Disclaimer: Still Paramount’s, Viacom’s, or whatever incarnation they are now

Rating: G

Notes: Many thanks to LauraLyn for permission to use the fiddle below and for the title, which fits so well. And as always, to Shayenne for her rapid but thorough beta – she never fails me.

This is a sequel to Trekking Through Time, which should be read first in order for this story to make sense. As in that tale, the Star Trek universe of James Kirk is the one depicted in the 2009 movie.

For my friend, Ben, on the occasion of his 11th birthday.

When Universes Collide

By Mary S.

Image By Lauralyn

Prologue: 2262 alternate universe

        In the outer reaches of the Klingon empire, a somewhat battered cargo vessel approached a system of six planets, one of which supported a colony of several thousand inhabitants. The T’koth was an old K’t’inga class ship that had seen better days, which explained why it had been relegated to what might be called a ‘milk run’. Every two months it arrived at Bortas IV as part of its regular circuit ferrying cargo and occasionally passengers through this part of the Empire. Its captain, K’ry’tec, as battered in appearance as his ship, was close to retirement, having served the Empire for many years. Indeed, this was his last run.

        As the T’koth assumed orbit, sensors detected a large, strange-looking vessel, shaped like a cube, appearing from the other side of the planet.

        Swiftly, Captain K’ry’tec called for visual then felt his jaw drop as he, along with everyone on the bridge, stared in astonished silence.

        “Kah’less!! Look at the size of it!” murmured his first officer after a moment. “Who has the technology to build such a mammoth?!”

        The sound of his voice was enough to spur the captain into action.

        “Raise shields!” He shouted.

        But even as he spoke, several equally strange-looking humanoids appeared on the bridge.

        The captain leaped out of his chair, every reflex telling him these were enemies. “Who are you?!” he roared. “How dare you beam onto my ship!”

        “We are the Borg,” was the reply in a monotone. “Resistance is futile.”

        “Oh, is it now!” snarled K’ry’tec, enraged. Pulling out his disruptor from its holster, he opened fire.

        Likewise, from around the bridge, several of his officers also fired their weapons, careful not to catch their crewmates in a crossfire.

        Several of the humanoids fell to the deck, mortally injured, and K’ry’tec began to think this would be a battle quickly won.

        However, suddenly the shots were having no effect. The remaining humanoids advanced, each picking out a Klingon to attack.

        With a roar of pure fury, K’ry’tec charged the nearest figure only to fall as it effortlessly seized his arms, twisting him around so it could grab his neck. Instantly, he collapsed to the floor, apparently fatally wounded.

        Desperately, the first officer snatched up a bat’leth from under his chair and also rushed forward, swinging his weapon frantically. One of the enemy then a second was incapacitated by his flailing before a third grabbed him from behind. Two tubules snaked out from the top of its hand and pierced the officer’s neck. At once, he collapsed, the bat’leth crashing to the floor beside him.

        Appalled at the apparent ease with which the humanoids were taking down their officers, nevertheless the remainder of the crew continued to fight valiantly with whatever weapons they had. However, they were no match and within minutes, all had been assimilated.

        One of the humanoids inserted its tubules into the nearest console, quickly downloading information before turning to its fellows and nodding.

        As one, they dematerialized, taking their newest recruits with them and leaving the ship to drift, while below decks, the few crew remaining were left to wonder what was happening on the bridge.

        Eventually, after receiving no response to repeated hails, one of them ventured onto the bridge which, he discovered to his amazement, was completely empty. Even as he reached for the nearest comm channel to notify his crewmates of this extraordinary situation, he noticed a very large vessel disappearing behind the planet.

        At the same time, a beep from the ops console indicated a signal from the planet.

        For a moment, he debated his course of action before deciding that the colonists might be most likely to have an explanation for whatever was going on.

        Jabbing the button, he answered the hail, only to hear a frantic call of distress.

        “We are under attack! Our weapons are useless! Our people are vanishing! Help us! Helppp –!”

        Abruptly, the voice disappeared and all he could hear was static.

        Without more ado, the crewman quickly summoned his fellows to the bridge. Clearly, some terrible disaster had occurred both on the ship and the planet. It was up to them to decide what to do.

        After a rapid conference, it was agree that their first duty was to get word to K’ronos as quickly as possible, even though it meant abandoning the colony to its fate.

        Hurriedly, they manned stations and powered up the engines in an attempt to slip away before the enemy noticed them.

        However, their efforts were in vain.

        Within minutes, a dozen of the strange-looking humanoids appeared on the bridge once more.

        Realizing they would most likely meet the same fate as their fellows, one of the crew frantically downloaded the bridge recording log into a small probe, then launched it. The probe was so tiny that it managed to escape detection as it slowly floated away.

        Days later, its signal automatically activated upon detecting a Klingon vessel, it was picked up by a heavy cruiser patrolling the sector after reports of unexplained activity.

        What the cruiser’s captain saw on the cube was enough to make him immediately order a course change to K’ronos at maximum warp. There was no doubt in his mind that the threat posed by the cubed vessel was greater than anything the Empire had ever faced before.

*********

        At the same time the Klingons on Bortas IV were being over-run, a human colony in a small system near Deep Space Station K-7 was also attacked, with exactly the same result.

        Facing certain death, in desperation, the colony commander launched an emergency probe which, had she but known, was very similar to the one used by the Klingons. All she could do was hope that its signal, weak as it was, would be noticed by someone.

        Her hand had barely left the control panel when the approaching automaton reached her and plunged its tubules into her neck.

        As she collapsed, the last sound she heard was a sudden shriek of horror.

        Moments later, there was only silence.

       

        Part 1: 2387 original universe

From the epilogue of ‘Trekking Through Time’:

        Nine years earlier, after much debate within the walls of Headquarters, the final decision of Starfleet Command had been to not pass on Captain Janeway’s warning to Romulus.

        Tampering with the timeline was altogether too risky a business for most of the Admiralty, and they had chosen to take the line of least resistance – in other words, do nothing and let the chips fall where they might.

        However, mindful of her words, Starfleet had dispatched a science vessel which launched a series of probes to surreptitiously keep an eye on the star Hobus.

        Now their watchfulness was paying off.

        In recent weeks, Hobus had begun to exhibit various signs which could indicate an impending supernova.

        For those few in the Federation who were aware of the potential disaster awaiting Romulus, the possibility of a supernova filled them with considerable trepidation. Eyes were trained on the star with a certain degree of expectancy, its every twitch followed with great interest.

        And then, Hobus disappeared.

        There was much scratching of heads among the higher echelons at Starfleet as various possibilities were examined then discarded. Sensor data from the probes was gone over exhaustively but yielded no concrete answers.

        In the end, the general consensus was that obviously the Romulans had learned about the supernova and found a way to stop the explosion. ‘Red matter’ was bandied about as one possibility but no one knew for certain.

        The Admiralty couldn’t ask outright as that would indicate they had known what might happen and hadn’t issued a warning. And the secretive Romulans were not about to publicize how they had been able to stop a supernova.

        Ultimately, those in the Federation could only speculate.

        *********

        Meanwhile, Kathryn and Chakotay, long since married, were living in relative obscurity on Dorvan Five, far from the machinations of the Federation, and were quite unaware of the impending date of the supernova. Indeed, Kathryn had mostly forgotten about it. Events beyond Dorvan rarely impinged on her busy life nowadays, and the disappearance of Hobus would have passed her by completely if not for a mysterious message she received from Vulcan.

        The message contained only two words – ‘thank you’ – and was signed with the initial ‘S’.

        After considerable discussion of a number of possibilities, eventually she and Chakotay contacted their old comrade, Tuvok, who was able to tell them that although there was no definite confirmation, for months rumours had been circulating that Spock had reappeared on his home planet as mysteriously as he had disappeared so many years before.

        “Which would seem to indicate,” continued Tuvok, “that the Enterprise did survive. But, of course,” he added, “it is only speculation.”

        When Kathryn related the contents of the message to him, his eyebrows rose but his only comment was “fascinating”. As he was unaware of the disappearance of Hobus, he could shed no further light on the meaning of the message.

        For a day or two longer, Kathryn continued to worry at the puzzle but then her attention was caught by an immediate problem with the colony’s new water system and everything else was forgotten.

        Life went on.

       

       

        Some months after Kathryn and Chakotay received the cryptic, mysterious message from Vulcan, Tuvok unexpectedly contacted them.

        After exchanging the usual pleasantries, he explained that the previous day, he had been summoned to a meeting with Spock.

        Kathryn’s eyebrows shot up in surprise but she said nothing, waiting for Tuvok to continue.

        “Spock wishes to meet you,” he explained before falling silent, as if that were explanation enough. Clearly, there could be no question of refusing.

        “Me?!” exclaimed Kathryn. “Why?!”

        “Unknown. Presumably if he had wished me to know, he would have told me. All he said was that he wants to meet with you here on Vulcan. I assume he would prefer sooner rather than later.” The latter remark was voiced with Tuvok’s typical dry humour but Kathryn had no trouble interpreting the urgency.

        For a minute or two she sat still, her brows drawn together in concentration. Finally, she glanced up, then shrugged and gave Tuvok a wry smile. “Well, I guess what Mr. Spock wants, he gets. I’ll start checking ship schedules but you might warn him, Tuvok, that it could take a while. It’s not exactly easy to get from Dorvan to Vulcan via public transport. As well,” she added, “there is the small matter of my ‘status’ within the Federation. While I’m not officially persona non grata on Earth, I don’t imagine they’ll be too thrilled to see me, even if I am only passing through.”

        Tuvok’s facial muscles tightened ever so slightly in the Vulcan equivalent of a frown before he spoke. “I will pass on your message, Kathryn.” His hand lifted into view, the fingers split in the Vulcan salute. “I look forward to your arrival. Of course, you will stay with us.”

        “Thank you, Tuvok, I look forward as well to seeing both you and T’pel. Janeway out.”

        Even after the screen went blank, she continued to sit, her brow furrowed once more as she analyzed Tuvok’s message. What on earth could Spock want with her? Well, the sooner she got moving, the sooner she’d find out.

        Rising to her feet, she went in search of Chakotay.

        **********

        The following day, after spending hours perusing transport schedules and trying to figure out connections, Kathryn received a further surprise.

        Out of the blue, her comm terminal beeped to indicate an incoming message. When she activated it, there appeared an old classmate whom she hadn’t seen in well over twenty years – Captain William Riker of the USS Titan.

        Completely nonplused, her mind still stuck in the vagaries of shuttle schedules, for a moment she could only stare at him in stunned astonishment. However, force of habit made her fingers activate the commlink even as her brain tried to catch up.

        “Hi Kathryn, how are you?” smiled Riker in the tone of an old friend.

        “I – uh, fine, thank you.” Giving her head a shake, she sat up straight. “Will? Will Riker?! What on earth is going on?!”

        His grin widened. “I’ve just arrived here at Dorvan so I can take you to Vulcan.”

        “What?! What do you know about my trip to Vulcan? Never mind, don’t answer that.” She sighed. “Let’s try again. What, exactly, are you doing here?”

        “Just what I said. Take you to Vulcan.”

        Kathryn simply stared at him for a moment before answering. “You’ve got to be kidding! I thought I was in Starfleet’s bad books permanently.”

        He shrugged noncommittally then replied, “Maybe you are, then again maybe not. Or perhaps someone you know has a direct line to the C-in-C.”

        His words made her pause then start to chuckle softly. “I should have realized, I guess.” She smiled to herself for a moment longer before Riker caught her attention.

        “Starfleet indicated there isn’t a lot of time to lollygag around, Kathryn, so if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to get underway ASAP.”

        Her brow tightened as she quickly ran through a mental checklist. “I’ve already rearranged my schedule so I can go almost immediately – I just need to pack a few things – but Chakotay has to stay here for another couple of weeks. There is an important scientific team specializing in new terraforming methods due to arrive shortly and, since he’s the liaison to offworlders, he has to be here.” She paused, calculating possibilities. “Can we wait? Or maybe he could follow me….”

        “We can’t wait two weeks, Kathryn. Besides, my understanding is that you will only be on Vulcan for a short time, perhaps just a day or so. My orders include returning you to Dorvan when your business is finished. We’ll have you back here before he can leave anyway, so it doesn’t make much sense for him to try to follow.”

        Her eyebrows shot up. “Tell me, is all this ferrying me to and fro so I don’t contaminate any other planet in the Federation?” Her voice carried more than a hint of sarcasm.

        He shrugged. “Could be. You’re not one of Command’s preferred topics of conversation, certainly.”

        Kathryn shook her head then decided not to continue in that vein – it was all in the past, anyway. Instead, she told Riker she would contact the Titan when she was ready to go, then signed off.

        As she got up from her chair, Chakotay came in.

        In a few succinct sentences, she summed up the situation then told him she had to leave as soon as possible.

        His brows drew into a frown at that news. Following her into the bedroom where she was pulling out a carryall, he warned her. “You’re jumping to Starfleet’s orders without having any idea what’s going on, Kathryn. Why don’t you contact Tom Paris first and see what he knows before you go dashing off headlong?”

        However, even as he voiced his concern, he could see she had already made up her mind. Knowing that little short of an actual demand to stay would make her stop, a demand he wasn’t willing to make at this point, he fell silent.

        Rummaging through her dresser, Kathryn turned when she realized he’d stopped speaking. The look on his face, fear for her safety mixed with frustration that she wasn’t listening to him, was enough to make her step close to him.

        Running her hands gently over his face, she smiled softly. “I know all the arguments, Chakotay, and you’re right. But besides you, there is no one I trust more than Tuvok. If he says I should go to Vulcan, then he means it. And if Starfleet is willing to make it easier for me to get there, who am I to turn down a free ride?”

        “Just as long as it is free, Kathryn,” he retorted. “Remember there can be many forms of payment for services rendered.” He ran his hands through his hair. “I wish I could come with you….”

        “I know. Believe me, so do I! But we both know you can’t leave right now. I’ll be in good hands with Tuvok. Don’t worry.”

        Reaching up, she pulled down his head to kiss him lovingly. “Besides, from what Will Riker says, I’ll be home again before you know it.”

        He grasped her hands tightly. “It won’t be soon enough for me.” Stepping back, he added, “I’ll leave you to finish here while I have a word with Riker.”

        Kathryn had already turned back to her dresser. “Thanks, sweetheart,” she responded somewhat abstractedly. “Tell him I’ll be ready in less than ten minutes.”

        *******

        Kathryn never knew what Chakotay actually said to Will Riker but whatever it was, it caused Riker a few chuckles as he greeted her in the Titan’s transporter room.

        Helping her down from the pads, he grinned delightedly at her then leaned over to give her a warm kiss on the cheek. “Kathryn, it’s been too long.” He paused briefly before adding, “And I must say that is one protective husband you’ve got there! I had to remind him just who beat who in the last boxing match at the Academy before we graduated!”

        Already grinning, Kathryn started to laugh. “Don’t tell me! You?! I thought Chakotay never lost a fight!”

        “Well, actually, he didn’t,” came a voice from behind Riker which made them both turn around.

        “Ahh, Deanna, here you are,” exclaimed Riker. “Kathryn, I don’t think you’ve met my wife, Deanna Troi, ship’s counselor.”

        “Counselor,” began Kathryn only to be interrupted.

        “Please,” begged Deanna with a gentle smile, “I feel I know you already from all Will has told me. I gather you were at the Academy together. I’d like to be on first name terms.”

        Her warmth instantly put Kathryn at ease. “I’d be delighted, Deanna, thank you.” Her eyes darted to Will. “Has he told you all the stories from the Academy?”

        Deanna began to laugh. “We’ll have to compare notes and find out.”

        Riker rolled his eyes. “I’m in for it now, I can see that. Please, Kathryn, be kind?” He gestured towards the door as he spoke, leading the way into the corridor.

        “Certainly not,” she retorted as they walked to the turbolift. “Where would be the fun in that?” Turning to Troi, she continued, “Actually, I believe we also have a mutual acquaintance in Lieutenant Reginald Barclay. He was instrumental in setting up contact between Starfleet and Voyager while we were in the Delta Quadrant. I wish I’d had a chance to meet him but circumstances dictated otherwise.”

        Deanna’s face lit up. “Reg is a dear friend of mine and yes, I remember that time well. Poor man, he became quite obsessed for a while with the whole story of Voyager and her crew. You had, and in fact still have, an ardent fan in Mr. Barclay. He continues to talk of you with great admiration. I might add, Kathryn, he’s not the only one. A lot of people speak well of you.”

        Following the other two into the lift, Kathryn remained silent. In truth, she was more than a little surprised at Troi’s words. She had been out of the loop for so long, she’d assumed Voyager and her crew had long since been forgotten, or at best consigned to some obscure history book. However, from what the counselor was saying, apparently that wasn’t the case.

        She felt a hand on her arm and looked into Troi’s sympathetic eyes. “You’re not forgotten, you know,” said Deanna gently.

        Startled that her question had been answered before she’d even asked it, Kathryn stared at the other woman before realizing the obvious. “You’re Betazoid!”

        Deanna nodded. “Half, actually, which means that while I am empathic, my telepathic abilities are limited. My father was human.”

        “I see.”

        Will stopped them before a door. “Here are your quarters, Kathryn. Of course, if you need anything, you have only to ask.”

        “We would be pleased if you would join us for a quiet dinner this evening, just the three of us,” interjected Deanna.

        “Thank you both very much. I would be delighted.” She stepped forward to open the door. “Right now, I think I better spend some time catching up on recent history. I have a feeling that I am way behind on events within the Federation.”

        “I’ll have someone escort you to our quarters,” promised Will. “Nineteen hundred hours?”

        “That will be perfect,” agreed Kathryn, moving back to let the door slide closed.

        *********

        Dinner with the Rikers proved even more delightful than Kathryn had expected. The laughter and teasing flowed all through the meal until by the time she’d finished, she wasn’t sure which part of her was more sated – her stomach or her funny bone.

        However, as they sat over their coffee, their conversation turned to more serious topics. It started when Will asked how much she knew about her current mission.

        Unsure how to respond – she wasn’t sure how much information he’d received at his briefing – Kathryn hesitated.

        Before she could find the words she wanted, Deanna cut in smoothly. “Perhaps you’re not able to share that with us?” she asked tactfully.

        Nodding slowly, Kathryn replied, “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you but I don’t know myself what’s going on. I received a message from my former chief of security on Voyager, Tuvok, who resides on Vulcan. It was very brief, simply that I was to proceed to Vulcan as quickly as possible.”

        “That’s it?” asked Will in disbelief.

        “Not quite,” interjected Deanna, staring hard at Kathryn.

        Kathryn sighed, not sure how much more she should say.

        Aware of why she might be hesitating, Will spoke up. “Let me tell you what we learned at the mission briefing,” he began, “and just so you know, my orders came direct from the C-in-C herself.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “You – and it has to be you, no one else – have to reach Vulcan as quickly as possible. The Titan is at your command – within reasonable limits,” he added firmly. “I won’t debate your orders but I won’t put my ship at risk either, unless you give me a damn good reason why I should.”

        At her nod of agreement, he continued. “We remain in orbit at Vulcan until you are ready to leave, at which point we convey you back to Dorvan unless unforeseen circumstances dictate we need to go elsewhere. Again, this is at your discretion but with my consent, which means you’ll have to explain why you wish me to take a particular action. I won’t follow you blindly.” Again, he paused before adding in a gentler tone. “It’s not that we don’t trust you, Kathryn, but those are my specific orders from Fleet Admiral Nechayev. I hope it won’t be a problem?”

        “No, I don’t expect it to be.” Now it was her turn to hesitate although every instinct was telling her to explain the situation further. As captain, Riker might be required to make a split-second decision and if he didn’t have all the information he needed, he would not be able to do that. As a former captain herself, Kathryn could well sympathize with his quandary. Like it or not, he had to know at least the basics of what they were facing.

        “Will, the problem is we may be dealing with possible temporal issues. I’m speculating, you understand, but the person I am to meet on Vulcan has been ‘involved’ in such issues in the past. Voyager’s past,” she amended so he would understand why she specifically had been requested. “Since obviously you haven’t been given that person’s name, I don’t believe I should tell it to you but as you may have gathered, the person is very highly placed within the Federation. The fact that you were sent to fetch me and given the orders you were tells you as much. Other than that, however, I’m as much in the dark as you.”

        With a gentle smile, Deanna nodded, silently confirming Kathryn’s statement.

        Riker shrugged resignedly. “Well then, I guess we’ll play it by ear.” He reached for the coffee pot. “Would you like a refill?”

        Holding out her cup, Kathryn grinned. “Now, have you ever known me to turn down a cup of coffee?”

        *********

        Arriving on Vulcan after a far more pleasant journey than she had originally anticipated, Kathryn was met by Tuvok in the main city of Shi’kahr, in the transport depot reserved for offworlders.

        Trying very hard not to hug her old friend, an unforgivable lapse on a world where overt emotion was frowned upon, she contented herself instead with grasping his hand. “Tuvok, I am so glad to see you at last! It has been much too long.”

        “Indeed,” was his dignified response as he briefly returned her clasp before stepping to one side and gesturing her forward. “I have a hovercar outside. We should proceed immediately to our destination.”

        “Oh.” From his intonation, she realized he meant they would be going directly to meet with Spock. “I had thought we would go to your home first….” At the slight shake of his head, she added to herself, “Apparently not.”

        Tuvok eyed her. “It is a matter of some urgency,” he explained.

        “Yes, of course.”

        After a few minutes as the hovercar gained altitude, Kathryn realized their destination was not within Shi’kahr as she’d assumed. Leaning forward, she asked, “Tuvok, exactly where is it we’re going?”

        He pointed forward toward a line of sharp peaks. “There. To Mount Seleya.”

        “Mount Seleya!” echoed Kathryn in surprise.

        Situated at the far end of Vulcan’s Forge, where every Vulcan child underwent the kahs-wan, Mount Seleya was the most revered site on all of Vulcan, the place where Surak had developed his philosophy of pure logic, as well as where those Vulcans undertaking the mysticism of kohlinahr went to train. Very rarely was any offworlder ever permitted anywhere near this most venerated and mysterious of Vulcan’s ancient sites. In fact, the only others she could think of were Captain James Kirk and his crew a century earlier, during an event, she reminded herself, that had also included Spock.

        Sitting forward, she peered more closely at the mountains ahead.

