“ … and, if God choose, |
I shall love thee better after death.”
XXX--- Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
Her face came across the screen, stern as protocol dictated, but warmed with the emotion of her well-rehearsed words. |
"There is only one reason you are viewing this message now... a message I have recorded many times, each time with new thoughts and words, and each time knowing how much closer I have been to saying it to you in person."
Kathryn Janeway lowered her face, clearing her throat as inconspicuously as she could. A quick intake of breath… a barely perceivable movement of her shoulders.
“Chakotay - my dear, wonderful Chakotay - why could I not have found the courage to say these words to you in life?" That little crooked grin that was so like her crept across her face. " I always seemed to find excuses, didn’t I? Perhaps it was stubbornness... perhaps fear.
"And yet, ever since that first day... when our crews became one... one to survive this strange odyssey... when I knew that our relationship would be one that would be ... different. Both of us... so determined in our causes and temperaments... both of us, so unwavering and passionate."
She dropped her face, unwilling to let him see her trying to control her breathing.
"That first day... yes, that’s when I knew that I would love you. My most difficult battle has always been the continual fight within myself, to suppress what I so wanted to say. Many times - oh, so many times! - I almost admitted it to you. Still, I stayed in control - always in control! But you have had my heart to call yours since that day, and I think you have known it. It has only been my fear that has not allowed me to acknowledge it, and I know that this has been wrong.
"I do not know what this event brings, whether there is some existence after our corporal life... or a nothingness. All I do know is that whatever awaits, I created my own eternal punishment during our time together by not allowing my admission of my feelings... by never knowing the warmth of your arms.. your embraces... your body and soul. So many days - and nights - when I ached to reach out and hold you... to love you. And yet... the wall remained intact; I never allowed myself to overcome its barriers.
"Chakotay, I have loved you all this time, and, if so ordained, I will love you throughout whatever reality exists after life. My only regret is never having been able to share this with you. You... so patient, so understanding, and so... hurt. How can I ever expect to receive your forgiveness for my indifference?"
Her sigh betrayed any indifference now.
"Perhaps you will never see this recording; perhaps I shall have the courage to tell you… before there is a need for you to view this."
She brought her fingertips to her lips and kissed them, moving their moist tips to the screen of the recording monitor.
"I love you, my dear Chakotay."
The screen and her voice faded into nothingness.
The dark background blended with his ebony hair, the darkness broken only by dancing needles of silver - starlight reflecting from the silvery highlights of his hair that were just now starting to lighten the duskiness of his face, a face grimly shadowed by the weight of his words.
"Kathryn - my beloved Kathryn - if you are viewing this, I know that you are hurting. I’m sorry that this is the one time I cannot be by your side and help you.
"I have broken my promise to you to never leave you, that you would never be alone. But you should know by now, that you will not ever be alone. I will always be with you, Kathryn Janeway, throughout the never-ending days of eternity." Through the somberness of his face, his dimples deepened and the words came softly from the smile. "No, Kathryn; you will never be free from me! My eternal bliss will be your eternal punishment... that of having me beside you always."
His tone and his face remained somber, but the joy of his love flowed through his eyes, softening his message.
"You have always known that I loved you. My eyes have never been able to hide secrets from you. You knew from that very first day, when we agreed that our crews join together, that we were bonding ourselves to each other... your fate and mine, irrevocably intertwined and meshed together. With every passing day... month... year... our lives became more as one. Each time your hand touched me, you reached into my heart and drew it closer and closer. No Borg nanoprobe could have assimilated me more than you have.
"Even as our words and spirits seemed to betray each other and grow apart, we have known that our souls would never be apart. On New Earth, I gave you my pledge to be with you and protect you always, reserving my love for my own personal strength. I repeated this promise many times... with the Borg... with your personal disappointments... with your disapproval of my actions.
"I know that there have been times when my conduct has caused you to doubt the pledges I kept repeating to you. For these times, I can only once more ask for your forgiveness; I know that with each careless encounter, I destroyed a part of your heart. May I now give back all that I took, and add to it tenfold.
"Kathryn, you have been my sole purpose for wanting to survive this journey. Before I met you, I had determined that my life was worth nothing except to exact revenge on all who had hurt me. You have shown me how to love again... how to respect life, and recognize the meaning of the connectedness of all things. You have been my healing spirit... my guardian angel. You have been my life and love... and I will continue loving you forever.
