AUTHOR'S NOTE: While I was fortunately
computer illiteratewise enough not to post this the first time around, I post it now for public mocking pleasure. Tragically, it is kind of long just for that, as I was an *ambitious* newbie writer... but there you have it.
To the best of my knowledge, this was written circa 1996, when I was 13 or 14, as a birthday present for my sister who was a hardcore B'Elanna/Chakotay fan. I don't think she ever read it.
On the upside, I could spell even then. And even though I was made just as insanely excited by "Persistance of Vision" as my sister was (omg people KISSED ON THE TV in her FANTASY and might have had SEX!1!), I was a Paris/Torres 'shipper in the making since episode one, so I think some of that shows through. I don't think this sucks exceptionally much for my being 14... but the "my being 14" caveat is important.
Things to drink for:
- B'Elanna/Chakotay True Love!!1!
- Songficcing of pre-Titanic Celine Dion. Slow-dancing to pre-Titanic Celine Dion. B'Elanna Torres slow-dancing with Chakotay to pre-Titanic Celine Dion.
- Holodeck visits to the year 1996, to a small town. Where the author happened to live.
- Guest appearances by myself and my sister as matchmaking holodeck card sharks. Playing a card game that I didn't find out was actually called "Egyptian Ratscrew" and not the childproofed "Big Bang" until many years later.
- Replicated Levis and shout-outs to the then popular "501 reasons" Levi's advertising campaign.
Oh, yes. Enjoy?
Star Trek: Voyager
What would you do if you woke up and everything had changed?
Chapter One: "We Have a New Problem"
"Run a diagnostic on the EPS systems, just to make sure." ordered Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, chief engineer on the Federation Starship Voyager.
"Aye, sir." came the response from lieutenant Carey, who nodded to his team of three junior engineers to start work. Torres sank down into a chair by a console, and let her arms fall to the face of the console, which beeped up at her.
"Sorry." she whispered, moving her arms to keep them off the touch-sensitive buttons on the console. A splitting headache pounded against her temples, making the usual gentle humming of the Warp Core sound like a swarm of angry bees amplified to millions of decibels. Medicine had advanced enough by the twenty-fourth century so that headaches weren't at all common, but with the amount of broken equipment which had surfaced over the course of the past forty-eight hours in result to a high-radiation ion storm sweeping all around them, Torres was surprised that she hadn't dropped dead yet from the migraine.
Her comm badge beeped just then. "Carey to Torres. We have a new problem..."
"Is there anything still working right?" she exclaimed in annoyance. The computer apparently thought that she was addressing it, and it responded with,
"There are currently 547 shipboard functions which are functioning at peak..."
"Shut up! I didn't mean you! Go ahead, Carey, although I'm sure I don't want to hear it."
"Well, our propulsion systems are going down, they are becoming intermittent..." Torres sprang from her chair, nearly flying across Engineering to a console which could tell her something about engines.
"The radiation is causing an overload!" she shouted. "Jarvin, monitor the plasma flow, we're going to have to cut the engines!"
"Yes, sir," Jarvin called back in reply. Torres slapped the intercom of her console with the heel of her hand.
"Engineering to Bridge, we've got problems here."
"We are detecting variances in our power flow up here," came Janeway's voice, cool as anything.
"Oh, it's more than variances. If we don't cut propulsion now, we might lose all power." She wondered how both Carey and Janeway had managed to seem so calm about this.
"But then we'll be stuck inside this ion storm," came Commander Chakotay's voice, also on the Bridge.
"Can't help it."
"The Warp core temperature is rising..." came Jarvin's voice. "Still rising, very rapidly..." In three strides, Torres was by Jarvin's side, making any and every attempt at cooling the warp engines. And then there was a jolt, tossing everyone's equilibrium off somewhere to the right, and all light in Engineering went out, and for a split second Torres thought that the core might have breached, and they were all just free-floating atoms at this point. Directly before Torres was about to panic, the lights resumed in Engineering.
"Engineering, report." Janeway's voice had hardened with urgency, and Torres could, in her mind's eye, envision the Captain pacing around the bridge in tight circles.
"An automatic fail-safe, Captain," Torres spouted off information as soon as she had it. "Our engines will be dead for at least eighteen hours. The nacelles and all of our engines were overheating, we will need to wait for them to cool even before we start making any attempt to speed up the repair process." Torres felt like knocking her Klingon-ridged head against something. That was what the past two days had felt like - knocking her head against a brick wall. Pulling double-shifts to fix things, and more things breaking around her as she did so. They had been trying to break free of the ion storm, but it had been following them around, wrapping them up in a dense ion fog as they traveled.
Janeway sighed. They had had few adventures over the past week or two - nothing to write home about. Oh, yes. Home. No one had been able to write home at all recently, being seventy thousand light-years away and all, a seventy-five year journey at best. If they had been closer, Janeway would simply have radioed Starfleet command for assistance. But they weren't closer, and they were on their own. "Well, I don't suppose we have any choice, then."
"No, ma'am, we don't."
"I hear that you have been overworked lately. Why don't you take these next few hours off? I think the holodecks are still working, go and do something there."
"I appreciate your concern, Captain, but I really am fine. I don't want any more of the systems to fall apart as soon as I turn my back."
"If you were fine, lieutenant, I don't suppose that the other Engineers would be trying every trick in the book to stay as far away from you as possible." Torres tried to keep her cheeks from darkening in embarrassment, annoyed at the Captain for first always knowing everything that was going on, and then for broadcasting it on a public channel. "Don't make me give you an order."
"Aye, Captain," Torres said, cracking her knuckles in one swift movement and then striding out of Engineering. Well, I suppose the Captain might be on to something, however annoying she was about informing me of it. I guess I'll go to the holodeck.
Chapter Two: "The Joke's On You"
It appeared that B'Elanna Torres wasn't the only one with that idea. Torres supposed that Janeway must have released some of her Bridge officers, since she found Harry Kim and Tom Paris already inside the Chez Sandrine holographic pool-bar scenario. It had originally been a creation of Paris's, but had become a popular hangout for many of Voyager's crew in their off-duty hours.
"So, B'Elanna, it looks like all of your equipment was playing April Fool's jokes on you." commented Kim, lining up his cue to make a shot.
"April fool?" inquired Kes, the pretty young Ocampa nurse, whom Torres hadn't even noticed had been there a moment before. "Is this an Earth custom?"
"Of sorts," replied Kim. "In ancient times on Earth, when they switched over to a new calendar, the New Year was switched from the month of April to the month of January. Anyone who forgot was called an April Fool. The tradition became such that people tried to play practical jokes on each other on April Fool's day, and if someone fell for it, they were called an April Fool."
"Well, I hate to tell you this, Harry," pointed out Paris. "But the joke's on you. By the old Earth calendar, April first is tomorrow."
Torres felt a smile threatening to break her previously frustrated features as she watched Kim's face turn from cocky to embarrassed in a matter of seconds.
"You keep track of these things?" He marveled.
"Of course, of course, my dear Harry."
"I don't see why they made a holiday out of making fools of people," commented Kes. "As Tuvok would say, it is not logical."
"Humans aren't logical people, Kes," Paris shot her a glance. "Surely you must have figured that out by now." Kes nodded her head fiercely. Paris shook his head. "It seems we've got ourselves a reputation down in sickbay."
"You deserve it," came a snide remark which Torres just couldn't resist. She snatched a pool cue from off the rack and leaned against the table chalking it. "I don't like the idea of April Fool's Day on Voyager one bit. It sounds like something which might just get us all into trouble if we do anything about it besides just sit here and hope no one springs a jack-in-the-box inside your dresser drawer."
Paris's jaw dropped in mock amazement. "I don't believe you! Come on, B'Elanna, it's so much fun. And there's no harm done, anyhow. I remember when we used to play jokes on the teachers in school..."
"Oh, me too." a spark of excitement was in Torres's voice now as the memory was recalled from where it had been buried underneath a pile of engineering stats. "One April Fool's day, when I was about ten or eleven, my friends and I rigged the entire school. The replicators, everything."
"We did that once, too," nodded Kim. "Some of the things we did... well, I probably shouldn't mention them. Nothing I would have done if I had known better." Images filled the heads of the three humans in Chez Sandrine's of all the different jokes that they had played over the year.
"A backfired joke, though," spoke Torres, "was once played on me when I was young. I broke two bones in my leg from it."
"How on Earth - or on Kessik Four, 'scuse me - did you wind up doing that?"
"I happened to be in the rather high branches of a tree when they played this particular joke." replied Torres. "As I remember, I got so mad at a certain girl and my crush that I lost my grip on the tree branch, and..."
"In a tree?" Kim asked in amazement and in slight disgust.
"No, not them..."
"Ah, enough said, we don't need to know any details," Paris cut her off. "Well, I think that this conversation is getting away from where I wanted it to go, so I guess I'll leave now."
"No way!" Torres nearly tackled him as he leapt toward the door. As it was, the two landed in a pile on the floor. If Kim was any judge, Paris didn't exactly mind if Torres was on top of him on the floor. "I'm not letting you out of my sight until April Fools' Day is over!"
"Come on," Kim said urgently. "If Chakotay comes in through that door, he'll think that you guys were actually fighting, and you will both get into trouble."
"I'm not afraid of Commander Chakotay," snapped Torres instantly.
"Well, oh, just get up off the floor!" the two complied. "Good." Paris again headed for the door.
"I wasn't going to pull jokes on you, B'Elanna. If you set them up before April Fools' day itself, it isn't fair. I was going to go to bed."
"Yeah," Kim agreed. "These past two days have been pretty tiring."
"I need a little rest," said Kes.
"Well, it's no fun playing pool with a bunch of holograms," complained B'Elanna. "I guess I'll go to bed, too."
Chapter Three: A Dream of Sorts
Once inside of her quarters, Torres decided that she really was exhausted. After changing into her "nightclothes" ("pajamas" had always seemed too childish and "nightgown" sounded too fancy), and leaving her uniform in a heap on the floor, she called up a hot chocolate from the replicator. She figured that she deserved it, after working and worrying for forty-eight hours straight about those stupid systems malfunctions.
Torres sank onto the bed like it had been a year since she had last done so. "Computer, dim lights." the lights went dim, and Torres stared at her ceiling for a moment or two. She disliked sleeping in total darkness, because the darkness really was total out in space, so she kept the lights at a barely-visible level, but enough to give her the security that, should she have to sprint anywhere, she wouldn't trip over anything. She sat up partway, and sipped at the Hot Chocolate, smiling to herself at the conversation that had taken place in Sandrine's. April Fool's Day. It would be interesting (and probably damn annoying) to see what Paris would cook up in the wee hours.
