Beth6787

September 2018

Delta Pioneers - Episode 10. Resolution

As she battles to survive, Kathryn Janeway must make the ultimate decision for everyone...

New Earth, Hope Town Medical Centre. 13 days after the plasma storm ...

Kes sighed as she completed the latest hourly status check on her most seriously injured patient. Kathryn was still under the medically induced coma that had been initiated as soon as the rescue team had brought her into the intensive care unit. That had been almost two weeks ago and, although the continuous capillary ruptures had reduced in frequency and they had managed to stabilise her intracranial pressure, the Doctor still did not feel confident to attempt to bring her round. She agreed with him although Samantha had argued for a brief cessation in the anaesthesia, so they could assess just how lucid she appeared. She sympathised but was aware that Samantha's judgment was inevitably clouded by her desperation for Kathryn to recover. After all, she had lost her little girl in the most senseless of circumstances. A fluke weather event...and it had been Kathryn who, in trying to save her, had almost lost her own life.

Tuvok's investigatory team had meticulously pieced together the events of that tragic morning and determined that the split second before the stage set debris hit Kathryn's head, she had lunged sideways and grabbed Naomi and thus had lost the brief second or two needed to assume the impact position that was instinctive for a Starfleet Officer in a crash situation. Thus, with both hands holding the child she had been unable to brace herself and protect her head. If Kathryn now died, or perhaps worse, was permanently mentally impaired - Kes did not know how Sam would cope at all. She and 'The Doctor' (she really must insist that he decided on a name for himself soon) had fought a daily battle to relieve Dr. Wildman at the end of her duty shift and to get Chakotay to return home to eat and sleep. At least Samantha had round the clock support from both Joe and their latest couple, Billy and Celes. Chakotay on the other hand, was very much keeping his own counsel but she could sense just how afraid he was : even without her rapidly developing telepathic powers.

Forcing herself to focus on the PADD in her hand she completed the observations then headed for their staff room where Celes was pointedly clattering about with the kettle and mugs.

It was becoming lighter and...hotter. Yes, she felt hot, almost as though her skin was burning. It was a dry, midday heat but there was no breeze. The air smelt of outdoors and it was dusty. As the darkness receded she became aware that she was standing on a dirt track that appeared to extend to the horizon in both directions. The sun appeared to be directly overhead, which was odd as it had only just gotten light. She squinted with the intensity of the sun's glare. Looking down at herself she realised that she was in her Captain's uniform and there was no one else in the vicinity. She had no idea how she had gotten here, nor where the rest of her Away Team were. Trying her communicator she received no response. Not even static. So Voyager and/or her shuttle were out of communications range. And so were any other team members...

None of this made sense. Gradually her last memories were returning to her. She had been on New Earth with everyone...no one was in uniform except the EMH...they were having a celebration...there was a plasma bolt...the storm...Naomi..? Naomi ! Where was she? How was she here? Wherever 'here' was, it certainly was not the Southern Lowlands river glade on New Earth. In fact, her gut was telling her this was not New Earth at all. Or the present. She was still in her Starfleet uniform. Had she time travelled to the past somehow? ...

Kathryn started to tentatively walk forward. Now she was sure of it. Her uniform was intact and so was she. Remembering the searing pain as she was struck by some enormously heavy flying debris, and the subsequent crushing weight before she lost consciousness completely, she should have several broken bones, highly likely also some internal bleeding and her clothes should be in shreds. Instead she felt no pain at all and she appeared fighting fit. Making her way slowly along the road - as the sun was directly overhead it was impossible to determine which direction she was heading - besides, unless this was her home planet - she would be none the wiser without a tricorder to hand.

As she walked a distant memory was tugging at her mind, a strong sense of deja vu if you like. She had seen this landscape before. If only she could place it...

It felt like she had been walking for hours and she had long since discarded her jacket and pullover, the latter being tied around her waist and recently she had resorted to holding the jacket over her head in a futile attempt to cool down and provide at least a little shade to protect her scalp. So when she first spotted the shack shimmering in the heat up ahead, she thought it was a dehydration induced mirage. As she drew nearer it hit her in the gut. Q!

