The Old Woman
By Laura Schiller
Based on: Star Trek: Voyager
Kes woke up to a blinding white light at the foot of her bed. She flung her hand over her dazzled eyes and looked away; as it faded, she peered through her fingers to try and see what was happening.
There was … someone … in her quarters.
Her first impulse was to reach for the commbadge on her nightstand and call for an intruder alert, but the other woman stopped her with an outstretched hand and the command, "Don't!"
Something about her low, musical voice was terribly familiar.
"Computer, lights," said Kes.
The woman's face was lit up as bright as day, and Kes gasped.
It was her own face, only older. The wide blue eyes and full mouth were etched with wrinkles, the round cheeks sunken, the golden curls faded to gray and chopped short. She wore a long black dress with trailing sleeves that clung to her like shadows.
"Hello, Kes," said the old woman, with a humorless smile. "Do I look familiar?"
"Ye-es … "
"Good." She sat down on Kes's bed. "Sorry to wake you, but this is very important. I don't have much time – well," with a bitter laugh, "Technically I have all the time in the world. But I don't want to be discovered."
Before Kes could ask what was going on, the old woman grabbed her by the shoulders, digging sharp-nailed hands into her skin.
"Listen," she hissed. "You have some latent mental powers, yes? Empathy, telekinesis, manipulation of matter?" Kes nodded. "They fascinate you, I know. You want to explore them further. But don't you do it! In the name of friendship, loyalty, everything you hold dear, I'm telling you to leave those powers alone."
Kes was frightened and confused, and the fear made her angry. How dare this future self – she couldn't be anything else – simply wake her in the night and presume to order her about?
"Why should I?" she demanded, pulling out of her grip. "Why should I limit my potential? If I could control these powers, I could do so much good – for my friends on Voyager, for anyone we met! It's ridiculous to have a tool and not use it, especially with the life I'm living – you should know how dangerous it is in the Delta Quadrant!"
The old woman gave an exasperated sigh. "Danger?" She rolled her eyes. "Let me tell you something about danger, little one. Do you remember the time you incinerated every plant in the airponics bay? Or the burns you gave Tuvok, your teacher and father? You could have killed him! Don't tell me it doesn't haunt you still!"
Kes gripped the blanket with her hands, shuddering. It was something she tried not to thin about, something that still gave her nightmares. Her destructive side frightened her – that heady rush of power.
"What you don't know yet is just how terrible you can be. I've seen into the heart of things, little one – beyond the atom. I can make Voyager's tritanium hull ripple like melting ice cream. I can commit murder with just a look. I've spent my life alone in a shuttlecraft, protecting the universe from what happens when I lose control. You're the first living being I've spoken to in five years."
The old woman looked exhausted, every wrinkle in her face engraved there by a lifetime of loneliness. Kes wanted to hug her for a moment, but held back, not knowing how to act with a future self. Was she a stranger? A family member? Some odd combination of both?
Five years. More than half her life. The horror and the pity of it had Kes speechless.
"I hated the Voyager crew for a long time," said the old woman. "I blamed them for encouraging me to develop my powers. I wished Captain Janeway had locked me behind a forcefield rather than let me leave her. Of course, in the state I'm in, I could probably walk through it like a knife through butter."
She smiled one of those bitter smiles and looked away, staring right into the past.
"Captain Janeway is an honorable woman," said Kes, softly but firmly. "She respects free will. If I wanted to leave Voyager, it would be my own decision; I would have no one to blame but myself."
"I know." The old woman's voice trembled. "I miss her. I miss everybody – Neelix's jokes, Tuvok's hands on my face, the Doctor's pride, Tom Paris's flying lessons … " She reached down the front of her dress and pulled out a golden locket. "Do you remember? A gift for your first birthday, from Tom. He's in love with you, you know."
Kes glanced at the drawer where the locket's present-day counterpart was stored. How could she not remember?
"Why don't you go back?" she asked. "In your own time, I mean."
The old woman shook her head. "I can't. It's been too long … there wouldn't be a place for me anymore. Besides … I don't want Neelix to see me like this, bitter and tired. I want him to remember me as the beautiful girl he loved."
Kes thought of her first love, now her best friend, and of how he would react to seeing Kes age. He would be kind and polite about it, she knew, but no doubt it would unsettle him deeply.
"No," said the old woman. "I only need this one chance. Promise me you'll leave your powers alone, Kes. Don't let them tear you away from everyone you've ever loved. Promise me you won't turn," with a gesture towards her unhappy wrinkles and hollow eyes, "Into this."
Kes was torn. On the one hand, she couldn't bring herself to refuse the old woman. On the other – it still wasn't right.
Her older self was acting like the Caretaker, trying to order her life to her own design. Trying to set a limit on what she could become.
"I … can't," she said finally, with a sigh. "I can't ignore a part of who I am, not for anything. I'm sorry."
The old woman covered her eyes with one hand and turned away.
"But you could show me," she added eagerly. "Teach me what I need to know, so that when the time comes – if it does – I don't lose control. Can you do that?"
The old woman gave her a sharp, but not displeased, look. For a moment, she could have been their mother, Martis.
"Well. I'd forgotten how optimistic I used to be."
She held out a thin, blue-veined hand and lightly touched her fingers to the younger woman's face.
"My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts … "
Two months later, Kes felt it happening. She was a snowflake melting in the sun, a pastry falling to crumbs. She was in a state of molecular flux, and the Captain who was like a mother to her was staring at her in wonder and consternation.
She fought to remember. The key is not to lose yourself. You are not a nebula or a star being born. You are not a cloud of radiation. You are Kes, daughter of Martis and Benarem, medical aide and gardener aboard the starship Voyager. You are the Doctor's tutor in humanity, Tuvok's student, Kathryn Janeway's little girl. You are Neelix's best friend. What are you to Tom? You don't know. But if you lose yourself, you may never have the chance to find out.
Age: Three going on four.
You must pull yourself together. You must hold on.
The snowflake pieced itself together, crystal by crystal. The crumbs of the cake were baked anew.
Kes opened her eyes and hugged her Captain.
"It's okay," she whispered. "I'm here."
Nine-year-old Kes was in Sickbay, with a vase of white lilies on the nightstand. Tuvok was reciting the traditional Morelogium chant, his warm, sonorous voice rolling the words in his tongue. Tom, her husband, was holding her hand. Harry, Linnis and Andrew Kim were all ranged around the bed. None was speaking; Andrew was holding back tears.
Seven of Nine and the Doctor were behind the computer, monitoring Kes's lifesigns, Captain Janeway peering over their shoulders.
It happened almost as soon as Tuvok finished the chant and gave her the ritual kiss on the forehead. She heard Seven and the Doctor making curt medical reports; she felt a warm, heavy weariness take hold of her body, as if she were merely going to sleep. Her eyelids fluttered; she used her last measure of strength to squeeze Tom's hand.
"Her cells are degrading – pulse weakening – "
"Kes, can you hear us?"
"No, wait! Mom, stay with us, keep your eyes open – "
"I love you, Kes. See you in a couple decades."
Tom's tear-choked voice was the last sound she heard before her eyes closed.
None of them saw the blurred shape hovering in the corner: the shape of an old woman in a black gown, wearing the same face with darker lines. None of them saw her smiling through her tears before she flickered out of sight.