work in your space."

Boothby gave him some encouragement. "Twenty more seconds, son. Hang in there."

Seven spoke next. "Your sensors must be realigned."

"How can I?" Chakotay demanded.

His grandfather, "Your mind must be realigned."

Kid Chaos rocked him with a hard blow to his head.

The Doctor repeated, "Realigned, your mind must be realigned."

The bell rang. "End Round One."

Chakotay returned to his corner, his gloved hands covering his head in pain. "Get them out, I can't take any more punches!"

"What's wrong?" Sassy moved up beside him. He didn't look good.

He practically whimpered. "They're trying to realign my mind."

Pulling at his hands, she implored him. "Stop fighting."

"I can't, they'll destroy me!"

She forced his eyes up to hers. "They only want to communicate, to help us."

"You talk to them," Chakotay retorted.

"They want you."

"Why?" It was too hard, too many voices, too many faces.

Sassy kept her voice even. "Because you're the only one they can reach, the only one with the gene."

"The crazy gene," he grumbled.

Holding his head firmly, she tried to persuade him. "Seek strength that you may triumph over your greatest enemy, yourself." After offering her husband some ancient wisdom of their people, she continued. "The aliens are trying to speak to you, and the only thing keeping you from understanding them is your own fear."

"I don't want to know," Chakotay turned and walked away.

"But we have to know." Catching up to him, she grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. "If you don't let them in, we're all going to die. Allow yourself to hear them for just a few moments. Do it for me."

He could barely voice his fear. "What will happen to me...when they're done?"

Sassy traced his tattoo, wishing that she could erase all of the uncertainly and terror that his face held. "You'll be with me on Voyager, surrounded by friends."

"I can't understand them," he hedged.

"You will," she insisted.

Chakotay grabbed Sassy, holding her tightly, an anchor in the chaos overwhelming him. "It's too fast, I can't keep up with them."

Snuggled against the solid warmth of his chest, she offered a suggestion. "Try to focus on one word at a time."

It was easier to think with his wife in his arms, she completed him in so many ways. Suddenly, he was naked. He stripped off her clothes and lowered them both to the ground.

"Chakotay?" This wasn't exactly the ideal time, or place if there were aliens watching.

He covered her mouth with his fingers. "Shhh, I just need this, please." Her body felt so warm and welcoming, every luscious curve of her tawny skin pressed against him.

"Let them in." Sassy could feel his urgency and just went along with his demands. "Don't be afraid, I'm right here." His large, strong hands were stroking her feverishly, an erotic thrill shooting through her in spite of everything. She remembered the intensity of their consummation following their wedding. "Your spirit is strong. Let them in."

"Too many words," Chakotay gasped. The confusion was clearing, the chaos beginning to subside. "18th gradient, trimetric fracture."

"Keep going," Sassy encouraged him.

Chakotay held on to the connection. "We have to modify our deflector. We have to induce a paralateral rentrillic trajectory." It was all so clear, he understood everything. Leaving the vision quest, he bolted out the door, still in the uniform he'd been wearing when he'd entered the vision hours earlier. "I can make the adjustments. I have to get to the bridge. I don't know how much longer I can keep it in my mind."

Still in her own vision, she was startled to be handed her clothing by her grandmother. "I thought I saw you earlier, what are you doing here?"

"Looking for you." The old woman was dressed in a very traditional Inihasa outfit with ornate beadwork. "I thought I heard you coming earlier, but you disappeared."

Dressed once again, Sassy stood. "I was interrupted in my meditation." It was so good to see a familiar face again, even if it was only along the dream path. She embraced her grandmother, holding her for a long time. She hadn't even imagined that such a long journey on the dream path was possible.

Finally, her grandmother pulled back. "I knew you hadn't crossed over. I've been looking for you since you disappeared."

