There's a misconception in the early days of Starfleet Academy that life on a starship - your walking and standing life, that is - is very smooth, almost like walking on level, firm ground. I beg to differ. Six years on Voyager has taught me that it's more like taking your chances on the San Andreas fault, which is rapidly inching towards the coast of North America or is it the other way around? I can never keep it straight in my head; only think of those puckered hills that hide the ever-shifting tectonic plates beneath the continent.
You slip and slide your way through the ship and eventually, after a few years, you get your ship legs and then it's not so bad. But still, I want to set the record straight on that point: inertial dampers only do so much. The rest you just have to manage on your own.
It would not be a stretch to think of life on Voyager as surviving an earthquake. One big rumble and everything comes crashing down and then we just sit back and ride aftershock and aftershock.
It's always something and after all this time, monotony does not sound so terrible.
In my mind, I add a deck to the San Francisco house, complete with lawn chairs, a glass-topped table and umbrella. Perfect for sipping lemonade on a hot summer day.
And of course, like all other reveries on Voyager, I'm jerked back to reality by the abrupt lurching of the ship. It rolls slightly to the side and those of us in the corridor end up leaning against the wall, trying to get our balance back.
The ship steadies and I continue on my way.
Things are fairly calm right now; the inevitable confrontation with the Borg has been delayed and it's almost a momentous occasion. We will live yet another day, rah, rah.
In the mess hall, volume levels are back. People actually feel like talking again as if the secret is out of the bag and we're all able to talk freely.
The solitary figure by the window catches my eye.
Seven of Nine.
It strikes me as an odd place for Seven to be; she rarely seeks out the more crowded areas of the ship, preferring to be either in Astrometrics or Engineering when not in the cargo bay.
I wave off Neelix who magically appears at my side.
"In a moment," I tell him.
I make my way to Seven and stand beside her, my hands clasped in back of me. She does not acknowledge my presence, but instead remains stone-faced as she looks out into the darkness of space.
"A penny for your thoughts," I offer as a conversation breaker.
"I do not understand," she answers. "What is a penny?"
is, uh, a monetary unit," I reply. "One out of a hundred."
do not understand why you offering me a penny for my thoughts," she says
the word "penny" as if it is something obscene. "Or what relevance
a monetary unit would have."
up before I start. It is impossible to use idioms on Seven of Nine. Damn if
she didn't question everything.
try this again," I say. "I just wanted to know what you were thinking."
don't know. You were just standing here staring out into space. I'm curious
as to what fascinates you so much."
thinking about the Borg."
a pleasant subject."
will make contact with only one cube," she says. "There are approximately
one million, five hundred drones per cube."
one in a million has the mutation," she says. "That means there may
be only two or three drones at most per cube who have the ability to visit Unimatrix
don't see where she is going with this so I remain silent, waiting for her to
addition to the Captain, Commander Tuvok and Lieutenant Torres, we will only
rescue two or three more drones," she says.
you want to save more?" I ask. Damn if this save the world attitude isn't
would be a worthwhile endeavor," she says.
I say. "How many Borg cubes are there in the Delta Quadrant?"
I was a drone, there were approximately two thousand three hundred and eighty-nine
Borg cubes in the Delta Quadrant."
I let out
a low whistle.
quite a party you have there," I comment. I am rewarded with an arched
eyebrow for a response.
cubes are manufactured at the rate of one every Borg standard year," she
Standard Federation months."
there could be-" I do some quick mental gymnastics; my Academy math professors
would be proud. Hell, my father would be proud. "There could four or five
new cubes in addition?"
is correct. Of course, some cubes may have been destroyed in the last three
years but that is rare. It is very difficult to destroy a cube."
an understatement," I say.
not underestimate the Borg, Lieutenant," Seven says firmly.
is yet another example of Seven's acute awareness of the obvious. She knows
the facts, yet is unable to draw the emotional connection between those facts.
never have," I protest. "After Wolf 359, no one ever will again."
Seven bites down on her lip. "I am concerned. If the Queen discovers what
we have planned, she will certainly try to stop us."
wouldn't expect anything less from her Majesty."
slightly offended by this remark; I can tell by the subtle way her nose twitches.
I ask the question I've been dying to ask all day.
mentioned that Axum had been deactivated," I say. "Are you okay?"
feel reasonable grief," she says. "He was a good friend."
all? A good friend?"
quiet and then she nods.
was more to Annika, I believe, but to me, he was a good friend. I will miss
she isn't cold. How she does it, I cannot imagine. You could stick her on a
demon class planet and she still wouldn't thaw. Rather, the rest of us would
lie there suffocating from the pure weight of the atmospheric, boiling inside
of our skins, and Seven would stand over all of us, stately and triumphant.
you have other questions?" she asks in a tone that clearly indicates our
conversation is over.
