Geoffrey: It isn't the power I feel deprived of; it's the mention that I miss. There's no affection for me here. You wouldn't think I'd want that, would you?
The Lion in Winter, James Goldman
The spirits seemed slow to speak. Or perhaps he was simply slow to hear. But he persisted, steadily drifting into the dreamscape, sitting cross-legged, repeating the custom of ancestors who had felt the heat of real fires before them and watched sparks leap and attack shadows beneath a real night sky. Here in his quarters the fire was absent, the blackness artificial. Yet the stillness remained sacred.
The metallic womb of Voyager held him, comforted him with rhythmic hum of its engines, the very heartbeat of the vessel. He waited there for his vision, for the voices welling up from atavistic blood to offer another generation's wisdom. Vulnerable, guileless, still. Open.
Then, through the veils of his trance, sudden and unexpected, contact was made.
Spirits of my people, I am not alone here. What is this? Who is this what is it what oh father no what father -
He was embraced. Overwhelmed. Eclipsed.
In the heartbeat before he collapsed, Chakotay saw all.
"Chakotay, can you hear me?"
No movement stirred the calm of his swarthy features. "What... what is the date?" His words slurred with the thickness of heavy sleep.
"Don't you remember?" Janeway's whisper made her query sound all the more anxious. She spared the doctor an apprehensive glance before returning her full attention to the man on the biobed.
Only then did he open his eyes, squinting against the antiseptic glare of sickbay's lighting. "I remember... many things. My ancestors... my birth... even my death -"
"You didn't die, Chakotay." She protectively touched his shoulder, as if to remind him of reality.
"Not yet." The statement seemed painfully obvious, and he made it with stoic certainty. Frustration swam in his dark eyes. "I wish I could explain... I saw... everything. All at once. When it touched me."
"When what touched you, Commander?" The doctor entered Chakotay's field of vision opposite of Janeway, his smooth forehead wrinkled in concern. "Was there something in your quarters when you collapsed? You've been unconscious for several hours. Do you know what happened?"
Chakotay looked back and forth between them, searching for words to explain the indescribable. "It was... immense..."
"That's very helpful, Commander. Immense for a microbe, or immense for a mugato?"
Janeway's hand shot up palm-first to quiet the doctor's sarcasm. "Chakotay, let's try this from the top. Why don't you start with -"
The sickbay door opened behind them, and Seven of Nine's husky voice interrupted the captain's question. "Doctor, I require your assistance."
Still glaring at his patient, the doctor's posture betrayed his annoyance. "And what seems to be your trouble?"
"I am... receiving... signals... voices..." Janeway and the doctor both swiveled at her bewildered gasp, just in time to see the former Borg sink to her knees, whitened fingers pressed to the implant at her temple.
Before they could reach her, the very floors and walls of sickbay shuddered, throwing them to the deck.
"It's here," Chakotay whispered, closing his eyes, gripping the bed's edges, bracing himself.
"They," Seven amended from the floor, and lost consciousness.
"Tuvok, what's going on?" Janeway barked into her comm badge as she crawled with the EMH to Seven's side.
"Uncertain, Captain. It appears we have collided with three bodies of concentrated energy -"
"Where did they come from?"
The doctor ran a scanner over the grey-clad inert form, swaying over it as the ship shook. The lights flickered and made his movements appear jerky, fitful.
"Captain," it was Kim's voice, shaking with the another jarring impact, "they just appeared out of nowhere -"
"Are they lifeforms?"
"Unknown," Tuvok admitted.
"Yes," Chakotay countered, rolling from the biobed, staggering toward Janeway as the deck lurched beneath him. "Let me go with you." His request was accepted with a curt nod.
Janeway shifted her attention to the EMH. "Doctor?"
"Seven of Nine is unconscious, just like Commander Chakotay was. The condition appears to be linked to the anomalous energy readings -"
"Agreed. Do what you can for her." She reached out to grasp her first officer's proffered arm, both of them clinging to each other as they tried to straighten to a stand. "Red alert, Mister Tuvok. Shields up. Send out a hail on all channels, Mister Kim. Chakotay and I are on our way." They made it to the door before the next violent quake. "Let me know immediately when Seven regains consciousness -"
The doors cut off the Captain's voice as the doctor gently placed the limp Seven on the newly abandoned biobed.
"Report." Janeway and Chakotay stumbled to their respective chairs, painted red with pulsing lights of warning.
"No response to hails. Captain -"
"Shields at 35%; we can't withstand the intensity of -"
"Wait! Now there's -"
"I'm reading -"
Silence broke through the chorus of officers' voices, stunning everyone speechless. No brilliant glow filled the viewscreen. No movement shivered the deck. As quickly as the phenomenon had burst upon them, it was gone.