Sure enough she recognised the mid twentieth century gas station, as Tom had called it, complete with a rusty old Chevy truck with a flat tyre parked up against the side of the shack and jamming the corrugated tin roof in place from the looks of things. She was either trapped in the holodeck running one of Tom's cheesy 'historical' simulations or she was back in the Continuum. Throwing her jacket into the back of the truck as she marched past she threw open the shack door and coughed at the cloud of dust that hit her in the face.

"Q! Come out now! I've no idea what game you think you are playing but I don't have time to humour you right now. There's been a nasty accident and my people are injured. I need to get back."

No response. Damn him! Realising that she was getting nowhere fast she changed tactic.

"Alright Q, seeing as I'm here now I'll hear you out. Put my bad mood down to the fact I'm exhausted, dehydrated and worried sick!" with that last she slumped into the rickety old wicker chair behind the till and propped her elbows up on the counter. Instantaneously a hot mug of black coffee appeared in her right hand and a white flag gradually rose above the far end of the counter, followed by one sheepish looking Q.

"Madame Cap-it-tan, it's always a pleasure to welcome you to my humble abode. If I'd known you were coming I'd have jumped in the old Chevy and given you a lift. You look awful, has it been a long hard slog, getting to here?"

Kathryn's faculties had rapidly returned as the caffeine hit her blood stream. She had been regarding Q closely and knew that, flippant and foolish as he made himself appear on the surface, he chose his words with precision. He was also a member of the closest to omnipotent species that Starfleet had ever encountered. So far he was telling her that he had expected her to arrive 'later' and perhaps after some further events had occurred that she had yet to experience...at least, that was her interpretation of his opening gambit. Deciding to say nothing she took a further sip of her coffee and leant back in her chair.

Q jumped up and sat on the counter looking down at her. "So, you want me to spell it out for you?" he drawled as he rolled his eyes melodramatically.

Kathryn stared at him coolly, determined to give nothing of what she was feeling away. "Indulge me. I am your guest, after all."

"Alright, I'll help you dot the 'i' s and cross the 't's as humans say. What's the last thing you remember before you arrived here?"

Kathryn recounted the events of graduation day right up to the moment she heard the plasma bolt hit and instinctively grabbed Naomi with both hands before whatever it was landed on top of them both and she must have passed out. "Then the darkness receded and I found myself standing on the dirt track in the midday heat, right back here in the Continuum. Q, has this got something to do with Quinn and the events surrounding his death? Is that why you've brought me back here?"

His eyes glinted and he gave her a brief smile. "I knew you wouldn't need me to spell it out for you, even in your current state of physical incapacity. For someone who is almost brain dead, you're still a match for good old Jean-Luc. Perhaps that's why I've fallen for you."

This was ridiculous! Whatever game he was playing she had no idea but she needed to cut to the chase, fast. "Look Q, I'm sure there must be a billion females out there" she flung her arm up to gesticulate towards the heavens "who would fall at your feet in an instant. Sorry, I'm not one of them. Much as, no doubt, you are able to indulge the fantasies of any female you take a shine to, I am much too busy trying to look after the hundred and thirty three remaining members of my crew. In the last two years since the incident with Quinn, I've lost my ship and we've had to settle on an uninhabited planet in the middle of nowhere with very few resources. As I've just told you, there was a major storm that hit only a few minutes ago and I have to get back and help my people."

Humans! Why were they all so damned stubborn and self important? Perhaps that knock on the head had done more damage than he thought... "What if I told you that the incident with the plasma storm happened fourteen of your New Earth days ago and 'your crew' are coping just fine without you. In fact, they have been tending to you - inert in a medically induced coma - ever since. You are here, mon cap-i-tan, because you gave Quinn a second chance. The Continuum were impressed with your conduct over the whole affair and are insisting that we return the favour. As I'm out of favour I've been lumbered with the task."

"I'm charmed! I'm sure you'll have the ladies falling at your feet with your boundless flattery. Now will you just tell me what you want from me."

"You're to be given that rarest of gifts. A second chance not to screw your life up quite so spectacularly as you managed the first time around. Jean Luc was the only other human afforded such an honour...and what did he do with it? Managed to reach the lofty heights of Lieutenant Tedium that's what. It was such a disaster I had to re-instate the original shambles. Let's hope you can do a little better."

