8-14 - Rise and Fall
By: Zeke (email@example.com)
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager,
its characters and related properties are Registered Trademarks
of Paramount Pictures. No infringement of Paramount's copyrights
is intended. Voyager Virtual Season 8 (VS8) is a non-profit
endeavor. The unique characters and milieu of VS8 are the
property of the VS8 producers and individual authors. This
story is the property of the author. Please do not repost
of space is just that. Between the star systems and celestial
bodies, the vacuum extends, spanning the vast distances
that separate them within the Milky Way. Within this expanse,
aside from the occasional pair of virtual particles leaping
in and out of existence, all is perfect emptiness; the spread
of space rests in a chill and a silence that freeze the
Quadrant Sector 475.31C fits this description as well as
any other. Far beyond the border of Dominion space, it waits
silent and unknown. Unlike the Federation, the Borg Collective
saw no reason even to number it; empty space is of no interest,
and keeping track of such matters is inefficient. Sector
475.31C knows nothing of this and cares the same. The mightiest
empires of two quadrants make no difference to it. It knows
only the silence and the cold.
the centre of the sector, a change now begins. Quantum forces
take their subtle action, pulling and merging and twisting
at the underlying fabric of space. The turmoil feeds on
itself and grows to a macroscopic scale; a vortex wrenches
out of the emptiness as the laws of nature scream in protest.
Were there any living consciousness in Sector 475.31C to
notice the arrival, it would be unable to keep from feeling
a sense of darkness pressing on it, for something wicked
this way comes.
the vortex spins open and expels its creator: a sophisticated
spaceship, among the most advanced in the galaxy. Its eight
sides, near-perfect equilateral triangles, mark it as an
octahedron; its bare mechanical exterior and cold geometry
betray its origins. There are many races and many mindsets
in the galaxy, but a ship designed with such soulless efficiency
and disdain for aesthetics could only have been created
by the Borg.
The ship, a royal yacht reserved for the Queen, doubles
back and heads sharply downwards at top speed. As it flees
the sector, another vortex opens, then another, each spewing
forth a massive Borg cubeship. Moving in unison, the twin
cubes give chase; a few moments later, they successfully
lock onto the yacht with tractor beams. Slowly, the cubes
draw the smaller ship in, preparing to capture and board
The octahedron swivels on its vertical axis; something like
a shield flares into existence around it and disrupts the
tractor beams. It immediately changes direction, evading
the cubes for a few short moments before they target it
again. The yacht repeats its maneuver three more times;
on its fourth attempt, the shield no longer has an effect.
In apparent desperation, it lashes out with cutting beams
and glowing green torpedoes, damaging the larger vessels
but not stopping them. The cubes draw their prey closer
Space writhes yet again, and two more Borg ships enter the
fray. One is a cube, the other a sphere whose curved structure
contrasts with the sharp corners and edges of its companion.
Each new arrival now picks a cube and begins to strike at
it with all weapons, pounding furiously at a well-chosen
face. The twin cubes struggle to maintain their tractor
beams, and succeed -- at the cost of surrendering their
positions. Relentlessly battered by the enemy ships, the
cubes drift in the direction of the weapons fire, so intent
on capturing the royal yacht that they fail to realize their
opponents' plan. At last the cubes collide, face grinding
against face, sparks flying out into the vacuum to be extinguished.
The beams cease; the octahedron regains its bearings. It
prepares to depart with its two allies, opening a new and
larger transwarp conduit capable of enclosing them all.
After firing exactly enough torpedoes to ensure that the
enemy cubes cannot be salvaged, it moves into position and
releases a message into subspace, one designed to be audible
only to Borg drones whose interplexing beacons are set to
detect a very specific frequency. The three ships then take
their leave, in accordance with the instructions in the
'Engagement successful. No casualties. All forces in the
first division, prepare for an immediate rendezvous in Grid
Zero-Two-Six-Nine. Security confirmation code Axum Z-X-Two-C.'
No residents of the two cubes are left alive to hear this.
With characteristic Borg efficiency, the ships and drones
-- now useless to the Borg -- dissolve into near-nothingness
and spread their molecules in all directions. The silence
and the cold return. In Gamma Quadrant Sector 475.31C, all
is perfect nothingness, as it has always been and will always
* * * *
back to six million kilometers!' shouted Captain Yvette
Marson. Her helmsman obeyed instantly, reversing course
and taking the Nova-class starship Solstice to a
safe distance. A short moment later, the shockwave hit,
shaking the ship badly and sending the crew careening across
the bridge. Consoles exploded; lights blew out. The noise
grew unbearable, then stopped abruptly as the shockwave
continued past the ship.
report!' Marson released her iron grip on the arms of her
command chair, which had kept her in place through the crash.
She stood and turned to her tactical officer. 'What the
hell was that?'
Tren checked his readings again, but it didn't help. 'I
have no idea, sir. It was obviously a massive explosion,
and the scans seem to indicate that there were ships at
the centre of it -- maybe even an entire fleet. But we've
got no data on how or why this happened, and we don't know
whose ships they were.'
reports are coming in now, sir,' added Lieutenant Commander
Velasquez at Ops. 'We've lost power on decks five through
seven and our impulse engines are at half power. Shields
won't be back up for another hour, but the warp engines
are okay and we didn't lose anyone.'
nodded gratefully; that pain, at least, would not be felt
today. She turned to Velasquez. 'Transfer auxiliary power
to the sensors and scan the sector as carefully as you can.
If there's any evidence at all, we need to--'
interrupted first officer Banks, 'look!'
crew turned to the main viewer and simply stared. There
before them, in living colour, was a latter-day Federation
legend. A Starfleet ship filled the viewscreen, hull decked
with armor that shouted messages of invincibility, nacelles
stretched out sweepingly, saucer raised confidently high.
The armor slowly peeled back to reveal a glittering duranium
hull and the now-famous registry code NCC-74656. Marson
could only guess at what had happened, but knew one thing
for certain -- somehow, the starship U. S. S. Voyager
had defied the odds yet again.
broke the silence. 'Should I open hailing frequencies, sir?'
all means, Lieutenant. Send this message.' Marson cleared
her throat. 'This is Captain Yvette Marson of the Federation
starship Solstice. If you are who you appear to be,
it is my pleasure to say, on behalf of the United Federation
of Planets...welcome home.'
and Velasquez fidgeted briefly, which Marson recognized
as a sign that they hadn't even considered the alternative
to 'if you are who you appear to be.' The captain approvingly
noted that Banks didn't bat an eyelash. After punching a
few commands into her console, Velasquez spoke up: 'They're
screen.' Marson watched as the viewscreen flickered off,
then on again, this time revealing the people whose images
had graced every newsholo in the Federation six months ago.
Everyone on the Solstice, right down to the lowliest
crewman, could probably match these faces to their names:
Chakotay, Seven of Nine, Tuvok, Tom Paris. And now Marson
was personally speaking to the leader of this band of heroes
-- Kathryn Janeway herself.
is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager.
Honest.' A grin crossed the captain's face. 'I understand
your skepticism, but trust me, we are exactly who you think
grinned back. 'Glad to hear it. We're all dying to hear
your story, and we'll have lots of time -- Earth is a week
away at warp.'
