by Delta Story
December 2007

~ A VAMB Secret Santa Story ~

~ ^ ~

The Delta Flyer zipped through the thin atmosphere of Raluco, the shuttle's thrusters making short work of any remaining gravitational pull. The atmosphere's dispersed light gave way to the star-studded darkness of open space.

Kathryn Janeway's fingers ran over the monitor in front of her, keying in last minute adjustments to the Flyer's flight plan to catch up with Voyager. "Well, that was certainly an unnecessarily long trip. I don't see why we had to be there for two days to finalize the agreement with these people to use their space for the next ten light years. One quick transport to either their diplomatic palace or Voyager's briefing room would have been just as simple."

Chakotay's eyes twinkled back at her as his fingers flew across the large keypad in front of him. "But then you wouldn't have had the pleasure of meeting all of Ambassador Nandi's cabinet and their extended families and gotten to go thorough a day of festivities - you've got to admit that the people of Raluco know how to celebrate."

Her initial duties done, Janeway fell back into a casual, relaxed position in the senior helm chair, her small form engulfed within its leathered surfaces. "Yes, but I could have done without the four-hour prosaic recitation of their illustrious history." She shook her head and grinned. "After that, remind me never to complain about Tuvok's Vulcan poetry readings." She huffed and her nose flared as her eyes smoldered. "And why did they need bothof us for the finalization of the treaty? One of us alone could have done the job!"

"Ah, but remember - Starfleet away missions always have to have at least two members present, and they did require that all attendees be top ranking officials. Besides... admit it, Kathryn... if Tuvok had gone with you, you probably would have had two long epic poems to listen to!" His eyes twinkled with the tease.

Her throaty laugh echoed off the shuttle walls and she reached across and gave his arm a gentle nudge. "Not that your stories were all that brief and to the point. Chakotay, sometimes I think that you can get just as long-winded as a Vulcan!"

A loud buzz accompanied by a flashing alert from the monitors in front of Janeway brought the duo back to full attention of the Flyer's operation. Her fingers danced over the panel to hone in on the sudden alert.

"Captain?" Chakotay queried.

Janeway's brow became several rows of deep furrows. "It's some sort of magnetic disturbance about a hundred-thousand kilometers from us. It's disrupting the warp core stabilizers and drawing us is its direction."

Chakotay jumped out of his chair and came over to her, looking over her shoulder at the readouts in front of them. "It's not a black hole or some other quantum singularity. Can you get a long-range sensor on it?"

"Negative," she frowned. Too much EM interference. Whatever it is seems to be causing fluctuations in the subspace impellers."

"Let me try to balance the toranium master systems," Chakotay responded, turning back to his own instrument panel. "Maybe I can align the warp field coil with alpha-prime variance."

"Good idea," Janeway called out to him while never losing concentration on the panel in front of her. "I'll also try to equalize the subspace impulse grid."

But their actions were for naught as they continued to sense a definite and increased pull on the shuttle.

"It almost feels like a tractor beam," Chakotay blurted, seeking yet another correction to break the invisible hold on their vessel. "I'm detecting variations in the subspace evasive patterns."

Janeway looked up and gasped. Through the wide window in front of them, a gaping maw of darkness spread across their line of vision, its jagged edges getting bigger and uglier each second. She looked down at her instruments as the computer read-out told them of their fate. "Chakotay," she said weakly, looking up at him in horror. "It's a temporal rift... and it's dragging us into it!"

He reached across her to key in another emergency command, but was too late as the rift swallowed the Delta Flyer and her inhabitants into its murky inkiness.

~ ^ ~

Dim light met Chakotay's eyes as he rolled over and groaned. At least he was alive and the Delta Flyer seemed intact, even though the level of the light told him that the shuttle was operating on emergency power.

He pushed himself up into a kneeling position, noting that other than a few dull aches and pains, nothing seemed broken and he couldn't detect anything that was bleeding. His arms and legs bent all right, albeit he knew there would be some bruises popping up in a few hours. A quick scan of the area told him that the spacecraft listed to port, and he saw Janeway's inert form slumping to the left of her seat. "Kathryn?" he called out softly as he crawled over towards her. "Kathryn - are you all right?"

A low moan came from her but she rolled towards him, seeming to be about in the same condition as he was. "Ungh! I feel like a Malon freighter just ran over us." She struggled to sit up and he reached over to her, gently helping her aright herself. "Any idea where we are, Chakotay?"

They cautiously stood, grasping the chair backs and balancing themselves against the tilt of the spacecraft. Janeway arched her back and let out another groan. "Argh! Something tells me we're going to feel this tomorrow..."

"Whenever 'tomorrow' is," Chakotay answered. "Not only do we have to figure out where we are but 'when' we are - that is, if we really did go through a time rift."

