She knew the coffee was too hot, but Kathryn Janeway braced herself and took a deep draught of the scalding liquid, suppressing a shudder as its warmth and bitter, familiar taste embraced her. Only then did she open her eyes, lock her gaze firmly with Commander Chakotay – who knew his captain well enough not to interrupt during that first mouthful – and speak.
“Bring him in.”
Technically, of course, all Chakotay had to do was move a few short paces to the ready room’s exit; their uninvited guest would be stood outside, flanked by two security guards, and Janeway could just as easily have called them in via comnbadge. Her first officer knew his captain, though, and his slow, measured steps to the door gave Janeway enough time to compose herself behind her desk.
When the doors hissed open, she was studying a PADD, the vision of nonchalance as she sipped again at the steaming coffee. She didn’t acknowledge the newcomer as he was ushered before her, waiting several seconds before laying down the report and fixing him with a steely glare. It was a good glare; she’d worked hard on it over the years, practicing against Klingons and Nausicaans whilst at the academy. Unfortunately, it only worked if your target happened to be paying attention.
The stranger wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he was wheeling slowly around on the spot, drinking in every detail of the room with a decidedly child-like open-mouthed grin. A leather-bound copy of William Blake, a vial of Catarian Sleeping Powder given to her by Chakotay when he’d taught her how to lucid dream, her picture of Molly… he seemed to be memorising it all. The two security officers glanced at each other, unsure if they were meant to be restraining him, but then it didn’t seem like he was planning to damage anything.
“Ohh, this is brilliant!” he enthused, as if he’d been invited to an art installation and not dragged before the captain of a starship. Janeway felt her grip on the coffee cup tighten. “Tribal face masks, love it! Very eclectic! Oooh….” His face narrowed in an ‘O’ of concentration as he knelt, squinting across the room at another of Janeway’s belongings. “That’s a Klingon burial blade, isn’t it? You know, stab the ferryman to get out of Sto’Vo’Kor? Haven’t seen one of those in years!”
Janeway had had enough. “What are you doing on my–” she began, but the words caught in her throat; the significance of what the baffling stranger had said had dawned on her. Her eyes narrowed to slits. “We’re sixty thousand light-years away from Klingon space,” she hissed. “How do you know of their customs?”
For the first time, the prisoner seemed mildly abashed, sticking his hands in the pockets of his large, sweeping coat. “I’m a traveller,” he replied, gamely.
“And you travelled all the way to the Delta Quadrant?” It was Chakotay, leant calmly against the wall at the rear of the room, who had spoken and Janeway bent forward in slight surprise. Normally her first officer preferred to remain a quiet observer and deliver his thoughts afterwards. “That must be an impressive ship.”
The stranger couldn’t help but grin, proudly. “Oh, yes! Finest in the universe.”
“Good enough to get you onboard without setting off any of our intruder alarms,” Chakotay continued conversationally, then suddenly strode forward until he was nose to nose with the intruder. “So where is it? Our scans haven’t located any other vessels in this area of space.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” the stranger replied, pride still lacing his voice. “But–”
“I believe I have an explanation.”
Janeway turned slightly, rolling her eyes in exasperation. It was sadly typical of Seven of Nine to enter without invitation when she felt there was something important to say, and she was halfway into the ready room before she’d even finished speaking. Janeway bit down a sarcastic retort – the lesson on manners could come later, after they’d established the identity of this aggravating mystery man.
“I believe you already know Seven of Nine,” she said sweetly. This was something of an understatement; it had been Seven who’d caught the stranger nosing around the Borg regeneration alcoves down in Cargo Bay 2, and Seven who had promptly seized him in an arm-lock and frog-marched him all the way to Tuvok’s security office, unmoved by his excuses and protestations. Now she regarded the individual coolly, hands clasped serenely behind her back as she addressed Janeway once again.
“There is a small vessel secreted in Cargo Bay 2,” Seven announced. “I believe that is how this individual gained access to Voyager, perhaps with the intent of stealing Borg technology.”
“Stealing?” The man looked affronted. “I was only having a look! It’s not every day you get to examine Borg technology – well, not without getting all gooey and assimilated, anyway. Besides, it’s not like I broke anything.”
“Your vessel displaced several containers of deuterium alloy,” Seven informed him, archly. “It is an inefficient design.”
“Oi! Inefficient? That’s classic twentieth century–”
Janeway held up a hand for silence. “I can’t believe that you travelled halfway across the galaxy in anything small enough to fit in a cargo bay.”