A bench appeared next to them and they sat down. There was so much that she wanted to tell her grandmother. "My path took me far away, to my soulmate. He's Chamusi and the Sky Spirits brought us together, joined our souls and sent me to his ship--Voyager, the one that was lost in the Delta Quadrant." Holding her palm up, she displayed her wedding ring markings as she began the story of the past few months of her life.

...

Chakotay burst onto the bridge, struggling to hold onto the information he'd been given.

"What happened?" Janeway stood, turning around at the entrance of her First Officer.

"Sassy reached me, explained," he wasted no time commandeering the ops console. "Move over, Harry."

Harry looked to his captain for an indication.

"They showed me how to get out," Chakotay tried to explain. "Out of the way!" He pushed Harry aside.

"You made contact? Were they friendly? What did they say?" In spite of the situation, curiosity about a first contact leapt to the forefront.

"There's no time--if we stay we'll be destroyed. We must be altered." He was starting to lose the information they had given him.

"Let him work," Janeway motioned Ensign Kim to move.

Tuvok was monitoring his actions from tactical. "He's recalibrating the deflector dish and routing it through the sensor array."

"It must be altered," Chakotay reiterated. "Stay and we'll be destroyed. Activate the deflector--maximum amplitude. Bring sensors on-line," he ordered.

Looking to Janeway for confirmation, the Vulcan complied at her nod of assent.

Reviewing the sensor readings from the secondary display, Harry double-checked the readings. "I don't know how, but the sensors have found us a course."

"Maximum impulse, now," Chakotay yelled to the helm.

Tom questioned the decision. "Captain, if that course is wrong we could breach our hull."

Hesitating only briefly, acknowledging to herself as microfractures began forming on the hull that they were out of options, "Engage."

Everyone took a deep breath as Voyager leapt forward, out of chaotic space and back into normal space.

Waiting only long enough to confirm that the ship was safe, Chakotay collapsed to the deck, exhausted.

...

As Sassy finished relating the story of her wedding ceremony and her new life--and love--aboard Voyager, her grandmother observed. "Your heart has led you to a path that is obviously very fulfilling to you."

"Oh yes, it has. I wish you could meet him."

"Was that him earlier?" The old woman had a big smile on her face as she referred to the tall, dark and handsome man with the rather impressive physique that her granddaughter had been consorting with.

In spite of herself, Sassy blushed. "Yes, but that was something of a unique situation. I'm afraid you didn't see him at his best."

"On the contrary, my dear. He looked yummy." Laughing aloud at the horrified look on Ceshlyta's face, she patted the younger woman's hand. "He has a strong spirit, child. He showed great strength in the face of greater fear."

"How is everyone back home?" More homesick than she had been in a while, she thought about all of the family that she'd left behind. Was it her imagination, or did a strange look cross the old woman's face?

"Fine . . . they performed the parting ritual for you. I wouldn't participate--I knew you hadn't begun that journey yet." Picking up the hand wearing the ringed bracelet, her grandmother fingered the stones. "They have also performed the parting ritual for me. I have passed but I could not cross over to that path without first finding you, my precious granddaughter."

A lump formed in her throat. "No . . . you can't. I never got to say goodbye." Sassy gripped the hand holding hers tighter as if to keep her from going.

"That's why I'm here."

"I need you, grandmother." Tears welled up in her eyes.

The old lady smiled gently and stroked the younger woman's head. "I have taught you all that I can. You do not need me any longer," she assured the distraught younger woman.

"Grandmother, please don't go. There's so much I still need to talk to you about, so much I . . . " Her pleas were stopped short.

"I cannot remain in-between, you know that. I must begin my next journey; besides, your husband awaits you out there." Referring to reality, the old woman stood. "I will send my spirit guide back to let your mother know where you are." She drew her granddaughter up to stand in front of her. "My stubborn, sassy starlight, you have followed your heart and sacrificed much. You have also gained much. Your Chakotay is a fortunate man and I could tell that he knew that with his whole heart and soul. Your union has my blessing and may you know a lifetime of happiness along your new path."

