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Jump the Track

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Chapter 1:

"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.

“Chakotay.”

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.”

“Janeway here.”

“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.

“Yes, commander.”

“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.

“Report, Tom.”

“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.”

Chapter Text

Her Ready Room, thank god, still looked the same, although there were a few pieces of childish artwork here and there—undoubtedly her son’s—and some new pieces of statuary that had probably come from a friendly outpost or planet.

There were also, she noted with a start, some family photos in the silver frames she preferred. There was one of her and Chakotay, holding hands on what was obviously their wedding day, with Tuvok, as the next-most-senior officer officiating. There was a portrait of the entire senior staff, including Neelix and Seven, standing on the lip of a gorge that would rival Earth’s Grand Canyon in its majesty, apparently from one of the Doctor’s “family albums” that he’d taken to snapping. There were portraits of Padriac, one for each year of his life, all arrayed in one long horizontal frame on the wall nearest her desk.

The one closest to Janeway’s computer console, obviously well-loved and often looked at, was a candid photo, taken by the Doctor, Janeway recalled in a sudden flash of what she was starting to think of as instinctual knowledge. She was holding Padriac, only moments old, her face streaked with sweat and tears but shining with happiness, her head resting against the curve of her husband’s neck. Chakotay was holding them both, his face alight with happiness, his lips pressing a kiss into her hair, his fingers twining with hers on the blanket that held their son.

The image in that photo rocked her to her very core. She sat down abruptly, fighting the unusual (for her) impulse to break into a storm of tears. She handed it wordlessly to Chakotay and leaned back into the couch, trying to regain control over her emotions.

“You would think I’d remember that,” she murmured. “I know—I know that the Doctor took that photo. I know that Padriac barely even cried—just sighed and cuddled up in his blanket and went to sleep. I know that you made me take a solid week off duty and that my first day back on I gave in to the impulse to check on him midway through my Bridge shift.”

Chakotay nodded slowly. “And you would think that we would know the same things, since it’s our shared past. But I didn’t know that—any of that. Do you want to hear what I do know?” He sat down next to her and set the photo on the coffee table in front of them. “I know that it was just past 21:30 when you went into labor and we were up all night in Sickbay, just you and me and the Doctor. You were so nervous that I finally had to program some flute and woodwind music to help you relax. I stroked your hair and you squeezed my hands so hard that you broke two of my fingers, but I didn’t tell you about it until later.” He picked up her hand and twined his fingers with hers. “I know all of that but I don’t remember it. There’s no mental picture to go with it. I can imagine it, so clearly, but I can’t recall it.” He shook his head. “Kathryn, what is going on here?”

“I don’t know,” she murmured. “And it isn’t as though I don’t recall other things. I do. I remember Kes’s surprise party her first year on the ship, clear as day, and the evening we all watched supernova explosions on the Bridge. I remember Neelix’s first luau and watching the very disconcerting sight of a Talaxian doing the limbo. But I can’t remember giving birth to my own child, or marrying my best friend.” She raised a hand to the side of his face. “I can’t recall a single mission this ship has been on in the last 16 years. My memory of my life up until yesterday evening is vivid. My memory of the 16 years since then is not. And I would very much like to know why.”

“Let’s go talk to our people,” he said, standing and pulling her with him. “We’ve faced down tougher problems before. We can figure this out, too.” He studied her face. “Are you okay?”

“It’s a lot to take in at once,” she said truthfully. “But I’ll be fine.”

“I know you will be.” He started for the replicator. “I’m going to need another cup of coffee to get through this meeting and I’m guessing you will, too.”

Janeway smiled, her equilibrium starting to come back. “You know me too well.”

He deftly programmed their selections into the replicator and peered over his shoulder at her with the same wolfish grin that had made her blush so hotly in their quarters. “I want to know you better.”

She came up behind him to grab the cup as it appeared and whispered, “You will,” before straightening her shoulders and heading onto the Bridge, calling “Mr. Kim, status report,” as she went.

Chakotay looked after his captain—his wife—the mother of his child—and couldn’t help but believe his own words—they would figure this out.

***

My senior staff has aged VERY well, was Janeway’s first wry thought as she studied them all around the observation table. Even the Doctor, who wasn’t supposed to have the capacity to age, had gamely informed her that he had added a subroutine to his program to allow for the natural progression of years so as not to “miss out on the experience.”

Aging for her crew mainly meant the addition of graying or silvering hair, lines on faces, and an extra pound here or there. Tuvok, of course, did not physically age as humans did, so the only indication that he had grown 16 years older was a touch of distinguished silver threading through his close cropped hair.

Notably absent from the table were Neelix and Seven of Nine and she addressed their absence first. It was as she and Chakotay had found for themselves—only a few people had information that should have been common knowledge to them all. Tom was able to supply that Neelix had left the ship voluntarily, but that was all he was able to offer because he had gained the knowledge second-hand. Chakotay was able to add to that by giving the information that he instinctually knew about the Talaxian colony on the edge of the Nekrit expanse. With the same kind of strange knowledge, Kim knew that Seven had been killed during an on-board explosion five years previous, but couldn’t offer anything beyond that. B’Elanna, however, could add to it-- she’d been in Engineering when the warp plasma manifold went critical while Seven was working near it.  

It continued like that for quite some time, trying to piece together the ship’s history, its occupants, and its happenings over the past 16 years with the small bits of knowledge that they all, instinctually, seemed to know. Tom and B’Elanna had another daughter, Sahara (named by her older sister Miralle, B’Elanna explained with a grin). Chakotay matter-of-factly brought up Padriac, whom Tuvok knew about because he was the boy’s godfather. Naomi Wildman had actually been given the title of captain’s assistant and then had been given an assignment working in astrometrics when she turned 17. Harry knew this because he’d been assigned to train her after Seven’s death.

All told, the ship had seen multiple upgrades in technology, thanks to the collective ingenuity of Kim, Paris, and Torres, who all seemed pretty pleased with themselves as they compared notes on feats of technological brilliance. There had been several promotions, one demotion, and multiple department transfers as crewmembers asked to train for new assignments to keep their minds active and their skills sharp. Naomi Wildman, Miralle Paris, Jason Carey, and Padriac Janeway were the oldest children on board at 22, 17, 16, and 15 respectively. There were several younger children on board including Sahara Paris, age ten, a set of 5-year-old twins belonging to Lieutenant Ayallah and Crewman York (much to their mutual surprise, Tom reported with a grin), and a quiet ten-year-old boy with Mike Hargrove’s blonde hair and Lysha Campbell’s smile, who had been adopted by Lieutenant Baytart and his steady girlfriend Lieutenant Monroe after his parents had been killed in a shuttle crash.

That led to a much more somber discussion of lives lost. There had been seven deaths in the last 16 years. Four crewmembers had lost their lives on away missions and three, including Seven, had been killed in on-board accidents. Neelix was the only one who had asked to leave the ship and even that had been with no animosity on his part, just the feeling of wanting to find a permanent home among his own people. Although those seven deaths weighed heavily on Janeway, she again instinctually knew that every effort had been made to save those crewmen and their lives had not been lost in vain.

“Well,” Janeway said finally. “We know a little bit more now about where—or should I say, when—we’re at. But now I want to know how we got there. Let’s start with you, Doctor. If it has, in fact, been 16 years, which we all seem to agree on, why can’t we recall what’s happened during that time period? We have bits of knowledge, yes, but most of it is what Chakotay and I have started to call instinctual knowledge, similar to skills or trivia that you intrinsically know without having had to work to obtain it, things like how to whistle, or hold your breath underwater, or sing on key. Do you have more going on in your databanks, Doctor, than our instinctual knowledge of this time?”

“Sadly, Captain, I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint you. I’m as lost as you are. I do not have 16 years worth of memories in my databanks. I have memories of the seven years in which I have been active and ‘on duty’ as a member of this crew. I have a kind of instinctual knowledge as well, although for me it would just be called latent programming. All of the medical knowledge that had been uploaded into my program at Jupiter Station before I was placed on Voyager’s computer is also there. What you’re describing, the things that you woke up ‘just knowing’ sounds a lot like that latent programming … and that is, quite frankly, disturbing to me.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you, Doc,” Harry said. “Why is ‘just knowing’ something so ominous? As the Captain pointed out, there are a lot of things that we instinctively know how to do—swim, throw a punch, hold our breath underwater …”

“That is true, Mr. Kim, and for some people that instinctual knowledge works to their benefit. I recall you saying once that you have always known how to play the clarinet, no lessons needed. You just picked up the instrument one day and could play, correct?”

Kim nodded. “That’s right. Isn’t instinctual knowledge like you’re describing a part of every being?”

“To a certain extent, yes. But from what I’m hearing, there’s more going on here than that. It sounds as though none of you have ‘real’ memories of the past 16 years, just bits and pieces of information that you ought to know of events that you should have experienced.”

Chakotay nodded. “You’re right, Doctor. And those pieces of information don’t always jive. The Captain and I were just comparing notes about Padriac. We were both there for his birth—as were you, Doctor—and yet the things that I know to be true and the things that she knows don’t overlap.”

“How do you mean?” B’Elanna asked, leaning forward, brow furrowed.

“I didn’t know that my son didn’t even cry when he was born—he just smiled and settled right down to sleep. That was news to me when Kathryn told it to me.”

“And I didn’t know,” Janeway added, “that we were in Sickbay for more than 12 hours before Padriac was born or that I broke Chakotay’s hand from holding on to him so hard.” B’Elanna laughed a little at that and the two women exchanged quick smiles.

“Doc, do you remember any of that?” Tom asked interestedly, leaning forward.

“No,” the Doctor replied simply. “My databanks tell me that Padriac Janeway is 15 years old, that he was born to Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay on earth date October 31st, that he has had his tonsils out and his appendix removed, that he has broken his arm 3 times in a holodeck skiing program, and that he comes to me for biology lessons 3 times a week along with Miralle Paris, but of his birth I remember nothing.”

“Which is very odd, considering that there’s a photo in my ready room of Chakotay and I holding Padriac that you took, Doctor, just moments after he was born,” Janeway said. “I know that you took that photo. I don’t remember it but I know, deep down, that you were the one to take it.”

The Doctor frowned. “The fact that I don’t have that knowledge is troubling. If I was present at your son’s birth, and I have no doubt that I would have been, I should remember that, as clearly as I remember being present for Miralle’s birth,” he said, nodding over at B’Elanna. “But now that I think about it, I don’t recall being present for any of the births of the other children on board. Not Jason’s. Not Sahara’s. Not Jenner and Jeremy’s,” he said, naming the five-year-old twins, “not anyone’s. Nor do I recall making lifesaving efforts on Seven or Lieutenant Commander Herran or any other member of this crew who passed away.”

Tuvok spoke up for the first time. “Doctor,” he said, “could these bits of knowledge have been implanted in our minds? That seems to be the direction this is starting to take.”

“Could they have been? I’d have to say yes, without a doubt. The proof, I believe humans would say, is in the pudding. We collectively do not have memories of the past 16 years, just the knowledge of events—or, rather, fragments of events-- that have happened. As to who implanted these memories, your guess is as good as mine. It seems to me like we’ll require a bit more data until we can render a hypothesis.”

Chakotay drummed his fingers on the table. “And there’s still the matter of how 16 years can pass overnight. There has to be an element of time travel here somewhere—a quantum slipstream, a rift in the space-time continuum, temporal displacement. Harry, Tom, B’Elanna, I want you three in astrometrics doing as many deep scans of this area of space as you can. We need to know where we are, when we are, and how the hell we got here.” He glanced at Janeway, who nodded.

“While these scans are going on, I don’t want us going anywhere,” she said. “Tuvok, I’d like you, the Doctor, and Commander Chakotay to work together to create a questionnaire that we can use to debrief each crew member on the events of the last 16 years. Let’s get a coherent picture together of the time that’s passed. Once you’ve got a working questionnaire, work with department heads to debrief their staff and work out the shift rotations. Let’s give everyone plenty of time to adjust. Dismissed.”

Chapter Text

She spent most of the day walking around her ship, making sure everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion. It was a habit of hers that the crew was used to and she figured it would be reassuring for them to see her. So she toured each deck and stopped in each department, talking to her crewmembers, getting used to seeing her very young crew looking very much more mature than they had when they’d started their voyage.

She left the probing questions to Tuvok, Chakotay, and the Doctor and kept her inquiries light—how were they feeling? Was there anything they wanted to share with her? And because she didn’t pry but instead kept the questions friendly and low-key, she ended up on the receiving end of a tidal wave of interesting news and gossip. By the end of her tour of Voyager down on deck 14, she had a PADD full of information and a headache to match.

She stopped in at her quarters for a moment to clip her hair back with barrettes and was jolted, though not unpleasantly so, by the sight of her son working studiously on his computer console.