"Kathryn, we have been ordained to be together, and even now... even with my death... you will have me by your side. Know that, and let your heart embrace it. May you receive peace now, and look forward to the time when we will be together forever.
"I love you, my one and only Kathryn. May the spirits be with us now, and grant us the peace and joy of the hereafter."
His eyes glowed as burning coals; then the screen disappeared into the grayness of nothingness.
"Screen off," the soft baritone voice said.
Tuvok sat back in the chair at his desk in his cabin. The normally stoic Vulcan had just viewed the final personal comments that Kathryn Janeway and her first officer, Commander Chakotay, had left for each other - messages to each of them alone, never meant to be viewed by friends or family or crewmates. But he felt that he had to invade their privacy, in order to know how he had to proceed now.
How to proceed... no, how to live... continue... survive. How to summon the strength and spirit needed to lead the crew of Voyager now that her two senior officers were gone. And lead he must. The rest of the ship was numb, functioning and performing by rote - soulless beings who persevered only because of the primordial instinct for life’s continuity.
Unshed tears burned his eyes and throat as he recalled the incident that claimed the lives of his friends. No one had seen the portent of the cataclysmal event, neither the attending Voyager security team nor the ever-vigilant protectors of the Ultheran council.
Ch’m Ruzn, provost of Ulthera had asked Janeway and Chakotay to attend an official meeting with her and her council, to formalize the joint trade agreement between the planet and the Voyager visitors. The agenda had proceeded smoothly, with both sides assenting to the requests of the others and vowing to stay in contact with each other, hoping to eventually open official negotiations for alliance with Starfleet. Janeway smiled in agreeing to come to the planet for the celebratory meeting, for the Ultherans would be excellent Delta Quadrant allies. The new comrades smiled and laughed as they opened celebratory wine in anticipation of the final signatures. The heavy doors of the meeting room closed, allowing the group of fourteen attendees privacy for these concluding actions of their treaty agreement.
It seemed that the doors had just closed when, in fraction of a nanosecond, the entire chamber became an Armageddon fireball, a hellfire that consumed all the internal structures and inhabitants instantaneously. The fireproof room contained the holocaust from its surroundings, so that none of even the closest bystanders outside of the room were harmed. But so sudden and complete was the devastation that communication monitors on the planet and Voyager picked up only the briefest of cries. Then, silence. Nothingness. Gone. They were all gone.
By the time the room could be entered, only a powdery layer of fine gray ash remained, the only physical reminder of fourteen souls welcomed into eternity, victims of a treacherous plot of death and destruction by planet malcontents.
Tuvok rose from his seated position and slowly walked to a Vulcan chest in the corner of the room. Pushing back the flowing sleeves of his meditation robe, he lifted the heavy lid of the coffer. With Vulcan resolve, he fought back the tide of threatening emotion. His eyes closed briefly, willing away the display of sorrow. He reached inside and his large hands lovingly enfolded the objects of his search. He removed two stone pieces... two meditation lamps. Walking back to a low table in the center of the room, he placed the marble pieces on its surface. Again, his eyes closed; he became lost in thoughts of his two dear friends.
Moments passed; the reflected tails of speeding stars provided the only movement in the dark chamber. Quietly, a small spark of light, summoned into existence through his prayer, came from the center opening of each lamp. The dark man’s eyes slowly opened, the sparks from the lamps now becoming infant flames.
Within moments, the flames grew, becoming bright and strong. In a single graceful motion, he rose from his kneeling position, a lamp in each hand. He walked slowly across the room, towards the window looking out into the deep unknown of space of the Delta Quadrant.
The Vulcan captain of Voyager stood for a moment, studying the infinite cosmos in front of him before he placed the glowing lamps side by side on the ledge of the window. The darkness absorbed the words of his low voice, words merging with the fragile light of the flames as they reached out into eternity.
"My friends, you will always be my friends. Kathryn Janeway, whom I have known and respected for many years; Chakotay, whom I have learned to esteem even through our differences -two people with great courage and an even greater love. May you now, in death, finally find this love denied to you in life." The grieving man turned away from the window, to resolve his inner sorrow before he very soon must provide the needed strength for Voyager to continue.
The flames from the lamps leapt higher and higher, joyfully intertwining and embracing each other, becoming one - beginning their eternal journey of immortal love.