From his position at the navigational console, Paris turned to look at Kim as if to ask, "Is it over?" Kim shrugged. For a moment no one spoke.
Then a loud voice tore through the calm. The bridge crew started en masse. "Captain Janeway! This is the Emergency Medical Holographic program to Captain Janeway! Respond, please!"
"Oh, there you are. Really, Captain, I don't know how you expect me to provide the excellence in health care to which you are accustomed, when you feel free to transport me and my patients at your whim from location to location without even consulting with me."
Trading confused glances with Chakotay, she pointed to the viewscreen. "On screen. Doctor, I don't understand..." She caught her breath at the sight that met her.
The EMH stood in Sandrine's, frowning with all the humor of a scolding schoolmarm. The proprietress of the holographic establishment draped an arm familiarly across his squared shoulder. Behind him Seven was clearly visible, apparently oblivious to the relocation and resting on the billiards table.
He shifted, taken aback by her confusion. "I assumed that you had ordered this..." his hand swept expansively, "questionable change of venue."
"I did nothing of the kind. Mister Kim?"
As all eyes shifted to the ensign. Thick black locks fell forward as he shook his head. "I can't get them back to sickbay. It's sealed..."
"Sealed? By what?" Janeway's voice grew deeper with urgency.
"I'm getting energy readings off the sensors' scales. It... it looks like..." He looked up, clearly aware of how bizarre his hypothesis sounded. "It would seem that whatever was out there, is now in sickbay."
Bursting into action, Tuvok was sounding an intruder alert and heading for the lift before Kim's words were fully absorbed. Voices played across the bridge, confirming that a security detail would seal the deck and meet the Vulcan at the scene.
On the viewscreen, the incredulous EMH looked out to meet the stunned eyes of the bridge crew. An amorous Sandrine leaned in to plant a suggestive kiss on his jawline, but no one seemed to notice.
"That's unacceptable. I will not have my crew held hostage on our own ship. I want some answers." Janeway paced back and forth, holding her chin in one hand as its fingers tapped an impatient rhythm across her lips. "Harry, still no sign of what's going on in there?"
"No, the interference is too strong. All I can be sure of is that the phenomenon's readings are completely confined to sickbay."
"We are attempting to override the locking mechanisms at present, Captain."
"Keep me updated." She continued to pace. Finally, she halted before her first officer. "I need to know whatever you know about these beings." Her rueful half-smile reflected a silent apology, as if to say, "I know this was a personal experience, Chakotay, but we lack the luxury of privacy right now."
He cleared his throat and drew a deep breath. She took a step back, lowering herself to sit on her heels, in the attempt to respect his space and allow him choose words precisely. "I was meditating in my quarters when they contacted me. It was a... spiritual?" - his brows drew together bemusedly at the inadequacy of his terms - "encounter, not a physical one. For a moment, I could see what they saw, as if they touched my mind and showed me a glimpse of their thoughts. Captain, they are very advanced... they see through time and space like we see through the air between us." Regret tugged at his shoulders. "I couldn't take it all in."
Yes, she understood. She had once known the breathtaking second of enlightenment. But all she had left to her was the bereft emptiness of its loss. From the corner of her eye she saw Paris staring intently at her, sharing her thoughts. It had been some time since their experience beyond the threshold of warp speed, but not that long.
Chakotay noted the haunted look of empathy in her eyes, and said no more.
"Contact... I'm not sure what beyond that. I sensed joy and bitterness, like any sentient being might have, but no overarching violence. Of course, any being so advanced might be able to mask its plans."
"Perhaps Seven will have more insights to tell us when she recovers. Her Borg enhancements may have detected things I couldn't perceive. I just happened to be... 'open to certain possibilities'" - Janeway smiled despite herself at his modest phrase - "when they tried to make contact."
"I don't -"
"Captain?" Kim's fingers blurred across his console. "Something's attempting to beam onto the bridge -"
"I can't, it's... transporting now."
The center of the bridge began to shimmer. Chakotay and Paris both leaped to their feet, the one drawing defensively close to Janeway and the other poised for a preemptive strike.
A glow, a sparkle, and a sudden solidification. Standing before them was the form of a young humanoid woman. Tousled, lazy strawberry-blonde curls topped a slender, tall form with pale skin that promised easy freckling. Her stance suggested self-assurance, even haughtiness, and a mercurial temper. But the blue eyes that efficiently scanned the bridge reflected a depth and intelligence that Janeway immediately took seriously.
"Who are you? What is your business here?"