        The hovercar flew steadily toward the rapidly approaching line of sharp peaks which seemed to extend unbroken across the horizon ahead. Only as they drew close could Kathryn make out a narrow pass between two of the tallest ones.

        As they slipped through, she caught her breath at the sight before her.

        A great mountain, not quite as high as those surrounding it but far bulkier, was situated in the middle of a broad desert plain. As she glanced around, she realized she was looking down at the crater of an ancient, enormous volcano with Mount Seleya at the centre its cone. There was not a scrap of vegetation, simply red desert which matched the red shadings of the mountain.

        As the hovercar rapidly descended to a marked landing site, she was able to see a narrow staircase carved into the side of the mountain, ascending to a flat area at the very top which clearly had been leveled. ‘No doubt where the sacred ceremonies are held’, she thought. ‘It is the most logical place.’

        A moment later, the hovercar touched down, putting an end to her speculation. ‘Time to go and meet Vulcan’s most famous son again,’ she thought as she rose to step outside into searing heat made even hotter by the thin atmosphere. She was inordinately grateful for Tuvok’s supporting hand tucked discreetly under her elbow.

        “It is not far,” he told her in a low voice. “The monastery where we will find Spock is located inside the lower part of the mountain.”

        “Good,” she replied succinctly, unable to get out more as she tried to catch her breath.

        Making allowances for Kathryn’s shortness of breath, they walked slowly through an entrance carved into the side of the mountain, then began to ascend a sloping corridor. Punctuated here and there by doors, some of which were open, the passage curved and twisted on itself but continued to slope upward. Finally, after Kathryn was sure they must have walked at least halfway up the mountain, they arrived at a particular door where Tuvok stopped.

        His hand on her arm warned Kathryn to remain where she was in the corridor as he moved forward into the room. “Spock,” he said softly.

        From inside, Kathryn could hear a murmured response then Tuvok’s reply. “Indeed. She is with me.” As he finished, he turned and gestured Kathryn to step forward.

        As she walked inside, she saw a small room furnished only with a narrow bed, a small table and a chair. To one side, rolled up, was a Vulcan meditation mat. Before her stood a legend of the Federation – Spock.

        “Captain,” he greeted her, “thank you for making this journey.”

        “Ambassador,” she responded gravely, her expression guarded. Now that she was face to face with him after so many years, she realized she was unexpectedly feeling a certain resentment. After all, it had been because of the promise he had extracted from her years before that she had lost her career in Starfleet and become a hunted outlaw within the Federation.

        Seemingly unaware of her defensive attitude, Spock gestured to the chair. “Please, sit.” He himself sat down on the bed while Tuvok remained standing near the door. For a moment, he simply gazed at her, his eyes surprisingly sympathetic.

        “I wish to thank you for what you did for the Romulans,” he began. “You may not have known but it was your warning that saved them.”

        At her look of disbelief as she remembered the derision which had greeted her on Romulus, his voice gained intensity. “Although the Praetor at the time, Neral, did not believe you, there were others in his court who did. As you know, Neral was overthrown by Shinzon, and after his subsequent death in battle with the Enterprise-E, there was a brief power struggle within the Romulan hierarchy before a more moderate group gained control. Within that group were several who had not only heard your warning but heeded it. Eventually, with some discreet assistance from within the Federation,” (Kathryn understood his subtle allusion to Vulcan), “Romulan scientists were able to forestall the supernova of Hobus with ‘red matter’, exactly as I had attempted to do previously. They, however, were successful where I had failed. I know you believed your mission to be unsuccessful, but in fact, Captain, it was not.”

        Kathryn stared at him in considerable surprise. Although over the years, the bitterness of her failure had faded, it had never really left her.

        Spock’s reassurance was a welcome balm to her and she smiled warmly, her resentment dissipated. “Thank you, Ambassador, I appreciate that, more than you can know. Although obviously I know Romulus wasn’t destroyed, since Federation authorities continued to try to arrest me, I’ve always assumed that my actions played no part in the survival of the Empire.” She chuckled ruefully. “I guess I can blame Federation politics as well as resentment on the part of some admirals that I refused to obey orders for their persistence in trying to bring me in.” Her voice trailed off as memories took over but soon enough, she gave herself a mental shake.

        “However, that’s all behind us now.” Her gaze steadied on Spock. “Although I’m very grateful for your affirmation, Ambassador, I find it hard to believe I was brought all this way simply for you to give me some peace of mind!”

        His face relaxed slightly in the Vulcan equivalent of a smile. “Indeed, you are quite correct. But before we go on, for the record, I am no longer an ambassador to anywhere, but simply Spock.

        Kathryn’s smile broadened as she retorted, “Well, if we’re going to split hairs, Spock, then I have not been a captain for many years. Perhaps you should simply call me Kathryn.”

        His response was a nod of agreement before he continued. “Now, let me explain why I asked you to come here.

        “In 2377, when Voyager returned to its own timeline after encountering the Enterprise of 2261, there was a slight miscalculation of the coordinates of the rift.”

        “What?!” Kathryn sat up straight, staring at him.

        Spock’s voice went on implacably. “In fact, unbeknownst to the crew, you actually ended up in yet another – parallel – universe.” He paused to gaze at her inquiringly. “You are aware of the existence of other universes, parallel to ours?”

        “Yes, indeed. I have read the account of Commander Worf’s experience a number of years ago on the Enterprise-D when he encountered a quantum fissure in the space-time continuum, and how he found himself traversing a number of quantum realities, in effect parallel universes. However,” she went on, her tone hardening as she rose and started to pace, “I find what you’re saying hard to believe. I checked those calculations myself! And now you’re telling me I’m not supposed to be here?! Nor any of my crew?! Or my ship?!” She whirled to face him, her stance aggressive, anger suffusing her voice.

        “Yes,” was Spock’s reply, his tone quite matter-of-fact.

        Stunned into silence, Kathryn sat down hard. After a moment, she remembered to breathe. “I don’t know what to say,” she murmured softly.

        Ignoring her outburst, Spock went on. “The problem has only recently been discovered –”

        ‘Problem!’ thought Kathryn, ‘is that what we are? Merely a problem?!’

        “ – when the Voyager from this timeline made contact with Starfleet Command for the first time after disappearing sixteen years before.”

        “Oh no!” whispered Kathryn, “the Admiral!”

        Blinking, Spock paused, waiting for her to elaborate but she waved her hand at him to keep going. He continued his explanation. “At this point, Starfleet is unsure what course of action to take. The other Voyager is still in the far reaches of the Beta Quadrant, having crossed the divider from the Delta Quadrant only in the last few months. Unless they find a major shortcut, Starfleet projects it will be some years yet –”

        “Seven,” interjected Kathryn softly.

        “– before they reach Earth. However, one fact remains crystal clear: there cannot be two Voyagers and two crews in the same universe. One of them has to go to the one where you originally came from.”

        She stared at him in horror. “But,” she protested, “it’s been years! The crew is scattered, they’ve made new lives for themselves! I’m not even sure we could locate them all!”

        “Nevertheless,” Spock was adamant, “Starfleet believes we must try. Otherwise the atomic balance of both universes is disturbed and there may be cataclysmic results.”

        “But – but!” She leaped up to object. “Surely if a catastrophe was going to occur, it would have by now, and nothing has happened!”

        “Yet,” responded Spock, his voice unyielding.

        Kathryn could only gaze at him, speechless.

        From behind her, Tuvok, who had kept silent throughout this exchange, now spoke up. “Spock, may I suggest a brief pause? I believe Kathryn would benefit from some refreshment. A cup of spiced tea, perhaps?”

        Shaking her head to clear her brain, Kathryn nodded gratefully. Thank goodness for her old friend, who knew her so well.

        Spock nodded. “In the corridor, there is a call button beside the door. An assistant will come.”

        Not long after, a tray loaded with cups, a large teapot and a small plate of biscuits appeared, brought in by a young Vulcan male.

        “Master,” he intoned as he set the tray on the table.

        As he turned to leave, Spock caught his attention. “Could we have a second chair brought in? My colleague has been standing too long.”

        “Certainly,” he answered, slipping through the door only to reappear a moment later carrying a straight-backed chair similar to the one Kathryn was sitting on.

        “Thank you,” said Tuvok, settling his long limbs onto the chair.

        In silence, Spock poured out three cups of tea, indicating his guests should help themselves to the biscuits.

        While she sipped her tea, Kathryn tried to get her head around the facts that Spock had told her. There could be no question of their veracity – she knew both he and Starfleet Command would have made very sure of their accuracy before summoning her.

        Sighing, she reached for a biscuit. As she nibbled, a stray thought crossed her mind and she glanced at her host.

        “Tell me something, Spock,” she began. “Which universe are you from?”

        “Yours,” he replied.

        “So, there is another Spock here then?”

        “There was,” he answered solemnly, “but it is believed he died some time ago on Romulus, as there has been no sign of him for several years.”

        Kathryn nodded thoughtfully as she continued to eat.

        Beside her, Tuvok stirred slightly. Long familiarity with his former captain told him she was scheming….

        Abruptly, her head came up, a determined gleam in her eye.

        Tuvok sighed.

        “What if they were to switch places with us?” she asked, her voice sharp.

        Both Vulcans stared at her.

        “Explain,” demanded Spock.

        “What if, once they reach the coordinates of the rift in the Alpha Quadrant, that Voyager goes through to the other universe?” As she spoke, she got once more to her feet, pacing slowly as she worked through her idea. “The more I think about it, the better I like it.” Turning, she faced them, getting into her argument. “Consider, gentlemen! They’re all together in a group, not scattered across the quadrant, and therefore easy to move. They have been gone so long they will have to adapt to a myriad of changes anyway, so why not have them adapt to the parallel universe? I mean, bottom line, it probably won’t make any difference to them!” Pausing, she eyed Spock carefully. “What do you think?”

        For over a minute, he remained silent, pondering her idea before he slowly nodded. “Your idea has possibilities,” he conceded. “However, it is not my decision to make. I will take it up with Starfleet Command.”

        ‘Chain of command’, Kathryn sighed to herself, as she sat once more and picked up her cup. ‘You can’t get away from it. Everyone has to toss in their two cents’ worth.’ Sighing again, she had a sip of tea then looked up at Spock. “So what happens now? Do I have to stay here?”

        “It would be in our best interests,” he replied. “I will encourage Command to expedite their decision.” Rising to his feet, he added, “It might speed matters along if you’re here to answer any questions they might have for you.”

        His argument made sense, and Kathryn nodded. “Very well. Then perhaps a message can be sent to Chakotay warning him I could be delayed indefinitely.”

        “Of course. It will be done at once.”

*********

        Several more minutes passed while Kathryn contemplated her situation. As she gazed out the small window to the red plain beyond, her mind wandered to the time Voyager had spent in the other timeline. What had happened after they had returned to their own universe – or what they’d thought was their own universe? Deciding to indulge her curiosity, she turned her attention to Spock, who had just returned from contacting Starfleet.

        “Tell me, Spock,” she spoke up, “have you spent all this time since we last saw you aboard the Enterprise?”

        “Not on the Enterprise, no,” he replied. “But I did remain in that timeline for some years, assisting the Vulcans as they established a new colony.”

        Her brows drawn together in a frown, Kathryn glanced at Tuvok but he appeared equally puzzled by Spock’s words.

        “What new colony was that?” She was forced to ask when Spock showed no inclination to expand on his statement.

        Steepling his fingers, he gazed at her steadily, obviously debating how much he should say. Finally, he spoke. “If you recall when we first met, Kathryn, the Enterprise was taking me to a Vulcan colony.”

        “Was it? I’d forgotten,” she murmured.

        “The colony had recently been established after Vulcan was destroyed.”

        “Destroyed?! How?!”

        “A disaffected Romulan named Nero, who was from the future and lost his family when Hobus went supernova, sought his revenge on me by destroying my home world, as, he informed me, I had destroyed his.

        “His ship, the Narada, was a mining vessel equipped with a sophisticated drill capable of penetrating deep inside a planet. He used it to drill into Vulcan’s core, then dropped a tiny amount of ‘red matter’ into the fissure. You must understand that ‘red matter’ is a substance that can be ignited to form a singularity. Very little is needed to set off a blast strong enough to create a black hole. In short, Vulcan imploded.”

        His words, spoken in a matter-of-fact tone left his two listeners speechless.

        Tuvok was the first to find his voice. “Obviously there were survivors. May I ask how many?”

        “Perhaps ten thousand in total,” replied Spock, his very lack of emotion emphasizing the horror of his words.

        “Ten thousand!” whispered Kathryn. “Out of what? Five billion?!”

        “Six billion, actually.”

        “What happened to them?” she asked when she could form a coherent thought.

        “With the Federation’s help, they were able to establish a colony some light years away. Fortunately, a few of the elders were rescued before the planet was destroyed so the essence of Vulcan culture was saved.

        “Eventually, I returned to my own timeline only to discover a paradox. Voyager was believed to have been long since destroyed in the Badlands. And while Romulus had been obliterated by the Hobus star going supernova, the population had been mostly evacuated in time and were safe. Nero’s settlement, however, was not among them, which precipitated his mission of revenge on the Narada.

        “These are two of the differences between this universe and ours,” explained Spock. “Here, your warning allowed the Romulans to prevent the star from going supernova, but there the Romulans, with the help of the Federation, were able to move nearly all their people to safety in time. They lost their planet but established a new home on a nearby world. From what I learned, not only is Nova Romulus thriving, but the assistance from the Federation, and in particular Vulcan, has led to a new era of peace. The Empire is not a part of the Federation but is a full partner in preserving peace in the Alpha Quadrant.”

        In the face of these revelations, Kathryn sat in stunned silence as she tried to process what he was saying. “So in our universe, events still happened as they did originally….” She paused to rub her face irritably. “I hate time travel, it always gives me a headache.”

        Spock nodded. “I can sympathize, Kathryn. I hope you can understand now why I have made this request of you.”

        “Do you think Starfleet will agree to send the other Voyager to our universe?”

        But he only shrugged. “All we can do is wait.”

********

        Another hour passed.

        Although Kathryn tried to be patient, she couldn’t help but envy the Vulcans, both of whom sat quietly, their focus turned inward in a meditative pose.

        For their sakes, she tried not to fidget but it was becoming increasingly difficult to remain still.

        Finally, when she was ready to go out of her mind with boredom, a young Vulcan appeared in the doorway. “Spock,” he called softly, “there is a comm signal for you from Earth.”

        “Very well.” As he stood, he glanced at his companions. “Perhaps you would like to accompany me.”

        Kathryn was on her feet at once. “I would indeed.”

        Beside her, Tuvok rose as well.

        Following in Spock’s wake, she couldn’t help but wonder what they would do if Command had turned down her request. Was there another alternative? With a sigh, she had to acknowledge to herself that she couldn’t see one. Well, she would simply have to ensure they agreed with her – that’s all there was to it!

        Fortunately, her worries were quickly laid to rest. For once, common sense had prevailed at Headquarters; Command concurred with her assessment. Orders were being issued to the Titan even as they spoke. Kathryn and Spock were to proceed at once to Earth where they would be updated on Starfleet’s plans.

        With a sigh of relief, Kathryn turned to the other two. “I’m ready to go.”

        With a nod, Spock terminated the transmission, then indicated to Kathryn she should make the hail. “Janeway to Titan.”

        “Titan here.”

        “Two to beam up and please ask Captain Riker to meet us in the transporter room.”

        “Acknowledged.”

        She turned to her old friend. “Tuvok, I’ll be in touch.”

        “Thank you, Captain,” he answered. “I would appreciate knowing the outcome of your mission.”

        She smiled gently. “I haven’t been your captain for a long time.”

        His face remained serene. “You will always be my captain,” he replied even as the transporter beam whisked her away.

***********

        As they materialized on the Titan, the doors opened to admit Captain Riker, whose eyes nearly popped out of his head when he realized who was accompanying Kathryn.

        Slowly, Spock stepped off the transporter pads, his keen gaze traveling around before his eyes settled on Riker. “Captain, permission to come aboard.”

        “Gr-granted!” exclaimed Riker. “You are most welcome, Ambassador.”

        Vulcan eyes relaxed slightly. “No longer ambassador, Captain. My name alone will suffice.”

        “Perhaps we can go to our quarters,” interjected Kathryn when Will continued to stand motionless. Her voice brought him out of his shocked stance.

        “Excuse me, yes, of course. Right this way.” He led the way out of the transporter room.

        Trailing behind him, Kathryn struggled to keep from laughing. It wasn’t often that anyone saw Will Riker so disconcerted. Beside her, Spock strode composed and calm as always but a glance at him showed a very slight smile flit across his features. ‘Why, he’s almost human,’ she thought before remembering that he was, in fact, half-human. ‘What an absolutely fascinating individual! I really hope there’ll be time for me to get to know him better.’

        As they reached the guest quarters, Will, who had by now regained his composure, received a hail from the bridge. “Incoming transmission for you, Captain.”

        “I’ll be there in a moment.” He turned to Kathryn and Spock. “I’d like to meet with you both as soon as possible. Meanwhile, please make yourselves comfortable. Kathryn, you’re over here,” he indicated across the corridor, “and Mr. Spock, you’re in here.” The door slid open.

        As he strode away towards the turbolift, Kathryn glanced at Spock speculatively but he forestalled her. “I would like to rest until we are needed, Kathryn. Perhaps in an hour, you could join me for tea unless we are called before then.”

        “I would be delighted, Spock.”

        He nodded gravely then disappeared inside his room.

        Stepping into her own cabin, she found it furnished in Starfleet standard issue, adequate if somewhat bland. For a minute, she debated what to do before deciding to try to contact Chakotay. However, she was very quickly informed by the comm officer that all outside communications were restricted unless specifically authorized by the captain, as the Titan was currently under orders to maintain communications silence.

        Well, it made sense, she supposed, if somewhat frustrating.

        Another few minutes passed and then came a chime at her door. She opened it to find Deanna, armed with several PADDs and a big smile. “I heard you were back so thought I’d drop in. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

        “No, certainly not!” exclaimed Kathryn in relief. “I’m delighted to see you. Come in. Let me get some coffee for you. Or do you prefer tea?”

        She walked over to the replicator.

        “Herbal tea, vanilla rooibos, would be lovely, thank you.” As she spoke, Deanna settled on the couch and laid the PADDs on the coffee table in front. “I brought you some reading material. I wasn’t sure what you like so feel free to look for something else if these aren’t to your taste.”

        Setting the cups on the table, Kathryn glanced over the PADDs which contained several novels as well as a couple of biographies. “You know,” she said reflectively as she fingered them, “I can’t remember the last time I read for the sheer pleasure of it. On Dorvan, we’re always so busy with one project or another. I’d feel guilty if I took time to read just for fun.” She glanced up at Deanna with a grateful smile. “Thank you.”

        “You’re most welcome. Now,” she continued as she settled into her seat, “tell me about life on Dorvan. You must find it very different from your time as a Starfleet captain…”

*********

        An hour flew by as the two chatted. Only when the door chimed did they pause their conversation.

        “Oh my, I must go!” exclaimed Deanna, “I had no idea how much time had passed. Kathryn, I’m so glad to have been able to further our friendship. We’ll have to do this again before you leave the ship.” As she spoke, she moved to the door, activating it.

        On the other side stood her husband. “Why, hello there,” she greeted him cheerfully. “I was just leaving.”

        “Have a good chat, did you?” he grinned at her.

        “We did indeed,” she replied, “but now I know you need to consult with Kathryn.”

        “I do. And our other guest as well.” He nodded towards the opposite door.

        Kathryn stepped through her door. “Deanna, thanks for the company and the PADDs. I really appreciate both.”

        Waving in reply, Troi hastened down the corridor as Kathryn turned to Riker. “He said to come for tea in an hour so I think it’s safe to –” She was interrupted by the appearance of Spock in his doorway.

        “Captain Riker,” he spoke, “you wish to see me.”

        “Indeed I do. Both of you, in fact.”

        Stepping to one side, Spock indicated they should enter. “Then let us proceed.” He glanced at Kathryn. “Would you like some tea?”

        At her negative reply, he moved to the replicator, ordering tea for himself and coffee for Riker. Cups in hand, he placed them on the table before sitting down and gazing serenely at them both. “Now what news do you have?” he asked.

        Riker leaned forward. “I’ve spent the last hour with Starfleet Command and am now fully briefed on the situation with the other Voyager. Here’s the plan Headquarters has devised.

        “There is a new ship, the Explorer, a prototype equipped with the latest transwarp drive, just out of the yards at Utopia Planetia and still undergoing her shakedown cruise. But she’s the fastest vessel we have right now so Starfleet is sending her to the Beta Quadrant at maximum warp.”

        “But – contact with Voyager has already been made!” objected Kathryn. “Why is it suddenly necessary…?” Her voice trailed off at the look on Riker’s face.

        “Contact was lost two days ago. We don’t know why except it was. Command believes the Explorer is the best chance we have to reestablish communications. Depending on how far they get, they can in effect act as a relay station. It was the best option, the only one really, that they could think of.”

        “So, Voyager doesn’t know.”

        “About the parallel universe? About the fact you are in the wrong one? No, they don’t.” Riker’s voice remained even but Kathryn thought she could detect a bit of reserve in his tone where there had been none before. ‘Not surprising really’, she thought, ‘I would have reacted in a similar fashion.’

        Riker was continuing. “While Headquarters is accepting your suggestion, they are adamant that the other Voyager be informed of the situation and that her captain and crew be given the choice of what they want to do. It’s only fair, after all.”

        Kathryn nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re right. I guess all we can do is hope they’re willing to make the swap. Because if not, we will have an extremely difficult situation on our hands.”

        “Command recognizes that, Kathryn. They’re already making contingency plans in case the Voyager crew doesn’t agree. However, we have every hope that they will. And you should be aware that we are now under communications silence until we reach Earth. Command is concerned that news of this ‘situation’ might leak out and cause all sorts of problems, which none of us need.”

        “A wise precaution,” remarked Spock, before lapsing into silence once more.

        When he didn’t say anything else, Riker got to his feet. “I need to return to the bridge.”

        “What is our ETA for Earth, Will?” Kathryn asked.

        “Thirty-six hours. Believe me, we’re pulling out all the stops to get there as fast as we can.”

        She nodded her thanks as he headed for the door, then turned to Spock. “What do you think?”

        His answer was a shrug. “It would appear Starfleet has matters well in hand. Until we can make contact with Voyager, we can only wait.”

