Disclaimer: Paramount's! It all belongs to Paramount.
Dedication: For the Powers That Be because they wouldn't approve or appreciate any of the words which follow.
There was going to be a fight; everyone knew it.
Someone - Ayala? Chell? Celes? - had stolen Neelix's replicator codes and had produced more green jello than any single group of one hundred humanoids could consume.
Rumors flew but only one thing was clear: the holodeck at 1900. Be there, voices whispered. Don't be late. It's going to be good.
The shift swapping began early, with some of the senior staff - Tom, B'Elanna, Harry - finding their replacements quickly. The rest had to jockey for positions and a few unlucky ones would have to man their stations on the Bridge; the rest planned to sneak away, except, of course, in the event of a red alert, which happened nearly every day.
This, everyone was saying, was the fight. Don't miss it; everyone's going to be there. But shh..., don't tell the Captain.
Yes, the atmosphere was ripe, the tension thick.
Janeway arrived on the Bridge for her shift and was surprised when she didn't recognize anyone at all. No Tuvok, Tom, Harry or even B'Elanna. These people were complete strangers to her. Janeway sighed and took her seat. Every week, especially on Wednesdays, she noticed that the corridors were filled with people she'd never seen before.
Of course that would be expected on a ship of this size - how many crewmembers were on board again? Janeway's brow furrowed as she leaned forward, deep in thought. She figured her crew complement was anywhere between ten (the Command crew) to one hundred and fifty-two individuals. She had no idea where these people came from or where they went. It was a disconcerting feeling; she would have to talk to Chakotay about it one of these days.
Chakotay entered the Bridge precisely on time and he walked stiffly to his chair, nodding a curt "good morning" to the Captain. He sat down, staring straight ahead, with posture a dance teacher would be proud of. Janeway tilted her head and looked at her First Officer. He didn't blink.
Janeway sighed. Only five minutes had passed since she had sat down and already, she was desperately missing Tom and Harry's good-natured banter. With Chakotay, she only got terse answers properly enunciated, occasional breathlessness and deep, longing looks. Where the hell was everyone?
Maybe they would meet an alien. After all, it was a Wednesday, and aliens seemed to be especially prolific and unfriendly on Wednesdays; Janeway made a mental note to talk to Neelix about this particular phenomenon since every other day of the week remained relatively unscheduled. Maybe they could set up a confrontation for a Friday or even Tuesday.
But Janeway had to admit even aliens were getting dull as a form of entertainment; the Borg had lost their novelty long ago. When Voyager first entered the Delta Quadrant, Janeway had felt considerable concern about their chances of survival in this harsh, unforgiving new territory; but like pioneers, they had blazed their path and left their mark. Now, when it came to the KazonHirogenBorgSpecies8472, Janeway knew the odds; she'd win every time, mostly by rerouting power from one thingy to another thingy and then blasting away at the aliens' shields. Thank goodness the KazonHirogenBorgSpecies8472 were slow catching onto Janeway's clever strategies.
"Computer, time?" Janeway asked.
"The time is now 1809 hours," the computer voice chirped back. Janeway sighed. She hated that computer voice almost as much as she hated missing her eighty cups of coffee a day. The voice was an act of pure nepotism; the ship's primary designer had insisted that his wife, Marjorie, provide the initial voice patterns, or he was going to take his tools and go home. So of course the powers that be agreed and now not only was Voyager stuck in the Delta Quadrant, they were there with Marjorie's cloying voice.
"Computer, time?" Janeway asked again. She looked at Chakotay, certain he was sleeping with his eyes wide open. One of these days, I'm going to have to learn that trick, Janeway thought.
"The time is now 1811 hours," the computer announced.
Without Harry and Tom to liven up the atmosphere, Janeway resorted to her own amusements; she decided to time how long it would take for Chakotay to blink.
