Chapter One VOYAGER
Captain Afsarah Eden couldn’t tear her eyes away from the viewscreen. Voyager
moved at maximum warp, the deck below Eden’s boots thrumming with the engines’ strain as stars stretched themselves out in the illusory image that defined this particular version of warp flight.
Eden and her crew were fleeing certain death. And with each second that passed, oblivion was gaining on them. The ship could not maintain its current velocity indefinitely, nor could it safely form a slipstream tunnel to increase its odds of outrunning destruction.
Part of Eden knew that by running, they were only prolonging the inevitable. In some cold, lonely corner of her heart, she had already accepted her own death. But the duty that had bound her to Starfleet and sustained her through the most difficult times of her life demanded that she make this attempt on behalf of those she led.
The temptation, no,
the desperate longing she felt to order the ship to come about was becoming more difficult to ignore. Did she need to see the beast, to name it before it devoured them? Was it some absurd definition of honor that called on her to stand her ground, even in the face of annihilation?
Or was it simply the fact that she was tired of running? This monster had already taken too much from her. There was no longer any true victory to be claimed here. She was not fleeing a predator that might grow weary of its chase. She was attempting to outrun something that had all but stripped away every last shred of her own identity. She was incapable of resisting or defying it. It would have her. And given enough time, it might actually bring her to accept that its version of Afsarah Eden was truer than the one she had constructed in fifty-plus years of life.
She belonged to this darkness, and as that certainty struck her with the force of a roaring wave, she began to lose her bearings. Her head grew inexplicably light and her knees buckled. Eden reached her right arm back to steady herself against the command chair in which she knew she would never again sit.
Her eyes briefly registered another person standing beside her, and the motion meant to reorient her became a graceless stagger as she unconsciously rebelled against the sight her mind refused to accept. I’m dead already
She had to be.
Eden willed the vision to clear, but the longer she stared open-mouthed at the figure next to her, the more that figure seemed to coalesce and solidify.
“Impossible,” Eden whispered.
Beside her, Admiral Kathryn Janeway’s stone-cold eyes held Eden’s with a painful mixture of determined despair.
“This is a dream,” Eden said, willing her voice to hold steady even as her senses scrambled for an escape route.
“Feels more like a nightmare to me,” Kathryn replied.
• • •
The mess hall was all but deserted this close to the middle of gamma shift. Most of the crew members who had signed off a few hours earlier had already eaten, and those looking to get a jump on their day prior to the start of alpha shift wouldn’t start straggling in for another hour at least.
Still, Captain Chakotay didn’t look up from his padd until the individual who had entered moments earlier made her way toward him and stood silently for a few seconds behind the chair across from his.
“I thought you were planning to turn in early for a really good night’s sleep,” the weary voice of the fleet commander greeted him.
“And I thought the wee hours were the only ones that ever found you sleeping,” he replied convivially as Captain Eden pulled out the chair and sat restlessly.
“Do you mind?” she asked once the deed was already done.
“Of course not,” he replied sincerely. “I’m not going to finish this letter tonight anyway,” he added, stifling a yawn as he pushed the padd aside and sipped from a cup of tea that had grown cold an hour ago.
“It’s unusual to find you at a loss for words,” Eden said lightly as she rubbed her eyes.
A faint smile traipsed across Chakotay’s lips as he replied, “Is that a good thing?”
“So far I’d say, absolutely,” Eden said more seriously.
A few months earlier, before the fleet had crossed paths with the Children of the Storm, Chakotay would have been hard-pressed to imagine himself engaged in such easy banter with Eden. Though she was a distinguished officer and an able leader, he’d found it difficult to warm to her, probably in no small part due to the fact that Starfleet Command had seen fit to assign her to Voyager
’s center seat when the fleet had first launched and he was still deemed unfit for duty. Once Eden had assumed command of the fleet and officially requested that Chakotay resume his former place as Voyager
’s captain, she had continued to maintain an aloof distance from those she led.
Recent, near disastrous events, however, had begun to bridge the distance between them, as they were forced to stretch the boundaries of the formal command structure and work together to find solutions to a vast array of challenges, including the loss of one of the nine ships that had originally begun the journey, the almost total loss of a second, and the capture of a third by the Children. Eden had also recently seen fit to share some of her personal history with him, including her mysterious origins, and he’d finally begun to see her not just as his commanding officer, but as an individual: complex, devoted to duty, but painfully alone. Now, he found that he had no compunction in returning her confidence and was actually grateful for the opportunity to share a little of his own current burden.
“It’s my sister, Sekaya,” he sighed.
Eden’s eyes left his as she searched her memory. “She’s not Starfleet, is she?”
“No. She has accepted civilian assignments from time to time, but where I’ve seen the possibility of working for positive change from within Starfleet, she’s always been skeptical.”
Eden nodded. “Your people’s experiences with the Cardassians probably had something to do with that.”
“For starters,” Chakotay agreed.
Suddenly Eden’s eyes widened. “She thought your resignation was going to be permanent, didn’t she?”
“She wasn’t the only one,” Chakotay chuckled. “Of course I wrote to her the moment I reassumed command of Voyager,
but I didn’t get her response until we regrouped with the rest of the fleet last week.”
“She’s not happy,” Eden rightly surmised.
What began as a slight pause was threatening to stretch into a lull when Chakotay added, “I don’t blame her. She never saw what Kathryn’s death did to me, but we have enough mutual friends that word got back to her anyway. Her relief at my resignation was comforting at the time, but I’m finding it harder now to explain my certainty that as much as leaving the service, even briefly, was absolutely necessary, returning now
is the best choice I could possibly make.”
“Do you doubt your choice?”
“Not at all,” Chakotay replied firmly. “I know I haven’t ‘taken a step back or retreated from a better future.’ ”
Eden’s eyes narrowed. “She doesn’t mince words, does she?”
“It runs in the family.” Chakotay grinned knowingly. “But beyond assuring her that she’s wrong, and without actually being able to see her and explain myself in person, I don’t know how to convince her. The more I think about it, the more I realize that my choice has more to do with instinct or . . . a feeling I trust but can’t really name. I’ve made peace with my past.”
Eden shook her head and smiled mirthlessly. “That makes one of us.”
Setting his own concerns aside, Chakotay took a moment to study Eden. Tension knotted her brow and lifted her shoulders. Her black, almond-shaped eyes were uncharacteristically uncertain.
“So, why aren’t you sleeping tonight, Afsarah?” he asked kindly.
She sat back in her chair and took a long sip of whatever warm beverage she’d replicated before joining him. “It’s nothing.”
“I doubt that.”
He was pleased to see her countenance soften just enough to let a little light back into her eyes.
“For the last few weeks, I’ve been having this recurring dream.”
“Really?” he asked, genuinely intrigued. Though he was no expert in dream analysis, it, like all manner of subconscious exploration, had been a subject of deep inquiry throughout his life. His curiosity was grounded in his people’s unquestioning acceptance of a spiritual realm that coexisted with reality and could be entered willingly with enough practice. But this belief was rare among Starfleet officers—so rigorously grounded in reason, logic, and science.
Eden took another sip before going on. “I’m alone on the bridge. At least at first.”
Chakotay kept his expression neutral as he nodded for her to continue.
“We’re moving at high warp away from something terrible. We need to go faster, but we can’t. I’m absolutely certain the ship is about to be destroyed. And then . . .” Her voice trailed off.
“I shouldn’t be bothering you with this.”
Chakotay was puzzled by her abrupt retreat. “Then?” he gently coaxed.