Finally her eyelids felt to heavy to even hold up, and she didn't think she could bring herself to get up and go to the replicator to recycle the mug of her drink, so she left it on her nighttable, rolled over, and slept.
She woke up the next morning to the sound of a door hissing open, and the bustle of people in the hallway outside. The overhead lights were bright. Didn't I turn those off? she wondered in her hazy, still half-asleep state. The doors hissed closed once again, and someone walked up to her and kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"Hi, honey," it was Chakotay. "Were you so tired you didn't even bother to get into bed last night?" He continued walking until he disappeared into another adjoining room. Now Torres's eyes snapped open. Either I'm dreaming, or I missed something big.
"What're you doing in my quarters?" she asked, still fighting the dreamy haze over her brain. Then she noticed that these, in fact, weren't her quarters, and that she was curled up in a white armchair she knew that she didn't have. "Wait a second... these are your quarters. What am I doing in your quarters?"
Chakotay reemerged, and gave her a skeptical look with an upraised eyebrow. "Bee..."
"My name isn't Bee. It's B'Elanna. I asked you a question,"
"I know your name, for cry's sake. And the reason that you're here is because you live here. Are you feeling okay?"
"I live here? I don't live here. If I live here, than what are you doing here?" Torres asked, feeling a little dense.
Chakotay appeared to think the same, because he shook his head. "So, now you're playing a game. At least, I hope you are. Okay, I'll explain everything to you all over again. See, we're married, and-"
"What!?" exclaimed Torres, shooting off the white armchair as though it had been a hot stove.
Chakotay looked at her through upraised eyebrows. "Somehow, I thought you got used to the idea six months ago." His half-smile showed he still thought she was joking.
"The date. I need to know the date!" she nearly shouted, storming around in a tight circle.
"Slow down, Bee." he raised a hand. "The date... stardate 49159.3." Torres's mind was working like sixty, running a mental finger over the list of possibilities. The date was indeed the present, she hadn't leapt into the future or something, but she felt as though she'd just lost a year or so of her life. Oh, how stupid could she be? It was april fool's day. A joke. Yes, that's what it had to be. One of Tom Paris's lousy practical jokes. But Chakotay never would have complied, and no one would have bothered to take the time to extensively redesign Chakotay's quarters with some of her own furniture. And, besides, how had Paris seen her hidden attraction? Had he simply hazarded a guess? Was she that obvious? How had they gotten her into these quarters at all? Had they beamed her in? What reaction did they think she would provide which would be worth it? Probably the reaction she was giving them right now.
"Sit down, Bee," coaxed Chakotay, leading her gently back toward the armchair. "The doctor said you still weren't well... you're just confused."
"I'll say I'm confused!" she exclaimed. "What do you mean, I'm not well? Aside from the fact that it seems like the past year of my life has been rewritten, I'm fine!" She did her best to regain at leas some semblance of control, lest Tom Paris was watching her. "This really isn't funny, you know."
Chakotay smiled at her patiently, with concern in his dark eyes. "Do you remember the accident?"
B'Elanna saw no reason to waste words. "No."
"Two days ago, in the shuttlecraft... a bizarre form of ion-isotope radiation poisoning that you got into your blood from a hull breach on your shuttle and a wound you'd gotten from an exploding console. We managed to beam you back quickly enough. You have been out sick from work since then,"
"Chakotay," a creepy feeling had passed through B'Elanna, telling her that this wasn't just an April Fool's Day joke. She wasn't sure what it was, but still... too real to be a dream. She pinched her arm as inconspicuously as she could, just to make sure. It pained her enough to realize that she wasn't dreaming. "I don't know what happened, but I never was in any accident like that."
"Rest, Bee," he said. "Your memory'll return soon, the doctor said it would."
"My memory... I haven't lost it, I only remember something different."
Chakotay ignored B'Elanna's comment and started around the room. "You really should learn to hang up your uniform," he said conversationally, picking the gold-and-black garment off the ground. So she had forgotten to hang it up here, as well. Wherever "here" is. "Oh, by the way, Carey says that we should have propulsion back to full power in about two days."
"I guess that's good," replied Torres. Watching Chakotay walk from one end of the room to the other made her feel queazy. Something just isn't right. Actually, too many things aren't right... "You can tell Tom to get over it. Alright, so I fell for his little prank. Can we all just stop now?"
"I'm assuming this is one of Tom Paris's jokes, isn't it? You don't usually come up with this sort of stuff."
He turned to her with a stern, disapproving look on his face. "That isn't funny, Bee."
"I know it isn't. Tom's jokes are never funny."
Chakotay crossed the room toward her, brushing her thick hair out of her face enough to touch his hand to her ridged forehead. She shook her head, breaking away. "You really are sick, aren't you, Bee? Come on, let's go to sickbay." Chakotay took her hand paternally. B'Elanna was about to protest, but then decided that it really might be a good idea. If she had some absurd disease which was making her think bizarre things, it was best that she know about it. She finally pulled her hand away, and only walked next to him, despite the fact that she felt a little ridiculous strolling through the halls in her nightclothes.
Chapter Four: "A Different Universe"
"I knew I couldn't keep her out of sickbay," sighed the Doctor when Torres and Chakotay arrived.
"She's sick," said Chakotay plainly.
"So I gathered. This is a sickbay, after all, Commander, or were you unaware of that?"
"Forget the bedside sarcasm and doctor her," snapped B'Elanna's 'husband,' guiding her toward the examining table.
"I was just about to do that, Commander," said the doctor. "Kes!" he called to his young Ocampa assistant, who emerged with a medical tricorder.
"New outfit," observed Torres.
Kes narrowed her eyes slightly. "No, I've had this for awhile now. From a merchant in the Arianas system," the outfit she wore was a deep, deep purple jumpskirt outfit with the same color leggings underneath. The gold of Kes's comm badge stood out brilliantly. The Ocampa handed the tricorder to the Doctor, who ran it over Torres's nightclothed figure. He frowned at it, the lines on his forehead deepening. He strode over to a nearby rack of medical tools and took another tricorder, opened it, and scanned her again.
"Lieutenant, I'm going to have to ask you to come over to the biobed." he said.
"The biobed?" she asked, at the same time Chakotay demanded,
"Why? Is something wrong?"
"I'm not sure yet," was the Doctor's unconvincing answer. "Now, Lieutenant," Kes took Torres's arm and led her to the biobed. She lay there, and the bioscanners arched up from both sides of the bed and clicked together over the center of her body. The holographic medico's fingers danced over the control panel with precise accuracy, and he glared fiercely at the readings it gave him.
"What is it? What's wrong with her?" demanded Chakotay.
"The ion-isotope radiation... it's gone."
"So? Isn't that a good thing?"
"Yes. Well, no. You see, that wasn't supposed to happen. That particular ion-isotope... I was studying a sample of it in an increased-stimulant zone. In a normal environment, this particular isotope has a half-life of three days. It hasn't even been two days yet." The doctor frowned at the readings once more, while Torres propped herself up on her elbows. "I need you to lie still, lieutenant."
"What does this mean?" asked Chakotay. "Has her condition gotten worse?"
"Commander, when I let her out of sickbay yesterday, she was in pretty terrible condition." the Doctor said. "Now it doesn't even look like she was exposed to the radiation at all, let alone poisoned by it."
"I'm not finished yet." the Doctor snapped. "It's more than just the radiation is gone."
"Are you saying she isn't B'Elanna Torres?" There was a moment of chilly silence. "Are there any traces of Rancana activity in her brain?"
"Not a trace, don't worry, Commander. She most definitely is B'Elanna Torres, and is free from any telepathic parasites that might have affected her memory, but I'm not quite sure where she's from."
Chakotay spent a moment looking over at Torres on the biobed, and she could tell that behind his dark eyes his mind was carefully pondering options. She knew him that well. She supposed that, wherever she was now, she knew him even better.
"What makes you say that?"
"Do you remember the shuttle crash on Bayen two?"
Chakotay nodded in a brusque manner. "Yes, of course. B'Elanna and Tom Paris were down there for a day and a half. They were half-dead when we finally got them back, Lieutenant Paris saved her life and nearly died himself doing it."
"Yes, and if you remember, B'Elanna had broken her collarbone in the crash."
"That's right. You said it was a pretty bad break."
"It was. I repaired it... but there are still telltale signs of the break left on her collarbone. Or, there were yesterday. Those are gone now."
"That's not very conclusive... maybe they just... healed." Chakotay's voice proved that he was reaching, and he looked about nervously.
"I can't tell you where she's from, but she's not from here."
"Well, speculation?" asked Chakotay. The doctor took him over to a sickbay monitor, and displayed an image. "This is a DNA strand, right?"
"Lieutenant Torres's. From her medical file. I think you should know that, throughout the known universe, we have examined carbon-based life forms, and found trace similarities in all their DNA patterns. Even in most other kinds of known life, the DNA has certain 'constants,' if you will. Hers," he pointed to the biobed, "are different."
Chakotay sounded almost desperate when he said, "But she's half Klingon,"
"We're all well aware of that, Commander," said the Doctor. "But I'm afraid that doesn't change anything. We ran a DNA trace scan, and this is her DNA."
"It looks the same to me," remarked Chakotay after a moment of close examination.
"The differences are very slight, but the differences are in the parts of DNA which are common to all carbon-based life."
"So now she isn't carbon-based?" Chakotay's eyes narrowed in half-sarcastic disbelief, wondering if it was possible to reprogram the Doctor to be a little more straightforward.
"No... I'm saying that she could be from a parallel dimension -- a different universe, if you will. Actually, I'm sure of it."
"Couldn't her DNA have been altered somehow?" Chakotay asked urgently. "In the accident, maybe? Or since she got back? Something you didn't detect?" The doctor shook his head.
"Doubtful. I don't know how it could have been done on this ship without me knowing about it, not to mention it would leave behind telltale signs of tampering, which I would have detected yesterday."
Kes appeared behind Chakotay and gently took his arm.
"I believe," said the doctor. "That wherever she came from, that's where your wife is." Torres suddenly felt a wave of dizziness pass through her. Chakotay's wife would be taking her place... this could certainly damage her reputation if that woman did anything stupid.
"So? How do we get her back?"
"I don't know yet." sighed the doctor. He ran over several readings on the monitor, and then stood up decisively. "Even if we could figure out a way, I'm not sure that it would be wise to act on it. I am noticing on this Torres that much of her internal structure was thrown out of balance during the shift. For a healthy person, like her, it isn't much of a problem - only slightly more serious than transporting. But your wife isn't healthy. Far from it, actually. Probably after going through the shift once, her internal structure would be already damaged enough to put her into intensive care... after another shift, and so soon, she could die."
