Lines in the Sand: The Darkest Hour, part III

by Seema

Even after all this time, Astrometrics manages to thrill on an atavistic level. I love gazing out at the vast expanse of star maps, each of them unique and different. When I was a boy, I would pour over the maps, memorizing galaxy after galaxy, imagining the day I would take a shuttle up there myself to see for myself.

Now I stand in front of a familiar star system, noting the various constellations once used for guidance by pre-warp civilizations. A touch of a key and a second later, a replica of a fully functioning Starbase 87 spinning slowly on its axis.

We are all here: Seven, Harry, Janeway and Tuvok. The Doctor, who is still attending to some minor injuries from the shock waves, has chosen not to attend this meeting.

"Looks good," I tell Seven, who acknowledges my praise with a slight tilt of her head and an inscrutable expression. I'm guessing she has yet to enroll in the Doctor's self-admiration course.

"It is exact in every detail," Seven says. "I have examined sensor logs leading up to the explosion and have recreated those events as precisely as possible."

"I wouldn't expect anything less," I tell her.

"So what happened?" Janeway's gravely voice asks from behind us.

"I begin with the premise that the main reactor core did indeed experience a meltdown of phenomenal proportions," Seven says.

"Good place to begin," Janeway nods approvingly. "Then what?"

Tuvok takes a step forward. "In order to cause an explosion of that particular magnitude, it is necessary to superheat the reactor core. We speculate that the reaction actually began here -" Tuvok indicates a red spot on the Starbase 87 model - "in the injector relays. If the trigger is placed correctly here, it will cause a cascade reaction which would eventually result in an overload of the core."

"What sort of trigger are we looking at?" Janeway queries.

"Could be anything," this is from Harry who has been sitting quietly in the back. "My guess is that the phase matrix converter was overloaded, probably with a high-density supercharged substance. I would imagine that the molecular reaction was helped a bit by a pulse compression wave. Given the acceleration, the kinetic energy of the reaction caused the cascade, leading to an over pressurization of the reactor module."

"A massive chemical reaction," I translate.

"The starbase was in poor condition to begin with," Janeway points out. "Couldn't this explosion be a result of the damage already sustained during the Dominion War?"

"Possibly," Harry says. "But I doubt it. If the core was that unstable, the base would have been inoperable. A core meltdown does not suddenly manifest itself without warning."

"Explain," Janeway says. "I seemed to remember a completely opposite scenario."

"The multiphasic shielding on the core would prevent such a meltdown unless it began within the injector relays," Seven says. "In which case, the shielding would crack."

"What if the shielding was brittle to begin with?" I ask. "What if it was already cracking and no one noticed?"

"Then the repair crews were not doing their jobs," Tuvok says.

"But it's not an unreasonable hypothesis," Janeway points out.

There is a moment of silence as Harry and Seven trade looks; their expressions, if communicated verbally, would indicate that they wanted the other person to talk. In the end, it's the former Borg drone who speaks.

"If the shielding had cracked prior to this incident, the core would have produced a slow leak. There would have been noticeable discrepancies in energy output," Seven says.

"So you agree with Harry's analysis?" Janeway asks. "There is no way this explosion could have been an accident?"

"We have run several scenarios," Seven says primly. "None of them are consistent with the massive explosion we witnessed."

"Humor me," Janeway says. "We have to be sure before we make accusations."

"Agreed," Tuvok says.

Seven takes us through several scenarios, including a textbook example of a starbase reactor core meltdown.

"They could have vented the plasma," I say as I watch Starbase 87 disintegrate once again. "That would have cooled the core, right? Perhaps slowed the reaction?"

"Cooling it would have slowed the reaction, yes," Harry says. "Any first-year engineer would have known that."

"There are several solutions to this particular solution," Seven says. "Running coolant through the injection module is an option."

"Example," Janeway orders. Seven complies and we see a more restrained explosion, which leaves the starbase crippled, but not destroyed.

"The easiest way to reduce the temperature is to turn off the fusion relays," Harry points.

"Rerun that scenario," Janeway says.

Again, we see the results: minor explosions, but nothing the size of what we had witnessed earlier.

"That's fairly easy to do," Harry says. "Turning off the fusion relays, that's not even a manual process."

