Disclaimer: All characters, vessels, science, the original plot, and dialogue belong to Paramount with the exception of Sarah Janeway, the new parts of the plot, and anything else that is my creation.
Summary: Having her young daughter with her aboard Voyager creates a complex set of responsibilities and challenges for Captain Janeway. They and the crew work at adjusting to life in the Delta Quadrant...
Chronology: Season one, episode thirteen "Cathexis"
Pairings: None right now.
Rating: T for situations and probably some mild cursing.
Author's Note: I am SO sorry once again. I really had hoped to get this up much earlier, but one thing after another got in the way, or I suffered from a lack of inspiration, or my laptop crashed for the umpteenth time. Grr. I'm also now taking two intensive writing classes, plus I'm the TA for a class, plus I have a psych class. So it's not like I'll have more free time anytime soon. Oddly enough, though, all the pressure lately has inspired me to start writing again with intensity! So keep your fingers crossed that it'll continue!
I had forgotten how much work it took to try and strike a balance between Captain Janeway being captain-ly and motherly. Hopefully I managed to make it work in this update. Unfortunately, I'm also an idiot and a terrible Voyager fan—I completely skipped over the episode "Emanations" and didn't realize it until now. I'm going to work it back in as the next episode, playing with chronology if I have to. Please bear with me.
As always, thank you so much for reading!
Kathryn Janeway sat on the end of her daughter's biobed, overjoyed to finally have her daughter back, more or less. The best theory they'd come up with to describe her sudden recovery was the fact that she'd regained consciousness at the same time that the phototonic lifeform from the protostar had returned Harry, Tuvok, and Chakotay. They'd hypothesized that the lifeform had further reciprocated their good will of the return of its brethren by healing the damaged individual it had sensed aboard the ship.
There was only so much it could do, though. While Sarah Janeway was now awake and talking, some of the damage to nervous system persisted and hampered her breathing, as well as her ability to walk. So she was confined to Sickbay, but she was able to talk and in decent spirits and Kathryn was ecstatic.
The captain realized she'd been distracted and looked back down at her daughter. "Sorry sweetie. What is it?"
"When can I get out of here? I'm so bored!"
Kathryn smiled. She'd expected her child to panic when she realized she couldn't walk, but while the girl had been upset, she'd pretty quickly taken it in stride, glad to be back amongst the conscious. She spent her time in Sickbay with books and movies and plenty of visitors, many members of the crew grateful to have the 'little mascot' back. But she was still four years old and full of energy with no way to release it.
"The Doctor's working hard to make you better, but it's going to take a while, ok?" She couldn't bring herself to say that their best hope for her full recovery was still to contact the Kazon.
Sarah began to say something, but instead broke into a fit of short wheezy breaths. Her mother rubbed her back as she coughed several times and finally managed to get it under control. Kathryn reached for one of the hyposprays the Doctor left nearby for such occurrences, but Sarah shook her head.
"I'm ok this time, mama."
Kathryn was about to ask her a question when she was interrupted by Harry Kim's voice over the comm system.
"Bridge to Captain Janeway."
"Go ahead, Mr. Kim."
"I've got Commander Chakotay's and Mr. Tuvok's shuttlecraft on long range sensors but they're not responding to our hails. The shuttle's been badly damaged. I'm reading multiple hull fractures."
"Two, but they're very faint."
"Beam them to Sickbay as soon as they're in range," she responded.
Sarah's face was suddenly frightened.
Her mother rested a hand on her arm and spoke in a low, even tone. "Sarah, we don't know what happened yet. You need to stay calm while we work on it, ok?"
She nodded, her eyes wide like a doe's.
Kathryn headed towards the main part of Sickbay, pulling closed a curtain they'd installed.
It took several minutes, but finally after her two crewmembers had been beamed into the room and examined, the Doctor straightened up from where he stood over Chakotay and announced, "They've each taken a blast to the head by some kind of energy discharge." He turned to Kes and added, "Cardial stimulator." She gave it to him, and he rested it on Chakotay's chest. "Mr. Tuvok has a serious concussion but it's nothing I can't handle. As for Commander Chakotay, all of the bioneural energy has been extracted from his brain." The hologram's face was grimmer than usual.
"Extracted?" the captain asked, incredulous.
"Yes, almost as if someone drained the energy from every single axon and dendron right down to the synapses. I can keep his heart beating and I can keep him breathing, but other than that there's nothing else I can do. He's brain-dead."
She could only stare at his prone form on the biobed as her entire being was enveloped in a numbing shock of sadness. To get him back, only to lose him again so quickly…
"Mama?" a small voice timidly called from behind the curtain.
She pretended she didn't hear. What could she say?
When Tuvok regained consciousness, he relayed what had happened. "The attack lasted no more than a few seconds but it was highly effective. I feel Commander Chakotay and I are fortunate to be alive."
"What happened with him?" Kathryn couldn't help but use a slightly softer tone than she normally would, despite her resolve to remain a professional leader. She was still trying to wrap her mind around the shocking reality of the situation.
"We had completed our trade mission with the Ilidarians. We were on course to the rendezvous point when we encountered a dark matter nebula. As we began a routine analysis, an unidentified ship emerged and attacked our shuttle."
"Any idea why?"
"No. They would not respond to our hails. We were hit by an energy discharge which penetrated our shields and filled the cabin. Commander Chakotay lost consciousness immediately and I was barely able to activate the auto-pilot before I was overcome as well."
"And the alien ship?"
"The last image I saw was the ship going back into the nebula. The details are difficult to remember."
"Can you tell me anything about the energy discharge—its modulation or phase distribution?"
"No, there was no time for detailed analysis. However, the shuttle's sensors may have recorded information that could be helpful. I will download the sensor logs."
Kathryn shook her head, still at a loss. "Why would someone want to extract his bioneural energy?"
"I don't know, but if I'm to have any hope of reviving him I must know precisely how his neurons were depleted. It'd be a great help if I could examine the weapon."
She bit her lip in resolve and nodded. "We're going back to that nebula, to try and find the ship that attacked you." She tapped her comm badge. "Janeway to bridge. Mr. Paris, prepare to lay in a new course. Mr. Tuvok will provide you with the coordinates."
She indicated that Tuvok that he should follow her to the bridge, and added, "We'll keep you posted, Doctor."
She still had not told her daughter anything.
Tuvok examined the analysis readouts from the shuttle with the captain. "The energy discharge overloaded the shuttlecraft's central computer core. All sensor data has been erased."
She nodded with a frown. "Lieutenant Torres is in Sickbay now. When she reports, tell her to go over those damaged sensor logs with a fine tooth-comb to see if she can reconstruct any of the data."
She turned to another screen. "Well, this is going to make things a little more difficult. I've been using the long-range sensors to analyze the nebula you discovered. It's sending out strong electromagnetic radiation. We won't be able to scan inside it. You know, it sounds to me like a perfect hiding place."
"I don't like the idea of going in there blind. Let me see if I can reconfigure the sensors to a multiphasic bandwidth." She tapped the panels, trying different controls. Her frown grew deeper the more she played with them.
"Is there a problem?"
"I've lost all sensor contact with the nebula… I don't understand. Wait a minute. We've altered course." Kathryn faced her helmsman from where she sat. "Mr. Paris?"
"Our new heading is 121 mark 6. We've completely come about, captain. But it wasn't me," he insisted.
"Mr. Kim, check the navigational computer. Who ordered the course change?"
The young ops officer did a quick check. "According to my readings, the command was issued from the conn."
"I'm telling you: it wasn't me, and the helm controls are working perfectly—no sign of a malfunction."
"Ensign, transfer helm control to your station and reset our original course."
"Course laid in."
Kathryn left her seat to stand at Tom's right shoulder. She did a quick visual survey of the control and didn't see anything immediately amiss. "Mr. Paris, I want you to run a full diagnostic on the conn station. See if you can isolate the problem."
"Aye captain." Tom shook his head as the captain walked away. "Don't start with me," he warned the console. "You're making me look bad."
The console had no reply.
Sarah lay silently on her biobed in the back room of Sickbay, in no pain for the time being but frustrated with her inability to move. She hid it from her mother as best she could. She didn't want to upset her. But it was so hard to just lie there day after day. The Doctor had explained what had happened to her in terms as gentle and basic as possible, and she now knew that she could very well be in Sickbay for a long time. It made it harder, but she appreciated having the knowledge. The two forces within her, the almost-baby and the almost-adult, were grappling again, and she sort of retreated into a third persona to wait it out.
