Lines in the Sand: The Darkest Hour, part V

by Seema

Seven has spent the last twelve hours in Astrometrics, long enough to bring her own pup tent and sleeping bag, according to the Doctor who is put off sufficiently by Seven's stubbornness in not regenerating.

I enter Astrometrics, note that Seven is running explosions, dozens of them at once, and they fill the room with an orange-red glow.

Damn if she isn't a pyromaniac.

It is late, nearly 0300 hours and sleep doesn't come easily. I tried, but my eyes would flutter open and once again, I would be staring up at that damned paneled ceiling.

You can feel sorry for yourself only for so long before the self-pity becomes suffocating and stomach turning.

I thought about the Mess Hall or the Bridge - Harry's on duty tonight - but not having the desire to see or hear muted expressions of sympathy, I head straight for the Ice Queen's lair.
Seven barely turns at my entrance, so intent is she on the continuous explosions of the late, dearly lamented Starbase 87.

I notice something different this time though - Voyager is included as a blip on the map as are twenty or thirty assorted spacecraft of varying classes and alien configuration.

"Having fun?" I ask casually.

Seven eyes me narrowly.

"Lieutenant. Your arrival is... unexpected."

"Not an unwelcome though, I hope."

"I do not have an opinion."

I sigh. Of course she has an opinion, but thanks to her lessons with the good Doctor, Seven has managed to assimilate tact as her latest accomplishment. Truly, to be free from that biting tongue of hers and that superior attitude, is on the same level as a revelation.

"The Doctor is worried about you," I persist. "He says you will harm yourself if you do not regenerate soon."

"This is not the time to regenerate."

I stand about two meters away from Seven, hands behind my back.

"What are you doing?" I ask.

"I am conducting an investigation," she says.

"It's an investigation now?" I ask. "Who says? Tuvok?"

"It is suspicious."


"The destruction of a starbase is inherently suspicious."

"So you're doing this on your own?" I ask.

"Don't you want to find out what happened?" she asks. "I am sorry about your father."

I sigh heavily, lean forward onto the railing that separates us from the view screen.

"It's all right," I say.

"I do not imagine it is all right," Seven says. "You have lost a parent. My research on individuals leads me to believe that one becomes extremely attached to a parent and that the loss of parent is very traumatic. I believe, I believe Annika missed her parents greatly at first."

There is kindness in Seven's voice, a kindness I do not want to acknowledge or accept. I clench the railing a bit tighter and watch as Starbase 87 explodes yet again, and those many space vessels fly off in different directions, some in a desperate but futile attempt to out-run the shock waves. The debris floats in space and then the screen is refreshed and Starbase 87, in all of its decrepit glory, is back.

"Let me see what you are doing," I say. I peer on her console and note the lines of trajectory she is programming. "Ah, displacement waves."

"Precisely," Seven's voice is crisp. "Providing that the shuttle craft survived the explosion, I'm plotting their most likely course, given the force of the radiating displacement waves. The magnitude of the waves will have an impact-"

"Any good pilot knows that," I cut in. "Some of these ships never stood a chance; there was no way to out-run the explosion."

"According to the latest reports, out of thirty ships, Voyager included, twenty-two ships survived the explosion," Seven says. "The other eight are unaccounted for."

"Those are good odds," I say.

"Some ships were asked to leave approximately three hours prior to the explosion," Seven hands me a PADD. "Here are the orders. These are all Federation allied races."

"I see," I scroll down a bit further. "Merchants and some cargo and supply ships. Vulcan, one Klingon, three Cardassian... they were lucky, weren't they?"

"That is one way of stating the situation," Seven says. "But I believe someone knew that the explosion was imminent and hence asked them to depart."

"You're gaining some good old-fashioned human mistrust," I say. "I didn't know the Doctor added that to the curriculum."

"I do not believe that mistrust, or suspicion, is a good trait."

"It's not a bad characteristic to have. I, myself, possess a healthy dose of suspicion and mistrust. That's what's kept me alive all of these years. That and a good sense of cynicism," I say.

"This conversation is irrelevant to my investigation."

"Point taken," I grin. I look up at the screen. "Which ship were B'Elanna and Chakotay on?"

"Unknown," Seven's fingers tap madly across the console and a second later, an order appears on the screen. "An order was issued sixty minutes prior to the explosion to evacuate all prisoners. Since this was the final backup, I do not have a record of whether Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Torres and the others were actually released."

