Winter's Child

Note: I don't usually write AU – I like to fit inside worlds that already exist. But "Timeless" is one of my exceptions. What would have happened if everyone hadn't died – and come on, what really happened after dinner in Janeway's quarters that night? Ostensibly J/C, implied P/T, but this is really a story about loneliness, guilt, and growing up in a world saturated by both.

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the original (and a lovely job they did with it too). Bea and Zayek, though, belong to me.

Rating: K+ (an over-cautious PG).

It's hard for me to imagine anything less able to fly than Voyager. My imagination is perfectly healthy, fed on classic novels and Tom's stories of his wayward youth, but all the same: I don't really believe that this was a starship. It has a bridge, and whatever's left of a warp core, and we throw around words like ready room and sickbay and console and ops. I learned to walk at conn, and I've spent most of my life in the Jefferies tubes. But those are just words, bits and pieces of a whole, and no matter how I try and I can't put them together to build anything more than the frozen shelter that traps and protects us.

The intrepid Voyager. It's the basis of our story, but I can't help it: I don't quite believe it. Every night of my life, it seems, I've sat up and listened to the stories. I know everything about the people who lie frozen along the intact lower decks, laid out starkly and respectfully. I know their favorite bad jokes, what stations they worked, and where they were from. I know that at some point during the journey, each and every one of them did something extraordinary, and I know what it was, and when. My mother explained to me once, her voice low and hoarse with grief, that it's the way we pay our respects and keep ourselves from feeling too lonely. We recite their lives, and keep them alive just a little bit.

Tom told me that remembering is also the way we stay alive, because we have nothing but the warmth of the past. Though I heard him say, too, when he thought I wasn't around, that it's the way my mother keeps the guilt sharp, which he supposed was better than being numb. But that he wished she didn't live every day in such pain.

I don't know what choice she has, though. I try to imagine, sometimes, what it must be like to be my mother. That's the hardest of all, harder than imagining this ship among the stars. She doesn't like to talk about herself too much, and I know that Tom is at least partly right, because she lives with grief and guilt as surely as she lives with the cold. What I know about her, I've learned from others, and I don't press too hard. I don't want to remind her of what she was. I know she thinks about it all the time anyway, but all the same, I let her just be my mother. Every one else tries to do the same, but they can't help but call her "Captain," or defer to her authority.

To them, to herself, she is still Captain Kathryn Janeway, of the Federation Starship Voyager. She's a small woman, and seems smaller under layers of fabric that bundle her in the cold; her hair is long now, an auburn tinged with grey, and always braided and hidden under a scarf. Her eyes are piercing, pure blue, and her skin fair. Looking at her, I wonder how I can possibly be related to her, because where she is pale, I am dark: my hair is a rich brown, with only a hint of her Irish red, my eyes brown, and my skin, though not brown, is definitely more gold than pink. She's tiny, but I'm much more solidly built, hips broader, already taller at fourteen. She marvels at the differences between us, and one of my earliest memories is her whispering, "Will you be entirely your father, child? Or am I in there somewhere?" into my sleeping ear. That was the only time she ever spoke of him in my presence; I suspect that it's simply the only time she's spoken of him, at all, since the crash.

My earliest memory, of course, is the cold. It pervades every story I have, every day I can remember, every night spent exhausted and shivering. After the crash, almost every system was damaged, and the rest were quickly shut down by the survivors to conserve energy. Environmental controls were mangled beyond repair, and heating devices quickly rigged to replace them. Life support is only maintained on deck one, and even then at partial power, and so cold thin air is the only kind I've ever known.

As much as they like telling stories, no one likes to talk about the crash. But it's where my story begins, and with careful observation and well-timed pleading, I've learned a few things.

Voyager crashed on this L-class planet 15 years ago.

An L-class planet is one with an oxygen atmosphere that's the wrong distance from its star to readily sustain human life. Or, as Tom calls it, and L-class planet is a block of ice, or a desert, or awful impenetrable jungle, but it's always a nightmare.

They were trying to get home. Always, they were trying to get home, but this time had built something extraordinary. They modified the warp core to travel through subspace, but it wasn't a perfect channel, and they were thrown out, desperate and damaged.

