Committed to that difficult road, Voyager's crew was rewarded with unimaginable experiences on strange and fantastic worlds, encountering exotic alien species and astonishing phenomena...and challenged along the way by conflicts from within as well as from without. Yet none of their adventures tempered their shared determination to find a way back to friends and family.
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Distant ShoresDistant Shores
Star TrekISBN: 0743492536
Da Capo al Fine Part I
Within the space of a breath, Admiral Kathryn Janeway had been transported out of her shuttle and into the Borg Queen's lair.
Damn it, Kathryn, you got careless! She offered a throwaway thought in the direction of deity, luck, and whatever other forces might influence Voyager's fate, hoping that she'd given Captain Janeway enough time to execute her outrageously risky plan.
Turning her head, she glanced at her prison: a nest of snake-like conduits and circuitry wreathed in glowing green. The throbbing pulse of the hive mind enveloped her senses. She met the glistening black beetle eyes of the Queen across the room -- and wasn't nearly frightened enough. She'd expected that her oldest nemesis would employ this tactic, and for that reason alone her predicament felt like an anticlimax. Ah! The good old days when she could still surprise me, Janeway thought with a twinge of regret. Time for this old campaigner to surrender her post to a less jaded soldier -- a flash from her recent days on Voyager intruded -- like my younger self: That feisty redhead has a lot of fight left in her. And me...? I have enough fight for this round of combat and that's all I need. Too bad she wouldn't live long enough to see what Captain Janeway would do with her second chance. Unbidden, a memory from a primary school poetry lesson wafted to the fore of her consciousness:
"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."
Imprisoned in the throne room of a Borg cube, helpless to hold back her inevitable assimilation, Janeway found the poet's sentiment fitting. Acceptance of her fate flooded her.
"Very clever," the Queen said, her tone cutting. "Hiding right on my 'doorstep.'"
At least I knocked before I invited myself in.
The Queen turned toward a floating viewscreen filled with the image of Janeway's shuttle hanging near the Unicomplex's exterior. Any minute, the Borg would assimilate her ship and any chance she ever had of returning home would be lost.
She'd left the future assuming that the change in the timeline would erase her from existence. She couldn't fathom what being erased might feel like. Now facing death, she wished for a less passive end. The Klingons' aspiration to "die in glorious battle" suddenly made a hell of a lot more sense than it ever had before. At least she'd go down with her boots on, and if she succeeded, all the people who populated her future would cease to be; temporally speaking, there wouldn't be anything to miss or anyone to mourn her passing.
Janeway was working her way up to a good wallow until she glanced over at the Borg Queen, whose smug superiority raised her hackles more effectively than any being she'd ever known. She believes she has the upper hand, Janeway thought. Behind that deceptively indifferent facade she glories at the prospect of my demise. She's gloating. But she has no idea what's coming. I'm going to wipe that smirk off her face and I'll live long enough to enjoy it. She repressed the urge to cackle.
"Were you planning to attack us from inside the Unicomplex?" the Queen asked accusingly. Her melodious, soothing voice sliced through the mechanized whir and hum in the background.
Janeway recognized bait when she saw it, and she certainly wouldn't be goaded into biting on this offering. You hate that I've outmaneuvered you so far, that I've piqued your sense of superiority. She sensed that she'd stretched the Queen's patience: stretch a little further and Her Majesty might be provoked into acting rashly --
-- and that was exactly how Janeway wanted it. Make her stew a little longer, she thought, refusing to gratify the Queen with an answer. You want it? Come get it!
On cue, the Queen stalked across the deck plating, covering the distance between herself and Janeway in three long steps.
A metallic taste filled her mouth: adrenaline. Janeway's heart quickened; the cold prickle of sweat drizzled down her neck. This is it.
"Not feeling talkative?" Any pretense of humor gone, the Queen thrust her hand into Janeway's neck; assimilation tubules pierced her skin.
In agony, Janeway cried out -- groaned -- every fiber in her body howling in pained shock. She slowly collapsed onto the floor. Recollections of her previous assimilation stormed to the fore of her consciousness; unconscionable agony unleashed every terror and nightmare she'd ever survived. Waves of Borg technology rippled beneath her skin, tunneling through her tissues like greedy parasites.
The Queen's shadow enveloped Janeway. "You and I don't need words to understand each other."