"Is this the point where I fall over myself in gratitude for you saving my life Q? At what cost to my people? No, don't bother. If I'm to believe what you have just told me my people are fine. Recovering from the storm with only my life hanging in the balance. If my death will draw a line under that episode then so be it. We've achieved an awful lot since we crash landed here and I'm proud of them all. We've built a community here, a new home..."

"Ah yes. Home. Didn't you promise to get them home when you first stranded yourselves out here in the good old Delta Quadrant? Excuse my stupidity, I hadn't realised any old home would do."

Kathryn gritted her teeth and felt the old guilt resurfacing as her stomach clenched.

"New Earth...Old Earth, what's in a name. I guess it's worked out pretty cushy for you. You get to play cowboys and Indians with that tattoo-ed rebel of yours..."

"How dare you! We had no choice. Voyager was so badly damaged on her return that she was no longer spaceworthy. There was no option but to settle there and make a go of things."

She was still abdicating responsibility "and why - pray - was Voyager in that state to begin with?"

"You know why Q!"

"Yes I do. You decided to transport down, alone with your First Officer, supposedly to assess the planet for food supplies. Then you both got bitten by an insect you should have detected as a biohazard from orbit...Wait! That's right. You couldn't be bothered to wait for the EMH's report. You thought he was being overly fussy. Wasting time checking minutiae when you couldn't wait for a bit of alone time with your rebel paramour..." he held his hand up to stop her imminent self justification. " So you get the crew to leave the two of you alone down there with enough supplies to make your romantic interlude achievable and sure enough, the big oaf is soon building you bath tubs and giving you massages.."

Kathryn could feel her face burning and it had nothing to do with the searing heat conducting through the tin roof.

"Of course, the poor abandoned lambs can't bear the thought of living without you so they throw caution to the wind in order to retrieve a cure for you. Almost killing themselves in the process and destroying their one means of getting home. At least home for them. You'd already settled into 'Home mark II' with lover boy, hadn't you? Don't bother to deny it, I'm omnipotent remember. I know it all."

Much as she hated to admit it to herself, he was right. It was her fault that they were all stranded on New Earth, and so far at least, it had been far from a walk in the park. "Alright Q. You've made your point. I've screwed up again and it's all my fault they are trapped here. Perhaps it's best you just let me die now so I can't ruin their lives any more than I already have."

"Oh no, you don't get off that lightly. I'm here to help guide you but you have to put in the work. You've messed up big time and now you have your chance to redeem yourself. Only there's a price to pay. Obviously."

Obviously! Whatever the motivations of the Continuum were she was pretty much past caring. Q had spoken of a second chance...to get her crew home. Whatever penance they intended to exact from her, so be it. She would jump through the hoops ; endure the humiliation; the pain; whatever it took... "Alright Q. Just tell me what the Continuum want me to do. If there's a chance to get my crew home, I'll take it."

"Not so fast, my lovely. First you have to work out what you are asking for. Where is 'home'? That dull old ball of boredom sitting in sector 001..." he saw the confusion on her face "forget that last comment, just a slip of the proverbial tongue. Perhaps it is the new improved Earth mark II that your former crew are busy creating in the image of the old as we speak or perhaps it is that tin can flying through the ether that you were so attached to until the Vidians punched one too many holes into her hull. This is your second chance to get things right. So which would your people choose?"

Kathryn was beginning to understand. Q was offering her a chance to re-write history. To start her life again from a previous time point. But the catch was that she had to determine which point in time would be in the best interests of the others. All of them! Should she choose to return to a point before she took command of Voyager? Before they got stranded by her destruction of the Array? Before Voyager stranded her and Chakotay on New Earth? When would be best? Each time point meant saving some people and condemning others. If she chose to return to when Voyager was docked at Deep Space 9 then Chakotay, Tuvok and the Maquis would face the dangers of the Delta Quadrant alone in the Val Jean. If later and she used the Array to get home, she would be leaving that advanced technology in the malevolent hands of the Kazon and condemning the Maquis on Voyager to a Federation prison colony. She didn't know what to do for the best. Looking up at her tormenter she asked candidly "How long do I have to decide?"