        “We seem to be doing a lot of that lately, don’t we?” She sighed unhappily.

        His voice was gentle. “It is the nature of the universe, Kathryn. Hurry up and wait.” Leaning forward slightly, he lifted one eyebrow. “Would you like some tea now?”

        She smiled gratefully. “Yes, thank you, I would. And then perhaps to pass the time, you might tell me about some of your adventures. You have lived in most interesting times, sir.”

        “Certainly, if in return, you will tell me something of the Delta Quadrant and the species you encountered there.”

        “It’s a deal,” she replied, her spirits lifting. At least now she would have her wish granted – there would be time to get to know him better.

********

        A day and a half later, early in the morning, the Titan slipped into Spacedock above Earth. As she floated gently through the massive interior, dwarfed by the older Galaxy-class starships as well as the newer Sovereign-class, Kathryn, watching their progression from her quarters, was assailed by a mixture of feelings.

        It had been – how many years? Fifteen, sixteen? She couldn’t remember exactly – since she had been here, then a newly-minted captain handed an equally new state-of-the-art starship. A ship that would eventually become the stuff of legend, and she sighed sadly, a ship that was now permanently landed, a museum. Her poor Voyager, she mused, that was not a fate to wish on any starship. Better to go out in a blaze of photon torpedoes, phasers firing, than be tethered to a planet.

        Abruptly her musings were interrupted by the sound of her door chime. Time to go, she realized as she headed for the door, opening it to find a polished young ensign waiting for her.

        “Ma’am,” he announced very correctly, “Captain Riker wished me to escort you and Mr. Spock to the transporter room.”

        Behind him, she could see Spock just coming out of his room.

        His eyes seemed to smile at her although his face never changed expression. “Well, Kathryn, shall we see what Starfleet has for us?”

        She couldn’t help but smile back. “Lead the way, sir, lead the way.”

        In the transporter room, they found Riker and Deanna waiting for them. “We’re here to wish you luck,” announced Will, a statement that sent Spock’s eyebrow soaring.

        “I do not believe ‘luck’ will play much of a role in this meeting, Captain,” he remarked.

        Troi smiled gently. “I think it might be a larger factor than you expect, Mr. Spock.” She glanced at Kathryn. “We also wanted to make sure you know that you have our support.”

        Her words gave Kathryn a definite feeling of relief. Despite the evident respect Spock commanded here, as far as she was concerned, knowing Riker and Troi had her back covered made her feel a little more secure. The Admiralty was an unknown entity these days, the officers she’d known almost all either dead or retired. And as Riker had told her so succinctly, she wasn’t exactly a preferred subject of conversation around Headquarters. She had no idea how many of the admirals presently serving might be considered hostile towards her.

        However, even though she was feeling some trepidation as they beamed down to the main transporter room of Headquarters, once she rematerialized, her back straightened and her chin came up. She might be in enemy territory but by golly, she was still Kathryn Janeway and she would allow no one, whoever they might be, to intimidate her. Striding firmly forward, she felt her captain’s mask slide effortlessly into place just as it had so many years ago.

        The young lieutenant assigned to show them the way paused before the door of a conference room. “Admiral j’Eann, Admiral Bonf, Admiral Murphy and Fleet Admiral Nechayev will be with you shortly, sir, ma’am.”

        Opening the door, he ushered them in, then disappeared into the hall, allowing the door to slide closed behind him.

        Glancing around, Kathryn selected a chair on one side of the large conference table.

        With a very slight shrug, Spock settled beside her, his face smoothing into a meditative expression.

        She found herself envying his composure as well as that unique Vulcan ability to maintain his serenity in the most difficult of circumstances. For herself, she simply wished the admirals would hurry up, although she recognized the stalling tactic as one that had been employed for centuries by those in power as a way to make others feel subordinate to them. That thought made her sit a little straighter – if the admirals thought such an obvious ploy would work on her, then they had another think coming.

        Beside her, Spock stirred slightly. “Kathryn,” he murmured after a moment, “I think you can stand down from red alert. We are all on the same side here.”

        For a moment, she hesitated before relaxing slightly. “Sorry, my most recent experiences with Command have not been exactly happy ones.”

        “Nevertheless, I suspect you’ll find the current situation will make them put aside past differences. Perhaps you should do the same.”

        His gentle admonition made her feel about five years old. Biting her lip, she glanced at him a bit sheepishly. “Sorry,” she apologized, not sure what else to say.

        “It is of no matter to me. However, you might be more comfortable if you try to, uh, ‘meet them halfway’, I believe is the expression.”

        Her response was interrupted by the door opening. In trooped the four admirals as well as assorted aides and assistants, some twelve individuals in all.

        Bearing Spock’s remarks in mind, she stood up, allowing her gaze to sweep over the officers as they found their seats. With a soft sigh, she realized that only one, the C-in-C, Admiral Nechayev, was familiar. ‘Well, it was to be expected,’ she thought. ‘A lot of years have passed since I was last here.’

        “Mr. Spock, Ms. Janeway,” Admiral Nechayev opened the proceedings abruptly. “We have very little time. I’m expecting a subspace message from the Explorer momentarily – Gamma Hydra has reported receiving a hail from them an hour ago so we know they are on schedule. Which means, people, we need to have our plans in place, allowing for both contingencies.” At Kathryn’s slightly puzzled look, she added, “Whether we make contact with Voyager or in case we don’t.”

        At her nod, Nechayev continued. “Now, Ms. Janeway, it seems to me that if we are able to establish communications, you would be the best person to speak with her captain, since she is you.”

        “Very well, Admiral,” Kathryn was quick to agree.

        “Have you decided what to say to her?” asked one of the other admirals.

        “Not in specific words, no,” replied Kathryn. “I’ll know when I see her.”

        Several of the faces around the table scowled at that but before anyone could remonstrate with her, the terminal in the centre chirped. “Incoming message,” announced the computer.

        Nechayev nodded to her aide who activated the terminal. Static filled the air, making the aide quickly adjust the controls.

        Abruptly a male voice filled the room. “Explorer to Starfleet Command. Starfleet Command, come in, please.”

        From her seat, Kathryn couldn’t see the person speaking but he sounded young. ‘Rather like Harry Kim in the early years,’ she thought briefly.

        “This is Admiral Nechayev at Starfleet Command. Report.”

        “Admiral,” answered a different voice, deeper and more confident. “Captain Arnolen here. We are coming into range of the communications device which Voyager was using. As yet, there has been no response to our hails….” His voice trailed off.

        Kathryn looked around the table at faces tense with strain. One admiral drummed his fingers on the table top until a glare from the C-in-C silenced him.

        Leaning forward, the fleet admiral opened her mouth just as Captain Arnolen spoke again. “Starfleet Command, I believe we have made contact. It’s faint but….” Again he paused, obviously to issue several commands.

        “Arnolen!” snapped Nechayev impatiently, “report!”

        “Sorry, ma’am, we’re trying to clear up the channel. There is a lot of interference…. There! That’s it! Captain Janeway,” obviously he was now speaking to Voyager, “I am in contact with Starfleet Command. Fleet Admiral Nechayev wishes to speak with you. I am attempting to….”

        His voice faded yet again, making the admiral slap the table hard in frustration. “Damn it, Arnolen! What’s the problem?!”

        This time, a different voice, low-pitched but definitely female, replied. “Starfleet Command, this is Captain Kathryn Janeway of USS Voyager. Come in, please.”

        Unconsciously, Kathryn’s hand flew to her mouth as her stomach tightened. More than anyone else in the room, she knew what that hail meant to the ship and its crew. After so long on their own, contact with home in real time was almost beyond belief. Although, she reminded herself, this crew had already been in touch with Command. So perhaps it wasn’t quite the overpowering event it had been for her that first time she’d spoken with Headquarters in the fifth year of their journey.

        The C-in-C was responding. “Captain Janeway, this is Admiral Nechayev. I am so very pleased to be able to speak directly with you.”

        Beside her, an aide busily tinkered with the comm terminal, his fingers flying as he rapidly adjusted the controls. Suddenly, the screen came alive, showing, to Kathryn’s eyes, a very familiar bridge.

        “Ahh, excellent!” exclaimed the admiral. “Now Captain, you need to know that we have a ‘situation’ here, one we didn’t realize existed until the first time you made contact with us.”

        “What kind of ‘situation’?” asked Janeway.

        The admiral gestured to Kathryn. “Here is someone who can explain it better than me,” she stated.

        As she moved into Janeway’s view, Kathryn saw her counterpart’s eyes widen in disbelief.

        “What is going on here?!” snapped Janeway. “Who are you?!”

        For a moment, Kathryn didn’t answer as her gaze took in Janeway’s worn appearance – the years had not been kind. Clearly she was bone-weary, her hair mostly gray and her features lined, although her eyes still held unshakeable determination.

        Gently, Kathryn smiled. “I am your doppelganger, Admir – uh, I mean Captain.”

        She saw Janeway’s eyes widen at her inadvertent slip.

        “Admiral? Is that what you nearly said?”

        Kathryn remained silent as she gathered her thoughts. “Let me explain. Some years ago, during our journey home, we encountered a rift in space, and were pulled through to an alternate timeline. Although eventually we were able to return to our own time, or so we thought, in fact, we didn’t.

        “I know you’re familiar with the concept of parallel universes.” Janeway nodded but remained silent so Kathryn continued. “Apparently, that is what happened to us. Instead of returning to our own universe, we ended up in this one, which is actually yours.”

        Janeway stared at her, her face growing increasingly skeptical. “It sounds like a pretty wild tale to me. However, even if it’s true, what does it have to do with me? Take your Voyager and crew back to your own universe.”

        “I’m afraid that’s almost impossible now – it’s been too long. But, there is another option. You can go there in our place.”

        In silence, Janeway stared at her, her mouth tight, face drawn into a frown. It was obvious she was not happy with the idea.

        Her voice growing in intensity as she got into her argument, Kathryn continued. “You see, nine years have passed since we returned to Earth. The crew is scattered across three quadrants, the ship isn’t even spaceworthy anymore – in fact, she’s a museum here at Headquarters. And I, well, I haven’t lived on Earth for a long time.”

        As she finished, she realized that Janeway was no longer listening, a wistful expression playing across her face. For a moment, she didn’t respond until she realized Kathryn was no longer speaking.

        “You got home?” she asked eagerly. “How long? How many years did it take?”

        “Seven,” answered Kathryn, almost reluctantly. She knew what her counterpart was thinking.

        “And your crew? Did they survive?”

        “Most of them. We didn’t lose as many as you, Ad –” Again, she cut herself off, biting her tongue.

        “Tell me. Tell me how it was. Perhaps there’s something you did that we haven’t, some shortcut we’ve missed….” The longing in Janeway’s voice was palpable and a sigh echoed softly around the room. At that moment, every person there could feel her yearning.

        “The temporal prime directive,” began Kathryn but got no farther before Janeway interrupted with a snap. “To hell with it! Tell me about your journey, about your Voyager!”

        Kathryn shrugged and glanced inquiringly at Admiral Nechayev. But she remained silent which Kathryn took as permission to proceed. “Very well. I guess the time line has already been so corrupted, a little more won’t matter. This is what happened to us….” And she went on to give Janeway a condensed version of her Voyager’s seven-year journey home from the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, all the time wondering if she was out of her mind; she knew she was contaminating the timeline with a vengeance and half-expected Captain Braxton to appear at any moment.

        However, when she voiced this fear at the end, her counterpart retorted that since apparently she, Kathryn, would not have gotten Voyager home when she did without her, Janeway’s, help, a fact Kathryn willingly conceded, then obviously events had turned out as they should. “Knowing that someday I can make a difference, well…that’s something to look forward to.”

        For a moment, Janeway paused, then asked rather diffidently. “Is Chakotay alive?” At Kathryn’s nod, she went on almost shyly, “Is he well?”

        “Yes, very well. We have been married for some years; we make our home on Dorvan now.”

        Janeway sighed heavily and sat back in her chair, her eyes inexpressibly sad.

        Noting her reaction, Kathryn asked. “What happened to your Chakotay? Is he no longer on your ship?”

        “He’s still here, still my first officer, but….” She hesitated, clearly uncomfortable although the pain in her eyes told the story. Taking a deep breath, she explained. “A number of years ago, he and Seven of Nine fell in love and eventually married. However, two years later, she died on an away mission, one I insisted she go on. He blamed me for indirectly causing her death, even though it was an accident.” Her face crumpled slightly and she turned away from the monitor for a moment to regain her composure. Once she was facing the terminal again, she went on in a strained voice. “It took a long time for us to recover our friendship. Eventually, we did, sort of, but it’s not the same.”

        Leaning forward, Kathryn stared intently at the captain, wanting to know more but restrained by the roomful of admirals within hearing.

        Several seconds passed before she reluctantly sat back then asked if Janeway would agree to her request.

        Her counterpart shook her head wearily and rubbed her eyes. “I hate time travel,” she said, “but yes, we’ll do it. We don’t know what we’re coming home to anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter which universe we’re in. At this point, we simply want to get back to Earth. From what you’ve told me, now I know we will.”

        Kathryn gazed at her sympathetically. She knew very well what Janeway still had to face – the constant struggle to keep going, the inevitable losses. “Twenty-two”, she muttered to herself.

        Beside her, Admiral Nechayev stirred. “What did you say?”

        But she shook her head, silently warning the admiral not to pursue it. Janeway must have already lost some of that number, she didn’t need to know how many more. Besides, they’d already tampered with the timeline to such an extent that quite possibly the number was no longer accurate, anyway. She could only hope that was true.

        “Admiral,” Janeway spoke up, her tone all business once more. “What are your orders?”

        Admiral Murphy leaned forward, a PADD in his fingers. “With Mr. Spock’s assistance, we’ve been putting together a plan,” he explained. “Voyager will proceed to the location of the rift at these coordinates which we’re transmitting now, then contact Starfleet Command with a preset code; we will send a ship there to meet you. That ship will assist you in traversing the rift into the correct universe.”

        “Did you get that, Captain?” asked Nechayev.

        “Yes, ma’am,” she replied. Tossing a brief glance over her shoulder, she continued, “Coordinates and code have been received. Thank you, Admiral, and thank you, too, Kathryn. You have given me hope.”

        “Good luck and godspeed,” Kathryn replied just before the transmission ended, relieved to see that the weariness on Janeway’s face had abated. Clearly, knowing definitely that they would reach Earth had rejuvenated her.

        For a moment longer, everyone present remained seated at the table, absorbing what they had heard. Then abruptly, they all started to get to their feet.

        Passing behind their chairs, Admiral Nechayev paused to congratulate both Kathryn and Spock. “Without your intervention, I don’t think the outcome would have been as successful. Thank you, Ms. Janeway and Mr. Spock.” On those words, she turned and swept out of the room, followed by her entourage.

        Within a few minutes, the room was empty except for the two of them.

        Kathryn turned to Spock. “So what happens now?”

        “Now, we go home.”

        “That’s it? We just leave?”

        He gazed at her, one eyebrow raised. “What else would you have us do? Our work here is finished.”

        Her shoulder lifted in a shrug. “Not that I’m complaining, you understand, but it seems so…abrupt.” She sighed again, “Although I must admit I’ll be glad to get home.”

        Spock’s face relaxed in a very slight smile. “My thought exactly.” Rising to his feet, he walked to the door before glancing behind. “Are you coming?”

        Quickly, Kathryn gathered her scattered wits. “Yes, right behind you.”

        Exiting the room, they found their guide waiting for them, ready to take them back to the transporter room.

        Once there, Spock nodded to the transporter operator who immediately hailed the Titan.

        “Riker here,” came Will’s voice in response.

        “Captain Riker,” requested Spock, “whenever it’s convenient, we’re ready to leave.”

        “Understood, Ambassador. We’ll have you both home in no time.”

        As they strolled out of the transporter room on the Titan, Kathryn remarked, “I think I’ll head back to my quarters.”

        Approaching their respective cabins, she glanced up at Spock. “Perhaps we might meet later for dinner?”

        At Spock’s nod, she smiled and headed for her door. As it slid closed behind her, he heard her murmur in hopeful tones, “Now for a cup of coffee and a hot bath!”

        Continuing into his own rooms, he smiled inwardly. Kathryn Janeway was certainly a fascinating example of her species. He would enjoy getting to know her better on their journey homeward.

        Part 2:

        Two days after leaving Earth, the Titan arrived at Vulcan.

        For Kathryn, it was a bittersweet moment. While glad to be going home and back to her peaceful if somewhat mundane life, she was sorry to have to bid Spock farewell.

        Over the course of their return journey, she had found him to be a delightful companion. His dry Vulcan wit was like Tuvok’s in many respects, although occasionally leavened with a gentle insight that was much more attributable to humans, as well as overlaid with the wisdom that comes only from a vast and varied experience of life. To her, he combined the absolute best of both his heritages, and she was very grateful for the opportunity to know him better.

        Apparently, Spock had found her company equally enjoyable.

        “I hope you will come to Vulcan again,” he told her as they stood in the Titan’s transporter room, “I have found our association most ‘agreeable’.” Then much to her surprise, he grasped her hand briefly before stepping onto the pad and raising his hand in the Vulcan salute. “Live long and prosper, Kathryn Janeway.”

        “Live long and prosper, Spock,” she replied gravely, copying his actions.

        Even after he had dematerialized, she continued to stand motionless, her eyes fixed on the spot where he had been. ‘I’m going to miss him,’ she thought, ‘more than I would have expected for such a short acquaintance.’

        Beside her, Will Riker touched her arm. “You okay, Kathryn?”

        With a slight shrug, she nodded. “Yes, I’m fine.” For a moment, she paused before continuing almost diffidently. “It just struck me how even in the midst of seeming disaster, every now and then life has a way of tossing us a bone.” She nodded at the transporter pad. “Getting to know Spock has been an unexpected and delightful bonus that would never have happened if not for this whole….” She waved her hand abstractedly, “time travel mess.”

        Riker’s eyes flitted to the pad. “It’s not often a person gets to meet a legend in the flesh, certainly.”

        For a moment they both remained silent before he grinned at her. “Well, time to get underway and get you home before that husband of yours comes looking for my hide.” Straightening, he tapped his commbadge. “Riker to bridge. Set course for Dorvan Five and engage.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        He nodded to the door, his eyes twinkling. “Want to come spend some time on the bridge with me?”

        Kathryn returned his smile enthusiastically. “You bet I do.”

********

        Later that evening, after another wonderful dinner with the Rikers that had very successfully taken her mind off the ‘whole time travel mess’, Kathryn was preparing for bed when she was surprised by a hail from the bridge.

        “Riker to Janeway.”

        Her head perked up at Will’s very business-like tone; immediately every instinct went to red alert. “Janeway here, Captain.”

        “Report to my ready room immediately. There’s been a development.”

        Automatically, she replied. “On my way,” then hurriedly pulled on her clothes again before striding out the door.

        Two minutes later, she was ringing the chime of the ready room door.

        “Kathryn, come in,” Will greeted her as the door slid open. Although his words were cordial, his face remained solemn as he waved her to a chair in front of his desk. Leaning forward, he continued. “I’ve just received a top-priority message from Starfleet Command ordering me to take you back to Vulcan where you are to transport to Mount Seleya. I am to ‘await developments’, whatever that means.”

        Stunned into silence, for several seconds Kathryn gazed at him in disbelief. “What?! Why??!”

        Riker shrugged. “All I know is that I’m to get you there as quickly as possible. To quote Command, ‘speed is of the essence’.”

        For a moment longer, she stared before abruptly rising to her feet to pace across the room and back.

        “Would you like a coffee?” asked Will when she showed no sign of resuming her seat.

        Her head in a whirl, Kathryn nodded blindly as she continued to pace, not stopping until he put the cup in her hand.

        “Sit down, Kathryn,” he told her firmly. “You’re making me dizzy.”

        Shaking her head, trying to get her thoughts in order, she plopped into the chair. “You know, Will,” she remarked after a fortifying gulp, “there was a time when I enjoyed all this gallivanting about, but now, I just want to go home, back to my nice simple life on Dorvan where the most exciting thing to happen is the annual fair!”

        He nodded in sympathy. “I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you more but that’s all I know. At maximum warp, we should arrive in just over two hours.”

        Quickly downing the rest of her coffee, Kathryn got up. “Then I guess I better go pack – again!”

*********

        Arriving at Vulcan, the Titan immediately received permission from Vulcan Planetary Control to beam Kathryn directly to the foot of Mount Selaya. This circumstance alone, unheard of for an off-worlder, was enough in itself to send the entire crew to red alert.

        Riker himself escorted Kathryn to the transporter room, both walking in silence, wrapped up in speculation about what might have changed so drastically in just a few hours.

        Riker began to speak, then hesitated before eventually confining himself to just a few words. “We’ll be waiting for your comm signal. Let us know….” His voice trailed off at her nod.

        “I will,” she promised, stepping up to the pad.

        A moment later, she was gone.

        With a sigh, he headed out the door. He hated waiting.

*********

        When she rematerialized at the bottom of the stairs up Mount Selaya, Kathryn was flabbergasted to find Spock himself waiting for her. Equally astonishing, she realized, was that for a Vulcan, he looked very worried indeed.

        “Kathryn, I am sorry to interrupt your journey but it was necessary. Come with me.” Turning, he led her up the stairs and through the same door into the monastery. However, this time they walked only a short distance up the corridor before turning into a small room furnished with a table and two chairs. “Please,” he gestured to the chairs, “sit down while I explain what has happened.”

        Taking a seat, Kathryn folded her hands and endeavoured to wait with what patience she could muster.

        Pacing slowly across the room and back, Spock began. “When I returned here yesterday, I found a visitor waiting for me, a visitor from the alternate universe where you and I met a number of years ago on the Enterprise.”

        At that revelation, her eyes widened but she remained silent.

        “In fact,” he continued, “my visitor was my younger self from that timeline. He came to me for help because there is no one in his universe who can avert the disaster which is befalling everyone there, every planet, every world.” Again he paused, then halted to gaze steadily at Kathryn “The Borg,” he stated flatly.

        Kathryn gasped in horror. “The Borg are in that universe, one hundred and twenty-seven years in the past?!”

        “Yes. From what Spock tells me, they are laying waste to the entire Alpha Quadrant and no one, not even an alliance of the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulan Empire plus every other dominion, can stop them. They don’t have the technology or the weaponry to make so much as a dent in Borg armour. In a last-ditch effort, the Enterprise returned to the site of the rift that Voyager used years ago, devised a way to open it, and sent Spock through to find me and ask for assistance.”