"Well, wherever... whenever we are, it's damned cold!" Janeway chattered, wrapping her arms around her shivering body. "And what's that across the window? We aren't under water are we?"

Chakotay leaned over towards the window and rubbed away some of the inside condensation across its cold surface. The window appeared intact, although it was covered with something obscuring whatever was outside. "It seems like we may have landed in a large amount of snow - possibly a huge drift, from the looks of it." He quickly ran his fingers across the LARS panel. "We still have some heating capabilities with the back-up environmental control system - let me turn up the heat a bit while we get ourselves oriented."

"Oh great," Janeway sighed. "Just what I always wanted - to dig myself out of a snow bank. As if I hadn't had enough of that growing up in Indiana."

"Hey! We're children of the twenty-fourth century - we have phasers that can melt the snow," Chakotay chided her with a grin. "I might not be able to start a fire, but I can sure get us out of a snow drift." He continued to fiddle around with the controls. "I'm going to try to heat up the external hull - maybe that will melt away part of the stuff... at least give us a chance to open the door."

"And let in more cold air?" Janeway shivered as she burrowed into the emergency kit. "Let me try to find a couple mylar blankets first."

"Good idea," Chakotay responded, still giving attention to the instrument panel. "Looks like the ambient air is compatible with human life - in fact, the composition matches up almost perfectly with that on Earth."

Janeway looked up from her chore. "Earth? Really? Chakotay, you don't think that..."

The man's fingers flew over a new section of the LARS panel. "I'm on it. Let me get some of this snow and ice melted so we can do a topographic scan."

Janeway draped one of the blankets around him as he worked and he turned back with a smile. "Thanks, Kathryn. You really do know how to take care of your crew."

"All in the job description," she smiled back, squeezing his arm gently before wrapping herself in a second covering and sitting down next to him.

The heated outer shell did the trick. The packed frozen precipitation began to creak and crack, forming a glistening watery sheet against the window across the front of the shuttle as it slithered away. As the snow melted around the small spacecraft, Chakotay righted its tilted position.

"Ah, that's better," Janeway sighed, shifting in her seat, no longer straining against the incline.

"See? I can operate a shuttlecraft without crashing it!" Chakotay grinned.

"Then how come we ended up in a soft crash position?"

"I wasn't in the 'captain's ' seat this time - don't give me any static," he teased back. But the comment earned him a thump on the arm. "Ouch! For a little woman, you can pack a wallop," he grimaced in jest.

"You want another one?" Janeway teased, keying in the commands for a position search. "Okay, time to get serious. While the snow melts a bit more, let's see where we are... what sort of topography we're facing. Then we can try to figure out 'when' in time we are and try to backtrack to that rift and get back to Voyager."

"One step at a time, Kathryn," Chakotay said calmly, trying to keep her from attempting to solve all their problems at once. "Things are thawed enough for me to do a scan of the skies and see if the patterns match up with anything in our stellar cartography database."

They sat silently as figures and star patterns scrolled across the monitor. After several minutes of thousands of mismatched configurations, a pattern of stars stopped, aligning itself over the image of the dark skies above them.

If their silence could have been even quieter, it would have been when the realization hit them. Breathing and movement ceased, frozen like the air outside the shuttle.

Janeway's cracked whisper broke the silence. "My God, Chakotay - the stars match up with Earth's cartography. We're back on Earth!"

"But the formations aren't quite matching our current star charts. Look - Polaris is off by a fraction of a degree," Chakotay pointed out, his finger drawing an invisible arc.

"However, the star is almost directly overhead," Janeway responded. "From this information - and from the looks of the terrain outside - I would say we're at Earth's North Pole..."

"...But about four hundred years ago," Chakotay finished, looking up at Janeway with shock washing over his face. "Before warp capabilities, Kathryn. I would say we're on Earth about a hundred years before First Contact."

"So we can't let anyone find us... or let them know we're here or how we got here. We've got to figure out how to get back on our own," she thought out loud, taking a couple of deep breaths. "All, right - we've been in primitive societies before and handled ourselves appropriately, even on Earth before."

Chakotay continued his scans, this time of the terrain around them. "The good news is that it seems that we're on land, not ice over water. Secondly, although there are no populated areas around, I am getting indication of a small cluster of buildings a couple hundred kilometers from here. Too far to walk in this weather, even with all-climate gear on, but I think I could probably fly the shuttle using impulse power and get us within walking distance."

"Undetected? What about the radar systems of the time - wouldn't they detect us?"

Chakotay shook his head. "No, I'll keep us low enough. We'll look for a copse of tundra trees or a rock formation where we can hide the Delta Flyer and walk to the development." He looked up at the captain. "And you can concoct some story to explain who we are and why we're here."

"Oh, thanks - I get the easy part, right?" she harrumphed.

