"I wrote a letter," I say. We are in the holodeck. I'm lying on my back while B'Elanna sits next to me, rubbing lotion into her legs. It has been some time since we have visited this program. Our conflicting schedules have kept us away and some weeks, I find myself spending more time with Harry than with B'Elanna. We have been reduced to hellos and good-byes, nothing in between.
"A letter?" B'Elanna stops and looks down at me.
"Yes," I say. I sit up.
"You have to work on that stomach," B'Elanna says unkindly. I make a face at her.
"You didn't hear what I said," I say. "When we were crashing, when I thought I was going to do, I dictated a letter to you."
"Do you want to know what it said?"
"Not especially," she goes back to smoothing lotion over her legs. I am irritated. Somehow her legs rank higher than my dying thoughts? It is truly humbling.
"Why are you putting sun block on?" I ask. "This isn't even real sun. You can't get burned with the holodeck safeties on."
B'Elanna tosses me a look of exasperation, "It's for effect, Tom. This is what people do at the beach."
it's that voice again. Definitely sounds like my mother. Not a good thing, definitely
not a good thing.
I reach out and trail my fingers up and down her leg and then up to her thigh. The look B'Elanna gives me is positively lascivious; my mother never looked at me that way.
"Do you do that?" I ask as B'Elanna smacks my hand away.
"Yes. Before going on an away mission. I mean, I thought I was going to die when I wrote that letter."
"Sometimes," she says.
"To whom?" now I'm curious.
She arches an eyebrow at me, "Why the twenty questions, Tom?"
"I just want to know where I stand with you. You are the last person I thought of when I was at death's door. I want to know if you feel the same."
She smiles then and leans over to kiss me.
"I hope you never find out," she whispers.
I lay back down on my beach towel. Cryptic as always, but giving me enough information to tell me what I want to know.
She's right. I don't want to know.
It wouldn't be worth it.
classic western showdown. Who will blink first? The Borg Queen's smooth white
skin, stretched tightly over an extensive capillary network of green-tinged
veins, shows no sign of tension. Chakotay, on the other hand, is flustered.
He has never been terrific at staring down the opposition. He is best at talking
things out, bringing the other person to see his point of view. Logically. Passively.
Without bloodshed. That's Chakotay's way. It's not the Queen's.
Queen has her way, we would send the Chakotay and some poor automaton out to
some planet and they would face each other, phasers on kill. Aim, fire, and
the one left standing gets custody of the three drones: Janeway, Tuvok and Torres.
makes the universal "cut the volume" sign by drawing his finger across
his neck. I'm sure they have a class at the Academy where they teach such skills,
along with great command poses and penetrating stares. They probably teach inflection
and enunciation in an advanced class.
signal terminated," Harry reports. I look back up; the Borg Queen is still
there, not happy that we have cut her out of the loop. Her lips moves but we
hear nothing. It's rather comical, but I get the feeling that one should not
laugh at the Queen of Borg; rumor has it she has quite the temper.
Queen is still watching us; I wonder if she reads lips. I bet she can and I
bet she can read them in the seven million known languages. She probably even
knows pig Latin, a language I am fluent in.
The turbolift opens and Seven erupts, literally, out of it. She gazes back at the offending lift and then turns back to face us. She visibly recoils at the image of the Borg Queen, stretching from floor to ceiling, in front of her.
Chakotay recovers smoothly. "Something to report?"
plan will succeed," she says quickly, never taking her eyes away from the
Queen. "The shields will be lowered in approximately three minutes."
ask how she knows this; with Seven, you can never tell. She probably fashioned
some kind of telepathic link out of one of her neural implants, gave the Collective
a piece of her mind and got them back on track.
a Swiss Army knife when you have a Borg drone?
Chakotay says urgently, his back now to the Queen. "In exactly three minutes,
send out a spread of torpedoes. Aim anywhere except the core."
sir," Harry says.
be prepared to take evasive maneuvers quickly," Chakotay says. "Seven,
be prepared to drop shields to transport the Captain and the others. Harry,
turn audio back on."
the Queen is visibly agitated. We have been talking about her in front of her
face and she doesn't like it.
her eyes are darting back and forth now.
discuss this," Chakotay steps forward, holding his hands out in a gesture
of reconciliation. "We can work this out."
do you suggest?" she is positively purring now.
beam to Voyager with a member of your
crew and we can hammer out a deal.