Janeway heard the Queen's smile rather than saw it. Don't get cocky, Your Majesty. I'll still have the last laugh. Stubbornly, she hung on to the desire to witness the Queen's defeat, refusing to succumb to the invasion ravaging her body. Cell by cell, the nanoprobe cancer spread, searing away the messy "inadequacies" of individuality and rendering her a clean vessel to receive Borg "perfection." An implant sprouted through her skin as the technology devoured her from the inside.
Through pain-induced delirium, she had a vague notion of the Queen circling her like a predator closing in on wounded prey. I will not give in became Janeway's mantra as enduring her moment-to-moment struggle became progressively more excruciating. Denying the Queen the satisfaction of hearing her screams became paramount; she sought strength by clinging to that part of her mind that remained her own. There, she searched for the calm rationality of her scientist self to shore up her will.
Once a cadet had asked what assimilation felt like and Janeway had compared it to an army of billions of nano-sized rotors pillaging and plundering through subcellular passageways. Now she knew that description was wrong. What she felt had more in common with the glacial burn of a neutron star's liquid hydrogen core coursing through her veins. The cold scorching torment ebbed gradually into numbness. Whether by her own endorphins inducing a narcotic-like haze or by her nervous system surrendering and being overrun entirely by the invaders Janeway didn't care: she only knew that whatever scrap of her identity that had thus far eluded conquest was drifting away, disassociating from the drone body being built from her flesh.
Ghostly whispers encroached on her thoughts -- the end must be near. Let go, Kathryn. Your time has come. The end is here.
In weak protest, she thought, Not yet! Not yet! Voyager isn't safe!
Though Janeway couldn't comprehend what was being said, she was aware of the voice of the collective filling the Queen's chamber as they acted, presumably on the Queen's orders, to stop Voyager.
The metallic monotone echoed " -- redirect vessels to intercept."
Abruptly, a high-pitched whine sliced through the voices; the Queen staggered, Janeway winced. But as the whine died away, the metallic monotone gave way to cacophonous jumble.
" -- corridor nine...Voyager...U.S.S....zero nine...transwarp...intercept...unable to comply.."
Janeway, at last, felt satisfaction.
A console sparked. Lights flickered, dimmed. The whine erupted over the miasma, provoking visceral misery from the Queen, who, reeling from pain, grasped her head and covered her ears. Overcome, she gasped, stumbled forward, and braced herself on a metal beam.
Janeway locked gazes with the Queen. "Must be...something you assimilated..." she rasped, managing a half-smile. For a moment, the sweet satisfaction of leveling her enemy trumped her suffering.
"What have you done?" the Queen demanded.
"I thought we didn't need words to understand each other."
A shower of sparks burst from a console; the Queen shuddered. "You've infected us...with a neurolytic pathogen."
"Just enough to bring chaos to order."
The Queen breathed in sharply.
The Queen's obvious panic permitted Janeway to loosen her ironclad control just enough to allow a little pressure release; her shoulders slackened, her limbs relaxed. The nanoprobes flooding her systems spilled over the levies she'd erected to protect what was left of her self.
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang...
Though her vision blurred, Janeway forced her gaze up to the floating viewscreen and watched Voyager soar through the corridor of the transwarp conduit. A spread of transphasic torpedoes streaked out behind her like little shooting stars. The fiery explosions began.
No. Janeway smiled to herself. It'll end with a bang.
"Voyager will be destroyed," the Queen stated.
You're not going to get to me now, you megalomaniacal bitch. "They're ahead of the shock wave. They'll survive...Captain Janeway and I made sure of that." Inhale...Crippling fatigue overtook her; Janeway fought the impulse to succumb. Instead, she reached up and, with the last of her strength, pulled herself up so she stood eye-to-eye with the Queen. "It's you...who underestimated us."
The Queen's body, overcome with tremors, quaked. Threads of energy crackled over her malfunctioning cybernetic limbs. Angrily, she yanked the offending arm out of its organic socket and tossed it to the ground.