"That's why you're the captain," he smiled back. "Don't deny it, Kathryn - you just love the diplomatic chores!"

Chakotay began testing the operating systems. Now that the Flyer had melted out of its ice capsule, main power began kicking in again. Lights flashed on the panels as he rebooted the various functions. "I think we're back in business - looks like everything is operating okay."

Kathryn settled back in her chair, keying in her own commands. "Then let's get over to this populated area and get on with finding our way back to our own time and people. While I'm happy to be back on Earth, I'm not happy that it's without our entire crew... or in the proper time period."

The impulse engines fired up, enveloping the shuttle in a bright glow. Janeway gasped as she realized how far the light might be seen. "Any way we can operate in a stealth mode, Commander?"

"As soon as we lift off, that's what I'm gearing us down to. No sense in startling the local flora and fauna and inhabitants."

The shuttle lifted up and Chakotay eased into a low flight pattern about a hundred meters off the ground. All lights on the outer hull dimmed to nothingness and only a few necessary panels remained lit within the craft. They silently skimmed over the icy terrain for about half a minute when suddenly, silhouettes from a half dozen buildings shown against the darkened skies. Warm lights shown from windows and wisps of white smoke floated upward from several chimneys.

"Well, at least it looks warm," Chakotay noted. "Now let's see where we can land and remain secluded."

Janeway was already looking across the horizon. "There!" she suddenly called out. "There's an outcropping of rocks about three hundred meters from the buildings. They look like they're about fifteen meters high - that should hide us."

"Got it," Chakotay answered in a whisper, gliding the small spaceship into the sheltered area with hardly a bump as it came to a stop. "It shouldn't be too far to walk from here."

The duo secured the shuttle and scrambled into the white all-terrain garb aboard. "Guess we can divest these things of the auxiliary oxygen packs and tubing, can't we?" Chakotay queried as he stripped his suit.

"Right," Janeway nodded. "We're going to appear crazy enough as it is. Got any ideas as to how we're going to explain ourselves?"

"That's supposed to be your job - remember?" Chakotay teased as he began fastening his suit together.

Janeway chewed on her lip. "Well, I could use a little help. You're always the one who has a story to explain everything..."

Finished with his own dressing, Chakotay helped her pull up the arms of the bulky jumpsuit. "We could take a chance and assume that it really is about four hundred years ago, making it the 1970s or thereabout. NASA's Apollo program was still going on at that time - we could say we're astronauts doing cold weather training and we've gotten lost."

Janeway shook her head. "Nope - won't work. There weren't any women astronauts in the Apollo program. Only with the space shuttle, which came about in the 1980s, did women get their chance in space with NASA."

"Then I guess we'll have to move them up, if we find we're earlier. We can always say that we're preparing for the future flights... planning ahead." He began to open the shuttle door. "Ready?"

Janeway buckled her boots but still frowned. "That might work. But what if those buildings are a military... or NASA... base? They would see right through us."

Chakotay sighed as he exited, holding out his hand to help Janeway. "Let's cross that bridge when we get there. In the meantime, we're astronauts-in-training... Ms. Janeway."

"And I guess I'm to take a back seat to the male in the twosome?" she huffed, trudging out ahead of him.

"I didn't say that," he said, catching up with her in a couple of strides. "But you know that we have to play by the rules of the time," he winked mischievously.

"We'll see," she glared at him, scrambling to stay ahead of him in the deep snow.

They were both huffing with exertion, as they got closer to the group of buildings. A large house appeared to be central in the complex, with several other large buildings surrounding it. All appeared occupied or at least seemed that way, with lights and indications of energies being expended from within.

One had tall sides and a rounded roof. "Looks like a barn of some kind," Janeway said, tracing its outline in the air. "At least it reminds me of barns on farms back in Indiana."

"And those two", Chakotay continued, indicating two other sizable facilities on the other side of the house, "look like warehouses. Or factories of the time, but with peaked roofs to keep the snow from collapsing them."

"The main house looks friendly enough," Janeway noted. "I can make out curtains behind the frosted windows and if my ears aren't playing tricks on me, I think I can hear some voices... and maybe even music."

"Is that another house on the far side of the one we see?" Chakotay asked, straining to look. "It doesn't appear to be as big, and I don't see as many lights coming from it but I'm sure it's another house." They arrived at the stoop by what appeared to be the front door of the house. Janeway took a deep breath and raised her hand to knock.

"Well, I don't think we've stumbled across a military establishment of any kind," Janeway noted. "One less concern - it just looks like ordinary people."

"Out in the middle of nowhere... close to the North Pole?" Chakotay asked. "I really can't remember anything in Earth's history that indicated any population lived up here in this time period."

"Unless you're Santa Claus," Janeway grinned as she knocked.

"Santa Claus?" Chakotay looked at her, mystified.