Finally, she was beginning to understand though it was apparent that he would have to 'hold her hand' for a while longer, as the Continuum had expected. "Hello! Q to Captain Janeway. How many courses in temporal mechanics did you have to pass to make the grade? Never mind, I'm feeling magnanimous today so I'll spell it out for you. T-H-I-S I-S T-H-E Q C-O-N-T-IN-U-U-M. T-I-M-E H-A-S N-O M-E-A-N-I-N-G H-E-R-E."

"Fine! So I can take my time." She smirked back at him. "No pun intended. In the meantime, do I have to stay here?" She looked around without even attempting to disguise her disdain.

"Why not at all. Wouldn't you like to do a little field research? Of course you would."

And with that Q and the Continuum vanished and the next thing she was aware if was a blinding light above her and a searing pain in her head.

—-

Chakotay was roused from his slumber by Kathryn's groan. He was instantly alert and calling to Samantha to come check her patient. Forcing himself to step back so Samantha and Celes could assess Kathryn he felt such a flood of relief that he almost fainted. Somehow, she had pulled through, against all the odds. Wasn't it only yesterday that Dr. Schmullus had taken him to one side and told him that it was very unlikely at this stage that Kathryn would regain consciousness at all. She had been off the life support apparatus and the anaesthesia for almost three days now and, although she was breathing for herself and her vital signs were stable, they had not been able to rouse her. Even with all the 24th century know-how at their disposal. Yet here they were, listening to Kathryn moaning that her head was hurting and asking for coffee!

Five minutes later Celes came over to him. "She appears lucid although we have refrained from asking her anything non essential from a medical point of view. Dr. Wildman is keen not to overexert her and obviously Drs Schmullus and Kes will want to give her a full assessment when they come on duty in the morning. In the meantime of course, we will both keep a close eye on her overnight but she has already asked for you. Sam says you can have five minutes then she must rest."

He smiled at her. "Thanks Celes. I promise not to overwhelm her. I'll just sit and hold her hand for a few minutes."

Celes smiled and headed off to make him a herbal tea and get Kathryn a glass of water. No doubt her usual poison would be off limits for a while yet.

Smiling at her he sat and squeezed her hand gently. "Welcome back to the land of the living. You had me really scared there for a while but Samantha and Celes tell me you'll be just fine now. As long as you abstain from the coffee for a few days longer, that is!" He watched as she squinted up at him and gave a tentative smile. He saw a look of confusion cross her face and she seemed to be struggling to form a thought. "It can wait Kathryn. You've been out cold for seventeen days now, give yourself time to recover."

Kathryn felt frustrated. Seventeen days?! It was all a blur. The graduation party, grabbing Naomi, Q...Q? Then she remembered. He wanted her to choose her future...their future...all of them. He had said something about 'field research'? Then she had woken up here. She needed to make sense of it all. "Chakotay, please - tell me what happened the day of the accident."

He glanced over his shoulder to check Celes was still busy making their drinks. "Kathryn, I've only been given five minutes to sit with you and hold your hand. I promised the doctors that I wouldn't exhaust you. Please, just rest. I promise to fill you in once you're further along the road to recovery."

"No! Chakotay please! It's important. I need to know."

He could see that refusing her would only work her up into a greater state of agitation. So very reluctantly he told her of the rescue. Of Tom's injuries and discharge home eight days ago with Harry and B'Elanna nursing him in turns around the clock. Tom would soon be out of the woods and was no doubt milking it for all it was worth in the meantime!

"And Naomi? I remember grabbing her just before what felt like the entire stage rig landed on my head."

Chakotay turned away to try and compose himself whilst he struggled to formulate an answer that would break it to her gently. But Kathryn being Kathryn, read him far too well. "She's dead isn't she? I failed to save her."

Desperate for her not to torture herself with anymore guilt he lied to ease her burden. "You did make a difference. Samantha had time to say goodbye, it was just that her injuries were too great for her to hold on as long as you have." Whilst he had been talking Samantha had come up behind him with her medical tricorder in hand. She had obviously heard the last part of their conversation although Chakotay had kept his voice barely above a whisper.