“Hi, Mom,” he said cheerfully. “Don’t tell me you’re off shift all ready!”

“Oh. No, honey, not yet. Just stopping in for a moment.”

She laid her PADD on the breakfast table, grinning as she noticed the PADDs on thermodynamics and chemical analysis scattered on the surface. So her son had a scientific bent. Absurdly pleased, she disappeared into the bedroom and rooted around in a hand-carved jewelry box (Chakotay had made it for her as an anniversary gift, whispered the instinct part of her brain) until she found the barrettes she wanted and set to sweeping her hair away from her face, which she still hadn’t quite got used to seeing in the mirror and recognizing as her own.

Lines. Too many of them for her taste. It was disconcerting to go to sleep with one face and wake up with another. She looked at herself from all angles and frowned, noting unusual paleness in her cheeks.

The world tilted alarmingly as a bout of dizziness seized her in its teeth and shook her. She grabbed for the edge of the dresser but couldn’t make her hands close around it. She fell to her knees on the floor and her forehead hit the edge of the dresser with a thwack.

“Mom!” Padriac came bounding in. “Oh geez, Mom, are you okay?” She blearily heard him hitting his commbadge. “Padriac to Dad.”

“Hey, kiddo. I’m kind of busy right now.”

“Mom’s having one of her spells. She’s in our quarters.”

“I’ll be right there. The Doctor’s with me. I’ll bring him along.” The commline closed and she knew Chakotay would be dashing along the corridors before he’d even finished speaking.

“Mom, let’s get your head down, okay?” She felt her son’s hands on her shoulders, pressing her head toward the carpet. “Keep your head down till the dizziness goes away. I’ll get a cloth for your forehead.” He was back in a moment, pushing a damp cloth into her hand. “You didn’t eat, did you? Gosh, Mom, the number of times Dad and I have to remind you about your blood sugar!” He sounded mildly perturbed but more concerned and so very much like Chakotay that she couldn’t help but grin.

The door hissed open and footsteps on the carpet signaled the arrival of her husband.

“Kath, what happened?” His hands were on her back, her shoulders, rubbing soothingly. “Are you okay?” He tipped her chin up so that he could see her face and looked profoundly upset by the gash on her forehead. “Oh, honey. Did you fall?”

“I don’t know what happened,” Janeway murmured, leaning back against the solidity of the dresser. “I was fine but then I got so dizzy and light headed.”

“It’s her blood sugar again, isn’t it, Doc?” Padriac asked. “Dad, did she forget to eat?”

“We haven’t … there’s been so much going on … we both got so wrapped up …” Chakotay stumbled, his eyes a little wild.

“Man, oh man, epic Dad fail!” Padriac teased, squeezing his father’s shoulder. He rose. “Let me replicate you something that’ll get you on your feet, Mom. Hold on.”

“Orange juice would be best, Padriac,” the Doctor replied, running his tricorder over Janeway. “Your son is indeed correct, Captain, your blood sugar is quite low. In fact, according to the medical database, you’ve been having an on-going issue with hypoglycemia since Padriac was thirteen years old. You’re on strict instructions to eat several times a day to keep your glucose levels stable.”

Padriac was back with a glass of orange juice. “Here, Mom. Sip this.” He backed out of the circle of people surrounding Janeway and went for the medkit in the living room, which he handed to the Doctor.

Janeway sipped the juice, surprised at how much better it made her feel. She leaned back, shut her eyes, and drank slowly until the dizziness began to abate. When she opened her eyes again, Chakotay was watching her, obviously relieved.

“Good, I can see the color coming back in your cheeks.” He took the cloth that she had been holding and dabbed it at the cut that was still oozing blood down her cheek. “Let’s get you to Sickbay.”

Janeway shook her head, but then thought better of the movement when it brought back a rush of dizziness. “I’m all right. The Doctor can treat me here.”

“I can treat this cut here, certainly,” the Doctor said, running a humming dermal regenerator over her forehead. “And I can offer you two options. One is that you remain here with your remarkably levelheaded offspring and have a sensible meal. The other is that you accompany me to Sickbay where I can give you a glucose injection and then keep you under observation. Which would you prefer?”

“I’ll take option number one, Doctor, thank you,” Janeway said with an eye roll.

“I thought you might.” The Doctor fitted a hand under her arm and helped her get slowly to her knees, then to her feet, steadying her as she went. “Please make sure you have a full meal and report to Sickbay if you start feeling woozy again.” He patted Padriac on the shoulder and left.

“How about some vegetable stir-fry with rice,” Padriac asked hopefully, glancing from one parent to the other. “Or did you want to go to the Mess Hall so you can get back to work?” The look on his face said that his parents had a tendency to choose the second option far more often than he would like.

“Stir-fry sounds great, sweetheart,” Janeway replied. “Dad and I’ll be right out to join you. I just want to wash my face first.”

“Okay, excellent. I’ll get it ready.” He left his parents alone and headed for the replicator, enthusiastically calling up some music as he did so.

“I guess my days of living on coffee are over,” Janeway said sardonically, heading for the washroom.

“Apparently so.” Chakotay took a cloth from the closet, ran it under cool water, and dabbed it gently at her forehead. “I get the feeling this is something he’s had to deal with before.”

Janeway laughed softly. “Or he’s just cool in a crisis like his father.” She gave in to the urge to lean against Chakotay and was glad when his arms went around her in return. “I had no idea I had hypoglycemia, Chakotay. It’s not … for lack of a better term, it’s not in my databanks. It’s not part of that instinctual memory. But why? You’d think that’s something I would know.”

“I remember that he mentioned it this morning in passing. He asked if you wanted waffles or pancakes for breakfast and said something about your blood sugar.”

“But we were both still reeling from learning that we had a teenage son so I know I never gave it another thought,” Janeway finished. “Maybe we’re missing out on a good source of information here. I think our next step is going to need to be talking to the children on our ship.” She glanced out in the direction of the living room. “Starting with our son.”

***

“What are your plans for this evening, O Son of Mine?” Chakotay asked, sitting down at the table to steaming plates of vegetable stir-fry. “Wow, this looks amazing, kiddo, thanks!”

“It’s your recipe, I just dialed it up,” Padriac said, grinning. He spooned a huge helping of rice and vegetables on his plate and began eating with gusto. “Jase and I have our biology lesson with the Doctor, then a shift in the Mess Hall with Miralle and Naomi, and then …” he gestured expansively. “ …who knows?”

“A shift in the Mess Hall, hmm?” Janeway commented off-handedly. “What are you four going to do down there?”

“Same thing we always do—wipe down the tables, monitor replicator usage, help Crewman York with the cooking. It’s Miralle’s turn to make the run to the hydroponics bay for salads and fresh fruit.”

“A gentleman would help her out with those heavy baskets of fruit,” she replied, needling her son.

“Miralle’s a quarter Klingon, Mom! She’s stronger than I am.” He swallowed, frowned. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

Janeway laughed. “I won’t.”

A part of her brain was aware that she should really have no idea whatsoever what a “run to the hydroponics bay” actually included, but a larger part, the area that ‘just knew’ certain things, had a very clear mental picture of the teens walking up and down the halls between the Mess Hall and the hydroponic gardens, lugging sturdy baskets of fresh produce.

That same part of her also knew that shifts in the Mess Hall had been Chakotay’s idea to keep Voyager’s children out of trouble and instill in them a sense of responsibility. The inaugural shift in the Mess Hall had belonged to a ten-year-old Naomi, back when the Mess was still under Neelix’s watchful eye.

With a nod of thanks for saving his teenage pride, Padriac plunged back into his food. “Can I stay at Jase’s again tonight? I know I was just there last night but we REALLY need to finish up this project the Doctor assigned.”

“I don’t think the Carey’s want two teenage boys playing mad scientist in their quarters till all hours,” Chakotay said, amused.

“Jase’s dad all ready said it was okay. PLEASE?”

Janeway tapped her commbadge. “Janeway to Lieutenant Commander Carey.”

“Carey here, Captain.”

“Our mutual offspring have expressed a burning need to finish their science project in your quarters this evening, which we all know is teenage speak for ‘we left it to the last minute and will be pulling an all-nighter.’ Do you have any objection to waking up tomorrow to two cranky teens?” She winked at her son.

Carey chuckled. “We just got the same song and dance here. No ma’am, no objections. They can come on down whenever they finish up in the Mess Hall.”

“Very good. Thank you, Mr. Carey. Janeway out.”

Janeway leveled her gaze on her son. “You are staying here tomorrow night, understood? You will engage in some quality time with your parents.”

“If I have to,” Padriac mock-grumbled as he swallowed the last of his first helping and dove into a second. “How’s the re-fit going?”

“Re-fit?” Chakotay asked.

“Yeah, the re-fit on the warp core. The ones you guys probably pulled an all-nighter on yourselves, seeing how you slept in so late this morning.”

Janeway and Chakotay quickly exchanged glances. It was the first they’d heard of a warp core refit.

“It’s on-hold for the time being,” Janeway said, finishing her lunch and crossing to slide the plate in the replicator. “Thank you, sweetheart, for lunch … and for picking me up off the floor. Now I’ve got to get back to running the ship.”

“A Captain’s work is never done,” Padriac intoned in a somber voice. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “See you tomorrow, Mom.”

“Behave for the Careys,” she said, fixing a warning gaze on him. “Or you’ll be scrubbing plasma manifolds until you’re 20. Understand?”

“Behave, yes, ma’am.”

“You know I hate it when you call me ma’am,” she grinned, reaching to tousle her son’s hair.

He ducked her hand and circled to safety behind Chakotay, who stood, took his own plate to the replicator, and got in a hair tousling of his own, much to his son’s chagrin.

“Finish your schoolwork, clean your room, don’t break an arm on the holodeck,” Chakotay said.

“Who said anything about the holodeck?” Padriac asked, a little too innocently.

“I know you and Jason are dying to get back to that windsurfing program,” Chakotay replied. “Just be careful. You break that left arm any more times and we’ll have to refit you with a Borg appendage.”

“Can we really?” Padriac asked, wide-eyed and laughing. “That would be AMAZING.”

“Do I have to rescind your holodeck privileges?”

“Nope, I’ll be careful.” Padriac caught sight of the chronometer and cursed ripely in Cardassian. “Astrophysics lesson with Lieutenant Kim. Gonna be late!” He grabbed a PADD and dashed out the door. “See ya!”

Once the door had closed behind the teen, Chakotay turned to stare at Janeway, a little shaken. “Did you just hear us being parents?”

Janeway looked stunned herself. “It … came so naturally. I just knew what to say to him and how … but…how could I? I don’t know him… I couldn’t ... but I feel like I do, like I must, because he’s part of me.” She shook her head. “That’s frightening. It’s like something automatic kicked in, something …”

“Instinctual,” Chakotay finished. He sat back down at the table, shaking his head. “Kathryn, I’m … I’m at a loss to explain this. We don’t belong here and yet … we do. I feel like we do. I know things … I know about his broken arms, about the fact that he can’t make his bed to save his life or keep his art supplies off the floor.” He stared at her. “I don’t even know why I’m so certain that he has art supplies but if we were to look in his room, they’d be all over his desk and his work-table and on the floor.”

Janeway blew out a shaking breath and then said, “One way to test that hypothesis.” She extended a hand to her husband, who took it and followed her over to the door that led to their son’s room.

It was a typical teenage boy’s room—the bed was unmade, as Chakotay had known it would be. There were stacks of PADDs, tricorders in various stages of repair, and model starships stacked on his desk. There was an entirely separate worktable devoted to metal work, wood work, painting, and sand sculpture and, indeed, his supplies for all of these endeavors were not confined to the work table but were on the desk, the floor, and the bedside table. Several paintings hung around the room and they showed an increase in skill level and competence. Traces of his mixed heritage were evident … the bed was covered in a blanket featuring intricate Celtic knot work patterns while dream-catchers hung at each window and just over the head of the bed. Pictures of friends, family, and several alien worlds that Janeway couldn’t readily identify were scattered about the room. It was cluttered, messy, and very much their son’s.

She felt her eyes smarting with tears … although she couldn’t readily figure out WHY she felt ready to cry … and she bit her lip to force them back.

“I think--” Her voice shook and she swallowed hard to get it under control. “I think that after our shift, we should talk to Tom and B’Elanna. See if they’re having the same sort of reactions to Miralle and Sahara.”

“Agreed.” Chakotay’s voice was thick and when she turned to look at him, she could see he was fighting tears as well. She laid a hand on his broad back to comfort him and he gave her a small smile. “Let’s get through this shift, all right?”

She nodded, squaring her shoulders, preparing to pick up the metaphorical captain’s mask and place it back on.

“I’m going to talk to B’Elanna about this warp core re-fit that has our son so interested. Why don’t you and Tuvok meet me in my Ready Room at 1700 and we’ll compare findings.”

