"Report!" Janeway barked as she led the way into sickbay, Chakotay and Tuvok close behind her.
The Doctor looked up from his patient.
"The Sernaix has several internal injuries. I've stopped the bleeding and repaired some of the tissue damage," the Doctor told the three officers. "However, he has sustained a concussion and cannot be moved at this time."
Janeway circled the biobed, keeping her eye on the unconscious alien the whole time. She had never seen a Sernaix up close before and now, as she looked at its lanky body, the blue-tinged skin, the horns, the alien appeared much less intimidating.
"Will he live?" Chakotay asked.
The Doctor nodded. "Yes."
"Good to hear. I'd hate to explain to the Sernaix how one of their people died onboard my ship," Janeway said.
"The physiology is interesting," the Doctor said, seemingly unaware of Janeway's last comment. "I've made note of several unique features that I have not seen anywhere else, including some vestigial organs. I am, however, unable to discern what function is performed by these additional viscera."
"I'm sure you'll discover their purpose soon enough," the Captain responded, her gaze still fixed on the alien.
"Indeed, I hope to," the Doctor said. He lifted a small gray box with a collection of slides within. He pulled out one slide and handed it to the Captain.
"What am I looking at?" she asked curiously, holding the slide up to the light. She could make out a cluster of cells tinted purple. She pulled out another slide from the gray box; this one featured another sample, this time tinted blue.
"I've taken the liberty of taking some tissue and blood samples," the Doctor said in a low voice. "For research purposes, of course."
"Of course," the Captain said, unable to keep the note of cynicism out of her voice. She handed the slides back to the Doctor and turned her attention back to the alien. Janeway noted that despite its appearance of frailty, the alien was all muscle and bone. Strong, without doubt, and this observation sent a shiver down Janeway's back.
Their physical and technological superiority posed a serious threat to Voyager and Janeway knew that this was her opportunity to perhaps head off any chances of further attack. She looked up from the alien and back at Chakotay and Tuvok.
"Chakotay, contact the Sernaix. Let's set up a meeting. Let them know we have one of their people and we'd like to talk," she said briskly.
"Captain," Chakotay said. "I'm not sure I like the idea. We know nothing about the Sernaix." He looked at Tuvok for support, but the Vulcan remained characteristically tight-lipped. It's okay to take sides once in a while, Tuvok, Chakotay thought, feeling fury bubble up inside of him. Even if voicing your opinion means going against the Captain.
"This is our chance to learn more," Janeway said evenly. "I can't pass up the chance for a face to face meeting with the Sernaix here on Voyager."
Chakotay bristled at the suggestion. "What about the security issues?" He threw the comment out there, knowing Tuvok would have to respond now.
Tuvok, still stone-faced, replied, "I will assign extra crew to the security detail."
"The Sernaix have fired on us before, with no cause, I may add. We shouldn't invite them onboard without thinking it over carefully," Chakotay argued.
Janeway circled around the Doctor and came to stand directly in front of her first officer.
"Chakotay, I have thought about it and I've made my decision," she said softly. "You have your orders."
Chakotay stared back at her, grim-faced.
"I understand, Captain," he told her. "I'll contact the Sernaix."
Chakotay turned and walked out of sickbay. Janeway sighed and looked back down at the alien. He looked peaceful, almost tranquil, and she wondered if perhaps all of the animosity between Voyager and the Sernaix wasn't all just a big misunderstanding.
She sincerely hoped so.
She was aware of the Doctor and Tuvok both staring at her. Janeway cleared her throat.
"I'll be on the Bridge," she said. "Contact me if there is any change in the Sernaix's condition."
"Aye, Captain," the Doctor nodded.
Tuvok fell into step with Janeway as they proceeded out of sickbay and down the corridors towards the turbolift. The security officer's silence unnerved Janeway; she could always count on Tuvok to give her his honest opinion and the fact he had offered nothing at all during her brief discussion with Chakotay sparked her curiosity.
"Tuvok," Janeway began. She stopped and leaned one shoulder against the wall. "Am I making a mistake? No, don't answer that. I suppose it wouldn't be the first time and it certainly won't be the last." She sighed. Chakotay's negative attitude towards her suggestion bothered her greatly. She looked up to see Tuvok eyeing her carefully and knew he had picked up on her thoughts. "What do you think?"
"He is your first officer," Tuvok said firmly. "His opinion should matter."