“Well you can talk,” the stranger retorted, hotly. “Humans aren’t supposed to be in this section of the galaxy for another two hundred years, so don’t have a go at me about poking my nose in other people’s cupboards!”
The man’s words, delivered as confidently and as casually as if they were an obvious fact, put Janeway eerily in mind of a conversation she’d once had with the mischievous entity Q. She briefly entertained the possibility that this bizarre individual was, in fact, Q himself playing one of his games, but dismissed the notion just as quickly. This didn’t seem like Q’s style, and she could hardly imagine the insufferable entity letting Seven of Nine manhandle him, whatever the circumstances. “I want to know what you’re doing on my ship,” she said icily, rising up from behind her desk.
The intruder shrugged. “I told you. Exploring. Wandering the galaxy, saw you lot, stuck out here, a bunch of fellow travellers, thought I’d pop in and say hello. Hello!” He waved cheerfully, grinning, but as he looked around the room it became obvious that no-one was going to reciprocate and he put his hand down, rather sheepishly.
Janeway sighed, swivelling her computer terminal around to face her and opening a comn link to Sickbay. “Doctor–“, she began.
“Yes?” The irascible voice of Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram was simultaneously overlaid with the more bemused response of the man standing before her. Janeway glanced up at him with mounting irritation, but carried on as if he hadn’t spoken. “We’ll be bringing an uninvited guest to sickbay. You’re to perform a medical scan on him, find out exactly who he is and where he came from.” She closed the channel without waiting for a response, then smiled a feral smile. “While you’re being examined, we’ll be looking inside your ship to discover exactly how you got past our shields.”
For the first time, she saw something in the stranger’s eyes that hadn’t been there before. If he’d been treating the encounter like a game, it was clear that he’d now realised there were stakes involved. “Now that’s not going to happen,” he remarked, a new edge in his voice. “Five minutes in there, tinkering with your tricorders and you might accidentally rip a hole in the universe. Speaking as someone who quite likes the universe…” He leant forward. “I’m saying no.”
“You’re not in any position to stop us,” Chakotay pointed out, nodding to the security guards as they reached tentatively for their phasers.
To his surprise, the man nodded as well. “Good point, that man! Molto bene! Let’s try a more comfortable position…”
Janeway had witnessed sleight-of-hand before; she’d applauded magicians while vacationing on Risa, befriended conjurers on Sto and narrowly avoided Ferengi pickpockets at work on the streets of Deneb IV. Even so, she wasn’t quite prepared for the speed at which the stranger reached into some previously unseen pocket and drew out a slender, silvery device.
He did something very special indeed, and all of the lights went out.
It shouldn’t have been possible – Voyager had backup systems and three different sets of emergency lighting – but the crunching of Starfleet boots on glass told Janeway all she needed to know: the strange device had somehow shattered every light in the room. But she couldn’t spend too much time thinking about how – she’d heard the doors hiss open and sensed the stranger ducking nimbly under the fumbling arm of a security guard. She’d been outsmarted.
Well, not for long, damnit. Tapping at her comnbadge, a gesture so familiar she hardly needed eyes to see, Janeway was halfway through her call to security before she realised that her badge was as ruined as the lighting system. She couldn’t imagine why anyone would carry a device with them that could break both things simultaneously, but supposed that Voyager’s improvised technical wizardry over the years must have seemed equally unfair to whoever had been attacking them at the time.
Instead, Janeway practically threw herself through the other door of her ready room, one that led straight to the bridge, blinking as her eyes tried to readjust to the light. “Intruder alert!” she snapped.
“I have already initiated an intruder alert.” Commander Tuvok, stood placidly at Tactical as always, informed her. “The security grid went offline a few seconds ago, so I thought it best to assume hostile intent and called for a red alert.”
“Seven’s gone,” said Chakotay, so close behind her that Janeway actually jumped. “I think we can assume that she’s in pursuit.”
“Guess the Borg have good night-vision,” Janeway smirked. “But we don’t know what this person is capable of, or what other weapons he has up his sleeve.” She wheeled around to face Tuvok. “Can we get a lock on him?”
“Negative,” Tuvok replied. Janeway wasn’t surprised, but being a Starfleet Captain meant you always had a plan B. Sensing her desire to deal with the matter personally, Tuvok stepped silently aside as Janeway moved to the tactical controls, a frown of concentration on her face.