They landed. There wasn't enough power to keep the ship from being torn apart in space, so they set down for the last time, only they didn't realize it was the last time until the snow settled again and the few who survived came to and looked around. The lower decks had been compacted, and the nacelles were crushed. It took only a few months for the creeping ice to cover the ship, but even untrapped, Voyager could never fly again.

Most of the crew died. Anyone in the labs, the corridors, or crew quarters died on impact; there were seven survivors on the bridge, nine in engineering, and six in the mess hall. Of those, only eleven were still alive after a week: Kathryn Janeway, Tom Paris, Tuvok, Greg Ayala, B'Elanna Torres, Joe Carey, Eddie Matteo, Madelein Swinn, Beth Foster, Juliet Jarot, and Naomi Wildman. The rest – Vorik, John Culhane, Sandra Sena, Neelix, Samantha Wildman, Zaineb Trumari, Jenny Delaney, Renlay Sharr, T'Rel, and Jor Ayo – joined their crewmates below decks one by one.

There were two more crew members, who had been in a shuttlecraft ahead of the ship, guiding them home: Harry Kim and Chakotay. No one knew if they had survived.

In the stories we tell, everything is divided into just after, months after, and years after the crash.

Just after, the healthiest of the survivors fought to keep themselves and the injured alive. Everyone was hurt, and Naomi was the only one without broken bones. Without the EMH and without power, bruises and burns went all but untreated, and resources went toward repairing concussions and fractures. Even so, so many people died that everyone despaired: how could they survive with nineteen? Sixteen? Twelve?

At the end of that week, the eleven that were left were numbed to grief. Days of moving the frozen bodies of friends, cataloguing the dead and the living, breaking into quarters to take blankets and spare clothing and anything with an independent power source, had sharpened their sensitivity to their own survival. They established a home base on deck one, because it was easier to isolate than anywhere else on the ship and had more independent backup systems. They shut down everything else, rebuilt the oxygen production systems, built a heater out of bulkheads and phaser fire in the conference room. Those first weeks, they all slept there together, abandoning privacy for warmth.

Early on, they brought plants from aeroponics, and set up a garden in the corridors behind the bridge. Several of the species that Kes and Neelix had collected at the beginning of the journey were cold-hardy and much less fragile than Terran species, and the lighting on that deck was modified to produce the necessary full visible spectrum. It was a drain on power, but one that couldn't be avoided, and the engineers soon designed a generator that could efficiently convert mechanical to electrical energy. Everyone had to spend time each day winding the device, but boring physical labor was a small price to pay for food.

The bridge was cleared, but it was too big to heat efficiently. In fact, everywhere was: with the lights eating up power, there was no way to heat any room to a reasonable temperature. It didn't take long before someone thought of the Jefferies tubes, which could much more easily be insulated and warmed, and would also afford privacy. Over the next few weeks, the survivors worked to create small shelters in the tubes, rerouting wiring in some places and removing it in others, diligently preserving necessary systems and cannibalizing the rest. At first, only six shelters were built, and the bedding taken from crew quarters was distributed. Tom still tells stories about how he and Joe Carey decided to bring mattresses up, and spent three long days levering them through Jefferies tubes.

These nests were, and still are, mostly a place to sleep. The crew turned their first communal bedroom into a mess hall and work space, where they ate their meals and discussed the next project. The lower deck of the bridge was where serious construction projects happened, and was usually filled with rubble and disassembled bulkheads. The ready-room, now looking out on twisting ice crystals, became a schoolroom, a library, and a museum. It was where they kept things that they couldn't or wouldn't cannibalize, pictures and artifacts from their past life.

A starship's heart is its bridge; Voyager's heart was still beating, but the rest of it was paralyzed and abandoned. But they survived, and after a fashion, flourished: the garden grew and produced enough vegetables and grain to feed everyone, and B'Elanna Torres and Eddie Matteo, who had been trained in exogenetics, modified the gel packs to photosynthesize and produce heat, so that a gel pack left in the garden all day would heat a shelter at night. Tom and Joe managed to bring up some twenty mattresses in a burst of enthusiasm, and the crew spent days arguing about what to do with them. Naomi Wildman found the storage locker with the emergency medical supplies, and step by step they inched away from death.

And, of course, I was born.