"The last time I saw a jello fight, I was eighteen and a freshman at the Academy," Harry Kim leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes in blissful memory. His dinner consisted of peanut butter toast - a Tom Paris special and the reason for Harry's visit to the Paris/Torres quarters. No one could make peanut butter toast like Tom. His toaster was second only to Neelix's replicator and even that was a call too close to make. "Ah, those were the days. Slick limbs intertwined, glistening and God, that green, ah, there's nothing like jello green on a half-naked body."
Tom Paris grinned, his blue eyes - or were they gray? - twinkling merrily back at Harry.
"I remember," Tom said. "And sometimes, if you got real close to the ring you could touch them. Now that was- ouch! What did you do that for?"
B'Elanna stood behind Tom, hands on her hips.
"You're not going to the fight," B'Elanna hissed at Tom.
"You agreed this morning!" Tom protested.
"That was before I knew about the jello!"
"It will be fun," Tom said.
"Lots of fun," Harry added. B'Elanna gave him a withering look and Harry realized that this was his cue not to speak for the rest of this particular conversation. He would sit and watch, and hope that he left with his limbs - particularly his nose - intact.
"It'll be like Tskunktse," Tom said. B'Elanna immediately brightened; she loved Tskunktse. There was something so... primal about people beating on each other. It brought out the Klingon in her. Unexpectedly, B'Elanna growled; Tom's eyes widened and Harry jumped out of his chair. He knew this cue too; furniture was going to start flying and bones were going to start breaking.
"Computer, time?" Janeway rapped her fingers on her armrest.
"The time is now 1823."
Chakotay still hadn't blinked. Janeway considered summoning the EMH to take the first officer's pulse. And then she remembered that before the borgification of her ship, she had been pretty darn good at that science stuff. So she leaned over and took Chakotay's hand in hers. Her first officer stared longingly into Janeway's eyes.
"Not now!" Janeway hissed. Well, he did have a pulse; no need to call the Doctor. She dropped his hand but Chakotay continued to look longingly into Janeway's ear. She ignored him; already, she had moved onto other thoughts.
Maybe they would run into the Borg. How long had it been since she'd seen those body-armored drones? At least two or three weeks. Damn, how she loved that leather-and-metal look; that look was so modern and sleek and sexy.
And of course, there were other advantages to having a confrontation with the Borg at this very moment because then they would have to power up their shields.
And Janeway loved the way Chakotay said, "Raise shields!" There was just something so incredibly sexy about a man who could say, without a rise in body temperature, "Raise shields." And then, Chakotay would say something like, "Red alert! Captain to the Bridge."
Janeway tried to control her breathing; she knew Chakotay so well. Knew him better than anyone else. She turned to look at her first officer; he was still staring into her ear. Janeway shuddered.
Sometimes, he could be so creepy.
The holodeck was full. Everyone was there. Well, the people who mattered. Even Tuvok came but he was there ostensibly to maintain order.
There had never been a fight on Voyager before.
Harry Kim pushed his way through the crowd to get a good spot up by the ring.
"Excuse me," Joe Carey said as Harry accidentally poked him in the ribs. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I want to just make sure I get a good view."
"Damn straight," Carey growled. He looked over his shoulder. "Who's this between anyway?"
"Well, I heard..." Harry lowered his voice just as the Doctor passed by.
"Mr. Kim," the Doctor poked the ensign in the shoulder. "Is it true?"
"What?" Harry looked annoyed.
"About the fight?" the Doctor said. "I've been hearing rumors all day..."
"It's true!" Neelix exclaimed, inserting himself between the Doctor and Harry expertly. "I'm going to call it out myself."
"And I can't think of a better man for the job," Tom put in. Harry noticed that B'Elanna was there, her expression a mixture of confusion, interest and disgust.
Neelix beamed. "Thank you, thank you. You know, Samantha Wildman specifically asked me to do this."
"Who?" Harry blinked.
"Samantha Wildman, Ensign," the Doctor said. "You know her. Naomi's mother."
"She's Naomi's mother?" Carey asked in disbelief. "I always assumed that Seven was Naomi's mother..."