* * * * *
Several decks below, the intruder moved swiftly and silently, darting through corridors and avoiding the gazes of curious crewmen, with the graceful air of one who’d spent most of his life running. Seven of Nine, of course, had no need to be stealthy and she sprinted through Voyager’s hallways in hot pursuit. With her Borg implants reattuned to their highest sensitivity she was able to follow the fleeing intruder; he was doused in chroniton radiation and it led her through the maze of passages just as surely as if he’d left her a trail of breadcrumbs.
The overload of data from the overly-sensitive implants was also giving her an atrocious headache, which didn’t improve her mood, but she dismissed the pain as irrelevant. Once she caught the intruder–
She turned the corner, and he was there waiting for her. His luck had finally run out, sending him headlong into a corridor that had been a dead-end ever since Voyager’s battle with Species 8472 rendered its turbolift unusable. Annoyingly, he was standing with his hands in his pockets, whistling a cheerful ditty, as if he’d intended for her to catch him all along. The tune was doubly intrusive to Seven’s heightened senses, and she pressed forward. “You will surrender,” she stated.
“You’re mistaken,” the man replied. “Now look, I know none of this is your fault, so I’m going to give you a chance. Turn around and pretend you couldn’t find me, all right? Go and regenerate, or something, because I don’t want to hurt you.” He sighed. “All I wanted to do was have a look around.”
Seven bristled. “You are unarmed, and my physical strength is greater than your own. You will not be harmed, but Captain Janeway will not allow you to return to your vessel while you pose a security risk.”
“You’re very loyal to Captain Janeway, aren’t you?” The question caught Seven off balance, so she said nothing, taking another step closer. “All the records, all those stories about Voyager, they never mention loyalty, or friendship, or any of the stuff that really counts. That’s why I wanted to come and see for myself. Needed to see some humans at their best, I suppose.”
Seven had had enough of this irrelevant conversation, and stepped closer, ready to restrain the man once more. As expected, he held up the small device he’d used to plunge the Ready Room into darkness, but she kept moving – even if he blew out every light in the corridor, she’d be ready for him.
“Last chance,” he warned her.
“I am not made of glass.” Seven reached her hand towards the intruder’s arm, fingertips lightly brushing the fabric of his coat– and the world twisted around her as her legs buckled, sending her tumbling towards the floor. There was no pain; in fact, it was a familiar sense of peace… I’m regenerating, she realised as the stranger lowered her leaden body to the ground. Somehow, he has triggered my regeneration cycle… The last conscious thought that Seven of Nine had for eighteen hours was one of grudging admiration for this strange, skinny man… and then she knew blackness, and dreamt Borg dreams.
* * * * *
Cargo Bay 2 was in twilight, as ever, lit mostly by the eerie green glow of the Borg technology that stood – though nested might be a more appropriate word – in its centre. The stranger walked through the gloom, pulling a simple silver key from around his neck, and inserted it into an equally-plain yale lock which was, in fact, a very complicated thing being made to look very simple. Pushing against the dark blue wood of the door, he stepped into his vessel and breathed a sigh of relief. Stood inside the orange glow of his strange machine, he seemed a little smaller, a little more vulnerable and a lot more alien.
The door, swinging closed behind him, bounced lightly off a standard-issue Starfleet combat boot.
“Very impressive,” said Kathryn Janeway, tilting her head to indicate the vessel’s interior. The phaser in her hand, though, never wavered as she stepped forward – it remained pointing right at the stranger’s hearts. “It’s bigger than it looks.”
“Quite a lot of things are,” the man replied. In fact, this was an understatement – from outside the strange vessel had seemed no bigger than an escape pod to Janeway, though she’d never seen an escape pod made of glass and wood. Inside, however, the vessel dwarfed Voyager’s bridge, with twisting coral pillars arching up towards the ceiling, converging over a single central console. “Then again, some things are less impressive than they seem from a distance.” He glared at the outstretched phaser. “And I don’t allow weapons in here.”
“I don’t allow stowaways on my ship, so I guess we both need a lesson in obeying the rules,” Janeway shot back. “This… vessel… of yours, it’s soaked in chroniton radiation.”
“Well, we call it Artron energy, but it’s basically the same thing.”
Janeway nodded. “So you’re a time-traveller. We’ve been visited by time-travellers before.” She adjusted her grip on the phaser. “Those occasions never seemed to work out in our favour.” She smiled a mirthless smile. “Between you and me, I’m getting tired of it. So this time, I’m going to take the initiative. You’re going to use this ship of yours to get my crew home.”
A shadow seemed to cross the stranger’s face. “Now even you know that what you’re asking for is wrong.”
