"I wish you'd tell me where we're going."
Chakotay smiled, but didn't turn to look at her. It was the
fourth time she'd said it since they'd left Voyager; and so far he'd
resisted answering. Instead, he made a slight adjustment in the
AsteriŽ's course, then turned off the yacht's sensor array. He'd
already given Kathryn the biggest hint he could think of without
outright telling her. Of course, one glance at the sensor readout
and she'd be onto his plan in an instant. "It wouldn't be much of a
surprise then, would it?" He didn't need to see her face to picture
the half-scowl/half-grin he knew would be there.
"I could order you to tell me," she threatened.
She almost sounded serious. "And if I disobeyed your command?" he
asked. "Would you have me court-martialed? Or just confined to
Her snicker gave her away, but he still refused to look at her as
she answered him. "Confined to quarters, definitely," she answered.
"Of course, I know you probably still have a few old Maquis tricks
up your sleeve--so I'd have to be sure to choose your security guard
carefully, just to make sure you didn't escape." Her voice had a
playful quality, but he suspected some part of her was serious. "In
fact, I might insist on doing the job myself. Captain's prerogative,
She'd been pacing a groove in the deck plating behind him, but
now--upping the ante in her test of his resolve--Kathryn's hand
slipped over his shoulder and down the front of his tunic. Chakotay
realized she'd switched tactics--from intimidation to diversion--but
he'd been expecting this little maneuver. In fact, he'd been a
little surprised it had taken her so long. "Nice try," he said,
gently removing her fingers from his chest, "but I'm flying
manually. Can't risk you sneaking a peek at the navigational sensors
now, can I?"
She growled under her breath--a reaction he wondered if she'd
learned from B'Elanna--before stepping from behind him and plopping
down into the copilot's chair. "You know that patience was never my
long suit," she said honestly. "How long before this mystery ends
and I can see where I'm being kidnapped *to*?"
He finally gave into the temptation and looked into her
eyes--something he'd resisted doing for the first two hours of their
trip for fear that she'd be able to read the answer in his
expression. This was their first real vacation together as a couple
and he wanted it to be special, especially considering the hell
they'd just been through. "Can you stand another thirty minutes of
suspense?" he asked mischievously. "Or should I get out the medkit
and sedate you for the rest of the trip?"
She smiled. "You know, this little 'vacation' was supposed to
relax me. Somehow I'm not feeling very relaxed."
Guilt. Of all the weapons in her arsenal, she'd resorted to the
one he had the hardest time ignoring. Still, they were only a
half-hour away from their destination. "I'm getting the medkit," he
said with as much seriousness as he could muster before starting to
stand up from the controls. "Maybe if you sleep for the rest of the
Kathryn rolled her eyes and pushed him back into his seat. "Oh,
alright," she said dejectedly. "I can wait thirty minutes. But not a
Chakotay grinned and shook his head. "You really do hate
surprises, don't you?"
She sighed loudly and he could tell she was giving real thought
to his question. "Let's just say I like knowing where I'm going and
leave it at that."
He smiled to himself, remembering their first trip to the Delta
Quadrant and her single-minded focus on reaching Earth--come Borg or
high water. Then her insistence on knowing where *Admiral* Janeway
was leading them before she'd enter the transwarp conduit that might
finally get them back there. Even her anger at being cut out of the
Vidiian negotiations reflected what her current agitation proved
that Kathryn Janeway was a woman who liked to be in control of her
own destiny. The still unresolved question: would she ultimately be
willing to let go of that control, relinquish "command" as it were,
in favor of a more equal partnership?
In a way, that was part of what their little vacation would
prove. "Well," he finally said, knowing it wouldn't satisfy her, "I
guess you'll just have to trust me."
A strange look flashed in her eyes but left before he could
identify it. "Trust you," she said flatly--more of a statement than
a question--and for a moment he wondered what she was thinking. Her
expression turned again; this time the smile was forced. "Of course
I trust you. For the next twenty-eight minutes. Then you're telling
me where we're heading--before I'm forced to stage a mutiny on my
own yacht." She grinned, but he could tell she was holding something
'Where we're heading.' An interesting choice of words. As he
nudged up the AsteriŽ's throttle, Chakotay realized that he was just
as interested in answering that question as the impatient woman at
"It'll be fun, trust me!"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, and sighed loudly. "That's what you
said about Captain Proton," she teased her husband. "Yet somehow all
you ever wanted me to do was scream like an idiot and wait to be
Tom looked up from under the hood of his vintage 1969 Mustang, a
long smudge of grease streaking across his cheek where he'd
scratched it. "You're never going to let that go, are you?" he said,
grinning. "Besides, you would have made a terrific Constance
B'Elanna handed him a box wrench as she answered. "You just
wanted to see me tied to a pole in that skimpy little outfit," she
Tom stopped adjusting the carburetor for a minute and looked up
at her. His mood had suddenly sobered a bit and an almost sad
expression came into his eyes. B'Elanna wondered what she had said
to trigger such a quick about-face. "Not exactly," he mumbled. "In
those days I would have done just about anything to get a reaction
from you, even if I had to make you mad to do it." Then he smiled
and went back to work.
It had been over five years; B'Elanna hadn't thought much lately
about those particularly difficult days in the Delta Quadrant. Days
when she wondered if she'd ever feel anything again: friendship for
Chakotay, pride in her work...love for Tom. Only it was more than
days. For months after hearing that her Maquis family had been
defeated and killed, she'd been trapped in a vortex of depression
and apathy. She didn't care about anything. She didn't feel
anything. And the first person she'd shut out was the man who had
been the deepest in. If everyone she loved either left her or died,
she just wouldn't let herself love anyone anymore. If all she could
feel was pain, then she'd just stop feeling.
And considering how much he enjoyed 20th century American
entertainment, it was probably no coincidence that Tom had spent
much of that same time holed up in the original Voyager's hololab
creating a fantasy alter ego. Captain Proton's battles were simple
and easily won against a cartoon villain who was no match for 'our
brave hero.' If Tom Paris had been powerless over his girlfriend's
illness, Proton could always be counted upon to rescue the damsel in
distress and save the day. At the time it had all seemed so
ridiculous. Now, with a little reflection and distance, B'Elanna
realized it made perfect sense.
As she stood there five years later in the garage of the beach
house they'd rented along the Pacific coast, she looked at Tom and
wondered for the millionth time why he'd stayed with her back then.
Why he'd toughed it out, even when she did everything she could to
push him away.
He seemed to sense her deflating mood and shot her a look out of
the corner of his eye. "Though if you've changed your mind and want
to put on that skimpy little outfit, I'd be happy to replicate one
in your size."
She threw an oil-soaked rag at his head. "Not on your life," she
deadpanned. "Besides, I think your 'secretary' has a thing for
Buster Kincaid. And Seven probably fills out that 'skimpy little
outfit' better than I would."
Tom tossed his wrench into the toolbox and wrapped his filthy
hands around B'Elanna's waist. "To be honest with you, I never
wanted you to play Constance. I actually wrote another part just for
you...only I didn't think you'd agree to play it."
B'Elanna was intrigued now. "Oh, really?" she said, trying to
imagine. "Let me guess: Medusia, the exotic snake charmer with a
really bad hairdo. Or Tarzania, Princess of the Monkey
Tom laughed and kissed her on the head. "Not exactly," he said
before taking a moment to stare into her eyes and smile. "Even Harry
doesn't know this, but Captain Proton actually had a
girlfriend...Lanna L'Amour, the most beautiful space mechanic in the
entire Patrol Fleet."
"A girlfriend, huh?" B'Elanna asked, smiling and wondering if Tom
was just making this up to get her to forget about his once having
asked Seven to take over the role of Proton's buxom secretary.
"Well, back then she was his girlfriend," he answered, a twinkle
coming into his eyes. "Eventually, after they defeated Chaotica and
were decorated by the President of Earth, Proton finally convinced
Lanna to marry him. I hear they have a little Defender of the Galaxy
now...who's cute as a button and looks just like her mother." He
leaned down and gave B'Elanna another quick kiss--this time on her
"Let me guess: and they lived happily ever after?" she asked,
smiling as she remembered another time she'd heard those words.
"That's what I hear," Tom teased, "but only after Lanna agreed to
take a vacation with Proton in his vintage Mustang convertible."
B'Elanna smiled and shook her head. "How could a 1930s movie hero
drive a 1960s era car?" she asked.
"Simple," Tom answered. "He lived in the future."
Pop culture logic. Typical of her overgrown adolescent husband.
"Touchť. Still, I don't exactly think that's what Starfleet had in
mind when they ordered us on this little sabbatical," she countered.
"Although, I'm not sure exactly what they *did* have in mind..."
Tom snorted and let his hands slip down to grab hers. "I think
they thought that it might be good for a woman who had once been
tortured by the Vidiians--along with her loving, over-protective
husband who watched it all happen--to be on the other side of the
galaxy when we decided to make nice with them."
"I see your point," she said, shaking her head. And she knew Tom
was right. If they were on Voyager, she'd be stewing--making her
objections to a Federation treaty with those barbarians crystal
clear to anyone who would listen. But here--a short dirt road away
from the Pacific Ocean, watching the man she loved live out one of
his many teenaged fantasies--here, she just couldn't work up much
righteous indignation. Besides, she realized, what good would it
"Look," she said, "this is the first time we've ever had three
weeks off together without anyone caring where we are or what we do.
And you want to spend the last week of it..."
Suddenly he was totally animated, his eyes shining as he swept
his arm out in front of them as if he were picturing it as he spoke.
"Alone together with no one else around for miles, having a great
old fashioned family adventure! Feeling the wind whip though our
hair as we sail along with the top down, just the three of us out on
the open road. Stopping at greasy diners for breakfast, sleeping in
motels just off the freeway...maybe catching a drive-in movie along
"Whoa," she interrupted, "unless you're planning on a little time
travel or a visit to the nearest holosuite..."
"Not exactly," he interjected, reaching into the back pocket of
his coveralls and pulling out a tattered piece of paper--some kind
of pamphlet or brochure. He hesitated for a second then handed it to
"'Get Your Kicks...'" she stopped and looked up at him before
reading the rest of the sentence, "'On Route 66.' I don't get
"It was the first major American highway to connect Chicago with
California. In the 1950s and 60s, it came to symbolize the feeling
of freedom and possibility you could only get seeing the country by
car. They even made a television show about it..."
"Oh, well, that explains it," B'Elanna muttered under her breath.
"In case you've forgotten, Captain Proton, that was the past, not
the future. It was over 400 years ago."
Tom grabbed the piece of paper from her hand and showed her the
date: 2370. "Actually, it was ten years ago. I heard about it from
one of the guards in Auckland. His parents are Terran history buffs
and run one of the restored motels in Arizona. Apparently, they're
part of a project called 'Old Earth.' They run reenactment sites at
historic places all around the world. I told him about Sandrine,
actually--thought maybe she could get in on it. Anyway, he gave me
this brochure. Back then, I thought that when I got out of prison
I'd check it out. Of course, that was before I ended up on Voyager,
helping the Captain chase you and Chakotay into the Delta
He was babbling now; the way he did when he was trying to
convince her to do something she didn't want to. "So, you want us to
take a car trip all the way to Chicago? That would take--"
"More time than we've got. No, I was thinking we could drive the
two days from here to Arizona, then shoot across the desert to show
Miral the Grand Canyon. It's one of the seven natural Wonders of the
World, you know. We'd spend a day or two there sightseeing, then
"Tom, it's a big hole in the ground. What's there to see?