I hope we're not taking you out of your way.'
worry, Captain -- we were heading that direction ourselves.
Just finished a two-year mission scouting twin pulsars.'
face lit up with interest. 'Really? Now that I want
to hear about. We'll trade our story for yours.'
prospect delighted Marson, but her shock was now making
way for her sense of duty. After all, the mystery remained.
'Captain, a moment ago we detected a massive explosion....'
held up her hand. 'We know all about it. I'll be glad to
explain the whole thing to you in person; suffice it to
say that the explosion was caused by the destruction of
an enemy fleet whose goal was to wage war with the Federation.
A war they were quite capable of winning.'
found her reactions mixed. She had no reason to disbelieve
Janeway's assessment of the threat; on the contrary. Janeway
had seniority over her and, what's more, had survived seven
years stranded in the Delta Quadrant. But this was no ordinary
deed. If Janeway had indeed destroyed an entire fleet
of enemy ships -- a huge one, judging from the size of the
explosion -- then shouldn't that action be scrutinized to
the highest degree? What kind of desperate situation would
require such full retaliation, such extreme use of force?
an officer who gave such orders be trusted?
now, Marson told herself. The questions could come later;
she could debate the situation when the time came. Right
now, she had the privilege of welcoming home a Federation
hero, and it was her honour and duty to do so with open
mind all that for now, Captain. We should be plotting our
courses for Earth. Let me say it once again: welcome home.'
She glanced around at her crew, then at Janeway's. 'From
all of us -- to all of you.'
* * * *
mess hall was full of people, but no one spoke. All faces
were downcast; all thoughts were dark. The room lay not
in a silence but in a hush. At the podium, Captain Kathryn
Janeway surveyed her crew, the men and women whose strength
had held her ship together for nearly a decade. Inside,
she wept for them as much as for the friend they had lost.
Each missing face diminished the whole picture.
podium,' began Janeway, 'has seen too much use.'
crew felt the same. How could they not? Too many years,
too many battles...too many lives cut suddenly short. Too
have seen this view of my mess hall and crew a total of
thirty-nine times since Voyager first arrived in
the Delta Quadrant,' continued the captain. 'To say that
it's never easy would be an understatement. It gets harder
each and every time. This is our shared pain -- this is
the burden that we all must carry, together. And alone.'
moved into the traditional format. 'We are gathered here
on this Stardate 55353.9 to pay our last respects to Crewman
Kenneth Dalby. His remains could not be recovered, so we
commit his phaser, Mr. Dalby's prized possession for many
years, to space.'
fact, only four people in the room knew the phaser's full
story -- Dalby had taken it to his grave, but it had then
been found by Chakotay after lying undisturbed for untold
years. Janeway continued: 'At this time, anyone who wishes
to speak in recollection of Mr. Dalby will be heard.'
was a moment of silence, and then Elizabeth Henley stepped
forward. Janeway stepped aside as the former Maquis took
keep this brief,' began Henley. 'I don't need to explain
Ken Dalby to anyone here. I may have known him a little
longer than most, but we all knew him. We knew his personality.
We knew his opinions -- he made sure of that.' (This drew
a few chuckles.) 'We knew why he was on this ship and how
he felt about it. In fact, let's face it...we knew pretty
much everything there was to know about the guy. Ken didn't
keep any secrets. He wore everything on his sleeves, not
won't deny that it could be annoying sometimes, but I appreciated
that about him. He believed in honesty and frankness taken
to any extreme. And he believed nothing without believing
it totally. Ken could be your bitterest enemy or your best
friend, but nothing in between. In a galaxy of gray, he
was a knight in black and white armour. Protecting those
who couldn't protect themselves, fighting for people who
deserved it -- that's what Ken was all about.
how he died, and he wouldn't have wanted it any other way.
He lost his life for the same reason he lived it. I don't
know if he left us a legacy, but if he did, it's that nothing
is too much to give for what you believe in. In the end,
what Ken Dalby believed in was us. We can take that with
us for the rest of our lives: whatever we may think of ourselves
and each other, a good man decided we were worth dying for.
I'm proud to have been on his side.'
stepped back from the podium, still emotional but with her
head held high. Many of the crew were now choking back tears.
Beside Janeway, Tom and B'Elanna had their arms around each
other; elsewhere, she could see Chell trying to comfort
Crewman Gerron, who had been Dalby's closest friend. After
a respectful pause, Janeway stepped forward and again asked
if anyone wished to speak. This time it was Tuvok who stepped
forward, to the captain's surprise; wondering what her Vulcan
friend would say, she ceded the podium to him.
Dalby first came aboard Voyager seven years, seven
months ago,' stated Tuvok. 'At that time, he had spent several
months among the Maquis and none on a Federation ship. His
adjustment to life in the Delta Quadrant was rapid but not
drastic; indeed, his personality and attitude were almost
entirely unchanged. As tactical officer, my duties include
the evaluation of crewmembers relative to whatever security
threats may exist, and this required me to consider Mr.
Dalby's possible effects on the then-tenuous Federation/Maquis
alliance. My conclusion was that he was an unstable element
and a potential threat, as his behaviour was questionable
and his respect for authority nearly non-existent. It was
for this reason among others that Mr. Dalby entered my sphere
was now beginning to worry. While she had faith in Tuvok's
intelligence and good judgement, she doubted that he was
considering how emotional beings would react to his words.
They were here to speak well of Dalby -- which the Vulcan
was decidedly not doing. How did he expect the crew to react?
Janeway could already see angry faces in the crowd.
early experiences with Mr. Dalby could not be considered
improvements,' Tuvok continued. 'When I attempted to instruct
him in Starfleet protocols, he reacted with hostility and
disrespect. As the training progressed, this did not change,
and could be said in some respects to worsen. I did begin
to observe positive qualities in Mr. Dalby, such as confidence,
will, and leadership, but I considered these less important
than the humility and obedience befitting his position.
Mr. Dalby completed my training course, I soon found that
I had little reason to continue monitoring him. The Starfleet
and Maquis crews were merging with little friction, allaying
my concern that he might in some part make this more difficult.
Therefore, I relegated his disciplinary problems to the
'back burner' of my mind, making way for more pressing matters.
In the seven years that followed, I continued to work alongside
Mr. Dalby; we rarely conversed other than in an official
capacity, but my understanding of his character continued
to increase, as it did with each member of the crew.
is my practice to spend at least two hours in meditation
each day. During these periods, I consider all the issues
that occupy my mind, from the most critical to the most
trivial. However, in the last six weeks, I found myself
devoting an increasing amount of consideration to Crewman
Dalby. I cannot say with certainty why this increase directly
preceded his death; it was most likely an unforeseen effect
of the Bubble on my telepathic abilities. Nonetheless, I
believe that the results of my contemplation are significant,
and it is for this reason that I have chosen to speak.
I pondered Mr. Dalby's progress on Voyager, I became
aware of a gradual change which I had not previously noticed.
