Disclaimer: Star Trek Voyager belongs to CBS/Paramount. No infringement intended.
A/N: This story was written for VAMB's 2012 Secret Summer exchange. Many thanks to Koneia for the story idea.
Summary: Captain Braxton (from the television episodes "Future's End" and "Relativity") decides to punish Kathryn Janeway for her temporal sins and, in the process, also changes the direction of her life.
San Francisco: March 1, 2378 (1530 hours)
Captain Luca Braxton cradled a small black orb in his hand as he considered where to place it in Kathryn Janeway's quarters. At this very moment, the Temporal Integrity Commission was finding Janeway not guilty for using the advanced technology provided by the future Admiral Janeway and for bringing Voyager home sixteen years early. They labeled the event "insignificant" to the timeline. In their considered opinion, nothing done in the future by Voyager's 147 surviving crew members created a temporal paradox serious enough to warrant a correction.
Janeway was once again escaping the consequences of her criminal behavior, and Braxton was unwilling to let that happen.
He placed the orb in the middle of the coffee table and stepped back to admire it. Once his latest rehabilitation had been completed, the one Voyager had brought upon him with the help of Lieutenant Ducane, he'd traveled to the 31st century to gain access to the plans for the portable temporal transporter. He'd been tempted to steal it outright, but feared that such a bold move would catch the attention of the temporal police and foil his plans. And so he had simply taken a copy of the blueprints and then had spent the last eleven months constructing one of his own. It had been a challenge, but he had managed to place it inside the elegant orb, a perfect trap. Reverently, he reached forward and activated its internal mechanism.
Deep within the orb, a red glow appeared. From a distance, it resembled a captured flame that burned without benefit of oxygen, a curiosity designed to pique Janeway's curiosity. Close up, the flame looked like a crimson ribbon that curled and swirled around the orb's center in a steady mesmerizing pattern, a dangerous dance with serious consequences.
"Almost like a poison apple," Braxton thought, an evil grin on his face. "Irresistible."
He checked the time. Janeway would probably arrive at about 1540. His research indicated that she had come straight to her quarters after the hearing ended and had sent a message to her mother to inform her of the good news. He needed to leave in five minutes to avoid running into her.
With a few last minute adjustments, he grinned with satisfaction. He had only one fear, and that was that the orb would malfunction. He'd struggled to find the materials he'd needed to build the device and had been unable to test the transporter in advance. He believed that he had followed the plans closely enough for the device to work properly, although it would probably give the captain a rough transport. He couldn't be bothered about that at this late date. If it malfunctioned, Janeway deserved whatever she got.
Braxton took one last look at the quarters with its 24th Century technology. "Janeway will miss all of this," he thought to himself, with a chuckle. "So did I during my thirty year exile in the 20th Century. It's only fair." The memory of those twenty-nine years reignited his anger. He nodded at his reflection in the apartment's window with a wink of approval.
In less than five minutes, Janeway would return to her quarters and five minutes later, send a message to her mother.
Unless, of course, she noticed the poison apple first.
With a self-satisfied laugh, Braxton beamed to his time ship and headed back to the future.
Five minutes earlier (1525 hours)
"Only Kathryn Janeway could be dissatisfied with a not guilty verdict," Chakotay teased as he and his captain exited Starfleet's Hall of Justice.
"How dare they say we will have an 'insignificant impact on the timeline,'" she repeated with a sniff of irritation. She stopped to take in the late afternoon sun and shivered in the cold breeze. "I'll show them insignificant."
"I have to admit that it rankles to know that none of us will be noteworthy in the future, but, if ever there was a time to be insignificant, this is it."
The trial had taken longer than either of them had expected, spanning nearly three months. They speculated that the temporal police force was stretched thin and that their determination of impact, as they called it, was more difficult to decide upon than they had let on. And so it had been a surprise when the Commission had issued its verdict so late on a Friday afternoon.
"Free at last," Chakotay quipped. Seven of Nine had already informed him of her need to regenerate this afternoon and evening, so he found himself at loose ends. "An event like this deserves to be celebrated. How about a nice dinner at Rufino's?"
"An excellent idea, but only after we get out of these uniforms and into something less itchy," she pulled at the collar of her dress tunic with irritation.
"We could each hike to our quarters and meet at Rufino's in thirty minutes."
She started to agree, but then thought better of it. "Why bother? My place is practically next door. You can replicate some clothes while I let my mom know the good news."
"That works for me."
They made their way across the grounds in a leisurely manner, comparing notes on the members of the FTC and speculating about what era each came from.
"I almost expected Braxton to show up and testify against me," Kathryn admitted, "ranting and raving about the 'Janeway Factor' and demanding justice for all the wrongs he's experienced at my hand."
"What did you ever do to him?"
"Don't you remember? He was exiled in the 20th century for nearly thirty years after he tried to destroy Voyager."
Chakotay frowned. Voyager had followed Braxton's ship into the temporal rift, arriving twenty-nine years after he did. He could still see Braxton as a bearded and raving homeless man posting doomsday posters all over Hermosa Beach in 1996. "If I remember correctly, he had a pretty big hand in that disaster."
"He doesn't see it that way, of course."
"Surely they've dealt with him by now," Chakotay assured her. "They had to know he was a loose cannon."
"He's such a sneaky person, though." She had never told him about how Braxton had booby trapped Voyager while it was under construction nor the way she and Seven had traveled through time to foil his plans. The memory of those time "jumps" on the time ship Relativity still made her feel queasy.
They walked into her quarters and shrugged out of their high-necked dress tunics with sighs of relief.
"I'll change in the bedroom, Chakotay. You can replicate some casual clothing and that way we'll be more comfortable at dinner."
"Be sure you warn me before you come back in the room," he teased. "I wouldn't want you to catch me with my pants down."
She laughed and disappeared into her bedroom, closing the door behind her.
Chakotay went to the replicator, which was in the kitchen, recycled his uniform, and put on slacks and a sweater, deciding to keep his regulation boots. He absently attached his commbadge on the sweater, replicated a jacket to cover it, and then stopped at her bedroom door to give her the all clear.
"I'll just be a minute," she replied.
When he walked into her living room, he stopped in his tracks. On the coffee table was a fascinating object, an opaque black orb with an impossible flame dancing in its center.
Janeway emerged from her bedroom moments later and found Chakotay sitting on the edge of the sofa, staring at the orb. "What's that, Chakotay?"
"I was hoping you could tell me. It looks like a flame from a distance, but close up, it's a ribbon of fire dancing around the core."
She sat close beside him, their thighs touching. "Where did it come from? It wasn't here when I left this morning."
"You've never seen it before?"
"No. It looks like there's a card under it. Maybe it's a gift that security delivered to my quarters while I was gone."
"The card probably explains everything."