Besides, Miral won't even remember it. She's not even two years
"We'll remember it," he said earnestly. And we'll take pictures
once we get there so we can show her when she grows up. Besides, who
knows how long it will be before we get another chance like this:
almost a whole week alone together as a family, with anyone who
might want to interrupt us all the way on the other side of the
Why did he get so caught up in these ridiculous schemes, she
wondered. He'd obviously planned this vacation for days, spending
all his free time tuning up the car--just waiting for the right
moment to spring the idea on her. And why did he almost always seem
to enjoy things she found excruciatingly dull? Except that this
time...well, the way Tom described it, the trip sounded
"Alright," she acquiesced, sighing heavily and putting him out of
his misery. Her decision to give in seemed to catch Tom off guard
and he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her toward
him--the perfect chance for B'Elanna to add one tiny stipulation to
her agreement. "But on one condition: you let me drive part of the
Tom didn't show fear easily, but she could see his Adam's apple
twitch as he swallowed--hard. "I'm not sure that's a good idea," he
said haltingly. "These roads are over 400 years old, and the terrain
can be pretty treacherous."
"I've driven before," she reminded him.
"That was on the holodeck," he pointed out. "There won't be any
safeties to stop us from getting hurt if you back us into a taco
B'Elanna shoved Tom's chest just hard enough to push his arm from
around her. "That was Harry, and you know it. But it's up to you:
three days on Route 99..."
"66," he corrected her. "It's Route 66."
"Whatever," she said trying to bring him back to her point. "If I
don't get to drive, I don't go."
"Okay," he finally relented, "but you take the desert
straightaways. I'll handle the mountain curves."
"You're the pilot," she teased him. "I'll be your trusty
sidekick, 'space mechanic,' and the mother of your little 'defender
of the universe'."
"Galaxy. And don't let Harry hear that sidekick thing," he teased
her. "I wouldn't want him to get jealous."
"It'll be our secret," she whispered. She could see the look of
excitement slowly growing in Tom's eyes as he realized she'd finally
agreed: their first real vacation together as a family--and they
would spend it...
...cooped up in a tiny sportscar driving for days to and from a
place they could just as easily transport to in ten seconds. Not
that she really minded. Miral had loved their trips to the beach,
tucked safely into her not-quite-vintage carseat, and B'Elanna was
actually looking forward to proving to her
occasionally-paternalistic husband that she could drive rings around
Harry Kim--if he'd just give her the chance. Besides, the grin on
Tom's face was worth the cramped legs and windblown hair.
"In that case," Tom said, knocking out the prop rod and slamming
the hood with a bang, "we'd better start packing!"
As she watched him turn around to flip off the lights in the
garage, B'Elanna let herself stop for a minute to think about how
frighteningly normal their last week had been, playing in the sand
with Miral, making love on the deck overlooking the ocean, watching
the occasional old friend of Tom's drop by to reacquaint himself
with the Paris family's prodigal son. It was peaceful and
relaxing...and a little dull. Neither of them were used to life
planetside--especially not as upstanding, respectable citizens and
quasi-celebrities. And while their time on Earth had provided a nice
break from their constant companions of almost nine years, B'Elanna
knew they were both getting antsy. They needed to be in motion...
So, while their shipmates were off making a pact with the Vidiian
devils, the Paris-Torres family would pack up the convertible and
head to the Grand Canyon along one of North America's most famous
historic roadways. B'Elanna realized just then that she was looking
forward to it almost as much as Tom was. And while it wasn't quite a
typical family vacation--for a family living in the late 24th
century, anyway--it suited them. Both.
Her patience was wearing as thin as Neelix's vegetable bullion as
Kathryn snuck a look at the yacht's chronometer. Twenty-six minutes
and counting. She was just about to warn Chakotay that his time was
almost up when she realized he was heading into a very familiar
looking system. She looked out the viewport: a yellow dwarf star,
just a tad to the starboard side of their shuttle. It was becoming
brighter as they approached and she searched her mind for the
connection she knew she was on the verge of making.
Chakotay had slowed the yacht to warp 2 and had snapped the
navigational sensors back to automatic. She knew he would need them
to plot an approach trajectory, and leaned back in her seat just
enough to catch a glimpse of his display. A seven planet system.
Seven planets and a yellow dwarf star. They'd come across a dozen
like it in their initial years in the Delta Quadrant, but this one
was distinctive--and had been the first time they'd encountered
'You're like a little kid, wheedling.' Even as she watched him
plot a course to the system's third planet, Kathryn knew she no
longer needed to ask where they were heading. She had put the
critical pieces together and wondered why it had taken her so long
to think of it. Of course this is where Chakotay would take her.
Not to Earth--exactly--but a planet they'd dubbed 'New Earth,'
back in the days when they thought they'd be trapped there together
forever, victims of an almost deadly illness even their walking
database of a doctor couldn't treat. The planet's atmosphere was
their only protection; contact with the Vidiians their only hope for
They'd barely known each other then--barely begun to trust each
other as captain and first officer--when they'd made the mutual
decision to maroon themselves on this poor excuse for home, both
deciding that a life in exile was worth guaranteeing the safety of
their crew. Neither would risk contacting such dangerous and
unpredictable adversaries for their own personal gain--even if it
meant being trapped forever on the other side of the galaxy, away
from their lives and families.
How ironic, Kathryn thought--and how fitting--that they would
ultimately come to consider tending a garden or building furniture
for an emergency shelter an equally fulfilling life...or that they
would come to see each other as family. Even more ironic: that she
and Chakotay would return to this place even as Voyager led a
diplomatic mission to woo the adversaries who had tried to kill them
and then had given them back their lives.
She'd been lost in thought, but quickly felt Chakotay's stare.
When she turned to look at him, he was smiling, but almost wistful.
"Still want me to tell you where we're going?" he asked softly.
She answered with a smile, as she reflexively wiped the tear she
realized was rolling down her cheek. "I never thought we'd see this
place again," she answered. "Thank you."
He made a slight course correction as he lined the ship up with
the planet's atmosphere and dropped into synchronous orbit. "Welcome
home," he said quietly as he slipped his hand into hers.
She tightened her fingers around his and nodded. "Welcome
He landed the AsteriŽ on a grassy plain not far from their
homestead. Voyager's captain's yacht was bigger than the tiny Type 4
shuttlecraft they'd once kept parked on the glade near their
shelter. They'd have to hike over Sunset Hill and along the lake to
get to there. Of course, they could have just beamed over by
transporter, but that would have taken all the excitement out of it,
the sense of anticipation as they walked hand in hand over land
they'd once claimed as their own.
They'd changed out of uniform before starting out--into clothes
Chakotay had replicated before leaving Voyager. He looked
part-Maquis, part-gentleman farmer; her dress was a perfect replica
of the blue cotton frock she'd loved to garden in. Hiking boots for
him, treaded moccasins for her. It didn't occur to him until she was
dressed and ready to go, though: her hair. The short bob she'd come
to prefer the last few years seemed incongruous here, and for the
first time since she'd cut it he realized he missed her long
Kathryn had been quiet during their descent and landing, and
Chakotay wondered for a moment if he'd made a mistake bringing her
back to New Earth. As soon as they'd stepped off the ship, however,
she'd started talking almost non-stop, pointing out the changes in
the landscape: a favorite old reading tree that had been
toppled--probably by a seasonal plasma storm--the changing course of
a feeder stream that had been shifted south by erosion. She was
invigorated and excited, a scientist and homesteader instead of a
starship captain and diplomat. She was the woman he had first fallen
in love with so many years earlier.
"We have to be prepared," she said to him as they crested the
hill. "No one has been here to maintain our house. Who knows what we
His laughter seemed to catch her by surprise and she smiled as
she turned to face him. "What?"
He grinned back at her. "I remember how mad you used to get when
I would call it that: our house. I think it was six weeks before you
even unpacked your last crate of clothes."
She nodded but changed the subject. "Of course, it could be
overrun with primates now," she joked, "if our little friend took
our invitation to move in."
Chakotay smiled, then wondered for a moment if it could be true.
He suddenly had visions of their tidy little homestead now looking
like the simian center at a Federation animal habitat. And, for a
man who prided himself on his tolerance of and appreciation for all
living things, a phrase instinctively flashed through his head for
the first time since the day they'd said goodbye to New Earth almost
seven years earlier: damned monkey. It had always seemed to show up
just in time to distract Kathryn from some serious conversation
about their feelings for each other--or at a moment when he'd
thought she might finally let him kiss her.
Personally, he wouldn't care if they never saw the little
capuchin or its descendants again.
As they walked the final few meters across the clearing at the
top of the hill, it quickly became apparent that their little
shelter *had* been overrun. Not by primates, however...but by
tomatoes. Thick vines of Talaxian tomatoes now covered the entire
area, weaving a natural pergola up and over their house, into the
nearby trees, and part way across the clearing. The vines were
covered with sweet, ripe, red fruit.
"Well," he said, laughing, "you are a pretty good farmer!"
Kathryn was obviously stunned, and turned to look at him, her
mouth agape. "I guess my little seedlings survived," she said. Then
she took his hand, practically pulling him down the overgrown path
to their front door. "But I don't understand how they got this out
of control. I was worried they wouldn't even take root!"
He grabbed a tomato off the nearest vine and took a bite. They
were sweeter than a Terran tomato and made a wonderful marinara
sauce--when Neelix resisted the temptation to add a little leola
root. The taste brought back a lot of wonderful memories.
"Delicious," he said, handing the rest to her. "I guess, unlike us,
they don't appeal to the native insects."
Kathryn nibbled the piece he'd given her and smiled. "Ummm...too
bad for them. Neelix always hinted that Talaxian vegetables had
aphrodisiacal properties..." She swallowed the last bite and licked
the juice from her fingers. She was grinning in an unguarded way,
and Chakotay let himself enjoy seeing her so free. When she wasn't
forced to be the Federation's perfect role model, Kathryn Janeway
could be a wickedly funny, earthy, charming flirt. And while he had
long ago come to love both sides of her, this one--the woman as
distinct from the captain--had been held captive in a Starfleet
uniform for far too long.
He watched as she cavalierly wiped her hands on her dress and
pushed apart the vines blocking the entrance to the shelter. Though
they'd left the door open when they'd transported back to Voyager
seven years earlier, it was closed now, and she waited for him to
join her before pushing it open.
The translucent solar ceiling panels were now partially covered
by tomato vines, causing the sun filtering in above them to cast
strange shadows around the room. Still, the living area was
bright--and amazingly intact. With only a thin layer of dust now
covering their old furniture, it seemed as if the door must have
blown closed not long after they'd gone. A few silken cobwebs were
the only evidence of squatters in their abandoned home. Spiders, he
could live with.
They'd taken everything of value when they'd gone; the only
things remaining behind were the pieces of furniture and artwork
Chakotay had crafted by hand: the roughhewn table and chairs he'd
finished the day before they left, their beds--including the
headboard he'd carved for Kathryn's--the base of what would have
become a vegetable bin. It was so eerily like it had been the day
they left, that for a moment he was struck by a rush of emotion, a
strange dťjŗ vu that hinted that perhaps the intervening seven years
might have all been a dream. He could see from the expression on
Kathryn's face that she was feeling it, too, and he quietly wrapped
his arms around her from behind and pulled her against him. As he
let his chin fall against her neck, he said what he knew they both
were thinking. "How different these past seven years might have
After a moment though, he turned her to face him and brushed a
stray curl from her forehead. "Now, we have the best of both worlds,
though--don't you think?"