In our first year in the Delta Quadrant, his attitude had
been aggressive and adversarial; he shared the crew's common
goal but did not wish to be bound by its regulations. It
was his opinion that the ends justified the means in almost
any context. This mindset was well-suited to the Maquis,
but a bad fit for a Starfleet officer. His positive qualities
-- courage and willingness to defend -- were, in my opinion,
misdirected. However, over the course of his Starfleet career,
I now realized that Mr. Dalby's motives had changed without
my becoming aware. He had maintained what admirable qualities
he possessed, but the underlying reasons for them
were no longer the same. Reflecting on his time in the Bubble,
I reinterpreted his behaviour and discovered that it had
become based on a foundation of loyalty and solidarity --
it was no longer driven by self-concern.
very subtle change, and even more subtle was the change
I now observed in myself. My contact with Mr. Dalby had
appeared minimal, even over the course of eight years, but
this recent meditation had now shown me a new truth of the
human condition. It was possible, I realized, for a human
being to change on the emotional level in a manner so gradual
as to leave the non-emotional level unaffected. This was
something I had never before encountered in my years among
humans. Despite eight years of apparent non-communication,
Mr. Dalby, through his example, had helped me to increase
my understanding of the human mind. Such a gift is of the
kind I value the most highly.
am of Vulcan. My people live their lives with great care
and select their friends very slowly. The time this crew
has spent in the Delta Quadrant has not been sufficient
for me to make such decisions; from my perspective, to refer
to anyone here, aside from the Captain, as a friend would
be premature. I say this not as an insult but merely as
an explanation. I cannot, therefore, say that I considered
Mr. Dalby a friend -- I did not. But by the time of his
death, I considered him more than a subordinate. I considered
him a good officer, a trusted ally, and a man worthy of
the uniform he wore. Further, now that his life has ended
and can be judged in its entirety, I consider his presence
to have made a positive intellectual change upon me. A Vulcan
can give no higher compliment.'
turned to the coffin and addressed it. 'To you, Mr. Dalby,
I offer these final words, spoken by Surak to a dying follower
during the Enlightenment. Know that you have lived by the
truth within you; know that your life has taken the path
it was meant to take; know that your passing will diminish
this plane while enriching the next. May your katra find
peace and fulfillment in the new life that it begins on
the room had been a vacuum, the silence filling it as Tuvok
returned to his place would not have been deeper. The crew
were astonished and moved in equal measure. Internally,
Captain Janeway shook her head...after so many years, her
old friend could still surprise her. She hadn't known what
she expected, but it certainly hadn't been this. That was
the thing about Tuvok -- he would take actions that you
could never guess in advance, but when you thought about
them afterwards, they made sense. Tuvok did nothing that
wasn't...well, logical, but his logic was deeper and more
complicated than Janeway could ever understand or predict.
last, the captain stepped forward and completed the ceremony.
'In accordance with Crewman Dalby's wishes, we now cremate
his last remains. As we fire this torpedo, we send the last
physical remnants of his years with us into the fire. The
mental remnants will never die.'
nodded to Harry Kim, who began the firing sequence. The
crew all turned to face the window as the speakers began
to play bagpipe music. Finally, Dalby's torpedo left the
confines of Voyager for the heat that awaited it.
The crew held their salutes until it could no longer be
* * * *
you're saying she won't even care?'
I simply stated that your return is unlikely to have as
strong an effect on your former fiancée as you believe it
was aghast, but he resolved to be patient with Seven. After
all, she was still only a student of humanity. 'I don't
think you really understand, Seven,' he said. 'Libby and
I weren't just coworkers or friends. We'd decided to spend
the rest of our lives together.'
am aware of what 'fiancée' means,' replied Seven in that
just-slightly-condescending tone that never failed to drive
Harry up the wall. 'But this decision took place eight years
someday you'll understand that eight years isn't all that
long where love is concerned.'
have been hoping to be reunited with her.'
why did you attempt to engage in 'recreational activities'
with me when I first came aboard Voyager?'
stopped walking, to avoid tripping over his jaw.
sorry,' said Seven. 'Did I say something inappropriate?'
Harry tried to figure out how to explain....'Look, Seven,
there are certain impulses that humans have trouble controlling.
That doesn't necessarily have any bearing on how I feel
Seven seemed satisfied, but then turned back and cocked
her head slightly. 'Then is the same true of your liaison
with Assistant Engineer Tal during our encounter with the
just a minute--'
also your professed affection for Ensign Ballard?'
your interest in the holographic representation of Marayna?'
right! Point taken.' Harry resumed walking, then paused
suddenly. 'Hang on -- how did you know about Marayna? That
happened before you came aboard....'
replied with what Harry recognized as her version of a grin
-- a very slight smile that seemed to ooze I win
-- and then headed into the briefing room. Nonplussed, Harry
followed. The other senior officers were already there;
Captain Janeway waited for the final two to take their seats,
then began the meeting. 'I think it's safe to say we have
a few things to discuss.'
to discuss?' replied the Doctor. 'The Sernaix fleet is gone
-- and we're home!'
to me I've heard that somewhere before,' countered Tom Paris.
said Janeway. 'The last time we thought our journey was
over, it turned out to be anything but. Things certainly
do look good for us right now, but we can't afford to be
overconfident. We have to make absolutely sure we don't
repeat whatever mistake we made last time.'
Torres stood, having recognized her cue. 'Ever since we
arrived in the Bubble, the science and engineering crew
have been trying to figure out why it happened. We still
don't know for sure -- but we have a good guess.' B'Elanna
walked to the monitor at the front of the room and activated
it; the others turned to watch.
was the situation one second before we brought the warp
core online.' An image of Voyager appeared, encircled
by a series of coloured curves representing its warp field.
The staff recognized the configuration as stable.
was the situation when we activated the core.' Voyager
remained in place, as did the warp field at first...but
gradually the curves began to change shape, widening at
the ship's stern and tapering at the bow. Finally the shape
grew almost triangular; it had narrowed to a point in front
of the ship. The colours had also changed, moving from cool
Starfleet blue to bright red.
was what happened when Tom engaged the engines.' The frame
advanced, as did Voyager -- but the warp field, for
some insane reason, didn't. Within moments the ship's hull
had made contact with the tip of the field's closest band.
There was no impact, of course, since the field wasn't a
physical object, but Voyager vanished instantly.
The warp field quickly faded away.
was crazy,' commented Tom, echoing the thoughts of everyone
in the room. 'A warp field staying still while the ship
moves...it doesn't make sense. It's like standing up and
finding your clothes still in the chair.'
happened to me once,' added the Doctor. When the others
stared at him, he explained, 'Programming malfunction. Fortunately,
Mr. Paris wasn't there at the time.'
rolled her eyes and continued. 'We have no idea why this
happened. Logically, it shouldn't even be possible. But
we do have a pretty good idea of what it did. When
the warp field's shape degenerated, its 'tip' became a local
focus point for subspace turbulence, creating a highly unstable
situation. So when Voyager made contact with that
point, there was a massive interchange of energies -- enough
to momentarily propel us into subspace.'
just long enough to hit the Borg's subspace mine,' finished
Janeway, putting two and two together.
It all happened so fast that the sensors had only recorded
a millisecond's worth of data before we were shunted into
the unstable transwarp conduit that took us to the Bubble.
