The Doctor's face became angry as he looked at the monitor in sickbay. "If this is someone's idea of a prank, then it's in extremely poor taste!" he exclaimed as he read the message on the screen.
"What's the matter, Doctor?" Janeway asked as she crossed to where the EMH stood fuming. Seven approached from the office doorway, and the two women peered over the Doctor's shoulder.
"It says it's from Commander Chakotay," the EMH announced in disgust as the women read the message for themselves.
Janeway's face became pale as she noted the security code at the bottom of the short note. "Janeway to Tuvok," she called, hitting her comm badge.
"Tuvok here, Captain. Is there a problem?" the Vulcan enquired.
"I need you in sickbay immediately. There seems to have been a security breach," Janeway responded urgently.
"I'm on my way. Tuvok out."
Janeway shook her head as she tried to imagine anyone on her ship playing such a cruel joke. She couldn't think of any reason why someone would pretend to send a message purporting to be from the comatose Commander. "Who knew of your intention to treat Lieutenant Paris?" she asked the Doctor.
"Just the three of us, Captain. In fact, I'd only decided to go ahead with the treatment shortly before I sent you my message."
As Janeway and the EMH continued their discussion, a now silent figure sat forlornly on the floor just a few feet away from them. Chakotay's face was streaked with tears, his eyes puffy and red. He'd been sitting in a daze, unable to think of anything except Tom's frightened face and his tormented cries as he'd disappeared. As the voices nearby finally filtered through to him, the Commander rubbed at his eyes and took a deep breath. If he was going to find Tom, he had to regain his equilibrium, he decided.
He took another deep breath, and stood up. His eyes travelled to where Tom's physical form lay, and he walked over to the bed. He reached out to run his fingers gently across Tom's cheek, but sighed at the touch. Tom's body felt no more alive than Janeway had felt to him on the bridge, but still Chakotay caressed the face of the man he knew he was in love with. He moved his hand up to stroke the pilot's blond hair, then bent forward to kiss Tom's lips. "I'll get you back, Tom," he promised in a whisper. "I'll find you and bring you home."
As he kissed Tom once more, the doors to sickbay opened and Tuvok entered. Chakotay straightened as the Vulcan approached the Captain.
"You wished to see me on a security issue, Captain," Tuvok stated as he joined the small group still standing near the computer terminal.
"Yes, I did," Janeway replied, and proceeded to inform her Chief of Security of the preceding events. "The security code at the bottom *is* Commander Chakotay's," she finished.
The Doctor looked up surprised at Janeway's statement. "It *is* the Commander's security code? Who could have known that?" he asked.
"That is what I shall endeavour to find out, Doctor," Tuvok answered. "In theory, the Captain should be the only person, other than the Commander, who knows it, but that would appear not to be the case." He turned to address Janeway. "Has this code been used before?" he asked.
"Actually, no, Tuvok, it hasn't. As you know, standard procedure is to change the codes at random intervals to prevent security breaches. The Commander's code was changed a few hours before he fell into a coma. Although he was aware of the new code, he's never had chance to use it."
As Chakotay listened to the conversation, he realised that he had to make his presence known. He decided he would have to access the computer from the Doctor's office as the group at the other terminal made that one impossible for him to get to.
As the Captain and Tuvok continued to discuss their concerns, Chakotay composed a new message. He returned to the main part of sickbay just as the EMH displayed it for all to read.
*** Captain, Tom is in danger. The Doctor must not continue his treatment. If he does, Tom could die.
There has been no security breach, it really *is* me sending these messages. I offer you the following proof of my identity:- Kathryn, you recently told me of an embarrassing incident you had last year, during the discussions on Jantar. It was something that you had omitted from your official report. I can relate the details to you privately if you wish. Just voice your decision; I can hear you. You do not need to use the computer to reply.
The Doctor's experimental drug that we were exposed to somehow enabled Tom and I to exist in a kind of dream state. When the Doctor gave Tom the medication a short while ago, he disappeared. I have to find him and guide him back to the conscious world. Any more treatment to his physical body will interfere with my ability to locate his mental one.
It's important that you believe me, Kathryn. Just say the word, and I will tell you the tale of the Jantarian bathroom - Commander Chakotay ***
"Captain?" Tuvok questioned as he took in Janeway's stunned expression. "Would this incident on Jantar be known to anyone other than Commander Chakotay?"
