Gray Mode
by Abbey Carter

Neelix finds Captain Janeway in the mess hall. She stands rapt, eyes burning with mad science. Her shoulders twist forward and back, the ring of a steel blade assaults his ears. Neelix stumbles forward. The knife, precisely held, speeds past the captain's rolled sleeve, and the crease of her pale and graying arm.

His scream is barely enough to pause her fascination, not nearly enough to clot the blood that spills onto his hands, which force the bewildered captain to the floor. He follows trembling. The knife scrapes a pot, cries out. Frantic, his fingers press the arm firmly, itch of blood.

"I worry," he manages to choke out.

"Don't," the voice throbs.

He licks the blood away, the metallic scarlet blood. Notes the hip that rises under him as he strokes the hollow of her elbow. And as she kisses him, bitter blood paints the peeling edges of her mouth.

 

Neelix lies against his captain's warm breast. He knows certain things are not meant to be real. Not this ship, not this reality, certainly not the cries that shook his own body to release. He is not the one who should be lying here, but she pulls him tighter, thumbs his whiskers and sits forward, still tracing his face.

"Why? Why the knife, Captain?"

"I wanted to see what color I bleed." Her brief smile is that of a scientist satisfied.

 

She changed when Chakotay died, Neelix has decided. The captain had been herself, even after discovering that she, and the entire ship, were soon-to-melt clones. He had considered the news in his quarters and thought of Rhinax. The planet disappeared in a single flash of light. Human wraiths of gray ash haunted him, long before Jetrel appeared. He had understood when she insisted on heading towards Earth; understood that it takes some longer than others to realize that home is no more. Chakotay was that final wraith.

 

The cargo bay rocks, Neelix turns to find her attempting to stack bodies. He has given up the search for more supplies and turns to the large row.

"I suppose decomposition is quick, Captain?"

"Yes."

Her face contorts in drooping gray as she struggles to speak.

"Too difficult. To bury. We need a tarp or large-"

When the alarms sound, she sprints to the bridge, leaving him to imagine the long scar in the fold of her arm.

 

This death is not sudden. Neelix finds it amazing that even as the power falters, and the ship threatens to explode with death and anti-matter, some things remain constant. She takes his hand, entering the mess, and he can almost pretend that this is any other mission, any other catastrophe, and that he is the one who needs comfort. Itís strange, feeling their life drip away, as he embraces her.

"We lost Paris."

"Do you need me in Sickbay?"

"Maybe, just. This shift, then a meeting."

She turns away, pulls at her uniform, and leaves.

At the meeting, she appoints him Chief Medical Officer, and he decides that maybe, just maybe, they can make it home.

 

He is on the bridge as the shields begin to collapse, as the core threatens to explode. He quickly catalogues his life: youth on Talax, the bright sun of lazy afternoons, Rhinax, Kes, and the sureness of the Captainís hand on his shoulder.

Harry yells frantically.

Captain Janeway grits what remains of her teeth, her arms clench the chair. And as the alarms silence, Neelix sees her eyes fall backward, head go limp.

He takes her from the Bridge, slung over his shoulder. He remembers when he carried Leola Root on this shoulder, when things were normal, and he had his captain. As he lays her among the crew, he quickly reasons that the other Voyager has surely survived, surely achieved great speeds.

He must leave quickly. Soon he is due on the Bridge, and his casserole is burning.

 

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