        Stunned into silence, Kathryn could only stare at him in horror. After a moment, she blinked and found her voice. “I’m…appalled, of course, that somehow the Borg have found their way into the past, but, to be blunt, Spock, what is it your counterpart expects you to do?”

        His expression became intent. “In fact, I have already begun by requesting that the Federation provide every assistance possible, a request which the Council is only too happy to grant, I might add. The Titan and its crew are at my disposal. Which leads me to why you are here.

        “Kathryn…your experience with the Borg is unparalleled. No one else in the Federation, with the possible exception of Captain Picard, has had as many encounters as you and lived to tell about it. You have even been assimilated, something very few have survived. Your expertise is invaluable. I have asked you here to meet with Commander Spock and hear his request.”

        Puzzled, Kathryn tilted her head at him. “Request? What request?”

        “To return with him to his timeline and lead the fight against the Borg.”

        Again, she was reduced to stunned silence, her eyebrows in her hairline. Swallowing several times, she was finally able to get out a few words. “Me?? You want me??”

        He simply nodded.

        “But…Spock!...I’ve been out of the loop, out of Starfleet, for years! My knowledge is old, out-of-date, obsolete! There must be someone else! Picard, for example!”

        “I have been informed that Captain Picard is unavailable due to medical issues. Time is of the essence. There is no one else,” he replied, his gaze fixed steadily on her.

        Abruptly Kathryn got to her feet, pacing across the small room, then back again. “It…it’s crazy! It’s impossible! It...” Running out of words, she paused to stare at him in disbelief.

        “It is necessary,” he replied gently. “Kathryn, I would not make this request of you if there were some other way, some other person who could help. But there is not. Like it or not, you are the resident expert on the Borg.”

        Kathryn fell back into her seat, her face twisted with concern, followed by frustration and fear, leading eventually to resignation. “You’re sure there’s no one else?” she murmured.

        His answer was a nod as he got up and moved to open the door. For a moment, he remained still in the open doorway. When he stepped back, he was followed by another tall figure, much younger, but one whom Kathryn recognized instantly – Spock.

        “Captain Janeway,” spoke the younger man gracefully as he inclined his head. “Thank you for agreeing to listen to my request.”

        Her mind in turmoil, Kathryn merely nodded for him to continue.

        “I was chosen to be a messenger to this time period, to ask my counterpart here,” he nodded toward the elder Spock, “for help in facing a terrible foe, one which shows no mercy. We are desperate. Every strategy we have devised, every weapon, none of it makes a difference.

        “As a last resort, the Federation has even formed alliances with sworn enemies – the Klingon Empire, Romulus, the Gorn, Andoria, even the Tholians – to fight our common enemy but to no avail. If you cannot help us, very soon our Alpha Quadrant will be inhabited only by automatons. You are our final hope.”

        Spock paused as if trying to find the words that would convince her before falling silent – he had said everything he could, made every logical argument. Now he could only wait for her response.

        For a minute, silence reigned as each contemplated the horrific prospect of the Borg ruling such a vast expanse of space.

        Finally, Kathryn took a deep breath and turned to Spock the elder. “You cannot go?”

        Spock shook his head. “I have traveled through time too often, and I have been warned that at the age I am now, if I do so again, it is unlikely I will survive. Eventually the body can no longer withstand the inherent stress. As well,” he added, “I do not have your experience. I would be more of a liability than an asset.”

        She nodded thoughtfully then turned to the younger Spock. “The Enterprise has survived? And Captain Kirk?”

        “Indeed,” he replied, “both the ship and her captain are waiting for my return.”

        Abruptly, she turned to pace across the room and back as two pairs of Vulcan eyes watched her intently. Finally, she stopped to stand before them. “Very well, I’ll do it. But,” she added firmly, “I’ll need help.”

        The elder Spock was already nodding as he reached for a PADD. “Tell me what you need and you will have it.”

        “To start with,” replied Kathryn, “I need a ship.”

        “The Titan is at your disposal,” interjected Spock.

        “And all the data on transphasic torpedoes, ablative hull armour, and neurolytic pathogens. As well, I will need Voyager’s EMH as my assistant….”

        Standing to one side, the younger Spock listened intently as Kathryn outlined her requirements. Although his face remained impassive, his mind was racing with renewed hope and energy.

        In the end, Kathryn decided she required several of her former crew – Seven was an obvious choice but also B’Elanna for her engineering expertise and unparalleled ability to improvise, and Chakotay not only for his superior tactical ability but also as the person closest to her. Although she wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, she was well aware that his emotional support was absolutely essential to her well-being. In a nutshell, she simply functioned much better with him at her side.

        She debated about whether to ask Tuvok – she very much wanted the benefit of his Vulcan clarity but was reluctant to tear him away from his family.

        However, when she mentioned her dilemma to Spock, he replied that Tuvok was absolutely necessary to the mission.

        “From what my counterpart tells me,” he explained, “he and Kirk have not yet developed the kind of friendship and synchronicity they will need. Perhaps if they can see firsthand the friendship possible between a human and Vulcan, it will encourage them.”

        Slowly Kathryn nodded, understanding from the viewpoint of history how necessary that friendship would be.

        A day passed while she formulated her plans.

        Since Tuvok was on Vulcan, he was able to join her immediately, followed by Seven and then B’Elanna.

        Although neither had been told why they were so urgently needed, the mere mention of Kathryn’s name was enough to make them drop everything and come. As well, Seven brought the EMH downloaded into his holo-emitter.

        As Chakotay was much farther away on Dorvan, a priority message was sent immediately to Headquarters requesting that a starship be dispatched to get him – within an hour, Command had confirmed that the Defiant was on its way.

        After activating the EMH, Kathryn briefed everyone present on recent events, then introduced them to both Spocks.

        “Although you all met Spock from the alternate universe some years ago,” she explained to Seven, B’Elanna and the Doctor, “I don’t believe you’ve met his counterpart from our universe.” She moved to the elderly Vulcan’s side, noting that while Seven and the Doctor were maintaining their composure, B’Elanna’s eyes were as wide as saucers. “Mr. Spock,” she continued with an inward chuckle, “may I present several of my former crew. Seven of Nine, the Doctor, and B’Elanna Torres, Voyager’s chief engineer.”

        Spock inclined his head slightly in acknowledgment.

        Kathryn continued. “I thought it would be a good idea for us to get together and start brain-storming. The sooner we can begin to come up with a viable plan to deal with the Borg, the better….”

********

        Although she believed she had pulled together a good team, in the back of Kathryn’s mind hovered an idea for someone else. When she asked Tuvok for his input, he agreed at once with her suggestion.

        “Let’s talk to Spock,” she said. “I want to get a different perspective.”

        “Which Spock?” asked Tuvok, his expression neutral although she could hear the humour in his question.

        “Why not both?” she replied, making him raise his eyebrow.

        “You will indeed have different viewpoints,” he responded drily.

        During a break for a meal, Kathryn outlined her suggestion to the two Spocks. “What you said about my expertise with the Borg made me think,” she began, “and it occurred to me there is someone else, another version of me in fact, who has even more experience than I do. She has so far spent sixteen years trying to get home; during that time, she’s had more than a few run-ins with the Borg. She could make the difference….” Her voice trailed off as she tried to gauge their reactions, not easy with Vulcans. “What do you think?” she finally asked.

        The elder Spock frowned slightly. “Have you considered the possible ramifications to the Temporal Prime Directive? We are already edging very close to the line here.”

        Commander Spock raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

        “Let me explain,” interjected Kathryn. “The person I’m referring to is Kathryn Janeway in another timeline. As I said, her journey has lasted sixteen years and it’s not over yet.”

        “And you believe she would be willing to assist us?” he questioned, his eyes intense although his voice remained even.

        Kathryn smiled confidently. “It wouldn’t be the first time.” She turned to address Spock the elder. “I understand your concern but I believe, given the circumstances, we must use every advantage we have.” She hesitated for a moment before continuing. “Let me also say that we have had encounters before with the Temporal Prime Directive but not when Admiral Janeway was involved. It’s a risk, I agree, but….risk is part of the game, isn’t it?”

        The elder Spock shifted very slightly in his chair, for a Vulcan a clear indication of his continuing discomfort. However, he kept silent, raising no further objection.

        Commander Spock, on the other hand, merely shrugged and settled back, obviously willing to take the chance.

        Youth versus experience, thought Kathryn briefly, before focusing once more on the discussion.

        “It will not be easy to contact her,” remarked Tuvok, “but not impossible. Perhaps we should bring Ms. Torres into the discussion.”

        When questioned whether the idea was feasible, B’Elanna was diffident.

        “Nooo, it’s not impossible,” she answered hesitantly, “but we will have to hurry before that Voyager moves out of communications range. We need to contact Starfleet Command immediately.” She fixed her gaze on Kathryn, adding, “And you must understand, at best, it’s a long shot.”

        “I realize that,” responded Kathryn, “but with the stakes so high, I don’t think we have a choice. We must have the very best in ability and experience or we will fail. And I don’t need to remind you how disastrous that will be not only for Commander Spock’s timeline but our own. We have to succeed.”

        The four Voyagers sat up straight, responding to the familiar determined look in the eyes of their former captain, but it was the younger Spock who spoke. “Then we will,” he stated firmly.

        Heartened, Kathryn bent over her PADD. “Right, let’s get back to work.”

*********

        Meanwhile, at Headquarters, Admiral Paris had ordered Lieutenant Barclay to establish communications with Voyager as quickly as possible.

        Hours later, Barclay was finally able to report success. “I caught them just in time, Admiral,” he explained, “as the Explorer had passed out of Voyager’s range and was well on the way back to Earth. Captain Arnolen told me he turned around immediately and has just now made contact with Captain Janeway.”

        “So?” demanded Paris impatiently. “Will she help?”

        Barclay looked surprised. “Of course, Admiral. Voyager has already reversed course to make communication easier.”

        A look of relief passed across Paris’ face. “Well done, Mr. Barclay.”

        When Kathryn received the news that her alter ego would be joining the team, albeit from afar, she started to feel more hopeful, telling the others their chances of success had just increased.

*********

        The next day, they all boarded the Titan, where B’Elanna and Seven immediately took over engineering although B’Elanna did toss an apology towards the chief engineer before abruptly starting to issue commands.

        Ordered by Riker to cooperate fully, the Titan’s engineering staff obeyed somewhat bemusedly. They soon learned, however, that neither Torres nor Seven suffered fools gladly, and both expected their orders to be followed implicitly. After a few initial rough patches, the crew adapted, and while Torres told Kathryn they would never equal the Voyager crew (no one could, of course), she and Seven could manage.

        Meanwhile, the EMH appropriated a lab where he could work on modifying nanoprobes. “While transphasic torpedoes and ablative hull armour may be your weapons of choice,” he told Riker firmly before disappearing into the lab, “these little fellows are what will win the final battle for us. Count on it.”

        Riker stared at him with a mixture of astonishment and disapproval written all over his face, which made Kathryn burst out laughing.

        Turning to her, he asked, “And you had to live with him for seven years?! I don’t know how you survived.”

        “We ignored him as best we could,” she replied drily, “and when we couldn’t, we endured him. Eventually, we even got quite fond of him.”

        Shaking his head in wonder, Riker ordered the lift to the bridge.

*********

        While the ship waited, the planning continued.

        As Seven and Torres implemented the various modifications necessary for a successful encounter with the Borg, Kathryn remained closeted with Tuvok and both Spocks, as well as her counterpart.

        Another day passed and a message came that after racing across half the quadrant at high warp, the Defiant was nearing Vulcan. Within hours, Chakotay had been beamed aboard to receive a heartfelt hug from his wife.

        “I’m so glad to see you,” she told him, her tone relieved. Taking his hand, she led him out the door of the transporter room and down the corridor. “I’ve got a lot to tell you but first, we better bring you up to date on what’s been happening.”

        “Lead the way,” he replied cheerfully.

        After a quick briefing which barely covered the basic situation, however, he was content to sit back and listen to the discussion. He wanted to get a better handle on several topics before offering an opinion.

        Despite the dire nature of the subject matter, he soon found himself chuckling at the sight of two Kathryn Janeways exchanging ideas at a rapid-fire pace. Leaning slightly toward the elder Spock seated beside him, he indicated the pair and murmured, “The Borg don’t stand a chance, you know.”

        The Vulcan lifted one eyebrow slightly before nodding. “I am forced to agree, and am relieved they are both on our side.”

**********

        Finally, with every contingency planned for, ablative generators installed on the exterior of the Titan to deploy hull armour, and a number of photon torpedoes modified into transphasic torpedoes, Kathryn and her counterpart declared all was ready.

        The other Janeway wished them the best of luck and god speed on their mission. “In some ways, I wish I could be there,” she told them with a smile, as she closed communications for the final time.

        “Good luck to you as well, Admiral,” whispered Kathryn. Beside her, she felt Chakotay’s hand grip hers tightly.

        “She’ll be fine,” he murmured in her ear. “Come. Mr. Spock is preparing to leave.”

        Following him off the bridge into the turbolift, she took the private moment to step into his arms for a reassuring hug.

        Neither said a word, simply giving and receiving comfort.

        As the lift halted, both stepped apart, but Chakotay kept a firm grip on her hand. He knew this parting would be difficult for her.

        In the transporter room, Spock the elder was speaking quietly to his counterpart, his voice a low murmur, the words indistinguishable.

        To one side stood Will Riker, his face solemn.

        The older Vulcan stepped back from his counterpart, turning to face the three humans. His hand came up in the ancient salute.

        “Live long and prosper, Captain Riker, Kathryn and Chakotay. I shall look forward to hearing a detailed account of your adventures.”

        The three raised their hands in unison. “Peace and long life, Spock.”

        For a moment longer, he gazed at them as if memorizing their faces, then turned to step on the pad. “Energize,” he ordered firmly.

        Seconds later, he was gone.

        Immediately after, Riker issued orders to get underway.

*********

        Several days later, after carefully negotiating a potential minefield of nebulae and spatial fractures, the Titan arrived at the coordinates for the rift.

        Glancing around at his staff and also at the team led by Kathryn Janeway, Captain Riker asked. “Is everyone ready?”

        Kathryn grinned. “We’re ready, Captain.”

        “Then let’s do it,” he responded and nodded to Torres and Seven. “Ladies, it’s your show.”

        Fingers flying across consoles, Torres and Seven initiated an opening in the rift. For this part of the operation, they would allow no one else to perform the extremely delicate computations necessary to put the ship in the correct universe at exactly the right moment in time.

        All eyes were glued to the view ahead as gradually a rip appeared in the space directly in front of the ship. With shields in place in case of attack, the Titan carefully slipped through.

        For long minutes, everyone held their breaths until Torres announced they had made it. “Right place, right time. Long-range sensors are detecting several Borg cubes two light years away.”

        Hearing that, Riker quickly ordered the ship into a class two nebula nearby. “Let’s stop here to catch our breath. And I’d also like to send out a probe to learn as much as we can before proceeding.”

        Janeway was nodding. “May I suggest placing a shuttle right on the edge of the nebula, using it as a screen against Borg sensors while the pilot gathers as much information as possible from the probe.”

        “Good idea,” responded Riker, tapping his commbadge. “Bridge to shuttlebay. Prepare for launch.”

*********

        Several hours later, the team, augmented with the Titan’s senior staff as well as Commander Spock, gathered in the briefing room. The sole absentee was the EMH, who remained ensconced in the lab. From past experience, the Voyager crew knew he would appear when he had something to report.

        Seated at the head of the table, Riker nodded to Kathryn. “Why don’t you begin?”

        “Very well,” she replied. “What we’ve learned from the probe is this. While there is a number of Borg cubes gathered at several different points in this area of space, we have also detected quite a few Starfleet signatures as well as Romulan and Klingon. It appears that we’re in time, that the Borg have not yet launched their final attack.”

        Chakotay interjected. “I would imagine that, believing themselves to be invincible, they are taking their time.”

        “Exactly,” replied Kathryn before glancing around the table. “Any thoughts?”

        “Just one,” responded Torres. “We need to take out as many cubes as quickly as we can.”

        “Catch them by surprise,” added Chakotay.

        There was a general nodding of heads around the table.

        Spock caught Janeway’s eye and she nodded to him. “Commander?”

        “Captain Kirk and I arranged a code to let him know when I returned to this universe. With your permission, I would like to activate it.”

        “I’m assuming it won’t in any way alert the Borg to our presence?”

        “No. The message can be encoded in the waste energy from the ship’s propulsion systems, making it almost indistinguishable from galactic background noise.”

        The former Voyager crew glanced sharply at each other, clearly remembering another instance when messages had been similarly encoded.

        “That’s an old Maquis trick,” remarked Chakotay. “Interesting that it’s being used in another universe at a much earlier time.”

        “Or perhaps the Maquis simply borrowed it from someone else,” muttered Kathryn softly.

        “Hopefully, not someone the Borg have assimilated,” said Tuvok with a slight frown.

        “I guess that’s a chance we’ll have to take,” shrugged Kathryn. “But in my opinion, if we can contact the Enterprise, we should make every attempt to do so as long as it doesn’t unduly imperil the Titan.” She turned to Riker. ““It’s your ship, Will, so ultimately, it’s your decision.”

        Riker didn’t hesitate. “We didn’t come here to pussyfoot around. From everything I know of James Kirk, he’s the best ally we can hope for. Let’s do it.” He looked at his first officer. “Commander Rixit, assist Commander Spock with the message, please, then report to me.”

        “Yes, sir.”

        The two officers rose and left the conference room while the others sat back to wait.

        In less than two minutes, Riker’s commbadge chirped. “Bridge to Captain. The message has been sent.”

        “Understood. We’ll wait here until we get a response.”

************

        Over the next few minutes, the various members of the team scattered to different parts of the Titan.

        Torres and Seven both returned to Engineering while Tuvok moved to stand behind the officer manning the tactical console, so that he could observe all the information flooding the screen.

        With a wave of his hand, Riker indicated to Kathryn and Chakotay that they should find themselves a couple of empty seats on the bridge. As he turned his attention to his command console, Kathryn sat down at the empty engineering station while Chakotay propped himself against the wall beside her.

        After several minutes, when he observed his wife’s fingers impatiently drumming on the console, Chakotay leaned over to grip her hand. As her eyes flew up to him in surprise, he whispered. “Patience, Kathryn.” He glanced around the bridge before turning back to face her. “I realize you’re finding it hard to be on the sidelines but you’ll make the natives restless if you keep that up.”

        Reddening as she realized what she’d been doing subconsciously, she carefully folded her hands in her lap before sighing wistfully.

        Her reaction made Chakotay grin. “Still miss the big chair?”

        Kathryn started to shake her head before looking up at him with a resigned shrug. “Not usually, but at times like this…. Every instinct is telling me I should be the one sitting in the centre seat, issuing the orders.”

        Briefly, he glanced around the bridge. “What you need is something to do. Why don’t we find Spock and see if he’s heard from the Enterprise yet? And even if he hasn’t, we can continue working up different scenarios. There may not be much time once we find those cubes.”

        Seeing her nod, he spoke up. “Captain, Kathryn and I would like to continue our work on various contingency plans. Tuvok, if you would join us, please. And perhaps Commander Spock too as he is most familiar with the weapons systems extant in this time line. We also need to hear how the Doctor is progressing.”

        “Sure, Chakotay. Why don’t you use the briefing room? I’ll forward all the information to you as it becomes available.” Turning away, he tapped his commbadge. “Riker to Commander Rixit. Please have Commander Spock and Voyager’s EMH report to the briefing room for consultation.”

        Getting to her feet, Kathryn followed Chakotay and Tuvok across the bridge. “Thanks, Will,” she murmured as she passed Riker.

        He gave her a sympathetic grin before returning to his study of the data on his console.

        A moment later, Spock appeared from the turbolift and also crossed to the briefing room.

        As the door slid shut behind them, the other three gathered at the LCARS panel on the wall.

        “Commander, thank you for joining us,” said Kathryn gratefully. “We need to start planning for the coming confrontation and your input will be very useful. You can advise us on what capabilities the weapons systems of this time period possess.”

        Spock nodded thoughtfully as he joined them beside the wall where a map covering part of the Beta Quadrant showed the positions of several Borg cubes. His eyes grew intent as he studied the overlay of the political map showing the Federation, the Klingon and the Romulan Empires spheres of influence. The Borg were right at the intersect of all three. His finger stabbed at the point. “Carraya,” he murmured softly.

        Beside him, Chakotay nodded. “With the Azure Nebula which is class 11, close enough to make a convenient hiding place if necessary. There could be a dozen more cubes in there, and no way for us to find out. Tactically, it’s perfect for a three-pronged attack.”

        “Any word yet from the Enterprise?” asked Kathryn hopefully but Spock shook his head.

        “Very well,” she continued. “Then let’s start anyway and see what we can come up with. I’d like several alternatives to present to Captain Riker as well as Captain Kirk when we do contact him.”

        Settling down at the table, each took a PADD and began making notes as various suggestions were reviewed.

        At that moment, the door slid open again to admit the EMH. “Sorry I’m late,” he apologized, “I was just finishing a test of a new, faster method of altering nanoprobe coding.”

        “You’re just in time, Doctor,” responded Kathryn, “take a seat. Let’s hear about this method of yours.”

        “Well,” he began with more than a hint of pride. “If it works the way it’s supposed to, an airborne virus inserted into the warhead of a photon torpedo will infect the cube it impacts, leading to every nanoprobe in every drone to neutralize itself. In effect, rendering the drones unconscious as if put into stasis.”

        “Doctor, that’s brilliant!” exclaimed B’Elanna. “Without drones, the cubes will cease to function.”

        “In fact,” interrupted Seven, “in such a situation, the cube will automatically self-destruct.” She leaned forward intently. “How far along is your research?”

        “I’m still fine-tuning the method,” he replied. “It’s not ready to be installed yet.”

        “Well then,” said Kathryn, “the sooner it is ready, the better. Seven, you’re best qualified to assist him. See to it.”

        “Certainly.”

        Quickly, the pair rose and left the briefing room.

*********

        An hour later, the call finally came. “Bridge to Commander Spock. We’ve got the Enterprise.”

        “Go,” ordered Kathryn as Spock glanced at her. Quickly, he moved to the door, the other four following more slowly.