The intruder ignored Janeway's questions. After studying the faces of the officers, she put her hands on her hips impatiently and sighed. "Where are you?" Her whisper seemed addressed to no one in particular.
Janeway and Chakotay traded questioning looks.
The woman gasped then, and put her hands to her head. "Not like that! These minds can't handle it. Just talk." As quickly as she had doubled over in seeming pain, she straightened.
"ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?" The metallic, inhuman, vaguely masculine voice emanated from Voyager's own communications system.
Janeway glanced to Kim, and he mouthed the expected answer to her unspoken question. "Sickbay."
"Yes, I'm fine. Just don't do that again. It hurts." One finger continued to rub a temple tenderly. She drew a breath to speak, but Janeway beat her to it, eager to reestablish control.
"My name is Kathryn Janeway. I am the captain of this vessel. What do you want with us?"
"My name is Nivyr. We require the use of your sickbay, your medical equipment, and perhaps you and Mister Paris here," she jerked her chin in his direction, and he raised an eyebrow, surprised that she knew his name. "Otherwise, you may continue on the same heading and conduct business as usual. This need not be hostile. But be assured that you have no choice but to assist us."
Janeway bristled at the tone of command in the young woman's voice. "We would be happy to discuss this with you in a civilized manner, but you cannot just -"
"We can and we will. And I assure you, Captain, you have no right to speak of the manners of the civilized. We know better. So just listen, cooperate, and we will leave as quickly as possible." Drawing herself up to her full height and crossing her arms, she took a short, swaggering step toward Janeway.
"We could take much more from you than mere medical supplies and information. Luckily for you, we did not come for all that justice demands, Mother."
"NIVYR, DON'T ANTAGONIZE THEM. WE'RE NOT HERE TO INDULGE OUR BASE EMOTIONS. STAY FOCUSED; DON'T ALLOW THIS REGRESSION TO CLOUD YOUR JUDGMENT."
"Oh, but you can't see them as I do right now. It's quite telling. They are awestruck. Why is that, Captain? Have you stranded so many of your unwanted offspring that you can't decide which we must be? Or was your abandonment of us so untroubling that you've forgotten the entire episode?"
Janeway stepped back as if struck, her brows drawing together in horrible realization. "How?"
"You both," she turned to take the blanching Paris into her view as well, sparing him none of the blame, "were genetically unstable at the time our our creation. It seems that we have continued to hyper-evolve since our birth, and rapidly age, as well. I volunteered to be regressed into this form" - she indicated her human body - "to expedite our efforts, so I could more easily communicate with you. Our first attempts at contact were less than successful." A knowing frown in Chakotay's direction.
Numb with shock, Janeway's mind fought to follow the fantastical situation before her. "Why do you need our sickbay?"
"For our sister." The rigid lines of defensive anger on her face softened slightly. "She is... ill. My brother and I believe her condition can be traced to an anomaly in one of your anatomical structures. We wish to use your medical equipment to devolve her, and then treat her. You can temporarily use the holodeck as your sickbay; we have no use for your Emergency Medical Holographic program. His knowledge is now ours."
Janeway nodded slowly. "If what you say is true, you are welcome to use our medical facilities."
"CAPTAIN, I AM TRANSFERRING THE DNA SEQUENCE FOR NIVYR WHICH WE USED TO REGRESS HER TO THIS PRESENT HUMAN FORM. IT WILL PROVE THAT SHE, LIKE OUR SISTER AND ME, IS THE CHILD OF YOU AND LIEUTENANT PARIS."
"Very well." Janeway instinctively knew that the data was merely a formality. The physical attributes were there for everyone to see: the young woman's auburn hair, the sharp jawline, the slender strength mirrored her mother's; and the rebellious curls, the fair skin, and the piercing blue eyes were her father's without a doubt. But the proof was not merely physical. Janeway could see the desperation to be taken seriously in the crossed-arm, planted stance, the harsh determination that bordered on the unhealthy. Janeway knew it too well. And the subtler side of Paris was also there, the bitter, wounded vulnerability shielded by cocky resolve.
"How can we help you?" It seemed like the next logical question.
An incredulous bark of a laugh. "Help us? None of you can help us. What I relinquished to the devolution is... near omniscience compared to your abilities, your understandings."
"NIVYR, THIS IS FRUITLESS. THEY CANNOT HELP WHAT THEY ARE." The words were measured and chillingly dismissive.
"Fine. Stay out of our way, and we will stay out of yours. We require nothing outside of sickbay. If we require further information from either of you, we will ask."
"Very well, then. I'll call off my security officers. You have full access."