Janeway's eyes widened, equally surprised. "Don't tell me you never have heard of..."

The door popped open. A short woman with white hair piled up on top of her head, face and body plump and round, greeted them with a cheery smile. "Lands sakes, you two must be frozen to the bone. Get in here and let's get you warmed up." She wiped her pudgy hands on a brightly embroidered apron and waved her hands in welcome towards the warm interior of the house that smelled like gingerbread and warm apple pie.

Even as kind as she sounded, Janeway and Chakotay knew an order when they heard one. "Yes, ma'am," Chakotay nodded, carefully shaking snow off before he stepped into the bright warmth of the room.

"You're certainly kind to invite two strangers into your home," Janeway smiled, pulling off her gloves. "You don't even know who..."

"Oh, pshaw!" the older woman tittered with another wave of her hand. "I'm sure you two are from another toy company, here to find out what our 'hot' items are this year so you can start working on your own designs." Although the woman's words sounded a bit scolding, her demeanor spoke otherwise. She plumped cushions on the green and white checked sofa as the younger couple finished pealing off their cumbersome outerwear. "Do sit down - please. We can talk in a few minutes. Nick is out at the workshop right now, but should be back shortly."

Janeway and Chakotay peeled off their environmental suits and followed her suggestion, sinking into the downy, pillowed sofa, sighing in delight. Magically, as they soon as they settled back, the short woman offered them mugs of steaming hot chocolate. "Here - I know you need something to warm you up after being out in all this weather. By the way, my name is Martha; Nick is my husband, as you may have guessed. And you are?"

"Uh... I'm... um... I'm Kathryn, and this is Chakotay." Her look to Chakotay seemed to say 'Follow my lead'. "And yes - you're right; we are from a toy company. It's... it's a fairly new one, one you probably haven't heard of yet. We're with... er... um... Delta Toys."

Martha plunked her pudgy hands on ample hips and looked at Janeway and Chakotay over the tops of her round spectacles. "No, can't say that I have, but so much is changing so fast nowadays, it's hard to keep track. However, you better not be trying to hire away any of our help... or sneak away with any designs."

"Oh, no ma'am - we're not here to steal anything!" Chakotay exclaimed. "In fact, we didn't even mean to come here." Now he it was his turn to look at Janeway, assuring her that he was following along with her 'story'. "We...we were flying back from... um... Sweden to... er... San Francisco and our... um... plane had some difficulties and we had to make an emergency landing... here... at the North Pole," he hazarded.

"Oh, you poor things!" Martha exclaimed, her eyes widening in shock. "Was your plane seriously damaged? Are you all right?"

"We're fine, ma'am," Janeway nodded. "Our plane... has suffered some minor damage but nothing that we can't fix."

"Oh, several of our boys are quite mechanically adept - I'm sure they can help you get things fixed up in no time," Martha cheerfully assured them, patting their hands and taking their empty mugs from them. "Now let me go get you some more cocoa," she said as she bustled off to the kitchen area.

Janeway's eyes opened wide as she turned to her compatriot. "Chakotay, don't laugh, but I really do think that we have stumbled across Mr. And Mrs. Santa Claus!"

He let out a quiet laugh. "Oh come on, Kathryn - that story is a myth! From what I remember, Earth children learned that the story was a fairy tale before they were seven or eight. Don't tell me that you, a Starfleet captain, believe in all of that."

"All right, so there wasn't a real character, but it was the spirit of the man - known in the early days as St. Nicholas... of giving toys to children at Christmas." She stopped. "Nick - Martha said her husband's name was Nick... for Nicholas?"

"Now you are reading things into this..."

The front door burst open and a male version of Martha - round and chubby, with plump, red cheeks and twinkling eyes - entered the cheery house. He stood a few inches taller than her and sported a large bushy beard and mustache. As he stomped into the house, iridescent snowflakes twirled into the warm air of the house before disappearing into nothing. He looked over at the startled couple sitting on the sofa and let out a deep, booming laugh. He walked over to them, clapping them with a welcoming hand.

"Well, hello there, friends. Did you come from that area where I saw a bright flash a little while ago? Plane trouble, I presume. Not to worry - we'll have you fixed up in no time! In fact, Max and Neils and Tomas are going to the scene even as I speak..."

Janeway and Chakotay exchanged a horrified look right before Janeway gasped. "Oh no - I mean, that's not necessary! Please... we can take care of it by ourselves."

"Nonsense!" the jovial older man smiled. "They can fix anything! Besides, we were concerned that someone might have been hurt... didn't know that you were already in here. Neils is also our medic here and he's always ready to patch up anyone, whether one of his comrades or Mrs. Claus or myself... he's even got a way with the reindeer."

The two visitors remained frozen in shock. Chakotay finally managed to move his lips. "So... you really are Santa Claus... Jolly St. Nick...?"