Janeway picked up the trinket and pulled the card off of the bottom, handing the orb to Chakotay. "It says, 'Welcome to yesterday. Braxton.'"
"Braxton!" Chakotay cried out, looking down at the orb, which had become bright red in his hand.
"Oh my God, Chakotay, put it down!"
But it was already too late.
They were gone.
Twenty minutes earlier (1530 hours)
Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay had made their way from the Hall of Justice to her quarters so they could change clothes and go out for a celebratory dinner. When the doors of the elevator opened onto what should have been the hallway of her residence, they stepped instead into the temporal transporter pad of an advanced Starfleet vessel. Standing in front of them was an officer whose face looked familiar to the captain.
"Welcome aboard the Federation Time Ship Relativity."
Chakotay began to step between this stranger and his captain, but she stopped him with a hand on his wrist.
"I know you," she breathed, still a bit nauseous from yet another time jump. "Ducane. Captain Ducane, I see."
"Yes, I've been promoted since we last met."
Chakotay relaxed, but he gave Janeway a questioning look. Before she could speak, Ducane interrupted.
"Let me explain how we met." He gestured for them to follow him to his ready room where they could speak privately. "Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine assisted us in preventing Luca Braxton from destroying Voyager a couple of years ago."
"You didn't tell me about this," Chakotay said, turning to glare at his captain. "He tried to destroy the ship a second time?"
"I'm sorry, Commander, but I was under orders not to tell you," she apologized. "He put a booby trap on the ship while it was being built, but we managed to foil his plans."
"He really has it out for us, doesn't he?"
She nodded. "So, Captain Ducane, what's gone wrong this time? Has Captain Braxton gone off the deep end again? Or are you here because you disagree with Commission's not guilty verdict?"
"It has nothing to do with the recent verdict, but that's all I can tell you," he responded. "The two of you will be returned to Captain Janeway's quarters exactly twenty minutes after you exited the elevator. Then you will resume your lives as if this brief interruption never happened."
"But something did happen," Janeway said, her eyes flashing, "and we deserve to know what it was."
Ducane shook his head.
"It was Braxton," she stated flatly, glaring at him. When Ducane nodded, she continued, "Were we killed? Did Braxton send us to some God-awful time as punishment for our crimes?"
"Those details are classified."
"Why can't you just reintegrate them with us the way you did when Seven and I were used before?"
"Because we can't, Captain. I realize that it's hard for you to deal with mysteries," Ducane replied with a small smile on his face, "but you'll probably never know what happened in those twenty minutes. Temporal Prime Directive."
"That's ridiculous!" she fumed, looking at Chakotay for support. "What if Braxton comes back? We need to know what to expect."
"Impossible, Captain." Ducane had the good grace to look remorseful, but then, with a sigh, he relented. "He's been caught and put away for good."
"I've heard this before." She pinched the bridge of her nose, fighting another wave of dizziness that washed over her. "There could be unsuspected repercussions from this."
"I doubt that. No one saw either of you from the time you exited the elevator to the time we will replace you in your quarters," Ducane reassured her. "There's absolutely no change in the timeline to be worried about."
"Except that we know about this change to the timeline," she insisted. "We know something has changed."
"Nothing has changed, Captain," Ducane repeated. "That's the point."
"Two people have disappeared." She began to pace. "This is unacceptable."
"Kathryn," Chakotay warned her. "You're not going to win this argument. He's not going to tell us anything more, and he's probably following orders."
Janeway stopped beside him, her eyes flashing with anger. "I hate this, Chakotay. They have no right to do this to us."
Chakotay looked at his hands and took a deep breath. "We have to trust that they know best, I suppose. What else can we do?"
Janeway studied his face for a long moment and then turned to Ducane. "Can you promise me, unconditionally, that Braxton will never, ever interfere with our lives again?"
"All I can say is that I will do everything in my power to protect you," he answered.
Janeway bristled, but Chakotay put a hand on her shoulder. "It's an honest answer, Kathryn."
Again, she paused, taking a deep breath. "What choice do we have?"
"None." Ducane shrugged. "I should warn you, Captain, that when I return you, it will be the last time jump you can take without risking serious temporal aphasia."
"I have no intention of taking any more temporal jumps, I assure you." She rubbed her temple. "I already have a headache, but I think it's as much from this mystery as it is from the side effects of the time jump."
Ducane handed Chakotay a slip of paper. "If she has a negative reaction following the return to normal time, replicate a hypospray filled with this medication formula and administer it at once. It will help her recover more quickly. She might be a bit unsettled for a time, but in a day or two, any after effects will be gone."
With little more said, Ducane led them to the temporal transporter. Moments later, they found themselves inside her quarters, exactly twenty minutes after they had exited the elevator.
"Don't touch anything," she ordered as she looked around the room, but then, without warning, the world went black. She awakened on the floor, with her head spinning and Chakotay kneeling over her. "What happened?"
"You fainted. I replicated the medication and administered it." He grasped her arm and helped her to the sofa, sitting beside her with a worried look on his face. "Are you going to be all right?"
"I think so." She leaned forward and rested her face in her hands, struggling to keep from throwing up. "God, I hate these temporal paradoxes."
"So do I."
She raised her head and looked around the room. "Is anything out of place?"
"You'd know better than I would."
She stood, shakily, and he rose and put an arm around her waist. "Here, I'll look with you."
Janeway studied every surface, looked in every nook and cranny, but it wasn't until she entered her bedroom that she stopped in her tracks. "My clothes. This morning, I laid out some slacks and a sweater to wear after the hearing," she pointed, "right there on the bed. But they're gone."
"Where's the uniform you took off, then?"
"Maybe I recycled it. Or maybe Ducane took it out of the room. Whatever happened, he wouldn't have known about the civilian clothes if I'd already put them on."
"It only proves what we already know. We were here and then we weren't."
"Twenty minutes, gone out of our lives." She leaned into him, still dizzy.
"I can live with it," he replied. "And with time, you will, too."
"This isn't what I wanted for us, you know. I thought we'd almost made it. I wanted us to get on with our lives without any bumps along the way."
"This isn't such a big bump."
"Isn't it? We know that a version of us is lost in time, and that will haunt us forever." She turned to him, tears in her eyes. In a matter of moments, she'd gone from relief at the end of the trial, to frustration at discovering Braxton's attack, and then to illness from the full effects of temporal aphasia. She would feel better soon, she knew that, but right now, she was exhausted and dizzy, and she knew that she had made in Braxton a truly malevolent foe. "Some insane Starfleet captain from the 29th century wants to see me dead, and he doesn't care who else he hurts to get to me."
Shaken to see her so vulnerable, Chakotay pulled her into a rare embrace and marveled at the fact that she was crying into his shoulder. He tried to soothe her frazzled nerves. "Ducane promised to help us, remember? We have to believe in him."
