The sound of her own voice screaming brought Captain Kathryn Janeway wide awake. She bolted upright, gasping for breath. Perspiration was slick on her skin, and her nightgown clung to her.
"Lights," she called in a voice that shook. Her throat felt sore from the scream. She shivered, chilled by the drying perspiration. The nightmare had been particularly bad this time.
She forced herself to take deep, slow, even breaths as she glanced about, feeling foolish even as she sought reassurance that the dream was not her reality. All was as it should be. These were her quarters -- home to her now for over five years. There was the huge window. Often, when she had trouble sleeping, which was not infrequent, Janeway would rise, get a glass of cold water from the replicator, and gaze out of that window for a long time. The comforting image of white stars zipping past on the blackness of space sometimes lulled her back to sleep.
But not tonight -- or, she amended, glancing at the timecounter, this morning. Her lips thinned and her heart, which had begun to slow, speeded up again. For when Janeway looked out her window now, she saw nothing that brought comfort. She could see only the mystery that had been confounding them since they first began noticing it almost seventeen hours ago -- dozens, perhaps hundreds of wormholes.
Like little mouths, they were, she thought; black and mysterious, yawning open for a few seconds, then closing. It was almost -- almost -- worse than her nightmare.
"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway."
"Captain." Seven's voice was cool and crisp, efficient as ever. "I have some new information on the wormhole phenomena which you and Lieutenant Torres should see."
Janeway had already risen and was reaching for her uniform as she replied, "On my way."
The three women stood together, shoulder to shoulder, in Astrometrics and gazed at the bizarre image Seven of Nine displayed before them.
It was obvious to the captain that the whole thing was starting to get to them. Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, the half-human, half-Klingon chief engineer, had her arms folded tightly across her chest and was scowling at the images as if her vexation alone had the power to make them disappear. Seven of Nine, who had once been more Borg than human, still had a cold precision in her manner that made Janeway shudder if she thought about it too long. And Janeway herself had to admit that she was growing increasingly angry with this mystery that they seemed nowhere near solving.
A red line wound its way from right to left. Surrounding it were dots of white in varying sizes.
"What are we looking at, Seven?" asked Janeway.
"The red line," Seven said, "is the path that Voyager has been following for the past eighteen point six days. The white dots indicate lingering traces of verteron particles. I have graphed them in proportion to the strength of the radiant emanation. By my calculations, none of these wormholes was stable for more than nine seconds."
"But, we've only noticed the wormholes materializing over the past seventeen hours and twelve minutes," said Torres in a voice that was almost a growl. Her temper had been shorter than usual over the last several days, and that was saying something.
"Correct," replied Seven, utterly unperturbed by Torres's irritation. "I took the liberty of expanding the sensor's search patterns to focus on verteron emanations and retraced our route over the past several weeks."
"Good thinking, Seven," said Janeway absently. She always made it a point to acknowledge initiative and good work when her crew showed it, although right now her mind was racing at a thousand light-years a second.
Her gaze traveled the red line that represented her ship's path over the last few weeks. A chill raced down her back as she looked at that red line. She regarded its position of several weeks ago. There were no signs of wormhole activity then. But as the line moved toward the left-hand side of the giant screen, a few of the strange holes in space began to appear, though still far away.
The closer Voyager came to its present position, the more wormholes dotted the screen -- and the closer their proximity to the ship.
"And these are the most recent ones?" she asked, to confirm her suspicions.
"Correct," Seven replied. "The most recent wormholes are the ones closest to our vessel."
The overall effect was that of a twining, crimson snake being pursued by a swarm of insects increasing in number. It was a fanciful image, one which both Seven and B'Elanna would scorn, but Janeway couldn't shake it. She didn't have to speak with her first officer, Commander Chakotay, on the bridge to know that there were dozens of wormholes opening and closing right this very minute -- all coming closer to her ship, all getting larger. She'd seen enough from her window.
"Any new theories?" Janeway asked, not expecting a response. Seven and Torres exchanged glances, but were silent. The nature of wormholes was still something of a mystery, though they were certainly not unknown phenomena. But the plethora of wormholes they were witnessing was unheard of in Janeway's experience. She herself had seen over a hundred. Now, Seven's graph showed many times that number.