She paused for a moment, deliberating with herself. Strange, unbecoming emotions played across a face that at any other time would be called beautiful. "No, there is something else I want. Just a small thing. We've become beings of light, traveling space and time and learning, teaching ourselves the ways of peoples you have yet to imagine. We have seen worlds you cannot imagine. But there is something we cannot understand. Everything we gathered from your people tells us that what you did, leaving your newborns without protection or care, was anathema to your instincts. If this is true, why did you do it?
"When you left your infants on that empty planet, what were you thinking?"
Janeway stood speechless, her eyes wide and filling with tears she dared not shed. To her left, by his station, Paris opened his mouth to speak and then shut it, staring hard at the deck, utterly stricken.
It was Chakotay who stepped forward and met the woman's eyes, with the self-condemning fatalism of one who knew he was damned. "They weren't thinking. They were stunned unconscious by phaser, and then sedated in sickbay. I ordered Voyager to leave orbit on my authority as first officer." His words were deliberate and calm, and the guilty cost of them weighted his broad shoulders, pulling him down, claiming him. "It is my responsibility alone."
Everyone on the bridge stared in mute horror and sympathy at the tragic acknowledgment. The facts of the event were common knowledge among the senior officers, and yet no one seemed to have thought about them before. Even Nivyr had no response.
"END THIS. GERIA IS WEAKENING. WE MUST BEGIN THE PROCEDURE."
Without breaking eye contact from the commander, Nivyr whispered huskily, "I'm ready." She was still studying Chakotay's face as she dematerialized.
"Captain's Log, supplemental. Nivyr remains in sickbay. We are still unable to obtain sensor readings there, due to her brother's intense energy emanations, so we can only assume that their efforts are proceeding as they planned. I have verified the genetic data; she is our daughter. We also have a son and another daughter that we would not even recognize as human.
"I have sent a message asking to talk with Nivyr again. So far I've received no answer. I can't say that I blame her.
"I know I need to talk to my officers, but I am at a loss. All I can keep thinking about is my flippant words to Tom after the entire experience with the threshold of warp speed. 'I've considered having children, but I must admit I never considered having them with you.' I thought I was so damned clever, trying to cheer his spirits and reestablish proper distance between the two of us. I couldn't see the forest for the trees.
"Now I know how James Kirk felt, when he discovered that his tidy solution to the Khan Singh incident came back to haunt him and hurt those he cared about. It was all too easy. I trot out my formulae, my Prime Directive and Starfleet regulations, and sleep well at night. And now I am reaping the rewards for my short-sighted expediency. What is it, Kath? You could only afford moral dilemmas when they were convenient?
"I am a mother. I've thought about it, considered it, even dreamed of it at times - well, here it is. I'm a mother. I have children.
"And I abandoned them.
"God, what have I done?"
When his shift was over, he waited until the doctor had released Seven and shut down his own program before entering Sandrine's. Removing the usual holographic characters, he served himself and curled up at a corner table to nurse his drink and think. There were no distractions. The pub was thick with sordid smoke, dark and impure and alone. Just like Tom Paris felt.
Once he had told the EMH that he was not ashamed of crying. It was true. That did not mean that he didn't prefer to do so by himself, without prying, judgmental eyes, however. As he pondered the amber liquid in his glass, slow, heavy tears trailed down his face and left hot saltiness on his lips.
He knew how Nivyr felt. Abandoned, unwanted, rejected. He hated the father who had robbed him of his confidence, had distorted his sense of worth, and had made him capable of such self-destruction and self-loathing. He also hated the father who had given Nivyr such insecurity, such bitterness, and such counterproductive anger. It amazed and disgusted him, the knowledge that he was that man.
Kim had crept up to the bar, nervous and concerned about the lieutenant he knew was hiding in the familiarity of Sandrine's. As it was, it took several minutes for the shadow-swathed Paris to emerge from his thoughts and register Kim's presence.
"Harry, please, not now."
"Should've initiated the safety locks."
"I didn't think anyone would have the bad taste to disturb me."
"I needed to know you were okay."
They both snorted and stared in opposite directions. Finally, Kim turned and looked at him for a long moment, then broke the silence. "I'll go if you want me to."
"I want you to... but thanks, Harry."
Kim nodded, biting back all of the arguments and platitudes and reassurances he had practiced before coming. "You know where I live, if you want to talk."
Paris' blurred vision distorted the image of Kim's defeated retreat from the holodeck.
The old man's eyes were gentle, their corners wrinkled from smiles that were slow to begin and even slower to leave. White and steely grey hair contrasted with his deep almond skin, adding to the unearthly glow that seemed to surround him as he stood in the middle of the darkened quarters.
"My son, it seems you always summon me when children are at issue. Just because I was a parent does not mean that my only insights are those about infants."