She rolled over on her side, ignoring the odd and slightly panicky sensation she experienced when her legs didn't want to cooperate, and tucked her hands under her head. A little discomfort prickled her stomach, and this time it wasn't a physical thing. Sarah wondered why her mother hadn't said anything about what was wrong with Chakotay. Even clapping her hands over her ears, she'd been able to hear all the yelling and running and panic when Tuvok and Chakotay had been beamed back from their disabled shuttle. She'd heard Tuvok's voice later, but not Chakotay's. There had been whispers of his name, so he wasn't dead, but there was a cloud of anxiety in the periphery of everyone's interactions. She hadn't had the courage to ask the Doctor what was going on when he came to check on her, and she wasn't sure he would have told her anything if she had.
The Sickbay doors whooshed open then shut, and she heard light footsteps on the carpet. They didn't approach the back room or the office, and she didn't hear a voice or any medical equipment moving around, so she guessed someone had come in to visit Chakotay. She lay quietly, trying to still her breathing enough to hear the tiniest of noises in the other room. She felt a tightness in her chest for the commander, and a fear, and she suddenly really wanted to know what had happened. He'd been in to visit her right before the shuttle mission…
"Hey there," he smiled as he ducked into the back room and approached her biobed.
Sarah smiled and tried to sit up to greet him, giving up when a wheezing fit overtook her. The commander's face creased with concern and took one of the hyposprays from the tray next to bed and gently applied it her neck.
"You ok kiddo?"
She took a moment to allow the hyposprays effects to set in and drew in her several careful, slow, deep breaths. She nodded. "I'm ok. How are you?"
"Well, I'm going on a shuttle mission soon with Lieutenant Commander Tuvok."
"We're meeting with a race called the Ilidarians to do some trading. Lieutenant Torres needs some raw materials for Engineering and they were recommended to us by Neelix." He pulled a PADD out of his pocket and tapped the touchscreen. "Ilidaria's a beautiful planet, too." He held it out to her.
Sarah took the PADD and struggled to get to a better position to look at it. Chakotay reached out and gently slid a hand under her back, lifting her up to a sitting position and cradling her against his side with one arm. She whispered a 'wow' as she observed the slowly revolving image of a pastel green and blue and purple planet, the various colors beautifully bleeding into one another in thin bands. "What's all the purple?"
"Earth's vegetation is overwhelmingly green, but Ilidaria has a species of something sort of like grass that's the shade of purple and essential to the planet's ecosystem. It takes up almost forty-eight percent of the planet's surface and provides food for most of the planet's herbivores, a source of income for thirty percent of the planet's inhabitants, and a habitat for some of the most unique creatures in the system."
She smiled. "It's pretty!"
Chakotay smiled at her enthusiasm. "I thought so too."
They looked at the pictures some more together, and Sarah asked, "When will you be back?"
"I don't think it'll take too long. Maybe a day or two."
Sarah tried not to look disappointed, but didn't hide it very well. Besides her mother and the Doctor, Chakotay was her most frequent visitor.
Chakotay smiled reassuringly and patted her back. "Maybe it won't even take that long. Here, I have something for you."
"Close your eyes and hold your hands."
She complied, smiling excitedly. "What is it?"
He laughed. "Hold on." He reached into his pocket and placed a small black object in her cupped palms. "Ok, open your eyes."
She opened them and brought the object close to her face to examine it. It was a small, black polished stone, carved into a bear standing on four paws. "Wow. It's so real."
"Do you like it?"
"I love it. It's so pretty. What's it for?"
"The bear is a protector, a symbol of strength." He tipped his head down to meet her eye level. "I know things look difficult, but you've done such a good job of holding on and being brave. This bear is a reminder of what you're capable of, and the fact that you aren't alone. You have many protectors."
The commander smiled. "Like me."
"Thank you Chakotay." Sarah petted the bear's tiny head. "I'll remember that."
Less than twenty-four hours later, he was laying on another biobed in Sickbay, silent, and from what she could surmise, very very sick. Tears prickled her eyes, but she bit down hard on her lower lip, forcing the sadness back down inside, heeding the Doctor's warning that crying would be difficult on her lungs and could likely trigger another attack and aggravate the damage to her nerves, possibly sending her into a relapse and coma. He'd tried to put it delicately, and though he didn't do very well, she understood his concerns and didn't want to slip back into that black oblivion she'd spent too much time in after that terrible day…
She suddenly heard the Doctor's voice out in the main section of Sickbay. "You might've asked before adorning my Sickbay with animal remains."
"It's a Medicine Wheel, a talisman used by Chakotay's tribe. He once showed me how it works," B'Elanna's voice replied. Sarah thought she knew what she was talking about, a soft brown piece of animal hide with an intricate wheel design painted on it in red and green and white and yellow. She had seen it in his quarters once or twice but had never known exactly what is was. "He said that if anything ever happened to him I should perform a special healing ritual. The wheel represents both the universe outside and the universe inside our minds as well. They believe each is a reflection of the other. When a person is sleeping or on a vision quest it's said that their soul is 'walking the Wheel', but if he's in a coma or near death it means that he's gotten lost. These stones are signposts to help point the way back." The engineer paused, before adding, "Not exactly standard medical procedure, I know, but..."
"You've placed the Coyote Stone at the crossroads of the Fifth and Sixth Realms," the Doctor replied. "Which would divert Commander Chakotay's soul—that is, his consciousness—into the Mountains of the Antelope Women, according to his tradition an extremely attractive locale. He might not want to leave."
She heard the soft clink of a stone being hastily moved. "How do you know about the Medicine Wheel?" B'Elanna demanded.
"It's my business to know about a variety of medical treatments, including those based on psycho-spiritual beliefs. Unfortunately in this case, the Medicine Wheel won't be much help. There's just not enough left of his mind to work with," the Doctor added, his voice gravely serious.
Sarah felt her stomach drop and a cold settled into her body. It was worse than she'd thought, and as another wave of tears built in her eyes, she reached up for the stone bear she kept at the head of her biobed.
Out in the main area, she could barely hear B'Elanna whisper, "Find your way home, commander."
Several decks away Kes, sat on her bed, reading a book and trying to keep a steady stream of positive thoughts going for the commander's and Sarah's recovery. The whole ship seemed subdued.
Suddenly, something seemed to brush past her ear, like a tiny breeze or whisper. But she was alone and the air circulator was off. She sat up and looked around anyway. "Hello? Is someone here?"
The longer she looked around, instead of the usual dissipation of the strange feeling one would expect, the more she felt like something was watching her, someone just out of reach…
Someone was watching, bouncing around the room, not seeing clearly, but trying desperately to get her attention.
Kes took her concerns to Neelix in the kitchen, where he made her sample bits of this and that as he cooked and listened. "It's like sensing some kind of presence, as if someone else was here."
Neelix didn't sound fully convinced. "Your telepathic senses again. Is this like last week when you went into Sickbay and you knew Lieutenant Hargrove had been there only he left hours before?"
"It's not the same. That was like, like hearing faint music from a faraway place. When I was in my quarters just now, it was almost tangible. I felt like there was someone in the room with me."
"Who was it?" he demanded, sounding almost jealous.
"I don't know," Kes replied softly. "A presence. That's all I can say."
Kathryn Janeway sat determinedly in the captain's chair on the bridge, ignoring the empty seat beside her and forcing her emotional and physical tiredness into a hidden place. Her daughter and first officer weren't the only ones depending on her, and her performing at less than one hundred percent wasn't going to help any of them.
Lieutenant Pete Durst addressed her from behind the railing to her left. "Warp engines still within normal parameters, captain."
Before she could respond, the ship jolted and Lieutenant Durst was forced to grab hold of the railing. She checked her monitor and frowned. "We just changed course again, Mr. Kim!"
"Our new heading is 121 mark 6," the ensign reported, as confused as she.
"Get us back on course!"
"The helm's not responding. I'm locked out."
Tuvok moved from Tactical, quickly replaced by Lieutenant Ayala, and stood next to Ensign Kim to investigate the Ops station. "This command station has been blocked," he reported.
Kathryn tried not to become frustrated. "From where?"
"The lockout originated on deck 12 section B7: navigational control."
"See if you can reestablish control."
At that moment, Tom Paris arrived back on the bridge, a little frustrated himself. "I've checked every ODN junction in the helm control network and I still can't find the problem."
"It seems we've developed a new problem while you were gone," Kathryn informed him, as Tuvok announced, "Helm control reestablished."