Something acceptable to you and also to us."
the Queen snarls, "committed an act of sabotage against the Borg. This
is not something we can easily forgive."
powering weapons," Harry warns in a low voice.
remains calm, almost as if Harry never even spoke.
understand how you feel," Chakotay continues. "I'm sure, if our roles
were reserved, we would experience some of the same emotions."
I am almost
expecting him to burst into his "forgiveness is good for the soul"
speech. There's a quality about Chakotay's soliloquies that provokes one to
experience great emotion. A tearjerker of a speech, if you will, and Chakotay's
damn good at getting you in touch with your innermost emotions. You can't help
but want to stand up and give everyone a hug when he is done speaking.
the Captain is so fond of him.
considers Chakotay's request. She doesn't trust him; if I were her, I'd trust
my instincts too and disregard Chakotay's plea. But there is something so sincere
and earnest about our First Officer, she can't help but agree.
holds all of the cards in her hand anyway. She's got Janeway and we, well, we've
got enhanced shields.
come here," she says. "You may bring one member of your crew."
take what we can.
turns around and Harry gives him an almost imperceptible nod.
that. Love those silent communication signals. They are supposed to be subtle
but are really blatant in their obviousness. And I bet the Borg Queen, with
her enhanced vision, probably caught Harry's little nod.
Chakotay directs his attention back at the Queen and strides forward.
won't be necessary," Chakotay says. "Harry?"
image on the screen is replaced with that of the Borg cube and the four torpedoes
fanning out en route.
Chakotay says urgently as the Borg return fire.
evasive maneuvers now, sir," I reply.
shudders as one of the Borg torpedoes slams into our shields.
Chakotay steadies himself against the Captain's chair.
holding steady. Eighty percent."
shields are completely down," Seven reports. "We only have five minutes
before they will be repaired. We must act quickly."
scanning for the Captain and the others," Chakotay answers.
Borg are hailing us," Harry reports.
them," Chakotay says with a noticeable bite. "Seven, any luck locating
are by the core as the Queen stated," Seven answers. "I'm locking
onto them now and also to two other drones."
when you're ready. Harry, fire at will."
and fires off another round. The Borg don't like getting shot at; they return
fire, but once again our shields hold, but we are all thrown to the floor. I
get back into my seat, trying to steady the ship from this latest impact.
have them," there is quiet triumph in Seven's voice.
Voyager?" Chakotay's voice trembles.
the transporter room," Seven confirms.
no time to think of what this mean; the Borg are out there and damn, they are
slightly to the left of the core, Harry," Chakotay orders. "Don't
destroy them but cripple them so they can't come after us."
minutes left," Seven says tensely. The ship rocks as the Borg cube sends
off another volley.
holding at fifty percent," Harry says. "I'm rerouting power now
speed towards the cube and then a second later, a massive explosion ripples
through the cube.
Voyager rides the shockwave, drifting dangerously close to the cube.
on it, I'm on it!" I yell back. I struggle to regain control of the helm
and we pass within twelve kilometers of the cube - too close for comfort.
power," Seven announces. "Lieutenant, you have impulse."
I say, biting my lip. "Let's try this again."
Voyager complies and we are able to escape the wreck of the Borg cube.
lets out his breath.
"Good work," he says but all eyes are on the view screen at the burnt shell of the cube. "Get us out of here, Tom."
pleasure," I say.
I can barely restrain myself from heading to sickbay the moment Voyager was out of direct danger from the Borg.
coming with you," Harry says as I head out into the turbolift.
Harry says. "You are my friend, Tom, and there are some things you don't
let friends do alone."
Harry a questioning look. Harry shrugs.
firing," I say. "Tuvok would be proud."
was holding my breath the whole time," Harry says. "What if Seven
was wrong? What if those shields were never coming down?"
sentiment was never said.
I've been meaning to ask," I say. "Back then, back when all this was
starting, you talked to the Borg Queen
he looks distinctly uncomfortable. The turbolift doors open and we spill out
into the corridor. Voyager has sustained a considerable amount of damage and
the repair crews are already about. We pass Vorick, Carey, Nicoletti and a few
others on our way.
did you talk about?" I ask.
know, the usual."
I don't know. You've got to be more detailed than that, Harry."
asked me how I was and I told her. She asked me what was new in my life and
I told her. You know, small talk."
small talked with the Borg Queen?"
it wasn't anything serious. We certainly did not discuss Borg Federation relations
sickbay and Harry puts his hand on my shoulder.
you know what to expect right? I mean, it might not be B'Elanna
in there or it might be."
a deep breath.