Chakotay nodded and straightened his tunic, First Officer mantle back in place. “Aye aye, Captain.”

They let the door to Padriac’s room close and headed out of their quarters to the turbolift at the end of the hall.

***

Chapter Text

“There is no warp core re-fit going on, Captain,” B’Elanna Torres explained. “Nor has there been one in recent days, weeks, or, hell, even recent months. If Padriac was asking about a warp core re-fit, it was one that was only going on in his mind or on the holodeck. We haven’t done anything to our engines that time-consuming since our fifth year in the Delta Quadrant.”

Janeway frowned. “Strange. But maybe you’re right—maybe it was a teenage flight of fancy. Or maybe something he misheard from Lieutenant Commander Carey’s son.”

“Maybe so,” Torres said with a distracted nod.

“B’Elanna, are you all right?” Janeway asked, leaning in toward her friend. “You seem distracted.” She laughed sardonically. “Although I think that’s a common problem today.”

“It’s …” Torres sighed and looked at Janeway with such utter shame and pain in her eyes that Janeway couldn’t help but take a step forward. “I’m afraid … I’m afraid to get to know my daughter.”

“Why, B’Elanna?” Janeway laid a hand on her arm. “From what little I’ve learned, she seems like a wonderful girl.”

“I hope so. She seems to be. But I’m afraid that I’ll look at her and all I’ll see—“

Understanding dawned. “--is the relationship you had with your mother.”

“Yes.” The voice was so small, so uncertain from the normally assertive half-Klingon that Janeway had to fight the urge to take her friend in her arms for a reassuring hug.

“Oh, Lanna. I know you were very concerned about that before Miralle was born.”

“I was terrified,” B’Elanna admitted. “I didn’t want to be the mother to her that mine was to me.”

“I think that because you’re aware of that and because you know what you want your relationship with your daughter to be, you two will have a wonderful, close relationship instead. I really do. How does she interact with Tom?”

A small smile crossed Torres face. “She’s Daddy’s girl for sure. I could tell that just from the way they were talking at breakfast.” She fidgeted with a hyperspanner. “I didn’t interact with her much. I focused on Sahara—who’s so much like Tom that it’s kind of frightening.” She actually laughed then. “When I went back to my quarters to check on her at lunch, she was building a model star-ship.”

Janeway grinned. “Mine was studying quantum mechanics.”

Torres focused on her captain, reassured. “What was it like to meet your son? It must have been a shock to wake up to a 15-year-old in your quarters.”

Janeway raised an eyebrow. “It was more of a shock to wake up to Chakotay in my bed.”

Torres laughed aloud then smothered it with her hand. “I don’t think that’s a shock I’d mind,” she said with a smirk, to which Janeway had to laugh.

“Chakotay has been a rock. He’s amazing. And Padriac … he’s a wonderful kid. Bright, funny, sensitive, kind. It’s just overwhelming to wake up a parent without having prepared for it.”

“Oh, believe me, it’s overwhelming enough when you HAVE prepared for it.” Torres touched her friend’s hand. “Let Tom or I know if you need anything. We may not have much experience but we do have some.”

“What’s truly strange is that I … well, both of us … seem to know how to interact with him, even though we’ve never laid eyes on him before today. As soon as we start talking to him, knowledge I didn’t know I had comes pouring into my brain and I just … I KNOW.”

Torres nodded adamantly. “Same with us. I just somehow knew what Sahara’s favorite foods were and which outfit she’d want to wear. I could pick out her favorite stuffed animal even though I’d never seen it before.”

“Could this be precognition? Or telepathy?”

“It could be anything. That’s the Doctor’s purview, not mine. But it’s definitely disconcerting to know that your ten-year-old is going to want chocolate pudding for dessert and that she’ll want it in her favorite yellow cereal bowl with her bright pink spoon when 24 hours ago we didn’t even have a yellow cereal bowl or a pink spoon, much less a ten-year-old daughter.”

“Have your astrometric scans indicated anything that might explain this 16 year jump? Any sort of anomaly?”

“We are seeing increased tachyon particles and a huge surge in beta radiation, but those look to be fairly common phenomena to this area of space … as far as we’ve been able to scan ahead, we’re still seeing the same tachyon and radiation levels. Now that could indicate the presence of a temporal anomaly, maybe a wormhole that jumps from place to place with an unfixed end point, but it could also just be a result of the dense nebula and particle clouds in the space surrounding us. There’s no way to know until we’ve had more time to analyze the scans.”

Janeway nodded. “All right. Let’s say another 12 hours here to finish any additional scans we need to make, and then we’ll proceed onward … cautiously, but forward nonetheless. We’ll have one final briefing in the conference room in an hour and then let Gamma shift take over.” She smiled wryly. “As much as I’d like to work all night, I have a family to attend to now.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Carry on, Lieutenant. I’ll see you in the briefing room in an hour.”

***

They started making a timeline. It was really the only sensible way to map the last 16 years. Every senior staff member and department head was instructed to lay out the major events in the lives of the crew under their command and place them on an interactive timeline Kim began building on the computer’s database. Each event then had its own subcategory where information pertaining to that event could be posted and, if necessary, edited. If two crew members shared knowledge of the same event, they both added their name to the posting and listed all the relevant details they were aware of until a coherent picture began to form.

Married couples, of course, shared many of the same experiences, but different bits of information about the event itself. Just as Chakotay and Janeway had found in their discussion that morning about Padriac’s birth, very few people held the same set of information about the same event. Torres, Kim, and Paris, for example, all had very different knowledge about a test flight they’d taken on a prototype shuttle named the Delta 2—although they’d shared the experience, their memories didn’t overlap.

The senior staff mapped out the timeline for hours until it soon became apparent that it wouldn’t be finished any time that night. Janeway sent them all back to their quarters with orders to rest and to come back to their briefing at 0800 the next morning ready to start work again.

After a brief stop at the Mess Hall (during which time their son studiously showed his teenage cool by only waving to them before turning back to his conversation with Jason Carey), Janeway and Chakotay made their way back to their quarters where Janeway promptly dropped onto the couch with a groan and shut her eyes.

“Of all my years in Starfleet this has got to rank right up there with one of the strangest days I have ever experienced.”

Chakotay laughed and sat next to her. “I wish I could say it got weirder than this in the Maquis but I’d be lying. This is definitely one for the record books.”

Janeway opened her eyes long enough to peer at him. “We went to bed separately and woke up together, went to bed single and woke up married, went to bed childless and woke up as parents, went to bed ages 38 and 43 and woke up ages 54 and 59. That is more than one for the record books … that deserves a hall of fame all its own.”

“I think it also means we deserve a glass of wine.” Once he had replicated them and handed one to Janeway, he said, “In all this confusion, I hadn’t thought to offer this but …” He faltered then and studied his hands for a moment, not sure how to express what was on his mind. “Do you want … or, rather, do you mind …what I mean is, we don’t HAVE to share quarters, Kathryn. Or a bed. I can stay right here on the couch or I can sleep in my office. I don’t want to force you into--”

He quieted when Janeway sat up and laid a finger against his lips. “The really interesting thing about all of this,” she said softly, “is that this isn’t awkward or strange for me. It doesn’t feel forced or coerced. You feel like my husband. I remember … or rather, I know… that we married out of sheer passionate love, and we’ve made it work because of that passion. I know that, Chakotay … I can feel that.”

She set her wine glass down on the table, took his and sat it in the same place. “You aren’t forcing me into anything. You’re not pushing boundaries or taking liberties. And you’re most definitely NOT sleeping on the couch.”

She leaned forward and captured his lips with hers and they fell into a kiss that was deep and sweet enough to drown in.

“Kathryn,” he murmured, gathering her in, pressing kisses to her forehead, her temples, the line of her throat, breathing in the scent of her. “God, I’ve wanted this, wanted you for so long.”

“I have too,” she whispered, raking her hand through his hair to grasp the back of his neck and pull him closer. “Kiss me again. Kiss me hard.”

He obliged and nearly groaned in ecstasy when she broke the kiss to straddle his lap.

“Where do you want to touch me?” She pulled off her uniform jacket and under-tunic, leaving the silver-gray shell and black pants, and then helped him make short work of his own jacket and tunic.

He clasped her hips, ran his hands up and down her thighs. “Right here at this saucy, sexy curve. It makes me crazy watching you put your hands on your hips and wondering what it would feel like to have my hands there.”

“And now that you have your hands there? What now?” She was teasing him, flirting in a way he’d never known her to, but that wasn’t going to keep him from enjoying every moment of it.

“I’m going to pull you up against me so I can finally feel you.” His hands tugged insistently at her hips until she was flush against his lap and grinding against his straining erection. He pressed his mouth to the side of her neck and nipped.

The effect of that soft bite was intense-- he could actually feel heat flood her body. She groaned and her hands tightened on his shoulders. He bit again, harder, and let his hands roam upward to caress the plane of her belly. Janeway shuddered in his arms, arching her back, and her groan held an edge of desperation. Gentling his touch, he pressed a deliberately chaste kiss against her flushed forehead.

“Easy, sweetheart. We’ve got all night.”

She blew out a shuddering breath. “I’m going to hold you to that. How does it feel knowing you almost made me lose control with just a few kisses?”

“Pretty damn confident. Think you can do it to me?”

“Oh, I already know what would make you lose control.”

He laughed a little, taken aback by her certainty. “And what’s that?”

“Watching me lose mine.” She brought her lips to his ear and whispered, “I want you to make me scream. Right here. Right now.”

They very nearly didn’t make it to their bedroom. As it was, the door was barely shut behind them before they were discarding the last of their clothes, kissing with fearsome intensity, mouths hot and demanding. She bit his shoulder, hard, a gesture that aroused Chakotay’s animalistic side. He pushed her down onto the bed and straddled her hips, pinning her hands as he kissed his way down the line of her throat.

“My God, Kath, I’d never imagined it like this,” he gasped, invigorated, ecstatic.

“Neither did I.” She kissed him sweetly, her lips warm and soft. “Don’t stop. Do all the things you want to do to me.”

He intended to be tender with her because he wanted their first time together to be sweet and sensual. But she wasn’t holding back, so he followed her lead instead, touching and fondling, sliding his hands all over her body, learning the lines and curves of her, the places that made her shiver or laugh or gasp.

His fingers slid inside her. She moaned and shifted a little, overcome by the long-forgotten sensation of being touched and opened. She arched her back as he worked her, breathing hard, her fingers scrabbling for a hold in the sheets. He built her up to a fever pitch, once, twice, but stopped just short of sending her tumbling over the edge. “Please,” she finally begged. “Chakotay, please. I want you inside me.”

Chakotay kissed the curve of her neck as he entered her. A cry somewhere between pain and pleasure fell from her lips and she dug her nails into his back. He stroked her hair, murmuring, “Relax into it, sweetheart. Let your body adjust to me.”

He rocked her with slow, reassuring strokes, letting her learn the map of their conjoined bodies and sense the rhythms of their lovemaking. Gradually she began to move, slowly at first, then faster, her hips rising to meet his. He kept pace with her, though he was careful not to move any faster than she indicated, making himself hold back until he was sure she could handle the demands he would place on her body as they made love.

She grew wetter and warmer as she adjusted to the size and weight of him. Her hands found his hips and pulled him toward her, a wordless request for him to move faster. Chakotay obliged and was rewarded with a moan from Janeway and a breathless, “Harder.” She gasped with pleasure taken almost beyond bearing and he picked the moment when their bodies were the most in tune to thrust deep inside of her.

Kathryn was right--watching her lose that carefully constructed wall of control was deeply erotic. When she screamed out it sent him over the edge. He groaned and grasped at her like a man drowning, holding on to her as she shook through a hard climax before thrusting again to find his own release.

“Dear god,” Janeway gasped, laughing a little in pleasure and wonder. “Oh, my love, we should have done that long ago.” She loosened her grip on his shoulders and let her hands fall limply to her sides.

“I was dreaming of that as far back as New Earth,” he murmured, kissing the damp curve of her neck. “All I could think of for awhile was making love to you like that in our little grey box on that beautiful planet.” He let his fingers skim over her body, coming to rest on the plane of her stomach. “How do you feel, sweetheart?”

“Incredibly relaxed,” she murmured. “How about you?” She brought her hand up to cup his cheek and, not too tired to make a joke, said, “Still want to sleep on the couch?”

“Not on your life.” He stroked her hair back. “I want to be right where I can put my hands on you any time I want to.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m getting us some water. I’ll be right back.”

By the time he returned she had slipped on her favorite silky nightgown and was brushing her hair. “Thank you, dear,” she murmured, accepting the glass and drinking thirstily. She gave him a warm, sleepy smile. “I’m about ready for bed. This has been one of the more exhausting days on record. And we’ve got a lot to get done tomorrow, including some more detailed astrometric scans. I don’t want us proceeding any further into this area of space without knowing what lies ahead.”