She stood and nodded. "Put us back on course for the nebula." Tapping her commbadge, she requested, "Janeway to Torres."
"Who's in the navigational control?"
"No one right now. I was there this morning and Lieutenant Paris was in there just a few minutes ago."
Kathryn turned to look at Tom, who looked bewildered and laughed slightly. "That's not true."
She frowned. "Are you certain about that, B'Elanna?"
"Positive. I just saw him leave about five minutes ago."
"Janeway out." She turned to look at her conn officer again. "Explanation, Mr. Paris?"
Tom shook his head, still looking confused and now looking frustrated again. "I passed by the navigational control on my way back from the Jefferies tube but that's all. Am I being accused of something here?"
"We are merely following a line of deductive reasoning, lieutenant," Tuvok corrected. "Both deviations from our course were apparently issued from locations where you were working."
Tom's brow creased in irritation. "I'm telling you: I didn't do it."
"Well," Kathryn said, keeping her tone light. "I'm willing to rule out mutiny for the time being. I believe you, Mr. Paris." She slipped into a more serious tone. "But we have to consider the possibility that you might be having a problem with your memory. I want you to go down to Sickbay, have the Doctor check you out."
He nodded, reassured by her belief. "All right."
He looked up, and she signaled that he should accompany Tom.
After the two men left the bridge, she sank back into her chair, hoping against logic that everything would fix itself, and quickly.
"Neurotransmitter's at normal, synaptic functions stable," Sarah could hear the Doctor say. She blinked away sleep and tried to listen hard for who he was scanning, hoping someone had joined them in Sickbay. She hadn't had visitors in quite a while, not even her mother. She's busy, she reminded herself, but the sad feeling in her chest lingered.
Whoever was out there must be fidgety, because the Doctor added, a little irritably, "Hold still. This is an extremely sensitive scan."
"What I wouldn't give to see good old Doc Brown."
Tom! She smiled to herself. One of her other favorite people.
"What?" the Doctor replied, distracted.
"Doc Brown. Lollipops in the waiting room, no holocomic books more than six months old, house calls. I caught a bad cold one time when I was nine years old. The Doctor whipped up a pot of garlic soup and brought it over himself."
Just hearing Tom's friendly tone lifted her spirits, and she hoped she'd have a chance to talk to him before he left.
The Sickbay doors swished open, and she then heard Tuvok's voice. "Your report, Doctor?"
"I have still have a series of tests to perform but, other than his irritating lapses into nostalgia, I see nothing wrong with him."
Wait, what do they think is wrong with Tom?
"I guess you're going to have to round up another suspect, Tuvok."
"On the contrary, lieutenant. I ran a forensic sweep of the navigational control. I found traces of your DNA on the console."
"The cellular residue you left behind is less than twelve hours old. Do you still wish to maintain your innocence?"
"To be honest, I don't know what to think." Tom sound utterly confused.
"Perhaps my biomolecular scan will reveal something," the Doctor offered.
"Keep me informed, Doctor," Tuvok requested, and she heard him exit.
She listened hard, but only heard some further beeping from medical equipment and the occasional sarcastic comments of the Doctor and Tom. It sounded like maybe they'd finished, and she was getting ready to call out for Tom and hoping that he hadn't somehow slipped out, when he appeared at the foot of the biobed.
"Tom!" She struggled to get upright, reaching out to him with more desperation than she'd thought she felt.
"Hey Shadow." He helped her up and leaned against the biobed, using one arm to support her like Chakotay had. He looked a little shocked at the way she clung to him. "Hey, are you ok?"
"Tom, what's going on?" Her voice trembled. "No one will tell me anything. I haven't seen my mom all day. Where is she? What happened to Chakotay? Why are you in Sickbay? Why are you a suspect?" She felt tears trail down her cheeks and her chest begin to shake, and despite the Doctor's warnings, she decided she didn't care and let herself cry. "Please Tom," she begged.
"Hey…hey." He rubbed her back awkwardly. "Easy kid. It's ok."
"It's…not!" She forced out through her tears and beginning lung spasms. "What…happened?"
"Ok, ok. Look, your mo—I mean, the captain's all right. She's just really busy. She's trying to deal with a lot of navigational problems and a nebula and some weird things that are going on with the crew. I'm sure she'll be down as soon as she gets a chance. She's trying to keep everybody safe, you know?"
Sarah nodded reluctantly. "What…weird th-things?"
"Well, I seem to be forgetting some things that aren't normal. That's why I'm here. It's not a big deal, I don't think. The Doc will figure it out."
She nodded again, calming slightly with the acquisition of information. "Wh-what…about Ch-Chakotay?"
Tom cleared his throat and looked away. "Well, uh…"
"P-please!" She coughed hard several times, but managed to force it under temporary control. "T-tell…me!"
He sighed and patted her back, clearly not sure how to help with her attack. "Ah…well…Um, Tuvok and Chakotay were attacked with a weapon we don't really know anything about. Somehow…the aliens that attacked them…well, the weapon somehow drained all Chakotay's brain activity. He's…he's basically brain dead." Tom immediately bit his lip, regretting his choice of words. "Do you know what that means?"
She nodded, and answered with a quiet, "Yeah." She seemed a little calmer still.
"The Doctor's doing everything he possibly can to fix it," Tom hurriedly assured her. "And you know he's good."
She nodded again, upset but thankful someone was finally giving her some answers. Suddenly, it seemed like all the air in the room had disappeared and she couldn't draw any into her lungs, no matter how she tried, and her left arm began shaking and she couldn't make it stop. Her face contorted in effort and fear.
"Doc!" Tom yelled, trying to look around the corner for the hologram. "Doc, we need you over here now!"
The Doctor came hurrying out of his office, looking more frazzled than usual. When he saw what was going on, the frazzled look disappeared and he immediately started grabbing instruments. "What happened?"
"We were just talking," Tom explained, beginning to feel a little frantic. He went to move out of the way, but the Doctor grabbed his sleeve and yanked him back.
"Hold her up. The nerves responsible for communicating with her lungs are misfiring again. I'm going to re-stimulate them, but she needs every bit of help she can get—lying down is too hard on her respiratory system." He pressed a hypospray to her neck and peered into her eyes. He noticed the redness and tears and sighed, trying not to be short with her. "Sarah, remember what I told you. I realize it's very difficult, but you just can't cry. It wreaks havoc on your respiratory system." He moved her arm in several different directions and felt the continued quivering. He grabbed another hypospray and gave her a second injection. "What were you discussing that made her cry?"
Tom flinched at the wording. "She…she wanted to know about Commander Chakotay."
The Doctor's head shot up at that, looking shocked and irate. "And you told her?"
"Look, Doc," he protested, trying to keep his hands on Sarah's shoulders comfortingly as she started to draw breath again. "Nobody's telling her anything and she's scared."
"So you add to her fears and trigger an attack?"
"I'm not exactly great with kids, Doc! What would you have done?"
"I'm—g-glad he told me!" Sarah insisted through great gasps of air.
"Stop talking," the Doctor instructed, but in a much gentler tone. "It's too hard on your system. You have to rest for a while." Looking at Tom, he added, "I don't know what I would have done lieutenant. Just…try not to distribute that type of information without consulting someone like myself, or her mother."
"Yeah…" The Doctor signaled that they could allow Sarah to lay back down, and Tom helped ease her back. "I'm sorry Sarah," he added. "I really shouldn't've…"
She shook her head, releasing him of any responsibility, and gave him a smile and squeezed his hand.
He smiled back, and turned to the Doctor. "Can I talk to you a sec?"
The Doctor nodded as he ran a final tricorder scan on the small Janeway girl. "Try to sleep and stay still," he instructed her.
"Hang in there Shadow," Tom added, smiling, before he left. He followed the Doctor into his office.
"What is, Mr. Paris? I'm very busy."
"Look, it's probably not my place, but…is there any way you can get the captain down here? I think part of the reason Sarah was so upset is she hasn't seen her mother since this morning, right before Chakotay and Tuvok were beamed in here. She told me that's the last time she saw her."
"The captain is an even busier person, Mr. Paris." The Doctor sifted through a stack of PADDs. "I'm sure she's perfectly capable of determining of how often she can and should visit her child."
He paused for a moment. "You've got one terrified and confused kid in there, Doc. I know as well as anybody she's a genius for her age, but that doesn't change the fact that she's still only four years old. She's dealing with a serious set of circumstances, and I think she needs more emotional support than she's getting right now. I don't want to seem like I'm suggesting anyone is being negligent…I mean, I don't mean to overstep my bounds…but if you say something…"
The Doctor's brow furrowed. "Mr. Paris, I believe you are dangerously close to suggesting negligence and overstepping your bounds."
