"You can't jump the track, we're like cars ona cable, and life's like an hourglass glued to the table" --Anna Nalick
It wasn’t waking up next to Chakotay that made Janeway realize that something had gone wrong aboard her ship—it was waking up next to a Chakotay who was visibly, markedly older that he should have been.
Although her first impulse was to rocket out of bed in shock, she instead lay very still next to him, breathing quietly, slowly, and tried to get over the (not necessarily unwelcome) shock of finding herself in bed next to her first officer. She studied Chakotay’s sleeping face and attempted to gauge an approximate amount of time that seemed to have passed based on his appearance.
The skin around his mouth and eyes bore fine lines that she distinctly recalled as not having been so pronounced at dinner the night before. It wasn’t that Chakotay hadn’t had lines on his face, but they had been virtually unnoticeable to anyone who wasn’t looking closely. Studying him now, she found that they were visible, clearly so. His brush-cut hair had acquired a more distinctly silver-ish cast to it than the occasional fine streaks that she had noticed the previous night. From what she could see—and feel—of his body next to hers, he was still strong, powerful, and well-defined, though his hands—one on the blanket and one lying intimately on the curve of her hip-- told the tale of encroaching years—they also had acquired lines and even an age spot or two.
Chakotay had always aged well. She knew his chronological age—five years older than hers—and he certainly had never looked it. Good genes, her mother would have said. But she also knew that she didn’t look her chronological age either—equal amounts good genes and good skin care—and wondered with a sudden jolt if she, too, looked as though she had visibly aged.
She took a quick self-assessment. More pain in her back and in her knees than she’d have liked—she could tell that just from lying down. Her own hands had acquired the same sort of lines that Chakotay’s had and she noted with a jolt that she wore a wedding band on her left hand. A glance at Chakotay’s hand showed that he was wearing one as well, which certainly explained why they were in bed together.
She ran a hand quickly over her body and found to her relief that not much had changed, though her midsection wasn’t as tight as she’d have liked and her breasts weren’t quite as pert. They even seemed fuller, something which she truly could not account for, no matter how much thinking she did on the matter.
No doubt about it, she thought, studying her first officer’s—her husband’s-- sleeping face. They had aged and, apparently, she’d lost memories of the intervening years.
She allowed the possibilities for what could account for that to fill her agile mind—aging or wasting disease, temporal loop, time travel … hell, even a trick by Q or his impish son Q2 might be to blame. She was eager to get to the Bridge, to find out what had happened, but realized quickly that bursting on to the Bridge and demanding to know why everyone had aged overnight would land her nothing more than a trip to Sickbay, especially if she was the only one who perceived that her crew HAD aged overnight.
The thing to do was wake Chakotay. Maybe she WAS the only one who remembered things differently. Perhaps she had suffered a traumatic brain injury that had allowed her to forget the last—well, decade was her best guess, judging from her first officer’s appearance. Decade at least, she amended, remembering that if Chakotay was showing his age, it may very well have been longer.
“Chakotay,” she murmured, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.
He mumbled a response that sounded like her name and “too early” that was muffled when he rolled onto his stomach and buried his head in the pillow. Janeway had to stifle a giggle—apparently her first officer wasn’t a morning person.
She placed a hand on his back and tried again, and this time she couldn’t resist running gentle palms up and down the line of his spine as she murmured his name, allowing herself to enjoy the corded muscles she found there.
He turned his head to sleepily peer at her then his eyes widened almost comically as he registered her presence. “Kathryn?” He sat up then ran his hands over his face. “I had no idea—I must have fallen asleep—I don’t remember--”
“It’s all right,” she said quickly. “What do you remember?”
“We had dinner last night. We were talking about watching a holoplay but we were both so tired we could barely keep our eyes open. I don’t know how we ended up--” He peered at her then and his face registered first confusion, then shock. “Kathryn, your hair.” He reached to touch the strands. “How …”
“What color is it?” she asked softly.
“Red … but with silver streaks. My god, it’s beautiful, but how … and your face. You look …” He shook his head. “Why do you look older? Do I look older?” His hands went to his own face and he stopped abruptly when he noticed the wedding ring. “Are we …Kathryn, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “But I’m relieved I’m not the only one who’s shocked by this.”
“How much time--?” He finally thought to do the one thing she hadn’t done yet and demanded, “Computer, what’s the stardate?”
