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In the Space of a Breath

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“They're dreadfully fond of beheading people here; the great wonder is, that there's anyone left alive!” – Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

******

She was the mother of a four-year-old daughter, the wife of a wonderful man who loved her and would follow her to the ends of the universe.

Somehow, she had become those things first and everything else second and she wasn’t entirely sure when the transition had occurred. At least on the inside, she was.

On the exterior, she was the captain of the starship Voyager, she was a friend to many of her crew, the Godmother to an omnipotent being, the daughter of Edward and Gretchen, the sister of Phoebe.

In the space of a breath, she had been standing on the bridge of her ship, her First Officer and husband at her side, as they greeted the Calderra-- just another species with whom they hoped to have friendly relations with on their arduous journey home.

But then she wasn’t.

She was swallowed by a transporter beam and deposited into a sea of blackness. A spotlight shone down from an unseen source above and an invisible forcefield held her stationary.

She took a breath to speak, and so many things happened in the space of that breath that she didn’t have time to process them all before the quickest flash of pain, then nothingness.

In the space of a breath, she heard the zing of a plasma sword behind her, zapping particles of air as it approached: a booming proclamation that justice is swift and without mercy filling her ears with the last they would hear.

Then a ghostly image passed before her at the edge of the circle of light: someone who was there yet not, someone who was out of step with time yet laughing at her from impossible distances of space and time. An echo to say he was once here.

This wasn’t right. She did not plead for understanding, did not ask of her crime, or for leniency, on the current of breath that was her last. She did not ask why. Recognition of that echo in time was the last thing that zipped through her neurons, a brief understanding that he had exacted revenge, somehow, someway. As she died for reasons she would never know, the last word that passed through her vocal cords on her final current of breath was a whisper:

“Braxton!”

******

One moment she had been standing by his side, so vibrant and beautiful. He was accustomed to every nuance of her being-- the gravel of her voice, her inflections, her bright smile at greeting a new, possibly friendly race, the crinkled lines at the corners of her eyes, the gestures she used when she spoke.

Today she was an image of her steadfast and true self as she greeted their possible new ally in the Calderra. A new ally was always welcome on their journey-- a journey that had become less tedious since Kathryn had settled into the idea of developing their relationship until it blossomed into marriage and then the birth of their daughter. Home seemed less far away now that he had everything he had always wanted on Voyager.

In the space of a breath, a transporter beam stole her familiar warmth from his side without warning or explanation and the channel was cut, leaving a starfield view. Icy fingers tickled their way down his spine as he tried to convince himself that this was merely a Calderran first contact procedure. That’s all it was. That’s all it could be. He found himself mentally reviewing the moments preceding, contrasting against other species first contact procedures. The Calderrans had changed their demeanor suddenly, though maybe it was just their way to be welcoming, then deflective and indecisive. Maybe it was just an idiosyncrasy of their species that they would have to get used to in the art of negotiations. Every first contact was a new experience. Every species was different. Those were the words he tried to use to calm the thundering heart beat in his ears that was sounding more and more like a staccato alarm as the moments ticked by.

He exhaled. When had he been holding his breath? Harry letting him know their continuous hails had gone unanswered, when had he ordered them? Maybe he didn’t. This crew was so accustomed to one another that Harry knew what to do. Chain of command be damned for the moment; their Captain had just been plucked from their ship with no rhyme or reason. They knew their jobs, even if he couldn’t focus on anything but her right now.

It had been only four minutes. That was a relatively minute amount of time on the grander scale of the universe. Four Earth minutes to be precise. Every minute seemed punctuated by breaths he didn’t realize he was holding until his eyes started to rim with blackness.

In the space of his next breath, his world came crashing down and the word “why” became his worst bedfellow. The Calderra hailed them, finally, and there was no hesitation when he ordered the channel open. Nausea, tunnel vision, the loss of self-identity all blasted him with sudden alarm and he never would know which hit him first, or if it was simultaneous with a wave of other emotions. He wished it had been a disruptor blast rather than the cataclysmic loss that swallowed him whole. The disruptor blast would have been a blessing of mercy at that moment.

Blue eyes, frozen open in death’s stare, her mouth agape… had she even had time to scream? It was a vision that haunted him so deeply that no amount of sedative would ever keep it at bay so he could get a decent night’s sleep after that day.