"And just go on with our lives as if nothing happened?" she wondered, her voice muffled.
"What else can we do, Kathryn? You and I are safe and free to carry on with our lives. We shouldn't let anything interfere with our chance to be happy."
"You make a good point, as always." She snuggled deeper into his arms, too comfortable to think about the consequences of her actions and too tired to worry about what Braxton had done to them. "I feel happy and safe right where I am."
2406 (Thirty years later)
Admiral Kathryn Janeway activated her communication view screen and smiled at the beautiful young woman that appeared. "Alicia. I was hoping it was you."
"Is this a good time for us to talk?" the young woman wondered, looking past her mother at what she could see of the room behind her. "I don't want to interrupt if you and dad are busy."
"Your father just left for a week-long mission off planet," Kathryn replied, her eyes twinkling. "You can speak freely."
"Great." Alicia leaned back in her chair and narrowed her eyes at the older woman. "He wouldn't approve of this, you know."
Kathryn shrugged. "I'm not doing anything illegal, am I?"
"Dad would say that I'm the one with access to 20th century records, not you. I'm the one working on a PhD in history."
"A minor technicality." Kathryn dismissed the comment with a wave of her hand. "What harm can it do to look for people who have been dead for over four hundred years?"
"If that's true, why do you wait to do it when he's off planet?"
"Because I don't need another lecture about abusing my privileges." She laughed, blushing. "So, did you find anything new?"
"About Shannon O'Donnell? I'm sending you some stuff, but it's mostly just the same stuff you already have."
"I wonder if I could come over there and do some rummaging through the records. You know, look for other names, other events?"
"The dean said he didn't care as long as you don't change anything."
Kathryn looked horrified. "I wouldn't think of tampering with history."
"Sure, you can come up tomorrow and spend the weekend, if you want. I'm just studying."
"I'll be there at noon." She sat back and sipped her coffee. "What about your brother? What's he doing this weekend?"
"What else would you expect Arthur to be doing, weekend, weekday, holiday, or any other day?" Alicia shook her head. "He's diving off of the southern California coast with Miral Paris."
"Hermosa Beach, again?"
"He's fixated on the place, Mom. He loves to look for artifacts, especially if one of the Paris kids is with him."
"You're one to talk. Aren't you getting a degree in 20th century American history? I blame Tom Paris for all of this, because he was always filling your heads with stories about Voyager's visit to the past, addicting you to their music, videos, hobbies."
Alicia giggled. "I think that is a great idea, Mom. Let's blame Uncle Tom for everything."
"See you tomorrow, at noon. Don't let me find you still in bed."
"And have some coffee ready."
The next morning, Kathryn made her way to the transport station and beamed to the University of Eastern California where Alicia was a graduate student in history. She could have had herself deposited right outside her daughter's apartment complex, but she preferred to walk the eight blocks from the nearest station instead. She never tired of seeing the blue sky and feeling the warm sun of the high desert after so many weeks in rainy San Francisco.
To Kathryn's delight, Alicia had coffee ready as well as a delicious frittata, a fresh fruit salad, and homemade bread.
"You were afraid I'd forget to eat, weren't you?"
Alicia grinned. "Don't you always do that when you're fixated on one of your missions?"
"Point taken." She took a deep breath as she finished her third cup of coffee. "Now, it's been nice to visit, but can I access the data base from here? Or do I need to go on campus?"
"You can access it here. Dad's right, you know. You're definitely a workaholic."
"Don't let him kid you. He's just as bad a workaholic as I am."
Ten hours later, after Alicia had finished her work and prepared for bed, she tapped on her mother's shoulder. "Are you going to work through the night?"
"The thought had occurred to me." She turned to smile at her daughter, and then sat up in her chair, pushing the view screen away. "You're ready for bed. What time is it?"
"Damn. I was supposed to call your dad tonight."
"I know. He called a couple of hours ago. I talked to him."
"Did you tell him I was here?"
"Nope. If I had, he would've wanted to talk to you, and I didn't want to hear any static about letting you browse the database. I said you had a chance to get out of the house, and left it at that. He seemed more interested in talking about the topic of my dissertation, anyway."
"He's worried that you won't come up with a good subject, something that will put you on the map."
"Ugh." Alicia rolled her eyes. "He said to tell you he'd be in touch Monday and let you know when to expect him."
"You spoil your mother," she shut down the computer and stretched. "I should head for home."
"Why? You're going to want to spend tomorrow researching, right? I made out the sofa bed. I'll take it, and you can have my bed."
"Absolutely not." Kathryn crossed her arms. "I'll take the sofa."
Alicia narrowed her brown eyes and laughed. "You found something, didn't you?"
"I might have. I'm not sure."
Kathryn shook her head. "Someone else."
"I gave up on Shannon after a couple of hours and did some 'creative' research, you know, using other names, other relatives. I found something interesting—someone named Kathryn Jane Wayman."
Alicia stared at her. "Wayman? Is that a family name I'm unaware of?"
"No, but don't you get it—Kathryn Jane Way . . . man."
"I don't know, Mom," Alicia rolled her eyes. "Seems like a reach to me."
"Listen. She just appears in the records, like Venus from the sea. I couldn't find anything about her prior to her arrival, not in school databases or even government records."
"Let me guess. She rose like Venus from the sea—in 1996."
Kathryn blushed and then nodded.
"You never give up, do you?" Alicia saw the look of sorrow on her mother's face and relented, putting an arm around her shoulders. The mystery of the lost command team had swirled around their family with as much passion as Tom had used in telling them of Voyager's brief stay in 1996 Los Angeles. "It's those missing twenty minutes, isn't it?"
"Oh, Alicia, I know you think I'm obsessed, and I probably am, I admit it." Kathryn stood up and began to pace. "I just want to know what happened to them, that's all. I want to know that they didn't suffer. I want to believe that they were happy."
"And you're convinced that 1996 is where Braxton would have sent them."
Kathryn shrugged. "It would make sense, wouldn't it? Poetic justice to strand them there after Henry Starling disappeared into the future? After any chance of their return was taken from them?"
"Whatever happened, Mom, it ended four hundred years ago."
"Not in my mind. In my mind, it was just thirty years ago, Allie. I remember it like yesterday."
Alicia rubbed her face. "I'm too tired for this tonight, Mom. Let's get some sleep and think about it tomorrow. But, I have to remind you that the records from those days are spotty. It may look like this Kathryn Jane . . . ?"
"Kathryn Jane Wayman appeared like Venus from the sea, but it's probably just that she was born in a rural area or somewhere overseas, and the records of her early life are lost."
"Oh, I know I'm grasping at straws, honey." She sat down, suddenly exhausted. "I just . . . I need to know."
"Oh, Mom," Alicia moved to sit beside her and pulled her into a hug. "I'll try to help you find out. And so will Arthur."