"I wasn't asking about Chakotay," Janeway said firmly. She sighed and crossed her arms against her chest. "I just want to know what you think."
"I am uncertain as to what the best option is for Voyager. We are in an uncharted area of space that defies definition. Once again, we are in a situation where we must make the best of every opportunity as it arises. The Sernaix have displayed hostility to us in the past, however, a meeting may prove beneficial in erasing any tensions between us."
"So you agree?"
"I said I was uncertain."
Janeway sighed and continued walking. So much for a black and white answer. But then, she considered; she wasn't necessarily looking for another course of action, only validation of the decision she had made to invite the Sernaix aboard Voyager. In that case, she thought, you got exactly what you were looking for. A diplomatic non-response from Tuvok and a flat no from Chakotay. Where does that leave you, Kathryn? And she knew the answer to this question, the answer which had motivated her for the last seven years.
"I'm doing the best I can, Tuvok," she said, not pausing to let her friend catch up with her. "I promised this crew I would get them home. I'm going to do that, no matter what it takes."
"B'Elanna?" Harry approached warily as he held the lantern high to illuminate his path. The light threw shadows across the craggy walls of the cave. His Starfleet-regulation boots crunched the gravel beneath his feet and occasionally, he could hear the drip of water and the scampering of some small invisible animal. The damp, chilly air sent shivers down Harry's back and he sincerely could not wait to get out of this cave. "B'Elanna, you here? We're back."
Harry glanced at Azuma who followed closely behind. The two of them, along with several other Caprijens, had spent the last three hours mining dilithium. The Caprijens had developed extraction techniques which made the usual tedious process more efficient. All in all, the group had managed to collect enough dilithium to last Voyager for at least nine months.
If we're still stuck in this twilight zone nine months from now, Harry thought, and shuddered at the idea.
"B'Elanna!" Harry called again. They rounded the corner and entered the large cavern where the Keeper was housed. Azuma stopped short and Harry nearly bumped into her. "Sorry. B'Elanna!"
B'Elanna was lying on the ground, the contents of the toolkit scattered at her feet, the front panel on the Keeper still open. Harry looked at Azuma.
"What's wrong with her?" he asked, his voice raising to a feverish pitch. He knelt beside his friend. B'Elanna looked peaceful, almost as if she were sleeping. A sheen of perspiration coated her forehead, but her breathing was even.
"This is what happened to the others..."
"What?" Harry barked. "This has happened before?" He pulled out his tricorder and scanned B'Elanna. "Her life signs are stable, but she's in a coma."
"Yes," Azuma nodded. She sighed. "That's one of the problems with the Keeper. It has been adversely affecting its users, drawing them so deeply into their memories that they remain there."
"Are you saying B'Elanna is trapped inside her own memories?" Harry asked incredulously. He shook his head. "This is unbelievable. Why didn't you tell us what was going on?"
"Like I told you before, this has never affected outsiders before," Azuma said.
"You still should have told us!" Harry exclaimed. All of his goodwill towards the Caprijens evaporated as he glanced down at B'Elanna. How would he explain this to Tom? "Especially since she had that previous, whatever you call it, vision?"
"I'm sorry," Azuma said, her tone conciliatory. Harry looked up and saw that Azuma appeared genuinely sorry. She twisted her hands nervously in front of her. "If I had known this would happen, I would have never brought you here..."
"How do we revive her?" Harry demanded. He placed his fingers against the side of B'Elanna's neck and after a few seconds, pulled them away, satisfied that her pulse was strong and constant.
"I- I don't know."
Harry stared. "You don't know?"
Azuma shrugged. "Usually they wake up when their memories have run out."
Harry glanced back down at B'Elanna's prone figure. Who knew when her memories would run out? If she started at infancy, or even at age four as she had mentioned before, it might be years before B'Elanna woke up again. Especially if the memories ran in real time.
"You should have told us," Harry repeated. "I would have never agreed to the trade if I had known what was going on here and B'Elanna wouldn't have either."
Azuma's lips tightened into a straight line and Harry sighed.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you," he said. He turned off his tricorder and reattached it to his uniform. "I'm going to the surface. You stay with B'Elanna."
"Where are you going?" Azuma asked frantically.
"I'm going back to the Delta Flyer to hail Voyager."
