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Chapter 11:

First Officer’s Log, Stardate 97268.6. The crew has started experiencing the effects of temporal reversion caused by the heavy concentrations of chronoton particles and tachyon fields. This is, in some ways, beneficial—many crew members have reported feeling livelier and more energetic; morale has improved, as has overall performance. There have, however, been some ill effects—crew members who are particularly susceptible to the effects of the temporal reversions have experienced a range of side effects from nausea and headaches to dizziness and faintness after exposure to particularly high chronoton levels. From the senior staff, this includes Captain Janeway and Harry Kim. Our children are also being affected by the temporal reversions … physical changes have made it clear that they have begun to “reverse age.” The eldest children--Padriac, Jason, Miralle, and Naomi—are still functioning as they normally would, though their physical appearance changes little by little every day.

***

“Sweetheart, I want you here tonight with your father and me,” Janeway said, smoothing a hand over her son’s hair, surreptitiously studying his face for any changes in the eight hours she’s been on the bridge. “You’re spending way too much time with Jason lately.”

“But Mom, I really need to …”

“Don’t ‘but mom’ me. You’re staying in. Do I have to make it an order?”

Padriac looked as if he wanted to pout but was debating the merits of such clearly childish behavior.

“Tom and B’Elanna invited us over for dinner and a movie,” Janeway added, hoping to make the prospect of an evening without the company of his best friend more palatable.

“Are they having pizza?” he asked, face brightening.

“Would we be having anything else?” Janeway asked, amused at how easy it was to turn his mood around.

“Chinese,” Padriac replied. “Which is just as good. Can Jase and I do some work afterward?”

Janeway shook her head firmly. “No. You two are spending entirely too much time on this project. You’re always in the Carey’s quarters or astrometrics which, I’ve heard, is getting in the way of the work that the crew is trying to do. So from now on you two will work on your project during your school hours and start coming home to spend time with your families afterward.”

“You and dad are total workaholics!” Padriac protested. “Why are you punishing me for something you guys do on a regular basis?”

“Your mother’s the workaholic in this family, son, not me,” Chakotay said, catching the end of the conversation as he strolled through the door. “And I don’t like her tendency to overdo it any more than I do yours.” He ruffled Padriac’s hair then raised an eyebrow when the teen irritably drew away and brushed it straight again. “What are we arguing about here?”

“She wants me to stop working with Jason,” Padriac grumbled, a sulky note creeping into his voice.

“I want him to stop working with Jason in the evenings and late at night when he should be here,” Janeway clarified irritably.

Chakotay laid a hand on his wife’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “Let’s both of you take that Irish temper down a notch. Padriac, your mother’s right … you’re spending too much time with Jason on this mysterious project for Lieutenant Kim. Whatever it is you’re plotting and planning on can be done just as easily from a console here in our quarters as at the Carey’s or the astrometrics lab. However …” He turned to his wife. “Kath, don’t you think it would be easier if we all agreed that work time with Jason needs to be cut back, rather than cut off? The boys are, after all, following an example that several very driven parents have set for them.”

Janeway blew out a breath and nodded. “Fair enough. You have two nights a week of after-hours work time with Jason … but you absolutely cannot be in the astrometrics lab. A number of people have mentioned to me how much time you’re logging down there. I can’t have that, not when we need the lab at a moment’s notice to monitor the flow-fields in the Temporal Expanse. Understood”

Padriac reluctantly nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“All right.” Chakotay clapped his son on the shoulder. “Is that settled?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Kathryn?”

“Agreed.” She reached for her son and pulled him over for a rather stiff hug. “Your father and I worry about you, that’s all. Especially with this ongoing temporal reversion.”

“I’m FINE, Mom,” the teen replied, irritation still coloring his voice. He shrugged out of her embrace. When he caught Janeway’s hurt expression he mumbled, “Sorry, I’m just in a bad mood.”

“Go ahead and get ready for dinner,” she said softly. “We’re due at the Paris’s in half an hour.”

When Padriac disappeared into his room, she sighed and met her husband’s eyes. “This must be the hard part of parenting.”

Chakotay slid an arm around her shoulders. “If it helps at all the mood changes are probably part of the temporal reversions. They have nothing to do with us.”

“It doesn’t help,” she replied. “It makes me feel worse, if anything.”

“Why is that?” He led her to the couch and they sat down together, hip to hip, his arm still around her.

“Because we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for …”

“Don’t start with that,” Chakotay interrupted. “Kathryn, you know what happens when you start thinking that way--you get absolutely miserable and start second-guessing everything you do. You can’t do that now. We need you strong—Padriac and me and everyone else on this ship.”

“But no pressure or anything,” she joked, leaning against him.