It's only a matter of time now, Janeway thought. We won. How long before the cascading explosions triggered by Voyager finally destroyed the complex where she was housed was unknown to her -- and she didn't care. At last, I've received absolution for all of it...Seven's death, Chakotay's broken heart, Tuvok's insanity...Bleary-eyed, she looked ahead. The view shimmered and shifted as if filtered through a warped lens. Janeway pressed her eyelids together, opened them, and felt her world shift woozily. Her head rolled back. A tightness around her neck -- like a vise -- she shook the sensation away, wanting to watch the viewscreen as long as she could --
Let go, Kathryn. It's your time....
Her mind drifted. Deliriously, she wondered if this was what death felt like. She was terribly uncomfortable for someone whose body was supposed to be lifeless. For starters, the squeezing sensation around her neck wouldn't go away. Something in the world outside pulled her toward it, refusing to allow her comfort in this warm, swimming world of syrupy darkness. Her eyelids fluttered open -- and widened in shock.
Tuvok's dark face, contorted in anger, eyes blazing with madness, started down at her. What's he doing here with the Borg --
In that moment, she realized it was his hands she felt around her neck. Instinctually, she grabbed at his forearms, trying to wrench them away from her throat. His Vulcan strength was too much to overcome; he squeezed harder. She struggled, kicking at his legs, digging her heels into his thighs and calves. Denied her voice, she swung an arm out to the side and knocked over a tray filled with medical instruments, sending them to the floor with a metallic crash, hoping the noise would draw the staff's attention. She twisted her head to see if she could see anything or anyone that might be useful. She caught a flash of her reflection in the metal cart tipped on its side. A smooth-skinned face stared back at her. Auburn hair streaked with gray. I haven't looked like that for decades. Wait, I must be in Tuvok's residential facility. Where are the damn doctors -- anyone? Don't they know he's dangerous and can't be left alone without sedation?
She felt around for anything she could use as a weapon -- something sharp to stab him with, something heavy to knock him out. Light-headed from a lack of air, she tried twisting out of his grip enough to allow her to breathe. The lights in the room dimmed; Tuvok became a silhouette.
A door hissed open. A cry of concern. Rapid shuffling across the floor. Janeway's world became darker. She felt Tuvok's weight removed from her body and a gush of air into her lungs. A warm, sticky sensation spread down her arm.
"He's stabbed her...we have to stop that bleeding! Get a transfuser in here stat!" Seska shouted.
Janeway vaguely recalled what she could only assume was a shock-induced hallucination that she'd been having before she roused from unconsciousness. Something about being assimilated by the Borg Queen. This is the way the world ends....
Her eyes closed.
She heard a cry for help.
Let go, Kathryn. The next phase of your existence awaits you....
The darkness returned.
She sighed. Blinked. Looked up to see the dimpled, good-natured countenance of a Nechani temple attendant. What the hell...?! Tuvok? She blinked again, hoping she could muster enough logic to overcome her sense of disorientation. Studying her surroundings, she hoped, would help her recall where she was -- what had brought her here. Then she remembered: Kes, the biogenic field, the ritual to find the cure. This ritual testing has sure messed with my head...my mind's wandered to the oddest places. Why would I be daydreaming about the Borg? And what's that about Tuvok being crazy? Must be the stress.
Brushing aside straying hair from her eyes, Janeway felt the clammy warmth of her cheeks, still sticky with sweat. The familiar ache of lactic acid buildup in her limbs reminded her of previous exertions. "I'm exhausted," she said, gratefully accepting a mug of hot tea from the guide. She sipped off the rim, relishing the moisture on her parched lips.
"Your microprobe must be giving your doctor plenty of good data," the guide said amusedly, then turned away to retrieve a waist-high rustic basket, which she placed before Janeway. "It's a Nesset," she said.
The basket rattled, uncomfortably reminiscent of a rattlesnake. Janeway's eyes widened. If this is what I must do to save my crew...
The guide continued, "They're able to travel from this world into the spirit realm; they serve as gatekeepers."
"Gatekeepers..." Janeway whispered. "Then I'm ready to enter the spirit realm?"
"Do you think you're ready?"
She considered the question, contemplating all she'd been through. Finally: "Yes, I do."
"Then you are."
The guide's warm, cheerful tone soothed Janeway's worries, but she couldn't help wishing for the Nechani woman to be more definitive in her pronouncements. Giving her trust so blindly terrified her. Her fears grew as she listened to the guide instruct her to put her hand through the leather folds covering the top of the hissing basket. But she'd committed to do this for Kes and she never backed away from a commitment.
