Disclaimer, notes, and warning can all be found in chapter 1.
"There she is," Tom crowed triumphantly, and four sets of eyes immediately looked out the front viewports of the Flyer. The Cerberus hung suspended in space in front of them listing slowly to one side.
"She's adrift," B'Elanna noticed immediately, her hands flying over the control panel at the tactical station.
The EMH turned to her. "Life signs?"
Chakotay closed his eyes, silently waiting for B'Elanna's answer. It had been three hours since the first shipyard maintenance team had reported the Cerberus absent from its mooring. Nine hours since Chakotay had first returned to Kathryn's quarters to find them empty. Starfleet hadn't even made the case a priority yet, citing that not enough time had passed and there was very little evidence of any sort of crime or distress.
Luckily, Owen Paris had agreed with his son that something was amiss. He'd been the one to alert them about the Cerberus being missing. Chakotay had been extremely thankful for his help as they'd already exhausted the extent of their leads. They'd also caught another stroke of luck when they found out the Cerberus's warp core had been taken off line for refurbishing, leaving it with impulse engines only. The Delta Flyer and its four occupants had begun a search pattern for the errant ship, heading on a hunch in the general direction of the Mondalay sector.
B'Elanna still hadn't answered the crucial question though, or if she had, Chakotay had missed it. He opened his eyes and turned to her. "B'Elanna?"
"No life signs," she shook her head. "But there's been some sort of mass energy explosion on the bridge. I can't get any clear readings there."
"Energy explosion?" the Doctor asked, attempting to peer over her shoulder.
"It looks like..." She looked plaintively at Chakotay. "It looks like weapons fire. I'm reading micro-fractures in the hull even, but force fields are holding."
"Can we beam over?"
She shook her head again. "Not through this interference."
"Tom, get me on that ship."
"You got it," he said, his hands making adjustments on the controls and bringing the Flyer around to the ship's docking bay.
Within minutes of landing in the shuttle bay, the four of them found themselves traversing the emergency ladder-wells with the doctor in the lead and Chakotay right behind him. Chakotay called down and over his shoulder. "B'Elanna, as soon as we get up there, I need you to get either the transporter or the turbolifts working."
"We don't even know if she's up there, Chakotay."
"She's there," he stated firmly. He knew Kathryn was up there, and his gut was telling him that she would be in no fit condition to scale ten decks of ladders.
Pushing the grate off the entrance and letting it clatter to the deck, the EMH leaned halfway out and onto the bridge, tricorder in hand. Chakotay held his position on the rungs, waiting, hearing only the heavy breathing of Tom and B'Elanna below him.
The bald head of the hologram peered down at him. "It's safe enough."
He moved all the way out of the opening, and Chakotay raced up behind him. The first thing that hit him was the scent of burned circuitry. He got to his feet and scanned what was left of the bridge. The Ops station was little more than a mass of melted circuitry, the command chairs were completely gone, the overhead lights flickered, and the viewscreen showing a scene of open space seemed to have static running across it.
"There's no one here," Tom said defeatedly, coming up behind Chakotay.
"There was," the Doctor reported darkly, running his tricorder over what was left of the bridge. "Traces of Admiral Janeway's DNA is all over the place, and one other person's. Male."
"Monaster?" Chakotay asked.
The Doctor looked grim. "Most likely."
"But where are they now?"
"An overloaded phaser," B'Elanna informed them, treading carefully on the unstable deck and taking readings from where the command chairs should have been. "The blast radius originated from this point."
Tom turned away, and Chakotay bowed his head. His hands tightened on the upper railing of the bridge, and he felt his fingers sink into the crumbling material that should have been solid. If Kathryn had been near that phaser when it overloaded, there'd be nothing left.
Tom gave a suspicious sniff. "We don't know that she was here. She could be anywhere. She could still be somewhere else on the ship." B'Elanna and the Doctor gave him pitying looks, but he refused to acknowledge them. "We'll get the lifts working, and start searching the ship. Deck by deck."
"Tom, there weren't any other life signs," B'Elanna reminded him quietly, but he ignored her, moving towards the turbolift.
"Looks like these things got hit with the blast, too." He walked close enough to the battered doors to trigger the sensor to automatically open them. The doors slid apart about six centimeters before grinding to a halt, but it was enough. Enough for Tom to catch a glimpse of red hair. "Chakotay! She's here! I can see her!"
Chakotay spun, crossing the minimal distance to find himself held hostage from where Kathryn was slumped on the floor by unmoving doors. Grunting, he and Tom both crammed their fingers in between the doors and pulled. The doors screeched open another few centimeters. "Kathryn!"
"Doc, get up here!" Tom yelled.
Kathryn didn't respond at all, but the hologram added his abundant strength to the effort of forcing the doors open, and the three men finally got the opening wide enough to slip inside. Chakotay made it to her side first. "Kathryn. Kathryn."
She was slumped in an awkward position, and the fury in his chest raged as he took in the sight before him. She still wore the pants outfit he had last seen her in, but the dried blood coating one side of her face marred the mental image he'd kept of her the past few hours and drew attention to the unhealthy pallor of her skin. Chakotay instinctively wanted to cradle her protectively against his chest, but her arms, still bound behind her back, looked reddened.
The Doctor appeared in the lift even as Chakotay tore at the frayed rope binding her arms, being careful of her injured skin. "Doc, she's got phaser burns on her back and arms." The Doctor didn't acknowledge him, studying the readouts on the tricorder he was scanning her with. "Doctor, did you hear me?"
"Phaser burns are the least of her problems," the EMH muttered darkly and looked over his shoulder through the opening of the doors. "We need transporters now."
"B'Elanna's working on it, Doc," Tom reassured them from the door with a glance over his shoulder to where the half Klingon was undoubtedly ripping circuits apart. "What do you need me to do?"
"What's the matter with her, Doctor?" Chakotay asked, smoothing a hand over Kathryn's forehead, frowning at how clammy her skin felt.
"I need you to get down to sickbay, Mr. Paris," the Doctor said tersely. "Make sure everything is online and ready for our arrival."
Tom nodded and disappeared from the doorway. Chakotay practically growled, ready to throw Kathryn over his shoulder and carry her down himself. "Doctor?"
"There's significant damage to her heart and lungs, a fracture in her skull, inter-cranial bleeding–" he administered a hyprospray, "but she's in shock. Her body's already begun shutting down. If I don't get her to sick bay in the next few minutes, we may lose her."
Kathryn jerked against Chakotay's hands, and for one wonderful moment, he thought she was waking up.
"She's having a seizure."
The Doctor's words barely penetrated as Chakotay watched in horror as Kathryn's body convulsed on the floor in front of him. There was no room in the confined space, and he barely had time to stretch out his hand, inserting it between her jerking head and the wall of the lift. The EMH administered another hypospray.
"Torres!" Chakotay cried out, even as Kathryn's body went limp against his hands, causing a different wave of fear to sweep over him.
The Doctor swore just as the tricorder emitted an ominous beep, and Chakotay couldn't decide which he found to be more disturbing. He looked down and could've sworn that he could tell just by looking that Kathryn's heart had stopped beating. The Doctor's yell that she had gone into cardiac arrest simply confirmed what Chakotay already knew.
Kathryn was gone.