Tom nodded slowly, biting his lip.
After a moment, the hologram's countenance softened slightly. "However, lieutenant," he added in a low tone. "You do make a valid argument. I will…see what I can do."
On the bridge, Captain Janeway stood with Tuvok at his station, so intent on the monitors in front of them that she barely noticed Lieutenant Durst re-entering the bridge from the turbolift.
"I believe I've found the ion trail of the ship that attacked us." He called up a new image, an orange grid overlaid on a black background. Three orange dots appeared, seemingly at random, and an orange line followed them, snaking around them in a serpentine pattern. "It leads directly into the dark matter nebula. This is the nebula, and this is the ion trail. As you can see, their flight path is highly erratic."
"These planetoids inside the nebula," she mused. "They may be generating a dangerous gravitational effect like storm currents. The chances are they've mapped those currents and are taking the only safe way through."
"A reasonable assumption. I recommend we follow their exact flight path."
"Agreed. Lay in a course for—"
The ship's power suddenly went down, including the bridge lights. Kathryn stood stunned in the dark for a moment before the power came rushing back with an electronic swelling noise.
"Captain, we're dropping to impulse power," Ensign Kim announced from ops. "I'm reading a massive energy drain all over the ship, and the warp core is shutting down."
"Bridge to Engineering. Report," the captain said, tapping her commbadge. There was no reply, and she tried again. "Lieutenant Torres, please respond." Still nothing. "Mr. Kim, take the bridge. Tuvok, you're with me."
In Sickbay, Sarah lay alone still, clutching the stone bear Chakotay had given her, trying to nap. The effects of the attack from earlier had subsided finally, though she worried about how much longer it had taken for the hyposprays to do their job this time around.
Her worry was interrupted by a sudden prickling on the back of her neck. She thought she sensed a presence. "Hello?" she called out. Maybe someone had entered Sickbay and she'd just missed the sound of the doors. She pushed herself up on one elbow as far as she could. "Hello?" Tom must have been sleeping, and not even the Doctor answered—he must have been offline—but she could have sworn someone was there in the back part of Sickbay with her. The feeling didn't go away.
Kathryn strode into Engineering just behind Tuvok, tucking a few loose strands into the twist she'd pulled her hair back into that morning. She worked to re-route her frustration with the day's events into a simple sense of determination. "Torres, what's going on?"
"You've initiated an emergency warp core shutdown."
"What?" B'Elanna looked as shocked as the rest of them
Kathryn ducked under the railing and knelt next to the warp core, placing a hand on it. She suppressed a sigh as her fears were confirmed. "Too late. The warp core's offline. It'll take at least two hours to regenerate the dilithium matrix." To an ensign with short blond hair, she added, "Ensign, get the rest of the systems back online." She turned to her chief engineer. "Apparently, you've just crashed the main computer, locked out the Bridge and stopped this ship cold. Do you want to tell me why?"
With a look of confusion that was getting to be all too familiar, B'Elanna replied, "Captain, I don't know what you're talking about."
This time, she couldn't repress a sigh of frustration. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Sickbay to Captain Janeway."
She tapped her commbadge. "Go ahead."
"Captain, I have something you need to see…and…there's an issue with my other patient."
She immediately knew from the tone who he was talking about, and with a little thrill of fear and guilt, she realized she hadn't thought of her daughter in hours and hadn't returned to Sickbay since Chakotay and Tuvok had been beamed back on board. She'd never explained what was going on, hadn't even stopped by to check on her or say hello. She'd been busy, but it wasn't a good excuse for a mother to avoid her sick child all day.
"I'll be there immediately," she answered, placing the back of one finger to the bridge of her nose for a moment in frustration.
In Sickbay, the Doctor indicated parts of a screen to the captain and security officer. Sections of blue and green waves bracketed on either end in orange glowed at them from a black background, and he tapped commands into the console, magnifying and highlighting specific sections of the waves. "I found something, and you're not going to like it. This is Mr. Paris' memory engram for the past twenty-four hours. As you can see, it has a consistent and very distinctive modulation, except at 1350 hours. For one minute forty-seven seconds a different memory pattern appeared. 1350 hours is also the exact moment when Mr. Paris apparently tampered with navigational control."
At their disturbed faces, he added grimly, "It gets worse. In addition to that, there is another disruption at 1202 hours, the moment when he allegedly entered the new course at the helm. I also found there's an identical disruption in Lieutenant Torres' pattern at the moment that she shut down warp power. I should point out that this is a neuroelectrical signature, what I believe to be another brainwave that was superimposed on their own."
Tom sat up straighter on a nearby biobed. "Another brainwave? Whose?"
"I don't know. It has an unusual energy signature, one I've never seen before."
"Doctor, what are you saying?" Kathryn asked with an edge to her voice.
"One possible explanation, and the only one I can think of at the moment, is that an unknown alien entity momentarily took control of their minds."
The small group looked at each other for a moment, then Tuvok tapped his commbadge. "Intruder alert. All security personnel go to Condition Four." To the captain, he added, "Captain, it is possible that the intruder returned with us in the shuttlecraft."
"If you're right, and there is an alien here, it seems intent on preventing us from going back to the nebula. What's more, it seems to have the ability to jump from person to person. If that's true, it could be in any one of us, controlling our actions without us realizing it." Her frustration had evaporated, replaced with apprehension.
"Well, except for me," the Doctor added offhandedly.
Tuvok, Tom, and Kathryn all turned to him, realizing the significance of his statement.
"That's true," Tom said. "So far it's only affected organic beings. If it could control the computer and navigational controls directly, it would've done it already."
"Which means the Doctor is the only person on board we can trust at this moment." Kathryn surveyed the hologram seriously. "Doctor, until we have eliminated this alien presence, I can't take the risk that it could take over any of the senior officers. I'd like to transfer all command codes to you until further notice."
"What would that mean? That I'm in command?"
"No. But you will act as a failsafe. If you feel at any time that any of us are under the influence of the alien, you can countermand our orders and take control of the ship. Do you feel up to it?"
"Well, of course. I make life and death decisions every day."
"I feel better already," Tom joked sarcastically.
"Computer, transfer all command codes to the holographic doctor. Authorization Janeway 841-alpha-65."
"Command code transfer complete."
"Let's see if we can get the warp core back online ahead of schedule," she added to Tuvok. She made a move to leave with him, and the Doctor frowned at her, and she realized she'd almost left without checking in on Sarah. Again. She moved to head to the back of Sickbay, when Kes came hurrying into the room.
"Captain! I heard what's happened. I think you're right. There is an alien presence here. I've been sensing something unusual all day. I don't know how to describe it but I know there's something here."
"Do you know where?" she asked with a frown.
"No. Just that it's on the ship."
"Captain," Tuvok interjected. "Kes' telepathic abilities are undisciplined. If I could initiate a Vulcan mind meld with her, I may be able to help her focus those abilities to detect the alien more accurately."
"I'm willing to do that," Kes replied in her soft but determined way.
"Very well. Proceed, Mr. Tuvok," Kathryn instructed.
With a nod, the two of them headed out into the hall.
The alien presence that had been hovering around Sarah Janeway's biobed suddenly darted away, and chased after the Vulcan and the Ocampan.
Without waiting for further admonitions from the Doctor, or what she suspected were cloaked admonitions to avoid insubordination from Tom, she walked to the back of the room and entered the alcove-like area where her daughter's biobed was.
"Sarah?" she called tentatively.
The bundle of blankets shifted, and she could see her daughter with her thumb in her mouth, a habit she'd given up before her first birthday. Her eyes widened and she reached out. "Mama!"
"Hey baby," she said, trying to keep her voice from trembling. She lifted her daughter into her arms and cradled her against her chest. "I'm sorry."
"It's ok," came the muffled reply.
"No, it's not."
"You were busy." Her small voice poorly disguised the platitude.
"We both know that's no excuse." The captain held back tears as best she could. "I'm not doing so well with this splitting my time thing today, am I?" She tilted her daughter back so she could see her face.
"No, not really," the child admitted.
They shared a small laugh and hugged each other tightly again.
"Oh, Sarah, Sarah, Sarah," Kathryn whispered. "What am I going to do?"
"Your job," came the muffled response. "Just say hi sometimes. And let me know what's going on."