The mild humor warmed Chakotay's heart, and made his next words all the harder. "I know, father, but right now I seek your wisdom about my actions towards the children of others. When my captain and a lieutenant were... not responsible for their actions, they had three children together. When I found all of them, I made the choice to leave their children behind, on the world where they were born. Now the children have found us, and they want to understand why I chose the course of action that I did. They feel that they were abandoned."
"Well, then, I would tell them." It seemed obvious enough.
"Tell them what?"
"Why did you leave them?"
Chakotay sighed in frustration, trying to determine the easiest way to explain things like the threshold of warp speed, Starfleet regulations on indigenous alien life, and artificially-induced hyper-evolution. "They... father, they weren't human."
Outrage played on the Kolopak's features. "Did I ever teach you that humans were the only living beings with souls?"
He opened his mouth to reply. But he had no answer.
For the second time in the day, the horror of his past decision caught Chakotay full in the throat. He groaned and turned away from his father's scrutiny.
Janeway paused at the door to his quarters. "Mister Paris, this is the captain. May I come in?"
She looked like the last several pots of coffee had not even managed to dent her dejection. In less than a day, she somehow came to look like she hadn't slept in a dozen. Paris, on the other hand, looked like every sad-storied pub crawler she had ever imagined, unshaven, disheveled, and more than slightly drunk. So, the rumors concerning real alcohol on board had some truth to them. An issue for another time.
She waved him down before he tried to rise.
"Did you hear from Nivyr?"
"Yes, but it seems that they are too busy right now to give us an audience. She has agreed to see us tomorrow."
She took a seat although none had been offered and faced Paris as he reclined awkwardly on the chaise lounger, apparently where he had fallen.
"We need to talk."
A laugh escaped him, and an ugly smile crossed his face. As nonchalant as he intended to appear, however, he could not force himself to meet her eyes. "Captain, I don't have enough 'I'm sorries' for this one. If it were possible right now, I'd resign and you'd never see me again. I didn't mean for this to happen... but I could say that for a lot of things, couldn't I? You gave me a chance -"
"This isn't about you, Mister Paris." She hoped she had pulled off the icy tone, that she had hidden her own considerable anguish.
"Isn't it?" His voice sounded pathetic, cracking on the defiant syllables. "I kidnapped you, dragged you across the threshold, took you to a planet, and forced you to bear my children!"
"We've been over that, Tom." Long breaths to stay in control. "You were not at fault. You were not responsible. I, on the other hand, was accountable for my actions when I signed off on Chakotay's decision to leave them." She leaned forward, trying to break through the wall he'd built around himself. "I never even asked you what you wanted."
He looked above her, over her, avoiding her scrutiny. "I would've agreed with you. I would've stranded them." The whisper brought them both to tears. They each tried to recover silently, alone.
Finally, the familiar deep timbre of command cut through Janeway's sighs. "What do we do now? It is only appropriate for us to decide together, Tom. When we see her, what do say? Where should we go from here? I need your input."
She let the questions hang between them as he hauled himself upright and, with unexpected sober grace, sauntered to the porthole. Back to Janeway, facing the stars, he began to speak. His voice reflected from the glass to the captain with a flat, tinny sound.
"I always swore that if I had children, I wouldn't make the mistakes my father made with me. Trouble is, now I can't figure out what Dad did wrong - never getting off my back, or leaving me alone. So I don't know whether to try with this, or stay far away. I don't know... Damn, I never thought I could become him while I hated him."
He traced the viewport's frame with a finger mindlessly.
"This brings up many hard questions, I know," she said. He shot a look over his shoulder at her, defensive, as if to tell her that there was no way that she could know how he felt. But the expression on her face seemed to convince him otherwise with a sickening certainty. "I have considered having children. I am not a young woman, I must make serious choices soon, and we are far away from home on a ship that might one day require a multi-generational crew. I've heard the ticking of the biological clock."
She sighed, looking through him more than at him. "I've thought I could satisfy my maternal needs with the challenge of being responsible for an entire crew. But now I confront the fact that I am a mother, and I have failed to provide for the most helpless lives under my care. I don't know to feel. I don't know what this means for me as a captain, as a woman... or a mother." She shook her head. "All I have is questions."
"I'm sorry, Captain. I have no answers. For either of us."
She stood and walked to the door. "Maybe it was a bad idea for me to come here. We're both so caught up in our own pain, we can't see straight. But we have two daughters and a son on board. We've got to figure out if we want to learn about them before they have a chance to walk out on us."