The computer replied with a date that was, as Janeway had predicted, further into the future than either could fathom happening overnight—16 years in the future.
“Computer, what is our location?” Janeway asked next.
“Sector 00579 of the Delta Quadrant.”
Her stomach fell so fast and so hard that she had to raise a hand to her mouth to keep from weeping aloud at hearing 16 years later, against all hope and all of her efforts, they were still in the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay’s arm slid around her shoulders and pulled her up against him, holding her close.
“Well,” Chakotay said, giving her time to cover her shock and dismay, “either the two of us have pulled a Rip Van Winkle, in which case we need to go to Sickbay, or this has happened to the rest of the crew as well and we should be getting reports from others in just a few minutes.”
As if on cue, Janeway’s commbadge sounded. “Tuvok to Janeway.”
“Captain, this is curious …”
“ … but you woke up 16 years older. Is that right?”
There was a barely perceptible pause on Tuvok’s end and then he said, “I see I am not the only one who has noticed this phenomenon.”
Janeway laughed shakily. “I’m glad it’s not just us. Have you heard from any other members of the crew?”
She knew Tuvok was dying to know who ‘us’ referred to but she was also just as sure that he wouldn’t indulge his curiosity by asking. “I have not. However, in running a security sweep I have noticed that there are 8 fewer crew members on board than expected.”
Her stomach dropped again and she felt her shoulders tighten. Chakotay, his arm still around her, leaned in so the comm could catch his voice and asked, “Who are the eight, Mr. Tuvok?”
If Tuvok found it odd that Chakotay and Janeway were together, he didn’t let it show in his voice. He simply replied, “Crewman Dalby, Lieutenant Hargrove, Ensign Campbell, Lieutenant Commander Herran, Mr. Neelix, Seven of Nine, Lieutenant Commander Carlson, and Crewman Chell.”
“But the rest of us are here?” Chakotay continued, allowing Janeway a moment to find her voice.
“All right. Tuvok, please personally locate the senior staff members and have them report to the Ready Room in an hour. The Captain and I will go to Sickbay and see if the Doctor can shed some light on what’s been going on—if there is some sort of temporal field in effect that has caused us to age, he should be immune to it. We’ll all compare findings in an hour. Chakotay out.”
He closed the comm channel, then said apologetically, “I hope I didn’t overstep.”
Janeway shook her head. “That’s exactly what I would have ordered. Thank you.” She squared her shoulders—there would be time to grieve later—and rose.
She FELT sixteen years older … there was popping from joints that had previously worked smoothly and tightness where she wouldn’t have expected any. Curiosity got the better of her and she strode to the mirror to study her reflection.
As Chakotay had pointed out, her hair was silvering. It was silvering attractively, she thought, but silvering nonetheless. The same lines she’d noticed around Chakotay’s mouth and eyes were more prominent on her and there were lines on her forehead that spoke of too many late nights with system’s status reports. Her body was still slender, if a little less tight that she’d like. She smiled with satisfaction, though, when she noted that her favorite nightgown still looked lovely on her.
Her first officer—husband—apparently thought so, too, since he was giving her a wolfish smile that made her blush hotly.
“Kathryn,” he murmured, eyes taking her in appreciatively. “My god.”
She felt a little jolt of amusement when she realized that, really, this was the first time he’d EVER seen her in anything less than off-duty clothing or a body skimming bath robe. He might be her husband in name in this strange future but judging from the look in his eyes-- and the stirring in his groin, she noted slyly—he felt like a teenage boy allowed to access his first adult rated holoprogram.
He stepped up behind her and slid his arms around her waist and although part of her knew that he was still very much her first officer and very much taking liberties, a deeper, more instinctual part of her knew that he was, first and foremost, her husband and her lover, no matter that he hadn’t been any of those things before they fell asleep the night before.
She turned in his arms and gave a little gasp of pleasure when she felt the hard length of him press against her thigh. She ground against him, evoking groans from both of them. His arms tightened around her and he breathed into her ear, “I want you, Kathryn.”
“I want you, too,” she murmured, her hands tightening on his back. “But we have to get to Sickbay.”
“We can take fifteen minutes,” he replied, half-joking, half-serious. “You don’t know what I can do with you in 15 minutes.”
She laughed a little, breathlessly, and found herself on the verge of giving in and allowing him to take her right then and there when the sound of the pneumatic door opening out in the main section of their quarters brought them to a screeching halt.