Chakotay nodded, slipping on a pair of pajama pants and disappearing into the wash room to splash some cool water on his still-hot face. “And our two best sources of information about this quadrant are, unfortunately, no longer with us. We could send the Delta 2 out to do a little scouting.”

“We could,” Janeway agreed. “But I’m not entirely comfortable sending either it or the Flyer ahead, especially if, as B’Elanna pointed out, we don’t have a clear source for those tachyon particles or beta radiation.”

“Understood. We’ll just see what lies ahead together.” He slipped between the sheets and turned on his side to gaze at her. “This may be one of the more confusing days I’ve ever had, but it’s definitely had its advantages.” He reached to touch her cheek. “It got me you.”

She leaned into his touch, savoring it, before snuggling against him, her back to his front. “You always had me,” she murmured. “It’s just that neither of us knew it until today.”

Chapter Text

By the time Janeway arrived in the observation lounge the next morning, Kim was all ready there with a pot of coffee, eagerly working on the timeline the senior staff had started compiling the night before.

“Good morning, Harry,” Janeway said, pouring herself a cup. “Please tell me you didn’t stay up all night working on this.”

“I wouldn’t exactly say all night …” Kim hedged. “I’d say a good chunk of it…”

Janeway laughed. “Trying for lieutenant commander, I see.” She patted his shoulder as she walked past him and studied the screen for herself. “We’ve been busy the last 16 years.”

“Really busy,” Kim agreed. “But I think we should come back to that in a minute. Let me tell you about the area of space we’re moving in to. It’s definitely not your run of the mill sector.”

Janeway grinned at Kim, who was obviously feeling the confidence that 16 years worth of knowledge and experience gave him. “It’s your show, Lieutenant. Go ahead.”

“This is a view of the part of the space we’re entering. B’Elanna was right when she noted that the area is full of dense clouds of tachyon particles and beta radiation. We’ve been calling it radiation fog because it’s so incredibly dense and has made getting scans so difficult.” He pulled up the astrometric scans that he, Tom, and B’Elanna had been working on the previous day. “Along with the radiation fog, we have, as we were hypothesizing, a very temporally active portion of space. Unfortunately for us, the space is out of temporal sync with normal time. It’s 16 years out of sync, in fact.”

Janeway narrowed her eyes. “In other words, we’re still physically in the same area of space we started in the day before yesterday … but we are temporally 16 years in the future?”

Kim nodded. “Exactly.”

“And as Voyager passed into this area of space, we all aged 16 years, we gained 16 years worth of experiences and memories, and we both gained and lost crew members as we would if time had proceeded normally. So we’re in Voyager’s future—we just took a highly accelerated route to get there.”

“We’re in one of our possible futures, yes.”

Janeway palmed a strand of hair away from her forehead and shuddered at the idea of multiple possible futures. She’d always hated time travel and temporal mechanics.

“Incredible. Absolutely incredible. But what happens when we leave this area of space? Do we get back our 16 lost years? Do we revert back to the way we were when we entered it a day ago? Do we get back Neelix and Seven and the others?” Her heart jumped and she grabbed the edge of the table. “Do we lose our children?”

Kim shook his head. “There’s no way of knowing. We can’t map the other side of this temporal expanse. It’s too vast.”

“How long will it take to pass through it?”

“I’m not sure but that does bring us to weird thing number 2.”

Janeway took a bracing sip of coffee and tried for humor. “I don’t know if I can stand another weird thing so early, Harry.”

“This one might work to our advantage.” He pointed at the astrometric map. “This is a view of the flow fields of tachyons and beta radiation inside this temporal expanse. Look at the shape that’s forming right here.” He pointed to the screen.

Janeway cocked her head to one side and peered more closely. “Is that … a tunnel?”

“Yes, it is,” Kim replied. “If you picture this area of space as if it were Golden Gate Park, it would be chock full of a dense fog. Now picture a clear space where the fog can’t get in … a tunnel. Although in this case, it’s more like a funnel because it starts wider at one end … the area where we’re sitting right now … and narrows down as it moves through the cloud. And, as near as we can tell after sending in a probe, there’s a … well, ‘current’ is the best word for our purposes ….inside that funnel that would, conceivably, push Voyager along as we travel through, augmenting the speed of our warp engines. That funnel with its extra current is the only way through that radiation fog that would allow us to navigate with anything close to accurate sensor readings.”

“And I assume this funnel isn’t natural … it’s man-made.”

“Got it in one,” Kim replied. “And while our funnel here is pretty darn useful in getting us through this temporal expanse and its radiation fog, it does lead to a lot of questions about who built it.”

“Any readily apparent answers?”

“None, I’m afraid. There are no permanent settlements in the area, no ships, and no space stations. I’ve scanned space, subspace, and everything else the sensors will penetrate … if the people who built our funnel are still here then they’re doing a damn good job of hiding themselves.”

“Now if I know you at all, Harry, you’re thinking that the people who built this funnel might be responsible for our implanted memories.”

Kim grinned at her. “Am I that transparent?”

“No, you’re that logical. Tuvok would be proud.” She sipped her coffee. “Any more insight into our instinctual knowledge phenomenon?”

“Only that it isn’t a fluke or a statistical anomaly. Based on every person we talked to and the data we’ve collected, it’s pretty clear that we only have some knowledge of some events of the last 16 years and that knowledge is restricted to the people who actually experienced the events. It’s like a form of selective memory. Take a look at this.” He tapped the screen to zoom in on one event.

“This is the accident that killed Seven. The only people who have any knowledge of that accident are the people who were in Engineering when it happened—B’Elanna, me, Joe Carey, and two other on-duty crewmen. No one else mentioned in their reports that they recalled Seven’s death, or the details of the accident, or her funeral. And that’s pretty strange for something that would have affected just about everyone who came in to contact with Seven on a daily basis.” He fixed his gaze on Janeway. “Did you remember that she had died in an Engineering accident?”

Janeway shook her head. “I didn’t know anything about it until Tuvok reported that she wasn’t on board and even then I had no idea what had happened to her until you reported it in our briefing yesterday.”

“It’s that way for everything—little events and big ones. Events that should have been momentous for our little community aren’t common knowledge. There are still people, for example, who think Naomi and Miralle are the only children on board because they just don’t know that there are others, even though it’s always been a big deal around here when a baby is born into our family. And it’s the same with Neelix leaving … with the prototype shuttle …with the extended shore leave on Rogari that came to an abrupt halt when a monsoon hit the beach resort we were all staying at … it’s like … if you weren’t directly there to experience the event, it isn’t in your memory.”

Janeway frowned. “That is profoundly disturbing.”

“I think so, too,” Kim said. “And to a certain extent we might be able to counter that effect simply by doing as much communicating among ourselves as possible—sharing what we know and how we know it.”

“But is that knowledge real?” Janeway asked the question that had been on her mind all morning. “It all FEELS real … what I know about my son, about my husband … that all feels right to me and natural. But did it really happen?”

Kim shrugged helplessly. “I think that’s more a question of metaphysics, Captain, than astrometrics.” He gave her a little smile. “For the most part, I like what I remember. So I hope it’s real. I hope we all beamed down to the Themis Gorge at sunset and had a picnic. I hope you really did let us have an all-day and all-night party on the holodeck once Tom and I finally finished revamping the resort program and that you really did show up and annihilate Tom during a hydro-sail race.” At Janeway’s laugh, he grinned a little bit wider. “I think that reality is just a concept we use to help ourselves find solid ground to stand on. Maybe every once in a while we need to let the ground move under our feet … just to keep things fresh.”

Janeway laid a hand on Kim’s shoulder and gave him a warm squeeze. “My, Harry, how you’ve grown.” She finished off her coffee. “Send your reports to the senior staff so everyone gets on the same page. Based on what you’ve just laid out for me, what’s your recommended course of action?”

“Determine whether or not the funnel is stable then use it to travel through the temporal expanse. It’s the only way we’ll be able to get accurate sensor readings of where we are since the radiation fog is so thick.”

Janeway nodded. “Agreed. Let’s go make it so.”

Chapter Text

Captain’s Log, Stardate 97268.2. We are proceeding with caution into the funnel that will guide us through the area of space Mr. Kim has nicknamed the Temporal Expanse. We are employing the ship’s regular sensors, as well as all available astrometric scans to gather data on this area as we travel through it. We do not, as yet, know how long it will take us to pass through the expanse or whether the temporal effects of this sector are permanent, so we’re trying to adjust to our new lives, our new bodies, and our new knowledge of our life 16 years forward. Personally I find I’m adjusting to motherhood and marriage better than I anticipated and am enjoying getting to know my 15-year-old son. In fact, we’re heading to the holodeck shortly for a little family bonding time while Mr. Tuvok and the members of Delta shift man the Bridge.

***

“Mom, you’ve faced the Borg, Species 8472, the Viidians, the Rhulani, and the Mok-tah and you’re afraid to go windsurfing?” Padriac Janeway folded his arms across his chest and stared at his mother in disbelief.

“I’m not afraid to windsurf, my darling off-spring. I don’t feel confident in my ability to windsurf and still be able to crawl around Engineering tomorrow working on the reactions injectors. If I have to pick one, I’m going to go with Engineering.”

“Dad’s going windsurfing,” Padriac replied pointedly, jerking his chin at Chakotay in swim trunks who was hauling a surfboard with an ultralite mast and a hydro-foil sail into the holographic surf.

Janeway pitched her voice loud enough for her husband to hear. “Dad gets to man the bridge while I get to crawl through Jeffries tubes.”

“The Captain could always delegate the project and work on duty rosters and performance evaluations with her First Officer,” Chakotay called back.

Janeway laughed. “Now I remember why I decided to crawl around Engineering—so I don’t have to do paperwork.”

“Mom, you’re missing a premier opportunity to bond with your son,” Padriac said solemnly, mischief twinkling in his eyes. “Do you really want to miss this time together?”

“I think what you really want is to watch your mother go crashing into the surf after falling off a very unsteady piece of equipment so you can smirk to yourself about how you got your father’s sporting genes.” She shook her head and got serious. “I’m sorry, honey, but I’m just not coordinated enough to handle windsurfing. I’m going to stay right here in the lagoon with B’Elanna and Sahara while you, Dad, Tom, and Miralle pit yourselves against the waves. But I’ll join you when you take the kayaks out, how’s that?”

Padriac nodded and gave her a smile that let her know he wasn’t offended by her refusal. “If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” She ruffled her son’s hair. “Go school your father. He’s been bragging about his windsurfing prowess all day. I’d like to see you take him down a notch.”

“You’re both going down a notch,” Tom Paris said as he arrived at the spot Janeway had chosen for their families and dumped beach towels and supplies on the sand. “I’m the acknowledged master windsurfer in this group.”

Padriac snorted derisively and Paris elbowed him gently in the ribs. “Is this insubordination I hear? You think you can do better than me, youngster?”

“With my eyes closed!” Padriac shot back, rising to the bait.

“Even though I’ve been windsurfing since before you were a twinkle in your parent’s eyes?”

“With my hands tied behind my back!”

“Even though you’ve broken your arm three times since you started this program,” Paris needled, grinning.

“Flesh wounds,” Padriac replied.

“My daughter is probably going to school us both, you know that, right?” Paris asked, watching as Miralle came loping down the beach with her younger sister in tow.

“Yeah, probably.”

“As long as we’re clear. Mira, let’s go!” Paris yelled. “Surf’s up!”

As soon as Miralle joined them the little group dashed into the surf, Paris clapping Chakotay on a shoulder as they let their kids inspect the equipment and start preparing the windsurfers for use.

“So we’re high and dry on the sand while they play in the surf,” B’Elanna said, arriving at Janeway’s side. “Something doesn’t seem right here.”

“It’s my choice,” Janeway replied. “I’m not coordinated enough to windsurf. Can’t keep my balance. You can go out with them if you’d like while I watch Sahara.” She pulled the young girl in for a hug. “What do you say to a swim in the lagoon, cutie?”

“I want to windsurf with Miralle, Aunt Kathryn,” Sahara said plaintively.

“Honey, the water’s way too deep and rough for you,” B’Elanna said—quite patiently, Janeway thought, since she’d doubtless had to explain the same thing over and over. “You can go out on the kayaks later and you can swim with Aunt Kathryn now … but I can’t let you go out with the surf like that. Besides, the masts are entirely too heavy for a little girl to hold up. You have to be really strong to windsurf.”

“I AM really strong,” Sahara replied with a small pout. “I’m part Klingon.”

“I know, baby.” B’Elanna kissed her daughter’s hair. “But you’re also too little to handle a board that big. We’ll see if Dad can design a program for you later in the week with a surfer your size and water that isn’t too deep. But this one’s too rough for you, so you need to stay with Aunt Kathryn.”