She smiled wistfully, and her eyes misted up. "Yes," was all she
said before leaning up to kiss him.
"Bag of stuffed animals?"
"Monkey, targ, three puppies, and that thing that looks like a
"Check. Although why you won't let me bring a tricorder and a
Tom looked up from the trunk of the car--his mouth agape--as if
his wife had suddenly suggested they walk to Arizona from
California. Sometimes she just didn't get it. "That would completely
defeat the purpose of trying to have an authentic historical
experience. An old fashioned, cross-country adventure. The whole
point is to pretend we're back in sixties, a young family seeing
America out on the open road..."
She didn't look convinced. "I understand that, but I'd feel
better knowing that if something happened we could just..."
"What could happen? This isn't an away mission, B'Elanna, it's a
vacation. I think we can make it 750 miles without emergency rations
and a hand phaser." His wife was the bravest woman Tom knew--she'd
volunteered to be assimilated by the Borg, among other
things--still, sometimes she could be an out-and-out worrywart. Of
course, he also knew, after years of practice, that he'd get farther
reassuring her than calling her a chicken. "Besides, there are
stores and restaurants and rest stops along the route. If we have a
problem, we can get help there."
She was squinting in that way that said she thought he was a
complete idiot. Of course, that also meant she was on the verge of
relenting. After a moment, as he knew she ultimately would, she just
shrugged. "You're the pilot," she finally conceded, though the tone
in her voice was more than a little snide. "Now where were we on the
Tom looked down at the PADD in his hand and scanned the display.
"Diapers, animals, maps...oh, I don't think we're gonna fit that
portable crib in here. The trunk is too small."
B'Elanna looked annoyed again. "Then take out some of your
clothes. I think you brought everything except your uniform!"
He considered pointing out that she had under-packed for a trip
that would take them through a pretty wide range of climates, but
realized that encouraging her to bring more clothes would only make
their space problem worse. So maybe the Mustang wasn't the best
choice. A '55 Nash Rambler would have given them more trunk room.
But the Ford sports car handled like a dream and would corner better
on those steep mountain passes--plus it was hands-down a sexier
ride. Just because he was married now with a baby didn't mean he was
dead, after all. This kind of trip was a once-in-a-lifetime
experience. If they were going to do it, might as well--
He looked up and into the face of his very annoyed wife.
"You didn't heard a word I said, did you?" Her ridges were
furrowed, making her scowl all the more impressive. "I asked you to
go in and grab the picnic basket and check to see if we forgot
anything while I try repacking this storage unit. There has to be a
way to get everything in there."
He resisted the urge to say 'It's called a trunk'--or to point
out that the laws of physics weren't likely to be different for her
than for him. There was no way they could take the damn portable
crib. They'd just have to do without it. But B'Elanna was an
engineer; it wouldn't take her long to figure that out for herself.
"I heard you the first time," he lied. "I was just thinking."
"Then think faster," she barked. "Miral will wake up from her nap
any minute now. I want to get on the road before she has time to get
"Yes, ma'am," he said over his shoulder as he bounded into the
house, acknowledging what were clearly marching orders. Not that he
minded. After all, this was B'Elanna's vacation, too, and she'd
agreed pretty quickly to this car trip--even though he knew she got
antsy (and leg cramps) after sitting still for too long. She was
indulging one of his fantasies, he realized. Of course, he'd gladly
return the favor at their first opportunity...thoughts of making
love in the back seat of the Mustang as they sat under a starry
desert sky began playing through his mind.
Maybe they should make room for Miral's portable crib after
He found the picnic basket on the kitchen counter and had a quick
inspiration. Walking over to the replicator, he punched in the code
for his favorite champagne--Moet et Chandon 1988--and slipped the
bottle into the basket. Then he walked a circuit through the
livingroom, den, and bedroom. Other than their still-sleeping
daughter, he didn't see anything they'd left behind.
Grabbing the picnic basket on his way by, Tom headed back to the
garage. "This is it," he said as he stepped through the door. "But I
really think you should consider taking a warm jacket..."
He stopped suddenly at the sight of B'Elanna slamming the trunk
closed--with no sign of the oversized baby crib he was sure wouldn't
fit. She was trying not to gloat, but he could see the 'I told you
so' in her eyes. "Were you saying something?" she asked.
Tom just shook his head. Maybe it did take an engineer. Maybe
there was some 'conservation of matter' principle he'd missed in his
courses at the Academy. Whatever. At least they were ready to go. "I
was just going to suggest that you replicate yourself a decent coat.
You know how you hate the cold and the night air can get pretty
chilly even in the desert."
He could tell she was disappointed that he hadn't asked her how
she'd done it--how she'd fit three cubic meters of luggage into a
two cubic meter space. But there was no way he'd give her the
satisfaction. "Fine, I'll grab a jacket and an extra blanket off the
bed." She was almost in the house before she turned back around.
"And don't open up that storage compartment to try and figure out
how I did it. We'll never get everything back in before Miral wakes
As she turned around and headed through the door Tom allowed
himself to say it softly under his breath. "It's called a
The trip down the coast was mostly uneventful, and B'Elanna had
to admit she was almost enjoying it. Of course, it had taken all of
ninety minutes to drive from the beach house to just north of the
Route 66 turnoff down the deserted freeway. Apparently Tom wasn't
the only car enthusiast left in 24th century California, a part of
North America once known for its scenic highways, dependency on
automobiles--and terrible air quality. With the skies now clear and
cars just a quaint hobby, many of the remaining roads were converted
into scenic walking and hiking trails, but a few--including the old
"interstate" they now drove--were preserved for vehicular traffic.
Emergency force fields and a failsafe sensor grid made having an
accident virtually impossible, so Tom had used that to their
advantage, driving 150 KPH the entire way.
While those speeds were perfectly safe on the protected roadway,
B'Elanna knew from the things Tom had told her that Route 66 would
be different. The "entire point" of the trip, as he had said over
and over, was to have an authentic, historic experience. There would
be no force fields, no shoulder guards, no one from Terran traffic
control monitoring their trip. They'd be on their own...a thought
that both excited and concerned her. If it were just the two of
them, she wouldn't have given it a second thought, but having Miral
along changed things.
She took a peek over her shoulder at their daughter, snuggled in
the back seat in her secure toddler restraint--one of the few
concessions to advanced technology Tom had allowed in the name of
safety. Miral seemed to be having a very heated conversation with
her monkey. Seemed was the operative word since, between the radio
blaring and the noise of the wind whipping all around the car,
B'Elanna could barely hear herself think. Of course, Tom would tell
her that entire generations of children were raised without force
fields and sensor grids, and they survived just fine. Some of them
even rode in cars with no child restraints at all. Still...
"Maybe you should slow down a little," she said to him.
"What?" Tom asked, shouting at her over the radio--which was
playing some up-tempo and vaguely annoying song about having "fun,
fun, fun, 'til her daddy took"...something that sounded
Vulcan--B'Elanna couldn't quite figure it out--away. She leaned over
and turned the knob that reduced the volume of the music.
"I said maybe you should slow down. Don't we have to get off this
Tom instantly turned the music back up, though not quite as loud
as it had been. "We're fine. We should have five or ten miles before
"Miles?" she asked. "What is that in kilometers?"
She could see him doing the conversion in his head as he talked
himself through it. "There are about 1.8 kilometers in a mile,
so...somewhere between 10 and 20."
B'Elanna did the next calculation herself; if Tom was right,
they'd be leaving the protected highway in another seven to fourteen
minutes. They probably did have a little time. So why was it that
she could suddenly see a large but faded sign up ahead that said,
'Route 66 Historic District--Exit 1000 Feet.'
"I figure after we get on 66, we should probably stop and take a
break and check the fuel..." He was adjusting a different knob on
the radio as he spoke to her, this one causing a series a scratching
and groaning noises as he tuned in a different one of his
preprogrammed 'stations,' each with a different kind of rock and
"Um, Tom, I think..." They were passing the sign and she could
see the exit coming up on their right. They were still in the left
"Then I can dig out the maps and show you how to read them..." He
hadn't even started slowing down.
He wasn't listening, either. Or maybe he couldn't hear her over
the music, which was now a blaring guitar and saxophone anthem that
seemed to celebrate the joys of fast cars and fast women. The only
lyric she could make out talked about 'suicide machines' on 'Highway
9'--a lovely image for their first real car trip. "Um, Tom, I think
we just..." She could see they were about to zoom past the exit
"I know, I know: you're an engineer on one of Starfleet's most
advanced starships, you're perfectly capable of figuring out how to
read a roadmap without my help. It's just that everything on them is
in Old Earth Standard--miles, yards, feet and there are all these
conventions you've never had to learn before. And it's not like we
have navigational sensors to point us in the right direction. We
take a wrong turn in the middle of the desert and it could be days
before we get ourselves back on course."
They were well past the exit now and B'Elanna wondered if Tom's
lessons on 20th century map reading included a section on observing
oversized road signs. She just sat there quietly for a moment,
trying to decide when she'd tell him.
"Don't take it personally," he said after a few seconds of riding
in silence. "I've just been studying these things my whole life. It
will take you a while before you get used to thinking in late 20th
century era terms."
B'Elanna knew she should probably be annoyed at his paternalistic
attitude. And she probably would have been--if she weren't totally
focused on imagining the moment when he'd realize what he'd
Three more songs--all of them about 'thunder roads,' or women
named Mary, or going out drinking after a long workday--had come and
gone before Tom seemed to notice something was amiss. "I would have
expected to see one of the old exit signs by now," he finally said,
turning down the radio volume. "The materials I read in the Old
Earth archive said they'd preserved all of the historic
B'Elanna just sat there, smiling. After a moment, she reached for
the radio dial and tuned in a station playing songs by a group she
recognized (from her years dating or being married to a walking
jukebox) as The Supremes. A song called 'Stop in the Name of Love'
was playing. She was tempted to start singing along. Instead, she
leaned over and turned up the volume.
It only took Tom a second to turn it back down. "Do you mind?" he
asked absentmindedly. "I have to pay attention; our exit should be
coming up any time now."
She debated for a second whether or not to tell him. She could
see he was starting to tense up, though, and didn't want their
vacation to start out with one of them in a bad mood--a confession
was definitely in order. "You already missed it," she said. "About
ten minutes ago."
The car swerved almost imperceptibly as Tom's foot came off the
accelerator. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asked, sounding more than
a little annoyed.
"I tried to," she answered evenly. "But you were busy telling me
how hard it is for someone with my limited experience to read a
She turned to look at him and was greeted by a furrowed brow and
an embarrassed grin. "I guess I deserved that," he finally said
after a heavy sigh. "Now help me find a place to turn around so we
can get off this road and start our real vacation."
"I'll make you a deal," she said. "I'll get us onto Route 66 if
you let me drive for a few hours once we're heading in the right
She could almost feel the waves of hesitation coming from him.
"How about this instead," he finally counter-offered, "I'll drive
until we get over and through Buzzards Pass--which is just on the
other side of the mountains. Then you can take the next leg through
B'Elanna considered making a fuss, but really wasn't in the mood
to have their first argument this early into their vacation.
"Alright," she finally said. "But get used to it: I'm driving part
of this trip. That was our deal."