"Perhaps," said Torres slowly, "we're entering some sort of field where the wormholes are more frequent."
"The elephant graveyard of wormholes, eh?" Janeway smiled. "It's possible. Though I think it's one heck of a coincidence that our path through this sector is taking us so directly through that field."
She stepped forward, craning her neck, as if simply being closer to the chart would bring her some enlightenment. "No, B'Elanna. Good guess, but no. It's almost more like...as if it's cause and effect."
"You believe we are being followed by wormholes?" The scorn in Seven's voice was palpable. Her blue eyes were wide with disbelief.
"When you put it that way, it does sound foolish," her captain admitted, biting back an angry retort. Her emotions, perhaps because of the nightmare, were more raw than usual. "But look at it. Put aside logic for a moment and just...look at it."
She pointed. "There -- back when they started appearing. See how random they are? Now, let's look here -- just a week ago. Much more precise -- the wormholes are almost in a line themselves. And now they're all over the place. They're literally surrounding us."
She said no more, and let the other two women see for themselves. B'Elanna frowned even more, and a growing unease spread across Seven's beautiful face.
They saw it too, now.
And it was scaring them just like it was scaring Janeway, though none of them would ever admit it.
Janeway's headache, banished by her distraction for a few moments, returned, throbbing angrily in the right temple. She resisted the urge to press her fingers to it. Doing so never helped. Nothing ever helped, not the Doctor's too-vigorous massages, nor the medicine he prescribed, nor a trip to the holodeck. And these strange, unsettling wormhole manifestations only made her tension worse.
The mystery was taking its toll on the crew as well, from what Janeway could judge. She'd heard Tom Paris and Harry Kim, normally the best of friends, quarreling rather bitterly after a holodeck jaunt a few weeks ago, and even Chakotay -- gentle, strong Chakotay -- had dressed down an ensign for a minor miscalculation at the helm the other day.
Torres had been complaining, vocally, about the seemingly endless small things that had been going wrong with Voyager lately -- a jammed coupling here, a sluggish plasma venting there. Tiny things, but Janeway could sympathize. A thousand little annoyances were sometimes worse than a real crisis. At least with a crisis, you could focus.
And then there were the nightmares.
Just the recollection made her jaw clench. Janeway had not shared her nocturnal terrors with anyone else, not even the Doctor, who would never dream of violating patient-doctor confidentiality. Not yet, anyway. She'd thought about it. If they got bad enough, she'd have to talk with him. A captain's bad dreams could turn into nightmares for her crew if left unaddressed. But right now, Janeway felt that she could handle it. Some things were just too personal -- too intimate.
Janeway took a deep breath, held it, and tried to calm herself. Concentration was what was called for here if they were to get to the bottom of this.
She tapped her combadge. "Janeway to senior staff," she said. "Everyone meet me in my ready room in five minutes."
"These late hours are wreaking havoc with my beauty sleep," quipped Ensign Tom Paris as he entered the ready room. His eyes were bleary and his grin looked forced.
"Yeah," replied Torres, without even looking up. "You look like hell, Tom."
"Why, thank you, sweetheart, and might I return the compliment?"
Tom's voice was hard and there was no humor in it, despite the words. B'Elanna frowned and opened her mouth.
"Ensign. Lieutenant." Chakotay's own tone of voice was just this side of angry. "That's enough out of you two."
Paris's head whipped up and he stared at Chakotay. His eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared. He looked as though he might strike the commander. Janeway was shocked. She decided that, after this meeting was over, she would send everyone on the senior staff down to sickbay for a complete physical. The strain was taking too great a toll. If her crew was too busy sniping at each other to pull together, they were going to be in trouble if any real danger arose.
"The wormhole situation is perplexing, granted," the captain said, stepping forward easily between her first officer and the blond ensign. "But quarreling among ourselves isn't going to solve it. Everyone take a seat and let's hear Seven's report."