Chakotay's eyes turned worried, and distressed as he looked at the Bee who really wasn't Bee lying on this table. "Tell me," he said to her. "Do they have medical facilities aboard your ship?"
"It looks just like this one," she smiled comfortingly. Her smile was fake, certainly he could see it if he knew her as well as he apparently did, but she wasn't lying. She was just awfully disconcerted that this sickbay did look exactly like the one she was used to. Exactly. "Everything is the same. I'm sure that your... wife will be fine."
"We'd better get the Captain down here," the Doctor decided, tapping his comm badge. "Captain to sickbay, immediately."
"Is there a problem, doctor?" came the captain's voice over the channel.
"Yes, there is. We have a 'visitor' here..."
"We didn't pick up any intruder on internal sensors."
"No, you wouldn't." said the Doctor. "Because she's sort of supposed to be here, and she didn't enter the ship by any conventional means." This last confusing statement on the doctor's part brought an immediate reply,
"Do we need security?"
"No, I don't think that will be necessary."
"I'll be right down. Janeway out." The communication was severed from the Bridge. Chakotay spent the minutes until Janeway arrived staring at B'Elanna as though he wasn't sure whether he should be damn annoyed that anyone could impersonate his wife with such startling accuracy, or treat her as if she was his wife, since, essentially she was - with only a few differing memories and a messed up DNA code. B'Elanna, for her part, tried to disappear by shrinking down until only her head stuck out from the top of the sensor array. The Doctor and Kes were busy enough analyzing her DNA code not to even to tell her to keep still.
"Alright, Doctor," Janeway strode in purposefully. "Where is your intruder?"
The Doctor led her to the biobed, and pointed. "Right there, Captain."
Janeway looked, blinked twice, and then said with a skeptical voice, "But that's Bee."
Chakotay, Kes, and the Doctor gave her looks with upraised eyebrows. "We know," they said simultaneously.
Janeway opened her arms in an okay, what gives gesture. The Doctor nodded. Suddenly Janeway decided what this might be, and spoke disapprovingly. "I didn't know holograms were programmed to play April Fools pranks."
"They aren't." said Kes. "This isn't a prank. As you recall, Bee was in very little condition to carry on a conversation yesterday, let alone play pranks on her captain."
"Sorry. There's just a little paranoia up on the Bridge on account of April Fools' day since someone started playing stock footage of a Borg ship on the viewscreen. Our sensors could clear things up right away... but it scared the hell out of us for a moment. Anyhow, what's this all about?"
B'Elanna spoke up from the biobed. "I don't really belong here," she said.
"Oh?" said Janeway. The Doctor repeated his hypothesis about the intrauniversal shift.
"There is no other way to explain the quirks in her DNA." he finished.
"They aren't quirks," snapped B'Elanna defensively. "My DNA is just fine, thank you. Where I come, it's perfectly normal. And, besides -" Chakotay cut her off silently by placing a hand on her shoulder. "I wasn't finished!" she exclaimed.
"I guess that's Bee," decided Janeway.
"It's B'Elanna. B-E-L-" Chakotay squeezed her shoulder once, and when all it got him was a look that suggested that she might just bite him, he moved it. "Stop cutting me off!"
"Sorry," he apologized for her. "She isn't used to being called 'Bee,' I guess, where she's come from, and-" now it was Chakotay who got cut off.
"No need to apologize, Commander," said Janeway. "I frankly like seeing Bee - I mean, B'Elanna's spunk back after yesterday and the day before when she looked like a living ghost." There was another moment of silence, broken only by the routine beeping of one of the sickbay consoles. "Are you sure there's no way to bring Bee back?"
"Positive, Captain. At least, not right now. Another shift would, likely, kill her."
"But wait a minute," said Torres. "We have a sickbay aboard our ship, what if they healed her? Then it would make little sense to keep us both stranded where we don't belong."
"It has very little to do with medical care," the Doctor explained. "The ion-isotope in her blood is the problem. Likely, it would still be potent enough for another two days at least to prevent shifting."
"Why me, anyway?" asked Torres. "What was it about me that made me undergo the shift and not, say, Paris?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I don't know, but I imagine that the ion-isotope radiation in your counterpart's blood might have contributed to it. It could have... attracted whatever anomaly allowed this like a magnet. It was probably necessary for the shift."
"Whoa. You're saying that we shouldn't do the shift now, because she has the ion-isotope radiation in her body, and we can't do it later once it's gone?"
Janeway's eyes lowered. "I don't intend to have you stuck here forever if there's any way I can avoid it." she said carefully. "But you are B'Elanna Torres, even if you're from a different universe, and if you're any bit as brilliant as ours, you can probably figure out a way to get yourself out of here."
"Thank you, Captain. I think that was some indirect way of paying me, or her," she squinted, confused, "a compliment."
"Take it as so. For now, I suggest that you read your counterpart's logs, or something, get yourself acquainted with who you were around here. It might help you to fit in. I'm going to try and keep your presence here on a need-to-know basis, since it shouldn't really be common knowledge that we can hop from one universe to another. The senior officers will know, but for everyone else, try to keep them in the dark. So be inconspicuous. In order to keep that idea up, you're going to have to play sick for the next few days, until the doctor would have said to go back to work. If anyone asks why you seem to be lost in terms of relationships here, et cetera, we can just tell them that a side effect of the radiation would be slight amnesia, and that it will wear off. We will probably have you work with Kim on a way to go through the shift harmlessly."
"Aye, Captain," nodded Torres. So, now she was going to have to play a married woman.
"You can go," stated the Doctor. Torres nodded, slipping off the biobed. Well, she might as well get started.
Chapter Five: Wedding Rings
Torres had changed into her counterpart's uniform (she felt more comfortable uniformed than nightclothed), and was now sitting in front of a computer monitor in Chakotay's quarters. "Computer, play back all personal logs for B'Elanna Torres, starting back a year."
"Voice match confirmed. Accessing..." the computer told her politely. Torres tapped her fingers in annoyance along the tabletop until the computer beeped to signal it was ready.
"Play," she ordered. An image appeared on the screen. It looked a lot like her. In fact, it looked exactly like her, without even a hair's difference.
"Personal log. Not much interesting happening here today, I spent most of the day fixing the-"
"Next," decided Torres. If Chakotay had asked her out, she figured that she'd have mentioned it in the first two sentences.
"Personal log. Today was what might be known as a rather peculiar day, to say the least. Today we entered Bothan space - a BIG mistake." B'Elanna decided that, since she could recall making the very same log, that the two universes hadn't split yet. But she decided to watch it, anyway. "We had a rendez-vous with a Bothan ship, which emitted a psionic field. All this is technical, anyway, and can be uncovered in the Engineering log. The psionic field somehow made everyone on board hallucinate, regarding hidden thoughts and feelings. Let's just say that... I guess my... feelings for Chakotay were shoved in my face, quite literally, and-" Torres didn't feel an overwhelming need to relive the day which had inspired that log, and quickly hit the fast-forward button on the long log, hearing only a moment more toward the end, "even after this experience, I think I must still be in love with him. How stupid is that?" Before she snapped,
"Next." When the Bothans had forced her to live her attraction to Commander Chakotay, it had first freaked her out, and then embarrassed her thoroughly.
"No log entries for three stardates," reported the computer. "The next recorded log..."
"I don't believe it!" exclaimed the B'Elanna in the monitor, not even bothering to say 'personal log.' Now, Torres figured, she had just crossed the line when the Universes diverged. She, for one, had never made that log, and it was a little scary seeing someone who looked just like her saying words that she had never said."Chakotay read my logs! And what really makes me mad is that he didn't even have the decency to tell me so! Captain Janeway had to! Okay, okay, I'm losing control. Well, three days ago, I was fixing a burnt out conduit on deck thirteen when it exploded. I was injured, and have been in sickbay for the past two days. Janeway explained to me that some of the superior officers thought that I might have done it myself, for reasons unknown to me. Anyhow, Chakotay was ordered to read my logs to see if that might have been what it was. I can assure you it wasn't. Well, Chakotay, if you're reading this, too, I'm going to tell you that I intend never to speak with you again."
"Going to next entry," said the computer in its calm, regulated artificial voice.
"I didn't keep my promise," the B'Elanna on the screen looked slightly happier than the one from the previous entry. "Chakotay asked me to eat breakfast with him this morning, and I went, partially because I wanted to bawl him out for reading my logs, and partially because I didn't want to seem overly rude if he didn't know why. I met him in the mess hall, but there were no free tables, so he told me to come to his quarters to eat. We got to talking, and I nearly forgot about the logs, until he just said out of nowhere "why didn't you tell me that you were in love with me?" I nearly choked on my toast, if I remember. I'm not sure what I said, but I'm sure it was something stupid. It took me less than a minute to get out of there before I lost any cool I might have had left. I'm not sure that I ever want to see him again, since I have almost no idea what I might say. I think I just want to sink through the floor." B'Elanna heard the door open, and she slapped the monitor off with the heel of her hand. She thought she'd seen enough, anyway.
"Hi," said Chakotay. "How is your search going?"
"Fine." she replied, irked that someone had entered to disturb her research. "Do you suppose I might be able to use guest quarters for the duration of my stay?"
Chakotay shook his head. "That's the exact opposite of inconspicuous, and it would raise questions."
B'Elanna frowned. She was unused to unnecessary secrets aboard Voyager. "Why doesn't Captain Janeway want the crew to know?"
"It's not like everyone really has to know this," Chakotay shrugged. "If the Doctor's right, no one else is at risk for shifting, since you -- her -- were the only one with radiation poisoning."
"Yes, but Janeway doesn't usually make a point of keeping things from people."
"We're not keepingthings from people as much as -- well, like the Rancana incident. It just causes less problems."
B'Elanna shook her head.
Chakotay paused a moment before speaking again. "You never... encountered the Rancana? The telepathic parasites?"
B'Elanna shook her head.
"Well... we ran into a species that... attached themselves to several low-ranking members of the crew whose behaviour wasn't as closely monitored as, say, the Captain's or mine, and these sentient parasites ended up selling information on the status of Voyager to the Kazon... it's really not that interesting. I guess it's understandable that your crew never encountered them. We wouldn't have, either, if we hadn't taken a detour through the Rancan nebula eight months ago."
"Doesn't really seem worth all this paranoia."
"It's not paranoia, as much as reasonable precaution. We're in a dangerous area of space. Besides, it won't be so bad to stay in these quarters, will it?"
Torres pondered that a moment. "We could say that we were having a lover's quarrel," she suggested hopefully.