Kathryn knew from the look on her face that Chakotay was softening the blow. So my body crushed her when the debris collapsed on top of us. I made the wrong call, I should have thrown Naomi clear rather than gathering her to me. She saw Samantha hesitate for a second then withdraw to her office. Q was right. She had made a monumental mess of all their lives and she had to fix it. This timeline could not continue. Pretending she took Chakotay at his word she asked the question that was torturing her soul. "Chakotay, if you could go back in time, before we were all stranded here, would you choose life on Voyager in the Delta Quadrant or being back in the Maquis captaining the Val Jean?"

He looked at her in astonishment! Where had that come from? Besides, it was irrelevant. They were here. That was all that mattered, and despite recent tragic events, he would not change their fate for anything.

"Chakotay, please answer me."

Not wanting to distress her further he decided this was not the time to interrogate the reasons behind her question. "Honestly? Neither. I would choose to stay right here, right now. These last two years we have made a home for ourselves and a fresh start. Old wounds have been healed for many of my crew, your having played a key part in bringing that about. Tom and B'Elanna are forming a close attachment; Neelix and Kes are engaged to be married; Billy Telfer has finally won the heart of Celes and you and I..." he dared not voice his hopes and dreams just yet.

Perhaps it was to be expected from him of all people. She needed to ask the Fleeters and perhaps a former Maquis or two. Chakotay's judgement was clouded by his feelings for her. Q had gotten that right too it would seem. She squeezed his hand and smiled up weakly at him. "Thanks. You know I am tired. Perhaps I will sleep for a while. Go rest Chakotay. I'll be fine now."

He kissed her lightly on the forehead then nodded goodbye to Celes as he headed out of the door. Kathryn turned her head as best she could and called out "Samantha...I'm so sorry. I meant to help. If I could turn back time..."

Dr. Wildman approached and started her scan. She wanted to tell her former captain and later friend that it was alright. She knew that she had tried to save her daughter's life. But she couldn't form the words. In her heart of hearts she knew she did blame Kathryn. For not throwing her clear; for making the wrong call : however unfair that was. Now here she was. Conscious and probably on her way to a full recovery within a few weeks whilst Naomi had joined Kenneth Dalby and Mike Ayala in the cemetery. At barely three years old. Forcing herself to look her patient in the eye she just nodded and told her to rest, she would be back to check on her every two hours, alternating with Celes until Drs Kes and Schmullus took over at 0700.

Once Sam had left, Kathryn closed her eyes but remained awake mulling over everything that she had discovered in the last hour or so. She needed to speak to someone she could trust to give her an objective answer : Tuvok. He had been her closest confidant and wise counsel for almost quarter of a century now. If anyone could be trusted to be objective, it was him. However, she knew that he would enquire as to why she was asking such a seemingly abstract question. He would no doubt assume she had been subject to bizarre anaesthesia induced dreams, under the circumstances - if the shoe was on the other foot - she would rationally come to the same conclusion. Yet her gut was telling her it had been real. Q had challenged her. Should she ask Tuvok to perform a mind meld on her to ascertain the truth? Would it even be safe bearing in mind the extent of her brain injuries?...Already her headache was returning and the intensity was building rapidly. She decided to try and drink some of the water by her bedside. As she struggled to sit up she felt a wave of nausea and started to wretch. Within seconds Kes was at her side with a hypospray. As she started to lose consciousness she called out "Kes, I need you to monitor my sleep. Use your telepathic senses to detect..." she faded into unconsciousness before she could finish her sentence.

Kes activated Dr. Schmullus the moment Kathryn fell asleep. He immediately ordered another deep brain scan to look for additional haemorrhages, build up of sub-cranial pressure or capillary blockages. Nothing was detected and she seemed stable for now. So why the sudden pain and nausea? Perhaps her brief exchange with Chakotay had been too much too soon. Next time she regained consciousness, no one but the medical staff would be allowed access to her.