"No, Tuvok, it wouldn't. I was on my own when it occurred, and I haven't told anyone about it except Chakotay."
"And there is no record of it in either the official logs or your personal ones?"
"No, it hasn't been recorded anywhere," Janeway replied, shaking her head.
"Then, I must conclude that the messages *are* from Commander Chakotay," Tuvok stated.
Janeway turned to face the EMH. "Could this dream state be a possibility?" she asked him.
"Well actually, Captain, Seven and I were discussing something similar before I contacted you."
"Yes, Captain," Seven confirmed. "After studying their brain wave patterns, I came to the conclusion that Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris are connected by a shared dream."
Janeway nodded slowly as she thought about Seven's theory. It was unusual, but she was used to strange events. 'Weird' wasn't just part of the job, it seemed to be an everyday occurrence in the Delta Quadrant. She rubbed her hand across her face as she reached a decision. "Very well," she began as she looked around sickbay. "Chakotay," she called out. "You need to tell us what to do. You don't want Tom to be given any more medication, but what about you? Is there anything we can do to help you?" She turned her attention to the screen, as a message started to appear.
*** I will have to find Tom on my own. There's nothing you can do to help in that respect. ***
"How long will it take, Chakotay?" Janeway asked.
*** I don't know. I will have to prepare myself first, then it could take anything from an hour to a few days or more before I find him. I won't be able to contact you once I start the search, but if you watch the Doctor's monitors you may be able to chart our progress. ***
The Doctor read the message and moved across to Tom's bed. "There has been a complete change in the Lieutenant's brain wave patterns," he reported. "They no longer match those of the Commander. It's possible they will begin to return to their previous similarities the closer Commander Chakotay gets to reaching Mr. Paris."
Janeway nodded, then continued her questions. "Once you've found Tom, will you both regain consciousness, Chakotay?"
*** We should, but there are no guarantees. First, I have to convince Tom to do as I say. That may not be very easy as he was extremely frightened when he disappeared. There's a real possibility that the mood enhancer may have heightened his fears. If they overwhelm him, I may not be able to bring him back. ***
"When will you begin your attempt?"
*** I can begin now. I will have to stay close to Tom's physical body to keep me focused. It would be helpful if my own bed was moved next to Tom's and a soundproof force field was erected around them. I don't want any sudden noise to distract me. You will have to allow me time to reach Tom's side before you erect it, though. Once it's in place, I would also like the lights reduced to twenty percent. ***
"Okay," Janeway agreed. "Is there anything else?" she asked as she gestured to Tuvok and Seven to arrange the beds.
*** All that I ask is that you don't try to wake either of us. ***
"We won't be able to leave you indefinitely, Chakotay. There may come a point where we will *have* to intervene."
*** No, Captain. Please don't. If I am unsuccessful in getting Tom to listen to me, then I intend to stay here. I have no desire to return without him. ***
"That's not an option, Chakotay. We need you here. If you're able to return, then I expect you to do so. With or without Tom. That's an order."
*** I'm sorry, Captain, either both of us will return or neither. I can't leave him to spend eternity frightened and alone. Please understand. ***
"I'm trying to, Chakotay, but it's difficult. This ship needs both of you, but one is better than none. I'm sure you understand that."
*** Yes, I do. But there's something *you* need to understand. I love Tom. I won't abandon him. ***
"So, if you're unsuccessful we're supposed to just let you die?"
*** Our physical bodies will eventually die, yes, but not our spirits. They will continue. And I will continue to try and reach Tom until I succeed. Even if it does take all eternity. ***
Janeway read the last message and sighed. She knew there was no way of convincing the Commander to change his plans. Chakotay could be extremely obstinate when he chose. "Very well, Chakotay, we'll do as you say. If you're ready, we'll activate the force field one minute after your final message."
*** Thank you, Captain. I'm ready. If the Spirits are willing, Tom and I will be back with you soon. End of messages. ***
"Good luck, Chakotay," Janeway wished him sincerely.
As the others rejoined the Captain at the computer terminal, Chakotay crossed to where Tom's bed was now pushed up next to his own. He sat down on the edge of Tom's and gazed down at the still forms.
"Erecting force field now," the Doctor stated.