“Sahara, you’re a good swimmer, aren’t you?” Janeway asked, knowing the girl’s pride would kick in and keep her from arguing with her mother. “Because I know some place we can go but it’s only for really good swimmers.”

“I’m an awesome swimmer!” she replied, puffing out her chest.

“Good! We’re going to take a dip with some of the best swimmers in the whole ocean.”

“Where are we going?” Sahara asked, eyes wide.

“We’re going to the lagoon to swim with dolphins.”

Sahara squealed excitedly. “Really, Aunt Kath?”

“Really. Grab a towel and we’ll walk over together.” As Sahara busily rummaged through her family’s beach items, Janeway murmured a few commands to the computer that would introduce friendly, slightly undersized dolphins to the lagoon just down the beach. She turned to her chief engineer, who was giving her an admiring smile. “Have fun. I’ll watch Sahara.”

B’Elanna laughed. “I’m almost tempted to come with you! That sounds great.”

“When you get tired of windsurfing, join us.”

“I will, thanks.” B’Elanna gave her daughter a quick kiss on the head. “Have fun, behave for Aunt Kathryn.”

“Okay, Mom. Bye!”

Janeway wondered briefly if she’d be able to instinctively interact with Sahara the way that she was able to with Padriac and found, much to her delight, she could. The sandy-haired ten-year-old was a spit-fire with her mother’s energy and drive and but her father’s sense of humor and easygoing temperament. She fearlessly climbed into the clear lagoon with Janeway and was soon boldly interacting with the dolphins, swimming alongside the mammals and even grasping their dorsal fins to hitch a ride around the pool. Janeway admired the girl’s spunk, especially because she would never have been so bold at so young an age.

When Sahara grew tired, Janeway hoisted her to the edge of the pool and made a few leisurely laps of her own around the lagoon before coming to sit beside the young girl, who had flagged down one of the resort’s holo-employees to request fruit smoothies.

“Can we go watch Mom and Dad before we come back and play again?” Sahara asked after she’d finished off her papalla nectar smoothie.

“Of course. I want to see if Padriac managed to stay up on the windsurfer on his own.”

They strolled down the beach, Sahara examining shells and starfish before the sight of her father coasting in to shore on a windsurfer got her attention.

“Daddy!” she yelled, pelting down the sand toward her father. “Guess what?”

“Hey, angel!” He lifted his daughter into his arms. “What’s up?”

“Auntie Kathryn took me swimming with dolphins!”

“Oh yeah?” Paris grinned. “I’m jealous! She’s never taken me swimming with dolphins before.”

“Want to come back to the lagoon and go swimming with me?”

“I would love to. Just let me get this thing back to your mom, so she can kick Uncle Chakotay’s hindquarters in a race out to that sandbar there.” He pointed. “Padriac just lost to your sister in the same race.”

Sahara laughed and peered at Janeway. “Padriac’s not very good at this, is he?”

Janeway laughed. “No, he isn’t, but you didn’t hear me say that.”

They waited for Tom to return the windsurfer and then headed back down the beach to the dolphin lagoon. Paris climbed into the water with his daughter and let her give him an introduction to dolphin/human communications while Janeway swam leisurely through the water, sometimes with dolphins, sometimes without.

She was breast-stroking through the pool when a wave of dizziness grabbed hold of her and rattled her to the bone. Blackness swept over her vision. She felt herself gasping out the breath she was holding and water filled her lungs in its place. She clawed and kicked for what she thought was the surface, disoriented, unable to see for her telescoping vision. There was more water than air in her lungs and she was coughing, choking, unable to remember anything she’d been taught in her dive classes about what to do if she lost her breath underwater other than try to reach the surface.

A strong arm cinched around her chest and yanked hard, pulling her up through the surface of the water and onto the fine sand of the beach. She retched and spat out water, gagged on the salt, coughed until her chest burned. She was vaguely aware of a hand pounding on her back to help her expel the water, of her hair hanging in her face in loose ropes, of the wheezing rattle in her chest as she struggled for air.

She lost time then and when she came back to herself it was to Chakotay’s voice, a soothing murmur in her ear, and his wide palms rubbing circles on her back. Another set of hands—B’Elanna’s—pushed her hair back from her face. A third set injected a hypospray into her neck with a hiss and she was immediately able to breathe easier. She coughed and finally managed to whisper, “Who’s watching the kids?”

“Miralle’s in charge. They’re right over there.” B’Elanna pointed and Janeway saw through bleary salt-stung eyes that they were all three huddled together, though Padriac looked like he wanted to come charging up the beach to be with his parents.

Tom had produced a medical tricorder and was scanning her with it. “Your throat’s going to be sore as hell for a few hours but I don’t think there’s any permanent damage. I want the Doc to look at you, though.” He set the instrument and the hypo aside. “You need to lie down until you’ve got your breath back and your legs under you.”

Being told that she “needed” to do anything would ordinarily have got her back up on her feet at once, but she was feeling so shaken that she acquiesced rather than argue. And once her head was in her husband’s lap and her feet were elevated by a stack of beach towels, she did start feeling better. Tom and B’Elanna both leaned over her with inquiring expressions.

“What the hell happened?” Tom asked. “You were swimming like a fish on the other side of the lagoon—I could see you while Sahara was taking a ride on Flipper-- then all of a sudden you jerked and started flailing. I thought you were having a seizure.”

“I got dizzy,” Janeway rasped. “Very suddenly, all in a wave. I lost my vision, then my breath, and I couldn’t figure out which way it was to the surface.” She looked up into her husband’s worried face. “It was like the day before yesterday in our quarters.”

“When your blood sugar crashed?” he asked.

“It felt like that but it couldn’t have been. I’d just eaten a snack with Sahara and we had dinner before we came here.” She met Tom’s eyes. “Your scans would show if I was hypoglycemic, right?”

Tom pulled the tricorder back out and scanned. “Your glucose level’s fine,” he said. “If you had a sugar crash, this would know.”

Janeway shut her eyes. “I don’t know what else to tell you. It happened so quickly.”

Chakotay touched her cheek gently. “The Doctor will be able to figure it out. Just rest for a few minutes.” He looked at B’Elanna. “Why don’t you go tell the kids we’re fine?”

After she had reassured her incredibly worried son and god-daughters, Janeway lay with her head on Chakotay’s lap while the kids packed up their beach paraphernalia and returned to their quarters with B’Elanna, who promised Janeway and Chakotay she’d look after Padriac until they got back from Sickbay. Finally she felt well enough to try her legs and though they were unsteady, they were functional. Tom, however, wouldn’t hear of her trying to walk and set up a site-to-site transport.

The Doctor did a double-take when the three of them coalesced in Sickbay, damp and disheveled from the holographic surf. Thankfully, the sand had stayed on the holodeck where it belonged.

“No broken bones this time, I see,” the Doctor commented with a wry smile.

“Just a near drowning,” Paris replied, which wiped the smile off the Doctor’s face. He helped Janeway onto the biobed and covered her with a blanket—she was still wearing only her swimsuit and the Doctor tended to keep it cool in Sickbay.

“What happened?” the Doctor asked, coming forward with a tricorder.

“I had another dizzy spell,” Janeway replied, rasping through a still-sore throat. “While I was swimming. Tom saved me from drowning.”

“I don’t see any evidence of hypoglycemia. Mr. Paris, did you give her a glucose injection?”

“She wasn’t hypoglycemic,” Paris replied. “That was the first thing she told me to check for. Her levels were normal … she even mentioned that she’d had a snack with Sahara about half an hour before she got back in the pool to swim.”

“How extremely odd,” the Doctor remarked. “I’m not seeing any evidence of a tumor or a stroke, or anything that might account for dizziness and disorientation.” He opened the clamshell diagnostic panel over Janeway and said, “Let me run a full-body scan and an internuncial series. Captain, please lie still while the scans commence. Commander, Mr. Paris, if you’d like to change clothes and come back here, I’ll have a report for you in half an hour.”

Chakotay gave his wife a reassuring smile and leaned down to kiss her forehead. “I’ll bring you something a little more presentable to wear.”

“Thank you,” she murmured. “I’m just going to rest my eyes.”

“Good. I’ll be back soon.”

Chapter Text

“Resting her eyes” turned into a hard nap from which she woke, groggy and disoriented, when she heard her husband and the Doctor talking in the Doctor’s office.

“Could it be a side effect from traveling in a temporally unstable area of space?” Chakotay was asking.

“It might be. She’s never shown that kind of reaction to temporal phenomenon before, but that’s not to say it can’t happen.”

“The dizziness in our quarters the other morning--”

“Was definitely hypoglycemia. She does need to keep her sugar level stable. But I did find something interesting as I was running this series of scans. On a cellular level, Captain Janeway is not the same age she was 48 hours ago.”

“Of course not, she’s aged.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Strange as it may sound, she’s actually gotten younger. Not by much—only a number of months—about 10 months to be precise, which isn’t much in a human lifespan—but all of my readings show that she is, taking into account her recent birthday, 53 years old, instead of the 54 she was when I scanned her 48 hours ago.”

“That isn’t possible, Doctor.”

“Nor is it possible to wake up 16 years in the future and yet, there it is. Apparently warped aging is a side effect of a temporally unstable area of space.”

“Doctor, will this happen to all of us?” Janeway asked, bringing the two men over to her bedside.

“There’s really only one way to find out. Commander, I can run the same series of scans on you and see if you too have gotten younger.” He ran his tricorder over Janeway. “How are you feeling, Captain?” he asked, almost as an afterthought.

“A little groggy but I’ll be all right. Go ahead and run those scans on Chakotay, Doctor.” She sat up slowly and reached for the clothing Chakotay had brought from their quarters. She touched his hand as they switched places on the biobed then disappeared into the medical lab to change her clothing.

When she reappeared, pulling her hair into barrettes as she went, the Doctor and Chakotay were both frowning at the readouts on the medical console. “What have you found?”

“The same thing,” Chakotay reported. “I’m reading ten months younger than I was 48 hours ago.”

“Are we de-aging?” Janeway asked then frowned at the word. “That doesn’t sound right.”

“I don’t know if it’s anything as drastic as that,” the Doctor said. “It may be a temporary effect of this part of space. As Mr. Kim mentioned in his briefing this morning, we are in an unstable zone. Who knows what effect that might have on the crew?”

“What about the children?” Chakotay asked. “Is there going to be any adverse reactions for them?”

“That’s trickier to say since every day counts in the brain and body development of a child. If you bring in Padriac and allow me to scan him, I can tell you with more certainty. Has he complained of headaches? Dizziness? Changes in appetite?”

“Not at all. He seems perfectly fine.”

“He may well be perfectly fine,” the Doctor assured her. “Children are hardy and adaptive, dealing with changes to their body and brain for years until they reach their full maturity. I will, of course, be happy to scan him for comparative purposes.”

Janeway slapped her commbadge. “Janeway to Padriac.”

“I’m here, Mom. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, sweetheart. Come down and meet us in Sickbay, okay? The Doctor has a few questions he wants to ask you.”

“Be right there.”

The channel closed and Janeway smiled at her husband. “Whatever else we did, we raised him to be obedient.”

Chakotay grinned and leaned closer to ask, sotto voce, “Are you sure you feel all right?”

“I’ll last long enough to get our son checked out. Then I’ll be ready to get some sleep.”

“You really meant what you said about no more burning the midnight oil.”

“Trying to set a good example for our son,” she said, half-joking, half-serious. “How am I doing?”

He caressed the side of her face fleetingly and murmured, “You’re amazing,” before dropping his hand when the doors swished open.

“Mom!” Padriac willingly threw aside the ‘tough teen’ mantle and dashed to Janeway to fold her in a hug. “Are you okay? You almost drowned! Are you hurt? Uncle Tom totally saved your life, didn’t he?”

Janeway hugged her son, shocked to see he was nearly as tall as she was. “I’m fine, honey. Don’t worry.”

“You guys have been here awhile, I just thought…”

“The Doctor figured he’d go ahead and get my yearly physical out of the way, seeing as how I was a captive audience,” Janeway replied, arching an eyebrow. “And then he reminded me that neither you nor your father had had your yearly physicals. So here we are.”

“Aw, Mom, really?”

“Really, kiddo. Up on the table.”

Grumbling good-naturedly, Padriac climbed onto the diagnostic table and watched as the clamshell console closed over him.

“When you were little you used to call this the monster jaw,” Chakotay remarked. “Do you remember?”

“Did I really?” Padriac asked. “Wow, I was a total dork.”

Chakotay laughed. “To be fair, most kids are at that age.”

“Dad,” Padriac yelped. “It’s one thing for me to SAY I’m a dork but an entirely different thing if you actually agree!”

“Oh, is that how it works?”

“You’re stunting my emotional growth by saying things like that, you know.”