Her mother froze at that. "You mean what's happened with Chakotay?"
Sarah pushed herself up with a bit of a wheeze and nodded.
The captain pressed her lips together, trying to formulate a response.
"It's ok. Tom told me."
"Well, I made him tell me." Sarah nervously put her thumb back in her mouth and talked around it. "It's really hard, just being back here. I didn't know if Chakotay was…if he was just hurt or worse, and I didn't know if you were ok even, I hadn't seen you so long. I was worried and scared and all by myself. You have to be the captain first, but…now it's harder. Than before. When I wasn't…" Sarah rested her head back on her mother's shoulder, emotionally and physically exhausted.
"We'll figure something out baby," Kathryn assured her, a little startled at how young her daughter seemed. She knew she was only four, but since Seska's attack, and even a little before, her unusual abilities had mostly slipped away, along with some of her unnatural intelligence. New habits, like the thumb-sucking, had begun to emerge. It was disconcerting in more ways than one.
"Was someone here earlier?"
"You mean the Doctor? Or Tom?"
"No, someone all the way back here. I…it felt like someone was standing right here. But when I looked up, nobody was there. It was…really weird."
The captain wrapped her arms tighter around her daughter, as though she were trying to shield her. It sounded a lot like what Kes had been experiencing, and though she was almost grateful for a sign of her daughter's state of 'normal' emerging, she wanted that entity, if that's what it was, as far away from her child as possible.
"That is very strange," she said, rubbing Sarah's back and hating feeling like she was lying. "Very, very strange."
Lieutenant Durst and Harry Kim walked briskly along a corridor, phasers now clipped to their hips.
Harry instructed his partner, "The captain wants to seal off all critical areas of the ship, so make sure that access hatch to Jefferies tube A17 is secured."
"So what exactly are we securing against?" Durst asked.
"We're not sure yet, but we think it's some form of non-corporeal alien."
"Non-corporeal?" They stopped in front of a turbolift entrance and Harry entered a code to summon one. "That means it can probably move right through a bulk—"
Lieutenant Durst left his sentence unfinished as the turolift doors slid open and revealing the unconscious crumpled figures of Tuvok and Kes.
Harry immediately slapped his badge to activate the comm system. "Medical emergency, deck seven section thirteen alpha!"
"Captain's log, supplemental. It appears that Mr. Tuvok and Kes were hit by an unidentified energy discharge. Tuvok was not badly hurt but Kes is in a coma."
The senior officers sat around the table in the briefing room, listening to Tuvok fill them in on what had happened in the turbolift. "It was similar to the attack on the shuttlecraft. An energy discharge came through the bulkhead, filled the turbolift and hit both of us."
"We didn't pick up a discharge of any kind on the internal sensors," B'Elanna said with a slight frown.
"Perhaps this type of energy is beyond our sensor bandwidth."
"Perhaps, but that discharge had to come from somewhere."
"The most thorough scanning device we have on board is a magneton scanner. We could search the ship centimeter by centimeter," Tom suggested. After a pause he conceded, "But that wouldn't do much good. This alien could be anywhere at any time."
B'Elanna straightened in her chair. "But what if we could perform a magneton scan on the entire ship all at once."
"What do you suggest?" Kathryn asked.
"A magneton flash scan. We could reconfigure every sensor array on this ship to emit a single burst. It might be enough to illuminate any anomalous energy. Harry, what do you think?"
They all turned to face the ops officer, but he wasn't paying them any attention. He stared off into the space beyond the window of the briefing room. Tuvok stood and pointed a phaser in his direction, and B'Elanna pulled out a tricorder and began scanning him.
Harry suddenly noticed all the activity centered on him and started in surprise. "Whoa! What did I do?"
"Stay where you are, Mr. Kim," Tuvok instructed.
"I don't see anything unusual, but that doesn't mean anything," B'Elanna announced, looking over the tricorder readings.
"Mr. Kim, what were you doing just now?" Kathryn asked intently.
"I was just thinking. I was remembering an old study I saw about magneton scanners." He added, apologetically, "I guess my mind started to wander a bit."
Tuvok holstered his phaser and B'Elanna closed her tricorder as Kathryn spoke. "I'm very disturbed by what just happened here. We don't have any idea what occurs when someone is occupied by this alien presence. If we start pointing a finger every time somebody gets distracted it won't be long before outright paranoia starts sweeping the ship. Tuvok, B'Elanna, I want you to get started on that magneton flash scan. It's worth a try." Everyone present acknowledged her with a nod, and she finished with, "Dismissed."
As they filtered out of the room one by one, she surreptitiously rubbed at her temples. She'd thought she'd finally gotten a handle, however loose, on things, and then this development was tossed in her lap. She hoped, prayed, that they got out of this soon, because once again it felt like the crew or her daughter would end up with the short end of the stick. That won't happen, she told herself sternly. This isn't the Kobyashi Maru. There is a solution that doesn't cheat anyone out of anything, and I will find it. Because that's my job. She smiled as her daughter's words entered her thoughts. It's my job…
Back in Sickbay, Sarah half-listened to a new series of voices, dozing in and out. She new there was still trouble on the ship, that it was possibly getting worse, and that her mother would be away for quite a while longer, but she still felt better after their talk, knowing that they were on the same page.
"And that's not all. Ensign Parsons ordered his pejuta cold!" Neelix was continuing his paranoid jabber at the Doctor, who was attempting to tend to Kes, who Sarah could only surmise from snatches of conversation had been attacked and injured somehow.
"He always drinks it hot, hot!, with lemon. But not today. Today it's cold pejuta, hold the lemon!"
"Mr. Neelix, just because a man changes his drink order doesn't mean he's possessed by an alien," the Doctor answered irritably.
Sarah had to smile at that, but she wondered about all this talk about alien possession. She felt like they weren't telling her something again, but she tried to remind herself that maybe they didn't know much yet, or that they were trying to protect her. Still, it was frustrating and a little troubling.
"Nevertheless, don't you think you should scan him or dissect him or something? Just to make sure?"
"I could examine every crewmember you've mentioned so far, everyone on board for that matter, and it wouldn't do any good. From what we can tell, the alien can jump to person to person at will."
"Sounds to me like you're defending Ensign Parsons."
"I'm not defending him. I'm just pointing out that you're acting a little paranoid. In fact…one could say you're acting a little too paranoid."
That pushed Neelix to the point of offense. "Are you suggesting...that I could possibly be...? Doctor, I can assure you that not even an alien intruder could make me do anything to hurt Kes!" he sputtered.
"All I'm suggesting, Mr. Neelix, is that paranoia is only going to aggravate your already precarious emotional condition. Try to relax. I don't think Kes has suffered any permanent neurological damage. I'll let you know the moment I've had any success in reviving her."
"I'll be back as soon as you wake, dearest. Don't worry, you're in good hands. Thank you, Doctor."
She heard the doors swish.
"What are you doing?" the Doctor asked someone.
"I am reconfiguring the sensor relays on the ship," Tuvok replied. He had to have entered as Neelix had left. "This will only take a minute."
"Must you do it now? I'm in the middle of a treatment."
"I am sorry, Doctor. Captain's orders."
In the few minutes of ensuing quiet, Sarah tucked the hand clutching the bear to her chest. Strength and protection, she reminded herself. I just wish it could protect us all. With all the people coming into Sickbay, it would have been like a little party if everyone hadn't been unconscious or under investigation.
"How is she?" Tuvok said a few minutes later, his voice closer now.
"No irreparable damage," the Doctor responded. "In fact, her injuries are quite different from Commander Chakotay's. Her bioneural energy is completely intact, and I'm curious about these contusions on her neck and shoulder. They're not consistent with an energy discharge. They look more like wounds sustained during a physical struggle."
"Odd. There was no physical struggle that I can recall."
"I just don't understand it. The only thing these injuries come close to resembling is an extreme trauma to the trapezius nerve bundle. It's as though her nerve fibers have been ruptured…"
Sarah frowned, worried. She knew nothing about talking to the spirits like Chakotay did, but she fixed the image of the Medicine Wheel in her mind and stared at the bear in her palm. Protect us. Please.
Kathryn was working back and forth between a PADD and her personal computer when the door chime to her ready room rang. "Come in."
Tuvok entered the room and stood in front of her desk. "Lieutenant Torres and I will be ready to initiate the magneton scan in approximately two hours. You should be aware that it will be a high intensity burst. It will cause dizziness and disorientation in all the crewmembers, including myself, for several seconds."