"Just don't tell your dad, that's all I ask. Not until we know something for sure."
"Sure. Whatever. It can be our secret."
"You're good kids. You spoil me."
"We love you, Mom, that's all."
"That's enough." Kathryn gave her a ferocious hug. "I love you, too."
"And no arguing—I'm taking the sofa."
After Kathryn retired to the bedroom, Alicia settled down on the sofa bed, hoping to fall asleep quickly. But sleep wouldn't come. She tossed and turned, trying to come to terms with the mystery of the missing command team.
Starfleet Command had been duly notified of Braxton's actions, but there was nothing that anyone could do about it. In fact, the command team was still present, and while there were some chroniton particles detected inside Kathryn's quarters, ultimately, it was classified as a non-event and forgotten—by everyone but Kathryn Janeway.
The mystery was part of Alicia's family lore and a bone of contention between her parents. Checking the time, she shrugged and decided that if she was awake at two in the morning, Arthur could be awake, too. As luck would have it, he'd just returned home from a party—alone, for once.
"What's up, Allie?" he wondered, still a little drunk from the party. "Home alone again?"
"Nope. Dad's out of town, and Mom came up for the weekend."
"Another shopping spree?"
"Research. She's sifting through the university's historical data base that she never had a 'need to know' before."
"And that you have access to because of your graduate program."
"Exactly. It's really obscure stuff. Old telephone books. Passport and driver license records. Boring details too obscure to merit inclusion in the Federation database."
"So? Did she find another picture of old Henry Janeway? Or maybe Shannon's fingerprints?"
"Arf," Alicia sighed, the name she used in their childhood, when she'd called him "Arfur," "she's focusing on 1996 again."
"The twenty minute gap." He scowled. "Allie, she's seventy-five years old, but those twenty minutes still haunt her."
"I said we'd help her."
"What can we possibly do that she hasn't tried already?"
"I don't know; I just want to be on her side. And besides, I think she has a good point. I think Braxton would have focused on 1996, and I can spend some of my time nosing around for her. It means so much to her, Arfie. She was nearly in tears tonight."
"I think she's going soft on us, Sis, but," he rubbed his face, "I'll do what I can. I'm not sure that I can do much."
"Moral support. Oh, and don't tell Dad."
"Yeah. He's tired of hearing about it after all these years."
Allie smiled and changed the subject. "How was the party?"
"Awesome!" He spent the next ten minutes telling her all about the party, naming the attendees, mentioning the food and music that was played—all drawn from the 20th Century, of course. "Uncle Tom and Aunt B'Elanna came by, too, and showed us how to do some of the dances—the swim, the twist, the mashed potato. You should have been here, Allie."
"Maybe next time, but with school starting soon, it might be awhile."
"Yeah. You should have stopped with a bachelor's degree like I did."
"That's enough for your field—marine archeology," she laughed. "You'll be back for an advanced degree, Arthur, it's in the blood."
"Probably so." He yawned. "Hey, I need some sleep. Miral and Joe Paris are coming by tomorrow."
"Hermosa Beach again?"
"Well, don't run short of oxygen. You need to keep all the brain cells you have."
"Ha ha. Thanks for calling, Allie. Tell Mom she can count on me."
Alicia shut down the communication link and settled into the pillows, glad that she had her brother to rely on for support. She loved her mother, of that there could be no doubt, but at times she grew exasperated at Kathryn's single-minded determination. Her tenacity was what got Voyager home from the Delta Quadrant, Uncle Tom reminded her when she complained to him, and yet—sometimes her fixation on a particular problem felt like an irrational obsession.
Her father explained that she felt as if two members of her crew had failed to make it home, and that she was guilt-ridden that their replacements were "living their lives for them."
She sighed and punched a pillow in frustration, fixing her eyes on the bedroom door and wishing that she could go inside and say something to her mother to ease her feelings of responsibility.
She might as well try to stop the tide.
One month later
Alicia was bored and ready to go home from work and take a nap. She had just shut down her computer and gathered her things when John Markus, a fellow graduate student, stuck his head into her cubicle.
"Going home early?" he asked.
Alicia nodded. "I can sleep better there than I can here. How was the trip to Nevada?"
"Productive." Like Alicia, John was studying American history and had spent the week exploring an archive of old hard-copy magazines and newspapers that had been discovered in a deserted cavern in the Nevada desert. "In fact, I think I found something you might be interested in going through."
"What's that?" She stifled a yawn.
"Aren't you focusing on 1996?"
"I have been the last few weeks, on and off. There isn't much new out there."
"'Wasn't' much out there, Allie. Past tense." He stepped into her cubicle and placed a sealed box on her desk. "I haven't opened it, so you'll need to document the contents for me, but it's clearly labeled '1996.' Other boxes like it contained all kinds of clippings and documents from the year that was printed on the outside."
"Wow!" Allie put a hand on the box protectively. "It's okay if I go through it at home?"
"Yeah, I cleared it with the dean. Just sign this document that acknowledges possession and promise to be complete in your index of the contents. Oh, and watch out. Some of the paper is pretty delicate."
"I can't believe this!" she gushed. "You're too good to me."
"Are you kidding? I have three dozen boxes just like it to go through! But, I knew this one would help you out." He gazed at her with obvious affection.
"Thanks, John. I owe you one."
"Maybe dinner sometime?"
She smiled. "Sure. We'll talk Monday, okay?"
Alicia could hardly wait to get home and get started on the tantalizing contents of the 1996 box. There had been no new information from that year in many decades, and she had despaired of helping her mother find out more about the mysterious Kathryn Jane Wayman. The name still brought a smile to her face.
Despite her excitement, it was Saturday afternoon before she had the time to delve into the box. Arthur and Miral had been waiting for her to arrive at her apartment on Friday afternoon and had insisted on taking her to dinner in San Francisco for prawns and soft shell crab. She enjoyed the break from her studying, but didn't tell Arthur about the box, knowing that he would probably want to go through the contents with her—without the slow care that a historian would use.
She found some magazines that had been sealed inside of plastic folders, their subjects ranging from sports, to fashion, to business. She carefully numbered them and set them aside so they could to be opened at the office and under controlled conditions to prevent damage. There were newspaper articles that had been hermetically sealed; these she read over with care, making note of the date and subject of each one. There were also a few artifacts: a keychain from the Atlanta Olympics, a patch from the World Series, several U.S. stamps and coins, reports on the national elections, and a couple of cotton shirts.
However, the rest of the box held small plastic sheets, each one in a protective paper sleeve. She had seen pictures of this sort of technology before, but she had never actually held one in her hands.
"Microfiche." Alicia sat back in awe. "These could contain literally thousands of pages of information!"
She counted the sleeves and documented each one before looking up to find that it was well past midnight. She put everything back in the box and crawled into bed, still amazed at her good luck.