        All eyes focused on the viewscreen which showed a battle-scarred bridge with burns streaking the once pristine walls in a number of places. In the centre seat was Captain James Kirk, his smile bright with relief.

        “Spock!” he exclaimed. “You are a sight for sore eyes!” His glance swept over the Titan’s tidy bridge. “And you’ve brought friends, I see.” As his eyes settled on Kathryn, he straightened. “Captain Janeway! I am very glad to see you again.”

        “Captain Kirk,” she acknowledged his greeting with a smile. “May I introduce Captain William Riker and his crew of the starship Titan.”

        “Captain Riker,” replied Kirk, “we are pleased indeed to make your acquaintance.”

        “Captain Kirk,” replied Will, trying with limited success to control his awe at the sight of this legend of the Federation.

        Beside him, Counselor Troi struggled not to laugh. Very rarely was Will Riker awe-struck by anyone. “One of your heroes?” she muttered sotto voce.

        Briefly, he glanced at her, then grinned slightly. “Yeah, you could say that.” His attention returned to the viewscreen and he rose to his feet, moving to the navigation console.

        “Captain, we have your position and should be able to rendezvous with you in three hours.”

        Kirk was also examining his navigator’s console, his eyes widening. “Three hours? You can get here that quickly?”

        Riker nodded. “Yes. Until then, I would suggest we maintain comm silence. Riker out.”

        Silence reigned on the Titan’s bridge as everyone caught their breath. Until that moment, their trip into this alternate timeline had seemed almost surreal but no more. The sight of James T. Kirk on the bridge of the Enterprise had brought home to the Titan’s crew that their situation was all too real.

        “What I wouldn’t give to see that ship!” One bridge officer muttered to another.

        “No kidding!” was the reply. “And to meet Kirk!”

        “Yeahhh….”

        Overhearing the comments, Kathryn nudged Chakotay, who was openly smiling. “Pretty much our reaction too, when we first saw the Enterprise on our viewscreen, remember?” she remarked.

        “One of the few times I ever saw Tom Paris at a loss for words,” he responded.

        Beside them, Troi interjected. “He is very sure of himself, isn’t he? Kirk, I mean.”

        “Very sure indeed,” replied Spock from her other side, his tone neutral although with a hint of disapproval in it.

        Tuvok’s eyebrow lifted. “And yet you continue to serve with him as his first officer. Why?”

        Spock almost sighed. “It is my belief that the Enterprise needs at least one officer willing to exercise a certain amount of restraint.”

        Now it was Kathryn’s turn to smother a laugh. She wanted to question him further about his opinion of Kirk but a public spot such as the Titan’s bridge was not the appropriate place. She was well aware that his loyalty to Kirk would ensure that he said nothing more. However, when this was all over, she promised herself, she would do everything she could to get him to open up. It would appear that the elder Spock’s concern regarding the relationship between this universe’s Kirk and Spock was well justified. A quick glance at Tuvok told her he too would like to continue this conversation.

        Her attention was caught by Chakotay. “Back to work?” he said softly.

        “Sure. But I need another cup of coffee first.”

        “Kathryn,” he protested as they walked into the briefing room. “You’ve already had four cups and it’s hardly lunchtime.”

        “When it comes to fighting the Borg,” she retorted, “I’m going to need a lot more than four cups!”

        “Yes, ma’am,” he sighed in defeat as he moved to the replicator.

*************

        By the time the Titan arrived at the rendezvous point, Kathryn’s team had made considerable progress. Although, as more than one person was heard to say, it was difficult to plan for every contingency.

        “There are simply too many possibilities to consider,” grumbled B’Elanna, rubbing her eyes. “And right now, I’m becoming way too tired to think of them.”

        Kathryn could commiserate; she was feeling equally exhausted and yet, her gut feeling told her they couldn’t stop, couldn’t even slow down. “I know we’re all feeling pretty weary but….” She didn’t need to say any more.

        “I’ll be fine,” B’Elanna muttered, her head bent once more over her PADD.

********

        “Bridge to Janeway.” Will Riker’s voice broke into the silence some time later. “We’re approaching the rendezvous point.”

        “Thank you, Captain,” replied Kathryn, glancing around the table before getting to her feet. “Well, people, I think we’ve done as much as we can for now. Let’s go meet the Enterprise and get the latest news. Then we’ll have a better idea of just how much damage the Borg have done.”

        Standing as well, Chakotay reached across the table to gather up the PADDs. “I’ll start coordinating these and begin organizing a plan of attack. Tuvok,” he nodded to the Vulcan, “will you give me a hand?”

        “Certainly,” replied Tuvok as he also picked up several PADDs.

        The two settled back down as everyone else disappeared out the door.

        “I think perhaps the two of us alone can make better progress,” remarked Chakotay. “There’s an old Earth saying: too many cooks spoil the broth.”

        “While not familiar with that particular truism, I am forced to agree,” replied Tuvok, spreading out the PADDs. He picked up one, indicating the display. “This is a tactical scenario I have been developing. From what Spock has told us of the Enterprise’s weapons systems, I believe that if the Titan were to be positioned here,” his finger pointed at one particular spot, “behind that ship as well as any other allies, we might better catch the Borg by surprise. In my opinion, the longer they remain unaware of the Titan’s particular capabilities, the better.”

        Leaning forward, Chakotay examined the display as the scenario played out on the screen. “I agree,” he responded thoughtfully. “However, your scenario depends a lot on how long the Titan can remain hidden as well as how many other ships are present, never mind how long they can engage the Borg. That’s an awful lot of ‘ifs’, Tuvok. There’s also the fact that one scan of the Titan will tell the Borg we’re from a different time.”

        “A certain amount of ‘luck’ is going to be involved, Chakotay,” retorted Tuvok. “And, as B’Elanna said, we cannot plan for every possibility.”

        Chakotay continued to gaze at the small screen. Suddenly he sat up. “What if…we were able to disguise the ship?”

        “You mean this ship?”

        “Yes. If we could make the Titan resemble other Federation starships of this period, that might be the advantage we’re looking for.”

        Tuvok frowned slightly as he considered the idea. “False readings,” he mused. “It could work. But we will need to talk to B’Elanna to find out if it’s feasible.”

        Instantly, Chakotay tapped his commbadge. “Chakotay to Torres. B’Elanna, report to the briefing room now, please. We have an idea.”

        On the bridge, several heads whipped around at Chakotay’s words.

        “That sounds hopeful,” remarked Kathryn, gesturing to Torres. “Go.”

        As B’Elanna disappeared through the door, Kathryn’s attention turned back to the viewscreen, which showed the Enterprise hanging in space directly in front of them.

        ‘What a lovely ship she is,’ the thought slipped into her head. ‘She has such elegant lines. Not like my poor Voyager with her stubby nacelles. Although,’ she reminded herself, feeling she should show more loyalty, ‘in her own way, Voyager was just as beautiful.’

        A sudden surge of nostalgia for her beloved ship swept through her, and she was quite relieved when Will Riker claimed her attention. ‘Back to business,’ she told herself firmly as she turned to face him. “Yes, Captain?”

        “Captain Kirk is requesting a face-to-face conference. I think we should go to the Enterprise rather than him coming here.”

        Immediately, she understood what he wasn’t saying. “And thereby avoid corrupting the timeline any further. Yes, I quite understand and I agree.” With a grin, she nodded towards the viewscreen. “Besides, you’re just itching to get over there and have a look at that ship, aren’t you?”

        Her remark made Troi laugh outright. “You bet he is, Kathryn.”

        “Fine. Let’s do it.” She glanced towards the briefing room. “Perhaps Tuvok and Chakotay should come as well.” Her tone made it a request rather than an order but Will understood perfectly. Consciously or not, Kathryn Janeway was taking charge. He waved his hand at her. “By all means.”

        Hurrying to the briefing room, she stepped inside briefly before returning to the bridge, followed by the others.

        With a nod, Riker rose from his chair. “Bridge to Engineering. Chief, meet me in transporter room one immediately. We’re going to pay a visit to the past.”

        “The Enterprise?!” replied an excited voice. “Yes, sir! On the double!”

        “It would seem you’re not the only one anxious to see her,” murmured Troi with amusement.

        Riker turned to grin at her. “You’re coming, too,” he told her.

        “Me?” She looked up in surprise. “Why?”

        “You’re my ace in the hole,” he retorted. “Just in case Kirk gets any ideas.”

        Deanna shook her head, obviously thinking he was being a little paranoid.

        However, Kathryn nodded her approval. “It’s probably a good idea. James Kirk has one of the most devious minds I’ve ever come across, and he can be reckless beyond belief. A little warning could prove helpful. Since Betazed is not a member of the Federation at this point in time, he won’t be aware of your capabilities or the fact that you’re not entirely human.”

        Getting to her feet, Troi smiled. “Well, I hear he’s something of a flirt. If nothing else, he should prove entertaining.”

        “Oh yes,” confirmed Kathryn drily. “He’s quite incorrigible. You won’t be bored, I promise.”

        “Shall we go, ladies?” interrupted Riker with a bit of a glower. All this talk of Kirk’s prowess as a flirt was becoming irritating.

        “Why, I believe you’re jealous, Will Riker,” whispered Deanna, grinning as she passed him on her way into the turbolift.

        “Certainly not,” he replied firmly.

        However, she continued to smile to herself – he could say what he liked but she knew for a fact he was suddenly feeling very protective of her.

        On her other side, Kathryn was grinning as well. It didn’t take a Betazoid to easily interpret Will’s reaction to her remarks and she couldn’t resist murmuring, “Yes, you are.”

        Behind her, Tuvok and Spock merely sighed slightly in unison. At times, Terran humour was completely baffling.

********

        “Welcome to the Enterprise.” greeted the young man standing beside the transporter platform. “I’m Captain James Kirk,” His eyes flickered across the group before coming to rest on his first officer. “Well done, Mr. Spock.”

        “Thank you, Captain.” Spock turned to introduce the others. “You know Kathryn Janeway and her husband, Chakotay, as well as Tuvok who was also serving on Voyager when we last met.”

        “Indeed,” replied Kirk, with a warm grin. Stepping forward to shake hands, he continued, “But you’re no longer a captain? What happened?”

        Kathryn smiled wistfully. “It’s a long story. Perhaps if we have time, I’ll be able to tell you but right now we have work to do.” She gestured to her companions. “You’ve already met Captain Will Riker via the viewscreen, and this is his wife and ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi. As well, here is the Titan’s chief engineer, Commander Bendor.”

        “Captain, Commander,” responded Kirk politely. As he turned to face Deanna, his eyes brightened appreciatively. “Ms. Troi, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Moving closer to her, he murmured, “I’ve never heard of a starship having a counselor. What exactly do you do?”

        “Just what you might expect, Captain,” replied Deanna smoothly, “counsel members of the crew as required.”

        Beside her, Will interjected, “A ship’s counselor is required on all deep space missions. We find it improves efficiency and crew morale immeasurably.” As he spoke, he grasped Deanna’s hand possessively.

        Taking the hint, Kirk smiled politely before turning to lead the way out the door. “Right. Let’s move to the conference room, shall we?”

        Behind him, Deanna bit back a chuckle. “I can manage him, you know.”

        “I’m sure you can,” replied Will. “I was simply making a point.”

        Arriving in the conference room, the group settled around the table. A moment later, the door opened again to admit Mr. Scott.

        Kirk indicated the others. “I think most of you remember my chief engineer. Scotty, this is Captain Riker of the Titan and his wife, ship’s counselor Deanna Troi. And their chief engineer, Commander Bendor.”

        Taking the last empty chair, Scott nodded towards the three. “Captain, Ms. Troi, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Commander, I look forward to working with you.” His eyes wandered to Kathryn. “Captain Janeway, I’m delighted to see you again. But where is Lieutenant Torres? I was hoping I might renew my acquaintance with her.”

        Kathryn smiled warmly. “It’s not captain anymore, Mr. Scott, just plain Kathryn Janeway. As for B’Elanna, she is on the Titan right now. When this is all over, perhaps you’ll have time to get together with her.”

        “Aye, I would enjoy that,” replied Scotty enthusiastically before turning to face his captain.

        Collecting everyone’s attention, Kirk spoke. “Let me begin by saying how much everyone in this quadrant appreciates your coming to our assistance. We are facing a terrible enemy, one which shows no mercy whatsoever, and up to now, we have fared badly in every encounter. But with your help, I believe our chances will improve dramatically.” He glanced around. “So, what can you tell us? Is there a way to defeat the Borg? Special tactics? Advanced weaponry? What do we need to do to drive them out of our universe?” With each question, his voice gained in intensity.

        For a moment after he finished, silence reigned before Kathryn spoke up. “As the team leader of this mission, let me respond first. To answer one of your questions, yes, we have specialized weapons which have enabled us to defeat the Borg in previous battles.”

        “Good. What else?”

        Leaning forward, Chakotay interjected. “Mr. Tuvok and I have been spending a considerable amount of time devising various tactics. What we have come up with is this….”

        As Chakotay explained their idea to disguise the Titan so Borg sensors would not identify her as a ship from a different timeline, the Enterprise officers sat forward, their eyes filling with hope. After so many devastating losses, finally they were being given a chance to fight back and win.

        Kirk was practically bouncing in his chair. “We need to contact the other fleets as soon as possible.” Reaching forward, he activated the monitor in the centre of the table. “Bridge, encode the following message to all ships within range. ‘Meet the Enterprise at Khitomer as soon as possible. We have found a way to destroy our common enemy.’ ” He gazed eagerly at the others. “What else can you tell us?”

**********

        As the meeting wound down some time later, Kirk rose to his feet. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have covered a lot of ground. Mr. Scott, you will coordinate installation of the new technology and weapons with Commander Bendor.”

        “Aye, sir,” replied Scotty, nodding to Bendor to follow him as he slipped out the door.

        “Mr. Spock,” continued Kirk, “I would like you to continue to work with Mr. Chakotay and Mr. Tuvok on tactics.”

        “Certainly, Captain. Would you prefer that I return to the Titan to do so?”

        “That would make sense.”

        “Very well,” replied Spock, also heading to the door. “Gentlemen, at your convenience?”

        Chakotay grinned at Kathryn. “I’ll see you later,” he told her as he followed Tuvok into the corridor.

        Turning to Janeway, Riker and Troi, Kirk shrugged. “It seems we don’t have a lot to do at the moment. Do you wish to return to your ship?”

        “Actually,” replied Riker eagerly, “I would very much like a tour of your ship. Deanna and I both spent many years serving on a starship also named Enterprise.”

        Kirk’s eyes brightened with interest. “Really?”

        “Indeed,” remarked Troi. “In fact, she was named after this ship, wasn’t she? In our timeline, this Enterprise is legendary, Captain.”

        “Then by all means, come and see her!” Kirk bounded out of the room before glancing back. “And call me Jim. ‘Captain’ is so formal, don’t you think?”

        Behind him, Kathryn smiled at Will. “He is a force of nature, isn’t he?”

        “He certainly is!” agreed Riker.

***********

        By the time they finished nearly an hour later, the Titan was hailing Riker. Regretfully, he announced he needed to return to his bridge.

        “Thank you, Jim,” he told Kirk gratefully. “To be able to see this ship is something I’m going to remember for a long time.” He glanced at Deanna and Kathryn. “Are you coming, too?”

        “I think I should,” replied Deanna. “Much as I have enjoyed this, I do have some overdue reports to catch up on.”

        “Kathryn?”

        Shrugging slightly, she glanced at Kirk. “I’d like to stay a little longer, perhaps go over a few points….”

        “Certainly,” replied Kirk. “I’d welcome any insight you can give me about what we’re going to face.”

        “I’ll be along in a while,” she told Riker just before the transporter activated.

        Turning to Kirk, she smiled. “You wouldn’t happen to have a cup of coffee somewhere on this ship, would you?”

        Chuckling, he took her hand and tucked it into his arm. “Let’s go to the mess hall. Then you can tell me all about the Borg.”

        A few minutes later, settled with a steaming mug in her hand, Kathryn sipped while she collected her thoughts.

        “It’s hard to know where to start,” she began. “We’ve fought the Borg a number of times. In fact, it was the Enterprise that Riker and Troi served on which first encountered them, let’s see, more than twenty years ago, although there had been rumours for some years before that about a mysterious race of super-beings. A year after the Enterprise met them, they invaded the Alpha Quadrant, and we fought a pitched battle with them at Wolf 359.” Kathryn’s eyes grew reflective. “I was lucky, in a way. I’d been assigned as second officer to the USS Melbourne but at the last minute, I was transferred to the Billings instead. The Melbourne was one of thirty-nine starships destroyed at Wolf 359. We arrived half a day later to probably the most horrific sight I will ever behold in my lifetime. Pieces of starships floating everywhere, bodies…it was unbelievably ghastly.”

        Kirk reached across the table to grip her hand. “I understand, Kathryn,” he told her softly. “I saw a similar sight when Nero destroyed a Federation armada two years ago. It’s something that never leaves you.”

        For several moments, they sat in silence before Kathryn finished her coffee and set down her mug. “Well. To continue. After that, the Federation got busy very quickly, trying to find ways and means, whatever might work no matter how outlandish, to defeat the Borg. Voyager had several run-ins with them during our time in the Delta Quadrant. In fact, at one point, I even made an alliance with them in order to fight an even worse enemy.” She chuckled sardonically. “Who eventually turned out not to be an enemy at all or at least not as terrible as we’d thought.

        “But in the end, it was only through a link to the future that we were able to acquire the weapons and technology which allowed us to destroy one of their transwarp hubs, thereby delivering a decisive blow to the collective.”

        “And that is what you’ve brought here,” he confirmed.

        “Yes. From our experience, transphasic torpedoes are the only weapons that will effectively vaporize a Borg cube, while the ablative hull armour will in turn protect you against their armament.”

        “Good,” he replied, “because those cubes have to be the most terrifying sight I’ve ever seen, and I thought I’d seen it all!” He took a shaky breath, his hands clenched together.

        In the silence that followed, Kathryn’s eyes remained on him thoughtfully. After a minute, she straightened. “I hope you don’t take offense, Jim, but I simply have to ask. Aren’t you awfully young to be captaining a starship?”

        He shrugged. “Maybe. We lost so many ships and crews, you see, that most everyone was called into active service whether or not they’d actually graduated. I guess the admiralty figured I could do the job. Certainly Admiral Pike did. He was the first captain of the Enterprise, you know.”

        “Oh yes,” she chuckled, “believe me, I know! He’s in all the history books. By the age of eight, every school child knows all about Captain Pike.”

        Kirk remained silent for a moment, his gaze fixed on her. “And…am I in the history books, too?” he asked a bit hesitantly.

        Kathryn burst out laughing. “Jim, you’re fishing! You know perfectly well I can’t tell you about the future. But I will say this: don’t worry, you will make your mark.”

        However, his expression remained solemn, almost uncertain. “That’s in your universe,” he stated, “but here – it could be different. I know that some things already are.”

        Curious now, she leaned forward. “Such as?”

        “Well, Spock has told me you already know about the destruction of Vulcan. And then there’s the day of my birth. At almost the moment I came into existence, my father died. That event impacted my life considerably. I wish…,” he paused, looking away wistfully, “I wish I’d known him. Everyone talks about him as a hero of the Federation, someone who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his ship and crew – including me. He’s always portrayed as larger than life.” He paused briefly, looking down at his hands before adding softly. “I would have liked to know him as a man and as a father.”

        Again, he hesitated before continuing. “When I first met Spock, the Spock from your universe, he told me that in his timeline, my father lived to see me graduate from the Academy. I can’t help wondering what kind of person that Jim Kirk was, how much of a difference it made having his father there while he grew up.”

        Kathryn shifted uncomfortably. “I can’t answer that question, Jim, but I can say that it might not have made any difference at all. During all the years of my childhood, my father was rarely present. He was an officer in Starfleet, working on projects that kept him from home for long periods of time. When we did see him, it was a major event, believe me. My mother was the one who brought up my sister and me. My father was a remote figure, almost mythical.” She sighed, then chuckled ruefully. “And of course, I adored him. I lived for those moments when he was actually present in my life.”

        Kirk leaned forward, his face intent. “And is he still alive?”

        “Oh no, he died many years ago in a shuttle accident.” Her face closed down. “It’s not something I like to talk about, to be honest.” She looked around. “Is there more coffee, by any chance?”

        “Yes, of course.”

        As Kirk got up to fetch another cup, Kathryn bit down on her feelings. Talking about her father was still painful for her, even after so long. Casting about for another topic of conversation, she was interrupted by a call from the bridge. “Captain, the Titan is hailing us.

        Quickly, the two got to their feet.

        “On our way,” replied Kirk.

        When they arrived on the bridge, the conn officer announced, “The Titan reports that sensors have detected several Borg cubes approaching our position.”

        Immediately, Kirk was all business. “Red alert! Tell Spock I need him here.” He looked at Kathryn. “You’re welcome to stay here if you like but if you want to return to the Titan, you need to go now.”

        She was already moving to the turbolift. “Thanks but my place is there.”

        As the doors slid closed, she saw Kirk already issuing a stream of orders. “You’re in good hands,” she told the ship, patting the wall of the lift.

*********

        Once more on the Titan, Kathryn hurried to the bridge where she found Captain Riker at the centre of a storm of activity. Quickly, she stepped to one side to stay out of the way.

        At first, Riker didn’t notice her until Deanna nodded in her direction. Glancing up at her with a smile, he indicated an empty chair. “Would you like to sit here?”

        “Thank you, I would indeed,” she replied eagerly, settling into the seat.

        “Status!” demanded Riker.

        “All ship’s operations standing by,” replied the ops officer.

        “Hail the Enterprise. Advise them we’re ready to leave and request their optimum speed so we may match it.”

        A moment later, ops continued. “The Enterprise is standing by. Their best speed is equivalent to our warp two.”

        “Then it’s time to go. Helm, set course for the nearest cluster of cubes. Warp two. Prepare to activate ablative hull armour. Stand by transphasic torpedoes.” He glanced around the table as they all felt the ship start to move. “We’re on our way.”

       

        Part 3:

        Tense silence broken only by chirps from various consoles reigned on the Titan’s bridge. Every person there knew a decisive battle was about to occur; despite the advantage of their enhanced weapons, no one was underestimating the Borg.

        The last encounter had been years ago and the collective had quite possibly adapted. Transphasic torpedoes might now be as useless as standard ones, which meant both ships could be flying right into a slaughter.