That's why it took us so long to figure out the exact sequence
the Pleiades and the Himalaya?' asked Chakotay.
close enough to be caught in our wake. They were out on
the fringes where the subspace pressure was higher -- without
armour to back up their shields, they couldn't hold together.'
thinking about it, the officers paused for a brief moment
as the memory of those lost lives came back. Janeway was
the first to speak. 'We're certainly better for knowing
more about what happened, but the present is even more important.
Lieutenant: in your judgement, is it safe for us to attempt
warp velocity in this quadrant again?'
said B'Elanna without hesitation. 'The last incident has
'one-time' written all over it. Remember, the Borg knew
exactly where we'd be entering Federation space last time.
This time they had no idea. If the Borg could do this kind
of thing at any time, we wouldn't have been able to fit
into the Bubble -- it would already have been full of their
enemies' ships.' Janeway smiled at the image.
eyebrows slightly angled, brought up another question. 'Lieutenant,
none of the events you have described uniquely identifies
the Borg as the responsible party in our abduction. Do we
possess proof that they were the cause?'
ran the facts through her head. 'I don't think so,' she
concluded. 'But the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming.
Who else could have known exactly what layer of subspace
to send us into to trigger the mine?'
turned to her expert on the Borg. 'Seven?'
information Lieutenant Torres describes would require precise
data and very complicated calculations,' replied the ex-drone.
'It is doubtful that anyone outside the Collective could
obtain it unless their resources were even greater, in which
case it would not be necessary.'
I'd say we're safe in pointing the finger here. The Borg
were somehow responsible for what happened to us, and B'Elanna
believes it won't be repeated -- assuming there still are
any Borg. Considering all that,' Janeway said with a grin,
'I think it's time for us to give this going-home thing
Doctor smiled broadly at this decision; Chakotay smiled
too, but with characteristic moderation. Tom, Harry, and
B'Elanna had the look of people happy more for their friends
than for themselves, but were clearly delighted either way.
Seven, on the other hand, seemed even more indifferent than
usual -- not even Tuvok looked so downright uninterested,
thought the captain.
was about to dismiss the meeting when Harry said, 'Captain,
as good as this news is, I think we all want to know what's
happened since we've been gone. Our scans have shown that
time passed at the same rate out here as in there, for us
at least, so that's seven more months of Alpha Quadrant
to catch up on. Hasn't Starfleet contacted us yet?'
afraid not,' replied Janeway. 'I'm concerned about it too.
We haven't heard a peep from Command, and even the Solstice
has been minding its own business since that first hail.
I'll let you know as soon as we hear anything.'
will hear something, right? Starfleet can get pretty
tight-lipped sometimes.' Memories of the Omega Directive
came unbidden to Harry's mind.
worry,' reassured Janeway. 'I'm sure they'll contact us
soon, and if not...well, you can bet they have good reasons.'
* * * *
planets in the galaxy are as powerful and as respected as
Terra, known to its inhabitants once as Tellus and now as
Earth. The homeworld of the Federation and command center
of Starfleet has become the utopia long dreamt of by Thomas
More and those of like mind. Lit up like a shining beacon
in space, Gaia welcomes all to her fertile shores. Humans
no longer consider this world their only home, but when
they find themselves far away, lost in the limitless reach
of space or the depth of emotional isolation, it is to Earth
that their thoughts always return.
this planet, inside the mighty walls of Starfleet Headquarters,
a discussion was taking place in a room where many discussions
had taken place before. Since as far back as 2142, this
room -- the Starfleet Council Chamber -- had been the traditional
meeting place for the fleet's highest-ranking officers when
they had important issues to discuss. Matters as critical
as starship deployments in the Romulan War and as trivial
as whether or not Jonathan Archer's prototype Enterprise
NX-01 could technically be called a 'starship' had been
debated here. The voices of Robert M. April, Heihachirou
Nogura, Sarek of Vulcan, and the Honourable Kobry had echoed
within these walls.
was not in session, but the room was still in use. The voices
were not loud.
absolutely sure?' asked Admiral Alistair Warhol, head of
Starfleet's internal investigations group.
readings have been checked and re-checked, over and over
again,' replied Alynna Nechayev, one of the most senior
admirals in the fleet. She spoke with aggressive certainty.
'There's no mistake. This isn't a hologram or an alien replica
or some sort of clone made of silver gel or God knows what
-- this is Voyager, back in the Alpha Quadrant. And
that's Kathryn Janeway on the bridge.'
brows in the room furrowed at the name. 'We'll need to make
the preparations at once, of course,' commented Admiral
a problem,' replied Commodore Blotnicky. 'We can contact
the necessary parties in an hour, and they'll all be here
within three days. Plenty of time.'
judged Warhol, stroking his chin. 'But that's not all we'll
need to do. Having everything ready won't do us any good
if word gets out too soon.'
already taken measures to slow the reports of Voyager's
return,' said Admiral Richard, 'but this is too big to keep
locked down. The whole Federation will know before the day
is out. After that, there's not a lot we can do except to
limit our own contact with them.'
not. I have an idea,' said Warhol. He tapped his comm badge.
'Lieutenant, put me through to Captain Marson on the Solstice.
Priority alpha-three, captain's eyes only.'
Warhol's office, Lieutenant Leucking executed the order.
Twenty seconds later, the connection was made and Marson's
face was on the Council Chamber monitor. 'You called, Admiral?'
Captain. I have some special orders for you.'
surprise,' said Marson with a smile. She had clearly been
expecting something like this, given the exceptional situation
her ship was in.
of all, I want you to limit your communication with Captain
Janeway and her crew. Talk to her, by all means -- but let
her do as much of the talking as possible. It is imperative
that you not provide her with any information about recent
events in the Alpha Quadrant. If she brings it up, change
the subject. Understood?'
replied a confused Marson. 'May I ask why?'
may, but I cannot answer you at this time.'
sat up a bit straighter. 'The second order is one I'll be
carrying out myself. I need you to instruct your ship's
computer to execute the commands I am about to give it.'
Marson did so.
began the admiral, 'I hereby instate Starfleet Secure Communications
Protocol 47. Use the most recent procedures available.'
operation requires Level Thirteen security clearance,' replied
the computer, exactly the same way Christine Chapel had
spoken those words when they were first recorded a century
ago. Some things never change, reflected Warhol.
'Very well. Voice authorization Alistair Warhol, Admiral.
Level Thirteen security passcode theta-one-nu-kai-E. Confirm.'
authorization confirmed. Communications Protocol 47 now
in effect using procedure set 2.82. Apply to all in-system
Apply only to NCC-74656.'
Command sequence now locked. There will be no further audio
sat back again and turned to the perplexed Marson. 'For
the record, you didn't hear any of that.'
had half a banana in each ear, sir.'
good. You have your orders; Warhol out.'
monitor cleared and then vanished into the wall, concealed
by a small but seamless holographic projection. Warhol looked
around the table at his fellow admirals. 'I assume you all
know what protocol I just implemented?'
smiled. 'Yes. If anything can help, that's it.'
we understand each other. Meeting dismissed.'