Janeway stepped out of his arms, grabbed her robe, wrapped it around herself, and called, in her best ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing’ voice, “Who’s there?”
“Mom?” It was an amused teenage voice. “Did you and Dad actually sleep in for a change?”
Janeway turned to stare at Chakotay who was staring at her with equal intensity.
“Who’s there?” she repeated, walking cautiously toward the front room, keying open the door to the bedroom as she did so.
“Your one and only son,” replied the teen who was standing in front of the replicator. “Did you forget we were going to have breakfast?” He turned and Janeway’s breath caught.
He was the perfect amalgamation of herself and Chakotay. He had his father’s dark hair and coloring but her blue eyes, Chakotay’s height but Janeway’s slender build. She sensed Chakotay just behind her and reached back for his hand, which he took readily, squeezing as he studied their child.
“Wow, you guys aren’t even in uniform yet!” the teen teased. “You must have had a late night with those specs for the warp core re-fit.” He spoke to the replicator. “One cup of Kenyan blend and two raktajinos.” When the steaming cups appeared, he took two and handed them over, leaving a raktajino for himself. “I could go take a turn on the Bridge while you guys get some more sleep.”
“No!” Both Janeway and Chakotay replied at the same instant and the teen, apparently expecting this answer, grinned good-naturedly and shrugged.
“No harm in trying. Hey, I’m going to replicate some pancakes. I’m starved. Dad, you want huevos rancheros? Jason and I were messing around with a new recipe last night and I think we got the seasoning right.”
Chakotay finally found his voice. “That would be great.”
“I have to reprogram the replicator first. It’ll be ready by the time you are. Better get your shower first or Mom’ll take all the hot water.” He grinned at Janeway saucily. “Blueberry pancakes, Mom, or waffles? And don’t say ‘nothing’ because you know what the Doctor said about keeping your blood sugar balanced.”
“Waffles,” she said softly as unexpected tears flooded her eyes. “Waffles are great, sweetheart. Thank you.”
“Welcome,” he said distractedly, all ready bent over the replicator. “Coming right up.”
They both turned, leaving the teen to his breakfast plans, and walked back into the bedroom—their bedroom. Only when the door whooshed closed behind them did Janeway allow herself to sit down on the bed as if the joints had disappeared from her knees.
“I have a son,” she murmured, letting tears spill. “My god, I have a son.”
Chakotay sat on the bed next to her and gently took her chin in his hands, turning her to face him. “We have a son,” he echoed. “Kathryn … sweetheart …” Overcome, he laid his forehead against hers, letting his own tears mingle with the ones she was shedding.
“I don’t even know his name,” she whispered. “I know he’s mine … I can … I can feel that he’s mine, the same way I can feel you’re mine … but I don’t even know his name …”
“Padriac,” Chakotay whispered against her hair. “I don’t know how I know but … his name is Padriac.”
After breakfast with their son (which they took turns eating while the other made discreet inquiries to the Doctor, Tuvok, and the rest of the senior staff) Janeway and Chakotay made their way to Sickbay, where the Doctor and Tom Paris were scanning a host of bewildered crewmembers.
“Okay, people, let’s all take it easy,” Paris called. “Everyone’s looking to be in good health so far, just a little bit older. Let’s not panic.” He spied Janeway and called, “Captain!”
She edged through the crowd, patting shoulders and giving reassuring smiles until she reached Paris, who was running a tricorder rather perfunctorily over Vorik.
“From what Doc and I have been able to surmise so far, everyone remembers going to sleep sometime in the last 24 hours their own age but waking up older. That includes Naomi Wildman over there--” He pointed to a leggy, beautiful woman with flaming red hair who was clinging to Sam Wildman “—who went to bed a six-year-old and woke up a 22-year-old.”
“She must be terrified,” Janeway murmured.
“She’s not the only one,” Paris replied. “I woke up to a 17-year-old daughter I never got to see grow-up and a ten-year-old daughter I’ve never met but somehow know everything about.” He stopped scanning Vorik and said, “And that’s the really weird part of all of this. Lanna and I woke up disoriented and confused but somehow we both knew, the longer we were awake, things that we couldn’t have known if we’ve been, I don’t know, asleep or unconscious all this time—like my ten-year-old daughter named Sahara who loves picnics on the holodeck and wants to learn to windsurf and is so good at long division that it’s frightening. How could I know that if I woke up this way not even an hour ago?”