"Not in this universe. For the next week or so, you're just going to have to be her, Bee... lanna. B'Elanna." he corrected himself.
Torres sighed, flinging her arms in an I give up gesture. "Fine. Call me Bee, if that's what everyone calls me."
He walked by her, and patted her on the shoulder in a repressed sign of affection. "You're catching on," he told her quietly, and continued into the bedroom. Torres looked after him for a moment, before leaning back in her chair pensively. It must be difficult for him, she thought. He lost his wife in this mess, even if his wife is me. She wished that there was something that she could say, but she doubted that there was. Reading the entries after the universes had separated had been interesting, as well as scary. That woman was her, no doubt about it, and had reacted the same way she would have if she had been the one in this universe from the start, and not the other way 'round. She wondered what was happening on her own Voyager. What was her counterpart doing? Would the same overall subterfuge of pretending that she really belonged there be exercised? Maybe. Probably not. It was easier for a healthy person to pretend she was ill than a sick person to feign being healthy, and her Captain was considerably less paranoid than this Janeway seemed to be. She stood and wandered around the quarters (skipping the bedroom), examining various knick-knacks which decorate mantelpieces and dresser-tops. She recognized several things, others she had never seen before, but two small objects caught her eye. Gold rings. Wedding rings, she realized belatedly. She supposed that since wearing rings of any kind wasn't authorized by Starfleet's strict dress codes the two had decided to keep them off. Torres picked up the one that she supposed was hers, and examined it. It was a simple, smooth band of gold. She slipped it onto the fourth finger of her left hand. The metal was cold, but it fit perfectly. She twirled it around thoughtfully, and then made a fist with her hand. It was her wedding ring, but at the same time, it wasn't. She hadn't ever married. Torres jerked the ring off so hard that it flew off her finger and spun around on the floor. She let it lie there for a few moments, before picking it up and examining it closer to read the engraving on the inside: Love Forever, C. She examined how the light shone on the lettering for a moment before placing it next to the second gold ring on the shelf. It clacked against the shelf louder than she intended. For some reason it angered her.
"Come on," Chakotay had appeared behind her. "Let's go eat." She didn't answer, but followed him out of the room.
Chapter Six: "I Don't Belong Here"
"Up on your feet again, I see," commented Neelix as he served Torres's food in the Mess Hall.
"She's looking much better," agreed Chakotay.
"For a while there, we were all scared that you wouldn't make it. But Kes - and the Doctor, of course - did an excellent job," Neelix grinned, almost puppylike, handing Torres's tray back to her.
"Yes, they did," she replied, turning away from the kitchen, with her tray. Chakotay led her to a table by a window. He spoke in a low whisper, so only Torres could hear.
"I take it you read Bee's logs," he said.
"Some of them." she replied.
"Did you find out anything?"
"Plenty." she said. "However, I still want to know how it happened."
Chakotay swallowed. "Happened?"
"I left off about when you asked her why she'd never told you that she was in love with you. She was saying that she wasn't sure she ever wanted to see you again."
Chakotay smiled. "I figured that. Two days later I cornered her in Sandrine's and asked her out to dinner. We dated for about six months before we both decided to get married."
"Only six months?"
"B'Elanna was never one to take things slowly," he replied. "And we got married-"
"Let me guess. Sandrine's?"
"No. That was where the reception was held. Actually we got married here, in the Mess Hall. Captain Janeway married us. Janeway actually did a lot for that wedding though, including finding your - I mean, Bee's - wedding dress. I guess she sort of took on a maternal role for you," he didn't even bother correcting himself, "seeing that you didn't have one here, and this was all very new and exciting and a little scary."
Torres was then quiet for a moment, eyes drifting out into space.
"End of story," finished Chakotay.
"No," her eyes drifted back and met his. "No, not the end of story. You'll get her back, I promise."
"It's strange," Chakotay said suddenly. "You're so much like her. Your responses, the way you walk and talk..."
"I am her. I just didn't have the same experiences she's had." Torres said. "And for that, I'm envious of her." She stood up and left the mess hall. Tossing a glance over her shoulder, she caught Chakotay delicately fingering the rose that stood in a vase at the center of the table. He tilted his head to look at her, and then looked away. She turned and finished her departure from the Mess Hall.
"Marriage squabbles?" wondered Neelix innocently. "I guess having a near-death experience can change a person and her views on life." Chakotay shook his head, patting Neelix on the back.
"You don't know the half of it, Neelix," he sighed, looking at B'Elanna's unfinished food. "You don't know the half of it."
It was awful. She felt like an amnesia patient - waking up and having to figure out her life all over again. Except the memories weren't there to be recovered. It was damn frustrating, that was what it was. Except B'Elanna didn't want to smash anything, as she usually did when she got frustrated. She wanted to sink through the floor. She felt sorry for Chakotay, who had to deal with pretending that she was the woman he had fallen in love with. Well, she supposed that she was at least an incarnation of that woman. She didn't want to go back to Chakotay's quarters. She supposed she could go back to sickbay, but the doctor didn't exactly make for an overly pleasant companion. Her feet finally solved the problem for her, as they took her to directly outside holodeck one.
"Computer," she spoke. "Display a list of programs written for or by B'Elanna Torres."
"Accessing," the computer told her politely. A few moments later, a list was displayed for her. She picked the program at the top of her list. It was a program she was unfamiliar with, but she figured that this other B'Elanna Torres must have very good taste.
"Program running. You may now enter." Torres hoped that it wouldn't be one of her more vicious programs in which, as soon as she entered, ugly monsters would launch themselves at her in attack. Bracing herself, she stepped through the doors. The sight took her breath away.
Even though she knew that the program was only a hologram, she had a hard time believing it. She took another step inward, and the archway disappeared behind her. The program was a starscape. It was as though she were out in space itself, except she could breathe, and the vacuum wasn't tearing her apart. All around her... nothing but stars. Looking down at the light-years of stars beneath her, her feet broke from under her, and she pitched to the holodeck floor. She was content to lie there, staring up. Stars forever... her mind nearly forgot it was a holodeck, and she felt as though she were part of the space surrounding her. Stars looked the same from one universe to the next, it seemed...
A hissing startled her. The holodeck archway reappeared, and Captain Janeway stepped through it. It disappeared behind her.
"Captain," Torres got up from where she had been lying on the invisible ground, standing straight.
"As you were," Janeway waved her off with one hand. "I see you found Bee's holoprograms."
Torres's shoulders slumped slightly, and she returned to sitting. "Yeah,"
Janeway moved to stand next to her. "Chakotay is minding the bridge for me," she explained. "He seemed more than a little distraught. I imagined that it was over you. Having a hard time adjusting to being a married woman?" the last sentence was spoken with an overtone of humor which B'Elanna didn't share.
She arched her eyebrows. "That would be an understatement."
"You want to talk about it?"
Torres didn't answer, only looked away. Janeway sat down next to her, and touched her shoulder gently. Her blue eyes were sympathetic. "It must seem like you've lost a year of your life."
"This isn't my life!" she exclaimed in a sharp tone, as if it were all the Captain's fault that she were here in the first place. Janeway didn't back away, as though she had been expecting a vehement response. "I don't belong here!"
"We know. And we're all trying to think of a way to get you - both of you back where you belong. Safely, without any harm to either of you."
"I know, I know. It would be easier if... I didn't have to pretend so much."
"Chakotay told me that your Voyager is run differently than ours."
"Not... no. Where I come from, something like this would be all over the ship by now."
"It's difficult to keep things like this under wraps for long, even with the airs of secrecy we have on this ship. I'm sorry if it makes things difficult for you, but this year has not been easy on this crew, having to keep from trusting one another completely. And although we haven't had sight of the Rancana for months, it's hard to forget an experience like that. I am sorry that you have to suffer for it by extension." After a moment's pause, Janeway spoke again. "All things considered, how is it going - getting used to being here?" Torres chewed her lower lip for a moment in thought.
"For the most part, it's like my Voyager. It seems that the person who's changed the most from one to the other is me." Janeway nodded, but didn't speak. "I guess... I'm having a hard time approaching Chakotay. He thinks I'm someone that I'm not. And, somehow, he keeps treating me like her - more than our little masquerade would require."
"It pains him," sighed Janeway, "to see the woman he loves turn into someone who looks like her but isn't quite her. You must be able to understand that."
The Engineer looked sullenly down at her hands. "It's all a little... April Foolish to me. It just doesn't seem very likely in my universe - Chakotay and I married, that is." To be honest, Torres had never even thought that Chakotay, I, and married belonged in the same sentence.
"Some joke," commented Janeway. "I wish it were. But it isn't. Try to get used to it, as much as you can. If you ever want to talk about anything, feel free to come to me. I know Bee would," with that, Janeway patted Torres on the shoulder, stood up, and left the holodeck.
That night, B'Elanna was content to sleep in the white armchair, rather than share a bed with someone whom she still considered 'just a friend.'
Chapter Seven: The Universes' Tricks
The Emergency Holographic Medical Program was annoyed. There wasn't anything special or different in that fact alone, per se, since he always seemed to be annoyed at someone or something, but now he was really annoyed. Even frustrated. The frown lines over his forehead darkened, and he glowered fiercely at his medical instruments.
"What is it, Doctor?" asked Janeway as she breezed through the main sickbay doors. "I'm on a tight schedule."
"And I'm sorry to interrupt it," he nearly snapped at her. "But I think that it's important that you know about this. I would have called Chakotay, too, but I think it might be too painful for him to hear this."
"Go ahead," said Janeway, less briskly than her previous statement, mentally bracing herself for the worst. As she did so, she silently commended the doctor for his increased compassion and understanding of human nature.
"It's about Bee... or, at least, the other Bee."
"I figured that."
The doctor shot her a glance. "I told you about her slightly different DNA code?"
"Well, that code - and the one in our Bee's body on her ship - these codes are trying to find a way back to where they belong. Like a homeing signal. I believe that it will tear them both 'out of phase' soon, pulling them back into their own realities."
Janeway pondered that a moment, puzzled. "But that's a good thing."
"No, it's not. I don't believe the DNA code itself is enough to get the two of them back to where they belong. It might leave them trapped in the crack between the two universes. Even if they manage to complete the shift, it would be one hell of a ride, and I highly doubt either one would survive, and certainly not ours. We're going to lose both of them."
Janeway blinked hard, trying to force her thoughts into shape around this new problem. Her academy teachers, senior officers, and many other people in her life had called her mind 'brilliant,' but she didn't see brilliance coming to much use when it couldn't even help save the life of a good friend. The lives of a good friend. "Shields?" she asked.