Maybe this archive could lead to the dissertation that would put her name in lights.
Two weeks later
"Hi, Mom, it's Alicia."
"Hello, sweetie," Kathryn replied, a huge grin on her face as she smiled into the camera. "I was just thinking about you. Arthur's here with a pizza from the Throwback Café, and I thought you'd love to have some with us."
"Chell's new place?"
"And Uncle Tom's pizza recipes!" Arthur stuck his head into the camera's view. "It's yummy, Allie, and we have too much for the two of us to finish. Come on over!"
"Okay," Allie agreed, her stomach grumbling. "Just the two of you?"
"Yeah, Dad is off giving a lecture somewhere."
"The Daystrom Institute," Kathryn said, pushing her son out of the picture and giving her daughter a wink. "He's traveling a lot because he's about to publish his next book."
"How many books does this make? Twelve?" she asked, already planning which shuttle to take. "I'm on my way. Save me some!"
Later, the three of them sat around the kitchen table sipping beer and gazing at two empty pizza boxes.
"I ate so much, I think I'm going to be sick," Arthur complained.
"That's part of the experience," his mother chuckled. "However, there's an anti-acid hypo in the bathroom, if you need it."
"I'm going to use it and then waddle upstairs for a nap." He stood up, burped audibly, and shambled out of the room. "See you in a couple of hours."
Alicia rolled her eyes. "I forgot what it's like to eat pizza with him."
"It's a memorable experience, all right." Kathryn put down her beer and gave her daughter a close look. "However, you didn't call me today to invite yourself to dinner, did you?"
"No, I didn't." She told her mother about the box of information from 1996, watching as the older woman grew more and more excited with each added detail. "It's been a hell of a lot of work, but I've gone through most of it. I had to read the table of contents for each microfiche and scan a few pages here and there to verify that it was accurate."
"Microfiche, hm." Kathryn reached for a PADD and pulled up a description. "Ah, yes. An early storage device made of photographic film."
"And incredibly fragile, after all these years. Luckily, they were stored in the desert or they probably wouldn't have survived. I've scanned each one into the computer because they're about to disintegrate." She held up an isolinear chip. "I made you a copy."
"From 1996?" Kathryn took the chip from her and held it in her hand. "You realize that there could be some mention of Voyager here."
"There is," Alicia replied. "There are a few stills from a news report—just a blurry silver something flying across the sky."
"Dammit. I hate that." Kathryn looked upset. "What did they say it was?"
"The usual. An experimental ship. A weather balloon. Anything plausible enough to explain it away." She patted her mother's hand. "It didn't have any long-term impact on society, if that's what you're worried about."
"I just hate that it happened, that's all. It reminds me of Braxton and those damned twenty missing minutes of my life." She looked at the chip again. "Any other interesting information?"
"If you're asking about Shannon O'Donnell, I didn't see a thing. But I haven't been through it all."
"Okay. I'll peruse this in my free time."
"My friend, John, is going through some other boxes that were found with this stuff, but his boxes were from early in the 21st Century. I asked him to keep an eye out for Shannon. And I even mentioned that Kathryn Jane Wayman to him."
Kathryn blushed. "You know, I'm a little embarrassed about that one. You were right to call it a reach."
Alicia laughed. "No harm done. I gave him a lot of names to look for, including Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay. So, who knows? Maybe something will come up."
"It will take a miracle."
"Miracles happen, Mom," Alicia reminded her. "You proved that years ago."
One week later
Kathryn Janeway was taking a rare day off to deal with some personal business while her husband was once again off planet. She had endured a checkup with Voyager's EMH, now known as Joe Edwards (by random choice, he claimed), leaving with a clean bill of health for what the doctor had called her "advanced age." The checkup behind her, she walked to a nearby coffee shop for an extra-large coffee and a few hours with the new novel everyone was talking about.
She had just settled in an overstuffed chair when her commbadge chirped. "Janeway here," she answered absently as she thumbed through the first few pages of the book.
"Mom. It's Alicia. Where are you?"
"I'm at the coffee shop near the furniture store. Why? Where are you?"
"I came to your office. You're always here."
Kathryn smiled. "Not today! The coffee shop isn't far from my office. Come join me."
There was a long pause before she spoke. "I'd rather meet you at the house."
Her mother picked up on her serious tone. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I just found something you'll want to see in private."
Janeway nodded, her heart beginning to beat faster. "I'll get a to-go cup and meet you there."
"Okay. And Mom, don't worry. It's good news."
Alicia was already at the house with Kathryn arrived. After a brief hug, they sat down in the living room.
"What did you find?"
"I told you that my friend, John, was going through boxes like the one for 1996? Well, the last one was from 2048, the year after the famous Hermosa Beach earthquake."
"Interesting. Your brother will probably want to look at that one."
"That's what I thought, so I asked John if I could do a quick review of the documents he found there." She stopped, as if she was afraid to go on. "I found an obituary for Kathryn Jane Wayman, of all people."
Her mother laughed. "The woman I found on my random search of the university's database? The Venus rising from the sea?"
"I teased you about that, Mom, but I'll never doubt you again."
"What?" Kathryn paled. "I was right?"
"I think so." She handed her mother the PADD with the clipping and watched her face as she read it, her eyes widening with surprise. "I think we might have found them."
"She was employed by Chronowerx," Kathryn whispered. "Henry Starling's company."
"She was hired in 1998 and worked for them for over thirty years as chief of research and development." She let that information sink in. "But her schooling background is sketchy, at best. She was home schooled, it says, so there is no record of her in any public school system—and her college work was done overseas at a small university in Italy."
"That has also left no records behind," Kathryn guessed.
"Exactly. Its records were destroyed in the Third World War."
"Allie, this makes so much sense. If Braxton sent them to 1996, they would have to blend into society as smoothly as possible. Their backgrounds would be spotty, but their knowledge of science and technology would have been unprecedented. Chronowerx, with its advanced future technology, would have been an ideal match, especially since its president and chief executive officer had just disappeared into thin air."
"It was an ideal situation. She was responsible for hundreds of patents during her tenure and was credited with guiding the company through many challenges over the years."
"I guess so. What about Chakotay?"
"There's even less available on him. The obituary says she had a life partner named Jack Ortiz, but, from what I can tell, they never married. He was an illegal alien that she sponsored. The obituary says he was an artist and handyman, but that's all we know. He was from Mexico, and their records are even spottier than those of the United States. It would fit Chakotay well."
"Yes, it would. This says they lived together just a few blocks from Hermosa Beach itself and that they died in the earthquake." She looked up at her daughter in surprise. "They would have known it was coming, Allie. Why didn't they get to safe ground?"
"Who knows?" She grew thoughtful. "But really, think about it, Mom. They'd been there for over fifty years and would have been, what? Ninety five?"