Torres woke earlier than usual and made her way quickly to the mess hall. As she expected, Chakotay already sat in the far corner, early enough and far enough away to avoid interaction with almost everyone. His back faced the door, and he stared at a datapadd in his hand.
As she drew close enough to see, though, she realized that he was simply staring at the padd, lost in his own thoughts.
"That must be some interesting reading."
"Hmmm." He looked up at her, unseeing, and then away.
"You must've had a hard night. I dropped by but you didn't answer your door. I figured you were hunting some big game up there." She pointed to his head. "Want to talk?"
She slipped in across from him, offering him little choice. "I don't know what to say," he began in his quiet way. "When there was a chance I had a son, the captain and the officers risked everything to help me try to save him. When I was certain that the captain and Paris had three children, I just left them without so much as a second thought." He shrugged. "I deserve all of the anger Nivyr feels. I have no excuse for what I did."
"But no one ever questioned your decision - Tuvok agreed, and when the captain was herself again, so did she. You didn't do anything single-handedly. Besides, there were all kinds of tricky issues to deal with. How would we care for them? What were they? And what about the Prime Directive?"
"The Prime Directive deals with life forms we meet, not make. Besides, my loyalty to the Prime Directive has never been... seamless." He shook his head. "I know what you're trying to do. Thanks. But I know what I've done." Shifting the conversation subtly, he asked, "Have you seen Tom?"
Torres shook her head. She and Chakotay had been family to one another for too long for secrets to exist between them. "I feel very strange about it - you can't imagine how hard it is to try to talk to someone you care for about the children they had with someone else..."
She could have bitten her tongue when she saw the tortured look of understanding in his eyes. Of course you can imagine, she thought. And when you think you're responsible... Oh, Chakotay, I'm so sorry.
Janeway and Paris stepped into sickbay tentatively, as if entering foreign territory. Nivyr stood ready to meet them. Beyond her, on a biobed, another humanoid woman was curled in a fetal position, her straight blond hair fanning out to rest all around her. Surrounding the pale form was a bright, shimmering light, pulsing rhythmically, as if patting her.
"You asked to see me? I will not leave this room; if we must talk, we will do it here. What do you want?"
Janeway, steeled for this meeting, refused to be daunted by her daughter's tone. "How is your sister?"
"We have isolated the cause." Bright blue eyes fixed on Paris accusingly. "You have a slight enzymatic imbalance in your cerebellum. Unimportant with your brain structure, but quite problematic in the next stage of our evolution. Geria inherited this from you. We even regressed her, like me, to see if we could reverse the effects."
"What can we do? Is there something you can try, test out on me?" He knew he sounded pathetic, but it really didn't matter.
"There is nothing. She is dying." Her eyes filled with tears and her chin trembled, but she did not cry. Proudly, she lifted her chin at them both. "I'll allow you to see her for a moment, if you promise not to upset her." They both nodded their agreement, and followed the sober young woman to her sister's side.
In human form, Geria was much smaller than Nivyr, with a certain slender fragility to her. She opened blue eyes bright with feverish pain and looked from Nivyr to Janeway and Paris, and then back to Nivyr again. "You found them?"
The haughty anger melted, and Nivyr bent over Geria with ferocious dedication. "Yes, Geria, these are our parents."
"Hello." Janeway's whisper was ragged, and her tears began their quiet descent unhindered now. She reached out and touched one elegant, long-fingered hand and smiled as the cold fingers closed around her own. Stepping to the side but still holding her daughter's hand, Janeway made way for Paris to step forward and touch the soft yellow hair.
"You're very beautiful." He took a deep breath and held it to keep from sobbing aloud.
Her wide, earnest eyes turned away from them, toward the light. "Oh, not now, but I was once... like Tyhm... and then I was beautiful." Her innocent face made it easy to believe that, although rapidly aged physically, she was still a small child in many ways. "Tyhm?" She frowned then, as if in pain, and pulled her hand from Janeway's. "It hurts. Sing to me?"
Janeway stared at her own empty hand and cried.
The same metallic voice that they had heard on the bridge began a strange, synthesized hum throughout the sickbay.
"In my head?"
"NO, SWEETHEART." The voice sounded infinitely patient and soothing, despite the distortion. "YOU CANNOT HEAR MY SONGS IN YOUR HEAD - THAT MAKES IT HURT MORE. BUT I CAN SING TO YOU THROUGH THIS COMMUNICATIONS SYSTEM. WILL THAT MAKE IT BETTER?"
"Better," she repeated, her delicate features twisted. As the strange hum again began and then transformed into a hauntingly morose melody, Nivyr bent over and kissed the golden head tenderly. Straightening, she turned to herd Janeway and Paris behind the walls of the soundproofed doctor's terminal. The captain stood rooted at the girl's side until she felt Paris' tentative touch on her arm, and only then reluctantly followed Nivyr away from the sickbed.