"I appreciate your concern, Harry. Really, I do. But whatever it is, we'll get through it, B'Elanna and I. We'll do it together."
were really serious about learning Klingon?" she asks.
whenever you want, we'll do it," I tell her. She is lying in bed, curled
up on her side. I am kneeling on the floor, her hand clasped between mine. She
looks peaceful, content, happy in a way I've never seen before.
sweet of you to offer," she murmurs.
is something I've got to do on my own, Tom. I've spent my entire life trying
to be someone I'm not and now I've got to find the real B'Elanna Torres and
I'm afraid this is something I can't help with."
back on my heels but don't release her hand.
don't understand," I tell her. "I want to help you. Your self-destructive
behavior, B'Elanna, it scares me."
going to stop, I promise. I just need some time. I need to figure this out and
I need to do it alone."
shutting me out again," I tell her coldly. "If you don't need me,
you should just say so. Tell me now so I can cut my losses."
I?" I get to my feet. "Do you need me for anything, B'Elanna? Anything
at all other than the obvious?"
you're blowing this out of proportion."
don't think so. I offer to help you because God, you need the help and I want
to be there."
sits up in bed, drawing her knees to her chest; she looks vulnerable but I'm
my question," I plead. "Do you even need me?"
know the answer to that question," she says coolly.
a deep breath. God, it takes the patience of a thousand saints to deal with
are some things we can do together," she says. "And when I need you,
and notice I said when, I will really need you. Do you understand, Tom? I'm
just so mixed up inside, I want to sort it all out before I drag someone else
not someone else, B'Elanna. I care about you and if you're too stubborn to see
is out of bed now, absolutely furious.
trying, Tom," she says in a controlled voice. With each word, she advances
a step towards. "Don't push me."
ask me to let you in; I'm only asking the same in return."
is centimeters away from me and I grab her by the waist.
please. It scares me when you want to make a day trip to Grethor. It frightens
me when you practice orbital skydiving without the safeties on and it terrifies
me that you can't talk about any of this with me."
cups my jaw in her palm.
need you," she says it very softly. "That frightens me too."
nods and I brush away a tear with my thumb.
let me help," I say. "Humor me, okay? And if I get annoying, you can
tell me to leave."
wraps her arms around my neck, leaning into me.
"I love you, Tom Paris," she whispers. "But you have to understand that there are some things I can't share with you. I'm not shutting you out, Tom, and I appreciate everything you've said and everything you want to do. Please believe that."
She says this whole speech in that tiny little girl's voice; the one that says she's trying so hard to be a grown-up. I hold her close.
promise me," I whisper into her ear. "We'll do most of this together."
promise," she chokes into my shoulder.
there, our arms wrapped around each other, neither willing to let go.
It's not everything, but it's a start.
times when you are mentally prepared, when you are even willing to accept, but
then you come face to face with reality and it's like slamming into a brick
wall at thirty kilometers an hour.
five of them and I can't help myself, but I think of them as "them."
Five drones, all in shiny black with matching silver accessories. The latest
in Delta Quadrant fashion.
them are facing us but it does not matter.
which one is B'Elanna immediately; I know those shoulders, that back, that neck
so intimately, even in this ribbed armor of hers.
is in shock; I can tell because he can't even speak. He just stares at his tricorder
and then back at the drones.
I say gaily. He looks relieved to see me.
Paris," he says. "I could use your help."
a couple steps behind me and he has stopped short. The drones have taking this
moment to turn around and there they are: Janeway, Tuvok and B'Elanna. They
offer us blank stares. My heart beats faster. Do they not remember us?
been one hundred and one days. How could they forget? How could she forget?
a step forward.
is gone. That lovely, silky hair is gone and instead, her scalp is the same
color as her face: pasty white. Her eyes, still brown, dart back and forth,
trying desperately to absorb all she can. Hoses of some sort jut out of her
back and shoulders and microtubules cover her hands. A flashing red light, embedded
in a cone-shaped object, covers her right eye.
look similar with minor variations in hardware and body armor. I can't help
myself; I shudder.
I turn to face the others and the Doctor offers me a shrug.