Chakotay laughed uproariously. “My god, son, I think we’ve let you hang around Tom Paris too long! You’ve developed his sense of humor.”

“Well, Uncle Tom’s pretty cool so I don’t have a problem with that.” He aimed a snarky glance at his father and grinned impishly. “He’s cooler than you are, anyway.”

Janeway snickered at that, earning her a mock sorrowful look from her husband.

“Bread and water for dinner and a stint in the brig for your impudence,” Chakotay growled, affectionately tousling his son’s hair. He caught sight of the Doctor, who looked both amused and annoyed by their prolonged bout of good natured joshing, and quickly sobered. “The Doctor’s just doing a standard physical on you, kiddo, but it might take a little longer than usual because he has some intracranial scans he wants to do, too. Right, Doc?”

“I promise you won’t feel a thing,” the hologram deadpanned as he began running the tricorder over the teen’s skull. “Make sure you hold still, please.”

“ ’An I ‘alk?” Padriac asked, trying to comply with the hologram’s orders by not moving his jaw.

“Hmm? Oh. Yes, you may talk.”

“So, Mom, what happened on the holodeck?” Padriac asked, tracking Janeway with his eyes. “Are you okay?”

“You worry WAY too much for a kid your age,” she replied lightly. “I’m fine, honey. Just a side effect of getting older, I guess.” She exchanged a raised eyebrow with Chakotay and then prompted the Doctor, “What do you think, Doctor, do we need to replace his left arm with a Borg appliance?”

The Doctor actually smiled at that. “If I wasn’t such an incredibly skilled physician you probably would have needed to long before now.” He directed the next comment to Padriac. “Although I assume that you managed to windsurf this evening with no injuries, so you’re obviously improving.”

“I almost had Miralle on that last race,” Padriac replied. “I’ll get her next time.”

“Other than your windsurfing escapades, are you getting regular exercise?”

“Jase and I have been lifting weights in the gym with Uncle Tom and Lieutenant Kim. And we’ve been running Uncle Tuvok’s calisthenics program for his security officers, just to see if we can do it. It’s pretty tough.”

“Excellent. Are you getting enough rest?” At Padriac’s hesitation he admonished, “The truth, please.”

“We’ve been kind of staying up doing projects and stuff.”

“I take it that means not enough rest,” the Doctor said. “Well, I’ll leave it to your parents to decide whether they should sedate you and lock you in your quarters or not. And how’s your appetite?”

“He’s going to eat us out of house and home,” Chakotay teased. “He eats more than Kathryn and I put together.”

Padriac shrugged nonchalantly. “I’m a growing boy. And since Mom doesn’t eat enough to keep a bird alive …”

Here all three men gave Janeway long pointed looks.

“…it’s not hard to eat more than she does.” Padriac squirmed a little, impatience starting to get the better of him. “Your scans don’t usually take this long, do they, Doc?”

“As your mother told you, I’m running an intracranial series on all of the youngsters on board for a project I’m working on.”

Chakotay raised an eyebrow at Janeway, impressed at the Doctor’s very believable white lie.

“Does that mean we’re all going to be in a medical journal?” Padriac asked, intensely interested.

“Perhaps,” the Doctor hedged. “It depends on my findings.”

“Wicked,” Padriac said, grinning. “Did you do Jase or Mira or any of the others yet?”

“Not yet. As the son of both the captain AND the first officer, you have certain privileges.”

“Don’t make his head any bigger than it all ready is, Doctor,” Chakotay teased, tapping his son on the shoulder with a gentle fist. “Everything look okay?”

“You are in excellent shape, Mr. Janeway, from head to toe,” the Doctor said, releasing the clamshell diagnostic. “I won’t bore you with the details … I’ll bore your parents with them instead.”

“Can I head over to Jase’s now?” Padriac asked. “We’re working in astrometrics tonight on our project for Lieutenant Kim.”

“That’s fine, sweetheart,” Janeway replied. “Be back for breakfast tomorrow morning.”

“I will.” He gave both his parents quick hugs and tossed off a jaunty salute to the Doctor before dashing out the door. “Bye!”

The door was barely shut behind him before both Janeway and Chakotay rounded on the Doctor. “The same?”

The hologram nodded. “He’s also regressed by ten months. As far as I can tell he doesn’t seem to be experiencing any physical or mental issues as a result but if this regression keeps occurring, that might change.” He frowned. “I’ll need to take a random sampling of the crew to see how widespread this phenomenon is. How quiet do you want to keep this?”

“For now, keep it to the three of us and Commander Tuvok,” Janeway replied. “Have a report for me by tomorrow, Doctor. Chakotay and I will spend the morning in the astrometrics lab running some in-depth temporal scans. With any luck, this regression is an anomaly.”

“Understood,” the Doctor replied. “As for you, Captain, if you start experiencing dizziness or vertigo again, don’t wait until it topples you … come to me immediately.”

Janeway nodded brusquely and turned to her husband. “Let’s go fill Tuvok in.”

“As long as you promise to turn in for the night after we have,” he said. “You’re still a little too pale for my comfort.”

Janeway raised an eyebrow. “I thought part of being a captain was getting to do whatever I wanted, no questions asked or compromises made.”

Chakotay grinned. “You gave that up when you married your overprotective first officer.” He laid a hand on the small of her back and guided her out into the corridor. “Come on. Tuvok awaits.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER 8:

“Doctor to Captain Janeway.”

The Doctor’s voice jerked her out of sleep. She sat up, blinking to clear her eyes, and reached for her commbadge out of reflex, although she could just as easily have answered verbally and had the comm relay her voice.

“Janeway here, Doctor.”

“I’m sorry to bother you so early, Captain, but I have finished my series of scans on a sampling of crewmembers and I thought you would like the results sooner rather than later.”

Janeway was about to remark on the fact that he had finished so quickly before remembering that the Doctor, being a hologram, had no need for sleep and could have stayed up all night working if he wanted to which is exactly, she reasoned, what he would have done. He could have (and probably had) used the night shift crew for guinea pigs, telling them that he was simply doing wellness checks on the crew in light of the recent temporal monkey business and no one would have thought it odd.

“You’re right, Doctor, I would like those results. Can you send them to my console or would you rather meet to discuss them?”

“I think it might be a very good idea to meet with you and Commander Chakotay to discuss my findings,” the Doctor said and though his voice couldn’t precisely be called “grim,” it certainly didn’t inspire confidence.

Chakotay was now awake beside her and listening. He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Janeway.

“Certainly, Doctor. The commander and I will meet you in my ready room in an hour.”

“Actually, Captain, I wonder if I might ask …” He trailed off, which was so unlike the hologram that Janeway wondered if the channel had been cut off.

“Doctor?” she prompted.

“I have some concerns about Naomi Wildman.”

“Naomi?” Janeway asked, startled. “Is she all right?”

“I--” The Doctor paused again, pondering his words, which was also not a Doctor-ish occurrence. “Not being a ship’s counselor, I cannot give you a professional psychological opinion but since I have been treating her since she was only a moment only, I can tell you that in my personal opinion, no, Naomi is not all right.”

“What’s the matter with her, Doctor?” Janeway prodded.

“Not only has she gone through the jarring experience of growing up literally over night, she is stuck in the rather awkward position of having no real place in which to fit. Seven and Neelix, the two people other than her mother that she was especially close to are no longer on board. She’s older than the rest of the children, enough so that the age difference is nearly insurmountable. She’s significantly younger than the rest of the crew and thus has no place with them either. Naomi is desperate for a place to fit in and is becoming quite depressed that she has none.”

Janeway felt her stomach drop and a wave of shame wash over her. In all of the newness of getting to know her own son, his habits and his likes and dislikes, she had neglected the very first child on Voyager that she had been a role model for. Although Naomi’s fascination (and eventual odd friendship) with Seven had resulted in a lessening of her hero-worship of Janeway, the girl had still craved her approval, never failing to send a short “Naomi’s News” report of her studies to Janeway each week, and never giving up on the idea of becoming Janeway’s “captain’s assistant.” (And, if Janeway was recalling correctly, she had eventually become that assistant when she turned 15 years old). Janeway owed her more than the expectation that, like the rest of the crew, she would adapt to this new lifestyle.

Determined to do right by Naomi, she said aloud, “Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I’ll remedy the situation immediately.”

She closed the comm channel and sat still for a moment, planning, prioritizing, and making mental notes as to what needed to happen this day. She was so deep in thought that she jumped in surprise when she felt her husband’s strong hands on the back of her neck, squeezing out the tension that was all ready lodging itself there.

“Sweetheart, I can probably do half of the things you’re adding to your mental to-do list,” he chided gently. “Tell me what has to be done and we’ll do what we always do—split the work and report to each other.”

She closed her hands over Chakotay’s and sighed, tipping her head back so he could kiss her forehead. “I’m afraid there’s one thing I need to do myself and that’s have breakfast with Ensign Naomi Wildman.” She tapped her commbadge as he climbed out of bed and headed toward the sonic shower. “Janeway to Naomi Wildman.”

Naomi’s voice was professional when she answered, but it held a note of dullness that made Janeway want to gather her up into a hug. “Wildman here.”

“Naomi, I wonder if you might find time to have breakfast with me this morning. I have a project I’d like your help with.”

Janeway grinned at the happy lilt that entered the girl’s voice at the invitation. “Yes, ma’am! When and where shall I meet you?”

“My Ready Room in an hour. Terellian crepes sound good to you?”

“They sound terrific,” Naomi replied enthusiastically.

“Bring your appetite. I’ll see you in an hour, Naomi. Janeway out.”

Chakotay was grinning at her from the bathroom mirror as he shaved. “What?” she challenged, rising and starting to make the bed.

“You were practicing on Naomi long before we ever had Padriac,” he said. “That conversation just reminded me of it.”

“Was I?”

“When you found out you were pregnant, you started spending a lot of time with Samantha and Naomi—you always joked about it being practice but I knew you were serious … Sam did too, I think, so she always looked sort of amused when you would drop by after shift to play a game of Kodis-Kott with Naomi. Then Lanna and Tom started coming over with Miralle in the evenings so we could both get used to being around a toddler. Tuvok came around twice a week to play Kal-toh and you started peppering him with questions about Vulcan child-rearing and discipline.”

Janeway laughed and stepped into the sonic shower. Chakotay raised his voice so she could hear him over the hum of the oscillating shower heads.

“You would spend hours afterward making notations and lists in your journal—a paper journal Neelix gave you for your birthday—about all the bits of advice you wanted to remember. By the time Padriac was born you’d filled nearly the entire thing.”

“Really?” Janeway asked, amused. Given her tendency to over-prepare when facing a task that she was unfamiliar with, it wasn’t all that surprising that she would keep such a journal.

“It’s probably out in the living room with the rest of our books,” he said. “I’ll have it in my hands by the time you get back here tonight.” He stepped to one side when she appeared next to him, wrapped only in a towel, to brush her teeth. “How are you feeling this morning?”

Janeway raised an eyebrow at him. “You waited until we were awake for an entire half-hour before asking that. I’m impressed.” She grinned at his expression and turned to rest her hands on his bare chest. “I’m fine, sweetheart. Really. And even though I give you a hard time about it, I really appreciate that you ask.”

He laid a hand on her cheek and turned her face up to his for a slow and tender kiss. “I love you. I want you safe and whole and healthy.”

“And I am.” She returned the kiss and for a few minutes they lost themselves in the sweetness of touching and caressing each other until Janeway reluctantly broke away from him. “I’m going to be late for breakfast if you don’t stop kissing me,” she murmured, resting her forehead against his shoulder.

“But you’d have a very good reason,” he said, caressing her bare back.

“True. But ‘sorry I’m late, I was making out with my husband’ isn’t a terribly professional excuse.” Janeway began applying her usual understated make-up and brushing her hair. “Give me one hour for breakfast with Naomi and then meet me in my Ready Room with Tuvok and the Doctor.”

“Sounds good. I’ll drag our son back from the Carey’s quarters and take him to the Mess Hall for breakfast.”

Janeway quickly pulled on her uniform and boots then took her time affixing her rank insignia to her collar. “Perfect.” She gave her husband a quick kiss. “I’ll see you in an hour.”

***

It gave Janeway a jolt to see Naomi Wildman all grown up. She’d only seen the girl fleetingly in Sickbay on that first confusing morning when they’d all awoken older, clinging to her mother and looking terrified. The little girl she’d known had grown into a beautiful young woman of 22, her flame-red hair tamed into a ponytail.

“Good morning, Ensign,” Janeway said, smiling and gesturing her into the Ready Room. “Thank you for meeting me.”

“My pleasure, Captain,” Naomi said, standing stiffly at attention.

“At ease, my dear,” Janeway said, squeezing her shoulder. “This is breakfast between friends, not between a crewmember and her commanding officer.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Naomi replied, still looking a little uncertain as to how she should act. Janeway took pity on her and gestured for her to have a seat on the couch.