“None at all.” He pressed his lips to her temple. “He’s having a bad day, Kath. All teenagers do. Just keep telling yourself that.”

Janeway sighed and closed her eyes, hoping the headache threatening to descend would hold off a bit longer. “Maybe seeing Miralle and having pizza will cheer him up.”

“Tom mentioned a movie too. Something about magical rings.” Chakotay raised an eyebrow. “Some 20th century film, no doubt.”

“Our helmsman has VERY strange taste,” Janeway said, amused. “Shall we bring something for dessert?”

“Let’s get the kid to replicate chocolate chip cookies,” Chakotay replied. “If he can coax the replicator into it. Son of mine!” he called. “Your parents need you to make cookies.”

The door to Padriac’s bedroom slid open and he poked his head out. “Cookies?”

“We’re taking dessert to the Paris’s. You’re the only one who can make that infernal replicator of your mother’s produce decent cookies.”

Padriac grinned and crossed to the replicator. “You guys could have moved to different quarters when you got married and let the replicator be someone else’s problem. I mean, captain’s prerogative, right?”

Janeway smiled at Chakotay. “Well, we could … but we also have some fond memories attached to these quarters.”

Padriac raised an eyebrow. “I DON'T want to know the details.” He began entering commands into the replicator. “You know, it works a lot better if you specify each ingredient you want in a multi-step recipe. Otherwise the computer just chooses by default … and it usually picks the easiest recipe, which isn’t always the tastiest.”

Janeway and Chakotay blinked at each other. “How come that never occurred to me?” she asked.

“Simple.” Padriac entered the last ingredient, hit a sequence of commands, and a plate of steaming cookies appeared on the replicator pad. “I’m smarter than both of you.” He grinned saucily.

“Our kid’s got quite a mouth on him, doesn’t he?” Chakotay said to Janeway, laughing. “Wonder where he got that from?”

Janeway winked at her son. “Neither of us, surely.”

Padriac placed three cookies on a plate and brought them over to the coffee table, offering them to each parent in turn. “Mom, your hair looks different.”

Janeway’s hand rose to her hair. “Different how?”

Padriac squinted. “Darker. Most of the silver’s gone.”

Chakotay scrutinized it in turn. “He’s right. It looks good.”

“Most of the silver’s gone from yours too, Dad.”

It was Chakotay’s turn to raise his hand to his brush-cut hair and Janeway’s turn to examine. “Pity,” she remarked. “I liked it there.”

Chakotay grinned. “I’m sure some spray paint would put it right back there if you really wanted it.” He peered at Padriac, taking a good look at him. “You look … I can’t put my finger on it.”

“Younger,” he said glumly. “I look younger. I’m going to look like a kid.”

“You ARE a kid, honey,” Janeway reminded him. “But you don’t look significantly younger, which is all that counts.” She rose and stretched. “The cookies are great, sweetheart. Let me get changed and we’ll go.”

Padriac, looking as though he doubted her assessment of not appearing younger, nodded and got up to wrap the remaining cookies. Chakotay followed his wife into their bedroom.

“He does look younger,” Chakotay murmured. “It’s nothing I can put my finger on but …”

“I know,” Janeway replied, pulling clothing out of the closet to try to decide what to wear. “Lanna and Tuvok were testing shield modifications all day but they’re only able to filter some of the chronotons—maybe 30% at best. That’s a good start but it’s not enough.”

“We’ll get there.” Chakotay wrapped his arms around her from behind. “Have faith.”

“You know how I feel about faith,” she said softly.

“I know you’ve always been certain that science can find an answer. Have faith in that.”

She turned in his arms and found his lips. “What would I do without you?”

He returned the kiss before letting go and heading for the sonic shower. “You'll never have to find out,” he replied.

***

“Who’s ready for pizza?” Paris asked brightly as Janeway, Chakotay, and Padriac walked in the door. “I replicated three types!”

“Ooh, what kind?” Padriac asked, making a beeline for the table loaded with pizzas, salad, drinks, plates, and silverware.

“Four-cheese for my picky eater,” Paris said, ruffling his youngest daughter’s hair. “Pepperoni for the carnivores, spinach and mushroom for the vegetarian,” he said with a nod at Chakotay who returned a smile of thanks.

“We brought cookies,” Padriac said cheerfully, setting the large plate on the table.

“Excellent,” Paris enthused. “And for our viewing pleasure, we have a classic of 20th century filmmaking, a truly great epic …The Lord of the Rings.”

“It’s awesome,” Miralle put in, walking into the dining room. “Hey, Padriac.”

“Isn’t that the one about magical jewelry?” Padriac looked doubtfully at his friend. “I don’t know if that constitutes awesome.”