The boxes sat against the wall, neatly packed and ready to be loaded into the transport. Two sleeping bags were rolled up tightly and rested on top of the cooler. B'Elanna viewed the assortment with disinterest. The annual camping trip for the Torres family, except that her mother would not be joining them this year. Instead, her father's brother and his children - her cousins, whom she barely knew - would be coming along.
In a way, B'Elanna was happy to be going - she had felt an urge to get out of the house ever since the fighting had begun again in earnest. It seemed that these days everything was an issue between her parents. Little things such as what B'Elanna should wear to school or what was for dinner were magnified until their voices erupted in anger, echoing throughout the house.
B'Elanna had tried to get away from the loudness; she had locked herself in the bathroom furthest away from the scene of most of her parents' quarrels, the kitchen. But still those loud, angry voices carried through the walls, and B'Elanna, crouched in the bathtub, would bite down on her lip, wondering when the fighting would cease.
Today though, on their departure morning, both mother and father appeared to be in good moods.
"I think that's the last of it, B'Elanna," her father said, nodding at the stack of boxes. He placed one large hand on B'Elanna's thin shoulder. "I don't think we've missed anything."
"You've forgotten this," her mother said, coming up behind them. She held out a red sweater. "It gets cold in the mountains, B'Elanna. Take this with you."
B'Elanna reluctantly took the sweater; it was nearly summertime and she wanted to be free of heavy clothing, but she also knew that her mother was right. Klingons were unusually susceptible to cold and despite the fact she has half-human, B'Elanna's Klingon side managed to get the upper hand in every instance.
"We should be back next Saturday," her father said. His tone was conversational, almost warm. The politeness of his words made it impossible for B'Elanna to believe that her parents had been arguing only the night before.
Her mother smiled down at her. "You will have a good time, B'Elanna," she said. Those long fingers, the features of which her mother was most vain, stroked B'Elanna's cheek gently.
"You don't want to come?" B'Elanna asked. "Why? You always come."
"Not this time," her mother answered, exchanging a cryptic look with her father. "Next summer."
"We should go," her father said, his voice sounding unnaturally bright.
"It won't be the same without you," B'Elanna insisted.
"Not this time, B'Elanna."
"We'll be late for the transport," her father said.
B'Elanna gazed at the camping supplies and then reluctantly, picked up her sleeping bag roll. Her father picked up the cooler and the other sleeping bag, while her mother lifted the box containing cooking supplies. The three of them walked out to the waiting transport together.
After they finished loading up the transport, B'Elanna turned to her mother.
"I'll miss you," B'Elanna said. The hoarseness in her throat surprised her, and apparently surprised Miral Torres also.
"It's only for a week," her mother said softly. She planted a light kiss on the top of B'Elanna's head. "You won't even think of me, not for a moment, while you are there. You will have so much fun with your cousins. Think about them, not of me."
"Let's go," her father said. B'Elanna hugged her mother fiercely and then climbed into the transport, sitting all the way back on the seat so that her long legs barely skimmed the floor.
As they pulled away from the house, B'Elanna waved to Miral Torres, who stood out on the front lawn, arms crossed against her chest. It was, B'Elanna thought, the first time she had ever seen her mother's proud posture slump.
When Janeway arrived on the bridge, she saw Chakotay, however grudgingly, had done as she'd asked; the narrow blue face of a Sernaix filled the viewscreen, a scowl spreading across the alien's finely sculpted features. Janeway involuntarily shuddered as she noted the intricate tattooed patterns which covered the Sernaix's face, torso and upper arms. She took a deep breath as she remembered Voyager's last encounter with the Sernaix; she hoped this one would go better and if not... well, she preferred to hope for the best but was ready for the worst.
Chakotay turned as Janeway approached.
"Meet Adimh Liven of the Crimson Stone," Chakotay said in a low voice. "'Belligerent' doesn't begin to sum up his attitude towards us."
Janeway nodded and then faced the alien.
"I'm Captain Janeway," she said. "We have one of your men on board. He is severely injured."
"He must be returned," Adimh Liven barked. "Prepare him for transport immediately."
"Our doctor says his injuries make it impossible for him to be moved without further risk to his health," Janeway said. "We will take care of him and return him to you healthy and in one piece. You have my word."
"Why should we trust you?" Liven's eyes narrowed. In the background, Janeway could make out other Sernaix gathering, perhaps in a show of support for their commander. She could see the defiance on their faces. Janeway lifted her chin; she refused to be cowed by the Sernaix.