I tap her on the shoulder lightly in a gesture of goodwill; she jerks away.
Tactilely defensive, I see. Evidently hugging is not encouraged in the Collective.
We'll have to work on that.
I have just the man for the job.
Harry is calibrating something. I say "something" because it seems to me that all we do on this ship is calibrate. Calibrate this, calibrate that. Who said you never do the same thing twice on a starship? Obviously that person never served on a ship; he or she certainly never set foot on Voyager or they would not have said something so inane.
I come up behind Harry, my fingers brushing the back of his shoulders.
are you doing?" I lean over the console.
getting ready for the big fight," Harry offers up a grin.
bucking for that combat promotion?"
now that you mention it
fingers are rather short and stubby. I never noticed this before. It's amazing
the things you notice about people after so much time. It's like you think you
know everything there is to know about them and then they do something that
totally surprises you.
does that daily.
Off kilter, that's how she likes me. I suppose it's not unlike walking on Voyager.
was worried about you," she says. "Don't do that again."
worry," I laugh, drawing her close. I love moments like this: the two of
us together, cuddling on the sofa. All of our traumas seems so far away, complications
disappear and we simply exist here within the bubble that is Tom Paris and B'Elanna
can't believe you went on that mission," she goes on. "I was so worried
about you. I even asked Chakotay if I could come look for you."
did?" I look at her in amazement. "B'Elanna, it was a demon class
doesn't matter," she says, that familiar fire lighting up her eyes. "I
wanted to make sure you were safe and the best way I could do that was go after
didn't let you," I guess.
she rests her head against my chest, her hand inching up to my shoulder.
glad," I whisper as I cover her hand with mine. "But it's all right
now. All's well that ends well."
do it again, Paris," she says sleepily. "I don't think my hearts could
you saying you love me?"
I kiss the top of her forehead. "And for your information, I didn't exactly
volunteer to go."
It sounds like something you would jump to take on."
Tom," she sighs. "I knew he was going to get back at you sometime."
I find myself chuckling as I tighten my grip on her. She lifts her head, puckering her lips. I bend to meet her halfway.
what it's worth, Harry, you're a good friend," I say. Harry's fingers stop
he sounds shell-shocked.
you're a good friend," I repeat casually. I lean against the wall facing
him. Harry has stopped all semblance of work.
if you did volunteer me for the demon planet," I wrinkle my nose. "Damn
you hadn't made the crack about the bicycle
go there, Harry," I warn. "Why relive past ignominies?"
his head and then the grin disappears from his face.
he clears his throat. "Um, yeah. You've been a good friend too. Really
good. My best friend."
serious stuff. Serious, serious drippy, mushy stuff. The type that makes you
squirm in your seat or that works best written out on a greeting card.
sentiment is nicely said and I understand why he's saying it: for the same reason
that I finally need to tell him how much I value his friendship.
we face the Borg. It might be one cube or it could be two thousand. It could
be our greatest hour or it could be our last.
for Harry not to know.
yeah," I say awkwardly. I shift from foot to foot. Tender moments with
someone other than B'Elanna are not exactly my strong suite. They make me feel
queasy inside mostly because I'm confessing how I feel. Not something I'm real
comfortable with; I've yet to say those three all-important words to B'Elanna.
weird, isn't it?" Harry has settled into his contemplative mood. "We
never usually think about things like this. Battle, I mean. It just happens.
Boom! All of sudden, there are the Hirogen or maybe it's the Kazon or Species
they just show up and we react with a photo torpedo or two. This
is different. This is planned."
mean we have time to think about what might happen?" I ask.
We knew the risks when we signed on, but did you really think it would happen
a million years," I say. I think back to the red-gold terrain of the demon
planet, its oppressive hot air, and then Harry and I, staggering, finally falling
to our knees and then flat on our faces. There have been a million chances to
die out here in the Delta Quadrant; God knows, Voyager has left a trail of bodies
behind, their families blissfully unaware.
know if the dead keep Janeway awake at night, wondering how many of those deaths
she could have prevented.