Tom nodded. "I know, I know. I won't forget." He was pulling onto
a small access road that would let them turn back the way they'd
just come as he let the car drift to a stop. Then he reached down
next to his seat and pulled out a large folded map. "Now..." he
said, unfolding the paper over the steering wheel, "where the hell
"Where *are* we?"
Kathryn hated being blindfolded. But keeping her in the dark
about their vacation seemed to be a recurring theme of Chakotay's
carefully crafted plan. This time, however, knowing they were safely
back on New Earth in ten square kilometers she had once considered
their own, she no longer felt that strange sense of anxiety she'd
experienced in the yacht at the start of their trip. Or, frankly,
that she'd felt on Voyager for much of their first seven years in
the Delta Quadrant.
For that matter, she'd never quite felt as calm or as peaceful
*anywhere* as she'd felt here, in the quiet and solitude of their
glade. Or as she did when she was alone there with Chakotay.
"Watch your step," he said as he slowed their pace.
"That's a little hard to do when I can't see anything," she
reminded him. "Tell me that we're almost there."
"We're almost there," he mimicked back to her. "Now relax and
It was the second time in the last two days that he'd used that
phrase. 'Trust me.' Each time, she'd felt a little knot clench and
unclench in her stomach, even though she wasn't sure why. She
trusted Chakotay with her life. Almost more importantly, she trusted
him with her heart.
She decided to distract herself, to focus on those senses that
were still fully functional, and took a deep breath of the sweet air
around them. Pine needles and lilacs. Something else, though. The
raw smell of leaves composting in the marsh grasses. She could hear
the cicadas squeaking out their insect mating calls, but there were
other sounds, too. Lapping water. The squawk of the brown gulls
she'd once watched flying over...the lake. He was taking her to the
Just as she realized where they were, Chakotay stopped walking
and turned her slightly to the right. Then he let go of her arm and
untied the scarf from her eyes.
As she'd guessed, they were standing on the shore of the large
lake that marked the border of the south end of their 'property.' It
had always reminded her of one of her favorite holodeck programs, a
re-creation of Lake George in New York's Adirondack Mountains.
Looking out across the water, she could see a new feature that
hadn't been there the last time she'd visited: a small boat that
appeared to have been hollowed and sculpted out of a large beech
tree. She turned to look at Chakotay as she reached down to squeeze
"How did you...? You couldn't possibly have had the time to carve
this." Since they'd landed on New Earth the previous morning, he
hadn't spent more than a moment away from her side.
"No," he admitted, "I replicated it. I used the schematics I had
shown you that day we heard from Tuvok that they were coming back
for us with a cure. I downloaded them into my personal database when
we were beamed back to Voyager. Actually, I don't know why I saved
them. It's not as if I expected we'd ever get back here again."
Kathryn's eyes were misting up, and she blinked the wetness away.
"After all this time," she said softly, "I had almost forgotten."
And she had. That afternoon so many years ago--the last day she'd
awoken contentedly expecting to live out the rest of her life on New
Earth--had been so chaotic. To hear out of the blue that Voyager was
returning for them... That the Doctor's Vidiian friend, Danara Pel,
had provided their crew with a cure for the illness that had
stranded them there... Most importantly, the realization that the
sense of oneness with Chakotay, the way their lives had become so
interwoven--and the love she was slowly starting to let herself feel
for him--that all of it would have to be buried away as they
prepared to become captain and first officer once again...it had
been overwhelming. Overwhelming and incredibly painful.
So she had forgotten about Chakotay's plans to build her a boat,
a way to explore the far shores of the lake and indulge her
insatiable scientific curiosity. He knew her so well, even then.
Yet, she'd almost given it all up--given him up--in the name of
Starfleet. She'd done the right thing, she knew. They'd gotten their
crew home, almost all of them, to their families and loved ones.
They'd done serious damage to the Borg. And now, after finding and
helping Kes, they'd played a huge role in defeating the Sernaix and
unveiling the corruption of Section 31.
They *had* done the right thing, over and over again...but at an
almost unimaginable personal cost. Kathryn's strict adherence to
regulations--and Chakotay's short-lived relationship with Seven--had
almost doomed any future they might have hoped for back in the days
of gardening and log cabin planning and homesteading on New Earth.
And while they'd found each other again, their lives were still in
constant turmoil. Spending time planning a life they weren't sure
they'd have would have seemed foolish just weeks earlier.
Yet here they stood again, on the banks of *their* lake, looking
finally at a boat he had made just for her. A dream she'd forgotten
she'd had was about to come true. If this impossible thing could
happen, she let herself believe for a moment, maybe some other
long-buried dreams weren't so impossible after all.
"What are you thinking?" Chakotay said after too many silent
This time, Kathryn blinked away her introspection along with her
tears. "I was remembering how much I wanted to see what was on the
other side of that grove of trees just across from here. And how
today would be the perfect day for a picnic on that glade on the far
shore. There'd better be a basket in that boat!"
Chakotay laughed in a way that let her know she wouldn't be
disappointed. She tugged his hand and took the last few steps down
to the shoreline. As she held on tightly to the man she'd loved, and
lost, and loved again, Kathryn decided that maybe Thomas Wolfe was
wrong; maybe it *was* possible to 'go home again.' And for the first
time in years, she began to openly ponder the possibilities.
Salmon salad on a baguette for her, assorted seasoned vegetables
on a wheat roll for him. A bottle of Sancerre Domaine, aged to
perfection and freshly uncorked. And tomatoes. Lots of fresh
Talaxian tomatoes picked that morning off the vines just outside
their front door. Chakotay was happy that Kathryn had seemed to
enjoy his little surprise boat ride and impromptu picnic, and he lay
back on the blanket and digested their situation along with his
They had spent the previous afternoon and evening pruning back
the overgrown 'vegetable vineyard' enough to clear the entrance to
the shelter, and then cleaned and restocked their reclaimed home.
Using the AsteriŽ's replicator and transporter, they had filled the
pantry--enough for their week's vacation--and had done something
that once would have been an unbelievably huge step for their lives
together on New Earth: they rearranged the living space and pushed
their two twin beds into one, then covered them with a goosedown
featherbed before crawling in together.
Of course, Kathryn had been so exhausted from their work clearing
the garden and cleaning their old home that she'd fallen asleep as
soon as her head hit the pillow. Still, he had held her as they
slept, and knew that the moment would come soon enough. His dry
spell on New Earth was about to end.
There were other things he wanted and needed from this
vacation--and from Kathryn-- however, and he was glad to see her
bounding over the hilltop and toward him when he opened his
"How was your nap?" she asked as she threw herself down next to
him on the blanket.
"I wasn't sleeping," he corrected her, "I was meditating.
Enjoying being surrounded by nature on this beautiful day."
She smiled wickedly, "Yes, well, I thought I heard you
'meditating' at one point when I brought back some plant fossils.
Though perhaps it was your spirit guide who was snoring."
He laughed. "Okay, so I might have dozed off for a few minutes.
I'm not used to all this peace and quiet and unreconstituted air.
Speaking of which, how was your walk?"
Kathryn opened up her clenched fist and revealed four tiny
glistening stones. "Fascinating, actually. There's a creek bed just
over the next hill full of these--some kind of native pyrite."
"Fool's Gold," he said, recognizing her find. "Be careful; it's
broken more than one heart."
Once again that expression--that fleeting look of fear--came and
went from her face before she answered him. "Yes, well, I'll try to
remember that." She closed her fist around the nuggets, and looked
away for a moment.
He sat up and turned to face her, then took her hand, opening her
fingers and removing the small stones before placing his own hand
into hers. "Here," he said, closing her fingers once again. "Hold
onto this instead. Your heart is safe with me."
She smiled a half-smile and searched his face as if she was
looking for something she'd lost. He was about to ask her what she
was thinking when she finally spoke. "Nine years ago when we were
stranded in the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker, I was desperate to
get the crew back home. Soon, though, Voyager began to feel like
home to me. And then there was a time when I would have done
anything to be able to leave this planet," she said. "But after a
while, living here--with you--was all I needed or wanted." She
tightened her grip on his hand and looked off at the lake below
them. "Each time, I thought I knew what my life was, what it needed
to be. And just when I'd begun to embrace that life, something
ripped it away."
Chakotay interlaced his fingers with hers and waited until she
looked back at him. "Is that what's been bothering you? That we'll
have to leave here again?"
Kathryn seemed to ponder the question, as if it hadn't occurred
to her. After a moment, though, she shook her head. "No. This planet
will always hold special meaning for me." She paused for a moment,
then smiled. "I fell in love with you here, you know."
He smiled back at her. "I know." He lifted their joined fingers
and kissed her hand.
"But we can't hide here from our lives and our responsibilities,
as tempting as it might be to imagine. We have to go back, to finish
what we've started, and to help the Federation recover from this
nightmare. Still..." She seemed to be wrestling with something, and
Chakotay waited to let her find the words. "I suppose it's
inevitable that our journey on Voyager will come to an end--sooner
rather than later now, I think. For seven years, we knew what we had
to do: get the crew home. We finally made it, only to find ourselves
trapped in another layer of space. Then there were the hearings, the
threat from the Sernaix...and I know we're still not finished
uncovering all of the layers of this war. But we have to face it--I
have to face it. For the last ten years of my life--except for four
months spent here on New Earth--I have defined myself as Voyager's
captain. If I were to lose that..."
He squeezed her hand once again. "You'd be Kathryn Janeway with
the world at her feet. Starfleet's newest Admiral. Or you could
choose your own path, chart your own destiny. You could redefine
yourself again and again if you wanted. Be a scientist for a while.
Put those hard-won diplomatic skills to use as a Federation
ambassador." He paused for a moment to stop himself from just
blurting out what he was about to say. After a second, he decided
that maybe the time was right to talk about it. "Or you could start
a family. We could start a family."
Kathryn's eyes shot wide open, and for a moment he wondered if
he'd made a mistake mentioning it. Then she grinned, and laughed,
putting his fears to rest. "I can't remember the last time I let
myself imagine becoming a parent. I'd always assumed that after Mark
and I were married..." She let the thought trail off, thankfully.
"After Voyager was lost, though, and it seemed as if we might spend
the rest of our lives in the Delta Quadrant, I guess I just assumed
that it was no longer an option."
Limitations she had placed on herself, he thought to himself.
Chakotay had always believed the crew would have expected their
captain to make a life for herself, just as surely as the rest of
them had begun to. Especially after Tom and B'Elanna married and
announced their pregnancy, he could sense a change in the mood on
the ship. There no longer seemed to be a reason to wait to start
living their lives. He'd half expected an epidemic of courtships and
engagements--which might have happened if they hadn't found
themselves home so soon afterward. Even he had started to wish
The thought brought him full-circle and he looked away for a
moment before pulling back his hand. He wouldn't say anything. He
didn't need to. But suddenly the reasons for Kathryn's hesitation
seemed clear. Seven was long behind him. The damage his relationship
with her had done to the trust between him and Kathryn, however...
Chakotay decided to finish the conversation he had started.
"What about now?" he asked. "Could you see children in your life
Kathryn seemed to really consider the question. "I don't know.
Certainly not at the moment. But someday? I guess I have a hard time
imagining what 'someday' will bring." She ran her hand up his arm.
"What about you? Until recently, I've never heard you mention
She was right. His own complicated relationship with his father
had made Chakotay ambivalent about becoming a parent. "I'm not sure,
either," he answered honestly. "Maybe I've just gotten used to
having Miral underfoot. Voyager seems to be missing something
Kathryn laughed. "Without her parents, too. I don't think I
realized before this trip how much of the collective volume on the
ship comes from the Paris-Torres family. It almost feels like my
teenaged children have grown up and moved away. The house seems so
quiet all of the sudden."