* * * *
Kathryn Janeway walked out of the turbolift with pride in
her step, Harry Kim announced 'Captain on the bridge!',
a formality he'd never seen the need to use before -- for
some reason it felt like the thing to say.
triumphantly walked around the bridge, ending at her command
chair. She stood straighter than she had in a long time
and looked out the viewscreen. The constellations were exactly
as she remembered, and it was with ease that she found the
one she was looking for. 'Mr. Tuvok,' she said, 'start rotating
our viewing angle to 45 degrees from all axes. Nice and
slow.' Tuvok obeyed; Janeway watched the patterns on the
screen roll down and left until they reached the location
she wanted. 'There! Hold.'
viewscreen steadied; Janeway pointed at it, dead center.
'See that? That's the Sun -- our sun. And Earth is
right next door.' Smiles broke out across the bridge.
Janeway took her seat -- she rarely stood when giving the
order to get under way. 'Signal the Solstice that
we're about to proceed,' she told Tuvok.
confirm,' replied the Vulcan a moment later. 'They will
be synchronizing their warp field with ours.'
was the final step; now all that remained was to give the
order. 'Mr. Paris,' she said, savouring each syllable, 'set
a course...for home.'
grinned and added, 'And get it right this time.'
ma'am!' came Tom's reliable chime. He punched in the same
old course, but with new energy -- because he knew this
would be the last time. In a flash of blue light that could
be seen for a billion kilometers, Voyager took flight.
* * * *
wasn't often that the Astrometrics lab could be found without
Seven of Nine in it, but apparently Tom Paris had arrived
at such a time. Probably better, he reflected. I
won't have to ask her to move. He walked over to the
transmissions console and entered a series of commands he'd
grown familiar with over the course of several months; subroutines
shook the dust off themselves and began going through their
motions again. Voyager's deflector dish began to glow in
massive Astrometrics screen warmed up and displayed the
Federation seal. The computer mentioned in passing that
use of the Watson comm system at warp velocity was not recommended,
but Tom shrugged it off -- this wasn't a time to be strict
about safety (not that he ever was, anyway). With a quiet
click that sounded vaguely like a sigh, the computer carried
out its instructions.
response,' said the computer. That's okay, Tom thought.
I can wait.
minutes of comm time have expired,' said the computer. No
biggie, Tom thought. That still leaves nine.
minutes of comm time have expired,' said the computer. Patience,
Paris, Tom thought. Remember: patience is a virtue.
minutes of comm time have expired,' said the computer. I
only have five minutes left? This isn't funny! Tom thought.
Where is he?
It's really you! Thank the Great Forest! Where have you
grinned. 'Neelix! Am I wrong, or have you put on a few pounds
since last time we talked?'
looked down, then blushed. 'Well, I'm only cooking for three
now, and I'm not used to making so little food...I guess
I'm overshooting a bit.'
speaking of cooking for three -- is that a wedding ring
Neelix grinned. 'Engagement. One step at a time.'
congratulations, buddy! Listen, it's been great talking
to you again, but--'
been? Come on -- you're not leaving already, are
you? It's been seven months! We have so much to catch up
know.' Tom's face grew more serious. 'But there's somebody
here who needs this comm time more than I do.' He tapped
his communicator and whispered 'Okay, come on in.'
door slid open to make way for Voyager's second-youngest
crewman. Naomi Wildman, subunit of Ensign Samantha Wildman
and official Captain's Assistant, stepped slowly into the
room, head ducked slightly and hands clasped together. She's
nervous as a Tyrellian fruit fly, thought Tom. I
don't think she wants to admit to herself how much she missed
smiled the warmest smile Tom had seen in months and beckoned
to Naomi. Slowly, she came closer until she was standing
right next to Tom. Finally she looked up, managed to sift
a little smile out of her conflicting emotions, and said
patted Naomi on the head and exchanged a knowing look with
Neelix, then headed out to give godfather and goddaughter
their privacy. Five minutes were better than none.
* * * *
Chakotay sat cross-legged on the floor in his quarters,
mouthing the words of one of his people's ancient prayers.
It was a prayer more of gratitude than of supplication;
he had asked enough of the Sky Spirits during his time in
the Bubble. Now was the time to thank them for guiding him
through those difficult months. Chakotay recited the words
the same way he always did (though not as often as he probably
ought to, he thought with a sigh), until he reached the
end of the prayer. He had just opened his eyes again when
he remembered something; he closed them again and added
'Yesterday a warrior once under my command fell in battle.
He fought valiantly and he died well. Please guide him now,
Sky Spirits, wherever his new journey takes him.' Now Chakotay
was done. He had known Ken Dalby better than Janeway had,
so the loss had affected him more -- but it comforted him
to know that the man's journey was not over, and he had
faith in the Sky Spirits to watch over that journey.
walked over to the replicator and began to request a glass
of water; suddenly remembering that replicator rations were
(once again) a thing of the past, he ordered hot apple cider
instead. He took the drink with him to the couch and picked
up a PADD. Keeping the lights dim since it was still ship's
night, he settled in and began to read; he was on the third
page when the door chimed. 'Come,' he said, wondering who
it would be this late at night. Seven, perhaps? The ex-Borg
kept odd hours, but she was usually busy working in those
hours -- her social development still had a long way to
door made way for Captain Janeway, as most sensible things
would. Of course, thought Chakotay. She's off-duty
now. 'Kathryn,' he said warmly. 'Can I get you something
quipped Janeway. Chakotay smiled and headed to the replicator
for a coffee. It occurred to him that she'd just come from
a bright hallway, so he asked, 'Would you like the lights
it's fine,' she said, taking a seat on the couch. Chakotay
followed with the coffee; she accepted it gratefully and
took a sip.
said the commander, 'what can I do for you at this hour?'
looked down for a moment, and Chakotay could see the discomfort
in her expression. After so many years together, he could
read her as fluently as his PADD. 'I've had something on
my mind,' she said at last.
could guess what, but he didn't say so. 'Is it anything
I can help you with?'
the problem -- I don't know. It's safe to say the last few
months have been...confusing for both of us.'
can say that again,' he agreed, sipping his cider.
friends, Chakotay. And we're captain and first officer.
You've been my right hand for eight years, and I couldn't
have had a better one.'
the question is whether we're anything else.'
At various times over the years, I think we each thought
we had that figured out. But this whole business with the
Ayrethans has cast everything into a new light...not to
mention an experience I had with their cousins, the Inryeth.'
Chakotay had noticed slightly unusual behaviour from the
captain during that mission, but hadn't made much of it.
hard to explain. I don't actually know that much about what
happened, in fact. Suffice it to say that I was...urged
to re-evaluate my feelings about you at that time. Not by
the Inryeth, but by a force they seem to understand.'
fascinating,' Chakotay said, and meant it -- both as an
anthrolopogist and as someone who had encountered similar
ideas in his own tribe's religion. 'I wish I'd gotten to
know them a little better.'
not sure any of us knew them at all. They and the
Ayrethans seem to consider 'enigmatic' a way of life.'
first officer chuckled. 'They're strange all right, but
I think it's safe to say we've seen stranger. Remember that
mission back on Stardate 52239.1?'
could I forget?' Janeway grinned. 'Let's see...we detected
an warp-capable species living on an M-class planet a few
sectors outside Devore space. We were running a little low
on duranium, so you and I took a shuttle trip to negotiate
for it while Voyager investigated a nearby stellar
course, our long-range scanners couldn't tell us much about
the species,' continued Chakotay. 'So on the way, we prepared
ourselves psychologically for whatever strange sights and
smells we might encounter. We were careful not to assume
that these beings were humanoid or carbon-based or anything
else we were used to.'
we entered orbit and had a talk with the local authorities.