And I wonder
now if she thinks about us, nervous and fidgety on Voyager, trying to figure
out a way to get her back. I wonder if she ever considered the costs and if
she did, why did she go ahead?
she is trying to forge a legacy. Something other than the captain who got herself
lost in the Delta Quadrant. Granted she didn't misread the stellar cartography
charts and our presence here was completely unpredictable, but I can bet that's
what the wags back at Starfleet Headquarters are saying about Janeway. I can
even hear the jokes.
you hear about the Captain who wandered around the Delta Quadrant for six years
because she wouldn't ask for directions?"
defend my loyalty; if anyone questions it, they are wrong. Loyalty is one thing
no one has ever been able to fault me for. I agreed to serve Janeway and I will
unquestioningly until I'm no longer under her command.
mean I have to like her orders.
a fine line there and I mean to walk it. It's not always easy - hell, that's
what got me demoted to ensign in the first place, disobeying because I thought
I knew better. And maybe I was right that one time and she was wrong, but the
truth of the matter is, I'm sworn to obey and obey I must.
my captain is a Borg drone.
how long?" Harry asks.
time I checked, eight hours."
got to get going on this then," and those stubby fingers fly again. Harry
is oblivious to my presence, but I don't mind. I watch him for another few moments
and then I leave.
work to be done.
Two hours left to rendezvous. A date with the Queen.
is back to his usual calm self, the quiet, authoritative presence reminiscent
of his Maquis days. He is sitting where Janeway usually sits, slightly turned
away from us, his fingers rapping gently on the table. The PADD, showing the
Borg on the periphery of our long range sensors, is off to the side.
all here. Neelix, Seven, Harry, the Doctor and of course, me.
will remain in a state of red alert," Chakotay says. I don't know what
it is about red alert that brings not only a sense of urgency but also forces
you into feeling a supernatural type of courage. There are things I have done
in red alert that I would never even think of attempting in any other situations.
I do my
best creative thinking under pressure. New maneuvers, new ways of stretching
the limits of Voyager. There is nothing I can't make this ship do; we understand
each other perfectly.
is sickbay?" Chakotay says. "I anticipate many
turn to the Doctor. He, thankfully, has left his usual bravado back in sickbay.
He is serious, to the point.
have spent the last twelve hours replicating necessary medical supplies,"
he answers. His eyes graze over me. "I imagine Mr. Paris will not be available."
someone else," Chakotay orders. "Mr. Neelix, maybe, to help keep calm."
Another moment of tense silence. Waiting hurts. I never thought about it before because I have never waited like this before.
two months, huh?" B'Elanna is curled up against me. I relish feeling her
bare skin against mine, and I'm enthralled, hopelessly so, in the gentle stroking
of her fingers.
very long two months," I say. "Think about being stranded on a planet
with Tuvok of all people."
has his moments," B'Elanna props herself up on her elbow; the blanket slips
away from her chest as she rolls on top of me. We are now nose to nose. I reach
up and run my hand through her hair, and then pull her down for a kiss.
about Noss?" B'Elanna pulls away to my distress.
loves him and he
well, he is a Vulcan."
mean he's incapable of love."
it doesn't, but it also means he won't surrender in the heat of the moment."
unlike me," I grin. "I can't believe you didn't miss me at all."
it was two days for me. That's it. I wanted the vacation."
can't believe you'd say such a thing."
lips brush mine and then down to neck, chest, lower, lower and I am lost. I
can tell she is lying; my sweet darling is so good at half-truths. But I have
found her out now as she inches back up my chest.
did miss me," I accuse as I roll over, flipping her onto her back. I pin
her arms above her head.
a little," she says.
my finger against her lips and she bites it, growling.
day," I tell her. "You'll admit. You'll admit that you actually need
wish," she snarls. "Pig."
Her leg curls up and around my waist as I lower myself down to kiss the little
hollow at her neck. Her hands reach around, gently caressing the back of my
neck and then to the base of my skull and finally into my hair.
I missed this. Missed her.
be damned; he doesn't know what he gave up.
And damn me for needing B'Elanna, wanting her, so much.
is going through the checklist briskly; Seven is ought to be proud of his efficiency
though she keeps her comments to an absolute nil. I wonder what is going on
in that head of hers. Sometimes I think she's a Greek statue, a Venus de Milo,
if you will. A Janeway original, absolutely stone-faced, and exquisitely carved.
help it. I'm a guy, I notice these things.
Harry answers, but before he can add more information, Seven opens her mouth,
contributing for the first time since we all filed in here forty-five minutes.
I suggest we turn off all non-essential systems to direct maximum power to the
shields," she says.
Chakotay nods. "Evacuate and close off non-essential parts of ship also
to conserve energy. Tom, how does helm and weapons look?"
have two hundred photon torpedoes," I say. "Hopefully we will not
"Amen," Harry mutters under his breath. "Two hundred should be enough to light up the entire Delta Quadrant. They should be able to see this battle from the Alpha Quadrant."
