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19 July 2008 @ 08:00 pm
Paying Off Some Debts Part 1  
Title:  Distance
Author: DiNovia
Rating:  G
Fandom: ST:VOY
Pairing: implied J/7 angst
Words: 1320
Summary:  Another sleepless Gamma shift for our intrepid captain...
A/N:  Written for fewthistle for a long ago meme.  You, my friend, have been very patient and I thank you for it.

It's hardest for her on those Gamma shifts immediately after they've had a narrow escape.  She haunts the corridors of her tiny ship in those wee soft hours, trying hard not to think about the relative thinness of the duranium hull when counted against the totality of everything that can go wrong out here in the Delta Quadrant.  She consumes too much ersatz coffee, second guessing her decision to destroy the Caretaker for the thousandth thousandth time.  She gazes out the plasteel window in her Ready Room, lost in the illusory twinkle of the stars her ship speeds past, silently lamenting the sheer distance that separates her people from their homes.

Distance.  When she was a young girl, growing strong and wild on organic milk and farm fresh food back in Indiana, she measured distance temporally.  How many months until the summer hay was in...how many days until the first brood of chicks hatched...how many hours until Daddy came home from his latest mission...  Slow, ripe hours that passed sweetly, dipped in honeyed sunshine or lit by the star-twinkles of fireflies as they blinked their complex mating code into the darkness, touching the mundane act of continuation with such simple beauty.  Days humming with bees, filled with nothing more dangerous than the prick of a blackberry thorn, nothing more devastating than a yearling with colic.  Nights twanging with crickets and bull frogs, spent almost entirely staring up at those elusive stars, dreaming of her future among them, the long grass cool against her legs. 

She had never once imagined this.

She had never once, in all that youthful naivety, in all that incessant longing, imagined she would be solely responsible for 153 lives and souls with nothing but a couple of layers of duranium between them and the deadly vastness of space.  And if that isn't enough, they are in the Delta Quadrant alone, far from home, bereft of the safety net known as the Federation with nothing but their own ingenuity and their own stubbornness to sustain themselves.

In the Delta Quadrant, she measures distance spatially, temporally, and in lives. 

50,000 light years to go.

She'd paid attention during her classes.  She's not a half-bad engineer.  She knows that one single light year is equal to 9,460,730,472,580.8 kilometers.  That measurement is almost incomprehensible to the human mind.  And she has to pilot this ship through 50,000 of them, all of them unknown to her and to her computer database, all of them potentially fraught with dangers she won't let herself imagine.  She chuckles to herself for a moment, remembering how she and Phoebe would whine when their mother would send them, every spring, out to the four corners of the pasture to change the salt licks--and they had a skimmer to use!  They hadn't even had to walk!  The whole ordeal probably took two hours and would have taken less if they hadn't found something to distract them every year.  Once it had been a patch of early daffodils, a riot of sunshine yellow waving to them, beckoning to them, peeling them quickly and efficiently out of their bundled up, muffled winter selves.  Once it had been a horse's skeleton, bleached white bones in perfect order, new grass springing up between the ribs, a halo of dying crocuses around the skull.

Out here, nothing distracts Kathryn Janeway from her mission, from her terrible duty.  They are not in the Delta Quadrant to explore or to make first contact, though they have done both out of necessity.  She never strays too far from the path toward home, as if Voyager follows breadcrumbs only she can see and she is afraid they will be gobbled up before she does so.  She has been strong--almost rigid--these last years.  To the point of breaking, like that giant oak out beyond the barn the winter she turned ten. 

Now she knows she will not break.  Even still, she feels the erosion beginning and to her it's more insidious, more dangerous.  She cannot always be on guard against it.  It slips in unknowingly and makes itself at home before she can root it out, a web in the corner finally discovered and swept away cleanly.  She forgets that erosion and spiders are ongoing processes.  She will sweep that same corner again and again.

Five decades.