They insisted on using text-based communication until we
beamed down, and that seemed odd, but it wasn't really a
problem. We made a deal to meet them at their government
a quick scan to make sure the air was breathable, we beamed
down. And to our relief, they looked exactly like humans.
No psychological trouble. This would be easy.'
then the leader opened his mouth --'
and nearly shattered our eardrums!' they said in unison,
laughing up a storm. This wasn't the first time they'd told
this story. Janeway shook her head. 'Who would have thought
that a race so much like ours would live at a completely
smiled. 'We've certainly had some good times, you and I.'
know,' said Janeway, growing serious again. 'That may be
what troubles me the most. Forget our working relationship
-- what happens to our friendship if we take it to the next
wish I knew.' After all, thought the first officer,
I'm not sure where I stand with Seven of Nine now.
the risk in any human relationship, of course. You're not
Michael -- if things go sour between us, I can't just rewrite
you. And I can't risk losing your friendship now of all
times. We don't know what's waiting for us when we reach
Earth, but it won't be easy.'
guess what I'm saying is that we need to....' She stopped,
looking for the right words.
some parameters about us?'
sounded like the lead-in to a discussion, but in fact nothing
more needed to be said. Each knew what the other was thinking.
Janeway needed Chakotay as a friend and a first officer
right now -- anything more would be too big a risk. Later...perhaps.
Who knew how things would look when the dust cleared? But
the time wasn't yet right.
confirmed Janeway. 'For now.' She took a final sip of her
coffee, put a hand on Chakotay's shoulder for a moment,
and then left for her quarters to get some sleep.
sat back against the couch. He wasn't a Vulcan, but it was
his habit to make his emotions secondary to others' -- his
feelings were deep but did not drive him. His relationship
with Janeway had taken many turns over the years, and Chakotay
was used to it by now. The frustration of being so close
to her and yet never quite close enough had faded with time.
He could wait.
the commander picked up his PADD to continue reading, he
took a look out the window. The perfect simplicity of space
never failed to calm him -- and humble him. Only the unimaginable
distances of space could reduce the stars, those mighty
infernos of nuclear fusion, to zero-dimensional fireflies
whose light you could block with one finger. The darkness
felt something tapping up his spine...something so tiny
the human eye could never see it, so tiny it could hide
in a blood cell. He heard the cries of dying tissues, atrophying
as their functions were usurped by something else. He saw
his mind spreading out to touch a million million others,
yet at the same time curling in, crushed under the pressure
of those million million minds as they reached out to his.
his spirit cried out against the evil, though there was
no one to hear. Not again! Not the Borg!
then, abruptly, the feeling vanished. Chakotay strained
his eyes, but he couldn't see any kind of movement out the
window. The simplicity of space was perfect again.
he been right? Were the Borg here? Was that evil phalanx
on the move again, insinuating itself into every corner
of the galaxy in its relentless quest to unite metal and
* * * *
said the Doctor with delight. He deactivated the encephalo-scanner,
removed its input port from Icheb's forehead, and put the
device back into its case.
sure?' asked the young ex-Borg.
Your guess was right -- as critical as your cortical node
was to you as a drone, your body has compensated perfectly
for its loss. If I hadn't seen it with my own visual analysis
subroutines, I could scan you and still not realize you'd
ever had one.'
decided to ask the question he'd been wondering about for
some time. 'Doctor, do you think that it might be possible
to remove my other implants in the same way?'
can remove them as easy as you please -- the question is
whether you'll survive the process. I've run some simulations,
but I'm afraid the results have been inconclusive. I'll
need to run more detailed scans...perhaps at Starfleet Medical,
where the equipment is more up-to-date.'
do you think it will be possible?'
Doctor thought. 'Hard to say. I very much doubt I'll be
able to remove all your implants, but with enough
research and study, I'm certain I'll find a way to eliminate
the majority of them. In fact, don't be surprised if you
celebrate your 18th birthday without any visible ones at
liked the sound of that. He was about to say so when B'Elanna
Torres charged through the door, carrying Miral. The baby
was crying loud enough to wake the dead; B'Elanna wore an
expression that could have scared them back into their graves.
She didn't even notice Icheb. Instead, she headed straight
for the Doctor, shoved Miral at him, and screamed 'FIX THIS
Doctor, with an expression that spoke louder than fifty
sighs, took Miral and went to get a tricorder. B'Elanna
sat down on the other end of Icheb's biobed. She was breathing
very heavily, making a very low growling sound in the process,
and her hair looked like Wolf 359 ten seconds after the
Borg cube left. Nonetheless, Icheb knew he should try to
be polite -- after all, B'Elanna was a friend. Besides,
that brief incident during the ship's last overhaul had
been very revelatory. Icheb had nothing but respect
for Tom Paris, but there was always the possibility that
he might be killed on an away mission, at which point the
half-Klingon would be available again. Why not keep his
day,' said Icheb. 'You look aesthetically pleasing.'
spun around and gave Icheb the most ferocious expression
the young man had ever seen. The sweat on her face boiled
away. Her teeth were bared and reflected hellish red light
from the flaming infernos where her eyes used to be. She
looked like a lion about to make the kill, except that the
lion would probably leave one or two tiny fragments of its
turned several interesting shades of turquoise and bolted
out the door.
wasn't very polite,' said the Doctor, returning with Miral.
He ducked to avoid her death glare. 'Anyway, I've scanned
Miral thoroughly and she seems to be just fine.' (Miral's
crying intensified.) 'Although she begs to differ.'
try to be a good parent,' B'Elanna said through gnashing
teeth. 'I give her everything she needs. But she will
not stop CRYING! I don't think she's breathed once in
assured that that isn't the case,' replied the Doctor. 'Her
breathing is fine, if slightly irregular. Anyway, I'm afraid
I can't prescribe anything -- she's not unhealthy. There's
nothing physically wrong with her, she's just...crying.'
her a pacifier! Put a gag on her! Sedate her if you
have to! I can't TAKE this anymore!' B'Elanna slammed her
hands against her ears hard enough to fracture an ordinary
thought for a moment, then snapped his fingers and grinned.
'Computer, activate program Doctor upsilon-eight-P!'
cried. Miral continued to cry. Miral cried some more. Miral
stopped to take a breath. Miral cr--
stared at the Doctor with amazement. How had he made
Doctor simply grinned at her. Apparently he wasn't going
to do anything more, so Miral dismissed the whole issue
and remembered her many, many woes. She started to cr--
was crazy! There was that sound again...the same sound she
had been making! How was that possible? The implications
were endless! No time to cry when something this
exciting was going on....
was hearing something odd too. It took her a moment to realize
what it was: Miral's silence. She hadn't heard that sound
since her duty shift ended. Blessed, blessed silence...but
how? 'Doctor, what in the world did you do?'
it's quite simple,' he said, jiggling Miral a bit. 'I cried.