The rosy-cheeked gentleman laughed again, his entire body shaking like the proverbial bowlful of jelly. "The one and only!" he leaned closer to Chakotay's stunned face. "Now don't tell me you're one of those boys who never believed in Santa Claus..."

"Uh... well..."

"Never mind!" the older man smiled. "There are plenty who do." Suddenly his face turned more somber. "In fact, there are so many now who do believe... and who really need to believe... that it's really become a problem for me."

Mrs. Claus reentered the room, this time with a tray laden with four steaming mugs, a plate of cookies and some apple tarts which she put down on a table before giving each of the others one of the mugs and keeping one for herself. "Now, now, dear," she smiled soulfully at her husband, "let's not bore our guests with our concerns."

Her husband blew gently into the hot contents of his mug. "Ah, of course you are right, my dear. After all, they have enough problems of their own." He eased his bulk into a large chair across from Janeway and Chakotay. "Please... tell us what happened and what we can do to help you."

Janeway licked her lips and glanced at Chakotay, who silently nodded to her to proceed as she saw fit. She let out a nervous twitter. "I really don't know where to begin." Again she looked at her companion for a sign of support and took a deep breath. "First off, yes - we are quite surprised to be here... and to find this... um... compound - and the two of you. It's been a long, long time..."

"Oh come now, dear - you aren't that old!" Martha said sweetly. Janeway blushed and Chakotay chuckled, gently ribbing her with his elbow, as if to say 'You started this, you get us out of it!'

Janeway shook her head. "No, no, that's not what I mean. It's just that... well, your helpers are not going to find an airplane - they're going to find a spacecraft."

Martha's face morphed from being peeved to glowing with excitement; questions began to tumble from her. "Oh - so you're not really in the toy business, hmmm? Are you two of those people who go into space that several of the countries have now and you're trying to keep all of this a secret? Were you going to the moon again and had some trouble? Are we going to have some more visitors?"

"Um... not exactly," Janeway continued. "I mean... you're correct in that we're not from a toy company. And yes, we're from space, but from far, far away."

"You mean you're extra-terrestrials?" Mr. Claus asked. "But you don't look anything like that cute little character, E.T., in the movie that came out this year." He sighed as his eyes rolled back. "Ah - that's what all the little ones... and some big people, too... want this year: a stuffed E.T.! How many million have the boys made this year, dear?"

Mrs. Claus threw up her hands and held her head. "Ach - I have no idea! And still we have requests coming in for them. Those and these new things called electronic games and Rubik's cubes..."

"Then you must be from 'a galaxy far, far away'," Santa continued. "Those are other items connected with a movie that I can't seem to make enough of." He sighed deeply. "Whatever happened to sweet little dolls and toy trains and teddy bears? Now everything the children want has something to do with a movie or television show... or needs batteries."

Chakotay leaned over to Janeway and whispered furtively. "We need Tom Paris here - this sounds like it's something right up his alley!" He leaned over to the older man and patted his knee in an attempt to console him. "Mr. Claus, if there's anything we can do... I mean you don't have to take on our problems - we can't ask that of you."

Claus looked up. "So - you are from outer space. But you look so much like us here on Earth."

Janeway cleared her throat and began to explain again. "Mr. Claus, just as we find it difficult to understand that you exist and are here and do what we thought was just a story, you might find it hard to understand about us. You see, we are from Earth - but Earth of the future. We were traveling in space - a long, long way from Earth - when we became trapped in something that has brought is through time. Uh... what year is this exactly?" she gulped.

"Why it's almost Christmas in the year 1982 of the Christian era," Mrs. Claus responded.

"And, according to your calendar, we're from the year 2378," Janeway said.

The Clauses gasped. "How... how can that be?" Mr. Claus finally managed to ask.

"Strange things happen in space," Chakotay said gently. "People on Earth are just now - in 1982 - beginning to understand how much they need to learn."

"But you're lost - how can you get back?" Mrs. Claus' concern showed in new furrows on her face.

"I'm sure we'll find a way," Janeway said, trying to comfort her hostess. "But it is going to take some time. And our biggest problem will be leaving without being detected. We don't want to alarm any more people than your little group here. As it is, I'm afraid that our entry into Earth's atmosphere may have been detected already."

"Oh, we always can blame it on the aurora borealis," said Santa. "We use that as an excuse when I'm out doing test drives in my sleigh before Christmas Eve - wouldn't want to let people know that I ride around at other times, too," he chuckled.

"One problem solved, three dozen left," Chakotay sighed as he leaned back into the sofa's cushions. "But I'm sure Kathryn and I can manage all right."

"I do wish I could offer more help, son," Santa bemoaned to Chakotay. "But we're far behind in our toy production and Christmas is just five days away. Why, I could work from now into next year and not have everything ready."