"She would have been ninety five. Chakotay would have been ninety seven."
"Okay, that's old for those days when health care back was primitive. They would have been considered quite old, nearing death."
"And they would have agreed to avoid any sort of interference in the normal progression of history," Kathryn continued for her. "They would have just . . . let it happen."
"I think so, too."
"But, Allie, this is all supposition. Are there pictures of them we could look at?"
Her daughter's frustration was clear. "Not even one, Mom, and I can understand why. They wanted to protect the future. Company records indicate that no photographs of either her or her partner were to be taken, and none survived, that I know of. None. Period."
"However, I did find a picture of a painting done by Jack Ortiz. It's a landscape, not a portrait of his partner, but look at this." She changed the page on the PADD and gave it to her mother. "Notice the signature."
Janeway admired the painting for a moment and then had the PADD blow up the lower right corner. "Jack O" was clearly printed, but the next letters of his name were oddly blurred, as if the artist had deliberately smeared the paint.
"I had one of our experts study the name. It isn't Ortiz, he says. It looks to him more like 'Otay.'"
Kathryn laughed. "Jack Otay. Chakotay. Jack Ortiz. It fits."
"I think that's enough proof for me," Alicia murmured. "We've found them."
Kathryn stood up and paced as she struggled to hold onto her emotions. She was relieved, after all these years, to know what had happened to them, and yet she was also overwhelmed with sadness. She knew that her counterpart would have agonized over the fate of her beloved crew. She wouldn't have known that she and Chakotay had been "replaced" by Ducane just moments after they had disappeared. She would have worried until her dying day that the Maquis and the Equinox Five were treated fairly, the doctor recognized as a citizen, and the former Borg accepted into society.
"This painting," she said, waving the PADD. "Do we know where it is? Did it survive the earthquake?"
"It survived and was on display for years in a museum in northern California. But then the museum was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The locals salvaged some of the contents, but much of it was lost in the fire or to pilferage. The last known record of it was over one hundred years ago."
"So it was one of the holdings that disappeared—either destroyed or stolen?"
Kathryn stood at the window a long while, staring out the window at the familiar site of the Golden Gate Bridge. An aura of sadness surrounded her, one that her daughter was reluctant to intrude upon.
"I think I need to talk to your dad, honey," she finally managed to say, her voice husky with emotion. "Can I keep this stuff with me? To show him?"
"Sure, Mom." Alicia stood up and gave Kathryn a quick hug. "He's going to say 'I told you so.' He always believed they were safe and together."
"I'm glad he was right this time," she replied, managing to smile through her tears.
The next Saturday was one of those days that make southern California famous—blue skies, bright sun, warm breezes, and breath-taking ocean views. One of the many small vessels bobbing on the calm seas carried Kathryn Janeway and her family.
"Finally," Alicia told her brother as they motored away from the dock, "it's your turn to help Mom out."
"I knew there was a reason I majored in marine archeology," he grinned at her from the helm, glancing back at his parents who lounged in the rear of the boat. "In spite of the heat, Mom is covered from head to foot."
"Because she's the fairest of them all," his father commented, laughing as Kathryn punched him gently on the arm.
"Turn on the scanner, will you, Alicia?" said Arthur, pointing at the equipment under the helm. "It's set to boot up and start scanning automatically."
She followed his directions and watched as the equipment came online. "This underwater scanner and transporter is awesome, Arf," Allie commented as they cruised slowly under the summer sun. "I can practically see the scales on the fish."
"Yeah," Arthur answered, "and you could beam the scales right off the fish if you wanted to."
"Are you sure that it was okay with your boss to use the boat today?" she whispered.
"When I told him that none other than the great Admiral Janeway wanted to look for something from Hermosa Beach, he almost fell over himself to comply. We just have to inform the Historical Society if we remove anything significant from the ruins."
Alicia smiled. "Does she have any idea how much pull she has, thanks to her years on Voyager?"
"Oh, I think she must. She just doesn't flaunt it."
The morning passed without incident. Arthur guided the boat carefully across the water on a well-defined grid, making sure to scan for the exact readings that his mother had specified. He'd explained to her how chancy this exercise was and hoped she wouldn't be too disappointed if nothing turned up.
"We don't have an actual address for their home," he said, referring to the couple who had perished nearly four hundred years earlier, "so it's difficult to guess where any artifacts might now be."
"And there have been multiple aftershocks and earthquakes since then, I know," Kathryn interrupted. "However, I have faith in you. If the artifacts are there, you'll find them."
At noon, Arthur was munching on a sandwich and piloting the boat through a particularly cluttered debris field while the rest of the family ate under the canopy, laughing at a particularly funny story his father was telling. Arthur was paying more attention to the story than to the equipment, but his mother was eyeing the video screen and called his attention to an unusual reading.
"There was a spike just now," she said, getting up to join him. "Let me see if I can track it down."
The others gathered around her as she focused the scanners and located two items that fit the parameters she'd specified. She looked up at the others, triumphant.
"I told you," she said, wagging a finger at her husband. "I told you we'd find something."
"Let's make sure about what we found before we start gloating," he replied, a huge grin on his face, nonetheless.
Arthur took over the equipment, scanning to make sure that the removal of these articles wouldn't compromise the surrounding area. "They look to be inside some sort of metal box. I think I can beam them out of there without disturbing anything."
"Then, do it," Kathryn ordered, unaware that she was using her "admiral" voice.
"Aye-aye," replied Arthur, giving his dad and sister a wink.
The boat rocked gently as Arthur locked the transporter on the articles, double checked his readings, and then reached to activate the beam-out. Alicia caught his hand by the wrist. "Arf, let Mom do it."
He stepped aside and gestured for Kathryn to step in. "They'll materialize on top of the helm," he informed her, joining his sister, who stood behind their father.
"Here we go." With trembling fingers, Kathryn activated the transporter. An instant later, two outdated Starfleet commbadges appeared on the console.
"We did it!" Arthur crowed, jumping up and down with excitement.
"You can start gloating now, Mom!" Alicia agreed, pumping her arms in the air.
Their parents, however, seemed oblivious to their children's celebration, their eyes fixed on the two small devices. After a long moment, Kathryn picked up one of the commbadges and turned it over in her hand. "This one is mine."
"So that makes this one mine," Chakotay replied, picking up the second one.
"They're in bad shape, honey." Kathryn pressed the badge, but there was no chirp in response. "They don't work."
"They've been underwater for over four hundred years."
"Yes, of course, but it's just so strange to see them, because we have these very same commbadges in a desk drawer at home."
The twins retreated to the back of the boat as their parents talked quietly to each other. After a few minutes, Kathryn turned to them and said, "We can head back now, kids. We have what we came for."