"Shields, force fields, neither will help to avert the shifting. It works on a slightly different plane than ours... there isn't anything physical we can do. Except..."
Janeway's eyes brightened. "Go on," she urged.
"Except... maybe if we lock on to her with the transporters after the partial shift has already started. I think that will be able to get her back to us. Unfortunately, not the Torres who belongs here, but the Torres who is here now."
"I don't like that 'think' in there. But this is our best shot, correct?"
The doctor nodded.
Janeway nodded once in reply. "We'll be looking out for it. Janeway to Torres," she tapped her badge. A garbled noise, twisted with static, ensued. Janeway's eyes were open wide.
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Torres."
"Lieutenant Torres is on deck -- is not aboard -- is on deck -- is not aboard the ship."
"Captain, it must already happening." the doctor's voice seemed impossibly calm. Janeway, on the other hand, was walking the thin line between quick action and panic.
"Transporter room!" she exclaimed. "Lock on to B'Elanna Torres's signal... beam her back! There might be some interference - compensate! Just get her back here!"
"Aye," came the response.
"Commander Chakotay to Transporter Room One immediately," Janeway said, her voice having dropped a few notches in intensity. The Doctor nodded to Kes, who had been silently watching his conversation with Janeway. Kes and the Captain set out for the transporter room at a fast-paced jog.
This was not a good way to wake up. In fact, this was a horrible way to wake up. What woke B'Elanna Torres on her second day in the alternate universe was a stabbing pain all around her. It was as though she were inside pain. To her, it felt like all she was was pain. She felt torn apart - split in two. As though every proton, neutron and electron inside of her was determined to be in two places at once. She wanted to scream, to sob, to cry out in pain, but whatever twisted state she was in at the moment wouldn't allow it. Pain at this intensity, normally, would cause the conscious mind to have an emergency shut-down, rendering the victim unconscious, like a computer without a power source. But Torres couldn't even do that. She thought she heard Janeway's voice, but she couldn't make out any words and she suspected that it was just a ghost of a memory. Her body demanded air, and when she opened her mouth and drew in a breath, it felt as though the inside of her lungs was being seared. All thought ceased in her mind, there was only pain. It felt as though she were suspended there forever. Like she would never get out.
She wanted Chakotay. God, she wanted him to come and rescue her from this awful pain. But she doubted that anyone at all would come, and that she would just die here, alone.
"Got her!" exclaimed the transporter officer. "Dropping force field... now. Okay. I don't know what you were protecting against, but you can go in now." The ensign hadn't been told anything about who Torres really was, or where she came from, but he was used to that and almost preferred not to know.
"Good work," said Janeway. Chakotay nodded, moving to stand right next to the field, looking at B'Elanna inside, her eyes squeezed tight shut. "You may leave now. I'll take it from here." The ensign complied and left the room, taking his bewilderment with him.
The pain was gone. Gone with the same sharpness as when it had come. The relief was as intense as the horror had been mere seconds before, and she was pitifully grateful. She felt her legs go out from under her, and she stumbled forward, unable to see even what she was falling into, but she was caught before she landed. Without even looking, she could tell it was Chakotay. He held her in an embrace as she shivered like a child. Torres put up no resistance. His arms were strong, and she needed strength. It seemed all her own strength had been sapped. Tears made wet streaks down her cheeks - a sensation alien to her. Her body was wracked with sobs, and she wished that she had the power to stop them, but she couldn't. She had no strength, except what flowed to her from him. She felt so weak, so stupid, so helpless... and yet he was forgiving her for it all and just holding her. Not caring of how insanely frightened she had been, not caring of how weak she was, just holding her. No judgements.
"Shhh. It's alright now," whispered Chakotay, wiping her tears away as he rocked her gently in an attempt to soothe her as one would a child who has taken a fall. Janeway, at the transporter console, looked as though she didn't want to break up this tender moment, but Kes's gaze told her she had to.
"I'm going to transport you to sickbay. You too, Kes. See you there," Janeway beamed them quickly. A smile broke out on her face, relieved to have succeeded in getting Torres back, even in the state she appeared to be now, and strangely comforted by seeing her in Chakotay's arms. It brought back a feeling of normality to a horribly strange situation. Janeway remembered a high school teacher of hers, who, when seeing students behaving as Chakotay and B'Elanna had been, would comment, 'Excuse me, please untangle yourselves.' For some reason, this seemed funny now, although it had irritated and embarrassed her no end when he'd once told that to her.
"I don't think we really have a choice. The DNA differential will keep pulling her out of phase - there isn't much we can do to keep her here except maybe lock her up in a transporter beam. We could probably figure out a way to complete the shift, but as I say, I don't think that, with the ion-isotope radiation, the other B'Elanna could survive." the Doctor had been talking when Janeway strode through the doors into sickbay.
"What makes you think she's still alive at all?" wondered Kim. Janeway wasn't entirely sure what he was doing here in the first place. "If this radiation's as awful as you make it sound, it could have killed her the first time through." Chakotay shot him a pained glance. "Sorry," the Ensign apologized, staring at the floor.
"We don't know. But I'm content to keep hoping for the best. And, right now, changing her DNA to the constant of this universe is the best option." the doctor sighed. "Her little... trip through the universal rift would make it fairly simple to do. It threw her entire internal structure out of whack anyhow."
"Doctor, Kes," Janeway interrupted finally. Kes, the Doctor, Kim, and Chakotay all whirled to look at her. "Report,"
"She in a shock-induced sleep. Whatever she went through must have been traumatic," said Kes, her voice soft with sympathy. "She should be alright - but that won't last long if she gets pulled into shift again. The only way to prevent that is the Doctor's suggestion - altering her DNA just enough to make it conform to this universe's norm. Essentially, we'd be jury-rigging it just enough to get by."
"It could be re-altered... but I think the radiation in the cloud and in the other B'Elanna's body is what allowed her to make the shift in the first place." added Kim.
"The longer she stays in this universe, the more her entire body will adjust. It won't take long for that to happen," put in the doctor. "Frankly, I don't see a choice other than adjusting her DNA. Since she really is the same person..."
"You're suggesting that we just have an Engineer switch-around." Janeway finished. Chakotay drew in a breath, and his captain gently touched his arm. "I wish we could get in touch with the other ship, find out what's going on there. Since we can't... I think this is a choice that she's going to have to make for herself. If she decides to leave... we'll just stay in this here cloud until it's safe to shift her - and we find the technology to induce a safe shift."
A moan ensued from Torres, who was approaching consciousness, turning all heads toward her as if she were a giant magnet. "She will have to stay the night here," said the doctor. "Ensign Kim, Kes, I think we can take this from here." the two aforementioned crewmembers left from sickbay, casting glances over their shoulders.
"Commander," Janeway whispered. "You might want to stay here awhile longer."
"Captain..." B'Elanna coughed through a dry throat.
"B'Elanna?" she asked, coming over.
"What's going to happen to me?" she asked. She looked smaller and more helpless, lying there on the Doctor's medtable, than Janeway could recall seeing her in a long time. As Chakotay explained the Doctor's ideas, memories breezed their way through Janeway's mind. B'Elanna nervously straddling a chair in Janeway's quarters, seeking advice on whether to date Chakotay or not... a few weeks later when she had made it into the finals of Paris's 'pool pros tournament' and had snapped her lucky pool cue in her excitement... at the impromptu wedding shower at Sandrine's, a week or so prior to the actual event... fitting her with a wedding dress... B'Elanna running into her quarters almost in tears the night before the wedding and spending the night adressing her fears... the wedding itself... sending them off on shore leave which passed as a honeymoon after Paris and Kim had hooked on a tastelessly tacky "just married" sign on the back of the shuttlecraft... This Torres didn't have these memories. None of them. She remembered that, just a few weeks ago, Bee had commented to her how one of the most precious memories she had was during the wedding when Chakotay had kissed her for the first time as a married couple. This B'Elanna didn't remember that, either, because it had never happened to her. Janeway sighed, this in itself bringing her back into the present.
"I understand," B'Elanna nodded at Chakotay's explanation.
"We won't have propulsion back on-line until at least 1400 tomorrow," said Janeway. "We can't leave until then. Sleep on it... you have a tough decision to make." She patted Torres's shoulder, before turning and leaving. The lights in sickbay had been reduced to nighttime brightness, and the doctor retreated into his office to work on something, leaving Chakotay alone with Torres in main sickbay.
"It'll be okay," he told her, stroking her dark hair away from her face. "Whatever happens, it'll be okay."
"I don't know," she sighed. "Nothing seems to be very okay right now."
He smiled gently at her. "Do you remember the time when we were shipwrecked on that planet..." She blinked up at him. "Oh, no, you wouldn't."
"That happened in my universe, too..." she murmured sleepily. "That was before the universes separated..."
"Things looked pretty awful then, too," his voice was level and soothing. "Me in a mine field above ground, and you in that awful trap below. The screams," he indicated to his head. "I don't think I've ever heard anyone scream so loudly."
"Well," she shrugged it off. "I was nearly crawling out of my skin down there, anyhow. I never want to see anything like that again."
"And the final trap," he continued. "We were inside the field, we both knew it was going to crush us. And you said something about..."
"...your tattoo being crooked!" finished Torres. "I remember that. I figured I had to say something; I'd gotten myself into an awful mess by saying that I had something I'd 'always wanted to tell you.' I didn't want to say what it really was."
"I think I have a pretty good idea," he leaned over and kissed her forehead, squeezing her hand reassuringly, before getting up and heading toward the door. "I'll see you tomorrow." he promised her.
That night her dreams were haunted with her unusual predicament of being shown two different lives and being given the chance to choose which she wanted to be hers.
Chapter Eight: "This Life can be Yours"
Sandrine's was nearly deserted. Even the pool shark Gaunt Gary, and the other pool players were gone. All the holographic customers had left already. Sandrine herself remained, but was working behind the counter. Lieutenant Paris gripped the pool cue in his hand as though it were simply another extension of himself. He leaned over Sandrine's table and lined up his shot.
"Tom," a voice popped out of the shadows behind him. The shot went wild. He whirled around, to find B'Elanna Torres standing there. He cocked his head, looking her over. She looked identical to his own B'Elanna, although she most certainly wasn't. Paris had heard of the Torres switch which had taken place, and although he thought it was a tad freaky, it didn't seem all that bad. If she couldn't go back, then she'd just have to get used to living here. After all, that whole mess with Harry really being from another Voyager hadn't done much damage, had it? Of course, the universes had only been separated for a few hours when that had happened, but still...
"B'Elanna," he said.