"It's Starfleet," I say. "They follow orders. Trust me on this one. You said eight ships were unaccounted for. So those ships were either destroyed or were diverted. Anything in the database you can pull on that?"

"The missing ships include the Yah'Vong, Rice, Travis, Hephaestus, Intrepid, Sam Houston, Bowie and the Atalanta," Sevens says.

I quickly tap into the database and bring up all reports on ship activity in the sector; the latest reports include more casualty lists and a newly formed missing persons list.

It is significant to me that Chakotay, B'Elanna and the others are not noted on either list. I voice this thought to Seven.

"Why would that be suspicious?" she asks.

"Because someone somewhere knows that they are not dead and they are not missing," I say with certainty. "Who asked for them to be released?"

"Unknown," Seven brings the release order back up on the screen. "There is no name."

"But there is a routing number," I point. "Follow that data stream backwards. It may have expired already, but it's worth a chance to see if we can't recover the data."

Five minutes pass and then the computer brings up a series of records onto the screen. Behind us, the doors open.

"Any progress?" Janeway asks.

"Some," Seven says. "Nothing of significance."

"I had trouble sleeping. Figured I might try to get some work done instead of trying to count sheep," Janeway pauses long enough to gesture at the screen. "Who is this?"

She is holding a mug of steaming coffee in her hand and I smile; most people, stricken with insomnia, would turn to hot milk, but not Kathryn Janeway; only the finest French Roast will do for her.

"Lieutenant Eric Sullivan," I nod at the image. "Starfleet security. Graduated the Academy in 2372 - with full honors, if I may add - and apparently, until three days ago, had an exemplary service record."

"Why the interest?"

"Because he issued the order to release Chakotay, B'Elanna and the other Maquis from prison sixty minutes prior to the explosion," I explain. "But what's more interesting is that Sullivan was never on Starbase 87. According to this file, he was severely wounded in a training skirmish and died of those injuries three days ago."

"Are you sure we have the right man?"

"The routing data leads back to the terminal assigned to Lieutenant Sullivan," Seven says. "The encryption subroutine is an exact duplicate of the one on file. There is no mistake."

"So we have a dead man issuing orders?" Janeway asks.

"Apparently so. It's a neat trick, if you want my opinion," I put in.

The three of us stare at Sullivan and his neatly white-typed biography next to his picture. Married 2374 to one Martha Ambrose, father to Jacob, born 2378, assigned to current position in late 2378. He is - was - a good-looking man, athletic-build, dark-skinned, full head of hair and perfect teeth. He was probably good at poker, and given his background, had some experience with holodeck programming. He smiles back at us. Next to me, Janeway shivers.

"Find out everything," she orders. "Keep me informed."

Seven and I nod; I suppose I'll need a sleeping bag also.


The third day on Alonius Prime dawns like all others - gray and utterly dismal.

I hate it here.

It's almost as dreary as Kessik.

Silvery frost covers the ground as I make my way to the meeting hall. The air is brisk, the type that burns your lungs when you inhale, but the freshness of it is something I appreciate after seven years of breathing recycled oxygen.

Low, modular buildings - all of them single story - line either side of the packed dirt path.

One or two even have small porches in the front, and most have some kind of shrubbery (now brown from the cold) on either side of the door. There are touches of home sweet home too - curtains at windows, tools lying in the yard, decorations on the door.

The neatness of this settlement, the very nature of it, gives a semblance of normalcy. For some reason, it is difficult to imagine my Maquis comrades giving up their arms and fierce personalities in exchange for some land and a few gardening tools. Yet their little attempts to make this forced resettlement more bearable are soothing. It is a curious but settling, sensation - one of comfort, of peace - a feeling, that at this particular moment, very welcome.

I recall Tom's fantasy of a house of his own, one that he would design and build from foundation to ceiling. Once you pour the cement, that's it - you have decided to stay. And then the frame is assembled, and sheetrock is hammered to the wooden beams. Soon, the house takes shape and you move in to begin this new life of yours, starting fresh from the placement of furniture to the memories you will make there.

A house is permanent, built to withstand almost anything. More than that, it belongs to you and you belong to it.

You belong.

More than anything, I want to be able to put my bag down in a hallway and know that no one will move it, and more importantly, no one will ask me to leave.
It is not such a bad thought to begin anew and Kahless knows, there is so much I regret, so much I want to forget.