"We have nothing to gain by holding your crewman hostage," Janeway said. She glanced at Chakotay, but his expression revealed neither agreement nor disagreement with her statement. She wondered if Chakotay did want to keep the Sernaix hostage as a bargaining piece.
Let's not give them a reason to attack, Chakotay, Janeway thought. I have to assure them of our goodwill, it's our only way out of here.
"Captain," Tuvok said. "They are powering up their weapons."
Damn, Janeway thought. So much for good intentions.
"Go to red alert," Chakotay advised.
"Take us out of range, Mr. Paris," Janeway ordered. She then turned her attention back to Adimh Liven. "Power down your weapons, Adimh. I assure you, we will not hurt - does he have a name?"
Liven hesitated before saying, "His name is Lous."
"We will not hurt Lous," Janeway said. "But I fear transporting him will cause further harm. Believe me, injuring him further is the last thing I want. However, if you'd like -" she glanced over at Chakotay, who looked uneasy, as if he was anticipating her next action - "you are welcome to come aboard Voyager and examine Lous for yourself. You'll see he's well-cared for."
The Sernaix commander remained silent for a long moment and Janeway willed herself to remain calm. She could sense the tension in the members of her bridge crew, from Paris' clenched jaw to Tuvok's alert posture.
Calm, Kathryn, Janeway thought. She looked at Chakotay and the firm line of his mouth convinced her to try again.
"Consider this an opportunity for us to get to know each other," Janeway plunged ahead. "I believe we can help each other."
Liven finally nodded. "Agreed."
"They are powering down weapons," Tuvok announced and Paris confirmed the news with a quick scan. Janeway exhaled, feeling all tension dissipating from her muscles.
"End red alert," Chakotay said as he stalked back to his chair.
"You may beam directly to our transporter room," Janeway said to the Adimh. "Janeway out."
The viewscreen went black and Janeway faced her first officer.
"You're with me, Commander," she said. Without looking, she knew Tuvok had already departed for the transporter room, and in his efficient way, had probably arranged for the security detail to be present for the Sernaix's arrival.
"You have the bridge," Janeway said to Tom Paris for the second time that day. Paris nodded and left his seat as another officer came to take the helm. Janeway led the way to the turbolift, Chakotay close on her heels.
As the doors closed on them, Janeway turned to Chakotay.
"Do I have your support?" she asked softly.
Chakotay shrugged. "You've never asked before. Why raise the question now?"
Janeway bit her lip. There were so many ways to answer this question, but the truce which had only recently developed between the two of them was still too fragile to allow her to answer in a way that would be meaningful to both of them. Janeway looked resolutely straight ahead.
It was their usual camping ground, the one they returned to year after year. B'Elanna scrambled out of the transport, landing lightly on her feet. Already, she had seen the perfect place to pitch a tent - over in the far corner of their assigned space, beneath a trio of tall evergreens.
Behind her, her father was unloading the transport, with the help of her uncle. The cousins were here too, but B'Elanna wanted to explore. She pushed through the trees, marveling at the softness of the fresh green leaves and the dampness of the ground.
She followed a meandering path down to the edge of the river. The water splashed white against the occasional boulder and occasionally, flotsam consisting of leaves, sticks, and mud flowed downstream.
B'Elanna took off her shoes and waded into the cold water, nearly yelping as it swirled around her skinny ankles. She had forgotten how chilly mountain water could be, especially this early in the summer.
She turned around and saw her father. He waved at her and made his way down to the edge of the river.
"Enjoying yourself?" he asked.
"Very much," B'Elanna replied. She rubbed her feet against the water-smoothened pebbles. It felt good, but she knew she had to be careful; last year, she had actually slipped and fell, cutting her forehead on a stone. Her mother had been furious with her. "Do you think we can go rafting?"
"I think we can arrange that," John Torres said. "Now, come on back to the camp site. We're getting ready for lunch."
B'Elanna said. She picked up her shoes and slipped her hand into her father's
larger one. As they walked, the blues skies of the early afternoon darkened
into night and suddenly,
B'Elanna was standing outside of her tent, not really sure how she had gotten there.
"Daddy?" she ventured.
"B'Elanna, there you are," her father said from the shadows. She wanted to ask him if only a few seconds ago they had been walking together from the river, but she felt somehow foolish. Perhaps she had fallen asleep; it seemed to be the only explanation. "I've been looking for you everywhere."
"I was at the river," B'Elanna said. Her father frowned.