Seven gives him her "don't underestimate the Borg" look. Harry ignores her. Good for him; he is starting, finally, not to pay much attention to the former object of his affections.
is operating at highest efficiency," I say. "Vorick was up all night
working to fix some of the glitches in the system but everything now should
at the colloquialism and for a moment, I have feeling she is going to question
the phrase. I should tell the Doctor to include idioms in Seven's "learn
to act like an individual" self-study course.
nods and moves on to Neelix who reports that while there was some earlier tension
and fear among the crew, including a question from Naomi about whether assimilation
hurts, morale is relatively good now.
can only describe the feelings as `patriotic,'" Neelix says. "Everyone
is eager to do a good job for the Captain."
all I can ask. Seven, report to Astrometrics and keep tab on the cube. Let us
know if you pick up anything else on sensors. If we're going to go up against
an armada, I want to know about it."
I do not
suppose this would be a good time to tell Chakotay exactly how many Borg cubes
are out there in the Delta Quadrant.
her head in acknowledgement.
else, take your stations," Chakotay says. "We go to red alert immediately.
"B'Elanna, are you okay?"
sniffs, "Go away, Tom."
I want to help."
ridiculous, standing outside of her bathroom door. It could be worse; she could
have left me in the hall.
sorry, really I am."
don't understand," she is crying again. Another myth debunked; starship
doors are not soundproof. Rather, they are thin but give the semblance of solidity.
let me in," I say, meaning it in more than one way. Silence and I wonder
if I should leave. She'll come around in a bit and find me and then we'll pick
up exactly where we left off, as if this little incident never happened.
is it that we allow scar tissue to accumulate around the edges of wounds? Every
time I promise not to do this again, every time she promises not to, we go ahead
and do it again. Hurting is what we do best; without pain, we are nothing, nobody.
Letting someone in to share takes away what is wholly and entirely ours.
we're both stubborn that way.
sometimes I wonder why I bother. Why do I even try to reach her when she is
so closed off when I want her most? There's more to a relationship than just
physical contact and I want to move to a point where we can settle into the
type of relationship where we truly trust each other.
I try one more time. "Look, it's bad, I know. Just let me in, okay? You
can talk to me or you can cry, but just let me be there."
silence but I can hear her crying, muffled as if she is sobbing into a towel.
I pound the door in frustration and then she startles me by opening the door.
Her eyes are rimmed with red, the tracks of her tears evident on her cheeks.
her in my arms immediately, and she rests her head on my shoulder. I run my
hand up and down her back as her body trembles. My shoulder grows damp.
should have come sooner," I tell her. "I'm sorry."
sputters as the intensity of her sobs grow.
sorry you had to find out this way," I continue.
" she does not complete her sentence.
I say softly. "It's all right."
Maquis," and she dissolves once again. I feel her going limp so I half-carry
half-drag her over to the sofa.
"Are gone," I say it firmly as I cradle her in my arms. She grabs my arm, holding it in both of her hands.
don't believe it," she gasps. "How
I smooth her hair away from her sweaty forehead. "Quiet now. It will be
okay, B'Elanna. You'll get through this. It will be okay."
everything, my family, oh God," she is shivering now and I hold her tighter.
strong, B'Elanna," I tell her. "You're a survivor. You'll survive
we go back, they won't be there," she says.
give her my usual spiel about the people who care about her here on Voyager.
To B'Elanna, her family is the Maquis, the people who unconditionally accepted
her and placed no burdens or demands on her. To know that they are all gone,
dead, wiped-out, is a devastating blow to her.
could it happen?" she whispers. She is calm now, her voice hoarse from
don't know," I answer honestly. "But things like this happen
you think it was a big battle?"
because it's important to her, I agree.
all that matters, right?"
it makes you feel a little better, yes."
doesn't," she admits. "But it helps."
mind, I see the wound healing cleanly. No scar tissue here. I caress her cheek
gently, rubbing one tear away with my thumb.
she is sleeping now, worn out. We lay there together on the sofa and I try to
imagine this battle that wiped out the Maquis.
she wakes, I will tell her all about it.
cube looms on the view screen. My earlier exhaustion, a result of lack of sleep,
is gone. I'm wide-awake now and if anyone else is sleeping on the job, the klaxons
and flashing red lights surely should wake them up.
