The U.S.S. Voyager finds itself in a system where a planet might have existed—but doesn’t. Where the planet should have been, millions and then billions of people are appearing from nowhere and dying in the vacuum of space.
To solve the mystery and save billions of lives, Captain Kathryn Janeway will have to face multiple, alternate versions of herself and the crew of Voyager. Janeway will have to find a way to work with her alternate selves, with whom she shares much but each of whom has a different agenda. At stake is the survival of Voyager and the lives of billions of innocent people.
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Time: The eighty-seventh shift Location: 2,410 parallel universes to the right of ours CAPTAIN KATHRYN JANEWAY SAT IN THE COMMAND chair, staring at the debris field in the forward viewscreen, the apparent origin of the strange subspace pulses Voyager had been experiencing at regular intervals since they had arrived in this sector. She twisted her head slightly. Her braid was too tight, and when she had pulled it into its customary crown around her head, she pulled too hard. Now, with the debris before them, she didn't have time to take care of the irritation. Long-range scans had uncovered mostly mysteries about this dense cloud. Tuvok had already determined that the debris field did not have the mass of a planet, though it had a strange, almost planetary appearance. It was compressed at the poles but broad at the equators, and had a cohesiveness that was difficult to understand, given its lack of mass. It was a strange object to find in an asteroid belt where a fifth planet had once been; strange to find anywhere, actually, but here there was something particularly unsettling about it. Something ghostly. The mass of debris did not have the necessary gravity to produce the orbit or spin it was undergoing, making Janeway wonder if there was a local gravitational anomaly that would explain both the appearance of this peculiar object and the strange subspace pulses emanating from it. At the left helm position in front of her, Tom Paris rubbed the back of his neck above his orange and black uniform jacket as he stared up at the screen. To his right, second helmsman Ensign Parvoneh studied her control panels and arrays. Voyager was approaching the debris field at a quarter impulse, cautiously edging closer to the source of the pulses. Commander Chakotay sat to her left, his back rigid as he surveyed the scene. "Captain," Ensign Harry Kim said, "one minute until the next subspace pulse." "Prepare our sensor array," Janeway said. "We need to collect data on as many spectra as possible while that pulse is being emitted." She stared at the debris field as it slowly grew on the screen. There was something disquieting about it, and the disquiet came not just from its scientific anomaly. If she had to use an unscientific description, she would have chosen one from her North American ancestry: A ghost walked on my grave. She didn't like that thought. She stood and moved up to the communication post. "Ensign Kim, how are those spectrometric analyses of the debris field coming?" asked Janeway. They had been beyond scanning range during the most recent subspace pulse. "Captain," Kim said softly. "I--" Then he stopped. Janeway looked at him. His face was pale. Sweat dotted it. Then he turned green. She thought he was going to be ill. He gripped the console, his knuckles white, his gaze fixed. "Ensign?" she asked. He didn't seem to hear her. "Ensign, what is it?" She used her command voice, trying to recall him to a sense of where he was and what he was doing. "The mass . . . the sphere . . ." he managed to say, then gulped and closed his eyes. He swayed, but remained standing. "Hold it together, Harry," Paris said. "What did you find?" Janeway didn't mind the breach of protocol. It was more important to learn what Harry had seen than to learn it in proper fashion. Paris and Kim were friends, and Paris knew he, if anyone, could reach Kim. But Kim, for the first time since he set foot on Voyager, appeared unable to answer. Whatever he had seen had bothered him so deeply he could not find the words. Janeway moved back to her own chair, sat down pulled up her science console, and punched in the coordinates. As she did so, she snapped, "Tuvok, tell me what these readings are. And someone see to Ensign Kim." "Captain." Tuvok's voice sounded cold, almost strangled. "Captain," he said slowly, his voice just barely under control, "the mass of debris in the shape of the planet is composed of organic material." "Organic material?" Janeway asked. "Is it alive?" "No, Captain," Tuvok said. "It comprises, in my estimate, over three hundred billion separate humanoid forms. All dead." "Three hundred billion?" Janeway's mind couldn't grasp what Tuvok had just said. Three hundred billion. That number had no meaning in her mind. She turned to face the front screen, where the dark round planet-sized mass hung in front of the ship in space. Billions of humanoid bodies. All floating in space in the shape of a planet. No. That wasn't possible. It had to be a hallucination. She glanced at her own console. Her readings came out the same way. Her fingers shook. She glanced at her bridge crew, her mind not grasping what was on the screen as anything possible. Paris had closed his eyes. Chakotay stared coldly at the screen. Parvoneh had tears streaming down her face. Kim was beginning to regain control. His skin was still pale, and he seemed vaguely sick, but his dark eyes focused on her when she looked at him. In them, she saw understanding and an incomprehensible sorrow. "I'm sorry, Captain," Kim said, his voice shaky. She wasn't sure if he was talking about his failure to respond to her earlier question, his emotional reaction, or her sudden realization of what was going on. He knew, just as she did, that no one on the crew had ever seen this kind of slaughter before. "Are you fit to continue duty, Ensign?" she asked, unwilling-unable-to think about the emotional ramifications of their discovery. If she did, she would have a response like Kim's, and she couldn't afford to. She needed to maintain tight control of herself in order to maintain tight control of her ship. Until she knew what caused those deaths, and those bodies to be piled the way they were, Voyager herself could be in danger. "Ensign Kim," she said again. "Are you fit?" "Aye, Captain," he said slowly. "I'm fit." "Good. Magnify--" "Captain," Tuvok broke in. "Another subspace pulse is commencing." Suddenly the mass of bodies vanished in an eyeburning flash of white light, and then the entire scene was replaced by a strange sight. To the left, a stretch of repeating asteroid belts like the one she had seen in the viewscreen before the pulse, diminishing with distance, each second one with a Voyager drifting near it. There must have been at least a hundred or more asteroid belts, but she was very glad to see that there was only one mass of bodies. And that was in front of her ship and her ship only. Only one. In front of her ship. She didn't know what that meant. Beyond the hundred or so asteroid belt images, a shimmering string of ocean-blue, white clouded planets, lovely as mirages or heavens, slightly overlapping, disappeared into the distance, an infinity of mirror images facing each other, limited only by the distance of vision. To the right was another beautiful string of planets curling off into another distance. Above every second planet was another Voyager. Not every planet, but every other planet, as if there was a gap in the reflective mirror. Janeway instantly wondered why every planet and asteroid belt didn't have a Voyager. If this were a trick of light somehow, how to explain the deletion? The scene lasted for what seemed to be an eternity to Janeway, but was only a few seconds. Then space returned to normal. "Captain!" Kim's shaky voice had recovered much of its power. "Another three and a half billion bodies have joined the mass in front of us. And--" His voice broke again for just a moment. Then he said words that Janeway found very hard to imagine. "They're all alive."
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