She arched her eyebrows. "You didn't call me Bee," she said skeptically.
"That's right. I never really got used to that nickname," he explained, shrugging. "It's Chakotay's pet name for you. Even when everyone started calling you that..."
"You were jealous of him, weren't you?" She wondered, seeing so in his eyes, wondering if that same expression could be found in her own Tom Paris' eyes if she stopped being annoyed at him long enough to really look.
"Yeah, I guess I was, for a time. But I know that you... that she's happier with him than she ever would have been otherwise, and that means everything to me. She is one of my best friends, despite what her husband might have to say about that. What're you here for, anyway? Looking for someone?"
"Not really," she sighed. "I just needed to get out of sickbay, and I couldn't really go to..."
"Chakotay's quarters. Right," Paris leaned over to make another shot. "I can hear it in your voice. You're confused about something,"
"What, did you become a counselor in this year I missed?" she demanded, apparently irked by the accuracy of the guess.
"I was right." he informed her. B'Elanna pulled up a wooden chair from one of the tables, turned it around and straddled it. She seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, dark eyes seeming to fog over so she couldn't see Paris anymore, but something that was inside her own head.
He pulled up a chair of his own. "Let me guess... Chakotay's in love with you and you have no clue how to deal with it."
She shook her head. "It's more than that. I'm in love, too - at least, I think I am." The look on Paris' face gave her shivers and she continued talking to keep from having to address it. "But he's used to being in love with me. He thinks we're married, for God's sake! But I've only had a little more than a day to get used to the idea."
Paris pondered that a moment. "But you are in love with him." He managed to keep dissapointment almost completely out of his voice. If B'Elanna didn't know him as well as she did she wouldn't have heard it at all. He was used to concealing it, certainly... after all, she'd been married to another man for six months in this universe.
Torres took a deep breath. "Yeah," she shook her head. "I guess I am. I used to dream about this sort of thing. And now that it's here... I don't know what to do about it."
"It's scary when dreams come true, sometimes, in the blink of an eye." Paris walked over to the mantle, and picked up a framed photograph, bringing it back for her to look at. "You don't remember this," he told her. "So I'll explain it to you. This was the day of your wedding. The ceremony had just taken place, and we were all having a party down here." The picture was of Chakotay and Bee. Chakotay was wearing a dress uniform, his arms looped around Bee's waist, and Bee was wearing a white wedding dress, with her veil tossed back away from her face. Bee was smiling, apparently laughing, leaning forward as if trying to grab something someone was teasing her with. There was a crown of flowers (probably grown specially in the hydroponics bay) holding down the veil. In the background, Kim had been tossing up a handful of confetti, and even further in the background Kes and Neelix were approaching with what looked like the wedding cake. "Look at that, B'Elanna. What do you notice about the people?"
"Is this a trick question?"
"No. They're happy, right?"
"I don't see where you're going with this."
"Try to remember a time when you were as happy as you look in this picture in the recent past. Try, now." B'Elanna didn't say anything, only looked down at the table. "This life can be yours, B'Elanna, all you have to do is reach out and grab it. Hell, you don't even have to do that. It's in your hand. Just make the fist."
"What about the other Bee?"
"The doctor said she'd die if she made the shift again," pointed out Paris. "Personally, I'd rather have a life slightly different than the one I'm used to than not to have a life at all."
"Well, I say to go for it. You won't get another chance, I don't think. If he's in love with you, too, which he ought to be since he married your double, he should try to approach you on it."
"And you think I should give in."
Torres laughed for a second. "I don't believe it. Somehow, I never thought I'd be coming to you for advice."
"There's a first time for everything."
"And I never thought you'd be giving me the advice to go for another man." Her eyes now were grave, but thankful. They were also questioning.
"Look, B'Elanna..." he now sounded nervous. "I got used to the idea of you being with Chakotay. I'm not saying I wasn't jealous, but I got over it. I wanted what was best for her, and I want what will make you happy, too."
"Did you love her?"
Paris thought a moment. "Yes."
"Do you still?"
"Why are you asking all these-"
"Yes. And I respect her, and I would never come between her and Chakotay. I would never come between you and Chakotay." Suddenly, his voice changed to its normal tone. "Now, I believe you're supposed to be in sickbay...?"
She stood and made a shooting motion with one hand. "Gotcha," she smiled, relief on her features from having at least a piece of her confused relationship detangled. He shot back at her, and then turned to keep playing his game. It wasn't fifteen minutes later when another voice forced his shot to go wild.
"You know you're the second person to do that to me this hour?" he demanded, turning to see Chakotay. "Sir... You look distressed. Can I assume that I've done something?"
"Oh, no," Chakotay said. "The question is, what can you do?"
"Pardon?" Paris lay down his pool cue.
"It's about B'Elanna."
"She seems to think so, too, if that's any consolation."
"What if they can't switch back? What then? Would I be committing adultery? Are they really even different people? It's all confused."
"Seems to me it's not so confused. It's the same woman, give or take a year. You love her for all the same reasons. Now you've just got to do something about it."
Chakotay looked hopeful. "Any ideas?"
"Well, she was in here just a few minutes ago..."
"Then I suppose you've got a better idea about what's going on than I do."
"She might love you." Paris said simply. "I don't think she's got anyone in the other universe, even the other you, who cares about her in that way. And, frankly, I think she needs it. If you also want to start something up with her, I think that you should take her somewhere. Maybe not romantic, quite... I don't know. Basically, you're going to have to start from square one, from a year ago, because that's where she is. Well, except you two are already in the same quarters."
"She sleeps in the armchair."
Paris didn't pretend to understand. "Fine. Don't start at the beginning, then. But take her somewhere, for God's sake. Women like an effort, as I'm sure you realized when you courted her the first time. I remember... every week you were sweating to think up some new holodeck program for a date."
"I wasn't sweating at it-"
"Of course, you enjoyed it, I know. You loved the look on her face when she knew that you'd made an effort for you. And you'll love it now, too, if you can do it again. It's not every day a man gets to fall in love for the first time again with his own wife."
Chakotay sighed, disliking asking Paris for advice. "What would you suggest?"
"Honestly, I think you might want to stay away from all the traditionally romantic venues. Whatever she feels for you, she's also pretty unsure about this whole thing. So start slow. Take her to lunch. There's a little place I know in the twentieth century..."
Chakotay looked nearly horrified. "That was a pretty brutal century... two world wars. Pretty primitive, too. I mean, space flight was in its infancy; no one'd even thought of a hovercar!"
"Hovercar! Where did hovercar come from?" Paris demanded. "Somehow I thought we were romancing your wife!"
"We were." Chakotay nodded.
"So I've got a program for you," offered Paris. "I've visited it before. Late twentieth century, sometime in the nineties. Small-town deal. It's a kind of dance café." Chakotay looked at him as though he had three heads. "You kinda have to see it."
"Okay. I'll take your word for it," he smiled.
"You can see it if you want. Just ask the computer for something called Lenox East Street Café. It will know what you're talking about."
Chakotay nodded. "Thanks." Paris nodded. He didn't say anything until after Chakotay left.
"No problem," he said to the empty room.
B'Elanna paced nervously around a small portion of sickbay, wringing her hands at her sides. Paris had stopped by about half an hour ago to 'psych her up', telling her that Chakotay would be up to see her soon and to just 'go with it.' She had thought it over carefully herself, and decided that, indeed, that was what she wanted to do anyway. It was like waking up, and your dreams had suddenly become reality. She decided to let the dream sweep her away, at least for now.
"Bee," Chakotay's voice startled her, and she whirled around, surprised.
"Oh, hi! I didn't hear you come in."
"Come on," he told her, taking her arm and leading her out of sickbay. Torres followed him, unsure of where he was leading her. The mess hall, maybe. First he led her to his quarters. "Put this on," he told her, handing her an outfit. "It'll match the program a little better."
"These?" B'Elanna demanded.
"They're called jeans, Bee. Jeans and a T-shirt. Get ready to go to the twentieth century."
"Didn't girls wear dresses back then?" she inquired critically.
"Not by the end." he replied. After they'd both changed into the ridiculous things called 'Levi's' and Torres had put on a T-shirt called a "belly shirt" which said 'reason 000' on the front, and 'be your own reason' on the back, they headed to the holodeck.
"I swear, my academy Earth History class was way off," she grumbled, emerging.
"Very chique," he informed her.
"Never mind." They walked to the holodeck in silence.
"Computer," said Chakotay, his first words since leaving his quarters. "Run program Lenox East Street Café." he smiled at her. She returned his smile, shyly.
"Program complete. You may enter," said the feminine voice of the computer. The doors opened, and directly inside them was another set of doors - wooden doors which had the café's name carved into them in smooth cursive.
"Well, let's go in." said Torres impatiently. "Unless you want to stand outside here forever." He rolled his eyes at her.
"Alright, alright," he sighed, pushing open the door. Inside the doors was a small café. It had an old fashioned CD player-radio (which seemed incredibly fancy for the times) over in one corner. Wood seemed to be the motif for this place - wood floors, tables, chairs, and a juicebar counter over on one side. There were several holographic adults drinking coffee or eating ice cream, but many tables were empty. Over in one corner, by the radio, two teenaged girls sat, straddling their chairs, playing some kind of card game. Glancing at them, Torres saw the one with short-cropped brown hair slam her hand down on the cards in the center of the table.
"What're they playing? It doesn't look like Poker." Torres commented.
"It isn't." the man at the juice bar - who looked about twenty-five or so - informed her. "It's a variation of the card game 'Big Bang.' They call it 'Charity.' That makes little sense, because pretty much all they do in it is beat the crap about of each other's hands fightin' over them cards... not very charitable. I'm just the bartender here, though, I don't play too much."
"Interesting," Chakotay said, one eyebrow upraised, as the Vulcan Tuvok often did whenever he was skeptical (nearly all the time).
"I can have them explain it for you. Eek! Squeek!" the two girls looked up.
"What is it, Joe? You just broke up, like, a wicked good streak," the redheaded girl shot him a disapproving look, and then visually scanned the two newcomers. "I was so makin' a comeback. Hey... you aren't from around here, are you?"
"No, Miss." Chakotay responded. The girl's eyes opened even wider.
"Well, there's a new one! Calling me, Eek, a Miss? There's something to write home about, eh, chiqua?" Eek gave a lopsided grin at her friend.
"Don't have a cow over it," tossed back the other (presumably Squeek). "It's just a name, for crying out loud. Mine's changin' about every other week now, with Carly Sheridan in my class now. I've gone from Squeek to Munchkin to Leprechaun in two days. C'mon, let's get back to 'Charity.'"