When I see Tom next, I will agree to the new house; I will accept his dreams, pleasures and wishes, and embrace them - and him - to my heart.

The sudden image of Tom - the way I like to remember him - hair windswept, lips turned up cockily, his eyes sweeping my body, makes me smile, and makes the distance to the meeting hall seem much shorter.

I ascend the three steps to the door, pause for a moment, my hand on the railing. For a moment,
I'm absolutely terrified.

If I go in that door, they will be there.

They - the friends, companions, family - whom I mourned mostly in silence for years.
They are the survivors; their blood pulsating through arteries and veins, lips forming words, chests rising and falling with each breath.


I can imagine the conversations with no effort because we seem to rehash the same dialogue over and over. We will talk about Voyager, talk about the Delta Quadrant. Chakotay will grow misty-eyed, his gaze focusing on some distant point, and he will wax nostalgic about Kathryn Janeway.

At some point, we'll talk about the various aliens we ran into. I'll tell them about the Vidiians and how they "salvaged" body parts in an attempt to fight off of the phage. Somehow the conversation will turn to Tom, how he betrayed us all, and how I married him. We'll talk about the people we left behind - Suder, Seska, and Bendara - in muted voices. Then it will grow quiet as we think - but don't mention - the ones who died during the Dominion War.

That's when the ghosts come and take their seats among us. We remember them with bated breath and in low voices.

The sacrifice will be acknowledged, lamented, and then we will blink a few times, clear our throats and continue. We'll dwell on the mundane, the day's chores, the pleasantries, the weather - we won't talk about what really matters; we have enough excuses to hide behind and it's safer to live firmly in the past and not explore what is and what will be.

I place my hand on the doorknob and turn it clockwise.

"B'Elanna!" Chakotay rises to his feet as I walk in. "Good morning."

"Good morning," I take a look around. "Where is everyone?"

"Jessup said something about needing to get some kind of filtration system online before noon. I was going to go with them but Anna told me you were on your way, so I thought I'd wait for you
so you wouldn't be alone," Chakotay says. "Here, let me get you a cup of coffee."

"That sounds good, thank you. Thanks for waiting."

"You're welcome."

I sit down opposite Chakotay's chair. A second later, he returns with a steaming silver mug.

"It's decent," he says. "Kathryn would kill for coffee like this. At the very least, risk the Prime Directive."

"Well, she has all the fresh coffee she could possibly want now."

"True," Chakotay knits his hands together, pressing his palms flat against the table's wooden slats. He looks over my shoulder, and I twist to see what he is looking at. There is a view, one I did not notice last night. Through the window, we can see the snow covered peaks of the Northern Range and the tall trees extending up to the skies.

"I want to send a message to Voyager," I say. "Do you know where the generators are? The ones creating the dampening field?"

"We can ask one of the others," Chakotay says, his gaze still fixed on those faraway mountains.

"What is it?" I ask.

"Nothing," he shrugs.

"If something's bothering you, we should talk about it."

"Nothing's bothering me."

"You're worried about the Captain, about Voyager..."

"You don't have to state the obvious, B'Elanna."

I turn around to face the mountains again.

"I wouldn't mind staying here, B'Elanna," Chakotay says in a low voice. "Regardless of what happens, I don't think I'd mind it at all."

"What about Starfleet?" I ask.

"What about it? You seem to have forgotten that I left Starfleet almost fifteen years ago."

"I assumed you'd go back."

"I don't have the stomach for it." Chakotay gets up from his seat and wanders to the window.

"It's quiet here, B'Elanna, and I think I would enjoy that."

"You just got here. It hasn't even been a week. How do you know you would like it here?"

"It's just a feeling."

"It's cold, miserable," I point out. "Light years from anywhere."

"You see the attraction then?" Chakotay grins. "Breakfast?"

"No, I'm not hungry."

"You've got to eat, B'Elanna."

"I told you I'm not hungry," I push back the empty cup of coffee.

Chakotay folds his arms across his chest and pushes back in his chair.

"No reason for you to be upset," he says in his annoying "let's be reasonable" tone. "I just
made a statement about what I'd like; no reason for it to bother you."

"You've given up," I hiss back. "You don't think the Captain and the others are out there looking for us. You're ready to give up and spend the rest of your life on this iceberg. That's what infuriates me. You're like the others, like Anna and Jessup, giving up."

"I'm not giving up," Chakotay says. "I'm just ready to settle down. Aren't you?"