        But there was no choice. They had come to save this universe from a terrible fate; every person existing in this timeline was depending on them. Bottom line – they simply had to win.

        “Sensors detect three cubes directly ahead,” the ops officer spoke up suddenly, his voice unnaturally loud in the deathly quiet.

        “Bridge to all hands! Red Alert! Battlestations!”

        Quickly, Riker glanced at Chakotay and Tuvok standing next to the tactical station. “Are we displaying false readings?”

        “We are,” replied Chakotay.

        “Good.” Riker faced the viewscreen once more. “Hail the Enterprise. Inform them we’re going in.”

        “Aye, Captain,” replied the lieutenant manning the comm station. A moment later, she spoke, “Captain Kirk acknowledges and says he’ll be right behind, covering our back.”

        “All right! Status!”

        “We are at battlestations,” reported the ops officer. “All weapons including transphasic torpedoes are operational. Ablative hull armour can be activated on your command.”

        Quickly, Riker held up his hand. “Wait for my order! I want this to be a complete surprise….”

        A minute passed, then another.

        The ops officer spoke, “I have the cubes on visual.”

        “On screen.”

        Three of the dreaded shapes appeared, one behind the other, approaching rapidly.

        “Five hundred thousand kilometers…. Four hundred thousand…. Three – Captain! They’re preparing to fire!”

        “Activate ablative hull armour and fire transphasic torpedoes! One per cube!” ordered Riker.

        Continuous thuds could be heard as the armour slid into place, enveloping the ship completely. At the same time, three torpedoes burst into view, streaking toward the cubes.

        The first one slammed into the nearest cube’s shields, penetrating them with ease and causing it to explode instantly.

        The second struck a glancing blow as the cube slid sideways, avoiding a direct hit. Over one quarter of the cube was destroyed but it still managed to limp away towards a nearby nebula.

        The third one missed almost entirely, barely clipping an upper corner of the cube as it began to swing away.

        “Incoming!” called out the ops officer, as a torpedo fired from the third cube sped toward the Titan.

        “All hands, brace for impact!” called Riker.

        Behind him, Chakotay and Tuvok grasped the railing on the upper bridge with both hands.

        Kathryn clutched her armrests as tightly as possible and pushed her feet against the floor.

        A second later, the Titan rocked violently, hard enough to make several people still on their feet fall to the floor but beyond a few bruises, there were no injuries.

        The ablative hull armour was working perfectly.

        Quickly looking around, Riker grinned when he saw everyone was unharmed. “Casualties?” he asked, nodding towards ops.

        “None reported so far, sir.”

        With a grin, he turned to Kathryn. “What do you know? It works!”

        She grinned back at him. “You bet it does!”

        “Captain, the Borg cube is firing again. Shall I return fire? We’re down to the last three transphasic torpedoes.”

        “Target that cube with one of the transphasics, then follow with conventional torpedoes only.” Hearing Kathryn’s slight gasp, he glanced at her. “I don’t want to use up all our torpedoes on this cube when there’s another one nearby,” he murmured.

        “Understood,” she answered, grateful he had taken the time to explain his reasoning.

        “Tactical! Report!” demanded Riker.

        “The transphasic torpedo caused minimal damage, Captain,” replied the tactical officer. “It did not perform as expected.”

        “You mean it’s a dud?” questioned Riker.

        “Looks like it, sir.”

        “I don’t like this,” he muttered, his face creased in a frown, “and I don’t want to push our luck with the hull armour. Let’s get out of here.” Raising his voice, he continued, “Set a course for that nebula, maximum impulse. Hail the Enterprise and tell them where we’re going. I want to find that other cube.”

        “Aye sir.”

        Again, the ship rolled as another Borg torpedo impacted, almost as if it were in an ocean storm but there was no damage. Seconds later, they reached the edge of the nebula and slipped into it.

        From behind Riker, ops reported, “Sir, the Enterprise is following us in. And Captain Kirk says he wants those torpedoes and that armour ‘ASAP.’ Whatever that means,” muttered the officer half to himself.

        “I’m sure he does,” retorted Riker before turning his attention to tactical. “Commander, status of the cube in here.”

        “Sensors are unable to penetrate the nebula, Captain, so all I can tell you at present is that they’re here somewhere.”

        “And the cube we just fired on?”

        “Unknown, sir. Its last position would indicate it was pursuing us. We were able to inflict minor damage only.”

        “Hmm.” The captain sat lost in thought for a minute before looking at Kathryn beside him. “Options?”

        “We’ve certainly given them something to think about,” she replied.

        “Perhaps this might be a good time to slip away and go find our allies. If we have any,” added Riker.

        “Seize the moment,” she agreed. “That makes sense. Before they have a chance to regroup. We know there are other cubes and I can promise you they’ll be adapting just as fast as they can. The sooner we all join together to fight the decisive battle, the better.”

        “Helm!” spoke up the captain. “Set a course for Khitomer and engage. Three-quarter impulse until we clear the nebula and then go to warp two. Keep a sharp eye out for that cube – I don’t want to run into it.” He turned his head towards ops. “Advise the Enterprise that we’re leaving.”

        “Aye, sir,” sounded from different parts of the bridge as the Titan began to pick up speed.

        “Captain, the Enterprise is following right behind.”

        “Very good.”

        As the bridge settled back into routine, Kathryn rose from her seat. She glanced across at Tuvok and Chakotay, nodding towards the briefing room, before turning to face the captain. “Will, can you spare a moment? I want to run something past you.”

        Seeing the other two already at the door, he got up. “Sure. Commander, you have the conn. I won’t be long.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        The door had barely closed behind him when he turned to her. “All right. What is it?”

        “When we arrive at Khitomer, I think we should arm every ship we find there with ablative hull armour and as many transphasic torpedoes as we can build between now and then.”

        The three men stared at her in stunned silence.

        Will Riker was the first to find his voice. “Kathryn, are you nuts? That’s a flagrant violation of the Temporal Prime Directive!”

        Tuvok was next. “Kathryn, I must protest. We are pushing the envelope as it is. Arming ships of this timeline….” His voice trailed off, his meaning clear.

        She looked to Chakotay, only to find him slowly shaking his head. “I’m forced to agree with them,” he told her. “Who knows what the ramifications of turning those weapons loose in this universe would be?” Stepping close to her, he took her hands. “We don’t belong here, and neither does this technology. Tuvok is right – we’re already balancing on the edge of the Temporal Prime Directive.”

        As each spoke, her expression grew increasingly grim. By the time Chakotay had finished, she’d turned away, pacing across the room and back before she faced them head-on. Her back straightened and her chin came up, making Chakotay’s stomach knot. He knew that look only too well.

        “This is the Borg we’re facing!” she began, waving her hands for emphasis. “I shouldn’t have to explain to any of you what that means! And where the Borg are concerned, we have to seize every advantage we have! Otherwise, we lose, and so does this entire universe!”

        “Kathryn,” began Chakotay in his calmest voice, “I understand that, but you’re thinking short-term only. You have to consider the long-term ramifications of handing over such technology – it could be disastrous.”

        “For heaven’s sake, Chakotay!” she exclaimed. “If we don’t follow my suggestion, the odds are good that there won’t be any universe here anyway because everyone in it will have been assimilated! Defeat the Borg, and then worry about any possible consequences!”

        Will moved toward her, his hands stretched out. “Kathryn, there has to be another solution. We have the weapons and we’ll use them –”

        Her voice tight with exasperation, she cut him off. “Will, we’re assuming we’ll be facing all the cubes at Carraya but that may not be the case. What if one or two stay back from the battle? What if this ship is destroyed and everyone else is left defenseless, exactly as they are now? Our whole mission will have been for nothing! We have to give them something to fight with! That’s why we came here – to help them! So let’s do it!”

        But Riker remained unconvinced and Kathryn could see that Tuvok and Chakotay both still had doubts. Desperate to bring them around to her point of view, she rubbed her face, trying to think of a way out of the impasse.

        “I can’t think…. We need to bring Seven and B’Elanna into this discussion. They may have an idea or two that we’re not seeing.”

        Instantly, Riker’s hand went to his combadge. “Riker to Ms. Torres and Seven of Nine. Please report to the briefing room on deck one immediately.”

        “Acknowledged,” came B’Elanna’s voice, “we’re on our way.”

        A few minutes later, the two women appeared at the door.

        “What’s up?” asked B’Elanna, taking in the scene at a glance. At once, she knew there had been an argument or at least what might be termed a ‘heated discussion’.

        In a few words, Kathryn summed up the situation and both viewpoints.

        Predictably, Seven took her position. “The Borg must be defeated. Any other consideration is irrelevant until that feat is accomplished.”

        B’Elanna, however, hesitated. She knew her friends so well and she could see both sides of the argument. There must be a way if only she could find it…. Her agile brain flew through multiple possibilities until suddenly she gasped softly.

        “What?” demanded Kathryn immediately. “What are you thinking?” She nearly said ‘report’ but bit her tongue just in time.

        “What if…,” began B’Elanna slowly, “we could figure out a way to disarm the torpedoes and remove the ablative armour generators once the Borg are defeated? Assuming they are defeated, of course,” she added ominously.

        “B’Elanna, that’s brilliant!” exclaimed Kathryn, turning to the others with a radiant smile. “Will that make all of you happy?”

        Riker nodded slowly. “I would think that would be adequate, as long as it is all disabled.”

        Glad that her former captain’s dilemma was solved, Seven nodded firmly. “It will be.”

        “Good.” Kathryn turned to her two former crew. “Get right on it! That’s top priority! I’ll join you shortly.”

        As the two left the room, Kathryn said triumphantly before following them, “You see? There’s always a way if you look hard enough.”

        Shaking his head, Riker moved to the door. “I should know by now never to underestimate Kathryn Janeway,” he muttered bemusedly.

        When he was gone, Chakotay looked over at Tuvok, his eyes worried. “I hope this works but I must admit I don’t share Kathryn’s optimism.”

        When Tuvok raised his eyebrow in question, Chakotay continued, “I am concerned that even disabled, the engineers in this universe will figure out how to make those weapons work.”

        “I am forced to agree,” replied Tuvok, “Mr. Scott for one is a most resourceful individual.”

        While they were still discussing the matter, there came an urgent call from the bridge.

        “An unidentified ship bearing a Federation signature has just appeared. We’re receiving a hail,” explained Riker.

        Mystified, Chakotay and Tuvok looked at each other in puzzlement then hurried out of the briefing room.

        The main viewscreen showed a very sleek little vessel holding position directly in front of the Titan.

        Acknowledging their arrival with a glance, Riker nodded at the screen. “We haven’t responded yet,” he told them. “Any idea who it is?”

        “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” muttered Chakotay as he gazed at the ship. “Where’s Kathryn?”

        Riker’s mouth tightened slightly as he answered, “She’s in engineering helping with the modifications to the photon torpedoes. Why?”

        “I think we better get her up here,” replies Chakotay ominously, tapping his commbadge. “Chakotay to Janeway. Kathryn, you’re needed on the bridge immediately.”

        “Acknowledged,” came her reply, “on my way.”

        Tuvok interjected, “Meanwhile, perhaps you should answer the hail so we may learn their identity.”

        Nodding, Riker faced the screen. “This is Captain William Riker of the Federation starship Titan. State your identity.”

        The screen shifted to show a small bridge surrounded by a contoured set of consoles with a human male of middle age, dressed in a futuristic-looking uniform, sitting in their midst. Chakotay stiffened in obvious recognition as the man spoke. “Captain Braxton of the Federation timeship Traveler. Request permission to beam aboard.”

        Riker glanced at Chakotay who shrugged. “Permission granted,” replied Riker.

        Seconds later, a transporter beam lit up the bridge.

        “Captain Riker,” Braxton started, “I have business with Captain Kathryn Janeway. I believe she is aboard your vessel?”

        At that point, he noticed Chakotay, standing to one side. Turning to face him, his face darkened with anger as he demanded, “Where is that damned captain of yours? That woman causes more trouble than the entire population of the universe in any timeline!”

        While he was still speaking, the turbolift opened and Kathryn stepped out. “Captain Braxton!’ she exclaimed in considerable surprise. “What are you doing here?”

        “As if you need to ask!’ snarled Braxton. “You’re at it again, aren’t you? Turning the universe upside down so you can have everything your way! Well, it won’t wash, Janeway! I’ve come here to arrest you and take you back with me.”

        As he finished speaking, he stepped forward to seize her arm only to find Chakotay in his way. “I don’t think so,” said Chakotay very softly, his eyes boring into Braxton’s.

        Instantly, the bridge erupted in chaos as everyone started talking at once. Only when Riker bellowed for quiet, reminding them all that he was still the captain and this was his bridge, thank you very much, did silence reign once more.

        Turning to Braxton, he stated flatly there would be no arresting of anyone until he had a full explanation. “Shall we?” He gestured to the briefing room, although obviously it was an order, not a request.

        Trooping through the door, they all got settled around the table.

        “Right,” stated Riker as he turned to Braxton, “let’s start with you. Who are you again?”

        “Captain Braxton of the Temporal Integrity Commission.”

        Riker stared. “I’ve never heard of any Temporal Integrity Commission. What branch of Starfleet are you from?”

        “The 29th century version,” retorted Braxton. With a visible effort, he restrained his temper. “Captain Riker, this is not the first time, or even the second, we have had temporal issues with Captain Janeway. That woman,” he pointed at Kathryn, “is an out-and-out menace. I have orders to bring her back to the 29th century and this time, madam,” he addressed her directly, “you will stay there until you have learned once and for all not to alter the timeline!”

        Immediately, Chakotay was on his feet. “No!” he bellowed, “You will have to go through me to get to her!”

        Braxton leapt up as well, his hand reaching under his jacket.

        However, Tuvok saw his action and sprang across the table to stop him from using the weapon which had appeared in his hand. Deftly, Tuvok twisted it out of his fingers then handed it to Riker, who glanced at it before laying it down on the table.

        “We’ll just put this aside,” he told Braxton firmly. “No one fires a weapon on this ship without my order. Got it?”

        Outnumbered, Braxton nodded although his eyes remained defiant.

        “Good,” continued Riker, “Now, tell me exactly why you have been ordered to arrest Kathryn Janeway.”

        “Let me begin by saying,” Braxton explained, “that based on past behaviour, the Temporal Integrity Commission keeps a close eye on Captain Janeway.”

        His words made Kathryn blink in surprise but before she could react, he was continuing.

        “As soon as we realized what she was proposing, I was ordered to come to this timeline to place her under arrest and take her to the 29th century where she will suffer the consequences of her actions.”

        “But there haven’t been any consequences!” exclaimed Chakotay.

        “Because nothing has happened yet!’ interjected Kathryn, getting a steely glint in her eye.

        However Braxton refused to back down. “You aren’t known as the Janeway Factor for nothing, Captain!” he snarled. “You have an unparalleled genius for rearranging the timeline whenever it suits you. This time, we’ve had enough!”

        With an obvious effort, he calmed himself, then turned to Riker. “I hope you will cooperate, Captain. I can assure you, she will suffer no physical harm but we can no longer allow her to remain free.”

        Will Riker kept silent, his eyes flicking around the table, finally coming to rest on Kathryn.

        Surprised that he hadn’t simply ordered Braxton to be placed in his brig, she stared back at him. “Will?” she questioned softly.

        He sighed heavily. “I have to admit, Kathryn, based on what you were proposing earlier, the man has a point. You don’t seem to be paying much attention to the Temporal Prime Directive. Even Chakotay is hesitant but you’re all set to charge right in, temporal disruptions be damned.”

        She stared at him in disbelief. “Will, for gawds’ sake, this is the Borg we’re dealing with! We don’t have time to play goody-two-shoes! Besides, we’re working on the issue of disabling the technology we’re going to give them. Will, those ships won’t survive without it! You know it, they know it! Are you really going to condemn the Enterprise as well as every civilization in this universe because of him?!”

        Her blazing eyes came to rest on Braxton, her contempt obvious.

        If possible, Braxton was even angrier now. “It’s not about me!” he shouted. “What you’re about to do may well affect not only this universe but all of them! You don’t know! Are you really willing to take that chance?!”

        But Kathryn wouldn’t back down. Her voice dropped to a growl. “Mister, when it comes to the Borg, I’ll do everything within my power to destroy them. Period.”

        Beside her, Chakotay shifted uncomfortably. He knew only too well what Kathryn was like when she got the bit between her teeth and she was certainly at that point now.

        Before anyone could speak, Riker’s combadge chirped. “Bridge to Captain.”

        “Riker here,” he replied wearily.

        “Sensors are indicating a possible transwarp conduit dead ahead.”

        Instantly, he was on his feet. “Captain Braxton,” he gestured to the door, “I’ll get to your request when I can but right now, I have more important things to deal with.”

        Braxton looked none too happy but remained silent, his gaze going to Kathryn. Nodding in her direction, he asked. “And her?”

        “Right now, we need her. No one else has her experience with the Borg. Sorry, but you, sir, will just have to wait. I’ll have someone see you to guest quarters.”

        However, Braxton was shaking his head. “If it’s all the same to you, Captain, I’ll return to my ship.”

        Riker merely nodded, his attention already turned to more immediate concerns. “Hail the Enterprise and tell her to stay well back. We’ll handle this.”

        “Aye, sir. Message acknowledged.”

        A moment later, Braxton had beamed back to his vessel.

        Almost immediately afterwards, the ops officer exclaimed, “Sensors show a transwarp conduit is opening!”

        “Where?” demanded Riker.

        “Almost on top of us!”

        “Activate hull armour! Stand by transphasic torpedoes!” ordered Riker.

        “Aye sir,” acknowledged the tactical officer, his fingers rapidly dancing over his console.

        From around them could be heard several dull thumps as the hull armour began to slide into place.

        However, before it had fully covered the Titan, a Borg cube abruptly appeared from a transwarp conduit right before them. Within a split second, it launched a torpedo aimed for the Titan.

        Braxton’s ship, directly in front, absorbed the full force, disintegrating instantly.

        “Fire!” shouted Riker.

        A split second later, the cube exploded.

        For a moment there was complete silence, as everyone on the bridge absorbed the impact of what had just happened.

        “Sir, the Enterprise is hailing us. They’re asking if we have any casualties or damage. And Captain Kirk says to tell you that was quite a demonstration.”

        “Tell them we’re fine, Lieutenant,” replied Riker.

        Chakotay glanced at Kathryn who merely shook her head. “Goodbye, Captain Braxton,” she murmured thoughtfully.

        Leaning close to her, he murmured, “You do realize that the Temporal Integrity Commission may well send someone else. Obviously, they’re monitoring us pretty closely.”

        “What can I do, Chakotay? Sit tight and wait for them? We have to keep going, make contact with the other fleets and form the alliance that will defeat the Borg. What happens to me is irrelevant.”

        Turning to face him, she gripped his shoulders. “If they do take me, you have to make sure everyone here keeps moving forward. The mission must take priority.” Her eyes bored into him. “Promise me?”

        With a sigh, he nodded. “I promise. But,” he added, “as soon as we’re done with the Borg, I’m coming after you.”

        She smiled gently, “I’ll be counting on it.”

        Their quiet moment was interrupted by ops. “Captain, I think we’ve found the Klingons.”

        “Hail the Enterprise.”

        A moment later, Kirk appeared. “You have news?”

        “We’ve located the Klingons.”

        “Where?”

        “At coordinates one four two by nine three four by seven eight. Close to Khitomer.”

        “Got it. We’ll contact them first. They might not understand who you are and start firing.”

        Riker started to protest that other ships’ sensors would identify the Titan as simply another Federation starship of the same period. But Deanna’s hand on him arm made him pause and look down.

        “He needs to do something,” she murmured for his ears only. “Remember, he is still very young. Let him feel useful.”

        Slowly, he nodded before turning back to the screen. “Agreed, Captain. Keep us posted. Riker out.”

        Turning to the others, he announced, “We’ll hold position here until we hear from the Enterprise.”

        Kathryn moved to the turbolift. “Then, I’m going back to Engineering and see how they’re coming along.”

        “I’ll go with you,” said Chakotay, following her into the lift.

***********

        A tense hour later, the hail came. “Kirk to Titan.”

        “Titan here,” responded Riker, relief in his voice.

        “Captain, all is well and the Klingons are anxious to make your acquaintance.” Kirk sounded entirely too cheerful in Riker’s opinion.

        “I’m not sure I like the sound of that. Should I be worried?”

        “Oh, I don’t think so. They’re rather desperate right now so they’re in a mood to cooperate. Can’t say how long it’ll last, though. Some of them were making noises about seizing your ship.” Kirk gave a slightly deprecating cough. “I’ve talked them out of that idea, for the time being anyway. However, I would suggest that the sooner we can get their attention on the Borg, the better.”

        “We’re on our way. Riker out.” Settling in his chair, he gave the order. “Helm, set course for Khitomer. Maximum warp. Ops, keep a close eye on long-range sensors. I don’t want any surprise from the Borg or the Klingons.”

        “Aye, sir,” came the reply. “Engaging warp engines now.”

        Although the Titan’s motion was very smooth, at top speed Riker could feel the deck plates vibrate slightly. It was a feeling he liked, giving him a sense of her power. He patted the armrest, “Good girl,” he whispered.

        After a few minutes, he asked, “ETA to Khitomer?”

        The helm officer replied, “At maximum warp, we should be there in twenty minutes, sir.”

        “Bridge to Janeway,” hailed Riker.

        “Janeway here.”

        “Kathryn, we’ll be arriving at Khitomer shortly.”

        “Acknowledged. We’re on our way.”

******

        Standing on the bridge beside tactical, as they neared Khitomer, Kathryn and Chakotay felt the Titan drop out of warp, slowly easing into orbit next to the Enterprise.

        Beyond her could be seen a number of ships of various designs, some recognizable as Klingon D-7 class, some as Romulan birds-of-prey. Others however, were quite unfamiliar.

        “I don’t recognize several of those configurations,” murmured Chakotay.

        “Me neither,” replied Kathryn, “and I scored top marks in Exo-history. I have a feeling Starfleet historians must have missed a few species in their research.”

        They fell silent as Riker rose to his feet. “Riker to Enterprise. We’re in position.”

        “Acknowledged,” replied Kirk. “Captain, may I suggest we gather here for a conference with representatives from all our allies?”

        “Just give the word and we’ll be there,” replied Riker.