“It’s not really about the ring,” Miralle replied. “It’s about the war fought in the name of the ring.”

“A bunch of guys are fighting over jewelry?”

“No, it’s not JUST guys … it’s also elves and orcs and dwarves.”

“Short people are fighting a war over jewelry?” The twinkle in Padriac’s eyes grew more pronounced the longer he teased Miralle.

“It’s not ABOUT the ring. It’s about saving the world.”

“The fate of the world is in jeopardy because of jewelry?”

“Padriac, you are SO …”

“Kids, stop teasing each other,” Torres warned, walking in from the bedroom in off-duty clothing.

“Oh, no, this is the real entertainment,” Paris said, grinning. “Let ‘em keep going.”

Torres rolled her eyes at Janeway and Chakotay. “Do you see what I live with? I’m glad you could make it.”

“Thanks for having us over.” Chakotay’s eyes lit on the large TV now dominating the Paris’ living room. “That’s one hell of a television, Tom.”

“Isn’t it great? I’ve been saving my replicator rations for MONTHS to make the parts. I finally got it all assembled yesterday.”

“This is the inaugural viewing,” Torres said, using a pizza cutter to start attacking the pies. “He’s been on pins and needles all day waiting for this.”

Janeway helped her chief engineer dish salad into bowls. “Well, thank you for including us.” She handed a bowl of salad to her son. “Vegetables before pizza, understand?”

Padriac grumbled but took the bowl and fork, settling around the coffee table with Miralle and Sahara, the default “kids table” whenever the two families ate together.

Dinner was a relatively sedate affair; the adults tried to steer their conversation away from ship’s business, aware that the kids were in close proximity. When it became abundantly clear that Miralle, Sahara, and Padriac were engrossed in a conversation all their own, they quickly gave each other status reports.

“How much further do we have to go until we’re out of the Temporal Expanse?” Torres asked.

Chakotay shrugged. “We’ve extended the sensors as far as we can but we still don’t have a good idea of how far we have left to travel.”

“And that also means we don’t have any idea how much longer we’ll be exposed to the temporal reversion process,” Paris said grimly.

Torres shot a look at the kids. “Which is nerve-wracking, to say the least! If I even take my eyes off of them for a second I expect them to look different when I look at them again.”

Chakotay nodded. “I know what you mean. Padriac looked different to me when I came back home but I couldn’t put my finger on how.” He took a bite of salad and studied his son. “I want to get out of this area of space. I want to enjoy my family without worrying about anything interfering.”

Janeway touched his hand briefly before returning to her own meal. “I agree.”

“Dad!” Sahara yelled. “I’m finished! Can I go in my room and watch TV?”

“Volume, sweetheart,” Paris corrected gently. “We’re all in the same room. Don’t you want to watch the movie with us?”

“I want to watch cartoons.”

“She definitely takes after Tom!” Chakotay whispered to his wife, grinning.

“Only until the movie starts,” Paris replied. “We’re watching together as a family.”

“But I don’t WANT to watch ‘Bored of the Rings’” Sahara pouted.

Torres snickered at the malapropism, then sobered. “Honey, Dad really likes the movie and wants to share it with his special girls. You don’t want to disappoint him, do you?”

“I want to watch cartoons,” she insisted and turned to Padriac. “I want Padriac to watch with me.”

“No, Padriac’s going to watch the movie with us.” Miralle corrected her younger sister, exasperated.

Sahara’s voice turned shrill. “I wanna--”

“It’s okay.” Padriac stood up. “I’ll go watch with Sahara for a little bit, then come out with you guys later.”

“You can’t miss the beginning of the movie, that’s all the back-story!” Miralle insisted. “It’s everything you need to know about the one ring.”

“You can catch me up.” Padriac offered a reassuring smile at his friend. “Seriously, it’s fine.”

Miralle glared fiercely at Sahara. “You are SUCH a brat.”

“I am NOT!”

“Girls,” Torres snapped. “Enough! Padriac, thank you. Sahara, as soon as he wants to come watch the movie with us you let him do so. No whining. No tears. Understand?”

“Yes,” she replied, petulantly sticking out her tongue at her older sister.

“Get to your room, young lady, or I’m going to change my mind about letting you have the old TV in there,” Paris warned. He gave Padriac a friendly smile. “We’ll save a spot for you, bud.”

“No worries.” Padriac rose and took Sahara’s hand. “Cartoons await!”

Miralle slumped back against the couch, arms crossed, obviously very upset with her sibling. “Dad, it’s not fair! Padriac came over to hang out with me!”

“I know, honey.” Paris crossed to his daughter and smoothed her hair. “Please just be patient with her, okay?”