“I’m past caring.” Janeway moved in a wide arc around the stranger, never letting the phaser falter. “We’ve been through hell these past five years, we’ve lost good people, we’ve suffered and burned and bled, and then someone like you comes along to treat us like… like a sideshow!” Her left hand opened and closed, compulsively. “To hell with the timeline, to hell with temporal prime directives and causality. My crew have suffered enough, now take them home.”
The stranger looked at her, and she saw pity in his eyes. “I can’t, I just… can’t. Voyager’s too important to history, the things you do here–”
“The lives we lose here!”
“–those lives,” he pressed on, “are part of a web of sacrifice and virtue that spreads across the galaxy in ways that won’t be obvious for thousands of years! You can’t see that at the moment, but I can. I always can.”
“I don’t want your platitudes, and I sure as hell don’t care about any web of time!” Janeway practically spat. “My responsibility is to my crew, to get them home, to keep them safe.”
The stranger’s features hardened. “Take that responsibility, live with it for nine hundred and four years, then multiply it by a billion trillion. MY responsibility is to the universe, Captain! That’s the oath I was born into, that’s the path I have to walk, and I have to walk it all on my own.” He stepped forward, planting his chest right against the barrel of the phaser. “Still on stun,” he noted, glancing down at it. “So there’s a little bit of Kathryn Janeway left in there after all.”
Slowly, Janeway came back from a very far off place, as if she’d been lost in his words. Then she appeared to reach a decision.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. And fired.
The phaser glowed white-hot, causing Janeway to drop it to the floor with an involuntary yelp, but the stranger remained obstinately upright. “I told you I don’t allow guns on board,” he snapped, and as he kicked the useless weapon across the floor there was no longer a trace of sympathy in his voice. Sensing that she’d worn out her welcome, Janeway began to edge backwards towards the door, but the stranger moved with lightning speed, bringing his hand up and towards her, exhaling deeply.
A sickly sweet scent filled her nostrils, and she realised too late what it was. Catarian sleeping powder…
“Help… them…” she croaked, as her legs sagged beneath her. “Take them… home…” Her hands clutched at the man’s coat as she staggered, imploringly.
“I can’t…” he whispered, catching her in his arms before her head could strike the cold metal floor. “But I promise you… I PROMISE… I’ll make sure Earth’s there when you get back.”
Although Captain Kathryn Janeway was unconscious, her lips curved into the very faintest smile.
* * * * *
The Emergency Medical Hologram glanced up from his desk and smiled at the sight of Kathryn Janeway swinging her legs off the biobed. She rubbed her eyes woozily, blinking in the harsh sickbay lights. “How long was I out?” she asked.
“Almost twenty-two hours,” the EMH replied, matter-of-factly. “You took quite a dose of sleeping powder, but aside from a touch of insomnia there won’t be any permanent effects. I understand that your ready room is back in one piece and waiting for its captain.”
Janeway nodded, then caught sight of her rumpled reflection in a monitor and winced. “I think I’d better shower first, don’t you? Call the Mess Hall, tell Neelix to prep the coffee..” She moved towards the exit, but stopped short when an apologetic EMH blocked her path. “Captain, before you go… As your Doctor and as a friend, I have to say that choosing to beam to the Cargo Bay by yourself was a rash and potentially dangerous decision. True, neither you nor Seven were hurt, but…” He caught sight of Janeway’s expression, and trailed off.
“He had the means to get my crew home,” Janeway said, her voice low and soft.
The hologram’s face creased with concern. “And how far does Kathryn Janeway go in her pursuit of that goal? How much danger does she put herself in? Where, exactly, does she draw the line?”
Janeway was statue-still, and just for an instant her expression made the EMH fear for the safety of his subroutines. Then she ducked smoothly under his arm, walking away smartly, not glancing back at the forlorn hologram. “Good day, Doctor.”
The sickbay doors, which barely had time to open to accommodate her advance, slid swiftly shut behind her, and the Doctor was alone.
* * * * *
Somewhere in the swirling vortex beyond time and space, having slipped past Voyager’s sensors as invisibly as it had arrived, a Mark IV Time Capsule span on its axis, seeking adventure and exploration amongst the stars. Unlike Voyager, It could go anywhere, anywhen, with no warp drive or dilithium matrix to bind it. Unlike Voyager, no matter how far it travelled, no matter how many strange suns bathed it in their light, it could never reach home.
But there were times, the Doctor mused, as the tranquil blue vista of the Earth span into view on his scanners and the TARDIS streaked towards London, that it could get close enough.