Janeway nodded. “I know what you mean. I just met my 15-year-old son and knew the moment I woke up I was married to my first officer.” She ignored the smirk on Paris’ face and continued, “So our bodies have aged?”
“Oh, yeah. This isn’t cosmetics or trickery. We’ve all physically aged 16 years. Some people woke up with scars from injuries they don’t remember getting. But just about everyone woke up with some knowledge, most of it very instinctual, of their place here. Just as you woke up knowing you were married to Chakotay and Lanna and I woke up knowing we had another daughter, Harry and Vorik woke up knowing they had both made lieutenant without ever looking at the pips on their uniforms, Crewman York knew she’d been running the Mess Hall since Neelix left, and Ayallah woke up knowing he’d been training as Tuvok’s second in command over the security department. It’s all really …” He searched for a word and finally settled with, “… weird.”
“You’re telling me,” Janeway muttered. “All right, as long as there’s nothing physically wrong, let’s get people back on duty, at least on a limited basis. We’ll work in shorter shift rotations today to give people time to adjust. I’d like you and the Doctor to run a series of temporal scans, so that we can rule out the possibility of time travel. God knows we’ve run into it enough on this trip.”
“Understood.” Paris did a very quick tricorder scan of her and nodded. “You’re in good shape, too, just in case you needed reassurance.”
“Thank you, Tom. Report to the Bridge as soon as the Doctor releases you.”
She waved Chakotay over and they left Sickbay together after another round of reassurances, arm patting, and, in Naomi Wildman’s case, hugging and headed for the Bridge.
“Staff meeting?” Chakotay asked.
“Immediately,” she affirmed. “According to Tom, there have apparently been some changes in rank, though I certainly don’t recall giving out promotions. We’ll need to compile a list of current ranks and assignments and try to piece together why we’re missing eight crew members. I don’t know if Tom even realized what he was saying when he said that Crewman York had taken over the Mess Hall ‘since Neelix left’ but that ties in to the theory that we all have some kind of instinctual knowledge of what’s been going on here.”
Chakotay nodded slowly. “I understand what he means. I know things that I shouldn’t technically know because I didn’t experience them and yet … I do know that Neelix left the ship. He asked to stay on a Talaxian colony that we discovered on the outskirts of the Nekrit Expanse. I know that when Padriac was five he and eleven-year-old Naomi got locked on the holodeck while she was babysitting and it took us three hours to override the controls. They aren’t memories … I just know certain things to be true. Does that make sense?”
Janeway nodded. “It does. I feel it, too. And it’s growing. The longer we’re awake, the more certain I feel. Not about everything, just some things. It wasn’t the wedding bands that told me we were married, you know? It was when you put your arms around me from behind that I could feel it.”
Chakotay smirked. “Oh, I’m sure you felt something.”
She laughed a loud. “You know that’s not what I meant.”
He grinned at her. “And you know I love to make you blush.” He took her hand in his, squeezed, released. “We’ll figure this out.”
She nodded. “I know we will. That’s one of the very few things I’m not worried about.”
They exited the turbolift onto a Bridge that was extremely short staffed. Harry Kim was in the command chair and he stood as they exited the lift.
The extra years looked good on Kim. The bits of grey streaking his hair made him look distinguished and the extra pip on his uniform had given him an air of confidence that made him look taller and broad shouldered.
“Captain on the Bridge,” Kim announced, though he knew damn well by now that she didn’t stand on formality.
“Good morning, Harry …or would you prefer lieutenant?”
His smile was still bashful. “Harry’s fine, ma’am, you know that.”
“And you know ma’am is only acceptable in a crunch,” she mock scolded. “Status report.”
Janeway allowed him to scrutinize her while he gave his report. She had a feeling it would be a day in which there would be a lot of chatter and gossip about other people’s appearances once the initial shock wore off.
“And you’ve scanned for temporal anomalies, wormholes, tachyon fields, and anything else that might account for this sudden aging effect on the crew?”
“Absolutely,” Kim assured her. “There’s nothing out of the ordinary out there … just more Delta Quadrant.”
“Curioser and curioser,” she murmured. “Well, Harry, a relief shift should be coming on duty in a few minutes. Once the senior staff arrives, we’ll assemble in the conference room and start compiling information. In the mean time, I’ll be in my Ready Room.”
Chakotay gave her a look that asked if she wanted him to accompany her and she gave a slight nod then added, for Kim’s benefit, “Commander, you’re with me.”