"Oh, my - what seems to be your problem?" Janeway perked up in concern.

Santa sadly shook his head. "Every year seems to get more and more hectic - more and more children to reach, limited labor and resources on our part... and definitely a finite time frame for delivering everything." He looked up, pushing his glasses up his cherry-round nose. "Not that I'm complaining, you understand - why, it's Mrs. Claus's and my pleasure to be able to bring joy to all the children of the world each year. But we and our staff can only do so much." He held his head in his hands. "I so wish we could help you more, too - you seem to be fine folks."

An eerie silence overtook the cozy scene, with Santa momentarily lost in his thoughts while his wife stood behind him, giving his shoulder a loving squeeze.

Suddenly, Janeway jumped up, her eyes wide with inspiration. "Mr. Claus, I have an idea that might help you out. Do you mind if I confer with my colleague for a few moments?" She grabbed Chakotay's hand and pulled him off the sofa.

The older couple looked at each other, perplexed. "By all means," said Santa, turning to his wife. "May they go into the kitchen, dear?"

"Of course," she nodded. "Just don't mind the mess - I'm working on a batch of candy canes!"

Janeway smiled and practically dragged Chakotay to the large kitchen. Hundreds of candy canes lay in rows, drying into form and decorated cookies and bonbons filled up nearly every inch of counter space that wasn't occupied by bowls and beaters and pans.

"Kathryn, I don't like the feeling I'm getting," he whispered. "You're not going to break any more rules, are you?"

The captain gave a furtive glance back towards the sitting area with the Clauses. "That's just it, Chakotay - we've... okay, I have... already broken the temporal prime directive by telling these people we're from the future..."

"You certainly have," he nodded. "And something tells me that you are about to compound the infraction."

Janeway twisted her lips and bit down on the upper one; her eyes twinkled with anticipation. "Yes, I am. But hear me through before you say anything."

"Oh, boy - I can tell already that this is going to be up there with one of the most hair-brained ideas you've had in almost seven years in the Delta Quadrant." He leaned back against the counter edge and crossed his arms. "Let's hear it."

"All right, now let's think about this for a minute." Janeway began to pace back and forth in front of her first officer. "At the time we left Earth - 2371 by Earth's calendar - we know that the St. Nicholas or Santa Claus legend still existed. A few traditions had changed, but the basic idea that he delivered presents all around the world was still there."

"So you're saying that these people are immortal?" Chakotay asked.

Janeway continued her back and forth thinking, waving a hand at him. "Okay, so that idea is a bit fuzzy - I haven't worked out the logic behind that yet..."

"Logic?" her friend smirked. "Kathryn, nothing about this situation is logical!"

"Whatever!" she scowled. "But, Santa's complaint right now is that the population of the world's children is burgeoning and he's really in a bind to produce enough toys and get them delivered." She stopped for a moment. "And we know that isn't going to get any better for almost two hundred years, when Earth begins to colonize off-planet."

Janeway drummed her fingers against her lips as she resumed her pacing. "Something happened to allow Santa to continue down through the years - we know this because the story still lives on... and children have not lost their faith in Santa Claus." She stopped in front of Chakotay and placed her hands on his shoulders; her blue eyes drilled the deep brown of his. "Chakotay, I think that's why we're here - we've been sent back in time to save Santa Claus!" She clapped her hand over his mouth as he began to speak, to shush him while she continued.

"We have the means of helping him. You know that in a few minutes, those helpers - elves, I'm presuming - who went off to look for our spacecraft are going to be back here and telling Santa and his wife what they found. Their disbelief about finding the Delta Flyer and seeing our presence is going to be just as great as is ours in finding out that there really is a Santa Claus. The temporal prime directive will have been broken, so I don't see anything wrong with breaking it just a bit more."

Chakotay broke away from her grasp. "Kathryn, we don't dare do anything more to contaminate the timeline..."

"Who says we're contaminating it if we were sent back to do this very thing? What if Santa disappears if we don't help? That would be contaminating the timeline!"

Chakotay's eyes narrowed as he backed away. "Kathryn, you're not thinking logically."

"No, I'm not. I'm doing something that you've told me from time to time that I need to do - that I need to think with my heart, not my head."

Janeway's next actions led in the same uncharacteristic direction her words were taking - she went over to Chakotay and wrapped her arms around him, leaning her cheek against his broad chest before looking up at him. "Chakotay, I think we should introduce the Clauses to some twenty-fourth century technology to help them keep up with the demands of their work."

"You want to do what?" he yelped in surprise. He jumped away from her but caught her hands between his. "You can't do that, Kathryn - that's against everything either of us has ever been taught!"