Seven of Nine rose and activated the viewscreen. There, in miniature, was the same graph she had shown to Torres and Janeway in Astrometrics. Janeway listened with half an ear, more interested right now in watching her crew's reactions.
Chakotay's expression didn't change, but Janeway could see the subtle tensing in his large body. Tuvok, as usual, was unreadable. B'Elanna pulled into herself still more, and Paris seemed distracted and unable to focus. Neelix, their usally chippejack-of-all-trades cook, morale officer, and sometime ambassador, looked positively glum at the revelations Seven imparted. Harry Kim was monitoring the conversation from the bridge, where he remained at his post. Only the Doctor seemed his normal self.
"Thank you, Seven," said Janeway, rising as their newest crew member took her seat. "We know that wormholes are natural phenomena, and we are far from the superstitious mariners our ancestors were. There are no dragons in space, but there are mysteries. And I'd say we've got a prime one on our hands. I don't like the look of this. The clustering is too precise to be random."
"I'm no scientist," began Neelix, almost apologetically, "but wormholes are natural phenomena as far as we're concerned. Who's to say that someone out there hasn't figured out how to control them?"
Janeway smiled, the first genuine smile to grace her lips in what seemed like an eternity. True, Neelix wasn't a scientist, but he'd stated something they'd all missed, something quite obvious. Good for him.
"Out of the mouths of Talaxians," drawled Paris, but he softened the gibe with a wink in Neelix's direction.
"Of course," said Chakotay. "We've even got an example of that right in our own backyard, back in the Alpha Quadrant. The Bajoran wormhole is an artificial construct. The so-called Prophets are the aliens who created it and live inside it. Dammit, we should have thought of this before! How could we have been so stupid, so -- " He slammed his right fist into his left hand.
"Gently, Commander," chided the Doctor. "I would dislike wasting my time repairing any bones
you might damage in your self-deprecation."
"Seven," said Janeway quickly before the sniping could escalate, "have you picked up any signs of artificial manipulation of the wormholes?"
"Negative," replied Seven. "Although most activity we might be able to identify would occur at the origin site of the wormhole, not its exit site. The verteron emanations and natural radiation of the wormhole would likely obscure any artificial signals. It is also likely that if any other technology is indeed involved, it is technology with which we are not familiar and therefore do not know how to detect properly. The sensors would need to be reconfigured, and -- "
"Does anyone have any idea how sick I am of reconfiguring those damned sensors?" said Torres, her voice rising.
"Does anyone have any idea how sick I am of -- " Fortunately, Paris's comment was cut off by Harry Kim's voice.
"Bridge to Janeway."
Alerted by the taut edge in Harry's voice, Janeway was all attention when she replied, "Janeway here. What's going on, Harry?"
"There's another wormhole, Captain."
"More wormholes? What a surprise," muttered Paris.
Janeway was taken aback by the heat of the anger that rose inside her. The look she shot Paris would have obliterated him on the spot if she'd had her way. He shut up at once. If nothing else, Paris had developed an uncanny instinct for knowing just how far he could push his captain.
Kim continued, "It's the biggest one yet. You'd better get out here and see this before it disappears."
Her anger evaporated as quickly as it came. Despite the headaches, the bad dreams, the short tempers, Janeway was above all else fascinated by this peculiar display of wormhole activity. And besides, there always remained the chance that one of them would be large enough to travel through -- and would open into the Alpha Quadrant.
"Dismissed," she told her crew, unnecessarily. As one, they'd all risen and hastened for the door, eager to see this new development.
Janeway couldn't suppress a swift intake of breath as she stepped onto the bridge. Yawning before her was a huge hole in the fabric of space. Verteron particles, normally invisible to the naked eye, were clustered together in such great numbers at the aperture of the wormhole that they formed a purple, swirling gateway. In all ways, save for the purple tint rather than the blue, it resembled a smaller version of the Bajoran wormhole back in the Alpha Quadrant. The similarity brought quick tears of homesickness to her eyes. She blinked them back.
"It is sufficiently large enough for us to send in a probe," said Tuvok.