"Never mind," said Chakotay. Squeek and Eek shrugged and returned to the game.
"Want something to drink?" asked Joe.
"Sure," said Torres. After a moment of thinking, she said, "Tarkalian spritzer." Chakotay nudged her sharply. She whirled, demanding, "What?"
"I've never even heard of a Tarkalian spritzer," was Joe's reply. "Eek's right. You aren't from around here. I can get you something else, though, if you want."
"The cooler broke down on monday, hasn't been the same." Squeek offered in way of help. "The cola's kinda warmish, so I'd reccomend the Sprite."
"Spr-?" she was cut off when Joe placed a soda can down in front of her.
"It's probably just as good as that Tarkalian stuff," he told her. "No alchohol, neither. Not even any caffeine."
"Oh, you know that's all just a ruse. They sneak it in so's the label guys don't notice," Eek sighed.
B'Elanna examined the pop can carefully. A moment later, Eek and Squeek reappeared, sitting themselves on nearby stools.
"Get me a Kiwi-Strawberry Arizona Iced Tea," Eek told Joe. Joe reached into the cooler, and got her a tall can of juice, so cold it had ice bits clinging to the side. She shook it, and then opened it a crack to let the air out before opening it all the way and examining the curl of steam which emerged.
"Chocolate ice cream," ordered Squeek. Joe complied.
"Okay, you two, green?" he asked. The girls produced money. Eek caught sight of Torres so carefully examining the pop can. Chakotay realized that the program had made it so that the real people wouldn't be asked to pay money. How smart.
"Having a little trouble opening that?" she inquired. It was a saucy joke, but Torres took her seriously.
"Yeah." she nodded. Eek reached over, tapped the top twice, and opened it. "They aren't much like they are where I'm from."
"Which would be?" asked Squeek.
"Kessik Four," Torres's answer was.
"Kessik Four..." murmured Eek. "That's in Louisiana somewhere, right?"
"You mean Tucson, and that's not even in Louisiana," Squeek sighed.
"I did not mean Tucson! Where did you get Tucson out of that?"
"Girls," interrupted Joe. "It's getting to be around dinnertime, so shoo. Eek's mother called and said you two were to go to her house to dinner. The B is coming 'round in a few minutes." Torres was a little startled at the mention of the 'B' since she still thought her name was Bee, but got over it.
"Okay, we'd better blow this popstand. The BRTA awaits." said Eek, leaping off her stool and dashing out the door, with Squeek in tow.
Chapter Nine: "Because You Loved Me"
Holographic food did little to cure hunger, so Chakotay and B'Elanna had dinner in the mess hall. They were pretty quiet over dinner, although several people took double-takes, since they were still in their 1996 getup.
"Bee," Chakotay said to her.
"Mmm?" she asked. She had decided to try real Sprite, which the replicator had provided for her. Now she shook it, and tapped the lid twice, as she'd seen Eek do, and opened it. The soda fizzed up over the top, and she yanked her hand away with a squeal. "Hey!"
"It isn't funny," she grumbled, wiping her hands clean on a napkin.
"Kessik Four in Louisiana..." he shook his head with silent laughter.
"What?" she demanded with vehemence, still furious that the soda had leapt out at her. "Oh, curse this twentieth century beverage! They were idiots back then, anyhow."
"You're so cute when you're angry," Chakotay informed her. She glared at him fiercely.
"I'll show you cute..." she snapped.
"Calm down, Bee," he told her. "It's only soda, after all, and it'll wash out if you ever care to wear those clothes again. And," he couldn't resist adding, "at least in the twentieth century they could open soda-pop cans without getting attacked by flying soda." Finally B'Elanna had to see that the situation really was fairly humorous, and started laughing along with him. The sound of her own laugh sounded strange to her ears, and not quite right, something that scared her. I must laugh sometimes, she thought. Yet, as she tried to think of it, it was hard to remember an instance when she had.
Across the mess hall, Janeway leaned over and said to Paris, "It looks like they're getting along after all." Paris nodded.
"I'm not surprised," he smiled. "You know, those two are the type... You really have to believe in fate. And for that, Bee should be thankful she was booted out of the academy."
"Fate?" asked Janeway. "Yes, I suppose, fate is a good way to put it."
"Do you remember..." Paris murmered. "Do you remember that little trip we took back to 1996?"
"Yeah," Janeway nodded. "I guess I never thought I'd see them in twentieth century garb again."
"Back then it looked like you and Chakotay were going to hook up. We were placing bets on just when it would happen." Janeway whipped around to look at him, and then couldn't help but realize the humor of the situation.
"And B'Elanna told me that you sort of informally asked her out once."
"That I did," Paris laughed. "And look how it all turned out."
"Just look. I guess it all worked out for the best."
"Yep," Paris nodded. "I just wonder what those kids are gonna look like..."
B'Elanna sat down by a holographic window in the Lenox East Street Café. It was night here, as it was on the starship, and after the last adult holographic customer walked out, it was only Eek, Squeek, Joe, and herself. The ever-present radio played what she didn't even consider music. Eek and Squeek were no longer playing cards, only sitting with Hot Chocolates by the radio, and talking in voices not loud enough to drift to B'Elanna's ears over the radio. The only time their voices would be raised was when a new song started and they would try to shout out its name and artist before the other. She looked away from the inside of the café, out the window. Outside, the stars glowed brightly, although not as brightly as they did from space.
"Hey," said Eek, tapping her on the shoulder. Torres looked up, startled. Eek took a seat next to her. "Lemme see. You're gazing out the window like you just lost your best friend, and you're alone. A speculation... that hot guy you were with earlier dumped you at the streetcorner?" Torres wrinkled her brow, trying to completely grasp what the redheaded cardplayer had just said.
"Run that by me once more?"
"That bad, eh?" asked Squeek. "What Eek meant to say, although it may have come out a little twisted, was that your date is no longer your date." This B'Elanna understood.
"No, actually, he still is my date. In fact, he thinks we're married."
Eek looked puzzled. "Why? Did you just get divorced?"
"No." Torres sighed. "Not really."
For a reason Torres wasn't quite sure of, Eek and Squeek seemed to grasp her hidden meaning. "Oh." said Squeek. Then, after a moment's pause, "Are you married?"
"Yes." Torres finally decided.
"Then where's your problem?" asked Eek. "Wait, I think I get it, you've decided that you really don't love him as much as you thought you did." It sounded almost like a taunt.
"No!" Torres surprised herself by exclaiming. The door to the café swung open, and without even turning, Torres knew it was Chakotay. The music on the radio changed.
"May I have this dance?" asked Chakotay, eyes upraised in a near-tease.
"Do you know that line is really old?" inquired Squeek, at the same time Eek elbowed her while tapping B'Elanna's shoulder,
"Go on. Do it," Torres stood up. The next few minutes seemed to go by in slow motion, as she was held close to him. It was something she had dreamed about for years, something that she knew would never come true. But now it was true. She stared up into his brown eyes, looking at her with what could only be admiration, and for the first time in her life she felt really and truly loved. She closed her eyes, relishing the moment as though it were sweet candy, laying her head against his shoulder, listening to the words of the song...
For all those times you stood by me, for all the truth that you made me see
For all the joy you brought to my life, for all the wrong that you made right
For every dream you made come true, for all the love I found in you
I'll be forever thankful, baby
You're the one who helped me up, never let me fall
You're the one who saw me through, through it all...
You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn't speak
You were my eyes when I couldn't see, you saw the best there was in me
Lifting me up when I couldn't reach, you gave me faith 'cause you believed
I'm everything I am because you loved me.
You gave me wings, you made me fly, you touched my hand, I could touch the sky
I lost my faith, you gave it back to me, you said no star was out of reach
You stood by me and I stood tall, I had your love, I had it all
I'm grateful for each day you gave me,
Baby, I don't know that much, but I know this much is true.
I was blessed because I was loved by you...
You were always there for me, you tend the wind that carries me
A light in the dark, shining your love into my life
You have been my inspiration, through the lies you were the truth
My world is a better place because of you...
You were my strength when I was weak, you were my voice when I couldn't speak
You were my eyes when I couldn't see, you saw the best there was in me
Lifting me up when I couldn't reach, you gave me faith 'cause you believed
I'm everything I am because you loved me.
The song was over. Chakotay took her face in his hands and kissed her. They stayed poised there a moment which seemed like forever. Then she broke away, and stared deep into his eyes. The moment was broken by a scatter of polite applause from Squeek, and Eek saying, "I love a romantic ending." Joe hissed at the girls to be quiet, but Torres didn't mind. She didn't think that even impossibly rude twentieth-century teenagers could spoil her mood.
"So long, girls," she called over her shoulder as she and Chakotay departed from the café.
"What a cute pair of lovebirds," chuckled Joe.
"Quite," agreed Eek. "A real pair of lovebirds. They got the 8/7 down pat."
"Oh, not really," Joe argued.
"Anyway, I've always thought the 8/7 was wrong. More like 9/8's good. Like I say, I love a romantic ending."
"Or maybe," offered Squeek. "Maybe a romantic beginning."
It was always night in space. Artificial lighting inside starships and space stations had made it possible to emulate some feeling of a twenty-four-hour day, to create a feeling of normalcy. And for those who lived within these structures, they followed a 'starship's day' as easily as if it were defined by planetary rotation. But still, every time one would turn around and look out a window into the dark, unconfined vastness of space, they would realize that it was always night.
Night was when monsters emerged to steal young children away from their homes and families and enslave them in horrible caves. In all B'Elanna's life, she'd never heard of it happening to anyone, but as far as she knew young children still feared it. Even though she, like nearly all grown people, had outgrown childish fears such as that, night still was far more nasty than day. She'd never heard any story when a monster came out only in the daytime.
It had been a long time since she'd cried herself to sleep, also. But tonight was one of those nights which she felt like it. Which made little sense, since that night had been the one which had pulled together in reality what had before been only dreams. The only sound in the darkness was the rhythmic sound of Chakotay's breathing, asleep next to her. That truth alone was enough to make her heart beat faster. But it wasn't the fact that she was sharing a bed which made it difficult for her to sleep. It was the fact that this wasn't her bed. It wasn't even her life. It was plain, clearer than clear. It was someone else's monsters she was afraid of, it was someone else's place in this bed that she was sleeping in. She was sleeping next to someone else's lover. No matter how much she desired this life to be hers, it never really would be. She slipped out of bed and went to the window. The stars looked the same, were the same. Stars weren't affected by the turning point of a single moment in time when she had or hadn't been injured by an exploding console, which had sent the ball rolling into turning her into a married woman.
"Bee," Chakotay said through the darkness.