"But... as I said, I think that this is the reason we're here." She feigned a pout before continuing with glee. "All the elements are already here on Earth and actually the groundwork has already been laid by several theoretical physicists of the time. We're just going to push up the time frame a wee bit for a so-called imaginary figure in Earth's history. Chakotay, just think of all the toys and games Santa Claus could make with a replicator... and how fast his sleigh could go if it had a bit of a boost with sub-warp impulse speed." Her eyes lit up. "Or maybe even a small warp core to give him warp speed!"

"What? Kathryn, you really have gone off the deep end this time!" Chakotay's scream of disbelief at her suggestions brought the Clauses out to the kitchen.

"Is everything all right?" Mrs. Claus asked meekly, wringing her hands. "I hope you two nice folks aren't having a disagreement."

"Not at all!" Janeway flashed a triumphant smile at the older couple and waltzed over to them. "In fact, I think we may have a found a few ways to help you... and then we can look into how we can get back to our own time."

"Kathryn..." Chakotay's voice was ominous with warning.

Janeway waved him off. "I'm the captain, Chakotay. Your words are duly noted but I've made my decision and I'll take blame for any resulting repercussions."

"Whatever are you talking about?" Mr. Claus asked. "How can you help us if you have problems of your own?"

"The same way you have been giving to others all through the years... and will continue to do so," Janeway smiled.

"So... we are still around in your time?" Mrs. Claus asked, her eyes wide with surprise.

"You certainly are," Janeway smiled. "And just as strongly as ever. But, with what I'm going to propose, you must know that it's imperative for you to keep all of it a secret - at least for about a hundred years."

With wide-eyed wonderment, the Clauses listened as Kathryn Janeway outlined her idea to them. For someone who at first seemed unfamiliar with technical jargon, Santa nodded with thoughtful understanding as Janeway presented her ideas.

Chakotay resumed his position leaning against the countertop, his face initially frozen in a dark grimace. His demeanor softened as he saw the Clauses' faces - and that of Kathryn Janeway - light up with delight and joy as she explained her plans.

"Oh, my dear Kathryn," Santa beamed. "What wonderful ideas! And I think I have just the elf to help you implement your plans. We just took on a new fellow by the name of Zefram - he's got all sorts of wild schemes about new technologies. I'm sure he'll understand what you're talking about and can help you and Chakotay implement them. Oh, my - this will make our lives so much easier!"

The jolly man turned to his wife and grabbed her around the middle, swinging her around and around in ecstatic merriment. "Just think, Martha - we'll never run out of toys or energy as long was we have...er...um... what was that energy source?"

"Dilithium crystals," Chakotay answered for him. "I'm sure we can spare you enough to get you through another century, at which time they will have been discovered."

Their discussion was quickly interrupted as a blast of cold air came into the kitchen, followed by several excited voices. "Santa, Santa - we found out what caused the bright light!"

Three elfin men tumbled over each other as they ran into the kitchen area and they skidded to a halt. "Oh - we have company," the first one in the trio managed to utter.

"Yes, we do, Max," Santa smiled. "This is Miss Kathryn and Mr. Chakotay. It's their vessel that you found."

"It's a plane but it isn't a plane," the second elf said, his face contorted in confusion. "We couldn't find any engines or propellers or landing gear. Very strange, indeed!"

"That's because it's a spaceship," Santa continued.

"A spaceship?" the three asked in unison.

In her usual manner, Mrs. Claus offered the diminutive fellows mugs of hot cocoa. "Yes indeedy - they are some friends who have come from the future to help us with out backlog of work," she smiled.

"Ah ha! Zefram's plan worked!" grinned the elf bring up the rear, nodding knowingly to his two friends.

The four taller humans cast shocked looks amongst themselves, mouths gaping in astonishment.

Santa gulped and managed to speak first. "Neils, are you telling us that Zefram did something that caused Kathryn and Chakotay to come from the future to us? What kind of magic is he playing with?"

"Oh, it's not magic," interrupted the third elf, who by deduction, had to be Tomas. "He is most talented and devised an electromagnetic fluctuation in the subspace dynamics to cause a phase variance in the temporal confinement field. This formed a gap in the space-time continuum and allowed our visitors to come through and find us."

"Come again?" asked Santa, who shook his head in amazement at Tomas' explanation.

Janeway leaned over to Chakotay and whispered with a grin. "I think we may have found a match for Seven in the twentieth century with Tomas."

"Oh, I say we introduce her to Zefram... he's the mastermind behind all of this! Something tells me that he would leave our Borg crewmember speechless," Chakotay chortled back. "Just think - Santa has elves with graduate degrees in quantum mechanics!"

Kathryn's eyes widened as something dawned on her. "Zefram? His name is Zefram? Chakotay, you don't think that..." They looked at each other, momentarily in disbelief before they shook their heads in a deliberate negative, muttering a resounding 'no' together.

