The Longest Night
Author’s note: It’s been a long time but it feels like home.
My thanks to Rocky for looking this over.
Characters belong to Paramount. No profit or infringement intended.
The corridor lights had already been dimmed and non-essential systems like the holodeck taken off-line in preparation for the crew entering thirty days of stasis.
Plus or minus, Tom Paris thought with a shudder as he made his way through Voyager’s mostly empty corridors. Much of the crew was making last minute preparations before they would be required to enter their individual stasis units in about an hour. Until the senior staff meeting a few hours prior, Tom Paris had been blissfully unaware that Voyager more than a couple of stasis units – let alone 140 - stored in Cargo Bay 1. And now one of those units had his name on it.
He entered Engineering, trying to tamp down on the ever-growing sense of claustrophobia and fear that seemed to swell every cell in his body. The workstations that lined each side of Engineering had been shut down and the usual cacophony of voices had been replaced with a monotonous buzz. The upper deck was dark, except for the bluish glow the warp core threw off. Except for a lone figure standing in front of the warp core, Engineering was empty.
“Hey,” Tom said as he approached.
B’Elanna looked up from her console. “Oh, hi.” Her greeting was surprisingly casual, but Tom noticed the tightness in her jaw and the tension radiating across her shoulders. She was holding a PADD in her right hand, and a stack of PADDs sat just to the side. A few PADDs had been tossed on the floor.
“How is it going?” he asked with a bit of trepidation.
B’Elanna indicated the console with an impatient wave of her hand. “I’m still trying to finish slaving all the systems to this station,” she said. “Not to mention I still have these systems to run final diagnostics on and then shut down.” B’Elanna took a deep breath. “And I’m running out of time. What about you?”
“I’ve got the helm on auto pilot, course laid in to be on the other side of the Mutara Nebula in thirty days and attended the Doctor’s training on how to properly initiate stasis,” Tom said with more cheer than he expected. It hadn’t come as a surprise that he, along with Seven, Harry and Captain Janeway, would be expected to assist; with 140 crew members, it would take the five of them approximately three hours to put everyone under. “Anything I can help with?”
“Thank you,” B’Elanna said gratefully. She handed over a PADD. “Reroute the inertial dampers to this station?”
“I can do that.”
They worked side by side in comfortable silence for a few minutes before B’Elanna spoke.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what we’re about to do,” she said.
“What? Entering stasis for thirty days to avoid burning up and adding a year to journey? Yeah, sure. It’s pretty mind bending.”
B’Elanna offered him a small smile in response. “Something like that. Voyager was designed to be operated by a crew complement of 140 and now we’re leaving the ship to the mercy of a Borg drone and a hologram.”
“In all fairness, she’s not Borg anymore.”
“Still.” B’Elanna turned her attention back to the console. Her fingers flew rapidly across the LCARS interface and Tom marveled at her speed as she reconfigured and redirected systems. And if he was being truthful to himself, he was also impressed with how calmly she was handling the situation. “It’s a crazy plan. Impossible, even.”
“Why didn’t you tell the Captain you felt that way?” Tom demanded. He had sat next to B’Elanna at the senior staff meeting earlier in the day when Captain Janeway had broken the news about her plan to put the entire crew into stasis while they crossed the Mutara Nebula. After the meeting ended, B’Elanna seemed on edge and had rushed out of the room before Tom had had a chance to ask her opinion.
B’Elanna shook her head. “No. You know how she is when she has her mind made up about something.” This was true: Janeway was immovable about returning to the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe Chakotay stood a chance of changing the Captain’s mind, if he dared. The rest of them didn’t stand a chance. With a slight chuckle she added, “There are probably only a handful of us who wouldn’t mind spending another year in the Delta Quadrant. For everyone else, thirty days in a tube is preferable to spending more time here.”
“I know what I’d prefer,” Tom said. “Inertial dampers rerouted. What’s next?” He leaned back against the workstation, careful not to press up against any buttons or disturb the PADDs B’Elanna was systematically working her way through and then discarding to the floor with a resounding thud that echoed through Engineering.
“Emergency back-up systems,” B’Elanna said briskly. “Need to make sure they will come on automatically just in case primary systems fail.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tom answered. “Let’s hope those don’t crash. But if they do, we wouldn’t even know, right?”
B’Elanna stopped working to look at him. “Are you okay?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” he asked, mustering the cockiest grin he possibly could. “Nothing like spending the next thirty days encased in metal and glass with barely any room on either side or above you. Attempt to escape and you risk excruciating pain and or life-threatening burns. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“Sure sounds like it.” B’Elanna reached out to gently stroke his cheek with her fingers. “I’m going to miss you.”
He turned his lips into the palm of her hand. “It is unfortunate they don’t make two-person tubes,” he said. “It would certainly make it easier to bear.”
B’Elanna grinned and then turned her attention back to the workstation. “We’ll just have to make up for lost time when we wake up.”