"According to my records, it is Ensign Wildman who gave birth to Naomi," the Doctor said self-importantly. "There is no mistake. I have run various genetic analyses and the result is always the same: the child's DNA matches that of Ensign Wildman. Wildman's claim is indeed valid."
"Well, I'll be darned," Carey said. He licked his lips. "That explains everything."
Harry rubbed his hands together. "This should be good."
Tom looked like he wanted to agree, but a look from B'Elanna, and the pilot closed his mouth quickly.
"Wildman to the Doctor."
"Doctor here. What is it, Ensign?" the Doctor took on an air of authority; he loved it when he received a hail - it made him feel very needed.
"Uh, medical emergency. In my quarters."
"I'm on my way," the Doctor said, injecting a note of urgency into his voice.
"I'll come with you," Tom offered.
The two men beat a speedy exit, leaving Harry, Joe and Neelix gawking at the jello pit.
"I hope it's not too serious," Neelix said.
"Me either," Harry put in.
"It'd be a darn shame if the fight had to be canceled."
And all three men, if they hadn't seen B'Elanna glowering at them, would have nodded in agreement.
Still no Tom, still no Harry. Damn. Even Tuvok would provide scintillating conversation at this point. So Janeway began to think. Always dangerous, because she was very smart and could think of many things all at once, but only when Seven wasn't around. When Seven was around, all reason and logic escaped Janeway and it was only pure luck that Janeway had the ability to string words together into coherent sentences.
Seven also had the fantastic ability to build, fix, cook, fly, sew, paint, sing, and manipulate anything. Quicker and better than Janeway too. Once, Janeway had considered turning the ship over to Seven and retiring to the holodeck to spend more time with, um - well, of course, that had been silly idea, one that she had completely dismissed once she learned that well, Seven, well was-
"Computer, time?" Janeway asked. She couldn't think about Seven anymore. She figured half of her crew thought about Seven most of the time.
"The time is now 1856."
An hour. One measly hour. Or as Seven would say-
Damn Seven. Now Janeway was angry. Who the hell thought of bringing that drone-
She looked over at Chakotay. Maybe he would get angry too. Well, no, not likely. Now he was smiling goofily at her.
Just then, the unnamed red-shirted ensign at the Comm announced, "Captain, I'm picking something up on long range sensors."
It's about time, Janeway thought, as Chakotay leaped out of his chair.
"Red alert! Shields up! Captain to the Bridge!" he exclaimed before sitting back down. Janeway sighed deeply; such intonation, such passion, and such initiative...
What if, Janeway thought, what if I kissed him right now?
"What happened?" the Doctor asked briskly as he leaned over Seven of Nine's body. Samantha Wildman, sitting in a chair and obviously distraught, shook her head.
"It happened so suddenly," Wildman said. "I called her in here to see if we couldn't settle this in a civilized way. I heard about the jello and I wanted nothing to do with that. I just wanted her to stop encouraging Naomi into calling her 'mommy.' I figured we could come to an agreement without stooping to that level."
"I can understand that," Tom said.
"Then what happened?" the Doctor asked.
"She tripped over one of Naomi's toys," Wildman sniffed. "Seven tottered in those shoes of hers - ridiculously high heeled, if you ask me - and then fell over. Her suit snagged on the edge of the table and her lips started to turn blue. I tried to find a way to loosen her clothing, but it wasn't possible. I couldn't find a zipper or buttons or anything even remotely resembling an opening. It's like the outfit was... glued to her."
Tom stooped by the dead drone and looked up soberly.
"Death by strangulation," he announced. "Her clothes were too tight, an indirect hazard to her health."
"A minor flaw," the Doctor sniffed. "But a masterpiece in its own way. Functional, stylish, and extremely advanced in its design. I deserve some credit for creating such an artistic expression to showcase Borg-human physiology, don't I?"
Wildman shook her head. "I can't believe this. When I challenged her to a duel to the death, it was just a figure of speech. I didn't think she would actually die."
