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“General, if you would just hold your fire for a minute and talk to us, you might discover we’re not your enemies –”

A renewed volley of torpedo blasts cut her off, Voyager lurched, and the captain stumbled to her knees. Chakotay was up in an instant, gripping her upper arm and helping her back to her seat.

“I guess talking is off the agenda,” he offered.

She sent him an absent, humourless smile. “Harry, report?”

“We took minor damage to the deflector array,” Kim answered smartly. “The main life support generator is failing. Switching to backup.”

“Tuvok, what’s our shield status?”

“Shields are at twenty-two percent.” Before she could ask the next logical question, Tuvok added, “Phaser power is down to twelve percent. We have three photon torpedoes remaining.”

She barely grimaced.

“Paris, can you get us out of here?” Chakotay demanded.

The pilor shook his head. “No can do, Commander. They took out impulse drive with that last shot.”

“Bridge to Engineering,” Chakotay called. “B'Elanna, how long until we have warp drive?”

Torres shouted to be heard above the mayhem in Engineering. “The plasma couplings to the intermix chamber are completely depolarised, Commander. We’re looking at two hours at best, and that’s only if we can keep the plasma pressure below three thousand kilopascals.”

Janeway cut in. “Lieutenant, I’m sending Seven to help you.” She turned to nod at Seven of Nine, standing at the auxiliary science console. “Do the best you can.”

Seven strode to the turbolift, and Chakotay tried to quell his sudden premonition that this would be the last time he saw her alive. As turned back to the viewscreen he caught the captain’s eye. The same sense of foreboding was written in the strain on her face.

He tried to bolster her with a smile and a brief touch to the back of her hand. We’ve faced worse odds than this, he told her silently, and was gratified by the gentle curl of her lips in response.

“Tuvok, ready torpedoes at full yield,” she ordered without taking her eyes from Chakotay’s. “Aim for their forward weapons array, aft shield generator and main bridge. Tom, prepare to initiate evasive manoeuvre omicron five. B'Elanna, can you hear me?”

Here, Captain.”

“We’re going to need a burst of power to the thrusters. Can you divert energy from the main EPS relay?”

Sure,” Torres replied, “but if I can’t control the flow rate it could blow out the power converters on every deck of the ship. There’s no way of keeping the plasma chamber pressure down if that happens. We’d be looking at a core breach.”

“Do the best you can,” Janeway said grimly. “Is everyone ready?”

“Aye, Captain,” three voices chorused.

“Initiate on my mark. Three – two – one –”

Phaser fire shot out from the alien ship’s bow, blossoming into crimson flowers as it impacted Voyager’s shields. Chakotay heard the screech of complaining metal as Voyager pitched to starboard.

“Shield are down,” Tuvok intoned.

“Captain, the port nacelle was hit,” Paris shouted, voice strained as he struggled to keep his seat.

Chakotay scrolled through the litany of systems failures lighting up the command console. “Hull breaches on decks five through ten, port side. Repair crews are sealing them, but we took heavy damage to the Jeffries tubes and turbolift shaft in section 47…” his voice trailed off and he looked up at the captain, horror widening his eyes. “Seven of Nine was caught in the breach. She didn’t make it.”

Janeway’s face almost crumpled, but she pressed her lips together. “Weapons status, Tuvok?”

“Ready.”

“Tom, are the thrusters still online?” Her fingers curled into the arms of her chair.

“Yes ma’am.”

“B'Elanna?”

Captain, that last hit destabilised the power relays on decks ten and eleven. I can’t guarantee the converters will hold.

“We don’t have a choice. Mark!”

Three torpedoes streaked out from Voyager’s aft array, their aim deadly and true, striking the three vulnerable points the captain had noted on the alien vessel. Chakotay’s view of the ship – fire racing along its hull – was lost as Tom punched the thrusters, dipping Voyager’s nose to avoid flying debris as the alien ship broke apart.

Alarms of varying tones rang out from every console on the bridge.

“Report!” Janeway shouted, feet braced against the listing of the deck.

“Secondary life support generator is failing,” Ensign Kim began. “The hull breach on deck five is widening and the Doctor is evacuating Sickbay. There’s a power spike in the –”

Torres to bridge,” the engineer’s insistent voice cut him off. “Captain, the EPS relays on deck eleven are overloading and the power surge has reached the main converter. There’s a cascade reaction building in the intermix chamber. Core pressure is at four thousand kilopascals and rising. I can’t stabilise it…”

Chakotay’s stomach clenched.

“Try shutting down the antimatter inducers,” Janeway snapped back, head bent over the console.