He collapsed, he pleaded, he begged. How did he not vomit on his boots? Maybe he did. Ordinarily he would have been humiliated to have been reduced to a sobbing, blubbering fool before his crew, but in the space of a breath, he had become a wreck of a man, pieces missing, left to be discarded by his enemies who didn’t care who she was to all of them—pieces that could never be restored to him no matter how much he pleaded with the universe. In the space of a breath, which he exhaled in wracked sobs, he died, too.

******

In the space of a breath, her happy home changed forever.

Four years old.

Two plus two. Already she’d lived two sets of twos and somehow that seemed like quite an accomplishment in her small life aboard this Alpha Quadrant oasis encapsulated in the shell of their silvery ship.

She’d learned about oases in the deserts on Earth from her science lessons. Oases were little pieces of paradise lost in the kilometers of sand. Theirs was a society from the Alpha Quadrant lost in the Delta Quadrant so that made them an oasis in the vastness of the Delta Quadrant. At least it made sense to her in her four-year-old mind.

Her best friend was Miral Paris and today had been such a good day because their babysitter, Naomi, had taken them to visit Flotter on the holodeck after school.

She skipped into their quarters and stopped in her tracks, somehow alerted that something wasn’t right. It was as though the very air had changed. Her daddy was silhouetted against the viewport, his back to her and the lights were dark in the middle of the day. Normally their quarters weren’t darkened until bedtime.

“Daddy?” she questioned in a small voice.

He didn’t answer her, and he didn’t turn to face her. Her heart exploded into a gallop inside her chest. Something was very wrong.

“Daddy, where’s Mommy?” she ventured in a voice even smaller than the first, heralding the tears that were welling in her eyes. She was scared and if something was wrong with Daddy, if he was sick or hurt, Mommy would know immediately what to do. She would fix it. She was good at that. She always knew what to do.

Without a word, her father turned, and her breath caught in her throat. He was her father, but he wasn’t all at the same time. To young Tananka, he looked downright ill and she was feeling frantic. She had to tell her Mommy. Or maybe she would just call the Doctor, herself. Mommy was probably still working and didn’t know Daddy was sick. But that was silly because they worked together. Tananka was confused, frightened, uncertain what to do.

“Come with me, Little One.”

Daddy’s voice was hoarse. She was certain something was wrong with him, now. She let out the breath she had been holding but found herself holding the next one as she followed him through the corridors. He even walked different than before, almost like he was carrying an invisible weight on his shoulders, but she couldn’t see anything resting there. 

Tananka felt hopeful when they came to a stop outside of the Paris’ quarters. Aunt B’Elanna was good at fixing things, and though she was an Engineer, basically she was the doctor for the ship itself, she would make sure that Daddy got fixed. But, when the door slid open, Tananka’s breath caught in her throat again. Aunt B’Elanna looked unwell, too. Was everyone getting sick? Had some strange virus gotten on board? Maybe she needed to run to the Doctor to let him know;  being a hologram, he would be immune and could save everyone.

“Nan, please, go find Miral,” Aunt B’Elanna said in scarcely more than a whisper.

Slowly, she stepped through the door and only paused to cast a look over her shoulder when she got to the doorway of Miral’s bedroom. She saw Aunt B’Elanna wrap her arms around Daddy and hug him tightly. A hug always made her feel better and maybe that’s what they both needed.

Her hope for reprieve from sick people was stricken down when she entered her best friend’s bedroom and found her curled up in a corner of the room, hugging her knees.

“Mir?”

Miral looked up and Tananka inhaled sharply as she took in her friend’s tear-stained face.

“I’m so sorry, Nan,” Miral sobbed and jumped up, hurrying to immediately wrap Tananka into a hug.

“Why?”

In the space of a breath, Tananka would wish she had never asked why. That moment taught her not to ask why to things you might not want to hear the answer to, and she'd never forget it.

“About your mom. She…” Miral paused, suddenly hyperaware of the fact that Uncle Chakotay had not told Tananka what had happened on that awful day. Nan didn’t yet know that her mom went to… well… wherever humans went to when they were gone forever… the place for humans that was like Sto’Vo’Kor. She couldn’t remember the name. But Aunt Kathryn had distinguished herself in glorious battle so many times that maybe she would go to Sto’Vo’Kor. Either way, she was gone forever from this life and Nan hadn’t been told she was motherless now. “…she’s gone.”