Chakotay heard a slight buzz and the air shimmered, then all was quiet. He could see the Captain and the others talking, but inside the force field it was silent. A few moments later, as the lights lowered, Chakotay felt a small shiver of apprehension run through him. He quickly pushed it aside, knowing there was no room for doubts now. He had to be confident and in control, for Tom's sake and his own.
He looked at the positioning of the beds and decided there was enough room for him to lie down between the two occupants. He needed to be comfortable and that appeared to be the best place. He edged his way carefully until he was in position, then turned on his side to face Tom.
Chakotay breathed deeply as he willed himself to relax, then focused his thoughts on the younger man. The quietness and the low lights helped him to quickly achieve a tranquil state of mind, and it wasn't long before he felt the first faint whispers of another presence.
As the feeling increased, sickbay began to 'dissolve' around him to be replaced with an unfamiliar cold, grey and barren landscape. Chakotay found himself laying stretched out on the hard ground, alone. He climbed to his feet and surveyed his new surroundings.
It was a desolate, lonely place and he shivered involuntarily. The sky was as grey as the ground, and a cold wind was blowing. A sudden gust whipped up the dry dirt in front of him, blinding him momentarily as the dust filled his eyes. He rubbed it away, keeping his head bowed until the wind dropped and he could see to move forward.
"Tom!" he called loudly. "Tom! It's Chakotay! Where are you?"
The only answer was a low rumble of thunder that grew until it became a loud, almost deafening roar. Then, a sudden flash of lightning illuminated the area and Chakotay thought he saw a figure silhouetted in the distance. He stumbled forwards through the growing gloom, hoping against hope that it was Tom ahead.
As he walked on, the scene around him began to change. Thunder still boomed and the sky was still streaked with lightning, but dark clouds seemed to be closing in on him, adding even more to the air of menace.
Chakotay peered through the darkness to where he thought he'd seen the figure, but all that was there were twisted pieces of metal lying scattered around on the dusty ground. He stepped forward again and his foot hit something soft. He looked down and a sudden wave of nausea hit him. His foot was resting against the bloodied corpse of what appeared, by the uniform, to be a young Starfleet officer. Chakotay looked away quickly, determined to put the sight of the man's mangled body from his mind. He had to concentrate on Tom, nothing else.
He pressed on, fighting his way through the wind that was increasing in intensity, and the light rain that was starting to fall. The ground was becoming increasingly rough, and he had to pick his way carefully through scattered rocks. When he reached a small boulder, he stopped.
"Tom!" he called again. "Tom!" He listened carefully, and as the thunder died down a moment, he thought he heard something. It was faint, but he was fairly sure he hadn't imagined it. "Tom! It's Chakotay. Tell me where you are. Please!"
This time he was certain. He *had* heard something. It was a low, sobbing sound that was drifting to him on the wind. Chakotay stood still as he tried to determine from which direction the sound was coming. It seemed to be from his left, so he turned and began to head that way.
The light rain that had been falling became heavy, and Chakotay winced as it stung his face. But he wasn't going to be deterred. His clothes were soaked and he shivered with cold, but he pressed on regardless of his own discomfort.
As he drew closer to the anguished sobbing, the rain suddenly ceased. A few wisps of mist began to drift around his feet, increasing until he could no longer see the ground. His pace slowed, but he continued forward, carefully probing the way with the toe of his shoe.
As the mist swirled up around him, the sobbing increased in volume. Before long it was a soul-piercing wail that threatened to undo Chakotay's attempts to remain calm. He stopped again, his heart pounding as he once more called Tom's name.
When the only answer was more heart-wrenching cries, he edged forwards, hoping he would soon find the source of the disturbing sounds. The mist thickened further, causing Chakotay's view of his surroundings to become completely obscured, and he had no choice but to stop. "Tom, please, listen to me!" Chakotay called out into the thick blanket of fog that enveloped him. "I've come to take you home, Tom."
He was certain that as he'd spoken the crying had lessened so, encouraged, he tried again. "Tom, it's Chakotay. Don't be frightened. I'm going to take you away from here. Trust me."
At the sound of Chakotay's gentle voice, the sobbing gradually died until it became just a small whimper.
"Tom, please. I love you."
There was silence, so Chakotay took a step forward, and as he did, the fog began to lift. Looking at the sight before him, he smiled.