"Are you okay?" He had crawled out of bed and was standing a few feet away from her now.
"I'm fine," she assured him, smiling the half-smile which was her trademark. Voyager's 'headlights' shone brightly from outside the window, creating shadowy patterns across her face. He couldn't believe how gorgeous she was. After a moment of contemplating how lucky he was to have married her, he moved forward and kissed her before sweeping her off her feet and carrying her back to bed.
Chapter Ten: The April Fools
"You're sure that it's safe?"
"It isn't." the doctor informed Janeway. "But the message was clear, they want us to switch the Torreses back the way they were before. They've left clear instructions... we don't have to follow them if we decide not to. But Bee has made an honest request, as well as the captain of their ship, and I think we ought to honor it. She wants to come home."
Janeway sighed, pacing in a tight circle in sickbay. "I know. I intend to honor it... I do, that is. I think it should be lieutenant Torres's decision."
"Of course," agreed the doctor. "There was a personal message for her, in the message buoy which was transmitted through the rift."
"Do you think," asked Janeway, "that when they go through again, the rift will be sealed?"
The doctor shook his head. "I'm not sure."
"I think so," said Kes. "It Bee's right, that by her actions, she was the turning point when the universes separated, it should do that."
"But why would she be pulled into this universe to begin with?" Janeway asked. "There's too many missing pieces."
"An April Fools' day joke." Kes decided.
"I guess so."
B'Elanna Bee Torres felt lousy as she sat on the windowsill, leaning against the window in Chakotay's quarters. The window was cold, even with Voyager's fancy technology, some of the cold of the vacuum outside seeped in to make her world seem even worse than it really was. Or perhaps it was just her imagination. Whatever, B'Elanna Bee Torres felt lousy. She could tell herself that it was the recent operation she'd had which was making her feel awful, or the pull of the alternate universe, but she knew it was something deeper. It was because she was leaving.
The official message had been clear and simple, sent by the Janeway of the other ship - her ship. It set transporter coordinates, a plan of action, and clear instructions to follow that plan. There was a secondary message attached to the buoy, from her own counterpart. The real Bee. This message wasn't nearly so straightforward. It was spooky to see her own face talking to her. The message had asked her - no, begged her - to switch back with her. It was worth the risk, she'd said. She was willing to die for it, she'd said. Worth it for the other B'Elanna, maybe. Instead, she'd be leaving the place where she'd been as happy as she'd ever remembered.
The door hissed open. Chakotay hadn't heard yet, Torres was pretty certain.
"You okay?" he asked, apparently sensing her distress. He strode across the room, lifted her chin with one hand, and kissed her gently. She nearly fell into his embrace, wrapping her arms around him and clinging to him as though her were the only thing holding her back from being swept away by an awful current. The awful current of her own life progressing.
"No," she murmured. "I'm not okay. I guess the doctor hasn't told you yet." He stroked her hair away from her face, and then peered into it curiously.
"Told me what? Did the DNA changes not hold? What?"
Torres took a breath. "The DNA changes would have held, but I had the process reversed. I'm going back."
"You're sure about this," it was a question, but it wasn't phrased like one.
B'Elanna shook her head. "I was happy here. I'd love to stay here, to build a life here with you and with all the people here. Everyone seems to be similar, even the same... except for me. It's more than just a year of memories that we differ in. Those memories made us different people. I'd be cheating her out of this life that I've wanted so badly, and which she worked for and achieved."
"Can't you build this life there? In your reality?" Commander Chakotay asked. "I'm the same in your reality, I'm sure."
"No. I couldn't recreate what happened. Too much time has passed, the circumstances are different. And I sure as hell don't want to shut myself into a crawlway with an exploding conduit!"
Chakotay laughed, but it wasn't a real laugh. More like a sorry laugh, sorry for her. He would get his wife back, the real one, unless there was some freak accident. Bee would have her life back, a lover, everything. And she... well, she had made different choices, and she'd have to live with what those choices brought her. "How much time have you got?"
"Four hours, just about. I have to wait for the DNA changes to really take effect, and besides, we have a set beaming time with the other ship." Torres flipped her hair over her shoulder in an I don't care attitude, but Chakotay could see through it like a windshield. And she knew that. "I'll be okay," she assured him.
"I'm sure you will," he told her. "I'd tell you to pack, except everything you've used here is Bee's."
"I know." B'Elanna looked out the window.
"Last time you went through the rift," he said. "Or were sort of pulled partway, it really hurt you. It nearly killed you. Are you certain it won't happen again?"
"You don't have to remind me of what I went through in there." she said bitterly. "No, I don't know it won't happen again. I hope not. There isn't any way to know except to just do it. Now that I've had the surgery to replace all my DNA, I don't think I have a choice." She turned away from him again, and he had the sense to leave her to her own thoughts.
About twenty minutes before the designated time when B'Elanna was supposed to make the transfer, Ensign Kim finally exhuberated, "It's done!"
"The modifications to the transporter systems have integrated?" asked Janeway.
"Yes, finally," Kim smiled. Torres nodded her approval, as she had helped him to change them. "We should be able to make the interdimensional switch... with the DNA's help. But after the switch, the circuits'll blow. We'll need to completely repair this transporter system."
"That's okay, so long as the B'Elannas make it through safely." Janeway nodded. "Now, where's Chakotay, anyway? I mean, there's no reason he ought to be here, except to greet his wife, but..."
"He'll come," Paris assured them all. "I'm sure of it." The next ten minutes passed, and still no sign of the first officer. Then he dashed in, breathing hard.
"Did I miss anything?" he asked.
"No." Janeway replied. "We're nearly ready to initiate transport." Chakotay nodded, catching his breath.
Paris grabbed Kim's hand, and nodded to Janeway. "Let's give them a few minutes with us outside." Janeway nodded back, and the three trouped outside. Chakotay handed her a dark blue bag. It was small, compact.
"I checked with information, an added mass of such small amount won't do any damage." he explained to her, closing her fist around the handle. Torres rushed into his arms, knowing that, in all likelihood, this would be the last time she did so. He stroked her hair back. "I remember when you thought this was all just an April Fools' day joke."
"It was. The biggest joke of all. A joke on us, a joke on me..." Torres smiled her half-smile again. "We're the April Fools. I was, to think that this could ever last."
"We were fools," he replied. "But fools in love." At that moment, the doors opened and Janeway, Paris and Kim stepped through.
"I'm sorry to break the moment," said Janeway. "But we've got to engage transport now." Chakotay nodded, kissing Torres on her ridged forehead and staring deep into her eyes for a moment. That glance said so much, so many words that could never be said...
"Good luck," he told her, stepping back. She slung the bag over her shoulder, and stepped up onto the transporter pad.
"Transport will take longer than usual, but it shouldn't be painful." Kim warned her.
"Okay," Torres took a deep breath.
"Energize," said Janeway, and Voyager's transporter room swam out of her vision. It indeed seemed to take longer than a normal transport, and she was cold inside of it. She had the feeling of that awful pain just an inch away from her skin, desperately clawing to get at her again. But soon Voyager's transporter room reappeared.
"B'Elanna!" Kim exclaimed from where he was at transporter control. "Is it you?"
"Yes, I think so..." she said uncertainly, her eyes swimming dizzily as a result of the extended transport for a moment, before her head cleared. She felt the bag's handles, still warm from the other Chakotay's hands, clenched tightly in her fist.
"Lieutenant," said Commander Chakotay. "Welcome back,"
"Thank you," she enthused. "It's good to be back."
"I take it you came from an interesting place," Janeway smiled. "From what our... visitor told us."
"What'd she tell you?" Torres demanded.
"Well..." Janeway shrugged, giving Chakotay a sidelong glance. "Apparently, personal relationships aboard that ship are slightly different."
"Ooh, yes," B'Elanna agreed, smiling a full smile this time. "I'd say so." Janeway arched her eyebrows.
"I look forward to reading your entry into the log," she said.
"I'm sure you would."
"It must have been strange," Janeway said, sipping on her coffee down in the mess hall. "To see people you know act totally differently." Torres had placed all the technical information in the log, but had explained some of her run-ins of a more personal nature to Janeway personally. She doubted that she could keep them from Janeway long, since Janeway was sort of like her older, wiser sister. She remembered how Bee had trusted her, and now B'Elanna trusted her, too, as a result.
"Oh, definitely. But remember, you're sworn to secrecy about this," Torres informed her.
"Of course," Janeway grinned.
"Swear on the ship you'll not tell?"
Inside the dark blue bag which Chakotay had given her was a holoprogram. There wasn't any doubt as to which one it was, since along with it was her jeans and 'reason 001' T-shirt. The Lenox East Street Café was the same from one universe to the next. Even Eek and Squeek were there, with Joe behind the counter.
"I remember you," said Squeek. "You come in here a lot. C'mon, we'll teach you how to play." Squeek raised her hand of cards, then shoving it at Eek. "You deal her in."
"What game is this?" asked B'Elanna.
"Charity," replied Squeek.
"Be warned," said Joe. "You're taking your life in your hands here, playing with those sharks."
"I think I'll survive," Torres tossed back, taking her newly dealed hand and leaning over so the girls could explain the rules.
"Where are you from, anyway?" asked Squeek after explaining the rules of the card game. "I mean, I looked up Kessik Four on the map, and didn't find it. You said you were from there originally. Where from recently?"
"Oh, nowhere special," said Torres, smacking the doubles that appeared.
"She's good," whispered Squeek, allowing her to take the hand without putting up a fight since it was her first slap in.
"I think we're going to have to get nasty," replied Eek in a joking manner, using a western accent (she had also allowed Torres to get away with the slap). "Or else th' stranger's gonna clean us out."
When double jacks appeared on the table, the two holograms and B'Elanna dove upon them, wrestling on the table for the hand. "Dang," murmered Eek. "This is like the time we went through three decks of cards and an icepack."
Looking in from the doorway was Chakotay. B'Elanna hadn't seen him yet. Well, he supposed, it was good to have her back, even if Janeway gave them strange looks now every time she saw them together.
Sometimes B'Elanna wondered why she had done what she'd done. Why she'd chosen to come back to her native universe. She supposed it might have been because otherwise she would never have felt like she really and truly belonged. That she would always be keeping that secret. Maybe it was because of what the real Bee had said to her. She always settled her mind by telling herself, firmly, "be your own reason."
But she always remembered the way Chakotay had looked at her. She remembered his eyes, dark eyes filled with a love for her that she didn't see there anymore. And she remembered the way that she had felt in his arms. And she was glad that she had that memory to remember, even if now it seemed as distant and unreal as an April Fools Day joke.
*laugh about this with little red*
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