Warily, Janeway knelt before the Nesset, and extended her hand toward the opening. Without warning, the noise in the basket became more agitated: she flinched.
"We can stop right now if you like," said the guide, obviously attuned to Janeway's hesitation.
"No, I'm not quitting," she said, determined to see the ritual through to the end. She shut her eyes, clenched her teeth, and plunged her arm into the basket nearly to her shoulder, tentatively feeling her way toward the bottom. Nearly imperceptible air currents ruffled the hair on her arm. She sensed the thing inside, rustling, slithering.
And it struck.
Screaming, Janeway ripped her arm out of the basket. Just under the elbow, on the fleshy part of her inner forearm, she saw the trio of fang marks. The wound burned like acid pouring over her skin; her breath came hard and short as her throat muscles tightened, pushing the air out of her body.
"Don't be afraid," said the guide placidly.
Her vision swimming, Janeway drifted toward unconsciousness. The electronic hiss and sputter of exploding equipment echoed through the descending gray...the Borg Queen's corpse twitched and jerked. The Borg?
Her eyes flickered open; she'd been moved. Where -- she couldn't tell. From somewhere above, she heard the soothing maternal clucks of her guide. Glancing to the side, Janeway saw her reflection in the polished obsidian-like stone. The youthful crown of waist-length hair, tangled, matted with sweat, captured her attention. A stranger stared back at her. I cut my hair years ago. Shorter. More practical for active duty.
Could my life be passing before my eyes?
"I'm dying," she whispered, feeling far, far from home. She sensed life draining from her body...and yet not this body. It was all so strange and frightening but she was helpless to stop it.
"Everyone dies eventually," Seska said matter-of-factly.
Seska? But she died -- The confusing thought ended abruptly when the stone doors slid closed above her, sealing tightly with a pop. Abandoned in blackness, Janeway refused to accept this fate. It felt...wrong...surreal. Yes, she was dragged slowly through time, deeper into the past -- would her last recollection be the sun-crisped wheat fields of North America? Or the crisp tang of an autumn apple? She couldn't shake the sense of wrongness she had. This didn't feel the way death was supposed to feel. Yet a voice, deeply buried in her mind, kept intruding on her skeptical appraisal. You're so tired, Kathryn. You've lived your life, now you have a chance to give your life for someone else, for Kes. Let go...rest...
Janeway shook off the surrender impulse and returned to logic. This is a holoprogram -- that's it. I'm stuck in a loop. I just need to end it.... She tried forming the words "Computer, end program" but no sound emerged. Drowsiness tingled in her fingers, softened her thinking. Why won't that damnable Borg voice go away? The scent of ozone, of smoking circuits, wafted into her nose.
And then she knew.
Her eyes opened and she sat up, her Starfleet standard-issue blankets falling away. She rubbed her eyes with her fists, shook her head, and looked down. Her uniform. She touched her collar. Four pips. She looked over her shoulder out her window at starscape. Without warning, the swirling blue throat of the Bajoran wormhole unfurled like a flower and swallowed what she recognized as a Ferengi merchant vessel before snapping closed. The majestic sight never ceased to astonish her. Stretching, she took a deep breath, inhaling the rich scent of percolating black coffee.
Her quarters on Voyager.
She swung her legs over the side of her bed and dangled her feet over the floor, wary about testing the boundaries of her surroundings. Gingerly, she dropped to the carpet, squeezed her toes into the fiber. At least I had the sense to take my boots off before I took a nap.
"Janeway to bridge."
The comm system chirped. "Yes, Captain."
Stadi. A flash of memory prompted involuntary tears as she remembered the grief that overcame her at Stadi's death, when we were pulled through the Badlands to...the Delta Quadrant? She furrowed her brow.
Now, where would that idea have come from? She might have dreamed Stadi's death. But the Delta Quadrant? What a random bit of flotsam to penetrate her subconscious! A prolonged lucid dream certainly would explain the disquieting sense of disconnection she felt from her surroundings. Must be anxiety about the upcoming mission to find Tuvok and the missing Maquis ship.
"Where are we, Stadi?"
"Docked at Deep Space 9, Captain. Your briefing with Commander Sisko begins in one hour. All rested and ready to go, ma'am?"