"Maybe that's why you haven't felt the need for children of your
own," he offered. "You've had a ship full of them for so long."
She smiled. "Yes, but maybe we're all about ready to leave the
nest. I mean, it's incredibly unusual for a Starfleet crew to stay
together this long. If you're not on the flagship, people come and
go from your life all the time. And maybe that's it--this feeling
I've been having. Maybe I don't want to face splitting up the
He pulled her toward him and looked into her eyes. "Well, as long
as we're together, I have all the family I need. And I doubt there's
much of anything that could keep our crew from staying close, even
if they do end up scattered throughout the Fleet." He kissed her
quickly and tightened his grip on her hands. "So don't worry,
'Mother.' I'm sure the children will come home for holidays and
birthdays. And your 'teenagers' and their daughter will be back
aboard as soon as we finish with the Vidiians."
Kathryn rubbed his arm and laughed happily. "Not a moment too
soon for me," she said. "Though I'm glad they're having these weeks
together as a family. After everything they've been through, Tom and
B'Elanna deserve a little quiet time alone."
There were two things that B'Elanna Torres knew without a single
doubt: 1) She loved Tom Paris with her entire heart and soul; and 2)
if he didn't stop changing the radio station every ten seconds, she
might have to toss him out of the car without even slowing down. He
didn't seem to care what song was playing--only what *other* song
was playing. And he was driving her crazy in the process.
They'd been on Route 66 for the better part of six hours,
stopping only once to have lunch at a restored authentic diner
called the Garden of Eat'N, and B'Elanna was starting to get antsy.
She hated sitting still, and had often wondered how Tom avoided
losing his mind on a double shift on the bridge. The long hours
never bothered her, but in engineering she was constantly in motion.
The thought of sitting at the helm all that time... Even long
shuttle missions would make her legs crampy and her nerves
frayed--but at least in a shuttle she could walk around. Or distract
herself with a scan or an engine diagnostic. Or go to the
As soon as she thought it, she knew it was a mistake. They were
in the middle of the mountains on a series of winding roads with no
shoulder--or rest stops--trying to make up time after their little
exit ramp mishap and unscheduled detour. She lived with Tom for the
better part of five years for all intents and purposes and hadn't
noticed how infrequently he seemed to need to hit the head--though
she had never really had a reason to track such things before. Now,
though, she was at the mercy of his cast-iron bladder. And she had
to go. Again.
With all of her useless redundant organs, why couldn't this be
one of them, she wondered? She tried to distract herself by looking
at the scenery--only to have the greasy hamburger she'd had for
lunch try to make a return engagement as Tom steered the car around
a series of winding switchbacks in the road. The inertia made her
nauseous, and she was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that she
might swoon--or vomit.
"Stop the car!" she said through her clenched teeth.
"What did you say?" he asked, turning down the radio only
"Stop the damn car!" she said again, putting her hand over her
mouth and grabbing her gut.
This time he looked as well as asked, and seemed to notice she
was about to lose her lunch. The look on his face said it before she
heard the words come out of his mouth. "Not on the leather
For a split second she considered puking in Tom's lap instead,
but he was slowing down and pulling the car over and her sick
feeling was abating. B'Elanna closed her eyes and rested her head on
the seatback. She was still shaky and her head was swimming, but she
could feel her stomach settle a little.
Tom turned off the radio. "Are you okay?" she heard him ask after
a moment. "Should I get the medkit?"
She let her hand slip down from her mouth to her lap, and took a
deep breath before she answered him. "I'm not sure," she said. "I
haven't felt that nauseous in years. Not since..." The end of that
thought stopped her dead in her tracks. "Get the medkit. And tell me
your 'authentic 20th century vacation' includes a working 24th
century medical tricorder."
Tom reached out and took her pulse. "Of course it does. I
wouldn't bring Miral on a trip like this without one." He took a
deep breath. "Your heart is racing. Let me get the kit out of the
B'Elanna scanned her memory, trying to recall if she'd seen it
when she repacked their luggage. She was confused when Tom got back
in the car and sat a white box with a red cross on the dashboard.
Inside, though, were his standard medical supplies. He pulled out
the tricorder's diagnostic wand and waved it over her abdomen. She
held her breath as she waited for his report.
She couldn't be. Not this easily. Not this soon after Miral.
"Well," he said slowly. B'Elanna tried to read his face for any
clue. "You're definitely...carsick."
She shook her head--and instantly regretted it when the mountains
started to spin around her. "Carsick? What do you mean,
Tom snickered. "Just like it sounds. You're not used to riding in
a car and the motion is throwing off your equilibrium. I hate to be
the one to tell you, but your inner ear and your lunch are
conspiring against you. Nothing a good set of inertial dampers won't
cure." He exhaled loudly. "Wish they'd been standard equipment on a
"So what are you saying?" she asked. "That I'm going to feel this
sick for the rest of the trip?"
She could see him pulling a hypospray out of the white box and
measuring out a dosage. "Nothing a little anoproveline won't cure.
And I'd go easy on the burgers while your stomachs are this
Just hearing the word 'burgers' made B'Elanna queasy. But in a
moment, Tom was pressing the hypo into her neck and the feeling
began to pass. Still, the thought of eating--anything--was almost
more than she could stand.
"Better?" he asked after scanning her again.
"A little," she admitted. Her head had stopped swimming and she
no longer felt the knot of pressure at the base of her
Tom smiled. "Good. You were starting to turn greener than Vorik
for a minute there."
B'Elanna slapped his arm, but grinned despite herself. She sat
there quietly composing herself for a moment before she felt well
enough to continue on. "Just take it easy around those curves for a
while, okay? This isn't a race. We can take our time."
"Deal," he said, before kissing her softly. "Now let's get back
on the road before your daughter wakes up from her nap and gets
cranky." He nodded toward the backseat and their sleeping child,
then packed up the medkit and climbed back behind the wheel.
As he started the engine and steered back onto the highway, Tom
reached over and pulled B'Elanna next to him and wrapped his arm
around her shoulder. Then he took the remaining curves so gently
that she barely felt the change of direction. After they were once
again on a straight stretch of road, he leaned over and kissed her
on the top of her head and she wrapped her free arm around his
waist. "Feeling better?" he asked.
"Yep," she said, checking herself for any signs of rumbling in
her belly, "thanks." There were none. Tom's training as a medic had
come in handy once again and B'Elanna was starting to feel like
herself again. So maybe this car trip wasn't so terrible. Maybe
being stuck in a cramped metal box on the open road with her husband
and daughter wasn't a bad way to spend their vacation. After all,
the sun was shining, the trees were fragrant, and a lone eagle
circled the sky above them in a majestic arc. She took a deep breath
Just then, up ahead of them, she could see the road turn to
parallel a beautiful mountain stream which began to swell into a
wide, raging river the further they drove. It was a gorgeous sight,
and the roar of the water rushing past them reminded B'Elanna of
something she had almost forgotten: she had to go to the
She crossed her legs and pushed away from Tom. Four more days.
Four more long days...
They'd stopped for the night at a mountain lodge just off the
highway: an out of the way place called the Bates Motel. (Tom had
laughed when he saw the name, but decided not to tell B'Elanna where
he'd heard it before.) Unlike its counterpart cinematic fleabag,
their Bates motel was a comfortable collection of individual log
cabins, each with its own kitchenette, fireplace, and porch. It was
outfitted with every modern convenience--circa 1975--and helped Tom
maintain the fantasy that they were a 20th century family.
Their entire vacation was like a slightly off-kilter holodeck
program--only better. He knew there were no safeties, no chances to
halt the program, and no pre-determined parameters he'd had to
carefully research and incorporate in. What the next few days would
hold would be as much of a surprise to him as they would be to
B'Elanna, and as he rocked in the wooden chair on their tiny porch,
he was enjoying that sense of anticipation. The feeling that
anything could happen.
Tom had put an exhausted Miral down for the night while B'Elanna
took a shower. Their daughter had survived her first day like a real
trouper, taking in the changing scenery with a wide-eyed sense of
wonder, constructing elaborate fantasy conversations between her
targ and her monkey, and being rocked to sleep off and on by the
motion of the car. It was only after they were on the road that Tom
had realized how strange it must have been for B'Elanna and Miral to
experience the g-forces and atmospheric changes that came with a car
ride through the mountains. They usually spent most of their time in
a ship with gravity plating and inertial dampers. And while he did,
too, he'd also driven racecars in the holodeck, and flown the Delta
Flyer with Harry through dozens of super-g maneuvers just for fun.
His body was used to being tossed around.
That thought reminded him of B'Elanna's bout of carsickness, and
he was about to head inside to check on her when she appeared at the
door in a warm wool sweater and blue jeans. He reached up his hand
and pulled her into his lap when she took it. "How was your shower?"
he asked, leaning over to smell her still-damp hair.
"Wet," she said, kissing his nose. "Authentic 20th century cabins
don't seem to have a sonic setting, surprise, surprise."
He laughed at how foreign this entire experience must seem to a
woman who lived and breathed 24th century engineering. "Well, you
smell great," he said, tightening his arms around her. "Thank
She seemed surprised by his comment. "For what?"
Tom rubbed her back as he began rocking them both back and forth
in his chair. "For agreeing to this. I know you'd probably rather be
on a beach in Fiji than driving to the Grand Canyon."
"Tom..." she interjected.
"No, I know you don't really understand why I wanted to do this.
You've never really liked my holodeck programs--"
"Tom..." she tried to cut him off once again, but it was
important to him that she hear what he had to say.
"Let me finish, B'Elanna. To be honest with you, I'm not sure
exactly what it is about this time in history that I connect to, or
why something as silly as making a car trip with you and Miral means
so much to me. But it does. And I'm just glad you were
"Tom! Stop!" she finally said, climbing off of his lap.
She looked upset and he stood up to see what he had said to make
her that way. "What is it?"
B'Elanna, grabbed his wrist and her mouth simultaneously. "The
rocking was making me queasy. I think my body has had more than
enough motion today." After a second of standing still with her eyes
closed, she let go of his wrist and leaned against him. "But you're
welcome," she said. "For the trip."
He chuckled softly under his breath, and gave her another hug
before pointing toward the steps. "How about if we sit here
instead," he suggested. "As long as there's no earthquake tonight, I
think you can count on being able to stay perfectly still."
She grimaced and grinned in the same expression, but let him lead
her over to the porch steps. Once they had sat down side by side, he
put his arm back around her and pulled her toward him. "You really
were green this afternoon. I'll try to take it easy on the curves
from now on."
"Please do," she said, squeezing his knee. "I hate that feeling.
Even if it was just carsickness."
Her comment reminded Tom of the look of panic he'd seen in her
eyes when they'd first pulled off the road. She'd seemed anxious for
him to check her over with a tricorder and he wondered why a little
bout of nausea had made her so...
The mental light went on, and he stopped to think about how he
would have reacted if her fears had been confirmed. "You thought for
a minute that you might be pregnant again," he said. "That's why you
wanted me to scan you."