"It's big enough for us to send in the Delta Flyer," said Paris, slipping into his position at the conn.
"Try big enough for Voyager," said Kim, startling them all. "I've been monitoring it the moment it appeared, just as I have with all of them. This one's been increasing in size at a steady rate of eight point seventeen meters per second. And we're well past the nine-second timeframe at which all the others have closed."
Janeway caught Chakotay's gaze. He gave her a slight smile. If this led back to the Alpha Quadrant....
"Tuvok, send in that probe. I want to know where this thing originates." She glanced at Neelix, Seven, Torres, and the Doctor. "You four, report to your posts. Harry will make all information available to everyone as we gather it. You won't miss anything, Neelix," she added, seeing the Talaxian's whiskers droop.
Seven of Nine hesitated a moment before following the other three into the turbolift. Janeway knew of the former Borg's apprehension about returning to the Alpha Quadrant. Here, Seven had a place, a function. Voyager was, as she had once phrased it, her "collective." Seven had proved herself willing to die for the vessel and its crew -- even to subject herself to Borg control to ensure their safety.
But prejudice was an ugly thing, not completely rooted out even in the twenty-fourth century. Many humans would look at Seven and see not the woman, but the metallic implants in her body. Seven of Nine feared for the sanctity of her haven, and Janeway couldn't blame her.
"The probe has entered the wormhole," said Tuvok. The excitement and tension on the bridge was almost palpable, yet, of course, Tuvok was an oasis of calm. "Preliminary readings indicate -- "
He fell silent. Surprised, Janeway craned her neck to regard her security officer. "Yes?"
Tuvok met her gaze. She, who knew that face so well, saw the slight tautness around the brown eyes, the flaring of nostrils that marked quickened breathing. Her own heart began to race and her mouth went dry.
"Preliminary readings indicate that this wormhole originates in the Alpha Quadrant."
Without realizing what she did, Janeway had reached out a hand to Chakotay. He met it halfway, gripping it so hard that the small bones in her fingers ground together. She didn't mind one bit.
It was big enough for the ship to traverse. It showed no signs of collapsing.
And it led to home.
Dimly Janeway was aware that her normally controlled bridge crew was whooping with joy. She shared their delight, but she needed calm in order to continue the investigation. There might yet be dangers lurking inside that oh-so-tempting wormhole. She recalled the organism that had lured them into its maw by posing as a wormhole. That "monster" had manipulated their thoughts, made them feel almost ecstatic about returning home. Only Seven, Naomi Wildman, and the Doctor had resisted its siren song.
Janeway's temple throbbed, and she gasped softly, involuntarily. Well, if nothing else, she knew that what lay before them was not that same creature. She sure as hell wasn't feeling ecstatic right now.
She opened her mouth but was interrupted by a screeching burst from Kim's console. The rat-a-tat sound of static followed, and Janeway winced at the volume.
"Someone is attempting to contact us," Kim told her, yelling to be heard over the noise.
"On screen," Janeway shouted back.
The image of the wormhole was replaced by scratchy static. An unintelligible voice boomed. Kim worked frantically, and after a few seconds the voice began to form words and a shape manifested on the screen.
" -- to the Starship Voyager. Repeat, please acknowledge if you are receiving this!"
The image solidified -- dark, sleek, short hair, pale skin, a ridged brow, a noble face. The hair along Janeway's arms and at the back of her neck lifted, as if she were seeing -- and hearing -- a ghost.
For she knew the voice and the visage that now appeared on the screen. They belonged to a man who was now dead -- or was he?
When were they?
"Telek R'Mor," Janeway whispered.
Copyright © 2000 by Paramount Pictures Incorporated
Dark Matters #1
Cloak and Dagger
Dark Matters #1
CLOAK AND DAGGER
Years ago, near the beginning of its long journey, Voyager made contact with a brilliant Romulan scientist whose present was Voyager 's past. Now Telek R'Mor communicates with Janeway again -- to warn her of a dire plot to capture Voyager and turn its "future" technology against the Federation of yesterday. But more than just the timeline is at stake. Voyager itself may be carrying a menace deadly to all creation!