His final transmission was complete static, and because it came through her combadge instead of the ship, she couldn’t clean it up, would never know what he’d said.
Nearly hysterical as she raced back onto the bridge, Janeway frantically hit the tears away from her field of vision, her other hand clutching the book to her chest like its proximity to her heart would save him. “Chakotay!” she screamed, voice raw.
The viewscreen exploded into blinding light.
“Report,” Janeway said, sitting comfortably in the captain’s chair with her legs crossed, the phenomenon barely having disturbed her position.
She glanced at Chakotay next to her as Tuvok reported, “All systems are functioning within normal parameters.”
Harry added, “Captain, whatever just pitched Voyager did minimal damage. It was a shock wave of some kind, but sensors are having difficulty reading it and pinpointing its source.”
“All’s well at the helm,” Tom said, “We’re still at warp eight on the same heading we had a minute ago.” He swiveled around and raised his brows. “If you want my opinion, it was one of Neelix’s explosive experiments rocking the ship. Our lovely chief engineer mentioned bananas Foster in his presence, and there was no changing his mind once he heard there was fire involved.”
“And who was so eager to tell Neelix about setting a dessert on fire in the first place?” Harry threw back, sounding more upbeat than he had all week.
Before Janeway could join the conversation, Chakotay shot her a penetrating look. Something in his expression gave her pause, but she decided she’d rather discuss it with him in private.
“Janeway to Seven.”
“Ensign Kim will route the sensor data on the shock wave through to astrometrics,” Janeway said as she nodded toward Harry, who tapped away at his console accordingly. “I want you to analyze it. I’ll be down in a few hours to take a look at what you come up with.”
“Harry,” Chakotay said, “Check the relative distances of nearby stars. Any different than they were a minute ago?”
Janeway puzzled over his words as she attempted to decipher the intent in his eyes. What was he trying to get at?
Harry responded, “Yes sir. Compensating for speed… the closest stars are at least two thousand kilometers farther away from us. Distances increase farther out.”
“Dark energy,” Janeway said to Chakotay. “How did you know?”
He shrugged and smiled quite happily. So happily, in fact, that it was contagious. “Just a feeling.”
She held Chakotay’s eyes as Tuvok threw in, “Captain, long range sensors indicate we have also been pulled away from the Alpha Quadrant.”
“Harry,” she commanded, “What’s our distance from Earth?”
As Harry called up the information, Chakotay’s smile faded gradually, replaced by a more serious look of concern, or… perhaps longing. Her heart stirred. Sometimes, she really hated Starfleet protocol, though Chakotay’s gaze made her wonder for the first time in a while whether the regulatory barrier was really necessary. Poor Harry Kim had recently broken the rules and, surprisingly, it hadn’t turned out so badly. Who was to say Janeway couldn’t bend them a little herself?
“The Sol System is eight hundred light years farther away.”
“Tuvok,” she called, rolling out of her chair. “You have the bridge.” She grinned at Chakotay and pointed with a tip of her head, inexplicably buoyed despite having tacked a year onto their journey.
She strolled into her ready room ahead of Chakotay and went straight for the replicator. “’Just a feeling,’ Chakotay? Can I get you anything?”
“No, thank you.”
“Coffee, black.” Once she obtained the drink, she sauntered back to him and stood slightly closer than usual, just to peer up into his eyes.
He smelled refreshingly like cinnamon, and his eyes softened as he smiled at her again. He clasped his hands behind his back. “I guess it was déjà vu.”
She sipped. “Maybe not. If dark energy was involved, it’s possible we’re products of an alternate timeline or universe.” After another mouthful she lowered the mug and angled her chin up, unable to tear her eyes from his single-minded expression. It made her feel as though she were the only woman he’d ever wanted, like he’d been hiding it for a long time and had gotten tired of keeping it secret.
“So we might not be the original Kathryn and Chakotay?” His voice was quiet and sweet.
“Right, and who knows what they could have gotten up to.” She knitted her eyebrows together in concern. “I’ve heard they can be pretty meddlesome when alternate realities are involved.”
He raised his brows and inclined his head down toward hers conspiratorially, near enough for her to see the brown in his dark eyes. “We probably owe our very existence to them.”
She raised her mug. “To us!” she toasted, taking a sip. Then, on a cheerful whim, she lifted it to Chakotay’s lips.
Before she could tip the liquid into his mouth, he stifled a chuckle. The motion caused the coffee to hop inside the mug and a bit splashed onto his face.
Their laughter was easy. “Damned doppelgangers,” she chortled, “Look what they made me do!” She quickly set the cup on her desk and raised her arm so she could dab at him with her sleeve. “Good thing my coffee always comes out lukewarm… But this fabric won’t absorb a thing. Trust Starfleet to prepare for all eventualities.” Her thumbs set to work, pressing against his warm skin and then wiping the coffee off on her pants.
He bent at the waist to lean into her. “I’d like to offer thanks to our supposed doppelgangers,” he grinned widely, blinking under her ministrations. “Without them, I couldn’t have gotten such special treatment from you.”
This effortless companionship felt like New Earth. She found herself remembering a time when they hadn’t been afraid to share moonlit canoe rides on the holodeck and when Chakotay would bring her flowers just because he felt like it. Why had she wedged protocol between them all this time? Chakotay made her happy. The sudden reversal of years’ worth of boundaries frightened her a little, and she doubted she could take them all down right away, but they had plenty of time.
“I think I got it all.” She laid a hand on his shoulder as he straightened. “Chakotay, if you wanted me to dab at your face every morning, all you had to do was ask.”
“Kathryn, will you dab at my face every morning?”
He tilted his head, eyes twinkling. “That was easy. I wonder what else I could ask for.”
She beamed, so happy she could have flown. “Ask away, Chakotay.”
Overbye, Dennis. "Nobel in Physics Goes to Perlmutter, Schmidt and Riess." The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2011. Web. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/05/scien
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