"This was a preventable accident," Janeway says in a low voice. "I refuse to believe they did not have people or systems available to prevent the destruction of a starbase."

"It may not have been an accident," Tuvok voices the thought we have all had in the back of our minds.

"For what purpose?" I can't help but ask. "It doesn't make sense to blow up a starbase, especially one that they were in the process of reconstructing?"

"It would make sense if someone was trying to hide something," Janeway says. Her jaw tightens visibly. "Now we just have to find out what and who."


The meeting hall has cleared out, with the exception of Chakotay and me. We face each other across the table. Chakotay is looking down at his hands as if his cuticles are suddenly the most interesting objects in the known universe.

"What is it?" I ask.

Chakotay raises his head. "I don't have a good feeling about this, B'Elanna."

"I'm listening."

"A colony of former Maquis? It doesn't make sense."

"I know," I nod. "But Anna explained it many times. There's nowhere for them to go. We're stuck here."

"If I know the Captain, she's already looking for us."

"If they got away."

"I know they got away." Chakotay sighs. "Everything that has happened to us since our arrival in the Alpha Quadrant has been suspicious. I talked to Leo and he said that every single person here had a trial conducted in the Federation courts. We had, what? I don't even know what to call that."

"What did that Admiral call it? A conversation?"

"A euphemism for something else, B'Elanna, that's what that was. He was stalling."

"Why? Why would he do that? You know the cards are stacked against us and I don't know what they would have to be afraid of. We have no friends, Chakotay, and our relatives are few and scattered. There are no powerful people to speak for us. The only friend we could count on was Captain Janeway and see where that connection landed us."

"That's not fair. Don't take your anger out on her. She did everything she could."

"It wasn't enough," I get up, my abrupt movement knocking over my bench. It crashes to the floor loudly and I trip over it, landing flat on my rear. Chakotay comes over to help me up.

"Are you okay?" he asks.

"Just clumsy. Thanks."

Chakotay pulls me up with one smooth motion.

"You should watch your step," he says. "And your mouth."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Jessup still has feelings for you, that much is obvious."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm telling you what I see."

"It was a long time ago," I twist the ring on my finger. "He'll get used to it."

"I want you to be careful, B'Elanna. I don't have a good feeling about any of this."

Together, we right the bench. It wobbles a bit and then we sit down.

"You think the Captain is looking for us?" I ask wistfully. "You think they survived?"

"I'm counting on it."

Silence again. I'm contemplating an existence in which none of my friends from Voyager are alive. The thought of never seeing them again - it's as if a hand is clenching my heart - the pain is that intense.

If you had asked me seven years ago if I could feel this way about Voyager and its crew, I would have laughed in your face. But in some ways, they have all grown on me. Neelix with his gentle philosophies, Harry and his goofy smile, Tuvok and his adherence to principle, Janeway's compassion and determination, Seven and her lack of sense of humor, and of course Tom and the devil in him - somehow, all of these people have managed to get under my skin.

I miss them.

And I don't want to remember them as cellular residue spread halfway across the Alpha Quadrant.

So I silently agree with Chakotay; Voyager got away and everyone on board is safe and sound.

The other option is too sterile.

"It's really too cold here," I remark. "I'd hate to be here forever."

"I don't suppose you could modify the dampening field, could you?"

"I'd have to take a look at it," I say. "But I don't see why not. I could use a polar graviton burst to disperse the ions and that might give us a bit of time to send a message out."

"Provided you could create the polar graviton burst," Chakotay says glumly. I look at him and feel a smile forming on my lips. I squeeze his knee. Chakotay glances at me sideways.

"What's that for?" he asks.

"For once, you're the pessimist," I tell him. "It's amusing."

"I'm glad you're having fun at my expense."

"You had a good idea," I say. "And the theory works. I just need to figure out a way to implement it. Let me think about it. All we need is thirty seconds."

"And a communications array."

"I have my communicator," I tell him. Chakotay raises an eyebrow.

"I thought I would need it," I explain. "I tried to raise Tom on it once."



"The communicator signal wouldn't be that strong without the booster," Chakotay points out.

"Let me worry about that," I pat him on the knee again. "Where are you sleeping tonight?"

"Leo suggested I stay with him."

"I'm staying with Anna."

We both sit in silence and then I look at Chakotay.