An unshakable nagging feeling pulled at her; no amount of logic or reason could shake her sense of wrongness. At last she said, "I hope so, Stadi, I genuinely hope so. I'll be up to the bridge momentarily."
"Alpha shift doesn't begin for another few hours, Captain. Nothing requiring your attention is pending. Pardon my saying so, but you were so tired earlier. You should rest."
Janeway clasped her hands together, steeled by a determination to find an explanation for her emotional turmoil -- or at least a distraction from it. "No time like the present to begin. Janeway out." She rose from her bed, fussed with her hair for a moment, twisting it up into a utilitarian chignon, smoothed her uniform, and ran through a mental checklist before leaving early for her duty shift.
After her cabin doors swished closed behind her, Janeway started down the corridor to the bridge, nodding politely to her crew members as they passed. Some had served with her before, while others had joined her when she took command of Voyager. She prided herself on knowing them all on sight -- home planets, previous assignments, personal details like marriages and children. But she wouldn't make the mistake of getting too attached: starship crews were always in flux. Command frequently made transfers based on factors ranging from merit, individual request, skills training, and need to punishment and demotion. Janeway wasn't yet senior enough in her captaincy to have all her requests honored, but she had gained some clout, evidenced recently by a plum assignment to the Intrepid-class's newest vessel --
She paused, narrowing her eyes. Wait...
Ahead of her, she saw, in profile, an unfamiliar Bajoran woman wearing the gold uniform of security and engineering. Her brown hair was pulled tightly back against her skull and twisted into a knot at the base of her head. Dark, arched eyebrows punctuated a severe face -- high, angular cheekbones, thin lips, downturned slightly. She studied the Bajoran for a brief second before the woman disappeared around the corner.
I know her...Janeway mused, the realization disturbing her. The disquieting feeling crept back into her consciousness. She shivered and realization struck.
I know you.
Janeway walked briskly after the Bajoran woman, colliding with an unsuspecting crewman as she turned the corner. Muttering a monosyllabic apology, eyes drilled forward, she continued her single-minded pursuit. A flash of dark hair ahead led her onward. The corridor's twists and turns led her into an area of the ship she didn't recognize. For a long moment she imagined that she must be lost, though how that was possible in her ship she couldn't fathom. Voyager might be newly under her command, but she prided herself on knowing every square meter of its corridors. This is ridiculous, Kathryn, she thought. You're chasing apparitions. She pivoted on her heel, pointed in the general direction of the turbolift to the bridge, and took a step forward --
Janeway stepped back, startled, "I'm sorry, I didn't see you -- "
Before her eyes, the Bajoran in a Starfleet uniform morphed into a Cardassian woman, hair flowing down around her shoulders.
" -- Seska," the name a sibilant hiss from Janeway's lips. "What the hell -- "
"Think of me as an envoy. And before you ask why me and not someone nice like your father or Justin...let's just say you're your best self with your enemies, and leave it at that."
Janeway placed balled fists on her hips. "Nothing you say or do matters an iota to me."
A self-congratulatory grin split Seska's face, and she laughed. "You're so predictable."
Janeway's impulses warred between knocking down the traitor's obvious gloating a few notches with a swift punch, or ignoring the woman entirely. I'm not going to give her the pleasure, she thought. She pinched her lips into a tight line and turned to leave, shoulders squared. She couldn't resist an aside as she stepped past Seska, saying offhandedly, "Besides, you're dead."
A searing pain burned through the right side of her rib cage; Janeway grunted, and clutched her side with her hands, feeling blurts of liquid warmth erupting against her palms. Wide-eyed, she stared at the bloodstained blade in her attacker's hand.
"And so are you, Captain," Seska said with a sneer.
Copyright 2005 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
Excerpted from Distant Shores by
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Table of Contents
Da Capo al Fine, Part I: Heather Jarman
Command Code: Robert Greenberger
Winds of Change: Kim Sheard
Talent Night: Jeffrey Lang
Letting Go: Keith R.A. DeCandido
Closure: James Swallow
The Secret Heart of Zolaluz: Robert T. Jeschonek
Isabo's Shirt: Kirsten Beyer
Brief Candle: Christopher L. Bennett
Eighteen Minutes: Terri Osborne
Or the Tiger: Geoffrey Thorne
Bottomless: Ilsa J. Bick
Da Capo al Fine, Part II: Heather Jarman