"We have lived in each other's thoughts since our birth. We grew beyond bodies as you understand them almost immediately. Together we traveled time and space, learning the lessons of thousands of cultures, evolving all the while. It is... disconcerting to be so physically and temporally anchored, and to have to speak to communicate." Nivyr frowned as she watched her sister drift into an uneasy sleep.
"You three share a special bond," Janeway attempted.
"We were all that we had," came the sharp reply.
The captain wiped her eyes with a shaking hand and tried again. "How did you choose such beautiful names?"
"There is a planet not too far from the world of our birth in what the Drayans once called the Belt of Staten, a dense, gaseous body that glows a beautiful blue-green. We named ourselves for the three moons that orbited it - Tyhm, Nivyr, and Geria. The names come from Drayan legend."
"Nivyr, how... how long does Geria have?" Paris could not look away from the delicate figure on the biobed.
He closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively.
"What... what will you do then?" Janeway's voice sounded old and unused.
"If you'd asked me earlier, I would probably have said that I wanted to see you pay for making us and leaving us to die. But what a waste. It isn't worth it. I thought I could hate you, but instead I just feel sorry for you. You and your rulebound regimen," she looked at Janeway, "you and your frustrated redemption," she looked to Paris, "and even your first officer and his schizophrenic conscience. There are so many things you don't understand."
Tears still staining her cheeks, Janeway deliberately reached out to touch Nivyr's arm. The young woman looked at the captain's hand, but did not pull away. "We never intended you harm."
"Captain, I know that. You didn't think badly of us; you didn't think of us at all." Her voice was devoid of emotion, even interest, now. Janeway removed the hand thoughtfully.
"What will you and Tyhm do?" Paris intently watched Geria sleep, as if he might miss something if he looked away.
"There's one other thing we confirmed while in this facility. The more we age, the faster we age. Although I appear to be a human of approximately twenty-five years, I have actually lived more than half of my life. Tyhm and I are burning ourselves up. We, too, are dying, just not as rapidly as Geria."
"No," Janeway shook her head. "Not so soon. There's got to be a way. Perhaps, if you remained in human form, we could find a way to stabilize your condition and slow the process."
"You could. But if the tables were turned, you would not give up the knowledge, the understanding, the wonder that we know, just to have more life like," she looked down at herself, "this." A strange look of comprehension crossed her face when she realized that, in essence, that is exactly what Paris and Janeway had done.
"There has to be another option," Paris croaked desperately.
"No, Tyhm and I agree that we will leave Voyager as soon as Geria is at peace. We would rather live full lives than long ones. And we have so much yet to learn, to discover." Looking each of them in the eyes, her face took on a shadow of a smile. "I know that both of you understand the need to explore."
On the biobed, Geria shifted and trembled.
"Please leave us now. We wish to be alone with our sister."
Janeway and Paris acquiesced regretfully, stealing one last glimpse of their dying daughter before the sickbay doors hissed shut.
"CAPTAIN JANEWAY?" This time the voice seemed somehow feminine.
"Janeway here. This is Nivyr?" She rose, walked to the screen, and placed one hand on Paris' shoulder, as much for her own stability as his reassurance.
"IT IS. I AM NOW AS I WAS. GERIA IS GONE."
"We are... so sorry." The words were hard to speak. More tears.
"IN YOUR WAY, WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE SINCERE. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SYMPATHY. WE HAVE LOST MUCH.
"I WISH TO APOLOGIZE TO YOU FOR MY EARLIER WORDS OF ANGER. I WAS NOT AWARE OF HOW GREATLY THE REGRESSION WOULD AFFECT ME. YOU AND YOUR KIND ARE AS YET LIMITED BY MANY PATTERNS OF BEHAVIOR AND THOUGHT. YOUR ACTIONS WERE, IN MANY WAYS, PREDICTABLE. YOU FELT LOVING, PARENTAL FEELINGS TOWARD US WHEN WE LOOKED AS YOU DID, AND YET COULD LEAVE US WITHOUT CONCERN WHEN WE SEEMED FOREIGN AND UNKNOWN TO YOU. THIS IS ONE OF THE NATURAL TENDENCIES OF YOUR KIND - ONE, WE HOPE, YOUR CONTINUED JOURNEY WILL HELP YOU TO OVERCOME.
"IF YOU WISH TO DO SOMETHING FOR US, WE ASK THAT YOU THINK OF US, AND OF GERIA. WE WILL KNOW IT WHEN YOU DO SO. AND SO SHALL SHE.