Sassy was weeping freely as her grandmother kissed her cheek and walked away along a misty path.

Chakotay entered their quarters after being discharged from Sickbay. The gene that had been activated had somehow returned to its dormant state as soon as they'd left chaotic space. He felt relieved and wanted to share the good news with his wife. He'd also gotten a couple of days off and was looking forward to spending some quality time with her. The lights were still down when the door opened and Sassy was still sitting cross-legged on the floor with the akoonah in her hands. Alarm jolted through him -- she'd used the akoonah to make the journey to find him, she might not be able to get out of the induced, altered state of consciousness. Kneeling beside her he reached to remove the device from her hands when he realized that she was already out of the vision. She was crying, her shoulders shaking with soft sobs.

A hand on her face prompted her to open her eyes. Her husband was beside her, a worried expression on his face as he gently wiped tears from her cheek. She dropped the akoonah and threw herself into his arms.

"What's wrong, sweetheart?" He stroked her hair and rocked them gently.

After she had cried herself out, she sniffled and pulled back. "My grandmother, I saw her in my vision. She came to find me . . . she's dead and came to say goodbye before she crossed over." Her brown eyes still glistened with unshed tears.

"I'm so sorry."

"I'd like to perform the parting ritual for her," Sassy looked into his eyes, an unspoken plea on her lips.

Dropping a kiss on the top of her head, there was no hesitation on his part. "Let me gather up my medicine bundle and we can do it right now--if you want me here."

"Thank you," her breathing was still ragged from the crying. She retrieved a pouch of powdered herbs from her bedside table and several candles. "Could you get the aloe plant from the window ledge, please?"

In the main room, she placed the candles in a circle. "She liked you, what she saw of you on the dream path, anyway." Chuckling through her grief, she relayed. "She thought you were yummy." Sassy slipped the bracelet off and traced the four chains connecting the ring and bracelet. "She gave our union her blessing." Laying the bracelet in the center of the circle, she explained. "The bracelet is my only physical connection to my family and my heritage. The plant represents my grandmother--she taught me gardening and herblore." A sigh escaped her lips as she reminisced. "The last time I performed this ritual was with the rest of my family in the Zen garden for my great-grandfather. I went home from college for the ceremony. We used his katana sword to represent him. He had taught my father to use the katana as a child and my father handed that knowledge down to me when I was young--that's how I got started in fencing."

"You miss your family." It wasn't a question.

"There are times when I feel very alone here on Voyager--isolated from everything I've ever known," came the soft admission. "But I don't regret choosing this path, I don't regret choosing you." Sprinkling the powder over the candles, she nodded at the candle-lighter that Chakotay held up. "I'm glad you're here with me."

The candles sparked and ignited, sending off a flickering light in the darkened quarters.

Sassy remembered one other thing. "She's going to send her spirit guide to let my family know about my new path."

"I didn't know you could do that."

"It requires an intimate connection between spirits, but it can be done." That, at least, was a balm to her heartache. "The distance between here and there is too great, even along the dream path, for someone on a vision quest to make the journey but a spirit that has passed can travel the dream path much longer."

The candles gave off a pungent odor amid the smoke as the powder ignited. They sat across from each other, on opposite sides of the circle.

Chakotay began the ritual. "Akoochimoya, we are far from the sacred places of our grandfathers."

Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Sassy continued the prayer. "We ask the spirits of our ancestors to welcome a worthy and honorable spirit--Aurelle, my grandmother." Tears began streaming down her cheeks once again. Her voiced choked up, she just couldn't say the words.

Picking up where she'd left off, he made the traditional requests. "May the path beyond be gentle under her feet. May her ancestors prepare a place for her at their fire that she never know cold or loneliness. May she know peace in a place beyond pain or hunger."

Sassy collected herself to offer the final part of the prayer. "May the wisdom of her life and the kindness of her heart enrich us who remain behind and the brightness of her spirit ever illuminate our way."

FINIS