She nodded, making a mental note to check with the Doctor about its effects on her daughter. "Make a shipwide announcement before you initiate the scan."
"Aye, captain. There is another matter of some concern. It appears that Kes' injuries were not caused by an energy discharge. The Doctor has found evidence that she was physically assaulted."
"Assaulted? But you weren't physically assaulted."
"That is correct."
"Is it possible that you inflicted her wounds?" She frowned in concern.
"Maybe you were inhabited by the alien at that point."
"Maybe it's possible. Perhaps I should have the Doctor run a neurological scan to see if I show a memory disruption."
"Agreed." She tapped her commbadge. "Janeway to Sickbay." There was no response. She tried another tactic. "Computer, activate Emergency Medical Holographic system."
"Unable to comply. The EMH program has been disabled."
"Disabled? By whom?"
Kathryn accessed the control panel on her desk, tapping in a series of commands. Her frown grew more pronounced. "The Doctor's initialization routine has been locked out. It's encrypted. I can't reactivate the program… It appears the lockout originated somewhere above deck four. Why would someone deactivate the Doctor?"
"The Doctor does hold the command codes to Voyager."
She stood and joined him in front of the desk. "Yes, but once he was deactivated the codes automatically reverted back to me."
"If we assume the alien could not take over a holographic doctor, then logically it would try to force the command codes back into a humanoid host."
"Me." She paused for a moment, and the significance of the thought process washed over them. "It's too dangerous for one person to retain the command codes at this point. I suggest we divide my command protocols into two code groupings."
"A sensible precaution."
"You would be the reasonable choice to hold the second grouping, if there's any such thing as a reasonable choice right now. The alien could occupy either one of us at any time."
"But presumably not both of us at the same time."
Kathryn nodded definitively and headed for the doors to the bridge. "I'll tell the bridge crew the plan. We'll all have to act as checks and balances for each other." She stepped onto the bridge just behind her security officer. She surveyed the crewmembers at their posts, then announced, "I want you all to be aware of something that's happened, something that I assume was due to alien."
Unnoticed by anyone, the disembodied alien presence she spoke of buzzed around the bridge ceiling, surveying them.
"The Doctor has been deactivated," she continued. "And we can't get him back online. I have decided to divide my command protocols—" There she trailed off, looking distant.
"Captain?" Tuvok inquired, turning.
At that, she suddenly drew back her fist and punched him squarely in the jaw.
The bridge erupted in chaos. Tuvok drew his phaser and aimed it at the captain, but she swiftly kicked it out of his hand. "Stun her! She's the alien!" he shouted, and Tom quickly pulled and fired his own phaser, hitting her in the chest. She fell to the deck, unconscious, but barely a moment later the presence apparently left her body and entered Harry Kim's. He stepped forward, but Tom was on the alert and punched him out. Then Durst raised his phaser and fired it at Tuvok who managed to duck the beam. Lieutenant Ayala tackled Lieutenant Durst, while Tuvok recovered his phaser and scrambled to his feet. He aimed his phaser in the general center of the bridge, set it to wide beam dispersal, and fired a single, wide encompassing shot that stunned them all.
The alien presence was forced out to find new prey.
Sarah was awakened from the first solid nap she'd had all day by the sound of many voices. In her half-sleeping haze, she thought for a second that maybe there was some sort of party going on in Sickbay.
That changed as she detected the serious tones of the voices, and the continued hissing of hyposprays. Oddly, she did not hear the Doctor's voice.
"That should do it, captain," she heard Tom say, and there was the hiss of a hypospray.
"Thank you, Mr. Paris. I feel better already." Mama?
She could hear movement, then her mother's voice again. "Any luck getting the Doctor back online?"
"Not yet. Whoever did this put up one hell of a roadblock. I'm going to have to break through at least six levels of encryption to access the holo-emitters," Harry Kim answered.
"How long is it going to take?"
"Two, maybe three hours."
"Torres to Janeway."
"Captain, can you come down to Engineering? There's something here I think you should see."
"Give me a few minutes and I'll be on my way. Janeway out." She heard her voice moving through the room. "Mr. Paris, you're our temporary medic until the Doctor returns. Ensign, I need you on the bridge." Her mother was suddenly standing at the foot of her biobed.
"Mama." Sarah rubbed at her eyes. "What's going on now?"
Kathryn took a deep breath and gave her daughter a brief summary of the latest turn of events aboard the ship, knowing things had progressed to a point where knowledge was power, even for a four-year-old. She ended with, "So if you see anyone acting strangely, don't be afraid to use the comm system to tell me, ok?"
Sarah nodded, daunted by the seriousness of the development.
"Mr. Paris is here until the Doctor comes back online, so you should be fine." Kathryn dropped a quick kiss on her daughter's forehead. "I have to go. I love you."
"Love you too," Sarah called out as her mother hurried out of the room. She carefully placed the bear next to her head on the pillow. "We have our work cut out for us, huh?" she whispered to it.
In Main Engineering, Kathryn crouched over the console B'Elanna sat at, her fingers flying to enter commands. "I've been trying to reconstruct the damaged sensor logs from Tuvok and Chakotay's shuttlecraft. I didn't have any luck until I ran a parity trace scan. Captain, the sensor logs weren't destroyed by an energy discharge. Someone erased them, and then overloaded the sensor matrix to make it look like they'd been damaged." At the captain's look of dismay, she added, "It gets worse. There was enough information in the backup logs for me to reconstruct what happened during the attack. They were near a dark matter nebula, and an energy discharge did breach the hull, but there was no other ship."
"No ship?" The captain couldn't believe what she was hearing. Things were continuing their downward spiral.
"I'm certain of it. From what I can tell, the energy discharge came from the nebula itself."
"Why would Tuvok lie about an attack?" Kathryn asked, incredulous.
"He must've been under the alien's influence."
"Bridge to Janeway." Kim's voice came over the comm system. "We're approaching the dark matter nebula."
"Acknowledged. Janeway out." She turned to B'Elanna. "How long before the magneton flash scan is ready to go?"
"The sensor arrays are charging now. Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes."
She nodded, jaw set determinedly. "When it's ready, transfer control of the scan to the bridge. In the meantime, I think we should take a look at exactly what it is we're not supposed to see."
Back on the bridge, she observed the nebula through the viewscreen for a moment. Shades of blue, mostly dark shades, swelled and heaved in cloud-like formations and consistency, roiling like thunderclouds. Electrical charges not unlike lightning sparked and sputtered on occasion. She turned away from the disconcerting image and headed towards the back of the bridge, past where Lieutenant Durst sat at the Engineering console and stood near Tuvok. "Mr. Tuvok, can you locate the ion trail of the alien ship that attacked you?"
"I believe so." He typed some commands into the console before him. "Mr. Kim, lay in that course. Shields are at maximum, captain. All preparations for entering the nebula are complete."
At that moment, Tom Paris joined them on the bridge, giving Tuvok an odd look. "Captain, I've finished the bio-analysis the Doctor was running on Kes before he was deactivated. I think he was on to something. If I'm interpreting his data correctly, the bruises on Kes' neck and shoulders were the result of a Vulcan neck pinch."
The captain turned to her security officer. "Lieutenant?"
"I have no memory of injuring Kes. Perhaps I was occupied by the alien at that time."
Kathryn frowned, the series of events linking in her head. "Perhaps so. But then, why does it keep attacking you? In three separate instances now, it's assaulted you."
"I am the chief of security. It may see me as a particular threat."
"So far you've posed no greater threat than anyone else, and yet it keeps going after you." A suspicion nagged at her mind, and though she hoped she was wrong, there was too much evidence to just ignore it.
"Captain, I believe you are having a typically human response in circumstances which are frightening and inexplicable, commonly known as paranoia."
"Maybe," she allowed. "Maybe, but I don't think it's paranoia that keeps me from picking up this ion trail of yours." She examined a console. "What bandwidth are you on?"
"I'm using a multiphasic scan. If you examine the alpha-k band you will see it."
She tapped some commands on the touch screen. "Yes, here it is. A very interesting ion trail. There's no sign of any subspace distortions in its wake. According to these readings, it's a ship without engines." She turned to the Vulcan with a face set like stone. "You're lying, Tuvok. There is no alien ship and there never was. We're not going inside that nebula until we get some answers." She turned to the ops station. "Mr. Kim, reverse course and—"
"Belay that order!" Tuvok ordered in a surprisingly loud tone. Then he shocked them further by pulling his phaser and aiming it at the captain. "That is exactly what the alien has been trying to do—prevent us from entering the nebula. I suspect the captain has been occupied. I am relieving her of command." He pointed the phaser at Harry. "Ensign, proceed into the nebula, one-half impulse."