Schmullus insisted that all three of his team return home for some sleep and that he would monitor her continually himself for the next twelve hours. Reluctantly the three ladies complied, knowing that they were all exhausted and would be far more use professionally after a good night's rest. Once they had left Dr. Schmullus attached a cortical monitor to Kathryn's forehead and returned to his office to catch up on paperwork. He would know when she entered REM sleep and when her brain's electrical activity indicated that she was about to begin the climb back to consciousness. She had already overcome the greatest hurdle by rousing into wakefulness after seventeen days of coma and she was now sleeping normally, judging by the ECG trace in front of him. There was no reason to believe she would not awake within the next eight to ten hours of her own accord. This time he was determined that any stimulation be kept to an absolute minimum. He should never have let Chakotay speak to her unsupervised! He really must keep a better eye on his new clinicians. They may have passed their exams but they still had an awful lot to learn on the coal face!

Six hours later...

Kathryn awoke feeling afraid. She could remember nothing since the wave of nausea and trying to say something that had seemed important at the time, to Kes. What was it? ...Q? ...Yes, Q. She had been in the Continuum and he had offered to reset her life to a past point in time but she had to determine when was best for...for all of them. So why hadn't she returned there this time? Had she been dreaming? Where was Kes? She would know.

Kathryn started to call out but it was their former EMH's face that greeted her. She pleaded with him to summon Kes but he told her that the others were all resting and the only person who had been with her overnight was himself. So there was no way to determine whether another presence had been in the vicinity. Whether Kes could detect the presence of a Q inside her head anyway was a long shot but she needed to find out. Trying to look relaxed she asked to speak to Tuvok. The Doctor immediately started to protest but this time she was ready for him.

"Doctor...Schmullus is it? What a lovely choice, I'm sure Denara Pel would be honoured. Please, don't worry, I'm already feeling calmer. I just find Tuvok's rational mind and calm demeanour so reassuring. I promise to remain calm and collected. Just let me enjoy his company for a few moments would you."

Schmullus considered her request. Had she asked for anyone else he would have stood his ground but she had known Tuvok for most of her adult life and his influence was bound to be beneficial. Bearing in mind the set back yesterday with all the heightened emotions from Chakotay and Samantha, the calming rational influence of Tuvok's presence may indeed be the best psychological medicine he could dispense. "Alright, I'll contact him. For a short visit and I mean short. No more than fifteen minutes, maximum."

She smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you Doctor. That would be perfect. I'll just rest my eyes until he arrives." Knowing she had placated their holographic physician she closed her eyes and focussed her mind on what to discuss with Tuvok. She would have very little time and she needed to know for sure whether Q had indeed contacted her whilst she was in the prolonged coma. That would require a mind meld. Somehow she had to persuade him to perform one on her within that brief timeframe without the Doctor knowing. It was less than an hour before Dr. Wildman and Celes were due to take over and then the chance would be lost.

"Captain?"

Opening her eyes she held his gaze "Old friend, I need to ask you a very important favour and I need you to comply. No questions asked. Can I trust you to help me?"

He knew that look. Over the last twenty five years he had seen it maybe half a dozen times at most. She had never made this request lightly and he had never refused her. He would not do so now. Following her gaze he nodded and after deactivating the Doctor and resetting his internal chronometer he began the mind meld.

Twenty minutes later...

Tuvok had completed the meld and sat regarding her. As she came round she sat herself up as best should could and focussed her piercing blue eyes on him. She did not have to ask.

"All I can tell you is that the experience was absolutely real to you." He could see instantly that was not the answer Kathryn wanted. "Captain...Kathryn. We've known each other for a very long time and I truly want to help you. To do so I need to make some observations that...will be difficult for you to hear..." He waited and saw the answer he needed in her eyes. She merely inclined her head slightly and gave him her rapt attention.

"When Voyager returned here after your extended period of enforced isolation with Commander Chakotay...it was my observation that you were somewhat 'subdued'. Very rapidly your focus turned to attempting to make Voyager space worthy again, even though you knew that was rationally impossible. What followed was an internal battle of wills between your desire to resume our journey home and the necessity of creating a new one here on this planet, for the whole crew. Unless I am very much mistaken I strongly suspect you had already lived through that conundrum prior to our return?"