“Kathryn,” Chakotay said.

I’ve tried. They’re fused.” Torres paused. “Pressure now at four thousand eight hundred kilopascals. Captain, I can’t stop the reaction.”

“Dump the core,” Janeway said harshly.

After a moment the reply came. “I – I’m sorry, Captain. The ejection sequence failed and I can’t override. I estimate six minutes to a warp core breach.”

A workstation exploded on the aft of the bridge and Chakotay heard Harry Kim cry out in pain. Janeway swivelled to look at him and saw Sam Wildman bending to take his pulse. A few seconds passed before Wildman met the captain’s eye and shook her head silently.

Stricken, Janeway turned back to face the viewscreen.

“Kathryn,” Chakotay said again, urgently.

“Maybe I can override it from here,” Janeway murmured aloud. “Computer, eject the core. Authorisation Janeway pi one one zero.”

Unable to comply. Warp core ejection system is offline.

Captain!”

She turned to him, her eyes bleak.

“We have to abandon ship,” he said gently.

A piece of alien debris somersaulted into view and collided with the hull just below the bridge. Chakotay heard Tom Paris swear as Voyager shuddered and the stench of superheated duranium filled the air.

“I can’t hold her,” Paris shouted. “I’m losing attitude control.”

Janeway briefly closed her eyes. When she opened them again she fixed them on Chakotay’s understanding gaze and spoke clearly. “All hands, this is the captain. Get to the escape pods and abandon ship. I repeat, abandon ship.”

Chakotay reached across the console between them and squeezed her hand. “I’ll go coordinate the evacuation,” he said. “Don’t get left behind.”

“I’ll be right behind you.” Her answering smile faded quickly as he stood and nodded, exiting the bridge quickly.

With only one turbolift and one transporter room online, it took precious extra seconds to load the able-bodied and wounded into the shuttles and escape pods, and the computer had just given the one-minute warning when Chakotay reached the ejection pad just behind the bridge, where escape pod alpha waited for the command team. He expected her to be there waiting for him. But the captain was nowhere in sight.

He tapped his combadge. “Chakotay to the captain. Our ride is ready and waiting, so I hope  you’re on your way.”

There was no answer.

“Captain …” he paused. “Kathryn. Please tell me you’re not still on the bridge.”

Her voice came through softly. “I’m here.”

“Kathryn …”

Alarmed, he let the pod’s hatch slam shut and started running along the corridor. He burst out onto a deserted, battered bridge, bathed in alternating red and black. She had silenced the alarms. Conduit hung from the ceiling, showering sparks into the hushed, electrified air.

In the centre of the bridge, staring at the devastated alien ship through the viewscreen, was Kathryn Janeway.

Chakotay stumbled down from the aft level and took hold of her upper arms. “Kathryn, for God’s sake, what are you doing? There’s no time!”

She turned her face to his, pale and sad. “No Chakotay. There’s no point.”

“What are you talking about? Everyone has evacuated. We’re supposed to rendezvous on the other side of that asteroid field we passed yesterday.” He shook her gently. “Come on, we have to go. They’ll be waiting for us.”

Tears gathered in her eyes. “Nobody will be waiting for us,” she whispered, and turned to point at the viewscreen.

Chakotay followed her gesture and saw two more of the alien vessels, swooping through the debris, phasers targeting Voyager’s escape pods and destroying them one by one. Sickened, he felt his grip tightening on Kathryn’s arms. She winced, bringing his attention back to her, and he loosened his fingers deliberately.

Twenty seconds to warp core breach, announced the computer.

They stared at one another.

“Chakotay,” she stumbled over the words in her haste to say them, “I know it’s too late – I wish we had more time – but I need to tell you…”

He shifted a hand to her face as her voice trailed off. A console exploded behind her and a halo of sparks lit up her face.

“I know,” he said. “I’ve always known.”

Ten seconds to warp core breach.

Her eyes spilled over, but she managed a smile. “I guess I’m not that good an actress after all.”

“No,” he smiled back. “I just know your heart, Kathryn.”

Five.

He tilted her face up and bent toward her. She caught her breath.

Four.

Their lips met, softly at first, but growing in hunger and urgency. Her hands found his chest.

Three.

He could no longer see the searing flash and eerie shadows of the emergency lights or smell the acrid stench of burning metal and fibre all around them. All his senses were filled with her: her smooth skin, her soft, sweet mouth, her trembling hands curving around his neck, bringing him closer and closer.

Two.

In their last moments, having lost everything but each other, they knew only peace.

One.