Kathryn's every nerve lit up, adrenaline rushing through her veins: a surge of protectiveness for her crew and her family. Everything she knew, everything she felt, told her that entering the nebula was suddenly a very bad idea. "Don't do it, Harry!" she called out, half order, half plea.
"Now, Ensign!" Tuvok had a firm grip on the phaser.
Harry looked torn for a few moments, but then straightened up and said flatly, "No, sir. I won't do it."
Tuvok moved out from behind the security station, holding the phaser steadily aimed towards the captain, Tom, and Harry. The crewmembers at the other bridge stations were cautiously frozen in place, watching the event unfold behind the bridge railing. "I must inform you: this phaser is on wide beam dispersal and set to kill. I am taking command of this bridge. I must ask you all to stand together where I can see you. Step away from the console, ensign!"
With the phaser trained on them, the crewmembers had no choice but to gather slowly at the back of the bridge and stand together, while Tuvok stepped behind the ops console and began entering commands.
Kathryn had automatically placed herself in front of her crew, mind racing to find options. Behind her shoulder, Lieutenant Durst quietly commented, "Captain, we're entering the nebula."
Harry snuck a few commands into a console to his left. "Captain, I'm picking up some kind of energy pulses in the nebula, highly coherent with a biomatrix."
"Lifeforms," she realized with a start.
"And they're heading this way," Harry added.
The captain looked at Tuvok, who she knew now beyond a shadow of doubt was not really her security officer. "Those beings out there—are they your people?"
"We are the Komar," he confirmed. "This is our domain."
Something invisible careened around the upper levels of Main Engineering, observing everything going on below, especially the people.
If anyone had been watching closely in Engineering, they would have seen B'Elanna leave one task very abruptly and move to another computer panel, where she quickly entered a series of commands.
The ship jolted.
They felt the movement on the bridge, stumbling against each other and putting their hands out to catch their balance.
"What's happening?" Kathryn asked, keeping her eyes focused on the alien/Tuvok.
Durst snuck another look at the full wall console to their left. "The warp core's been ejected," he answered with surprise.
The alien grew angry. "No! No! We must continue!" He worked the controls in front of him violently.
"Torres to bridge," B'Elanna's voice joined them. "Captain, I think I was just taken over by the alien. One second I was working the plasma relays then the next thing I knew I was ejecting the warp core!"
"Acknowledged lieutenant. Stand by."
B'Elanna's announcement set off a flurry of intense discussion among the crew standing at gunpoint, conducted in whispers to avoid the alien's attention.
"If the alien's in Tuvok, how can it be down in engineering at the same time?" Tom asked.
"I don't know," Harry replied. "Unless there are two aliens!"
"Wait a minute," Kathryn interrupted, the pieces coming together in her head. "Lieutenant Torres isn't authorized to eject the warp core on her own. That requires a command code authorization. Computer, who authorized the ejection of the warp core?"
"The authorization was entered by Commander Chakotay."
"Chakotay!" She felt simultaneous prickles of hope and confusion.
"How is that possible?" Harry asked, sounding as uncertain as they all must feel.
"The alien in Tuvok wants us in that nebula," Kathryn replied, working out loud as she worked in her head. "But there's another presence that's been trying to keep us out." She worked to keep her voice neutral, though she felt a rising sense of optimism even in the face of the current situation. "It doesn't make sense unless it's Chakotay, and he knows we'll be in danger if we go in there."
"But he's in Sickbay. He's brain dead."
"Maybe not. Maybe his neural energy was displaced somehow, and he's able to move from person to person." She thought of what Kes had experienced, and her daughter, and while the idea was still somewhat difficult to comprehend, certain things suddenly made sense.
"Tuvok's engaged emergency thrusters," Lieutenant Durst interrupted. "We're moving again, captain."
"You brought us here, for what?" Kathryn asked loudly, directing her attention once again to the alien. "To extract our neural energy?"
"Very perceptive, captain," the alien/Tuvok answered smoothly. "The collective neural energy of your crew will sustain my people for years to come."
Before he'd finished his sentence, the strong captain instincts in her were running full throttle, weighing pros and cons and drafting solutions to keep the ship and the crew and her daughter safe. A footnote made a brief appearance at the periphery of her thoughts, a hope that maybe even if the worst began to happen, at least Sarah and Chakotay and Kes and the Doctor might be somehow spared and between them they could rescue the rest of the crew and get the ship to safety. After that brief moment, her first tactic was diplomacy. "You don't have to do this. Maybe we can help you find another source of energy—"
The ship lurched and shivered, and Harry snuck another look at a console. "Captain, we're under attack. We're being bombarded by the energy beings."
The shaking and lurching and small explosions as circuits overloaded and popped were enough cover, she decided, and she took advantage of the distractions to duck under the railing to access the computer panel by the captain's chair. As fast her fingers would let her, she activated the magneton flash scan.
A burst of light so bright it was tinted blue seemed to come out of nowhere, and she was startled at how dizzy and disoriented she felt, barely able to keep herself from falling off the small ledge she knelt on into the chair in front of her. From what she could see in her peripheral vision, the rest of the crew felt the same, stumbling, trying to protect their eyes, and grabbing for handholds. She turned just in time to see that it had affected the alien in Tuvok as well, causing him to fall backwards, his phaser no longer aimed at them. Tom was quick to react, and he wrestled the phaser out of his hands and turned it on him.
There was no need. He slumped to the ground, staring at nothing. When his body hit the deck, there was a soft whooshing noise and a luminous blue orb rose out of his chest and left the ship through a bulkhead.
Sarah wasn't terribly worried when the ship first jolted. She'd been through much worse in their months in the Delta Quadrant. She didn't know exactly what type of a nebula they were trying to navigate, but she figured turbulence was just part of the trip. The second jolt didn't much bother her either. But the third jolt was much harsher, and it tossed her from the biobed as she tried to reach for the container of water the Doctor had left out for her. They both crashed to the deck, the container landing near her head and soaking her to the waist. She gasped for air and out of pain, as the weight of her body forced the air from her lungs and set her lungs and ribs and shoulders on fire. It felt like every nerve in her body had turned to acid, and she might have screamed if she'd had the air. She'd managed not to lose the bear still clutched in her palm. Chakotay's words seemed to echo in her head, and she tried not to panic. Be brave, she reminded herself through the haze.
In the aftermath of the magneton scan, Tom quickly scanned Tuvok's unconscious body with a tricorder. He nodded to the captain to indicate that the security officer was fine.
Kathryn nodded back, face set grimly. The alien was gone, but their situation had not exactly improved. They were still lost deep inside a nebula filled with hostile beings, with no warp core and no flight path. "The magneton scan identified the entity before it left the ship," she read from a computer panel. "It was a trianic-based energy being."
"Look like he's joined his friends outside," Harry said, running to his station.
Lieutenant Durst was holding tight to a console on the back wall. "Shields are holding, but they won't last long at this rate."
"And the electromagnetic radiation's blinding our sensors," Tom reported with frustration from the ops console where he stood next to Harry. "I can't find a way out!"
"Come about," Kathryn ordered. "Maybe if we reverse course we can just backtrack."
"I don't know if that'll work, captain," Harry called out. "Tuvok was navigating a complicated course. We could be going deeper into the nebula."
"Mr. Kim, maybe you can reconstruct Tuvok's navigational logs."
"I'm on it, captain." The young operations officer rushed from his station to the tactical station, nearly falling as the ship bucked violently again.
"Shields down to sixty-five percent, captain," Durst warned. "The energy beings are starting to penetrate our defenses."
She had nearly passed out from the effort, but Sarah managed to force her lungs to draw air without the aid of a hypospray. She wasn't breathing easily, but she was conscious. It took longer for her to be able to move her arms and legs, but she waited as patiently as she could, testing the ability to move every few seconds until she was able to roll onto her stomach and attempt an inelegant hands-and-knees crawl of sorts. Her legs still couldn't support much weight or move well, and she gave up on the hands-and-knees crawl theory and settled for a military belly crawl. Her arms weren't much stronger, and her progress was slow, her efforts further hampered by the fact that she got pinned to the deck every time the ship heaved. The lights dimmed and brightened as the ship's power surged and readjusted. She didn't know where to go or what to do, but she knew laying on the floor near the biobed in a puddle of water wasn't much of an option either.