“I’m sick of being patient with her! She’s a rotten little p’tahk!”

“Hey.” Torres’s head snapped up. “Watch your language, young lady.”

“Mom, she--”

“Miralle, I KNOW.” Torres sighed. “We’ve been over this. Just help me clean up, okay, and we’ll start the movie. Padriac will watch with us when Sahara’s calmer.”

All the adults rose and began cleaning up the dinner chaos while Miralle wiped down the coffee table and placed the cookies within easy reach. Knowing it would be a good while before her parents, the captain, and the commander would be ready to enjoy the film, she walked to her room for the paper sketchbook and pencils her father had replicated for her birthday. She’d work on her design for an ultra-lite two-man hang glider she was planning for a holodeck program.

Their old TV was blasting away in Sahara’s bedroom. Rolling her eyes, she grabbed her pad and pencils and crossed the hall to tell her bratty sister to turn the volume down.

The door to her sister’s room had been adjusted so it was permanently lodged an inch open even when it was shut. The privacy locks had also been disengaged. The Paris and Janeway families had learned the dangers of locked doors in their children’s rooms after a mishap when Miralle had been babysitting Padriac. She leaned toward the door, fully prepared to be as rude to her obnoxious little sister as possible, and caught a snippet of the conversation from inside.

“ …their technology is different from any we’ve ever encountered before! Jason and I have tried everything … their systems are incompatible; our methods are useless.”

“We’re going to have to do something … we’re starting to regress. I should have made this second daughter older … closer to the first one’s age. I can’t get anything done in this tiny body, not when it’s getting younger every minute.”

“Our own regression is the least of our worries right now. There has to be a way to set the plan in motion. We need to find Jason and the others.”

Miralle backed away from the door, her mind spinning. Whoever—or whatever-- was beyond that door wasn’t her little sister … nor was it the plucky, funny young man who was her closest friend. They were … aliens. Invaders. Infiltrators. And, according to them, they had a plan.

What kind of a plan? A plan to hurt or kill the crew? Whatever it was, Jason and the other children were in on it.

Who to tell? Who was going to believe her? Not the captain. Certainly not her parents! Who was she supposed to tell that aliens had infiltrated the ship and were hatching a plot?

Naomi! She could tell Naomi! Naomi had her own suspicions … the older girl had said as much just a few days ago over lunch. And they’d both seen all the other kids together in the holodeck, obviously where they weren’t supposed to be. Naomi would know what to do.

Miralle forced herself to walk calmly back into her room where she hit her commbadge.

“Miralle Paris to Naomi Wildman.”

“Wildman here.”

“Are you busy?”

“I was about to go to the holodeck. Why?”

“Mind if I join you? I’d REALLY like to talk to you.”

Naomi sounded a little puzzled but not unhappy about the prospect of an uninvited guest in her program. “Sure, come on by. I’ll be in holodeck 3.”

“Great, see you then.” She closed the channel and turned around to find Padriac standing in her doorway.

“Hey, Miralle,” he said with a friendly smile.

“Hi,” she replied, her heart starting to pound. “What’s up?”

“I thought we were going to watch the movie.”

“We are.”

“No, you just made a holodeck date with Naomi Wildman. So how are we going to watch the movie if you’re on the holodeck?”

“Oh.” Miralle swallowed. “Well, I … there’s some stuff I have to talk to her about.”

“Oh yeah?” Padriac sauntered in and lightly touched the model starship hanging in front of the window. “What kind of stuff?”

She raced for an answer that would disinterest him and finally said, casually, “Girl stuff. You know … hair and make-up … guys.”

Padriac—predictably—wrinkled his nose. “You’re going to the holodeck with Naomi Wildman to talk about MAKE-UP? You’re getting soft on me, Paris.” He gave her a light tap on the arm. At that moment he was so much the boy she knew that she wondered if she hadn’t just imagined the entire scene in her sister’s room.

“Well, you know …” She shrugged and then hit him back, hard, in the arm. “Soft or not, I can still beat you at windsurfing.”

“Are you really going to leave me alone with my parents to watch a movie about jewelry?”

“It’s NOT about the jewelry! It’s about …”

“Yeah, yeah, the fate of the world, I heard you.” Padriac grinned charmingly. “See you tomorrow in the Mess Hall?”

“Yeah,” Miralle replied, edging toward the door. “Absolutely. See you then.”

Trying to look as if she weren’t hurrying, she headed down the hallway and into the living room where the adults were settling onto the couch and love seat.

“Going to the holodeck with Naomi, see you!” she called over her shoulder, not wanting to give her parents any time to question her. She was sure to catch some flack for it later but she didn’t care … right now she wanted to talk to Naomi about the aliens masquerading as her sister and best friend.