Tananka felt tears springing to her eyes, instinctively knowing something bad had happened even before Miral finished her sentence. In the space of a breath, she learned she was half an orphan and that, although no one would tell her why, her mother was not coming back. All they would say was “she’s gone”.

Once, after the ship had been damaged, Flotter had been gone, too. But Uncle Harry, Aunt B’Elanna, and Seven had brought him back. When Aunt B’Elanna came into the room and found Miral holding her as they both cried, she crushed both of them in her arms, holding them like her life depended on it. Through her sobs, Tananka asked if she and Uncle Harry and Seven could bring mom back like they had brought Flotter back after he had been gone and Aunt B’Elanna had only cried harder. It was later that Tananka grew into the understanding that people death could never be recovered from, holographic death was a matter of reprogramming the computer. Two entirely different versions of gone.

In the space of a breath, her heart broke and she cried for her Daddy. Then her heart broke even further in the space of the next breath as she learned that although her Daddy was still alive, he was gone, too. Not quite like Flotter, yet not like mother, but still gone. A third kind of gone and Tananka learned suddenly that she really hated “gone”.

******

In the space of a breath, he fell in love for the second time in his life.

It only took a moment for her to arrive in the universe and, in the space of a breath, he knew he had never been more in love with anyone in his entire life. The love of a father for his daughter was an entirely different kind of love than that which he felt for her mother, and right now, she watched him with inherited blue eyes that he knew she had graciously given to their daughter, a daughter whose existence he'd had to risk everything to protect.

“She is perfect, isn’t she, Juel?”

He wrapped his arm around his wife, Nicole, and pressed a kiss to her temple as they gazed lovingly at their newborn daughter, swaddled and held closely to her mother’s chest. Nicole could never know the lengths he went to in order to ensure this moment. He couldn’t tell her of the things that transpired as part of his work because of the nature of that work.

Ducane caressed the beautiful cap of brown hair highlighted with strands of auburn that graced the crown of his daughter’s head. Her bright eyes darted around, curiously. Already exploring her new state of being.

No. Nicole would never hear the story of a man named Braxton who had been hellbent on revenge and exacted it in a way that had ensured that she might never have existed, which meant that their daughter would have never been born. He could never tell her how DTI had signed off on his report about the subtle meddling with the timeline caused by Braxton and how they had denied his proposal for corrective measures.

He couldn’t tell her that he had watched the thread of time surrounding her notorious ancestor. He had stepped into the horrific room. He had seen what the proper timeline had delivered to her, and what had been ripped away by Braxton’s meddling. But it wasn’t just her that had been affected. The entire shape of time had been manipulated due to Braxton’s sick obsession with punishing her for his shortcomings. Not only had Braxton destroyed her, he had destroyed with her her entire lineage.

Subtleties. Nuances. Nothing to be concerned with they had proclaimed.

Ducane refused to let her and her descendants be wiped out. At the same time, he wished his motivations were entirely holistic and honorable. Yet, they had a selfish note, for which he was not a bit sorry.

In the space of a breath, DTI stamped her death certificate with their refusal. He ripped it up and threw his career on the executioner’s block. It was not going to end like this for her. Braxton could go to hell. DTI could go to hell. Though her life had been snuffed out and signed off on in the space of a breath, in the space of the next, he would save her. Leaving Braxton’s bastardized timeline stand had cost him everything and, even though he hadn’t been a husband and a father at the time of his possible career-ending decision, he, like another honorable man he knew, would do anything to protect his wife and daughter. That little bit of selfishness of knowing what Braxton had robbed him of by extinguishing the life of another out of revenge was enough to lay it all on the line.

By restoring the timeline, he set everything right so as to permit the continuation of her lineage and which allowed a certain pretty brunette with olive skin and blazing blue eyes to be seated in a little corner coffee shop in downtown San Francisco on a fateful day.

Where, in the space of a breath, he happened to trip and spill his coffee on her shoes, having fallen in love with her at first sight. That moment in time, which he treasured so dearly, was what brought him to this one: where in the space of a breath, he fell in love with his beautiful daughter, Kathryn Nicole Janeway-Ducane, whose future was now safe in his hands.