Babies are fascinated by that sound -- it's one of the reasons
they make it so often. Hang on, I'm about due for another
one...WAAAAAAA!' Miral's eyes widened; tears were now the
last thing on her mind.
said the Doctor, handing Miral back to her mother. 'She
should be calm enough to accept the pacifier now, and that'll
keep her busy until nap time.'
looked at Miral, then at the Doctor, then at Miral again.
The baby was looking around the room with her mouth slightly
open, as if seeking the answer to some sort of question.
B'Elanna, still astonished, took the pacifier out of her
pocket and thumbed the button on its handle to clean it
off. Miral took the pacifier and sucked it with gusto.
Doctor was still grinning like some sort of holographic
hyena. B'Elanna sighed slightly and asked 'Okay, what'll
it be this time?'
do you mean?'
always something. Every time I come to sickbay, you need
me to make some little correction to your program or the
holoemitters or your equipment....'
surprised at you, Lieutenant! Do you really think I'm that
bit her tongue. 'Sorry, Doctor. Didn't mean to offend you.'
don't worry,' said the hologram, smiling again. 'I wasn't
offended, just a little put off. Have a nice day!' He patted
Miral on the head, then headed off to his office, whistling
a sprightly tune.
considered leaving, but her curiosity got the better of
her. She followed. 'Doc, can I ask you a question?'
in the world has gotten into you?'
Doctor looked confused. 'Is something wrong?'
wrong exactly, just odd...I've never seen you so
cheerful. It's almost scary.'
Doc smiled again. 'Well, there's a first time for everything,
also a reason for everything. I'm just wondering what the
it obvious? We're home!'
what does that mean to you? You've spent your whole
life on Voyager -- in fact, you're pretty much the
only one on the ship who didn't gain anything from this.'
I did! I've regained something I'd almost given up on.'
The Doctor's expression grew serious. 'Lieutenant, do you
remember my holoprogram?'
Be Free? Of course.'
wrote that story to make my case to the Alpha Quadrant --
to try to make 'organics' understand the plight of my holographic
brothers. But it was only the first step. To make a real
difference, I need to do more. I need to gain allies,
educate the masses, publish articles...build up public knowledge
of the situation until I can make a case at the Federation
Council. Right now I am the only vocal advocate of holographic
rights in the entire Alpha Quadrant. This is my chance,
Lieutenant! I can save my people from oppression -- I can
make the Federation the first major galactic power ever
to recognize the rights of holograms! When we were lost
in the Bubble, I nearly gave up hope. Now I have that hope
back, and I don't plan to waste it.'
couldn't help being a little surprised. She'd known the
Doctor had strong feelings about holographic rights, but...'Doc,
you sound like you consider yourself a freedom fighter.'
not? There's nobody else! You can't imagine how it feels
to know that you and you alone can make a difference....'
be surprised,' said B'Elanna with a slight smile.
Doctor caught on. 'Of course. My apologies, Lieutenant.'
required. You know, Doc...I'm proud of you. You have no
idea what you're getting into, but the fact that you're
willing to get into it at all says a lot about you.'
thank you!' said the hologram with evident surprise. 'To
be honest, I was expecting you to find all this amusing.'
at all. Frankly, I'm impressed. You're a credit to your
Doctor was deeply touched. 'I don't know what to say, Lieutenant.'
starters,' said the engineer with a smile, 'call me B'Elanna.'
She took her daughter back to their quarters, leaving an
amazed freedom fighter in her wake.
* * * *
had been eight years since Tuvok last saw his kaltoh
sticks arranged in the form of a rhombitruncated cuboctahedron.
He had hoped it would be longer.
played, my wife,' he said, but couldn't keep a very slight
edge of frustration out of his voice. It was, fortunately,
imperceptible -- to anyone but T'Pel. And T'Pel was the
only other one here. She narrowed her eyes at him for a
brief moment, as if to scold him for letting his emotional
was illogical to believe that I would win, mulled Tuvok.
I have never defeated T'Pel at kaltoh in 75 years.
Then again, he had spent the last eight of those years away
from her, honing his skills against the computer and such
mental giants as Seven of Nine and the Doctor. Even Ensign
-- no, Lieutenant Kim had occasionally made impressive
moves (though usually by mistake).
Tuvok had found over the years that logic was not always
applicable where his wife was concerned.
narrowed her eyes again; apparently she had picked up a
wisp of that thought. But if she was annoyed, she gave no
sign. Instead, she stood up, crossed the table to where
Tuvok was sitting, and took his hand for a moment. The message
was clear even though there was no telepathy involved: I
know you missed me, my husband. And I missed you too.
knew his wife would never say those words out loud or even
'speak' them telepathically. To miss anyone, even a spouse,
required emotion. Far more than Tuvok himself, T'Pel was
a master of emotional control; if she had so desired, she
could easily have become one of the Kohlinaru. Like her
husband, she had chosen family life instead, but that had
not prevented her from following the teachings of Surak
as closely as any Vulcan could. For her to confess to an
emotion, even such a moderate one as this, would be a scandalous
lapse of logic.
the message came through, nonetheless. And Tuvok returned
it in kind. In whatever form contentment and happiness could
take for two Vulcans, they were experiencing it now.
was a fascinating sensation.
* * * *
Log, Stardate 55358.5. Voyager is now within two
days of Earth. Within 48 short hours, despite the best efforts
of everyone from the Kazon to the Borg, we will be home.
delighted, but I can't help thinking about the sacrifices
of those who got us this far. Hogan, Jetal, Ballard, Admiral
Janeway, now Dalby...just a few out of so many. And it's
been as hard to lose those who left of their own accord
-- I had always hoped to take Neelix and Kes on a tour of
Earth, but each of them parted ways with us too soon. I've
caught myself missing even my enemies. Kashyk, Ransom, Q,
Seska...even the Borg Queen, for heaven's sake!
suppose I shouldn't be surprised. These are the people who
have defined my last eight years, for good or ill. But you'd
think I'd feel better about finally accomplishing the most
important mission of my life. Maybe the lingering sadness
will go away when we finally enter orbit.
yes, the obligatory report on ship's status. We came through
the Sernaix attack surprisingly well; our shields, armour,
and weapons are all in working order. However, we have yet
to hear from Starfleet -- or anyone else but the Solstice
crew. I've ordered a Level One diagnostic on our comm system
to determine the problem.
* * * *
Ayala, at Tactical on this shift, noticed a blinking light
on his console. He called up the information he would need
to report. 'Captain?'
Captain Janeway turned around in her seat, less out of interest
than out of desire to move around a bit.
a shuttlecraft entering the sector...it seems to be heading
straight for us.'
asked Chakotay. Janeway stared at him; he shrugged.
-- Federation. It's registered to Deep Space Two, and there's
one life sign aboard.' Ayala's console beeped. 'It's hailing.'
main viewer filled with the face of a man Janeway recognized
from the personnel files. She granted him permission to
dock without hesitation.