She froze suddenly as she managed to make her way into the main section of Sickbay. Neelix lay crumpled on the floor by Kes' biobed, probably knocked out by one of the ship's violent lurches. But despite the fact that she could see that everyone currently in Sickbay was unconscious, she felt a strong presence in the room, and close by. It was the same sensation she'd had earlier. Her neck prickled, and she slowly turned to look behind her. She didn't see anything, but she had the strong feeling that something saw her. But before she could even try a "hello", the presence suddenly seemed to swell and come baring down on her.
Sarah wasn't aware of anything for almost a minute, but someone watching would have seen a renewed strength in her military crawl as she made her way on the carpet around to the head of Chakotay's biobed. Once there, she gripped the wall with all her strength and pulled herself up to an unsteady standing position. She managed to catch hold of a corner of the Medicine Wheel, and she pulled it with her as she fell into a sitting position. She took the hide from her lap and laid it out on the floor in front of her, moving the position of several stones.
"I'm not having any luck," Harry said with a pronounced frown. "Tuvok deleted the navigational logs as he went along. He wanted to make sure we didn't get out of here."
The comm signal sounded, and a small, weak voice called out, "Sickbay to Captain Janeway."
The captain started, hearing her daughter's voice. "Sarah? Are you all right?"
There was no answer to her second question, but the strained little voice continued, "I think I was just taken over by the alien. And I don't remember doing it, but it looks like I moved stones on Chakotay's Medicine Wheel."
"If it's Chakotay, maybe he's trying to tell us something. Mr. Kim, activate Sickbay visual relay sixteen and put it on the viewscreen." He complied, but they saw nothing but a wall. "Sarah, where are you?" she asked, trying to remain professional.
"Down here," came the reply, almost a sigh.
"Angle the viewer down, Mr. Kim." He did, and they caught the edge of the sleeve of the medical gown Sarah wore, and a few of her dark, frizzy curls. "Back it out." He entered the command and they could see both the captain's daughter and the Medicine Wheel now resting on the ground. Kathryn bit back concerns for her daughter, slumped against a wall, pale, shocked, and drawing only small, intermittent breaths. If we die in here, it doesn't do her any good, she thought grimly. "What is it? What does it mean? Is it a code, a message?" she asked to the room in general, looking at the new configuration of stones.
Tom whipped around to face her, sudden realization on his face. "Or a map."
She nodded quickly. "Computer, overlay a star map of the nebula on the current viewscreen image." It complied, and a star chart in orange lines fitted itself neatly over the stones.
"The stones are in the same position as those three planetoids. Chakotay must be using them to point a way out," Tom said.
"Mr. Kim, lay in a course that takes us along a line connecting those three planetoids," she ordered. "Engage!"
The ship lurched forward, under even greater attack than before. The image of the Medicine Wheel had disappeared from the screen so they could see what was in front of them, and Kathryn worked to keep her attention on the bridge. She and Lieutenant Durst clung to the secondary tactical console to keep from being flung across the room.
"Shields failing! The aliens are penetrating the hull!" he reported.
"Mr. Kim, report!"
"We're passing the third planetoid now, captain," he replied immediately. "The dark matter density is thinning. Normal space ahead."
The ship continued shaking as though it would shake itself apart. "Brdige to Torres! Transfer all remaining power to the thrusters, including life support!"
The pounding and shaking continued for several dozen seconds, Voyager racing for its life, before the violent movement began to taper off.
"We've cleared the nebula, captain," Harry reported, relief evident in his voice. "Main power coming back online. Shields at full strength. Hull integrity normal. The alien beings are not pursuing."
There was a collective sigh of relief in the room, and Kathryn closed her eyes for a moment in gratitude.
"Captain's log, stardate 48735.9. We have returned to the coordinates where we ejected the warp core and have successfully retrieved it. Kes has returned to normal. My daughter's condition has been stabilized as best as possible. Now we're hoping the Doctor will be able to successfully reintegrate Commander Chakotay's consciousness."
Kathryn and B'Elanna crowded around the Doctor anxiously as he ran a final scan on the commander, and Tuvok stood at the foot of the biobed. Kes sat up on her own biobed, watching.
"Did it work?" the captain asked.
Before he could give her an answer, Chakotay's eyelids fluttered, then slowly opened.
"It appears so," the Doctor commented. "It appears so. Commander, can you hear me?"
It took a few seconds, but he slowly answered, "Yes. I'm a little dizzy but I think I'm all here."
"How did you manage to reintegrate his consciousness?' B'Elanna asked, happy but staring in disbelief.
"It involved three neural transceivers, two cortical stimulators and fifty gigaquads of computer memory. I would be happy to take you through the process but it would take at least ten hours to explain it all to you." He looked quite pleased with himself. "Needless to say, it was a remarkable procedure. I would consider writing a paper about it if there were a convenient forum in which to publish it."
"What happened, commander?" Kathryn asked her first officer.
"After the attack on the shuttle, I had this sensation of floating above my own body. I thought I was dead…"
"And when the shuttle returned to Voyager you were still…disembodied?"
"Yes. I couldn't speak. I couldn't touch anything. But then I found that if I concentrated on someone who was in the room with me, I could share their consciousness. At first I could only do little things with the host's body—push buttons, work a console. As time went on, it became easier to do more." He smiled up at Tuvok. "Sorry I had to knock you around, Tuvok."
"No apology is necessary," the security officer answered.
Kathryn smiled down at Chakotay, overwhelmed and relieved to have him back. She never wanted to face the Delta Quadrant without him. "Good job commander, and welcome back."
He smiled back. "To be honest, I feel like I never left."
They shared a quiet, happy moment just taking in the fact that he was back, and in one piece. Then he asked, "Where's Sarah?"
Kathryn's smile disappeared, and the others took that as their hint to leave. They quickly drifted away, even the Doctor.
Chakotay watched their movement and worry creased his brow. "Where is she?" he repeated.
"She's…resting," Kathryn replied, failing to keep some of the concern out of her voice.
"She's worse, isn't she?"
She bit her lip and gave him a quick nod. "A little, yes."
"Captain, I apologize. If I thought there was any other way to communicate the path out of the nebula to you, I would never have—"
"Chakotay, it's not your fault. The Doctor's guessing it's the fall that did it. When the aliens bombarded the ship, it created some very intense shockwaves. Combined with her lack of balance at the time, it created a very nasty fall that exacerbated some of her nerve damage."
"The Doctor had her in an induced coma for several hours. He's uncertain if she can move her legs anymore." Kathryn paused, trying not to show how her heart caught in her chest. "Or if she can speak."
Chakotay closed his eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry, captain."
"Thank you, commander."
There was a tense pause where Kathryn and Chakotay both looked away.
Then, he asked, "Can I see her?"
She looked back, startled.
"Please," he added. "I…promised. Is she awake?"
"Yes, she's awake now…"
"Just for a minute."
She considered his request for a moment, then thought it was the least she could do, though it was getting to be physically painful to see her daughter in her condition. She nodded. "I'll be right back."
Kathryn entered the back part of Sickbay. Sarah blinked up at her from the biobed. "Sweetheart," she said, wrapping her in a blanket as she lifted her onto her hip. "There's someone who wants to see you."
The only answer she received was a slow breath and a curious look.
She carried her daughter out to where the commander lay. "Look who it is," she said quietly.
Chakotay smiled up at the little girl. "Hey Sarah. I promised you I'd be back soon."
Kathryn saw a small, tired smile form on her daughter's face. The girl lifted up her hand as though to wave, but only opened her palm instead. Kathryn could see a small black object there. "What do you have?"
Chakotay could see it. He smiled. "It's the bear I gave her. A symbol of strength and protection."
The captain turned her head so he couldn't see the tears of gratitude prickling at her eyes. When she had herself under control, she turned back. "Thank you," she said, and meant it with every fiber of her being. Everything about this man made her grateful he'd joined her crew.
"Thank you," came a tiny croak, and the two adults looked in shock at the four-year-old the captain held. Sarah just smiled, and rested her head on her mother's shoulder. The two words seemed to have taken all her strength, but she looked content.
Author's Note: Argh, why do all my stories lately end up being bummers? Sorry guys—I'd hoped to end this chapter on a happier note than it did. And unfortunately, next chapter won't be much cheerier, since it'll be "Emanations", which is all about death and the question of the afterlife. Ugh. Sorry! Maybe I can find a way to lighten it up somehow. Thanks for your continued patience and support! I'd love to hear from you.