It is impossible
to know where to start. I want to say I can get past those Borg trappings, but
I can't. My mind is trained to equate Borg with assimilation and the death of
I do not
know what part these drones - I mean, B'Elanna, Tuvok, Janeway and the others
- had in the assimilations and I don't want to ask.
don't know doesn't hurt as much.
here. After all this time, she's finally here and if it were any other circumstances,
I would grab her around the waist and kiss her. But thought of those pasty greenish
eyes flicker. There is something there. I hold out my hand timidly.
to think, have to believe, that B'Elanna is under there somewhere, that she
isn't really this machine I'm looking at.
Paris," the Doctor says as Harry chimes in, "Tom!"
metallic hand grabs mine and holds tightly. God, she still has that death grip;
some things never change.
all right," I take a step closer. "B'Elanna, it's me. It's Tom."
her, Janeway fidgets. Tuvok, not surprisingly, does not move; his gaze is focused
straight ahead of him. Borgified or not, some things never change.
are Tom Paris," B'Elanna says in a mechanical voice. "Lieutenant,
chief helm officer on the starship Voyager, commanding officer Captain Kathryn
me," I say. Janeway looks fascinated as fascinated as her various implants
will allow her by the mention of Captain Kathryn Janeway. Somewhere, in that
mechanized body of hers, she remembers. "And you are Lieutenant B'Elanna
Torres, chief engineer on the starship Voyager, commanding officer Captain Kathryn
light covering B'Elanna's eye starts to blink rapidly. I look back at the Doctor
is scanning you," the Doctor explains. "As are the others."
they -" I indicate all of them, "do they remember us?"
think their memories are intact but are deeply recessed. We will need to retrieve
those memories as part of the de-assimilation process."
do we start?" I release B'Elanna's hand.
the Doctor says as Chakotay enters, followed by Seven of Nine. "I will
need your assistance, Mr. Paris."
each drone individually. They look at her questioningly.
know you," one of the new arrivals says.
," Seven is at a loss for words. "You know me as Annika, but
here, on Voyager, I am known as Seven of Nine. You are Two of Five, known in
Unimatrix Zero as Arundel."
turns to the other unknown Borg, "You are Three of Twelve, known in Unimatrix
Zero as Ennis."
to face us - Chakotay, Harry, the Doctor and I - wearing a proud expression.
and Ennis," she says again. "He is from the homeworld of Malnia."
gorges," I remember.
Ennis is from Cadera," Seven continues.
aboard," Chakotay says. In a low voice, he asks the Doctor, "How long
will it be?"
some time," the Doctor is obviously struggling with the
answer to this question.
get started," Chakotay says impatiently.
am going to sedate you all," the Doctor says.
calm," Seven advises.
Paris, prepare for surgery," the Doctor commands.
I nod and
turn away. I know by heart where the drugs are, where the instruments are; so
many times I've come in late at night and imagined laying them out, just as
I am doing now.
not as bad as I anticipated."
lying. Tell the truth."
a deep breath. How to confess what I feel? That I look at that Borg drone and
even though I know it's B'Elanna, I still see Borg? And when she spoke, her
tone was clipped and mechanical, not the fiery voice I'm used to.
all right, Tom," Harry pats me on the shoulder as I lay out the instruments.
been doing some research," I say in a low voice. "In preparation for
this. I'm guessing that Janeway, Tuvok, B'Elanna - their modifications are superficial,
not quite a part of their systems yet. I read up on Captain Picard's experience
as Locutus of Borg and he was completely de-assimilated by Dr. Beverly Crusher,
with no lasting effects."
than psychological," Harry says.
been reading too," I smile.
figure it didn't hurt to know what we're up against. So you think they'll be
back to normal?"
pretty much," I toss a look back at the drones. "I don't know about
Ennis and Arundel though. Don't know how long they have been with the Collective."
Seven explaining what is about to happen; her voice is soft and gentle. I am
claim that when it comes to contradictions, B'Elanna takes the cake, but I'm
rapidly coming to see that Seven might prove worthy competition for that particular
title. Her recent openness, the concern she displayed regarding the other drones
on the Borg cube, and now, the gentleness in her tone, it shows that she has
come such a long way.
project has succeeded in becoming an individual.
me help you," Harry steadies my hand. "You're going to drop those."
I let out my breath. "Harry, this isn't going to be easy. And I'm not just
talking about me. It's going to take some time for all us to
me a crooked grin.
you sound like Seven," he says.
Mr. Paris," the Doctor says loudly.
all done here," I say cheerfully. I turn around to see the biobeds covered
going to have to stop doing that. Think of them by name. Think of them as Kathryn
Janeway, Tuvok, B'Elanna Torres, Arundel and Ennis. Not Borg. Individuals.