Tom smiled to himself. B’Elanna tended towards seriousness, but there were moments like this when she caught him off-guard. “Well, I was meaning to surprise you this weekend with a new program.”
“You did? What is it?”
“Now you’ll have to wait a month to find out.” He grinned at her impishly. He watched as she turned back to her console. She mumbled a few things on her breath and then released a few buttons. “Plasma relays, EPS conduits, dilithium matrix… done.”
“As are the emergency back-up systems.”
“Thank you,” B’Elanna said. She handed him another PADD. “Can you look at the isolytic converter? I worry about it. It runs a little hot and I don’t think Seven quite appreciates its sensitive nature.”
“Sure,” Tom said. He decided not to think about the converter over-heating and the cascade reaction that would ensue, eventually culminating in a warp core breach. Running the diagnostic at least made him feel like a bulwark against that eventuality. “So where is everyone?”
“Joe Carey is working with Harry in Cargo Bay 1. I asked Vorik to oversee the non-essential systems shutdown. Susan is working with Tuvok to make sure all tactical systems are on-line.”
At the last comment, Tom shuddered. An encounter with hostiles was run-of-the-mill for Voyager by now; few of the species they’d encountered were friendly, and it was always surprising when the ship wasn’t immediately greeted by a torpedo blast. He imagined how the EMH – Command mode or not – and Seven would handle the situation and decided it was best not to dwell on the very real possibility Voyager could be blown to Kingdom Come in the next thirty days. Not for the first time, Tom wondered just how carefully Janeway had considered this plan.
“And then a few of them had some personal requests,” B’Elanna continued in a conversational tone that betrayed no sense of stress she must surely be feeling. “Tabor’s been saving his rations for hasperaat and said today was the day. I didn’t have the heart to deny him. Plus, he wanted to see Jor.”
Tom winced slightly at B’Elanna’s acknowledgement that Jor and Tabor, who had been romantically involved since their Maquis days, might want to spend time together. He thought about pushing for the same consideration but seeing the strong set of B’Elanna’s jaw, he knew nothing short of security would drag B’Elanna away from Engineering before 1700 hours. Still, he figured it was worth a shot. The legendary Tom Paris charm had worked miracles in worse situations than this before.
“What about you? Are you planning to eat?”
“I don’t have time to eat.”
“You’ll be really hungry when you wake up,” he said. “Why don’t we go grab a last taste of leola root before Neelix shuts the kitchen down? We’ve got another twenty minutes or so before our long sleep.”
“I’ll be okay,” B’Elanna said. This, Tom knew, was true. He often found it amazing B’Elanna could go a couple of shifts without food or drink. Maybe it was Klingon physiology or just her single-minded focus on keeping Voyager running, but either way, he found it fascinating. Just like everything else about her, he though. “You should eat though.”
“To be honest, my stomach is unsettled.”
This got B’Elanna’s attention. “You’re really not okay with this plan, are you?”
“No, not really. Have you seen the stasis tubes?”
“Briefly. I sent a crew to work with Harry’s team to assemble the units and make sure they were in operational order. We also had to replicate some spare parts. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off in time but we did.” B’Elanna quirked a grin. “Seven said our efficiency was exceptional.”
“High praise indeed,” Tom said. Indeed the crew’s determination to prepare for the shut-down in just a few hours was impressive. In fact, the effort reminded him of a 20th game show he’d once seen where two families competed to construct furniture from in 30 minutes or less with the winner receiving a new house.
“It just seems—” Tom paused. He envisioned the cargo bay with neat columns and rows of silver stasis tubes, with glass lids reflecting the overhead lighting. His first introduction to the tubes had taken places years ago at the Academy as part of a six-week course on deep space exploration. The class spent a single night in the tubes, and Tom remembered the gray mattress had been thin and his back ached when he’d been revived in the morning. “It seems so… sterile.” He wrinkled his nose slightly. “And the outgassing smells gave me a headache.”
“You’ll barely notice once you go under,” B’Elanna said confidently. “The Doctor said time will pass very quickly for us. We’ll be unaware of anything happening around us. It’ll be like sleeping.”
“That’s what everyone says.” Tom took a deep breath. “I don’t believe them. When I was at the Academy, I spent a night in one.”
“I didn’t do well. I don’t know what it was, but I was very aware of what was going on around me. My friends, they swore it felt like a regular night’s sleep, but somehow I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was trapped. I remember staring up through the glass lid at the ceiling, when I should have been out of it, but I was able to reach up and touch the glass. No matter what, I couldn’t get out. It felt like a nightmare. And to spend thirty nights like that?” Tom shook his head. “No thanks.”
“You can ask the Doctor for a sedative.”
“Already he did. He said it could cause an adverse reaction when the stasis process begins,” Tom answered. “You seem… calm.”