That's how long the computer tells her it will take to reach the Alpha Quadrant and home again, give or take a few years.  Five decades.  Five decades of sleepless nights, of bad coffee, of unimaginable peril.  Five decades of broken hearts, of systems repairs, of unimaginable boredom.  Five decades of Chakotay playing devil's advocate.  Five decades of the Doctor singing opera on Talent Night.  Five decades of leeola root stew.  And she knows she will stay sane through it all.  Janeways are made of stern, practical stuff; it will take more than a few hundred arias and a few hundred gallons of putrid stew to unhinge her mind.  Sane through it all.  No matter what the cost. 

One day, she knows, in the not too distant future, she will have to make her little ship a generational ship.  There are no miraculous wormholes or undiscovered Caretaker Arrays to zap them back home and she will have to accept that, to allow her people the joys of family and community again, whatever families they can craft in this wilderness of time and space.  She delays, every day holds off a little longer, because she cannot partake in those joys herself and she cannot bear to give up her dream quite yet.  It's a simple dream, a hopelessly common dream. 

It's a dream of coming home to eyes like a clear blue Indiana sky, of a life she will never deserve.

Twenty-three lives spent so far.

This is the hardest measurement, the one that dogs her steps deep into the Gamma shift, the one that has worn down the industrial inertpolymer fiber carpet in front of her Ready Room window.  She will not let herself forget their faces, their names, their ranks.  She knows--down to the last detail--the how, the why, the when of their deaths.  She relives them with regularity.  She marks their anniversaries privately.  She herself has stored their belongings, stowing them in the cargo bay until they can be delivered--by her own hands--to whatever remnant of their families still remaining after their long journey's end.

How many more lives will be spent over the years, she wonders.  How many cups of coffee will she one day accept from the hands of spouses, siblings, or children who grew strong and wild looking up at the stars, wondering when their parents were coming home?  How hard will it be, even then, to tell them never, to tell them how sorry she is, to mourn her lost ones again as if it had just happened?  What comfort will their loved ones derive from small containers filled with knick knacks and recordings of personal logs?

The dearest cost.  The debt she cannot repay.  The wound that never heals.

She looks out of her window with empty eyes, gray like the dawn that never comes.  The stars bleed away as her ship follows the elusive breadcrumb trail toward home. 

"Tomorrow," she decides, her voice soft yet steely.  Tomorrow she will lift the ban on procreation.  Tomorrow she will invite her crew--her children--to make children of their own and in that way ensure a legacy more precious and important than a cargo container filled with trinkets and data chips.

She knows this will kill her dream, finally and forever. 

She understands it is the least she can do.

Hope it was what you wanted, Few! 


Tags: ,
fewthistle: JanewayBluefewthistle on July 20th, 2008 01:41 am (UTC)
Oh, my dear friend, how I have missed your words. I had nearly forgotten the power and beauty of them, the sway they have on my mind, on my emotions. This is all that I could have wanted and so much more. You really are one of the very few in whose hands I know that my darling Kathryn is safe and loved, even if that is less than it once was. Still, you understand her, know her battered soul and in your sweet, lovely prose, offer her the redemption she so desperately seeks. I thank you for that and for this tender, bittersweet tale of loss and hope.

seftiri: Smileseftiri on July 20th, 2008 04:10 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome, dear. I had been trying to fulfill both of the drabbles I owe but Kathryn demanded to be first and so she was. LOL

I do love Kathryn in my own way, and perhaps it is more again, after having seen the great Kate on stage last year. Perhaps I understand Kate more and have seen what parts of Kate are and are not in Kathryn.

Anyway, I'm so glad you enjoyed this little story... :)
tulliolus: feettulliolus on August 3rd, 2008 05:49 am (UTC)
Of all the fanfiction I've ever read (and I must admit that's not a lot, but still), this has to be one of the most believable pieces. Everything, from the little mentions of plasteel, skimmers and leeola root stew down to the characterisation of the Captain that forms the piece's bedrock is exactly in tune with canon. Kudos!
seftiri: Smileseftiri on August 3rd, 2008 07:07 am (UTC)
Thank you! And how fortuitous! I've just posted the piece I owed you!

I'm glad I still have the touch with ol' KJ. I'm planning on two T/7 pieces over the next few months while I'm on break from school.

I hope all is well with you!