“We said Terellian crepes, didn’t we? I wonder if Neelix’s recipe is in the replicator?”

“It is,” Naomi answered. “We programmed it in together before he left the ship.” Her voice sounded wistful. “I wonder what he’d think if he could see me all grown-up?”

“He would be incredibly proud,” Janeway responded, giving the girl a warm smile. “Papalla juice?”

“Yes, please.” Naomi rose and picked up the glasses when they materialized while Janeway grabbed the plates. They settled at the table and began to eat.

“Naomi,” Janeway began after she’d had a few bites. “I wonder if you might help me with a problem.”

“Of course!”

“This one’s going to have to stay between you, me, the Doctor, and the Commander, all right? I don’t even want you discussing it with Samantha. Do I have your word?”

Naomi nodded firmly. “Absolutely. How can I help?”

Janeway quickly explained the events on the holodeck and the examinations in Sickbay. “If it turns out that this temporal regression is more than just an anomalous occurrence, I want to have a plan in place to start combating it. Seven spent a lot of time tutoring you, Naomi, and you have an incredible grasp on Starfleet history. And I know that you’ve developed quite a reputation for outside the box thinking … Lieutenant Kim has always been impressed with your work. I want you to gather all the research you can on temporal anomalies and regressions, on spatial flexures, on anything that this or any other crew in Starfleet has ever come across and generate some ways we can get ahead of this temporal regression if it continues.”

The idea of an assignment, especially an important one, seemed to cheer Naomi up immensely. She squared her shoulders. “You can count on me, Captain. When would you like my report?”

“Is this time tomorrow too soon?” Janeway asked.

“No, ma’am,” Naomi replied enthusiastically and started to rise. “I can start on it right now if you’d like.”

Janeway laughed. “I appreciate your enthusiasm but let’s finish breakfast first.” When Naomi had settled back in and was again working on her crepes, Janeway said, “The Doctor expressed some concern about how you’re adjusting and I wanted to talk to you about it myself. So … how do you feel about this whole experience?”

Naomi considered and finally said, “It’s strange. I have these memories that aren’t really memories … I mean, they’re in my brain but it feels like they don’t belong there. Do you know what I mean?”

Janeway nodded. “We were discussing that yesterday. One theory is that whoever built the funnel through this temporal expanse may have planted bits of knowledge into our brains, hoping that we would take them as memories, perhaps to better help us adjust to the shock of moving through time.”

Naomi nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Or it could be that we really have experienced these events … or rather will experience them … and what we know is true. I guess there’s no way to know for sure.” Janeway sipped her coffee. “What are some of the things you know, Naomi?”

“Well … the first time you let me work on the Bridge as the captain’s assistant, I got to deliver reports to Engineering and Astrometrics and help Lieutenant Tuvok run a diagnostic on the tactical console. I got locked on the holodeck with Padriac when I was babysitting and we were there until Commander Chakotay came and got us out by prying the holodeck doors open. For my eighteenth birthday, my mom and Tom Paris planned a surprise party for me; they baked three of Neelix’s Jibalian fudge cakes because so many people decided to come and we ate it with vanilla ice cream.”

Naomi’s mouth down turned. “You let me speak at Seven’s funeral. That was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. You hugged me afterward and told me you were proud of me. The Doctor was so sad he had to stop in the middle of the aria he was singing and couldn’t continue.” She struggled for control and a few tears leaked down her cheeks. “I miss her a lot.”

“So do I,” Janeway said softly, sliding an arm around the younger woman’s shoulders. “Naomi, you’ve literally grown up overnight. No matter how many ‘memories’ you may have of the past 16 years, you never technically got to live them. Everything must be terribly confusing and frightening for you right now.” She gave Naomi a little squeeze. “If there’s anything that you don’t want to talk to your mother about, I want you to know you can come to me. All right?”

Naomi wiped her eyes and smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Captain.” She rose and took her plate to the replicator. “I’d like to go start on that report for you now, if there are no objections.”

“None at all,” Janeway replied, impressed, as always, by the girl’s initiative. “Thank you for having breakfast with me.”

“Thank YOU, Captain,” she replied with a small smile before exiting the Ready Room onto the Bridge.

She had almost 20 quiet minutes to herself before Chakotay, the Doctor, and Tuvok would arrive. Replicating a fresh cup of coffee, she gathered the reports from Delta and Gamma shift and began skimming them, enjoying the quiet and the scent of coffee and the low throb of her ship’s engines under her feet.

When the men arrived at her door, she had signed off on about half of the reports and was more closely examining the ones from Engineering (largely for enjoyment rather than a need to double-check B’Elanna’s personnel).

“How did breakfast go?” Chakotay asked, sitting at his wife’s side.

“Very well. I gave her a research assignment … she’s going to be looking into past run-ins with temporal anomalies from other vessels, focusing specifically on measures used to counter temporal issues like the one we’re seeing here.” She turned to the Doctor. “I’m guessing that the age regression phenomenon is not limited to my family?”

“No, it’s not,” the Doctor reported. “I examined 30 crewmembers, all of whom have regressed a total of 10 months. Now, if this phenomenon progresses, we shouldn’t see any harmful side effects, at least at first—in fact, we might see some beneficial ones such as increased energy and stamina.

Tuvok spoke up. “A report from the USS Yorktown from ten years ago … or rather, taking into account our new time frame, 26 years ago … reported a temporal phenomenon similar to this one in the Alpha Quadrant. On that ship, one of the effects was that of old scars and injuries spontaneously healing themselves. Might we expect to see the same here, Doctor?”

The Doctor nodded. “It’s certainly possible. But there’s no way to say for sure. I think it’s safe to say that every temporal phenomenon is different.”

“What about the children?” Chakotay asked. “You scanned Padriac last night and found that he had regressed as well.”

“He had but, as I told you last night, he did not seem to be suffering any ill effects. But it seems only logical to me …” He shot a glance at Tuvok, “… that there will eventually be side effects from this phenomenon. The human body and brain develops most during childhood and young adulthood. Who’s to say what effects there might be if those developments are reversed? My answer to your question, Commander, is that I don’t know what will happen to the children. I have scans planned of Sahara Paris and Jeremy and Jenner Ayallah shortly to see if they have been developmentally affected. Until such time as the next set of temporal reversions occurs, we are effectively in the dark.”

Janeway tightened her lips but nodded. “Not the answer I wanted but that’s the answer we’re going to have to live with. Now, Doctor, I assigned Ms. Wildman the younger to research temporal phenomenon and possible antidotes. She’ll be instructed to bring any possible answers to you so that if, heaven forbid, this regression continues, we will have some strategies for combating it. In the mean time, I want you and B’Elanna to dig out those plans for your biotemporal chamber and reassemble it. We used it once on Kes when she was jumping through time … I want it readily available again should we need it.”

The Doctor nodded brusquely. “Understood, Captain.”

“Tuvok, we’ve worked on plans for temporal shielding with only limited success. I want you and Joe Carey on those plans, working out every flaw until we have shields that will block out anything the Temporal Expanse might throw at us.”

“Yes, Captain,” Tuvok acknowledged.

“I want this temporal regression kept under our hats for now. This information is on a need to know basis, senior staff only. I want someone on the senior staff reporting to Sickbay every four hours to be scanned by the Doctor for indicators of temporal regression. If those indicators become apparent, Doctor, report to me immediately.” She looked around at the seated men. “Let’s see if we can’t get ahead of this thing.”

Chapter Text

Astrometrics was Naomi’s second home. She couldn’t begin to calculate the number of hours she had spent in there watching Seven work … but the total was probably somewhere in the thousands. She was pleased that the report Captain Janeway wanted required her to use the multi-spatial star charts of both the Alpha Quadrant and the Delta Quadrant to map temporal occurrences. She’d have an excellent reason to spend the rest of her duty shift in Astrometrics, alone, able to sort out the strange half-memories of the last 16 years that were stirring in her brain.

She wondered if other members of the crew felt as unfocused and disoriented as she did. It was strange for anyone to wake up having aged 16 years but as her mother and Captain Janeway had both pointed out, all they had gotten was older … she had actually grown up overnight, leaving her feeling as if everything about herself was unfamiliar. She felt too tall … it was strange to be able to look people in the eye instead of craning her neck to look up at them … and she was still trying to come to terms with having a body that was most definitely not that of a six-year-old girl. Her mother had spent a patient evening teaching her everything a 22-year-old Starfleet ensign needs to know when she has a duty shift the next day-- how to apply skin-care treatments and understated make-up, how to neatly put up her hair in several regulation hairstyles—ponytail, bun, braids, and French braids, how to keep her uniform pressed and boots properly polished. The learning curve for someone six-years-old going on twenty-two was beyond steep … it was insanely treacherous.

She wondered what it was like for the younger children—Padriac and Jason, Sahara and the twins. Did they have any “real” memories at all, or just the half-ones that felt muddled and insubstantial inside her brain pan? Did Padriac remember that she used to babysit for him when he was younger? Did Jason recall the day he tried to make chocolate chip cookies in the Mess Hall and forgot to add the sugar?

Perhaps that could be a project, too, she mused. Discussing and archiving the memories of each of the children on board. After all, it would be worthwhile to the Doctor to learn which memories they all shared and which were unique only to each child. Maybe a comparative study between each child and their parents …

She was thinking so deeply that she arrived on deck 6 with no memory of the turbolift ride or the walk down the corridor. She stopped at the equipment locker to requisition a PADD for her data then continued to Astrometrics.

Padriac Janeway and Jason Carey were all ready working in the lab, using two consoles and the large projection screen. An enormous three-dimensional map of the Temporal Expanse was displayed on the screen; a blue line charted Voyager’s course through the expanse while white and yellow lines marked the temporal flow fields in the surrounding space.

“Excuse me?” Naomi asked, not liking the note of hesitation she heard in her voice. She was, after all, OLDER than these boys, even if she didn’t feel like it. She made the question into a statement then said again, more loudly, “Excuse me.”

Both teens whipped around at the sound of her voice and Jason quickly blanked the screen.

“Oh, uh, hey, Naomi,” Padriac said, giving her a quick smile.

“Ensign Wildman,” she corrected. “I’m on duty.”

“Sure, yeah, sorry,” Padriac replied. “Ensign Wildman. So … what’s up?”

“I need to use the lab,” she said, glad that her voice sounded firmer.

“You didn’t sign up for it,” Jason said, scowling.

“I don’t have to sign up for it,” Naomi replied sharply. “I’m an officer.”

“Well, we have a project we have to get done for school!”

“And I have a project I have to get done for the Captain,” she said in return, starting to get angry. “And you know ship’s business always takes priority.”

“Oh yeah?” Jason asked belligerently. “What project is that?”

Naomi blinked, barely able to believe that he’d question a ranking officer. “You’d have to ask the Captain that,” she replied, reaching for the same note of haughtiness that Seven had used when she was dealing with particularly difficult crewmen. “I’m under orders not to discuss it with anyone.” Her tone implied that ‘anyone’ very especially meant children who weren’t even acting crewmen.

Jason looked to Padriac for help, but the other boy started gathering his data PADDS, mouth firmly shut.

“Padriac!” Jason protested.

“Shut UP,” Padriac replied, elbowing Jason in the ribs. “We’ll go work in the science lab.” He propelled the older boy toward the door. “Go on, I’ll meet you there.”

With a scowl, Jason stomped out the door and down the hallway.

“I’m sorry about that,” Padriac said into the awkward silence. “This thing for Lieutenant Kim is keeping him up nights.”

“I did a lot of work with Lieutenant Kim when I was studying to take the Starfleet Academy entrance exams,” Naomi replied, wanting to be helpful despite Jason’s crabbiness. “Want me to take a look at what you’re doing?”

“Oh, no, no thanks, it’s fine,” Padriac replied hurriedly. “We can do it ourselves.”

“I’m sure you can, it’s just that sometimes fresh eyes …”

“Naomi, REALLY, we’re fine,” Padriac replied more forcefully. “Thank you, but no.”

The awkward silence fell again until Padriac finally said, “Anyway, sorry he was being an ass. We were up till 0400 working.” He paused then said, sheepishly, “You, uh, you won’t tell my parents, will you? They won’t let us work together so late if they think we aren’t getting enough sleep.”

Naomi forced a smile, uneasy for some reason she couldn’t define. “I won’t say a word.”

“You promise?” Padriac asked, staring at her intently.

“Yes, I promise,” she repeated, breaking the gaze and laughing nervously. “Maybe you guys ought to take a break, though, and go grab a nap or something.”

“Can’t. Too much work to do,” Padriac replied. “Anyway … thanks. See you around.” He hurried out of the door and disappeared around the corner with a yelled, “Jase, wait up!”