Chakotay turned to the three small men. "Well, I'd like to meet this friend of yours. If he brought us here, I have an idea he might know how we can get back to our time - that is, after we've implemented some changes here to help all of you with your supply and delivery problems." He winked at Kathryn. "Want to come with us, Miss Kathryn?"

"It was my idea, wasn't it?" she glared at him mischievously, before turning to their host and hostess. "That is... if you want us to help, Santa."

The jovial man opened his arms wide, grabbing each of his guests towards him in big hugs. "Ach - you two are the answer to an old man's dreams! Of course you may go with Max, Neils and Tomas and see what this wise Zefram has to offer. I had a feeling when I took him on that he would bring a new dynamic to our work." He walked them over to a door in the corner of the kitchen, with the elfin trio following them. "Take this door - it will lead you through a sheltered passage to the workshop and you won't have to face the wind and cold again."

"And I'll dry out your outerwear so that it's ready for you when you need to go out to your spacecraft," Martha Claus called out to them.

~ ^ ~

So it was that Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay worked with Santa Claus and his elves to set up a replicator in the workshop at the North Pole. While new toys and games were developed the old fashioned way, algorithms were designed from the prototypes for the replicators to do their job with the existing toys, with capabilities for new ones to be added, thus insuring that no boy or girl was ever left without their Christmas wishes.

As for Santa's sleigh, although he continued to use the reindeer for show, the animals were never overworked again, for the propulsion of Santa's transport came from a unit no bigger than a microwave oven - its own miniature warp core. The annual transit around the Earth could be made with ease, regardless of the weather... although those pesky aurora borealis did sometimes provide for a bit of quirkiness, like the year they messed up Santa's chronometer and he appeared in Australia a day early. Ah, well - those Aussies always were a bit strange!

Only when Kathryn and Chakotay were satisfied that all was running smoothly and that their technology from the future was in safe hands with the four techno-savvy elves did they turn their attention to making the needed minor repairs on the Delta Flyer.

Then Zefram showed them how he had created the time rift. Using laser-induced sub-harmonic emissions, he had intermixed polarities in a subspace slipstream. He calculated for their reentry into their own future time frame by using his own space/time calculation derivations. The young man's capabilities so amazed the couple from the future that they tried to talk him into coming back with them. But he told them quite cryptically that if he did that, then the temporal prime directive truly would be violated.

The time to say their good-byes arrived and Kathryn and Chakotay each found it difficult to give up the wonderful experiences they had had during their time at the North Pole. But Christmas Eve was only hours away and they knew that Santa had much work to be done before he took off in his 'new' sleigh.

The plan was that Zefram would create the time rift just as Santa took off on his annual trip to hide any disturbance made by the Flyer going through the time portal. All tracking systems on Earth would be on Santa and a little blip would barely be noticed - any meteor entering the atmosphere would cause more attention.

Santa and several of his elves added the last few things to his sleigh for his initial run of the night. With warp capabilities, he could return for refills many times. Martha Claus stood nearby, trying to brush away tears as her guests from the future ventured towards their own transport. She walked over to them and gave each of them a big hug then turned to the two small women standing behind her, their arms laden with several boxes and baskets. "Here - Charlotte and Yvette and I have put together a few things for you and your crew. I'm sure that people in the twenty-fourth century still like cookies and cake and candy?"

Janeway's eye lit up. "Especially if it's chocolate!"

"Oh, yes - there's plenty of chocolate!" Mrs. Claus assured her. "That's one thing I found out very quickly about you, Kathryn... how you like your chocolate!"

"It's a wonder I haven't gained ten pounds here," Janeway grinned.

"Not the way you have been working," Santa chimed in. turning his attention to Janeway and Chakotay. "I don't know how we can even begin to thank you for everything."

Chakotay clasped his arm around the short man. "Just knowing that we have helped keeps smiles on children's faces is worth it," he smiled. "And also that your colleagues are helping us go home to our own people. Although..." He sighed deeply. "Although I do wish that we could stay... could be back on Earth, but in our own time."

"I have no doubt that your journey will be coming to its end soon, Chakotay. Something tells me that you will figure a way 'home' much sooner than you planned," Santa answered comfortingly. "Now... I think it's time for us to get on with our trips!" the older man grinned, hoisting himself up into his sleigh.

The door to the Delta Flyer glided open and Janeway and Chakotay began to climb in as Martha Claus' voice called out to them. "Oh... there are a couple special gifts especially for each of you in those baskets. Don't let them get lost!" A mysterious smile lit up her face.

"Thank you - we'll find them," Kathryn called out as the door began closing. "And thank you again... for everything!"

Ignition sequences fired up in tandem in the two vessels. As Santa's sleigh began its ascent into the night skies, a dark ribbon appeared a few degrees over the eastern horizon and Zefram signaled the Delta Flyer to head towards the rift... and the Delta Quadrant in the twenty-fourth century.

~ The End ~

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