"That was hours ago," he said.
B'Elanna blinked. It wasn't hours ago, she wanted to say, only a few minutes, but she remained quiet. Already her limbs felt heavy, as if she had been walking for days and her head...
"Daddy," she whispered. She held out a hand, trying to steady herself against the tree trunk, but already the ground was spinning. She looked up and between the towering tips of the evergreens, she could see a dark patch of sky speckled with tiny white dots - stars, glowing so far away in the distance. And they were moving, spinning, circling, and as she fell into the night, B'Elanna was only dimly aware of her father calling for help.
B'Elanna sat up. She had been lying in a bed, a white sheet covering her to the waist. She felt hot, clammy, and sore, as if she'd been sick. Her muscles ached and as the room came into focus, she noticed Azuma sitting in a straight-back chair at the foot of the bed.
"B'Elanna?" Azuma asked cautiously. "How do you feel?"
B'Elanna inhaled deeply. The irritating scratchiness in her throat was back.
"Water?" B'Elanna requested.
Azuma nodded and disappeared into the adjoining room. She returned a few moments later with a glass and B'Elanna drank deeply. She coughed a few times and then looked around. The room she was in was plainly furnished; two windows were on one wall and the far wall had a single door. Furnishings consisted of simply designed wooden pieces - table, chairs, a shelf and the bed in which she was lying. There were no decorations anywhere.
"Where am I?" B'Elanna asked hoarsely.
"This is my home," Azuma said. She was still crouched at the side of B'Elanna's bed. "How do you feel? Harry has gone to contact Voyager."
"I'm feeling..." B'Elanna stopped. The sensations running through her body were not so different than what she had felt while on the Barge of the Dead. "Was it real?"
"I was on a camping trip with my father. I could feel the water around my ankles, feel the damp soil between my toes. It was different than the last time. The first time, I knew it was a memory because the scene appeared out of focus, but this, everything was more clear, so much sharper. Was it real?"
Azuma nodded. "Yes, it was."
"I was twelve years old," B'Elanna said quietly. "I don't know that I've ever had a memory that vivid before. It was... disconcerting. It was as if I was watching myself, but at the same time, I was myself as I was at that time."
"The Keeper has that effect. As I explained to Harry earlier, it has the ability to transcribe memories into reality. It gives us the chance not only to relive certain moments, but also to change them if we so desire."
"Change them?" B'Elanna asked. She pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around her legs. "A second chance?"
"Yes," Azuma said. "The Keeper is a wonderful gift in that sense. It allows us to take back our regrets, giving us the ability to alter those events which have caused harm or unhappiness in any way. Of course, we cannot make the decisions concerning the timeline lightly, otherwise we run the risk of changing everything entirely."
B'Elanna nodded. "I understand that. Temporal mechanics have always been a tricky subject to handle."
"Depending on the event in question, we usually convene as a village to discuss what is to be done. Only after all of the issues have been weighed and resolved to the best of our abilities, do we consider approaching the Keeper."
"That makes sense."
"Would you like some more water?" Azuma asked, looking at B'Elanna's now empty glass.
"That would be wonderful, thank you."
As Azuma disappeared, B'Elanna rested her chin on her knees. She thought of her father and how that particular camping trip had been their last time together. She remembered the hateful words she had said to him, the words which remained permanently branded in her memory.
'If only I could take those back...'
Her vision grew cloudy as she thought of all of the things she wished she could take back. She allowed herself a rueful smile.
I suppose that's what happens when you speak first, think later, B'Elanna thought. She lifted her head as she heard Azuma approach.
"I have one more question," B'Elanna said as she took the glass from Azuma. "Something strange happened while I was... there. It was like I had jumped forward in time. Morning darkened into night almost without warning."
"A time shift," Azuma acknowledged. "On occasion, that has been known to happen. The memory is fast forwarded to another point in time."
"That's exactly what happened," B'Elanna said. "It was strange, to say the very least."
"Yes, because you were unaware of this phenomena. Often, it takes one to the moment of regret."
"So you can effectively jump around in the past?" B'Elanna asked. She sat up straight, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. "To any moment you choose?"
of course," Azuma said. "And with forethought, of course. Now, you
I can imagine this was a strange experience for you, one you ought not take lightly."
With that, Azuma left the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Not something to take lightly, B'Elanna thought as she sipped the cool water. But it would be intriguing...
Go to part III
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