Tuvok had always seen straight through her. For a species that prided itself on the inhibition and control of emotions he was extraordinarily adept at reading those of others. At least in her case. Swallowing rapidly to find her voice she whispered "Please, go on."

"During the subsequent couple of years you have worked hard to create a community for us here. Becoming a key council member; dealing with the Vidian and Kazon issues; the encounter with the Equinox survivors; Mr. Fitzpatrick and the lingering Maquis resentments. Need I go on?" Grasping her hands to emphasize his point he continued. "Through all those trials and tribulations you have single-mindedly turned your focus on creating a New Earth here. In every sense of the word and you had come - reluctantly I suspect - at last to accept this as home in your heart. Until the tragedy of losing Naomi Wildman. Her death is harder to accept because she was an innocent young child. All the rest of us had written our destinies by the choices we made as adults. Naomi never had that chance. So, whilst you were unconscious your mind went in search of a solution. The encounter with Q was what you came up with."

He could tell that Kathryn was using every ounce of remaining strength to keep from crying. He wished he could lift this burden from her shoulders. Just this once. Hadn't she endured more in forty years than any human could be expected to? Even one who had made the rank of Captain and been born an Admiral's daughter. "My advice to you is to make peace with Naomi's loss and then to make peace with your relationship with her mother too. We are all here to support you. You never were and never will be alone."

He had said his piece and it was time to reactivateDr. Schmullus. Tuvok had set him to come back online just as he was leaving and implanted a false memory of his having sat quietly and observed Kathryn sleeping with a smile on her face. As the Doctor materialised Tuvok stood up and nodded, blocking his view of Kathryn as she quickly composed herself. "Perhaps you would be so good as to allow your patient a small cup of Vulcan spice tea. It has excellent restorative powers."

Dr. Schmullus puffed himself up. Lifelong friend and former second officer notwithstanding he was the boss around here. Perhaps it had been a mistake to allow additional doctors to be trained up to assist him. Now even the non-medics thought they could stick their proverbial oars in! "We shall see. Whilst I make a full nutritional assessment of my patient she may have a glass of water."

Tuvok merely inclined his head and left whilst Kathryn felt her mood lifting as she suppressed the urge to chuckle. Accepting her water and allowing Dr. Schmullus to fuss around her for a few minutes, she contemplated what Tuvok had said and replayed the last four years in her mind. All the key events since she had first stepped onto the Bridge of Voyager until the present day. How did she feel? What would be her answer to Q, whether purely hypothetical or not?

As she sat and thought she watched Samantha Wildman arrive for her duty shift. Maybe she didn't have the answers to all the big existential questions but there was one thing she could do. Right now.

As soon as she caught Samantha's eye she called her over and started to talk. By the time Celes rushed in, over ten minutes late for her shift, she saw Sam and Kathryn crying and embracing each other with the sunrise streaming through the window beyond.

Midnight...

One minute she was listening to Chakotay telling her about his day as she struggled to keep her eyes open, the next she was here. Sitting behind the counter in the same dusty wicker chair with Q grinning down at her from his perch on the counter.

"So Madam Cap - i - tan, what's it to be?"

She sat and considered for a moment. Was she really here or was Tuvok right and she was debating with her guilty conscience which had taken the form of Q ? Did it really matter? Either way her answer would be the same.

Standing so she could look him in the eye on the same level, she instinctively assumed the pose she so often embraced on the brink of making a key decision. Feet apart, hands on hips and ready to meet her destiny head on.

"We're staying right here on New Earth : in the present. With all it's joys and sorrows. We're mortals Q. That's our destiny. All we can do is make the best of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. We'll survive. More than that : we will prevail. Not because some omnipotent being has given us a second or third or infinite number of chances to do things better. Rather because we only get one shot at life but we have something infinitely greater than omnipotence. We have each other. I'm not alone. I never was."

Q stared at her for a brief moment before clapping his hands in glee. "Bravo my dear Katharina, queen of my heart. You've done it. I always knew you had more potential than poor plodding Jean Luc." Before pulling her into his arms for one crushing kiss and then he was gone in the blink of an eye and replaced by the face of Chakotay leaning over her bed kissing her goodnight.

THE END.

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