Naomi blew out the breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding. Strange. VERY strange.

And, because she was still very much her curious self—and because Seven had taught her well—she logged onto the consoles the boys had been working on and pulled up their work history.

Maps of the Temporal Expanse.

Medical reports from the Doctor—reports Naomi KNEW they shouldn’t have access to.

Schematics of the warp core.

Designs for retrofitting the warp core with temporal shielding.

What in the HELL were Jason and Padriac working on?  

***

That question stayed in the back of her mind all afternoon as she worked on the report for Janeway. It was soothing, somehow, to dig through the Federation database. Facts and statistics, data files and reports … these were straightforward, simple, easy to understand … unlike people …unlike life!

Around 1300 hours, the doors swished open again but this time it was Miralle Paris who also looked as though she felt rather uncomfortable in her own skin.

“Hey,” the teenager said, smiling self-consciously. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.”

“You aren’t,” Naomi assured her, standing up and stretching. “I need a break anyway … my eyes are starting to cross.”

Miralle’s eyes roamed the room, taking in the consoles and the screens. “I wish I had a chance to work in here. The computers in the science labs are great and all but I’d love to be able to see all my work on this screen.”

Naomi frowned. “Don’t you take classes with Padriac and Jason?”

“Some of the time—mostly when it’s general information we all need to know. I’m further ahead in my course work than they are so Lieutenant Kim just lets me do my independent study and I send my work to him at the end of the week. Why do you ask?”

“I had to kick the two of them out of here earlier so I could get my project for the captain done. Jason seemed pretty ticked off about it.”

Miralle shook her head. “Lieutenant Kim doesn’t let us work in astrometrics unless he’s signed up for a time slot for us. Ship’s business takes priority. It’s the same way we don’t work directly in Sickbay or Engineering unless the Doc or my mom approves it.”

Interesting bit of information. Naomi mentally filed it away.

“Are you …I was wondering if we could talk … I mean, if you’re not busy or anything … which it kind of looks like you are, so never mind…” Miralle hedged.

“I’m allowed to take a lunch break,” Naomi said, a little amused at the younger girl’s waffling. “I can go down to the Mess Hall right now if you want to come along.” It dawned on her what Miralle might want to talk about, though, and added, “Or is it better to talk right here where we probably aren’t going to be bothered?”

“Oh, no, it isn’t THAT kind of talk. It’s more along the lines of a ‘are you feeling as weird and awkward about suddenly being a grown-up as I do?’ sort of talk.”

Naomi laughed aloud, happy to know she wasn’t the only person feeling so out of place. “Yes, I definitely am! I’m glad it isn’t just me.”

“Well, you and I are really the only kids who would notice the difference. Padriac and Jason and Sahara and the others weren’t even born when we entered the Temporal Expanse. The memories they have right now are the only ones they know.” Miralle offered a small half-smile. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have many memories of being two years old but I know it feels a little weird that I’m not, like, being carried everywhere and being told not to touch the things on my parent’s work table.”

Naomi grinned. “I was just thinking about how strange it is not to have to look UP at everybody! I’m not used to being this tall.”

“Tell me about it!” Miralle rolled her eyes. “I’m almost as tall as my dad.”

“My brain feels scrambled,” Naomi confessed. “There are all of these memories but I don’t feel like they actually happened to me. I was telling the captain that I remember speaking at Seven’s funeral but … it doesn’t feel real, not the way the memories I have of Seven from before the Temporal Expanse feel. The ones of her funeral feel … flat. Does that make sense?”

Miralle nodded slowly. “It does. I mean, it’s different for me because I was so little when this happened…but it also feels like you described it … like none of it is real.” She frowned. “Do you think we’re the only ones who feel like this?”

Naomi shrugged. “Have you talked to your parents?” At Miralle’s look, she smiled and confessed, “Me either.”

“Maybe we can kind of lean on each other for a while,” Miralle offered shyly. “I mean, I know you’re an officer now and I’m not even technically a cadet but …” She made a face. “It’s SO much better than trying to talk to Padriac or Jason about this stuff. All they’re interested in is windsurfing, studying, and whatever project you said they’re doing for Lieutenant Kim.”

“About that,” Naomi said slyly. “Can you do a little snooping? Figure out what they’re doing and why they’ve been sneaking into astrometrics to do it?”

Miralle laughed, an evil gleam in her eye. “I can definitely do that.”

“As for hanging out,” Naomi said, checking the chronometer, “I’d love to. Let’s get some lunch and play a round of Kodis-Kott before I have to get back on duty.”

Miralle looked much happier than she had when she’d entered the room. “Great.”

The two girls exited astrometrics and headed for the turbolift, Naomi moving slightly ahead of the younger girl because of her longer legs.

She stopped abruptly and held an arm up to block Miralle from continuing forward when, from out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Padriac and Jason outside the holodeck with Sahara Paris and Jeremy and Jenner Ayallah.

“What is it?” Miralle asked, trying to peer over Naomi’s shoulder.

“What are they doing?” Naomi murmured. “Shouldn’t your sister and the younger boys be at school?”

“Yeah, they’re with Lieutenant Jameson till 1600 hours when Mom gets off shift.” She furrowed her brow. “Maybe they’re on a field trip to the holodeck.”

“Then where’s Lieutenant Jameson?”

Miralle shook her head and raised her hand to tap her commbadge. “Think I should say anything?”

Naomi hesitated, caught in indecision. “I guess not,” she finally said. “What kind of problems can they cause on the holodeck? Let’s just go to the Mess Hall.”

The two girls started back down the hall, but they were quiet this time, both lost in their own thoughts.

Chapter Text

“Torres to Janeway.”

The perturbed tone in her chief engineer’s voice made Janeway raise her eyebrows at Tuvok. Granted, ‘perturbed’ tended to be B’Elanna’s emotional state about 60% of the time but with the recent temporal shenanigans, Janeway knew better than to assume B’Elanna was upset over something trivial. She raised her voice so the comm would pick it up from her place at her desk where she had been studying scans of the Temporal Expanse with her tactical officer.

“Janeway here. Something wrong, B’Elanna?”

“I should think so. We’ve got someone on board who’s quite a joker and the only reason I know it’s not my husband is that he’d sooner find himself in a cage match with a Cardassian than play a joke this brazen.”

Janeway and Tuvok exchanged glances. “What’s happened?”

“Someone has disassembled the Delta 2.”

Tuvok immediately rose and started for the door, Janeway close behind him. “We’ll be right there,” Janeway replied and closed the channel.

“Thoughts, Tuvok?” Janeway asked as they hurried toward the turbolift, walking in sync as they always seemed to. It was a nice metaphor for her long years of friendship with Tuvok, she reflected. They were in sync more often than not and that was something she could always count on.

“I am as perplexed as you are, Captain,” he replied, the Vulcan equivalent of a shrug of the shoulders. “Nor do I wish to preliminarily point fingers, but this does sound rather like a childish prank.”

Janeway’s mouth quirked in a smile; she’d been wondering if her son and his friends were capable of such a thing. She also wondered what it said about her parenting skills that she found the prospect more amusing than anger-inducing … if it turned out that her son was responsible, that is.

“I don’t know that Padriac has the engineering skills to pull it off, frankly,” she said aloud. “We’ll have to see what’s waiting for us in the shuttle bay.”

B’Elanna was waiting, pacing like an angry cat around the Delta 2 which was, as she had reported, only a quarter of the way assembled, the merest skeleton of a ship. She made notations of every missing component on a PADD that she held in hands that were shaking with pent-up rage.

“Look at this!” she spat, whirling to face them as soon as the door opened. “It’s a mess! The entire drive assembly is missing! The warp coils are nowhere to be found. All of the interior components are AWOL. Inertial dampeners, reactions injectors, command processors … all gone. I can only think of a handful of people on this ship with the skill to disassemble this shuttle and not a single one of them would dare to do it! What the hell has happened here?”

Janeway stared at the stripped down shuttle, amazement and anger warring equally in her head and heart. This was something far beyond a childish prank.

Tuvok was the first to state what both women, in their ire, had missed.

“Lieutenant, if the Delta 2 is missing over 75% of its components, then our first logical question becomes where have those components gone?”

Torres stopped cataloging and met the Vulcan’s gaze. “I’m sorry?”

“If someone has stripped this shuttle of its parts, there must be a reason for them to have done so. Devoting the time and energy it would have taken to such a radical disassembly is only logical if there was a use to be gained from the parts that were taken. So, I repeat, where have those components gone? Of what other possible use would they be on this ship?”

Torres literally brought herself to a halt and leaned against the hull plating to think about it. “Well …I can’t …” She shot a glance at Janeway. “All our systems are running at peak efficiency. There’s nothing in the process of being overhauled or rebuilt. None of the other shuttles are in the process of being retrofitted. So … I guess my answer, Tuvok, is I don’t know where the parts have gone or what else they’re being used for.”

“Nor do I have a satisfactory answer,” he replied. “However, if it is not a person who is responsible for the Delta 2’s disassembly, something else must be.” He pulled out his tricorder. “Perhaps this is the result of the temporal reversions that are occurring on the ship.”

“So we’ve somehow reverted to a time before the Delta 2 was completed?” Torres asked.

“It is possible.” Tuvok entered several commands. “I’m scanning for temporal signatures.”

Torres pulled out her tricorder and began doing the same. Janeway followed suit.

Torres whistled under her breath. “You’re right, Tuvok. There are a lot of chronoton particles floating around in here. I wonder if it’s the same all over the ship.” She slapped her commbadge. “Torres to Kim.”

“Kim here.”

“Harry, where are you?”

“The Mess Hall, why?”

“Perfect. Run a quick tricorder scan and tell me what the chronoton particle levels are in there.”

“Oookay.” They heard the beeping of the tricorder and then, “2.5 rems.”

Torres’ eyebrows rose as she entered the information in her tricorder. “Interesting. Thanks, Harry.” She hit her commbadge again. “Torres to Paris.”

“Go ahead.”

“Where are you, Tom?”

“On the Bridge.”

Torres repeated her request. The answer was 5 rems. Three more comm requests … to Vorik, to Chakotay, and to Ensign Larsen, all in different areas of the ship…got her additional numbers, all of which she punched into her tricorder.

“Each area of the ship is infused with chronoton particles,” Torres reported. “Not surprising since we’re in the middle of the Temporal Expanse. The levels are relatively low in some areas of the ship like the Mess Hall and crew quarters. Other areas are slightly higher … Engineering and Sickbay. But here … here the levels are sky high. We’re at 80 rems compared to the Mess Hall’s 2.5. Tuvok was right … there’s been a temporal event in here … the reversion you and Chakotay were telling us about this morning at the briefing. That’s why the Delta 2 looks like it does … it’s in a different time frame than we are … one in which it’s only been half-built.”

Janeway pursed her lips and thought. “This brings up a number of interesting questions. Will the chronotons dissipate on their own? Why did they build up so quickly in here? Is this a permanent effect?”

“These are all questions for which we must seek answers,” Tuvok said. “However, I would recommend quarantining the shuttlebay until such time as the chronoton particles have dissipated. Such high levels of chronoton radiation will no doubt affect anyone who comes into contact with it. To that end, I suggest we vacate the premises immediately.” He ushered the women out of the shuttlebay ahead of him. “Captain, with your permission?”

At Janeway’s nod, he said, “Computer, erect a level 5 force field around the shuttlebay and seal the shuttlebay doors. Grant access only to officers with level 9 clearance or higher.”

The computer beeped and hummed before reporting, “The shuttlebay has been sealed.”

Torres stared at Tuvok, her eyebrow raised. “You hustled us out of there pretty quickly, Tuvok. What did you notice that we didn’t?”

“Your arm,” he replied, looking at her left arm. “Specifically the scar on your left arm.”

“The one from the fencing competition on Norivia Prime?” she asked. “What about it?” She turned her arm over and gaped. “Oh my god.”

The very prominent scar, one that Torres had insisted on keeping as a souvenir of a hard-fought victory in a fencing competition 4 years ago, had faded to a thin, barely visible line.

“What the HELL?” Torres looked utterly shell-shocked.

“At 80 rems, the effects of temporal reversion would make themselves quite clear,” Tuvok noted. “In this case it is causing old scars and injuries to heal themselves.”

Janeway looked at her right hand and noted that a burn scar on her palm from handling a too-hot dish produced by her perennially malfunctioning replicator had faded almost cleanly away. She held her hand wordlessly out for her second officer and chief engineer to see.

“Computer, send reports of the chronoton levels in that shuttlebay to my tricorder every 30 minutes,” Janeway ordered. At the computer’s acknowledging beep, she turned to her companions and said, “In the meantime, I think it might be prudent to visit Sickbay to tell the Doctor what we’ve learned.”

At their nods, they set off down the hallway together, saying nothing.

Chapter Text

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.