"We're going to have to tell Tuvok and the Captain," Tom said.
"Do we have to?" Wildman's eyes grew large. "You can't bring her back to life?"
"No, I'm afraid not," the Doctor said. "My internal chronometer shows that I have been active for thirty-eight minutes. Out of those thirty-eight minutes, twenty-seven were spent in the holodeck, admiring a giant tub of green jello. Four minutes were spent in travel to your quarters, Ensign. Unfortunately, due to FCC regulations, I can only be active for another four minutes and twenty seconds."
"FCC?" Wildman asked.
"Federation Continuity Council," Tom supplied.
"We're in the Delta Quadrant," Wildman reminded the Doctor. "Make an exception. It wouldn't be the first time we've broken a rule out of here. I can think of three or four instances where we have violated FCC's guidelines anyway."
"If only it could be that easy. You forget the UPN," Tom said. "That's even worse."
"Ah yes, UPN. The Union of Possible Nits," the Doctor said. "Sometimes, if I'm active too long, they will cut me off in mid-sentence. I have to say, it's been getting worse lately, and I can't think why. It must be my popularity. They are obviously jealous."
"That must be it," Tom grumbled. "Well, think of something quickly, Doctor. Surely you can whip up a cure for death in a matter of seconds."
"My deepest apologies, Lieutenant," the Doctor said, "but time is up and I must go."
And before Wildman or Paris could blink, the Doctor had deactivated his program.
"I guess we're stuck then," Wildman said.
"Which leaves us with a bigger problem," Tom said, stroking his chin the way he liked to do when he was thinking.
Tom began, "are we going to do with the body?"
The blip on the long-range sensors turned out to be yet another boring nebula. Janeway, because it was her turn to speak, said, "Stand down from red alert." And just like that, the blinking red lights disappeared and Janeway continued to think.
One thing that bothered her was the issue of intimacy. Janeway's head began to ache whenever the "I" word came into any conversation. She had heard the rumors, of course. Some days, it seemed like everyone was having sex with everyone else. She had heard the stories about Paris and Chakotay, Paris and Kim, Paris and Tuvok, Paris and Neelix, Paris and Seven, Paris and Torres, and hell, some even paired her - the Captain! - with Paris.
Janeway had hacked into some of the private electronic messaging systems that were assigned to all crewmembers; invasion of privacy was every captain's prerogative and frankly, some of the results were disturbing. According to the ship's grapevine, the crew had a betting pool going: Janeway and Seven, odds four to one. And then there was Janeway and Chakotay, odds eight to one.
There were other bets too, but nothing quite as fascinating as her purported interest in first, Seven, and second, in Chakotay. And because she didn't want to favor any one member of crew - because of her foray into their private systems, she knew who had placed what bet - Janeway had come up with a clever alternative.
She would save her gazes for Chakotay in the privacy of her quarters over burnt roast, which he would never eat because he was vegetarian. But Janeway was determined to serve burnt roast every single time he came over just to see if he would stop coming or maybe, he would offer to fix her replicator for her.
Even though she had a strong background in science and could understand B'Elanna's technobabble when no one else could, Janeway lacked the skills to fix a replicator. It was a simple piece of machinery, one that any 10-year old could assemble in an hour or so, but Janeway had been unable to get it to produce anything but bad coffee and burnt roasts.
Anyway, back to the question of intimacy. Janeway had outlined her feelings about this issue very clearly. Absolutely no one on Voyager could have sex without her permission.
Reality was quite different. Everyone, except for her, was having sex. She just drank coffee and after six years, coffee just wasn't cutting it anymore. So Janeway found a pleasant enough solution in Michael Sullivan. It didn't matter that she could stick her fist through his chest or that sometimes he would blitz in and out on her in some of their, um, more passionate moments.
A perfect solution, Janeway thought. She licked her lips. Only five hours and forty minutes until she could see Michael again.