        “Shall we say in ten minutes? And bring Kathryn as well.”

        “Acknowledged. Titan out.”

        Will turned to face the pair behind him. “Ready to go?”

        Holding up her hand, Kathryn showed him several data chips. “We are indeed. And all the information is right here if we need to provide them with a demonstration.”

        “Good. Uh, just make sure you hang on to those,” cautioned Riker. “It wouldn’t be a good thing if they happened to get ‘lost’.”

        She smiled cheerfully. “That’s why Chakotay is coming, too. He will be keeping a very careful eye on them the entire time.”

***********

        The group that convened on the Enterprise was quite large, including not only those from both versions of the Federation, but Klingons, Romulans, the Gorn, Orions, Andorians, a Denobulan and even two Tholians. Although several of these races had been sworn enemies, in some cases for centuries, the Borg had managed to unite them all in one cause.

        Kathryn couldn’t help hoping that perhaps this common ground would prove to be a base for a more peaceful universe in the future. ‘Probably wishful thinking,’ she told herself, ‘but it might happen. Then at least some good might come out of all this.’

        At that moment, Kirk called the meeting to order and the discussion began.

********

        Hours later, Kathryn had begun to think her hope had been a vain one.

        Despite an imminent showdown with their common enemy, the arguments persisted, mostly over the technology from the 24th century.

        The senior Klingon captain summed up the situation succinctly as he addressed Riker for the third time. “You bring us these advanced weapons, tell us we can have them for one purpose only, then take them away. What do you think we are? Foolish children?! Once installed on our ships, the weapons stay.”

        Patiently, Will explained once more. “There are other considerations here, which you are not aware of. Suffice to say, once the Borg are defeated, the weapons must be disabled. Unless I have your word, sworn on your honour as a Klingon, you’ll have to take your chances with the Borg without them.”

        “Unacceptable!” roared the captain, pounding the table. His words were echoed around the table by several of the other captains.

        Unmoved, Riker sat still, his expression indifferent. “Take it or leave it,” he told them.

        “Captain, surely you must see – ” began one of the Andorians, but by now, Riker had had enough.

        Getting to his feet, he stared them all down. “I’ve told you the conditions. Accept them or face the Borg on your own.” Turning for the door, he nodded to Kathryn and Chakotay. “This is getting us nowhere. Let’s go.”

        Although she wasn’t ready to give up yet, Kathryn followed obediently. As the door slid shut, she muttered, “What are you thinking?”

        Behind her, Chakotay chuckled. “Guess you’ve never played poker,” he said to her before turning to Will. “Nice bluff. Do you think they’ll go for it?”

        “Eventually,” replied Riker, far too cheerfully for Kathryn. “They really don’t have another option.”

        “So what do we do now?” asked Kathryn, her tone impatient.

        “Now,” said Riker, patting her hand, “we wait. Let’s find something to eat, shall we? I’m starving! Do you know where the mess hall is?”

        “Yes,” she answered distractedly, “on, uh, deck – ” She was interrupted by the door to the conference room opening behind her. Turning around, she saw Kirk come out, his face solemn although his eyes were dancing.

        “Nice bluff,” he told Riker, echoing Chakotay. “I would guess you’re a poker player.”

        “I’ve been known to indulge in a game now and then.” Will nodded towards the closed door. “How are they doing?”

        “Still arguing but it’s more for form’s sake now. I give them about twenty minutes before they all cave in. Spock will let us know.”

        “Great. Say, could we go to your mess hall? I wouldn’t mind a sandwich and a cup of coffee.”

        “Right this way.” Kirk led the way to the turbolift. “When this is all over, if we have time, would you be interested in a game?”

        Will’s eyes lit up. “I certainly would.”

        Behind him, Kathryn rolled her eyes but Chakotay merely laughed silently.

********

        Captain Kirk’s prediction was surprisingly accurate. Precisely twenty minutes later, Spock hailed him.

        “We have a consensus,” he reported. “The captains will allow the technology to be disabled after the Borg are defeated.”

        “Excellent,” responded Kirk. “Tell them we’ll start work right away and set up a schedule accordingly. There’s no time to lose.”

        “Agreed. Spock out.”

        Riker was already tapping his combadge. “Riker to Titan. Commander Rixit, it’s a go. Tell engineering to prepare for installation of ablative generators on all ships as well as distribution of the transphasic torpedoes. Coordinate with Commander Spock on the Enterprise. He is organizing a schedule. I’m beaming back now. Riker out.”

        Turning to Kathryn, he asked, “Are you coming, too?”

        “I think B’Elanna and Seven are more than qualified to look after things there; I’ll stay here and get started on this ship.”

        “Seven? Seven what?” asked Kirk, momentarily distracted.

        “No one you need to think about,” interjected Chakotay smoothly, taking his arm. “Now what can I do to help?”

        “We better ask Mr. Scott. He reigns supreme in the engine room.”

        “Lead the way,” answered Chakotay, throwing a warning look over his shoulder at Kathryn as she followed them.

        However, she was already aware of her slip and merely nodded, silently thanking him for getting Kirk’s attention off the topic of Seven.

        As they boarded the lift, Riker disappeared in a transporter beam.

*********

        While the modifications were still in progress, all the captains gathered once more in the Enterprise’s conference room to formulate plans. Since the Titan’s crew was the most experienced in fighting the Borg, it was agreed that her captain would coordinate the attack.

        Although Riker was surprised at such a cooperative attitude, particularly from the Klingons, Kirk and Spock simply nodded.

        “Every empire, federation and hegemony in this quadrant has lost whole planets along with their populations to the Borg,” explained Spock, “and no one has been able to stop them or even slow them down. You and the weapons you bring are our last hope. No one is willing to jeopardize that.”

        “In other words,” interjected Kirk, “we told them if they wanted your help, they had to check their egos at the door.”

        Kathryn’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment. “You mean you threatened that we would leave?” she exclaimed.

        “Yeah,” replied Kirk quite unabashed. “And it’s worked, hasn’t it?”

        Riker started to laugh. “I guess it has! Captain, I’m impressed!”

        But Kirk merely shrugged and turned back to the tactical model they were studying.

*******

        Hours later, after the captains had returned to their ships, Kathryn and Chakotay sat alone in the Titan’s conference room, reviewing the final battle plan.

        “I wish we had more transphasic torpedoes,” she fretted, “but we’re simply out of time.”

        “I think between the armour and what torpedoes we have, we should be fine,” he answered, laying down a PADD.

        “But the cubes have probably adapted by now, don’t you think?”

        “Kathryn,” he replied calmly, “we’ve done all we can. It will simply have to be enough.” His eyes flickered towards the door of the conference room. “What’s really bothering you? That you’re not on the bridge at the centre of things?”

        “You know me too well,” she chuckled ruefully. “I must admit, not being in control at a time like this is bothering me more than I thought it would.”

        “What you need is a distraction. Why don’t we find something useful to do?”

        “You’re right,” she conceded, moving to the door.

        “Where are you going?” he asked, puzzled.

        “To the bridge,” she replied succinctly, as she strode briskly through the open door.

        Following more slowly, Chakotay saw Kathryn stop in front of the captain’s chair. As he got closer, he overheard her suggest, “We want to help, Will, but I don’t want to get in your way. It occurs to me that if we monitor the sensors from the astro-cartography lab, we could keep you up-to-date on the overall progression of the battle. What do you think?”

        “It makes sense to me,” replied Riker immediately. “And it will certainly assist my ops officer. As it is, he’s going to have more than enough to do. Thanks, Kathryn, that will be a real help.”

*********

        Thirty six hours later, the work was finished, and just in time. Even as the last ablative generators were still being installed, long-range sensors on every ship were detecting nine Borg cubes on course for Carraya.

        Ten Klingon warbirds, six Romulan birds-of-prey, two Gorn and three Andorian light cruisers, one Orion destroyer, one Denobulan heavy cruiser and one Tholian war ship had each been outfitted with ablative generators and two transphasic photon torpedoes per vessel. The two Federation ships – the Enterprise and the Titan, which was still disguised to match the timeline – each carried three of the enhanced torpedoes.

        “Titan to all ships! Prepare to get underway. Long-range sensors have picked up the Borg. Multiple cubes are heading for Carraya. I would say this is it, Captains, the final showdown.”

        For several minutes, there was mass confusion as ships shifted here and there but gradually, as each one found its assigned position, order was restored.

        “How long before we reach Carraya?” asked Chakotay, feeling the ship start to move as he headed for the turbolift behind Kathryn.

        “A couple of hours,” answered Riker. “On our own, we could get there a lot faster, of course, but for the sake of blending in with the crowd, we’re running at warp one point five.”

        “The waiting is the hardest part, isn’t it?” interjected Kathryn from the lift.

        “It certainly is,” Will agreed in heartfelt tones.

*********

        In fact, the armada encountered the Borg half a light year before reaching Carraya.

        “Long-range sensors indicate a cluster of six cubes directly ahead, just outside the Azure Nebula,” reported Kathryn ninety minutes later from her console in astro-cartography. “I would surmise the rest are hiding inside it,” she added.

        “On screen,” ordered Riker, as similar reports began to come in from the other ships. “Magnify.”

        On the very edge of the viewscreen could be seen a number of small dots.

        “Maximum magnification.”

        The dots enlarged enough to be identified as definitely cubed in shape.

        There was a collective sigh, almost of relief, across the bridge. Finally, the waiting was over.

        “All ships, this is Captain Riker of the Titan. Proceed to your assigned position and prepare to engage the enemy. And to those vessels on our starboard quarter, watch for reinforcements hiding in that nebula. Good hunting.”

        To ops, he added, “Make sure this comm link remains open. If we lose communications with any of those ships, this could turn into a disaster.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        At the same time, Kathryn hailed him. “Sensors show five more cubes emerging now from the nebula.”

        “The reinforcements,” responded Riker.

        “I would assume so. But we’ll continue to monitor the nebula just in case there are any more in there.”

        “Acknowledged. Bridge out.”

        Closer and closer came the cubes, spreading out into a long line as they neared the armada.

        “Ten thousand kilometers,” reported ops.

        “Hold position,” warned Riker on the open comm link.

        Closer still

        Tension rose across the bridge.

        “Five thousand.”

        “The cubes are preparing to fire!” warned tactical.

        “All ships! Activate ablative hull armour now!”

        From their position at the rear of the armada, which was spread out in a loose diamond formation, the Titan’s crew could see every hull become sheathed in the armour.

        “All ships, stand by transphasic torpedoes. Fire only on my order! You have your targets.”

        From behind him, Riker could hear muted responses.

        “The cubes are firing!”

        “First row ships! Return fire! Now!!”

        As one, the foremost ship along with the three on each side, each launched one transphasic torpedo, followed immediately by a volley of conventional torpedoes.

        Every cube exploded in a massive shock wave which tossed the armada around like toothpicks. Several came perilously close to crashing into each other but fortunately, there were no actual collisions.

        “Well done!” exclaimed Riker as cheers echoed across the bridge. “All ships, quickly now, regain formation. Those who have already fired, fall back as planned. There are five more cubes behind and they won’t be so easy to pick off.”

        Each ship scrambled to find its place, the lead ships which had already fired sliding behind the second wave of the armada which now moved forward, weapons ready.

        Before them, the five cubes had slowed, obviously examining the armada for weak spots.

        For a brief moment, both sides paused, waiting for the other to make the first move.

        “I hope they hurry up,” muttered Riker, well aware of itchy Klingon trigger fingers.

        From several of the ships could be heard voices raised in frustration.

        “Come on….”

        “The cubes are changing position,” announced Kathryn from astro-cartography. “Captain, the centre three are forming a triangle while the other two are moving out to each side.”

        “They could be trying an encircling movement,” Chakotay interjected. “May I suggest the two ships on the outermost edges of port and starboard turn to an angle of forty-five degrees. Make sure the vessels immediately beside them cover their flanks.”

        “Got it,” replied Riker, ordering the affected ships into the new position.

        “The cubes are preparing to fire!” warned ops.

        Three ships in the forefront of the armada, two Klingon and a Romulan, all reeled as Borg torpedoes smashed through their shields to impact against their hulls. But the ablative armour allowed the energy to dissipate and they remained intact, if somewhat damaged.

        “Those ships in the lead, fall back. Everyone else, as soon as you have a clear shot, fire at will!”

        “They’re firing again,” reported ops just as two torpedoes impacted the lead cube, obliterating it. However, the other two had quickly shifted behind it and remained undamaged.

        “Captain!” exclaimed Kathryn. “The two cubes that moved to our sides are about to fire! We need to alter our formation!”

        Rapidly, Riker issued new orders and the diamond became more of an ovoid with an open end.

        However, while ships were still shifting position, the flanking cubes opened up with a barrage of torpedoes, rolling three of the smaller vessels right over and making them lose all control.

        At the same time, the remaining pair in front also launched full spreads.

        The formation vanished completely as ships were tossed about like toy boats in a bathtub. Three of the Klingons careened into each other, one exploding instantly while the other two twisted around to hang at an angle, their viewports darkened, obviously having lost all power.

        Nearby, a Romulan bird-of-prey clipped a wing of one of the Andorian vessels, knocking it askew. Frantically, the Andorian tried to right itself as two of the ablative generators detached from its hull, causing the ablative armour to fail. Seconds later, Borg phasers sliced through the shields into the hull, which was now unprotected. The Andorian was ripped apart, causing the warp core to breach.

        The resulting antimatter explosion sent another shockwave ripping through the armada, which had just started to reorganize itself. The nearest ships veered away, trying desperately to avoid hitting each other and barely succeeding.

        From her position in astro-cartography, Kathryn stared grimly at the scene developing on the big screen in the lab. “This is turning into chaos. If we don’t get control of the fleet fast,” she told Chakotay, “we’re going to lose this battle.”

        Nodding, he stared at the tactical scenario on the console before him. “If the Enterprise moves here,” his finger pointed to starboard, “and the Titan here,” he indicated the port side, “we should be able to set up a cross-fire.”

        “Won’t Borg sensors detect movement before we can get there?” she asked.

        “I don’t think so.” His eyes glanced over the big screen where the actual battle was being played out. “They’ve got all that going on to keep them occupied right now. I think we can ease our way out of here without being noticed, if we’re careful.”

        “All right. Janeway to bridge. Captain, we have a suggestion.”

        “Riker here. I’ll take whatever you’ve got. This is fast turning into a nightmare!”

        Rapidly, Chakotay explained his idea.

        “Got it. I’m hailing the Enterprise. And thanks, both of you. Riker out.”

        A minute later, even as the Borg continued phaser fire, the Titan and the Enterprise each began to back away before easing sideways on thrusters only, making it appear as if they had lost power and were drifting.

        “All ships!” called out Riker, “We’re setting up a crossfire. Watch our position so you don’t get caught in it. And on my signal, be prepared to fire with everything you’ve got left!”

        Several of the ships which had managed to regain formation began to reverse course as the others attempted to veer out of the way. Within two minutes, both Federation ships had clear fields of fire.

        “All ships! Fire now!!” shouted Riker.

        Instantly, torpedoes and phasers opened up on the remaining four cubes. Clouds of vapour poured from several points where the cubes’ shields were breached and then, one after another, transphasic torpedoes impacted, causing all four to explode almost simultaneously.

        This time, the shockwave sent every vessel, large and small, tumbling in all directions. It was sheer luck that there were no more collisions although several came very close.

        When the Titan was finally able to right itself, allowing her crew to clamber back to their stations, helm reported they were almost half a light year away from the site of the battle. There were some signs of other ships in the vicinity although none were presently visible.

        Shaking his head in disbelief, Riker retook his chair. “Damage report!”

        The fingers of the ops officer were flying across his console. After a moment, he looked up. “Structural damage on almost every deck, sir, and sickbay reports casualties are starting to come in, mostly broken bones. However, it appears there are no fatalities.”

        “Bridge to engineering.”

        “Engineering here,” replied a breathless voice after a moment.

        “Assess all damage deck by deck and begin repairs immediately. Take as many personnel as you can find. I want to be prepared in case more cubes appear.”

        “Understood.”

        “Riker to Janeway. Kathryn, can you go down to engineering, please? They need all the help they can get. Chakotay, I’d like you to stay in astro-cartography and watch the long-range sensors in case there are more cubes out there.”

        “Understood,” replied Kathryn, “I’m on my way.”

        “Don’t worry, Will,” added Chakotay, “I’ll keep an eye on things.”

        “Thanks. Riker out.” Getting to his feet, he circled the bridge, checking each console. He ended up in front of Deanna’s station.

        “How is it?” she asked softly.

        “Actually, we’re in better shape than I expected after a pounding like that.” He patted the nearest console approvingly. “She’s a tough ship.”

        “K’torcha to Titan,” sounded a hail although the viewscreen continued to show empty space. “Please respond.”

        “Titan here, K’torcha. We’re not getting a visual.”

        “Our communications are barely operable; at present, we have audio only. Our sensors are also damaged but from what we can tell, the fleet is widely scattered.”

        “That is what our sensors are indicating as well. Can you return to the location of the battle? We will set course for it as well and hopefully, we’ll find other ships as we progress.”

        “Underst…. …cha out.” The voice dissolved in a burst of static.

        “Helm,” ordered Riker, “set course for the site of the engagement. Maximum impulse. Engage.”

        “Aye sir. Course laid in, engaging impulse engines at maximum.”

        As Riker felt the ship start to move, he sat back in his chair with a sigh of relief. They were still in one piece. Things were looking up.

********

        Several hours later, the Titan cautiously approached the scene of their triumph, searching for any signs of more cubes. But all the sensors showed was a massive debris field.

        Carefully skirting the field, on the other side they found two birds-of-prey as well as one Klingon D7, which proved to be the K’torcha, moving just as slowly.

        “Bridge to Chakotay. Tell me what you see,” demanded Riker.

        “All this debris is acting as a scattering field,” replied Chakotay after a moment. “Until we move further away from it, I have short-range sensors only. Right now, all I’m picking up are the two Romulan vessels and one Klingon.”

        “Understood. Riker out.” Rising from his chair, he paced across the bridge. “Riker to the K’torcha and Romulan vessels. Our sensors are limited because of the debris field. Are you detecting any other vessels, in particular Borg cubes?”

        “Negative,” replied all three ships.

        “Our sensor readings are distorted as well,” continued one of the Romulans.

        “All right. You three stay here and keep watch. I’m going to the nebula. It’s possible some of our allies may be hiding there, if their ships are damaged.”

        “Very well,” replied the Romulan. “But we will stay only for a few hours. If by then, you have not returned, we will assume you have encountered the Borg and been destroyed.”

        “Agreed. Riker out.” After he closed the comm link, he muttered, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

        Soft chuckles echoed around the bridge as he resumed his seat. “Helm, set course for the Azure Nebula. Do we have warp drive?”

        “Course laid in, Captain. Warp engines are on line. However, the chief suggests that it might be advisable not to exceed warp five for the moment. The plasma injectors were leaking earlier; although they are now locked down, he remains concerned the locks may fail at high warp.”

        “Very well. Maximum impulse and go to warp five when we’re a safe distance from the debris. Engage.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        Quickly, the Titan eased her way past the field, then accelerated to warp. In less than a second, she was gone.

       

        Part 4:

        An exhaustive search of the nebula turned up the remainder of the fleet including the Enterprise but no more Borg cubes.

        As the Titan led the group back to the debris field to join the three ships already there, her captain began to hope that they really had won a decisive victory.

        Once the armada was all together again, the Titan’s engineers began to spread out to the other ships in order to dismantle the ablative generators as well as wipe the specifications for them and the transphasic torpedoes from each vessel’s computers. Of the modified torpedoes themselves, not a single one remained. All had been used in the final assault on the Borg, a fact that worried Kathryn and Chakotay.

        “We better pray to every deity we know that there are no more Borg in this universe,” declared Kathryn to her team when they were gathered in the conference room, “because if even one cube has escaped, we’re in deep trouble.”

        “Do you think we should modify some more?” asked B’Elanna. “Just in case.”

        “Can we?” asked Kathryn.

        “Oh yes, we haven’t used up all the conventional torpedoes yet.”

        “We have made the conversion system more efficient,” added Seven. “The work now takes only a few hours.”

        “Let me check with Captain Riker first,” replied Kathryn. “They are his torpedoes, after all.”

        “I would advise doing so immediately,” retorted Seven. “If there are any surviving cubes, they will not hesitate to attack instantly.”

        Tapping her commbadge, Kathryn asked Riker to join them.

        Once the situation was explained, he quickly gave his approval. “But only the torpedoes on this ship,” he cautioned. “And it might be advisable not to let it be known to anyone else. They’re already starting to clamour to keep the technology. I don’t want to make us a suddenly tempting target.”

        “Understood. I’ll make sure only the absolute minimum of crew are involved. With the help of the EMH, B’Elanna and Seven can do the work themselves. I would suggest you clear one torpedo bay so they can proceed as quickly as possible.”

        “Consider it done.” Riker called in his first officer, Commander Rixit, and passed on the order with the proviso that the matter was not to be discussed.

        “Yes, sir,” replied the commander. Turning to face B’Elanna and Seven, he added, “I will contact you when torpedo bay two is ready. It won’t be long.”

        “Why don’t you find the doctor and download him into the holo-emitter before going down there?” suggested Kathryn. “That way, you’ll be ready to start as soon as the commander gives the word.”

        “Good idea,” replied B’Elanna. “Come on, Seven. I think he’s in sickbay, isn’t he, making a nuisance of himself?”

        “No doubt,” replied Seven drily as they disappeared through the door.

**********

        Hours passed, the work of dismantling the technology continued and still there was no sign of the Borg.

        By the evening of the second day, Riker allowed that “I think we’ve done it. I think we got them all.”

        Halfway through the third morning, Kathryn finally began to believe he was right.

        That night, the last of the Titan’s engineers returned to the ship, their work finished.

        Breathing a huge sigh of relief, Riker sent a message of thanks to the ships surrounding them. “To all our valiant allies. We’ve done it! Together, we have defeated a ruthless, determined enemy. Thank you for your courage and bravery, each and every one, during this struggle. Our success is equally shared among us all.

        “And for those brave crews who did not survive, their sacrifice will not be forgotten. Their names will live on whenever the stories of this battle are told, in your universe and ours.

        “The crew of the Titan salutes you all!”

        On cue, the running lights of the Titan flashed several times in sequence.