She was quiet for a moment. "Just for a second. The last time I
felt that nauseous, Seven practically had to pull me up off the
Tom remembered how Miral's sudden appearance in their lives had
been such a surprise. A pleasant surprise--at least at first. But
the news of B'Elanna's pregnancy had also brought with it some of
the hardest moments of their relationship. Then, their daughter's
birth--at the climax of an incredibly risky mission to both make it
home and defeat the Borg--had been the start rather than the end of
an entirely new set of challenges. Now, just as their lives showed
some hint of leveling out...well, he could understand why the
thought of a new baby might have sent B'Elanna into a minor
"Well, I can say without any doubt that you're not, assuming the
tricorder in my medkit is working right." He paused for a moment.
"You know, if you're worried about it, we could always go back on
the shots. If you're worried about it."
She turned to look at him. "Are you? Worried about it?"
He wasn't sure how to answer. "I don't know. Are you?"
They looked at each other for a second before Tom laughed and
B'Elanna sighed. "It's probably not even an issue," she finally
said. "Every other mixed Human/Klingon couple I've read about has
needed help having *one* baby. The odds that we could have two, this
quickly, with no..." She seemed to notice the look on his face.
There were times when his medical training was a serious
impediment to a good rationalization. "B'Elanna, the fact that we
did get pregnant that quickly... Well, basically it means we
probably won't ever need 'help.' We're genetically compatible; we
can't count on your Klingon half for birth control. So..." he
brought her back to the question at hand, "unless we're ready to
risk another baby..."
She nodded. "So you think we should take the shots."
Tom shook his head. "I didn't say that. Honestly...I sort of
assumed we'd have a few more kids one day. Maybe a brother or sister
or two for Miral... But I know how miserable you were those last few
months of your pregnancy, and how crazy our lives are right now. If
you don't think we're ready--"
"I didn't say that. Exactly." She sat there for a moment looking
out into the darkness. Then she took his hand. "All of the things I
ever planned for in my life--well, most of them didn't turn out
exactly the way I expected. The surprises, though--getting stuck on
Voyager, being made chief engineer--"
"Falling in love with a guy you thought you hated," he threw in
for good measure.
She chuckled softly. "Getting married, getting pregnant... All of
the best things in my life have happened when I wasn't expecting
them. So, maybe we ought to just play it by ear. See what other
surprises life sends our way."
"Tempt fate, you mean," he said evenly.
"I suppose so," she nodded. "If that's okay with you."
Tom smiled and hugged her tightly to him. "It's fine with me. In
fact...I wouldn't mind tempting fate right now. Assuming your body
can stand a little more motion today." He let his hand drift down
her side and into the back pocket of her jeans.
B'Elanna smacked his arm. "Well, if I swoon, I know a good medic
who knows what it takes to make me feel better." She leaned over and
kissed him deeply. "Come on..."
She stood up--slowly--and pulled him toward the door. He was
right behind her--before the memory of something he'd found while
B'Elanna was showering stopped him dead in his tracks. "Better let
me get the medkit," he said, feeling in his pocket for the car
"Why?" she asked. "What's wrong?"
Tom leaned over to kiss her before jogging down the steps. "It's
a waterbed. I don't want you getting seasick now, too!"
She woke up to the arcing of lightning streaking across the
morning sky and the loud crash of thunder. Kathryn sat up in bed and
waited to see if she could tell how serious the storm was before
waking Chakotay. Using an old and mostly useless trick her father
had taught her, she counted the seconds between the lightning and
thunder to estimate their proximity to the center of the storm.
One...two...three...*clap!* Which was followed almost immediately by
first a spattering then a torrent of raindrops. She quickly realized
that the violent plasma storm she'd feared was more likely a
garden-variety summer downpour.
The weather their last four days had been nearly perfect, so she
knew she shouldn't complain about a little rain. Still, she'd been
looking forward to hiking her favorite mountain trail that
afternoon, and hadn't counted on walking in mud. Maybe a change of
plans--some indoor activity--might make more sense. But what a waste
of their precious time there!
She swung her feet over the side of the bed and gingerly touched
the floor with her toes. The morning air was still crisp and their
shelter less than well-insulated, so she expected the bracing cold
she felt beneath her. Even though the bed was warm and she had
nowhere to be, now that she was awake, there was a greater
imperative than crawling back under the covers: coffee.
Walking to the pantry, she activated the portable replicator and
lifted the steaming cup after it materialized. Then she moved to the
table Chakotay had made and sat down. Mornings on New Earth were so
peaceful and calm, even with the storm raging above them, Kathryn
felt a sense of equanimity that had often escaped her on Voyager,
even during her best times.
She'd been thinking for the past few days about the way her life
had played out, and how different the reality of her career was than
the one she'd imagined as a young cadet at the Academy. Even as the
daughter of a respected Starfleet admiral, she had always defined
herself primarily as a scientist and explorer. And while she'd
welcomed and embraced her own command, she'd never felt the
single-minded hunger for it that most starship captains had. She was
comfortable and confident leading her crew. Out of necessity, she'd
become a skilled tactician and a formidable adversary. She'd proven
herself in battle over and over again.
Yet some mornings, she barely recognized herself in the mirror.
And more and more often recently, she didn't recognize the
organization she had devoted her life to serving.
Starfleet--her Starfleet--was an honorable and just body devoted
to the peaceful exploration of space and the defense of the
Federation. Their laws and precepts had been carefully crafted over
centuries and were more than just regulations and directives--they
were deeply held philosophies and a strict moral code. So seeing
first-hand the level of corruption and collusion that now existed in
the Fleet was painful for her. She was rattled to her core by the
depth of Section 31's infiltration of the ranks.
Coming as it did at the end of not one but two stressful
missions, this revelation had made her question for the first time
how she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Surely it was vital
that officers such as herself--the women and men who believed in and
were dedicated to restoring the Fleet's integrity--devote themselves
to that cause no matter the personal cost. She owed it to herself
and her father and the thousands of her peers who had died in
service to the Federation to make sure they prevailed.
But she was tired. And she'd sacrificed so much already. Was it
wrong to imagine a simpler, less complicated life for herself? A
life as a researcher or explorer? A life where her first name was
Kathryn instead of Captain?
She took a long drink of coffee and sighed. Just thinking about
this was making her tense, and she reached her hand up to rub her
tightening shoulders--only to feel another set of hands get there
"You're supposed to be relaxing," Chakotay said as he began
massaging her neck. "What is it?"
His timing was perfect, as usual. "I was thinking about what
we'll be facing when we get back home," she admitted. "I'm not sure
how many more battles I have left in me."
The pressure from his hands increased as he worked his way down
her shoulders and began circling his thumbs against her back. "Then
stop fighting," he said. "Let someone else lead this charge. You've
more than done your part."
There was an irony to his words she wasn't sure he realized. She
reached up and took his hand, pulling him toward the chair across
from her. When he sat down, she took his fingers in hers. "I want to
tell you a story," she said, trying not to smile, "about an angry
"Kathryn," he interjected, but she squeezed his hands and kept
"Chakotay, when the Cardassians where raiding the colonies and
you found out what they had done to your people--even after you knew
you couldn't save your own family--you resigned your commission and
joined the Maquis."
She could tell he wasn't following her. "Yes," he said
"Why?" she asked. "You knew how overwhelming the odds were
against you. You knew that you'd very likely have to sacrifice
everything you'd worked for and perhaps even your life. Why did you
decide to take up their fight?"
His expression changed to one of quiet understanding. "Because
what the Cardassians and the Federation were doing was wrong. And I
couldn't sit by and watch it happen when I knew I could play a part
in making it right. I owed it to myself. And to my father." His
hands tightened around hers as the parallels became perfectly clear.
"He'd be proud of his daughter, you know--Admiral Janeway."
She smiled sadly. "As would Kolopak of his son."
They sat quietly for a moment just listening to the rain hit the
roof. "You know, Kathryn, no matter what you decide to do, you won't
face it alone. We're in this together."
She smiled sadly and nodded. "I know. And we don't have to figure
this out now. We have three more days here and I plan to enjoy every
moment of every last one." She tugged on his hand, "Now I think you
missed a spot on my left shoulder."
Chakotay laughed and stood up to finish her massage. As she
closed her eyes and forced herself to relax, Kathryn recommitted
herself to keeping her promise: their time left on New Earth felt as
if it were racing by, and she would do everything she could to make
the final three days of their vacation last as long as possible.
B'Elanna was starting to wonder how a few days on the road could
possibly feel like such an eternity. Not to mention the three *more*
days before she could take a long sonic shower, close her eyes
without feeling a constant sense of acceleration, or have a nice hot
cup of raktajino. Not that she wanted a hot beverage at the moment.
In fact, with the desert sun beating down on their convertible, she
was craving a tall, cool Ktarian iced tea.
She enjoyed the heat, for the most part, unlike her husband and
daughter. Miral--whose toddler restraint seat had a built-in awning
of sorts--had the only shade in the car, but she was clearly getting
bored by day after day of sitting still. Toddlers needed to, well,
toddle, and being cooped up in the car for endless hours was
starting to take its toll. She was getting fussy, and just after
they'd crossed Buzzard's Pass that morning, she'd begun kicking the
back of Tom's seat--and driving him to distraction. Kicking, and
kicking, and kicking, and kicking. At the fueling station where
they'd recharged the car's power cell, he'd gone so far as to take
off her shoes--explaining to B'Elanna that Miral's little feet were
probably getting hot as the weather got warmer. Of course, as soon
as they got on the road again, the kicking continued. Tom hadn't
complained, of course. He'd never admit that something so trivial
was so unbelievably annoying. But B'Elanna could see him
compulsively tapping his fingers on the door frame and steering
wheel as they made their way down the road.
She could also see that he was turning a really vibrant shade of
"Maybe we should put the top up," she thought to suggest. "You're
going to get a nasty sunburn."
He looked at her incredulously. "What fun would that be? A
convertible with the top up...might as well not be a
What a grasp of logic he had, she thought.
"I mean," he interjected, "unless *you* need it up for some
reason. I mean, if you're too warm or something."
Oh, right. Mister Open Road couldn't admit his pale skin was
baking like a roasted chicken. But if it was for *her* comfort or
safety, well then that would be okay. "Actually," she said, deciding
to protect both his epidermis and his pride, "I think I would like
it up. If it won't spoil the entire trip for you."
He was trying not to look relieved, she knew. "Well...all right."
He pulled over to the side of the road and popped the lever to
release the canvas roof. "Give me a hand."
They got out of the car and lifted up the accordioned metal
frame. Tom folded back the now-unnecessary shade on Miral's seat,
and B'Elanna walked around to the driver's side to secure the
remaining latches that held the roof in place.
A thought occurred to her then, and she quickly opened the
driver's side door and climbed behind the wheel.
"What are you doing?" Tom asked when he heard the door slam. He
was bending down, his arms crossed on the frame of what had been his
"It's my turn to drive," she said matter-of-factly. "Now get in
"B'Elanna, I'm not sure that's such a good--"
"The only reason I agreed to come on this trip is because you
said I could drive part of the way. Now we're out of the mountains
and past Buzzard's Pass. Get in the car or I'm leaving without
She could feel him staring at her before he lumbered around to
the passenger side, pushed in the door latch and climbed inside.
"This whole thing about the roof was just a ploy, wasn't it? You
just wanted me to stop the car so you could trick me into letting
"Whatever you say," she tossed back at him, wishing she'd
actually been that clever. She was more of an opportunist than a
conniver, in all honesty. "Now remind me again which one is the gas
and which one's the brake."
The look of panic that crossed Tom's face made her wish she'd
brought along the Doctor's camera. "I'm kidding," she said, turning
the ignition and pulling back onto the road. "Unlike Harry Kim, I am
an excellent driver."