Arthur turned off the scanning equipment and secured it before starting the engine again and heading for the dock.
"Do I need to report this to your historical society?" Kathryn asked him as they motored through the choppy surf.
"I don't think so, Mom. What happened during those twenty minutes is still considered to be unverified, right?"
"It's considered a 'non-event' by the Temporal Police," she answered, "whatever that means.
"It means it isn't in the history books," clarified Alicia. "Sort of like those blurry pictures of Voyager back in 1996."
"It should be part of history," Chakotay replied. "Kathryn and Chakotay made a difference during their years in the 21st Century. They're part of our history, and they should be credited for their efforts."
"But they were Kathryn Wayman and Jack Ortiz—not us," Kathryn reminded him. "I'll report this to my contacts in temporal studies. They'll tell us what we should do with them."
"In the meantime, Mom," Alicia added, "I think you should keep them. Technically, they belong to you."
"I guess they do." She turned to Chakotay and dropped her commbadge into his hand. "I found out what I wanted to know," she said. "Let's go home."
"Sure." Chakotay put the commbadges in his pocket. "I hope the weather is as pretty in San Francisco as it is here."
"You've just jinxed us, you know," she quipped.
Alicia and Arthur volunteered to tie up the boat and take care of the equipment so that their parents could leave. They could tell that their mother was worn out from the sunshine, fresh air, and emotional strain of their hours on the water. As they watched them walk out of the marina hand-in-hand, Alicia sighed.
"After nearly thirty years of marriage, they still hold hands. It's so sweet."
"And not just in this timeline, I'll bet you." Arthur looked up from his work, his eyes locking with his sister's. "These same two people—the very same people—were also together four hundred years ago. Get your mind around that."
"It's romantic, don't you think?" she said, a goofy grin on her face. "Like they were destined to be lovers, in every timeline."
"Lovers?! Please, Alicia!" He made a face. "We're talking about our parents here!"
"You're such a goof ball, Arthur."
"Did you send them the gift?" he wondered as he loaded the portable scanner onto an anti-gravity pallet.
"Yeah. It's supposed to arrive later today. Hope they like it."
"They will. It's just the sort of sentimental stuff they go for."
Alicia shook her head. "What am I going to do with you?"
"Nothing," he grinned. "You have to accept me as I am. That's what families do."
"Just my luck."
Kathryn was unusually quiet as she and Chakotay walked to the transport station near the marina, beamed to San Francisco, and then headed for home. The weather in San Francisco reflected her dark mood. Instead of blue skies, warm breezes, and sunshine, they were faced with a cold drizzle, slate black clouds, and fog.
Chakotay kept his mouth shut. He'd learned years earlier to allow Kathryn her moments of melancholy, but even so he watched her carefully. The "mystery of the missing twenty minutes" might have been solved, but she still needed to come to terms with it. She'd been uncharacteristically emotional in the weeks since Kathryn Jane Wayman's obituary had been found, and he worried it would take her another thirty years for her to come to terms with the truth.
When they finally arrived at home, chilled to the bone, the house was clammy cold. Kathryn headed upstairs for a sweater while Chakotay put a fire in the fireplace and fixed some warm drinks.
A half hour later, they sat together in front of a roaring fire with four outdated commbadges lined up on the coffee table. She sipped coffee, while he had his usual herbal tea, and they both pondered the significance of their discovery.
"You've been quieter than usual since we found the commbadges, Kathryn. Would you like to talk about it?"
"I keep trying to imagine what they went through, that's all." She shifted on the sofa to face him. "Those two people were us, Chakotay, you and me."
"I realize that."
"Not duplicates, not someone just like us. Us. The very same people who were in that elevator and snatched away by Ducane were the ones Braxton sent four hundred years into the past."
"I know." He waited a moment. "It's a strange feeling to find out that we have lived two separate lives."
She stood up and began to pace, back and forth in front of the fireplace. "Imagine it, Chakotay. Think it through. They didn't know what happened to their crew. They didn't know that Ducane replaced them with us just moments after they disappeared—and why? Why didn't he bring them back, instead? Seven and I were reintegrated with our previous selves after we visited the Relativity."
"I've wondered that, too. I've come up with a couple of possible explanations."
"I'm listening." She stopped and faced him, her hands on her hips.
"He didn't know where they were, or when they were, as soon as he needed to. Because of that confusion, he couldn't bring them back soon enough to avoid compromising both timelines. Braxton was an expert at this stuff, and he knew how to cover his tracks and hide their location. He wanted to be sure that we were well and permanently stranded."
"Maybe." She looked skeptical. She'd seen how the Relativity could travel through time and knew that Ducane could have inserted them smoothly into the timeline. "And the other reason?"
"The time cops discovered that they made a tremendous difference in the 21st century." At her scowl, he continued, "Starling left his company in shambles, and probably left behind future technology that could have been dangerous in the wrong hands. We were there to make sure history evolved as it should."
She studied his face. "You're saying that the time cops left them there because they made a 'significant' contribution to the timeline."
"Maybe. I don't know for sure, but it makes sense to me."
"There's another possibility that's more likely. You remember how I fainted when Ducane returned us to my quarters that day—and that was with well-constructed temporal transporters. Braxton's device was homemade and untested. It might have caused enough damage that another time jump would have been fatal to her. They warned Seven and me about that after we visited them on their ship in the Delta Quadrant."
"That could be it, all right."
"She was stuck wherever, or whenever, Braxton left her."
"And Chakotay would never have gone back without her. He wouldn't leave her there alone."
"No, he wouldn't." She started pacing again. "I'm sure he was caught up in this quite by accident. Braxton was after me, alone, not both of us."
"That's where they were lucky, Kathryn, because together, they were more than capable of surviving and succeeding wherever they ended up."
She grinned and shook her head, returning to the sofa and picking up her coffee mug. "You really believe that, don't you?"
"I do. We've proven it dozens of times of the years, and they've proven it, too. They could rely on each other, help each other figure out how to fit in, arrange their lives so that they could actually be productive."
"And they could have comforted each other over all they'd lost." She took a deep breath and leaned forward, burying her face in her hands. "To work so hard to get home, to risk everything, only to have it ripped away from them so cruelly just as everything was falling into place. It breaks my heart to think of it."
He rubbed her back. "I'm sure they wondered what happened to the crew for a long time—knowing you and how long you worried about the two of them, maybe a long, long time."
Kathryn laughed and leaned back to give him a grin. "I'm sorry I've been so fixated on this for all these years."
"It's okay. But I really believe that she would have moved on eventually. Chakotay would have seen to that. She would have committed herself to her new mission of guiding Chronowerx and fitting into her new time. Once she truly let go, she would live her life to the fullest."
"So you don't feel sorry for either of them? Not Chakotay, either?"
"Kathryn, I'm not going to feel sorry for any Chakotay who gets to live his life next to you."