If I can look at a Borg cube without any emotion, I see it as a work of art. Somehow, these boxy structures manage to move through space faster than any other known vessel. The architecture is complex, rough and unfinished, unlike the sleek, smooth surfaces of Starfleet vessels.
a secret there, one worth bringing back to the Alpha Quadrant; somehow the Borg
have managed to overturn the conventional theory of aerodynamics. If Seven knows
how, she has not shared that knowledge with us and I don't blame her; it's not
like we're going to redo Voyager into a facsimile of a Borg cube and hence it
would not be an efficient use of resources to reveal that particular secret.
is all over, I would love to know.
we're all assimilated, in which case the knowledge on how a cube can move through
space is completely irrelevant.
on a Borg cube, regardless of the fact of assimilation, is not a pleasant thought.
the interiors of a Starfleet ship though, the Borg cubes are less than luxurious.
Inside, the narrow corridors are lined with wires and steel beams, almost as
if in a state of perpetual construction. But it's the noise that gets me - that
hum that is a low buzz in your ear. At first, the buzz is innocuous but then
it slowly drives you insane; a Borg version of the Chinese water torture.
is silent as we watch the ship approach us.
beats faster. B'Elanna, B'Elanna, B'Elanna
is first to react.
up," he says.
one hundred percent," Harry answers.
Commander?" her voice is slightly foggy over the com system.
other Borg in the vicinity?"
goodness for small favors.
your fingers," I pipe up. The phrase is lost on everyone but Harry who
offers back a painful smile.
to impulse," I say. God, I wish we had a cloaking device. It would have
been wonderful to have dropped out warp right in front of the cube. We could
be done and on our way before the Borg even knew we were there.
Romulans aren't known for sharing their technology and when we left the Alpha
Quadrant, things weren't so good with the Klingons now.
could be a lot worse back home than they are now.
sure to point that out when this is all said and done.
win, of course.
low level radiation," I say. "Their shields are up."
Commander?" Seven asks.
thought you said they would lower their shields."
did," and typically Seven, she offers no more information. Explanations
take up too much type, in her opinion, and decrease efficiency. She is exactly
the type of person who will do something on her own rather than delegate because
it is easier to do it herself.
sigh is loud enough for the entire Bridge to hear. He is pacing again, wearing
a path in the newly cleaned carpets.
being hailed," Harry says.
screen," Chakotay is back to attention.
"Hello Harry," she purrs. I spin around to see Harry's reaction; he blanches. Evidently, his last conversation with the Borg Queen was less than pleasant or perhaps he cut that class at the Academy where they teach you how to behave in front of alien royalty. Or maybe it's the black metallic tubules on her fingers that have his attention.
it is, Harry is less than pleased to be in front of the Borg Queen.
blame her; attractive in a black widow type way, it's hard to get past the fact
that this woman can, without remorse, destroy entire civilizations and not think
about it twice.
she and Janeway would have quite a lot to discuss, and while I think Janeway
has her points, this particular argument would have to go to the Queen based
on the pure evil quotient. The woman with the nanoprobes is always right, no
difficult to argue morality when your opponent has no heart.
has been quite a while," the Queen goes on conversationally. The tone of
her voice indicates she could be at a tea party, sipping delicately from a china
cup. Hell, put a hat on her, a nicely coifed wig and she could be at the horse
races and fit in perfectly.
hundred and one days exactly," Chakotay says. Why he bothers, I don't know.
I imagine the Queen knows exactly how long it's been down to the nanosecond.
was wondering how long it would take you to retrieve your people," the
Queen comments. "They have served me well. Their performance has been exemplary.
My compliments to Starfleet."
is visibly riled.
are not leaving without them," he says.
can't win, Commander. Your shields will never withstand a full Borg assault."
wouldn't be so sure. We have had time to work on our shield strength. You may
be unpleasantly surprised."
you attack, you risk killing your own people," the Queen continues on pleasant.
"After detecting your presence here, I have ordered them to the core. In
order to destroy us, you will have to aim a direct hit to the core. In addition,
the multi-phasic shielding prevents you from beaming them out. So you see, Commander
Chakotay, it does not matter what enhancements you have made to your shields,
I still win."
I bet she
plays a mean hand of poker too.
is thinking. You can almost hear his thoughts. Attack or not? So far, the Queen
has not shown any direct hostility or aggression towards us. We can leave now,
cut our losses, send Christmas cards every year to Janeway, Tuvok and Torres.
would not hesitate here. She would attack and she would do it deliberately and
quickly. Chakotay is more pensive; he understands the costs and he can weigh
Is it worth risking Voyager and its crew for the lives of three people?
Go to part VI
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