In her defense, the jackrabbit had come darting out of nowhere.
Of course, if she hadn't had the pedal to the floor, she might have
been able to stop in time without swerving off the road and into a
Tom knew she was waiting for him to say something about the
quality of her driving. He also knew that it was dangerous to even
hint at an 'I told you so' to your embarrassed wife--half-Klingon or
not. So he focused on the task at hand: pushing the Mustang back
onto the road and getting ready to change the now-flat front tire.
B'Elanna steered as he heaved, and in a minute they were back on the
"Set the parking brake," he yelled up to her, "and kill the
engine." Then he unlocked the trunk and began undoing all of her
precision packing. In a minute, their luggage, Miral's portable
crib, the medkit, their emergency water supply, a bag full of books
and toys, and a the emergency power cell were all stacked up in a
heap on the side of the road. Tom reached into the now-empty trunk
and grabbed the jack and the lug wrench. As he turned to walk away,
a thought occurred to him and he looked from the trunk to the pile
of their belongings and back again.
"You don't need to shout; I'm right here," she said, appearing at
his side from the front of the car.
He was trying to stay calm. "Where's the spare?" he asked.
She was blinking rapidly, as if he'd asked her to convert the
distance to the moon and back from kilometers to miles. "The spare?"
she finally said.
"Tire," he blurted out. "The spare tire that was in here when we
She instantly stopped blinking and instead looked like the
jackrabbit she'd almost run over a few minutes earlier.
It was then that he realized exactly how B'Elanna was able to fit
a large portable crib into a space the size of a toaster. "You took
out the tire. You took out the tire before we left the house." She
was biting her lip, but didn't answer him. "This is just
"Well," she said, getting angry, "if you had let me bring a
communicator, we could just call someone to come and get us--or you
could transport home and get the damn thing. Why I let you talk me
into coming into the middle of the desert without any way to--"
"Oh, so now this is *my* fault?" he said incredulously.
"Well, this whole stupid trip was your idea," she threw back at
him. "I was perfectly happy at the beach, but, no, *you* have to
take us on an old fashioned family vacation!" She stomped away,
kicking the stones along the side of the road as she headed back to
the front of the car.
For the first time, Tom wondered if maybe she wasn't right. Their
entire trip was turning out differently than he had imagined. In the
holodeck, if a part of the story was boring or problematic, he could
just jump ahead or reprogram it or turn it off and try something
else. But after two days on the road with nothing to do but
drive--and between Miral's kicking and B'Elanna's constantly having
to find a bathroom--he was left wondering exactly why 20th century
families had found driving cross-country so much fun.
"I'm sorry," he suddenly heard from behind him. "I didn't know
the tires were that fragile. I should have asked you before I took
the spare out of the trunk." B'Elanna had her hands in her pockets
and looked genuinely apologetic.
"I'm sorry, too," he said, sighing. "You were right about the
communicator. I should have brought one just for emergencies."
She nodded, then looked back toward the flat tire. "What do we do
now?" she asked.
He thought about it for a second. "There's only one thing we can
do," he said. "Load this stuff back into the trunk and drive on the
rim until we can get it fixed."
"Won't that wreck the suspension?" she asked. "It might be a long
way before the next service area."
Tom's reaction surprised him. "It's just a car," he said. "A
replicated car at that." He could feel his sense of humor coming
back. "Of course, if this were an authentic vintage '69 Mustang..."
he said smiling.
"I'd be walking the rest of the way to the Grand Canyon?" she
"Now there's an idea," he agreed. Then he smiled and started
lifting things back into the trunk.
When they were packed and ready to go, he and B'Elanna both
started for the driver's seat.
"You're kidding, right?" he asked.
She sighed heavily and slowly walked to the passenger side. "Damn
rabbit!" he heard her mumble under her breath.
And they were off: a starship pilot, his wife the gifted
half-Klingon engineer, and their daughter--who until a few weeks
earlier could have levitated them to the nearest gas station with
her special powers, bouncing along at a breakneck five miles per
hour. A typical 24th century family, on a once-typical family
vacation, getting their kicks on Route 66...
There were less than twenty-four hours left of their vacation,
and Chakotay hated the thought of leaving New Earth. He and Kathryn
had spent an almost idyllic week rediscovering their old
homestead--and each other--as he helped her grapple with what he
knew would be major decisions about the course of her life. As for
*his* life, there really were no decisions to make. By his own
choice, he would follow her lead, as he'd done for so many years
As he walked along the banks of a large stream that fed their
lake, he remembered a time when all he could think of was his career
in Starfleet. Lying in his bed at night as a teenager on the Dorvan
colony, he orchestrated his plan to leave his tribe, win a spot at
Starfleet Academy, then work his way up through the ranks. He'd had
a compulsion to see what was out there, to explore other worlds, and
to prove to himself--and to his father--that there were more
important things than tending the land and preserving their native
Now, as he climbed the small trail that would lead him back to
the shelter, he realized how short-sighted his big dreams had
actually been. Now, with the wisdom and maturity that came with
experience, he saw the incredible value in living a small, simple
life. And his priorities had shifted. His exploration of the galaxy
had led him to discover himself, to figure out the kind of man he
wanted to be. And it had led him to a woman he knew without question
he would follow wherever she went.
There was a time when he would have viewed that as
weakness--letting someone else chart the course of his life. But
that was before he'd fallen in love with a starship captain. Before
he knew that having her beside him mattered infinitely more than
where he called home or what he did with his time. It was the people
in his life that mattered, he'd discovered after losing too many of
them. The most important of whom he could now see climbing into her
bathtub just alongside their house.
That could mean only one thing: she had some thinking of her own
Deciding to leave her to her solitude for a while longer,
Chakotay took the fork in the path and made his way up to the very
crest of the hill. Then he climbed out onto the rock ledge and
crossed his legs beneath him. From this vantage point, he could see
almost the entire lake, as well as their glade, the shelter and
their wild tomato vineyard. Beyond that, he caught a glimpse of the
AsteriŽ, waiting patiently to take them back to Voyager.
Hopefully, by the time they returned, the negotiations with the
Vidiians would be complete and they could start heading home once
again. Home. It seemed a strange word to contemplate as he sat
looking at an alien world he had come to think of once again as
home. But the Delta Quadrant would soon be in their past now, he
knew. The future lay 65,000 light years away, where their journey
had begun so long ago. Finally, perhaps with this last mission
completed, they could put an epilogue on their adventure and get
back to living their lives.
At that moment, for the first time since landing the AsteriŽ five
days earlier, he realized he was almost looking forward to it.
** A distinctive nip was in the air as she draped her robe across
a branch and climbed into her tub. The summer was waning. It would
be fall soon. For some reason, that thought made her sad. The warm
water was giving off a soft steam as it evaporated around her, and
Kathryn let herself sink back against the smooth wood and relax.
It occurred to her: they'd have to pack that night, recycle all
their ancillary supplies and crate up the ones they'd take back. She
remembered the last time they'd closed down this household--in
silence--waiting for Voyager to arrive with their cure. As they did
then, they'd have to be sure to scan their belongings for
biohazards, she thought absentmindedly. While she and Chakotay now
had a natural immunity to the disease that had once caused their
exile--and though the Doctor would know immediately how to treat the
illness in others--there was no use in risking exposing anyone else
on the crew.
That reminded her: she'd want a full debriefing from her chief
medical officer and from Tuvok and Ayala as soon as she got back.
Starfleet could exclude her from the Vidiian negotiations, but they
couldn't keep her from finding out exactly what--
She stopped herself mid-thought and shook her head. Here she sat
in a warm bath on the last night of her vacation, and she yet her
mind had already wandered back to Voyager, to her duties, and to the
problems she had deferred but not escaped. No doubt her subconscious
was trying to prepare her for the reality she was about to face.
So she opened her eyes and tried to stay in the moment. She'd
have the entire shuttle ride back to prepare herself to be Voyager's
captain again. For now, she was just Kathryn. She'd hang onto that
as long as she could.
Scanning the treetops with her eyes, she decided to look for the
small primate she'd first spotted from this tub. When she heard a
rustling in the hedgerow behind her, she turned to see if he'd
finally decided to make an appearance. Instead, she saw Chakotay
coming toward her down the hillside.
"You look disappointed," he said. "Were you expecting someone
She smiled. "I suppose not." She held out her hand and invited
him to sit on the edge of the tub. "I was just hoping we'd see our
little simian friend before we had to go."
Chakotay laughed. "I have no doubt that if we'd stayed here
another six months, you would have domesticated him and invited him
into the shelter to live. I have to tell you, I was getting a little
jealous of the other man in your life."
She flicked her wet fingers at him, but laughed. "Never fear a
little competition," she teased. "Besides, I'm pretty sure you could
take him in a fight."
He smiled and took her hand. "Just as long as you know I won't
give you up without one."
She sighed and felt that tickle of tension run though her one
more time. Chakotay seemed to notice and looked puzzled. "Kathryn,
is there something wrong?"
She shook her head. "Not a thing. Why do you ask?"
He was studying her face in a way that made her feel
uncomfortable. "You believe me, don't you? That I would fight for
you--for us. You can trust that. You can trust me."
"I know," she reassured him, squeezing his hand.
"Then tell me why you seem to shut down every time I mention
She searched herself for the answer. "I'm not sure. I think it's
just that...well, the last time we left here, I thought that I
"Define some parameters," he interjected. "I know. And I hated
it. But I respected it."
"I walled off a piece of myself that day. And even after we found
each other again, I'm not sure I ever really took down the wall. But
I can't do that anymore. Not after being here like this again. I
can't protect myself anymore. I pride myself on my strength...but
when I'm with you like this, I feel utterly..."
"Vulnerable?" he asked.
She closed her eyes and nodded. That was it. She didn't fear him.
She feared her own vulnerability. She feared letting someone so far
in that she was defenseless against them. Even someone she totally
and completely trusted.
Without her saying it, he seemed to understand. "That's the risk
we take, Kathryn. When we love someone. When we let someone love
She looked up at him and knew in that instant that she had
already gone too far to turn back. Even though it had taken her
years to finally admit it to herself, he was already a part of her.
And there was surely a difference between being vulnerable and being
Somehow the realization seemed to bring with it a quiet sense of
contentment. Like so many fears, naming it had cured it. She smiled
and soaked in her new sense of peace and of security. And instead of
making her feel vulnerable, it gave her strength.
So much so that she acted on an impulse she'd had the first time
he'd come across her taking a bath. She tightened her grip on his
hand, and with one hard yank, pulled him into the tub with her. "I
do love you, you know," she said as she kissed his shocked face.
After he regained his senses, he began laughing at her
impulsiveness. "It's a good thing," he said, leaning over to kiss
her back. "Because you're stuck with me for the rest of your
B'Elanna was starting to think they'd be stuck there for the rest
of their lives--in a tiny, musty garage in nearly-deserted Williams,
Arizona. She would have thought that a town famous only for the road
that ran though it would have more than one decent auto mechanic
living there. Worse still, like everything on this historic highway
to hell, they insisted on authenticity. No replicators. No
transporter stations. Nothing but old fashioned telephone lines
connecting them to other backward, useless outposts without the
common sense to live in the modern world.
Their last six hours on the road had been spent going at
excruciatingly slow speeds and praying that the metal wheel rim
wouldn't disintegrate into dust before they could roll into a
populated area. Finally, they'd limped into this poor excuse for a
city--the last stop on Route 66 before the Grand Canyon
turn-off--and spotted the tiny filling station.