I say. I look at Chakotay who is once again wearing his tense face.
right," the Doctor says. "Everyone out. Sickbay is closed."
will keep me informed?" Chakotay asks.
"Of course," the Doctor nods. "But for now, everyone out."
"How do you feel?"
and roll over in bed. B'Elanna is sitting up, the strap of her red nightgown
falling slightly over one shoulder.
a million elephants just pounded on my skull," I groan into the pillow.
She strokes my back lightly.
is what happens when you take your chances with neural interfaces," she
says. "I hope you learned your lesson."
me," I roll onto my back and stare up at the ceiling. "I have no desire
to repeat that experience again."
she says. "I don't want to lecture you, Tom, but it was irresponsible of
you. You should have let me or Harry or even Seven check it out before you hooked
yourself up to Alice."
didn't think something like this would happen."
not immortal, you know."
starting to get that feeling."
laughs, deep and throaty.
you going to sleep through your entire sick leave?"
feel like I could," I confess.
snuggles back down under the covers, draping her arm across my chest. She props
her chin up on the back of her hand and looks down at me.
check on you," she says. "Do you need anything?"
not for now," I rest my palm on the small of her back. "Do you forgive
offers me a big smile, "Of course."
long as it doesn't happen again. I'm tired of watching over you in sickbay-"
are tired? What about me? I'm constantly in sickbay because you've taken an
unnecessary risk or you've been attacked by some strange alien entity. B'Elanna,
I don't think you can really claim innocence on this point."
not," she says, reaching up to ruffle my hair. "Maybe we should make
of us in sickbay again for the duration of our time in the Delta Quadrant."
like a tall order," I chuckle.
you agree?" she asks earnestly.
serious. Come on, Tom."
about all the times we have disagreed on things as simple as what to eat for
dinner or where to go on our holodeck vacations. Mostly, we just take the easy
way out by doing something neither of us really cares for. Agreeing is not something
we do particularly well.
there is a first time for everything.
promise. Do you promise?"
all my heart," she says with a cheeky grin.
"I do," she giggles and stretches up to kiss my nose. "I promise."
been twenty-nine hours straight. One drone down, four to go. Even drones have
rank and we do Janeway first.
is correct; the assimilation is purely superficial - the implants haven't had
time to fully integrate into her system. But still, it is painstaking work to
remove what implants are there.
hurts from bending over her prone figure; even my eyes are starting to give
you all right, Mr. Paris?" the Doctor asks in a low voice.
I say sharply. I take a quick reading; her vitals are stable. Slowly, Kathryn
Janeway is becoming more recognizable.
you tired? Do you need to rest?" the Doctor queries.
to say no but my body is saying something completely different.
does not help if you are tired," the Doctor goes on in his best preachy
tone. "I advise you get some rest immediately."
just, um, get on a biobed," I point.
I order you to your quarters."
him a look as if to say, "huh?" but then I agree he's right. I don't
think I can sleep given the proximity of the drones - uh, and I do it again.
got to stop that," I say.
thinking of them as drones, as Borg. I can't help it. I look at them and I see
B'Elanna," the Doctor drags me over to the biobed where B'Elanna lies.
know that. Logically, I know that. That's not the problem," I argue.
sighs, "Get some rest. I'll continue here. Report back in eight hours."
you be all right?"
he says. "Do not worry about me, Mr. Paris. You need some rest."
by B'Elanna's bio bed and hesitantly, I stretch out a finger to touch her cheek.
I wonder what it will feel like? Smooth? Slimy? Cold? Turns out, the answer
is all of the above. I pull my hand back and stare down at her face.
the matter?" the Doctor calls.
I'm wondering if she is, um, dreaming," I say. I look down fascinated.
Back when B'Elanna had eyelashes - and I say this because the Borgified B'Elanna
lacks them - she dreamt. Now, I can't tell. Her jaw is tight, her skin stretched
tightly over her cheekbones and there is that barely audible hum emanating from
one or more of her implants. I shiver.
Mr. Paris," the Doctor points to the door.
I do not really notice the walk back my quarters. Chills run up and down my spine and my eyelids feel vaguely itchy as if there is a dust particle or two or three embedded within my eye. Somehow, I end up in bed, fully dressed minus my boots; those made it off of my feet by some supernatural force because I lack the energy. I am sleeping before my head even hits the pillow.
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