"WE WOULD RETURN YOUR SHIP TO ITS HOME QUADRANT, AS A PARTING SIGN OF GOOD FAITH, BUT WE WOULD NOT TAKE FROM YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN FROM SUCH EXPERIENCES AS THIS. THIS QUADRANT HAS MANY THINGS TO TEACH YOUR KIND, LESSONS THAT YOU MUST LEARN IF YOU ARE TO DEVELOP. WE WOULD NOT TAKE THESE FROM YOU.
"WE WISH YOU WELL ON YOUR VOYAGE.
"WE FORGIVE YOU. YOU ARE WHAT YOU ARE. WE ARE WHAT WE ARE. THINK OF US. WE WILL THINK OF YOU."
Janeway turned her red-rimmed eyes to Paris, and then twisted to see Chakotay over her shoulder.
The bridge was quiet.
Chakotay dipped bare toes into the cool water. The holodeck offered a surprisingly satisfying experience of a wooded lake, even for someone as close to nature's true face as the first officer. He found a dry, mossy ledge and sat, cross-legged, considering the pool.
And the stone in his hand.
The stone belonged on New Earth. The others spread about him also came from alien worlds, mementos from Voyager's away missions. He had left no planet's surface untouched. What unintended consequences followed each of his explorations? Every time he picked up a stone and tucked it into his palm, what series of events did he set in motion?
There, among the others, sat a well-worn stone, no more than a pebble, really. He had taken it from a shallow streambed on the remote world where the hyper-evolved Janeway and Paris had been found. It was an afterthought, taking the stone. Not a planned action. It was just a stone, and he took it.
And they were just animals - amphibious, expressionless, slippery things - and he left them.
He rubbed the New Earth stone, tracing its curve with a finger, and pondered the nature of unexamined actions and their unintended consequences. Then he stopped.
They had all suffered a death. A death in the Voyager family. There were prayers to be offered and tribute to be paid.
He was the son of Kolopak. He knew how to mourn, and how to find hope in the mourning. There was still time before his next duty shift to make the sweet smoke and say the words and set Geria's memory free.
And, in the most private and personal of ways, to atone.
Chakotay shivered in the holodeck's simulated afternoon warmth. He rose and threw the stone at the still waters, and watched the ripples as they bled along the surface into the holographic horizon.
Kathryn Janeway ordered the lights to dim and uncoiled her hair. Before she had reached the bed, her door chime sounded.
"Come," she acknowledged, hastily rewrapping the robe that hang open at her shoulders.
"Captain, I... uh... just wanted to be sure that you were okay." Paris had shaved, and eaten, and slept, although apparently still not very well.
"Thank you, Mister Paris. I'm surviving. And you?"
"Keeping on, keeping on, I guess. I just... realized that I'd been pretty self-centered with all that stuff about my dad, and I just -"
"We've all been self-centered, Mister Paris. That's the way this entire situation began. But I won't let you hoard all of the blame, understood?"
He nodded half-heartedly.
"I think we need to look at this as Nivyr suggested. We can learn from it, and evolve in our moral understanding of the universe. We can't change what happened, but we can be damned sure that we don't make the same mistakes again." Her words were sincere enough, but her tone sounded artificially resolute, strained, to his ears.
"Now," she continued, "why don't you find B'Elanna or Harry and go to Sandrine's?"
He smiled gratefully, if a little sadly, and walked to the door.
"Oh, and Tom?"
"We did have wise, beautiful children, didn't we?" Her eyes were bright, and more than a little desperate in their intensity.
"Yes," he answered, reflecting same awed and humbled regret through the dimness. "That we did." And he left her.
Disrobed, curling into the covers of her bed, Janeway grew quiet and still, and thought of her children. Of the fragile angel who had held her hand. Of the aloof, stoic, mysterious man who seemed so far from human passions and failings, and yet who comforted his sister with such tenderness. Of Nivyr, the bold and angry leader of the three, who was now no longer a beautiful woman, but a light as bright as a star.
She had their understanding. She had their forgiveness.
Janeway cleared her throat and wiped her eyes. Wrapped her arms around the twisted sheets. "Computer, on audio 'Tyhm Sickbay 2'."
"'TYHM SICKBAY 2,'" the computer responded.
It had been simple, really, to make herself a copy of the sickbay's automatic recordings. It was her only souvenir of the three lives she had borne.
She drifted to sleep to the precious voice of her son singing a lullaby to his sister.
and if there is a way to find you
I will find you
but will you find me if Neil
makes me a tree an afro a pharaoh
I can't go
you said so
and threads that are golden
don't break easily
"Horses," Tori Amos