By that time, of course, they had more than just a flat tire. The
rim had been eaten away to nothing, and the sharp metal shards it
had thrown off had pierced several hoses under the hood. The ball
joint was also stripped and the universal something or other had a
long, hairline crack. The suspension was shot, the radiator had
cracked from a lack of water, and--and this was the only merciful
thing--the radio had died. For the last two of their six hours,
B'Elanna was forced to listen only to her husband's heavy breathing
and her daughter's occasional tantrums.
And without their highway speeds, there was barely enough air
moving to keep them conscious. She was hot and would have been
sweating buckets if the dry, warm air hadn't evaporated the very
perspiration from them.
In other words, the Mustang was toast--and so were her
Worse yet, B'Elanna was just tired and dehydrated enough to start
wondering if maybe they'd slipped through some kind of time portal
and actually *were* in 1969. Maybe the conveniences she'd gotten so
accustomed to were just figments of her imagination. Occasionally,
just for a reality check, she'd find a reflective surface and make
sure she still had cranial ridges. Or was she really a delusional
human woman who had only imagined living in the 24th century?
Tom was no help. He just kept pacing back and forth, touching the
hood of the car as if he were saying goodbye to a dying friend. He
kept a vigil at the Mustang's sickbed, hoping, she imagined, that
some miracle would restore his six-cylinder friend to health. She
couldn't take him anymore, and had carried a sleepy Miral out to sit
in the shade as she watched the sun sink slowly toward the
Just at the moment when both her sanity and her marriage felt
their most tenuous, she'd seen a car pull off the highway and up to
the station. No, not a car; it looked more like a shuttlecraft--a
large, green vehicle with tinted windows. When it stopped in front
of her and the door opened, she felt a whoosh of cold air escape
from inside--this vehicle had it's own atmospheric controls! It was
everything she could do not to crawl inside.
Instead, she waited as two small children--who appeared to be no
older than six--ran past her and into the store next to the garage.
Right behind them, a man opened the passenger door and stepped
"Hello," he said as he passed her. Then he waited for the
driver--a woman about her age--to catch up with him. As they headed
toward the store, she saw them peek into the garage, then turn back
to face her.
"Is that your car?" the woman asked.
"It was," B'Elanna answered. "My husband is having a memorial
service for it, if you'd like to join him."
The woman looked genuinely upset, and walked inside to talk to
Tom. The man--B'Elanna assumed it was her husband--walked over to
her and Miral instead. "Car nut or American history buff?" he
She snickered. "Both. What was your first clue?"
He smiled. "Kimberly is the same way. We get two weeks on Earth
every year, and she insists on spending one of them having a--"
"Don't tell me," B'Elanna interrupted. "Having an 'old-fashioned
family vacation,' taking a car trip to the Grand Canyon." It
suddenly occurred to her the implications of what he had said. "You
mean you've done this before?"
He nodded. "This is the third time. The first year, before the
kids were born, we did it by motorcycle. I couldn't walk for a week
afterward. Then it was something called an 'MG.' We sat so low to
the ground, I could feel every rock in the road. I told her this
time that the only way I'd do it again is if we did it right." He
pointed to the green vehicle in front of them.
B'Elanna looked it over more carefully. "What is it?" she
"It's called a minivan," he said. "Fully air conditioned, with an
automatic transmission, cruise control, a little entertainment
system for the kids, and enough room for me to catch a nap in the
back if I get tired of watching the sand go by. Here, take a
She leaned into the open door--feeling the still-cold air
inside--and realized she'd practically started to drool. "Nice," she
"Hey," he offered, "if you and your family need a lift, we're
only about two hours from the Canyon. Kim and I would be happy to
take you the rest of the way."
B'Elanna could feel her heart starting to race, though she tried
to stay calm. If this poor man knew how close she was to a
breakdown, he might not let her near his children. "We wouldn't want
to impose," she answered evenly.
"No imposition whatsoever," he said. "Incidentally, my name is
That clinched it. "B'Elanna," she said, smiling and extending her
hand. "And the next-of-kin in there is my husband Tom."
"Nice to meet you," he said. "Now let's see if we can pull our
two mourners away from the corpse."
It was well after sunset when they slipped into the parking lot
of the Grand Canyon Motor Lodge. Their taxi drivers, Kim and Harry,
had helped them pack their belongings into the back of the van, and
Tom and B'Elanna sat together on the bench seat in the back. The
couple's two children, six-year-old twins named Kenny and Colin, had
spent the last two hours watching Bugs Bunny cartoons--which had
been fun for the first hour at least. But Tom was exhausted and
drained and fighting off a growing sense of defeat. His dream
vacation had turned into a nightmare, and he was wondering how it
had gone so wrong. When their hosts' children ran scampering out of
the parked van, he nudged the woman sleeping on his shoulder.
"B'Elanna. B'Elanna, wake up. We're here."
Her eyes fluttered open, but he could tell she was barely
conscious. "Huh?" she said, mumbling. "What?"
He shifted Miral's deadweight to his other shoulder and tried to
shake his arm awake. "We're here," he said, "at the hotel."
She barely registered his words. "I'm sleeping," she said. "Go
After a moment, Harry appeared at the open door. "Why don't you
give me the baby? I think your wife might need a hand getting
Tom grinned and slid around far enough that Miral could slip onto
the man's shoulder. Then he grabbed B'Elanna by the wrists and sat
her up. "Ugggh!" she groaned. "What?!" "Come on, sleepyhead," he
said as he slid her across the bench seat, then dragged her behind
him out of the van and onto her feet. She was almost awake now, and
when he was sure she could stand on her own, Tom took Miral from
Harry. "You guys have been great," he said to the man. "I'm not sure
what we would have done without you tonight."
"No sweat," the man said before stopping himself. "Sorry. I'm
afraid Kimmy's slang has polluted my vocabulary."
B'Elanna snorted, though Tom couldn't quite figure out why.
"Well, if there's anything we can ever do for you," he said, turning
back to their rescuer, "don't hesitate to ask."
It was a silly offer--the man was a geologist working on a
Martian soil farm. They weren't likely to run into each other again.
Still, the sentiment was real.
B'Elanna was slowly coming around, and Tom handed their sleeping
daughter to her while he unloaded their gear. Piling what had once
been the contents of their car onto a luggage trolley, he slammed
the rear liftgate--and noticed the emblem on the van. 'Voyager,' it
said in a once-futuristic script. Tom just shook his head and
Slowly, the exhausted Paris-Torres family made their way into to
motel lobby and rented a room. Fifteen minutes later, B'Elanna and
Miral were sound asleep in its one tiny bed.
As he sat there watching them breathe, a thought slowly crawled
into Tom's tired mind. So what if their vacation hadn't exactly gone
as he'd planned? So what if his month-old Mustang was now just a
pile of spare parts in an Arizona junk heap. He'd gotten to drive
like the wind down the most storied road in the country. He'd sung a
dozen choruses of '99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,' eaten a
half-dozen greasy cheeseburgers, and made love to his wife on a
vintage waterbed in a mountain cabin under a starry sky. Back in the
days of battling the Borg, the last three days would have seemed
like a dream. So, if this was as bad as life got, he thought, bring
He looked out the window at the illuminated billboard for the
Grand Canyon, and realized that the only 'Wonders of the World' he
would ever need to see were asleep in the bed next to him. Then he
smiled, tucked the covers up around them, and headed out the
B'Elanna stretched and yawned and waited for her body to catch up
with her brain. She was awake--mostly--and slowly becoming aware of
her surroundings. Yet her eyes refused to open. So she'd stay in bed
for a while and wait until Miral cried or Tom called her.
She wasn't sure she could face another day of vacation, she
thought. At least they were finally at the damn Grand Canyon. She
wondered how long Tom would insist on staying--and if she could talk
him into transporting home when he was through having his 'family
adventure.' She wasn't sure she could take two minutes much less two
days in another car.
Her eyes still weren't cooperating--but her ears were slowly
coming to life, and she thought for a moment that she heard a
seagull squawking. Not likely in the desert. Vultures, maybe, but
not seagulls. Then her nose caught the distinctive whiff of salt air
blowing in the window. Something didn't make sense.
She forced her eyes open--and found herself lying in a rattan
canopy bed, with a huge down mattress and a billowing white insect
screen. "Tom?" she called out tentatively.
Somehow she knew she wasn't in Arizona any more.
She looked down and realized that the dusty blue jeans she'd
fallen asleep in had been replaced by a silky cream chemise, and the
ratty Americana furniture of their hotel room was now what could
only be described as island chic. She climbed out of bed and headed
for the open French doors along the far wall of the tastefully
When she stepped outside, she could see crystal white sand that
went on for miles, abutting the most gorgeous sapphire blue water
she had ever seen. Tom and Miral were splashing in the waves at the
shoreline, and he looked up when he saw her walk toward them.
"Good morning," he said as if nothing were strange at all. "Did
you sleep well?"
B'Elanna brought her hands to her face and rubbed her still-tired
eyes. "Where are we?" she asked, ignoring his question.
"Fiji," he answered matter-of-factly.
"Fiji," she mimicked back to him. "How did we get to Fiji?"
Tom laughed. "I realized last night that I'd had my fill of life
on the road. So I hiked over to the Federation tourist center and
had you and our stuff transported here. Harry and Kimmy watched
Miral while I got you settled in, then I picked her up and--voila.
"Just like that," she said. "We didn't even get to see the Grand
Tom scratched his head for a second. "Do you want to go
Before B'Elanna could answer, Miral was tugging on her nightgown.
"'Wimming, Momma, 'wimming!"
She reached down and scooped their little girl into her arms,
then turned back to Tom. He repeated his offer. "We still have four
days before we have to report back for duty. We can go back to the
Grand Canyon if you really want to see it."
B'Elanna started laughing almost uncontrollably. "Not on your
life, Paris," she said, handing Miral to him and running back up the
sand. "Just tell me where you packed my bathing suit. My daughter
and I are going swimming!"
"Yes, ma'am!" she heard him laughing from behind her. "Whatever
It was always strange to see her ship from the outside, she
thought. And even though part of her still missed the old, familiar
hull configuration, Kathryn felt almost the same sense of pride and
ownership of her new and improved Voyager. A feeling she might have
to learn to get over depending on how the next few months played
themselves out. This ship--like its predecessor--belonged not to
her, but to Starfleet. One day she'd have to let it go. One day. But
They'd be docked in a little over twenty minutes, and while they
were well within com range, she'd hesitated to do more than confirm
their approach vectors. There was plenty of time to find out about
the Vidiian negotiations when they got back.
Saying goodbye to New Earth the second time had been bittersweet,
but not the least bit painful. They'd gotten a second chance to
rediscover their lives there. A second chance to remember how they'd
first transcended being captain and first officer to become Kathryn
and Chakotay. And she'd finally found a way to unlock the door to
her heart she'd so deliberately closed the last time she'd left. She
was relaxed and content--and happy.
Chakotay was taking a deliberately wide angle on their approach,
she realized, and she wondered if he had any regrets about leaving
their lives on New Earth yet again. Just as she considered asking,
he looked over at her from the helm. "Welcome home, Captain," he
said quietly, as he slipped his hand into hers.
"Thanks," she said, getting all the answer she needed, and
preparing herself to step back into her own life once more. "Welcome
Then she opened a channel. "AsteriŽ to Voyager. Prepare to bring