"The other day, you were lecturing me on how you had a bad feeling about this situation and now you're ready to unpack and move right in? What's the matter with you?"

"I've had some time to think," Chakotay says. "You know, when the Captain and I were left on New Earth, it wasn't so bad. It was nice, actually. Relaxing, lovely, a nice change of pace."

I get up from my seat.

"I'm going to look for that field generator."

Outside, the air nips at my cheeks. I take a couple steps, and then realize I have no idea where the generator is; damn, I'd kill for a tricorder now. I'd even trade the lukewarm coffee for a

"Looking for someone?" Jessup asks. I whirl around.

"You scared me," I answer. "Actually I wanted to know where the generators were, the ones that amplify the dampening field."

"Up there," Jessup points towards some hills in the distance. "About five kilometers out. The station is there. What are you planning to do?"

"Disrupt the field long enough to send a message to Voyager."

"Are you crazy?" Jessup asks. "If you do that, the Federation will take away one of our privileges."

"Oh please," I say. "That's juvenile."

"Don't mistake your surroundings for anything but a prison, B'Elanna."

"I seem to be the only one who remembers that," I shoot back. "Now, do you have a tricorder? I can modify a medical one, if need be. I also need a phase link coupler; I seem to have left mine behind on Voyager."

Jessup sighs. "I'll come with you. At least, that way I'll know you won't get lost."


Jessup puts his hand on the small of my back and gently propels me toward the Infirmary. No one is inside, but that is no surprise; we Maquis didn't have much patience for sitting around waiting for wounded and if you were wounded, you treated yourself, gritting your teeth and hoping that you had prescribed the right treatment for yourself. I put my hands on the single biobed, leaning all my weight forward. For a scary moment, I actually do miss the EMH. I miss his constant nagging, his questions, that annoying baritone in my ear.

"Here you go," Jessup hands me a medkit. "Everything you want should be in there."

"Including the coupler?"


I open the medkit just to be sure. Most of the instruments - tricorder, scalpel, and hypospray - can be easily modified for other uses. I remove one of the regenerators to make room for the coupler and a couple of data chips.

"Let's go," I say.

I swing the medkit onto my shoulder and head out. I hear Jessup behind me, his feet crunching gravel beneath his shoes. After a second, he catches up to me, slightly out of breath.

"I forgot how fast you walk when you're angry," he observes. "It's too early to be angry, B'Elanna."

"You sound like Tom."

"Well, it is true. It's not even lunch time."

"I'm surprised you care; you seemed ready to cut me up and serve me up to the Maquis tribunal the other day."

"Sorry, that was uncalled for," Jessup says. "Truce?"

I pause for a moment and look into those dark eyes. Jessup and I, we did have a minor fling years ago, shortly after I joined the Maquis. I had no real feelings for him, only my own wounded self-confidence that propelled me from on relationship to another; unfortunately, he did take our relationship more seriously. Our breakup wasn't particularly violent or hysterical; it ended like most, quietly, when both of us were too tired to fight for it anymore. Soon after our breakup, Jessup went to another cell, ostensibly because they needed a qualified engineer, but I knew better; truth be told, I was grateful that he was gone.

Because I was falling in love again and it would have been hard to hide it from Jessup.

"Truce," I hold out my hand.

"You want me to carry that?"


"That's right, I forgot," Jessup laughs easily. "You haven't changed, B'Elanna Torres. You're still as feisty as I remember. I figured living on a Starfleet ship for seven years would have made you soft, but apparently I was mistaken."

"You're mistaken about a lot."

"Including Tom Paris?"

"Especially Tom Paris."

"Forgive me if I'm still surprised."

"Get over it."

"I thought it would be Chakotay."

I stop in my tracks, noticing for the first time that we have cleared the settlement and we are nearly knee-deep in grass.

"What are you saying?" I try to keep my voice completely even, but even so, the faintest of tremors slips in.

"You know what I'm talking about, B'Elanna. It was obvious."

"That was a long time ago."

"You sure?"

"Look, would you stop? Yesterday you were going on about Tom and today, today it's Chakotay? Do you have anything better to talk about?" I start moving again, annoyed at the weeds, annoyed at the cold and most of all, annoyed with Jessup.

"He cares for you," Jessup says softly. "You could do worse."

"Like Tom."

"Like Tom," he affirms.

"I'm not having this conversation," I tell him. "It's over, we're done. End of subject."

"Right," Jessup says unconvincingly. "Whatever you say."

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