"You're right," I tell him. "It is odd. Sharing with someone, that is. Remember?"

"How can I forget? Some days we were stacked on top of each other," Chakotay says. "Damn uncomfortable. I remember sleeping on the floor once and thinking myself lucky for even having a place to sleep."

"I suppose we ought to start building our own places as soon as the ground softens."

He offers me the first smile I've seen from him in days.

"I don't plan on it," he says. "We're getting out of here."


Harry and I crawl through the narrow conduits that house the kilometers of warp nacelle circuitry. The space is barely wide enough for us to crawl through in a single file, dragging our tool kits behind us. The tube echoes with our voices and with other noises - hums, bangs, and clanks - attributed to starship operation.

"Damn, it's hot down here," Harry says. Perspiration drips from my forehead as I grunt in agreement. Both of us left our jackets behind two junctions ago, but still, it's unbearably warm.

"I hope B'Elanna forgives me for what I'm about to do," I tell Harry as I pause in front of the relevant power junction.

"I'm sure she will," Harry says. We take a few moments to adjust ourselves in the corridor, our legs bent awkwardly against the opposite wall, our necks bending so we don't accidentally give ourselves concussions. We have learned, many times, the hard way how cruel a mistress Voyager can be to the physically inept.

I loosen the screws and the metal panel falls to the floor with a clank. I contort my body a little more in order to open up the tool kit and remove the link coupler. A couple passes of the coupler and a circuit is irretrievably damaged. Next to me, Harry pulls out an isolinear chip and replaces it with another one.

"One down, five to go," Harry says cheerfully.

"Talk less, work more," I grunt.

"Yes, sir," Harry answers, but he is smiling as he clips and fuses wires expertly. "Now just switch those two, Tom, and we should be in business."

"Or out of business, as the case might be." I do as he asks and then scoot over another meter to start on the second panel.

"You think this is going to work?" Harry asks. "If there really is a conspiracy, wouldn't someone figure out what's happening?"

"I could crash land Voyager," I say. "Expertly, of course."

"Of course."

We work in companionable silence for another half-hour or so and then I shut my tool kit with a satisfying bang.

"Now if that works," I say. "We should lose warp drive in oh, thirty seconds?"

"Let's get out of here," Harry advises. "It'll get damn hot once that plasma starts venting."

I wrinkle my nose, "As if it isn't hot enough already."

We scramble through the conduit as fast as we possibly can. Already, the metal walls are heating up, making our progress uncomfortable.
We drop out of the conduit into Engineering, right in front of Seven of Nine.

"Your modifications were successful," she reports. "We no longer have warp capabilities. We will be forced to slow to one half-impulse."

"That's good to hear," Harry says, rubbing the back of his hand across his forehead. His face is smudged and glistening with sweat. His hair stands rakishly up on end, giving him a rather mischievous look.

"Lieutenant Paris, the Captain would like to see you," Seven says.

I look first at Harry and then Seven. Seven, not known for experiencing or acknowledging discomfort, looks the other way.

"Do you know why?" I ask.

Seven fidgets again but says in that clear, monotone voice of hers,
"She did not inform me of her reason."

"Thanks," I say.

I'm on my way to the Bridge when Janeway comms me.

"Janeway to Paris." Her voice betrays no emotion, no hint of what might be coming. For all I know, there might be another promotion waiting for me or she might be ready to light into me for some as of yet unacknowledged misdemeanor. Or it could be B'Elanna...

"Paris here."

"I need to see you in my Ready Room."

"Already on my way."


When I enter the Bridge, Janeway nods to Tuvok and indicates her Ready Room. I follow her in, and watch as she sits behind her desk, obviously troubled. She folds her hands in front of her and leans slightly forward.

"Tom," she says, her voice cracking slightly.

"Something wrong?" I ask easily.

"I don't know how to tell you this," she says.

"Tell me what?" I try not to panic, but the very tone of her voice gives me heart palpitations.

"The casualty lists finally came out," Janeway sits and motions for me to take the seat in front of her. "Tom, I'm sorry."

"What?" I ask. My heart is pounding hard enough to jump out of my ribcage. Breathe, Tom, breathe. I inhale deeply and then I nod to Janeway. "Okay, okay."

She pushes a PADD towards me.

"Your father is presumed dead, Tom."