        Signaling silently to the helm to engage thrusters, Riker continued, “Now it is time for us to say goodbye and return to our universe. Farewell and may fortune shine on you.”

        As the Titan slowly eased away from the armada, the remaining ships flashed their lights in return; at the same time, each captain sent their thanks and best wishes for a safe journey.

        “I only wish they really meant all the flowery words,” commented Kathryn as they stood on the bridge, watching the ships recede on the viewscreen, “but I’m afraid all things being equal, it will be soon Klingon fighting Romulan fighting Andorian once again.”

        “Now you’re being cynical,” chided Chakotay gently. “Maybe they’ve learned that cooperation is always better than conflict.”

        “That’s the optimists’ view,” she retorted.

        “True,” he conceded, “but I like to believe that there’s always hope for a better future.”

        Smiling wistfully, she glanced up at him. “Maybe.”

        Their quiet conversation was interrupted by a hail from the Enterprise, which was pacing beside them off the port bow.

        “Kirk to Titan. Captain Riker, now that we’ve got a bit of time, how about that poker game we discussed earlier?”

        Riker’s eyes gleamed. “You bet, Captain. I can beam over whenever you’re ready.”

        “Ten minutes?”

        “You’re on. Riker out.”

        Getting up from his chair, he glanced down as Deanna chuckled. “What?” he asked almost indignantly.

        She grinned at him indulgently, like a mother about to send her little boy out to play. “Have fun.”

        “I most certainly will.” He hesitated, then added, “You can come too if you like. You enjoy poker.”

        But she was shaking her head before he’d finished. “No, thank you. I’ll let you boys play on your own this time.”

        “See you later then,” he told her before turning to Commander Rixit. “You have the bridge.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        As he came up to Kathryn and Chakotay, Riker paused. “Chakotay, I don’t know if you play but you’re certainly welcome to come along.”

        Obviously torn, Chakotay hesitated.

        “Oh, go ahead!” exclaimed Kathryn, “You know you want to.”

        “Thanks,” he murmured, bending to quickly kiss her cheek before following Will into the turbolift.

        “Kathryn,” called Deanna, “come and sit here.” She patted the centre seat. “If that’s all right, Commander,” she added hurriedly.

        Well aware of Kathryn’s history, Rixit smiled. “I’m sure the captain won’t mind.” He gestured towards the chair. “Captain Janeway?”

        Preening slightly, Kathryn walked over to stand in front of the seat then settled herself comfortably. “Hmm,” she murmured, patting the armrest, “not bad. Not like Voyager, of course, but – not bad.” Her hands folded in her lap as she crossed her legs.

        “Don’t get too comfortable,” warned Deanna. “I expect Will to want it back.”

        “I know,” responded Kathryn almost wistfully. “But it’s nice to be able to enjoy it for a little while.” She glanced at Rixit on her other side. “Thank you.”

        “My pleasure, Captain.”

**********

        Hours passed and Kathryn had long since gone to bed before Chakotay and Riker finally returned from the Enterprise. And so it was the following morning when she finally learned the details of the marathon poker game between the two of them, Kirk and two of his officers.

        “It was a game for the ages,” declared Chakotay far too enthusiastically.

        Silently, she resigned herself to hearing about the game in exhaustive detail.

        However, much to her relief, before he had gotten further than the second hand, they were both called to the bridge.

        “We’re approaching the rift,” explained Riker. “I thought you’d like to be here to say goodbye to the Enterprise.”

        “Absolutely, thank you,” they replied together.

        However, before Riker could order a torpedo fired to open the rift, the lieutenant at ops reported they were receiving some kind of message.

        “Explain!” demanded Riker.

        “It’s garbled, Captain,” replied the lieutenant, “I’m only getting bits but I think it’s from the Explorer on the other side of the rift.”

        “Hold position.”

        “Aye, sir.”

        Riker turned to ops. “Play the message. Let’s see what we can make of it.”

        The first time through, they could only make out a few words but as the officer worked to fine tune the signal, they were able to decipher more.

        “Explorer to Tit…. Be advised…Integ…Commish…waiting…Head... question Jane…possible arrest. Do you read?”

        In the stunned silence that followed, everyone stared at each other in shock.

        Kathryn was the first to react. “The Temporal Integrity Commission? Is that what they’re saying?”

        “Sounds like it,” replied Chakotay, turning to Riker. “Will, can that signal be cleared up any more?”

        But the ops officer shook his head. “Sorry, sir, that’s the best I can do.”

        Getting to his feet, Riker sent out a hail. “Titan to Explorer. We did not receive your complete message. Please respond and clarify.”

        But there was no answer.

        Again he hailed the Explorer with the same result. Turning to Kathryn, he asked, “What do you want to do?”

        Shrugging, she replied, “We have to go through, Will. We can’t stay here.”

        Before he could say anything else, the Enterprise contacted them to ask if there was a problem.

        “We’re not sure,” answered Riker. “We’re getting a garbled message from one of our ships stationed on the other side of the rift. We’re just now discussing our next course of action.”

        “Are you going through?” asked Kirk.

        “That’s what we’re discussing.”

        “The Enterprise will hold position here,” responded Kirk, “for, let’s say, twenty-four hours. Just in case you need a hand.”

        “Captain,” protested Kathryn, “you don’t need –”

        Before she could finish, Chakotay interrupted. “Thank you, Captain Kirk, that would be appreciated.”

        “It’s not necessary,” she retorted, “we’ll be fine.”

        But he merely stared back at her. “Maybe, but a little insurance doesn’t hurt.”

        “Thank you, Captain, we’ll be on our way then,” interjected Riker. “It’s been a pleasure and an honour to serve with you.”

        “The feeling is mutual,” replied Kirk. “We can’t ever thank you enough for coming to our aid. Please pass on our gratitude to your superiors and to Mr. Spock for all his assistance.”

        “I’ll be sure to do that. Titan out.”

        Waving his hand to end the transmission, Riker took his seat. “Prepare to open the rift…. Fire!”

        Rapidly, a photon torpedo sped towards a single point in space and suddenly, the rift split open.

        “Maximum impulse. Engage.”

        Quickly, the Titan moved forward. A moment later, she slipped through the break and was gone, leaving the Enterprise alone in open space.

        Wary of the region, which at times was infested with pirates, Kirk ordered Chekhov to search for somewhere nearby where they might hide for a few hours.

        Hunched over his console, Chekhov soon announced that he had discovered a small system half a light year in the opposite direction from the rift. “There are several planets, sir, two of which have moons. We should be able to find a hiding place there.”

        “Very good. Mr. Sulu, set a course.”

        “Aye, Captain, course set.”

        “Engage.” Kirk swung around in his chair. “Lieutenant Uhura, make sure you are listening carefully for any sound at all from the direction of the rift. If anyone comes back through, we have to get back there as quickly as possible.”

        “Of course, sir,” she replied, an edge to her voice that let him know she didn’t appreciate him telling her how to do her job.

        Well aware of her opinion of him, Kirk merely smiled.

*********

        Meanwhile, the Titan had passed safely through the rift to be met by the Explorer.

        At once, Kathryn and Chakotay were ordered to beam over where they were met by Admiral Paris. It was he who explained in more detail how a ship from the 29th century, the Relativity, had suddenly arrived at Earth.

        Kathryn’s eyes flew anxiously to Chakotay’s, her expression apprehensive.

        “Do you know this ship?” asked Paris.

        “Oh yes,” she groaned, “what do they want?”

        “The captain, Ducane, has told us that your actions in arming various ships in the other universe are an unacceptable incursion of the timeline. Furthermore, he charges that this is not the first or even second time you have willfully disrupted the timeline and that you were warned on a previous occasion to stop doing so. He also is asking if you have any information on a Captain Braxton, who apparently had developed a fixation on you recently before he suddenly disappeared. His superiors suspect that Braxton has succumbed to temporal psychosis syndrome, a condition that has afflicted him before, and which means he is quite unstable mentally. They believe he may have gone to the other timeline in search of you.”

        “He found the Titan,” retorted Kathryn, “but he told us he was acting under orders. However, from what you’re saying, that’s not the case?”

        “It would appear not. Possibly, he anticipated the orders which Ducane later received and decided to act on his own.” Paris paused then asked, “Do you know where he is now?”

        “He’s dead, Admiral. His ship was destroyed by a Borg torpedo meant for the Titan.”

        Paris looked at her in some surprise, obviously wanting to know more but then put it aside – there were more important matters to discuss.

        For a moment he hesitated, as if searching for words before he continued, “I’ll be blunt, Katie. Command is extremely reluctant to hand you over to Ducane but his ship is equipped with such advanced technology that he can pretty much do what he wants. If he decides to arrest you, whether or not we consent, there may not be much we can do to stop him.”

        Chakotay cut in. “Is he aware that we took measures to disable the technology we gave those ships?”

        “He is,” Paris replied, heavily. “He tells us, however, that in several cases, the crews were able to circumvent those measures and the result has been near-constant conflict ever since in that universe.”

        Kathryn’s eyes closed briefly; she knew very well that this was exactly what everyone else on the Titan had been afraid of. After a moment, she lifted her head to stare straight-on at Paris. “It’s my fault, I was the one who pushed for it, so I’m the one who should pay the price. You better tell Headquarters I’ll come peaceably.”

        But Chakotay was shaking his head. “Hold on here, let’s think about this.” For several minutes, he paced across the room, unconsciously imitating Kathryn, before he turned to face them, his face alight. “What if we went back to make sure those weapons are properly disabled? Would that satisfy Ducane?”

        “I don’t know,” Paris shrugged. “Let’s contact Headquarters and find out.”

**********

        While they waited, Kathryn asked to contact the Titan to explain the situation. “They need to know what’s happened.”

        “Here’s the situation,” she began when Riker appeared on the monitor in the Explorer’s briefing room. Quickly she summed up their conversation with Command, finishing up by explaining her solution.

        “It sounds pretty drastic,” commented Will. “Are you sure you want to go back there?”

        “I made the mess, Will, in spite of all advice to the contrary, including yours. I should be the one to go back to clean it up.”

        “I see what you mean,” he finally replied after sitting silently for several seconds. “I know Kirk will help as much as possible. It’s only….you’ll be a long way from home, Kathryn.”

        “Well,” she chuckled, “it won’t be the first time.”

        He smiled in reply before his face sobered. “I should tell you that we’ve just received new orders which require us to leave very shortly. I was going to drop all of you off at Vulcan but under the circumstances, I imagine the rest of your crew would prefer to beam to the Explorer. Let me have a word with the captain, would you?”

        With a nod, she contacted the bridge.

        Very shortly after, the remainder of her team transported over. With them came Riker and Troi to say goodbye to Kathryn and Chakotay in person.

        “It’s been fun,” Riker told her as he gave her a last hug.

        “It has indeed,” agreed Kathryn, hugging him back just as hard. “Thank you, Will, we couldn’t have pulled it off without you and your crew. Thank them for us, will you?”

        “I will indeed. Take care, Kathryn.” Stepping back, he paused to say goodbye to Chakotay.

        “Farewell, Kathryn,” Deanna embraced her gently. As she stepped back, her eyes drew together in concern; obviously, she was sensing that Kathryn was conflicted. However, she said nothing more, merely holding her hand for a moment before moving to stand beside Will on the transporter pads.

        “Energize!”

        Moments later, the Titan peeled away and went to warp.

*********

        Shortly after Kathryn and Chakotay had returned to the briefing room with their team to put together a detailed report, the Explorer’s captain paged them to say the Commander-in-Chief, Fleet Admiral Nechayev, wanted to speak to them. “I’ll have it transferred there,” he added.

        Gritting her teeth, Kathryn nodded. “Thank you, Captain.”

        Nechayev began by congratulating them for destroying the Borg in the other universe but then her face grew solemn. “Captain Ducane is adamant, Janeway, that you be handed over to him. Let me say right now I do not want to do this but we may not have much of a choice, as I expect Admiral Paris has already explained. If you have come up with some argument, some alternative, tell me now.”

        “Chakotay has an idea,” replied Kathryn. “I don’t know if Captain Ducane will agree but it’s all we can think of.” She took a deep breath. “What if I went back to the other universe and disabled all the weapons and technology myself? Would that satisfy the Temporal Integrity Commission?”

        The admiral’s eyes gleamed with sudden hope. “It might. Let me ask him.”

        For a moment, she disappeared before returning to tell Kathryn that Ducane agreed.

        “Can he make that decision on his own?” asked Kathryn, surprised he would have that much latitude.

        “I asked him about that very point,” replied Nechayev. “He answered that it’s necessary since in a situation such as this, he cannot contact his superiors for instructions.”

        Nechayev started to speak again then stopped, her head turned to carry on a conversation off-screen.

        A moment later, she moved away, allowing Captain Ducane to take her place.

        His face was stern. “Captain Janeway,” he began but at the shake of her head, amended himself. “That’s right, it’s plain Kathryn Janeway now, isn’t it?” His eyes glared at her. “I believe I told you at our last meeting that you were appearing on our sensors far too often. Apparently, you did not take my advice to heart. The Temporal Integrity Commission has issued orders for your arrest. However, I have some latitude and the suggestion that Admiral Nechayev has made could well be acceptable – with conditions.”

        Lifting her hand, Kathryn interrupted. “It occurs to me – why can’t you go there and fix the weapons yourself? Wouldn’t that solve the problem?”

        Looking down, Ducane shifted uncomfortably. “Due to Captain Braxton’s interference in that timeline, the Commission believes we are already compromised. I have been explicitly forbidden to go there at this time.”

        “I see. But we could.”

        “Since you caused the damage, I see no reason why you can’t be allowed to repair it. However, I am adding a proviso. That rift you use is far too convenient. It must be sealed permanently from both sides. Which means,” he added firmly, “that you have to be on the other side in order to make sure it is done properly. In the name of the Commission, I can’t accept anything less.”

        She stared at him, puzzled. “But won’t that contaminate the timeline even more?”

        “I have examined events of that timeline and worked up several alternative scenarios. I think that universe will be able to keep you sufficiently occupied, Janeway. But this time, try to stay out of trouble. I’m warning you now. If we have to return for you again, you will be arrested and charged with multiple breaches of the timeline. I can promise you will spend the rest of your days in a secure facility where you can cause no further damage. This is your last chance to redeem yourself. Understood?”

        Her eyes wide, Kathryn nodded. “Understood,” she murmured.

        Ducane stepped out of view, and Nechayev reappeared, her face almost sympathetic. “I will order the Explorer to take you through the rift.”

        “Thank you, Admiral.”

        As the screen went dark, everyone in the briefing room stared at each other, stunned by the sudden turn of events.

        For nearly a minute, there was silence before they all started to talk at once.

        B’Elanna vented her fury at Admiral Paris while Seven, although more restrained, was equally upset, declaring to the doctor that the plan was folly. Beside her, Tuvok agreed, saying the entire business was quite illogical.

        Meanwhile, in the midst of the uproar, Kathryn moved to stand in front of Chakotay, her eyes filled with worry and fear. “Oh dear, Chakotay, what a mess I’ve gotten myself into.”

        Reaching toward her, he gripped her shoulder with one hand as he stroked her cheek with the other. “Don’t worry,” he smiled gently, “we’ll find a way out. We always do.”

        But she was shaking her head worriedly, “I don’t know….” She paused then looked up at him resolutely. “This is my fault and mine alone. You all told me what could happen and apparently, it did. You shouldn’t have to pay the price as well.”

        His voice held a puzzled note. “Kathryn, what are you saying?”

        Taking a deep breath, she told him resolutely, “I have to go back but you don’t.”

        He opened his mouth to protest but she forestalled him, holding up her hand. “Let me finish. I want you to think long and hard about this because there’s no changing your mind. Once in that universe, you stay there. You’ll never see your home or your family again. You can’t even tell them goodbye!”

        Abruptly, she turned away to face the viewport, staring blindly at the stars while she regained her composure and steeled herself for his decision. If he chose to stay here, she would simply have to accept it.

        His hand on her shoulder made her turn back to him. “What do you want to do?” she asked.

        With a gentle smile, he answered, “Kathryn, where you go, I go.”

        Her face softened. “I love you,” she murmured.

        Moving close to him, she quickly caressed his face before taking his hand tightly in hers and turning decisively to Admiral Paris. “Can we hail the Enterprise from here and ask if they’re willing to take a couple of passengers?”

        In response, Paris contacted the bridge; a moment later, they all heard the reply. ‘”Yes, we can, and yes, they will.”

        “Then, Captain,” responded the admiral, “prepare to open the rift.”

        “Aye sir. Firing torpedo now.”

        As the ship started to move, he turned back to them. “I hope you both know what you’re doing,” he told them, “because we can’t come back for you.”

        “I know,” replied Chakotay firmly, “we’ll be fine.”

        Torres and Seven came forward. “Are you sure about this?” asked B’Elanna, her eyes huge with worry and fear. “There must be an alternative!”

        “I am forced to agree with B’Elanna,” added Seven. “We can find another way.”

        Wrapping her hands around theirs, Kathryn shook her head. “If there is, we haven’t time to look for it.”

        As they both started to protest, she stilled them. “Thank you both. But no, it has to be this way.” Her tone silenced them and they stood back resignedly.

        Before Kathryn could move, Tuvok was beside her. “Kathryn, I wish….” He paused, unable to voice his feelings but his hand gripped her shoulder tightly for a moment.

        “I know, Tuvok,” she murmured. “I wish, too. Tell Spock goodbye for me, will you? I enjoyed getting to know him. And give T’Pel my love. I…oh dear.” She turned aside, forcing back her emotions. “Uh, I need to get my bag from my quarters.”

        “So do I”, added Chakotay.

        “Fine,” replied Paris, “Come to transporter room one when you’re ready.”

        “We won’t be long,” she answered as they hurried out the door.

        A few minutes later, they arrived in the transporter room to find it somewhat crowded.

        The four from Voyager moved forward to surround them.

        Grasping their hands, Kathryn hugged each one tightly, even Tuvok, before stepping back to let Chakotay also say his farewells.

        “Tell everyone goodbye for us, will you?” asked Kathryn.

        “You can count on it,” replied B’Elanna, her eyes filling with tears; she knew she would never see them again.

        Admiral Paris stepped forward. “It’s time,” he said. “We’re standing by. Signal us when you’re ready to seal the rift.”

        “Aye, sir,” replied Kathryn before gripping his hand. “Thank you, Owen, for everything. Tell my mother and Phoebe....” Her eyes started to fill but she fought back the tears. “Tell them I love them and that this isn’t by my choice.”

        “I’ll tell them,” he promised.

        As they stepped up onto the pads, their eyes remained focused on the four before them, the last of their crew from Voyager.

        Paris gave the order for the transporter officer to beam them to the bridge of the Enterprise, which could be seen on the monitor.

        Seconds later, Kathryn and Chakotay were there, surrounded by Kirk and his crew.

        “They will have an honoured place here,” promised Kirk, “Enterprise out.”

        Quickly, the Explorer wheeled around to re-enter the rift.

        A moment later, she was gone.

        Her feelings numb, Kathryn looked at Chakotay, and then beyond him, to Kirk who was grinning at them.

        “Kathryn and Chakotay, welcome to our Alpha Quadrant. Now, let’s get to work, shall we?”

*********

        Shortly after, the Enterprise sent a final message through the rift then fired a photon torpedo specially modified not only to seal the rift but also to emit a large amount of berthold rays, a form of radiation lethal to all living creatures, in the form of a cloud. Since berthold rays tended to cluster together, it was believed the cloud would remain at the rift indefinitely, and of course, no ship would go near it. In that way, the rift would remain secure and unopened.

        Satisfied they had done as much as possible to ensure the security of the rift, the Enterprise departed to begin the search for every vessel that had been armed with transphasic torpedoes and ablative hull armour, and start the work of ensuring they had been truly rendered non-operable.

        “This could take a while,” Kirk remarked as he and Spock met with his newest passengers over dinner to discuss the best way to accomplish their task.

*********

        That evening, as Kathryn and Chakotay settled into their quarters, he turned to her. “I’ve been wanting to ask you,” he began, “what you were doing just before we left the Titan.”

        She glanced up at him almost mischievously. “You saw that, did you?”

        “Yes.”

        “I was ‘making a key’,” she replied enigmatically, then as he continued to stare at her in puzzlement, she elaborated, “to give us a way home.”

        Chakotay frowned. “Kathryn, what have you done?”

        Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a data-chip. “I downloaded the specifications for Borg-modified shields.”

        He stared at her in disbelief. “You what?! Why?!”

        Before she could speak, he answered his own question. “So if we want, we could modify the shields of a ship –”

        “Or a shuttle,” she interjected.

        “Or a shuttle, which would allow us to pass through the rift unharmed by the Berthold rays.”

        “Exactly. A key to our universe, if we need it.”

        Rising to her feet, she paced across the room. “I’m responsible for stranding us here, Chakotay. I had to find a way we could leave, should we ever want to. And I did.”

        Still frowning, he sat down heavily. “What about the Temporal Prime Directive?”

        “What about it?” she shrugged. “They can’t be everywhere. I figure as long as we keep a low profile, after a while they won’t even notice which universe we’re in. I’m not suggesting we go back immediately. I think we’re stuck here for a few years at least, and who knows? We may decide we like it. But the bottom line is it’s not home.” She turned to face him. “And I wanted you to have a way back.”

        Shaking his head, he got up to hug her tightly. “Kathryn Janeway, even after all these years, you never cease to amaze me!”

       

        Epilogue: alternate universe

        Many years later, a small shuttle slipped through the area near the spatial rift leading to another universe. Aboard were two elderly humans.

        Carefully the pilot navigated his way as the woman watched closely for the pirates that continued to infest this area of space, but their luck held and they encountered no one.

        Approaching the coordinates of the rift, the woman fired a single modified photon torpedo through the Berthold rays.

        For a few seconds, it appeared to have no effect but then she spotted a rift in space. Immediately, the man pointed the shuttle towards it and went to full impulse.

        A few minutes later, the rift disappeared with no sign of the shuttle.

        On the other side, a beacon located nearby picked up the sudden appearance of an unknown shuttle and automatically sent a signal via a relay network of several more beacons to Starfleet Headquarters, alerting Command to the opening of a rift that was supposed to be permanently sealed.

        Immediately, the nearest starship, the Rhode Island under the command of Captain Harry Kim, was dispatched to investigate.

        His report would astonish the entire quadrant.

        Voyager’s command team was returning home at last.