"You want me to do what?" B'Elanna asked as she stared in dismay at Seven's body. Somehow, Tom and Harry had managed to get Seven out of Samantha Wildman's quarters and into the shuttle bay without anyone, including Security, noticing. Apparently, all of the time playing Captain Proton in the holodeck had improved Tom and Harry's deception skills greatly.
"We have to circumvent security so that we can get rid of the body," Tom explained patiently.
"That's the plan?"
"Actually, we're going to put her in a shuttle and program the auto-pilot to have the shuttle mysteriously self-destruct in the midst of a nebula with a highly irregular and erratic gaseous environment."
"We probably should tell the Captain," B'Elanna said.
"And explain it how?" Harry asked. "Remember the jello? Who gave Carey the authorization codes to replicate that much jello?"
B'Elanna gulped. "I didn't know what he was going to do with those codes. I thought he was replicating spare parts for the Shuttle Rehabilitation Project."
Harry and Tom glanced at each other.
"The paperwork, don't forget about the paperwork," Tom said, turning his brightest smile on his Klingon wife. "Think about all of those hours, squinting at tiny letters on a data PADD. We can avoid that easily if we get rid of the body. All we need to do is make it so that the launch isn't detected and the shuttle isn't picked up on sensors. It's the perfect plan, B'Elanna."
B'Elanna considered. She bit her lip and narrowed her eyes, her expression very serious. The suggestion had merit; Voyager did indeed have an endless supply of shuttles, and while she was tired of constantly hounding the night shift to keep up the pace on building shuttles, she figured this method would provoke fewer questions. Plus, she hated paperwork.
"I agree," she said. "It would work better if Chakotay was piloting it, because as far as I know, Seven has never made an error while flying."
"There isn't time to get Chakotay down here," Tom said. "Hurry. I'll help you."
"This is easy. I'll just reroute this thingy to that thingy and switch these thingmajiggies with those thingmajiggies and then I'll realign the sjfkepogfpxo to the main soieergsg and there you go. Security field down, and Seven is cleared to go."
Harry and Tom dragged Seven's body into the shuttle and propped her stiff figure into the pilot's seat. Tom quickly programmed the autopilot and then disembarked the shuttle along with Harry.
"Rest in peace," Harry said as they watched the shuttle leave.
"Good riddance," B'Elanna muttered.
"Do you think anyone will miss her?" Tom wondered.
"What do you think?" B'Elanna asked. "There are new people on this ship every day of the week. They come and they go. Seven's the same. Give it a week; you'll have forgotten all about her. Trust me on this one."
"Yeah," Harry said. "But still, I wish we could have seen the fight."
Janeway was very proud of herself for the way the Maquis and Starfleet crews had integrated themselves so well. With the exception of one or two obligatory temper tantrums, the cultural shift had gone smoothly and the Maquis had been assimilated - damn, she loved that word! - nicely into the Voyager collective.
Sometimes, she couldn't remember who had been Maquis, who had been Starfleet. It was a nice feeling, except for when Chakotay made his suggestions about doing things the "Maquis way," in which case, she whipped out some of those insults she had learned way back in Command school. It was always fun to insult Chakotay; he would pout and sulk for days and then he would admit he was wrong. It was, Janeway thought, the perfect relationship for a captain and her first officer.
Janeway looked at the helmsman, noticing him for the first time. Usually, there were all sorts of strange people running around the Bridge, but it never really bothered her because Tuvok, B'Elanna, Tom and Harry would be there too. Plus, all of these strange people never said anything so that was an added bonus; mostly, they just kept their backs to her and worked busily doing something on the various consoles lining the Bridge.
But now Janeway was curious about the man at the helm. She leaned over towards Chakotay, making her voice low and throaty, almost like a growl.
"Who is that?" she whispered, nodding in the direction of the helm. Chakotay shrugged.
"Never seen him before," he answered.
"What do you mean? Isn't he one of yours?"
Chakotay shook his head. "No. I thought he was yours."
"Well, he's not," Janeway said.
And for the first time in one hundred and twenty minutes, Chakotay blinked.
~ the end ~
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