The mustard colored type seems unusually bright against the black background. Some of the words towards the edge of the PADD are blurred, running off into the margins - unreadable.

"Admiral Owen Paris, presumed dead," I read it out-loud. Janeway has already turned away, but I can see her jaw tighten.

"Are you all right, Tom?"

I touch the words with my fingers. In most cases, my thumb obliterates the stark sans serif text.

"Yeah," I say finally.


I don't have the words I need. So many times, I'm quick with the joke, always racing to be the first one to the punch line. This time, I have nothing to say. The closest approximation to how I feel is the time when Bobby Chandler kicked me in the stomach when I was nine years old. I remember lying in a fetal position on the soccer field, clutching at my abdomen, rivers of tears pouring from my eyes. My father had been there that day and he dried my eyes and carried me off the field.

"You played the game well, son," my father said that day. "But you need to stick up for yourself. You need to fight like a man. I'm not always going to be able to be there for you."

That moment with my father had been one of the few good ones we had shared. The years that followed had been rebellious and headstrong, with the two of us clashing on more occasions than I could count. The problem was evident: he wanted a son who would follow in his footsteps and I wanted a father who could give me the support I needed.

In retrospect, the animosity which existed between my father and I seems relatively petty. Whatever our differences, I loved - love - him, and I never had the chance to tell him.

"Tom," the Captain says. "If you need time, I understand."

"No," I tell her clearly. "I, I need to do something, anything."

"I know you and your father did not always see eye to eye, Tom, but he was a good man. He had some good things to say about you and I know he was proud of you."

"I'm sure."

"Please," she reaches across the table. "Don't shut us out now, Tom. You need us."

"I'm not," I tell her. I look down at the PADD. "What about B'Elanna?"

Janeway shrugs. "Presumed missing, I imagine."

"What does that mean?" my voice raises in frustration. "Presumed missing?"

"There is a record of Chakotay and B'Elanna's release from the brig about twenty minutes before the explosion," Janeway says. "They may have been evacuated."

"Or not."


"Sorry," I hold up a hand. "I just want answers, Captain."

"I know," her voice is soft and sympathetic. "I understand."

Janeway gets up and rounds the corner of the desk. She sits on the edge, almost in front of me. She lifts my chin with her hand.

"We haven't seen eye to eye lately, Tom," she says. "But if you need to talk about this, I'm here."

"Thank you. I appreciate that."

"It's all right to feel some kind of emotion."

I look down at the PADD, now growing moist from my sweaty palms.

"I was looking forward to seeing him again," I tell her. "I wanted to show him that I'd changed, that I'd become more responsible - responsible enough to pilot a starship anyway. I wanted him to be proud of me."

"He was, Tom, you have to believe me," Janeway says earnestly. "He did want to see you. Circumstances conspired against you, but I think he would be pleased with you. Proud, even."

I take a deep breath.

"I need to know about B'Elanna," I tell her. "I can't sit here. I need to keep busy."

"I understand."

"If she's out there, I have to find her."

"We will find them, Tom, don't worry."

"I don't want it to be too late, Captain. Not this time."

Janeway nods, her expression growing cloudy. "I know, Tom."

I'm halfway to the door, when I turn back to look at the Captain. She is standing in front of the window, one hand against the wall as if to support herself.

For the first time in months, I see her differently, human, frail and emotional like the rest of us. Misguided judgment aside, she still bleeds and cries as I do.


"What is it, Tom?"

"Was it... awful?"

"What?" her voice is uncommonly sharp.

"The Borg cube. Was it as terrifying to you as it was to B'Elanna?"

"Why do you ask?"

"I want to know."

Janeway sighs, turns to face me, still leaning back against the wall. She crosses her arms across her chest and nods.

"It doesn't matter, Tom," she says. "It's over now."

"Do you regret anything at all?" I ask, my voice again reaching into
the attic of pitches. "I know that I have a lengthy list of things I'd like to do over. Don't you?"

"Tom," she says. "I can't have this conversation right now. The horse isn't getting up, Lieutenant."

There is finality to Janeway's voice and she emphasizes her point by turning her back to me.

"Your father is dead, Tom," she says in a low voice. "That is one truth you can't run away from."

Your father is dead.

Your father is dead.

Your father is dead.

"Oh God," I whisper. "Oh my God."

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