“Not as much calm as resigned. We won’t survive the nebula otherwise, and I’ve already had enough near-death experiences,” B’Elanna said quietly. “I just want to survive this and if it means going into stasis, then that’s what I have to do.” Behind them, the warp core glowed its distinct glow and the various systems hummed in their unique rhythm and tone. Tom realized how much he would miss Voyager’s distinct noises. A reminder of just how much he appreciated the ship and its crew, and especially B’Elanna.
“That’s what I keep telling myself,” Tom said. He remembered the sight of Ensign Galdes, dead on the bridge due to severe burns. He remembered the intense pain he experienced during their brief initial foray into the Mutara nebula. It’d been fortunate Tuvok had managed to reset Voyager’s trajectory and get them out of the nebula before the entire crew had suffered major injury or worse. “I just don’t understand why we can’t go around.”
“You heard the Captain,” B’Elanna said with a hint of exasperation.
“Yes, I did. But does this make any sense?” Tom started to pace. “You said it yourself. You’re putting 140 people into stasis, including the Captain, and leaving Seven of Nine and the Doctor in charge of running the entire ship? Does this make any sense?”
“No,” B’Elanna said. “But it’s the Captain’s decision.”
“What if something goes wrong?” he asked. “What if there’s a cascade failure in the EPS relays? Containment breach on the core? How on earth will one person and a hologram operate the ship?”
“Seven will manage.”
He stared at her with some surprise. B’Elanna generally had no patience or trust for Seven of Nine so to hear her speak like this seemed out of character. “You think Seven can run Engineering as well as the Helm and Operations as well as a crew of 140 can? Alone? She’s efficient, but she’s not that efficient.”
B’Elanna lifted her hands from the console and crossed her arms against her chest. “What do you want me to say, Tom?” she asked wearily. “Yes, you’re right, it’s crazy and that’s why I’m doing everything I can to make sure it’s as easy as possible for Seven.” She sighed. “And I’m trying not to think about Seven being in charge and I’m hoping, hoping, the Doctor can exceed his programming during this time and manage Voyager and Seven of Nine. And I hope Seven of Nine does indeed prove herself worthy of the trust the Captain has placed in her. But yes, you’re right. It’s a tall order, and a dangerous one.” She cupped his face gently in her hands. “But it’s what the Captain has ordered, and we follow orders. That’s what good Starfleet officers do, right?”
“If I remember correctly, the two of us were never really considered great Starfleet material,” Tom said softly. He pulled B’Elanna close to him. Even just in the few months they had been dating, they had managed to fit comfortably together. And he had never realized until he had started dating B’Elanna just how nice it was to be in a relationship longer than a one-night stand, to really get to know someone in all her moods and environments. He brushed his lips gently across her cheek, and whispered, “And we’ve never been really good at following orders.”
“And yet here we are,” she said.
“Yes, here we are.”
She kissed him, soft and light, on the lips, and then with more feeling. “I’ll be thinking about that holodeck program—”
“I promise, it’s spectacular,” Tom said. The pessimist in him wondered if they would actually experience the program so he decided to tell her what he’d planned. “Ever heard of Antilles III? It’s a trinary system with spectacular beaches and waterfalls, according to Neelix.” He chuckled. “That’s if we survive…”
“No, but it sounds lovely and I look forward to exploring it with you,” B’Elanna said. She held his gaze firmly as she placed her palm flat on his chest. “We will survive, and we will have our vacation.”
Tom nodded. He wished he had B’Elanna’s confidence, but the accumulation of nagging anxieties was becoming harder and harder to ignore.
“Kim to Paris.”
Tom sighed. “Go ahead, Harry.”
“Can you meet me in Cargo Bay 1 in fifteen minutes? The Doctor wants to get underway.”
“I’m on my way.” Tom looked regretfully at B’Elanna, taking in the smooth curve of her jaw, the gentle ridges spanning her forehead, and those expressive brown eyes. “So, it’s a still no for dinner?”
B’Elanna gestured towards the warp core. “I’m sorry.” And she did indeed sound apologetic. “But I will see you before we go into stasis.”
“Your tube or mine?” he asked lightly.
“Mine,” she said. She leaned in for a last series of kisses. He savored each one and reluctantly pulled away.
“I’ll stop distracting you,” he said softly. He nodded his head towards the console and the quickly diminishing pile of PADDs. “Make it as easy for Seven as possible.”
B’Elanna nodded. “Yes. See you at 1700 hours in the cargo bay.” She took a deep breath. “And Tom? I checked your stasis tube myself. Twice. It’s in perfect working order.” She offered him a tentative smile. “I promise, it’ll be just like going to sleep. It’ll be over before you know it.”
“I hope you’re right.”
As the doors exiting Engineering swished open, Tom took one last look. B’Elanna was still hunched over her console. Antilles III in thirty days, he thought. And he resolved to think of nothing else except the soft white sands, the crash of white-capped waves and then purple-orange streaked skies at sunset as the Doctor pulled the glass lid shut over his tube.
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