A corner of her mouth twitched with a lopsided smile. "You keep saying things like that, and you're going to get lucky tonight."
Relieved that she was beginning to joke about the situation, Chakotay leaned in for a kiss, his lips touching hers tenderly. "I'm lucky every night," he whispered.
The moment was interrupted by the ringing of the doorbell.
"Who could that be?" she wondered as Chakotay headed for the door. "Everyone thinks we're in Los Angeles."
He returned moments later carrying a small wrapped box in his hands. "It's from our children."
"What? It isn't my birthday. Or yours."
"And our anniversary was two months ago." He studied the flat rectangular box and then sat down beside her, pulling off the paper and the bubble wrap that protected . . . a small painting. Chakotay held it up for closer inspection.
"Chakotay, it's your painting. Or, to be more exact, it's his painting. The one that Alicia found a picture of in her research." She reached forward and touched the frame. "She told me that it was lost when a museum burned over a hundred years ago."
"I have my doubts about this being his work. I've never liked working with oils."
"He had plenty of time to learn to like working with them," Janeway reminded him.
"You have a point. He might have enjoyed a challenge." He squinted at the painting. "The trees seem peculiar. Could it be a jungle scene?"
"Or an alien planet. He visited a lot of those, you know." She grinned at him. "But that white flower, with the deep red center, seems familiar."
"The signature, of course, is off."
"He couldn't use his real name back then—and one name just didn't work. Jack is close to Chak, after all."
"But, you never call me Chak."
"I don't, but that Kathryn might have had to use Jack, to make them seem more ordinary."
He turned the painting over. "Here's a stock number 49690 and some really faint writing."
Kathryn turned on the reading lamp so they could see the writing better. She studied the back of the painting and then laid it on her lap, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Chakotay, that isn't a stock number. It's a star date, and it coincides perfectly with the title he gave the painting." She pointed at the faint writing. "New Earth."
They turned the painting back over for a closer look, and, sure enough, the title was correct—it was a painting of their personal "Eden" in the Delta Quadrant.
"That explains the unusual trees," she pointed out.
"It's the bank of the river where we swam," murmured Chakotay. "Remember the tree that shaded the pool? And this is the rock ledge where you used to dry off in the sun."
"That flower with the red center. We called it dragon's blood." She gestured to what would have been to the right of the painting. "Over here was my bathtub and then the house. He remembered it all without the help of any of the pictures we took."
"Of course, he did. It's still a vivid memory to me—the best moments of my life out of seven long years on Voyager."
"Really?" she said, brushing away tears. "The best moments?"
He slid an arm around her shoulders. "Bar none."
Kathryn snuggled into his side and gazed at the painting, tenderly dragging her finger over the rough strokes. "Isn't it a wonderful gift? Alicia knew how much it would mean to us. I just wonder how she found it."
"She shows flashes of the Janeway tenacity," he teased.
"They held this in their hands, Chakotay. It probably hung in place of honor their house."
"In their bedroom," he guessed. "To remind them of those wonderful days together."
"We'll hang it in our bedroom, too. It's a miracle, you know? That something from four hundred years ago survived in such decent condition?"
He grew thoughtful. "They would have sold it, before the earthquake. Maybe they hoped it would be a lasting memento of their existence."
"Could you do it? Stay in that house when you knew that the clock was ticking down to your certain death?" She shivered. "I can't imagine it."
"By that time, they were probably used to letting horrible events happen without interference. This would have been the last in a long line of disasters that they had to witness unfold without doing anything to prevent them." He nuzzled her hair. "Anyway, they would have been quite old for that era. Perhaps they were ill, facing death anyway."
"So why not choose how you go?"
"And go together. All they had was each other."
"Apparently not. It was just too chancy, I suppose."
A thoughtful look on her face, she said, "Okay, then. I'm letting them go."
Chakotay placed a hand on his chest. "Be still my heart. You're no longer going to obsess over those missing twenty minutes and what happened to Kathryn and Chakotay?"
"Nope, and do you want to know why?" At his nod, she chuckled. "Braxton wanted to strand me alone in the 20th century where he'd lived as a homeless wild man, alone and lost. Instead, he sent me there with you at my side, and we stayed together for the rest of our lives. I'm not going to feel bad about it any longer."
"I'm glad. We know now that they were happy and productive people who loved being together and prospered in the 21st century."
"Yes, they did. But he also brought us together in this timeline, Chakotay. Without his interference, we would have gone to dinner that night and parted as friends. Who knows whether we would have explored our relationship?"
"I like to think that we would have, but it might have taken awhile to unfold. For one thing, there wouldn't have been that electric kiss in your bedroom to get things started."
"Oh, yes. Right after Ducane returned us to the apartment." She smiled at the memory.
Shaken to see Kathryn so vulnerable, Chakotay pulled her into a rare embrace and marveled at the fact that she was crying into his shoulder. He tried to soothe her frazzled nerves. "Ducane promised to help us, remember? We have to believe in him."
"And just go on with our lives as if nothing happened?" she wondered, her voice muffled.
"What else can we do, Kathryn? You and I are safe and free to carry on with our lives. We shouldn't let anything interfere with our chance to be happy."
"You make a good point, as always." She snuggled deeper into his arms, too comfortable to think about the consequences of her actions and too tired to worry about what Braxton had done to them. "I feel happy and safe right where I am."
Chakotay was surprised at the subtle change in her embrace and at the way she molded her body to his. In the last several weeks, as the debriefings had begun to wind down, they had gradually moved away from their roles of captain and commander and toward being very good friends. He took her lingering embrace as another sign of their reemerging affection for each other. In response, he laid his head against her hair.
"He won't desert her, you know," he murmured, his breath warm on her ear. "Wherever or whenever they are, he'll be right beside her. She isn't alone. And neither are you."
She looked up at him, cupping his face with her hand. Her eyes shone with affection and glittered with unshed tears, and she found herself too moved by his devotion to speak.
Chakotay could think of nothing else to do but to lower his head and kiss her.
She gave him a crooked grin. "You caught me at a moment of weakness, you know. I was still reeling from that last time jump and, thank God, you took advantage of the moment." She rested her head on his shoulder. "It was an electrifying kiss, wasn't it?"
"I remember it to this day. That kiss kept me awake for many nights, trying to think of a way to convince you that I was in love with you, not Seven of Nine."
"I'm glad you finally got that message through my thick skull," she chuckled. "I loved you, too, but didn't want to come between you."
"It would seem that the other Kathryn and Chakotay were also together to the end."
"Ironic, isn't it?" she sighed as Chakotay put an arm around her shoulders and she burrowed into his side. "Braxton wanted to ruin my life, but, instead, he brought us together-not once, but twice."
Chakotay smiled and pulled her closer. "Take that, Captain Braxton."