* * * *
Wildman headed down the hall to Shuttlebay One. She had
no idea why -- her mom had called her, but she hadn't mentioned
what they were going there for.
her mind, Naomi had come up with three theories. The first
was that Captain Janeway needed someone to clean the shuttlebay
floor so they wouldn't get in trouble with the floor inspectors
at Starfleet Command. This struck her as entirely possible,
but it seemed odd that Janeway would send both Wildmans
on a mission that only required one.
second theory was a little more likely: perhaps the captain
had finally decided to give Naomi formal piloting lessons,
as she'd wanted for so long. Her mother wasn't a pilot by
trade, but could certainly navigate when she needed to;
Captain Janeway might have reasoned that it was best for
Naomi to learn from someone she knew well. If this were
indeed the situation, Naomi was sure she'd have a great
time, but she wished she were learning from the best --
Tom Paris. That way, she might even turn out to be a quicker
study than Icheb, and that would earn her gloating rights
for the rest of the year.
this theory didn't strike her as terribly probable. That
left only her third and favourite. What if Voyager
had been sidetracked on the way home by a new and powerful
alien race? If there hadn't been any battles yet, it was
possible that the captain would have kept this a secret,
known only to the bridge officers. Now, Voyager's
best hope in such a situation would be to negotiate, but
what if the aliens distrusted humans on the basis of their
shape -- or, worse still, their size? Wasn't it possible
that a very short species could still achieve warp technology
and advanced weaponry? If so, no human could perform the
negotiations without intimidating the aliens by height alone!
The solution to this problem would be obvious. Captain Janeway
had one officer with both proven diplomatic skills and short
stature: her Captain's Assistant. Only she, Naomi, could
handle such a situation.
really liked that idea. It would be her greatest challenge
ever, but she knew she was up to the job. She walked through
the shuttlebay doors fully expecting to see Chakotay or
Tuvok waiting there to brief her.
to her disappointment, the only one there was the officer
on duty, Crewman Chell. Shuttlebay duty wasn't exactly demanding
-- Chell had his feet up on the console and was flipping
through one of Neelix's old cookbooks, How to Cook For
Forty Humans. Naomi looked carefully around the room,
but couldn't see anyone else...not even a PADD with her
instructions. How did the captain expect her to perform
the negotiations without knowing anything about these people?
Then again, maybe they didn't have any useful information,
and she would have to wing it. That would be even more of
a challenge. Naomi smiled broadly at the prospect.
light on Chell's console flashed. He didn't notice -- his
book was in the way. The light flashed again, then twice
more. Naomi was about to say something when the flashing
light was replaced by a loud beeping sound. Chell immediately
snapped to attention, pressed several panels on his console,
and looked around the room quickly. 'Get back, Naomi!' he
said. 'You're past the force field line.' Naomi didn't need
to be told twice -- she darted back to her mother's side.
bay doors opened with their customary lethargy. Naomi tentatively
reached forward; the force field crackled around her fingers,
making her forehead horns tingle. After enjoying the sensation
for a moment, she pulled her hand back to watch the (hopefully
alien) ship fly into the bay. Instead, to her surprise,
she saw the familiar shape of a Class 2 shuttlecraft. More
surprising still was the registry code: NCC-04192. Weren't
codes with zeroes at the start reserved for starbase support
craft? That was how Naomi remembered it.
shuttle came to a landing; the doors closed; the force field
flared briefly and vanished. Naomi saw her mom exchange
a look with Chell that communicated something to him. Why
was she being kept out of the loop? It made no sense! The
Captain's Assistant was a critical member of the crew. Whatever
the reason, Naomi could only wait patiently as the shuttle's
door opened and its lone occupant walked out.
man was oddly-coloured and taller than the average human.
Naomi didn't recognize him or even his species (reigniting
brief hopes of a negotiating session), but her mom obviously
did -- she immediately ran towards him. Then, to Naomi's
astonishment, they hugged -- and kissed! Who was
this? What gave him the right to kiss her mother? And why
was she so happy about it? She was a married woman, for
nervously approached the happy couple, now well aware of
the truth and feeling its weight on her shoulders. If talking
to Neelix again had put her emotions in disarray, this
was enough to scramble them like Ktarian eggs. Ktarian...she
would have to practice pronouncing that word. She would
I want you to meet Greskrendtregk. He's...he's your father.'
looked up at her Ktarian father with his Ktarian horns on
his Ktarian head. The harsh-sounding word echoed through
her half-Ktarian brain as if shouted by a Ktarian into a
Ktarian cave. She felt Ktarian for the first time in her
half-Ktarian life. She didn't think she liked the feeling.
dad,' she said as Greskrendtregk took her into his arms
for the first time, and she felt a little better.
* * * *
mess hall was as packed as Harry Kim had ever seen it --
and that included the time the Hirogen had filled the place
up for a while. Everybody who didn't have bridge
duty was there. But then, that was hardly a surprise. When
was the last time the crew had finally come home after a
journey this long?
wait. He knew the answer to that one. Ah well, it didn't
walked over to Chell, who was serving some sort of sushi.
'When does the countdown start?'
Bolian checked his wrist chronometer (a cumbersome phrase,
in Harry's opinion, but it served). 'We're down to three
hundred seconds now. The official countdown starts at forty-seven.'
shrugged. 'As good a number as any. On my planet, sixty
would sound odd. Can I interest you in some Terra-Nuts Sushi?'
still here if you change your mind. Mike! Come on in, the
party's just getting started!'
bustled over to greet Ayala. Harry walked around the room
a bit, ending up at the serving table, where he cut himself
a piece of Earth Day cake. He groaned internally to see
eight candle-holes in it...at least he'd missed the lighting,
and the Happy Earth Day song that had doubtless accompanied.
The puns were pure Chell, but something about this setup
reeked of a certain helmsman's involvement.
wasn't here now, of course -- he was busy flying the ship.
He'd missed his first chance to pilot Voyager home
and he wasn't planning on missing the second. Likewise,
the other senior officers had all wanted to be there. (Except
Seven. Come to think of it, Harry had no idea where she
was; he hadn't seen her on the bridge or here in the crowd.)
Harry's decision to watch from here had come as a surprise
to the captain, but she'd seen no reason to disallow it.
real reason Harry had chosen to come to this party was emotional.
It had taken him seven years to realize that Voyager
was his home. He had made that discovery too late, or so
he'd thought, but then the Borg had sucker-punched them
all one last time. (A sudden thought flashed into his mind:
did 'See you soon, Harry' have something to do with that?
It seemed unlikely, but anything was possible where the
Borg Queen was concerned....) At any rate, his feelings
about their embubblement had been mixed at first, but he'd
soon come to accept and welcome this extension of his time
on Voyager. Now, that time too was about to end --
and he intended to spend every last second of it with his
the center of the crowd, Harry could see the Delaney sisters
laughing it up with Sue Nicoletti. Henley and Gerron were
smiling again, and even Harren was being sociable. Harry
looked around again, this time to check for any conspicuous
absences; the bridge officers and the Doctor were all missing,
of course, but Harry also couldn't find any trace of T'Pel.
Then again, that wasn't really a surprise. Since her arrival
on the ship, the Vulcan matron had kept mostly to herself.
She'd been pleasant enough and gotten along well with the
crew (by all reports, her counseling skills weren't bad
at all), but she had never really joined the 'family.' Pity,
thought Kim; this ship's Vulcan population always
did need a female influence.
Harry noticed Tal Celes standing alone off to the side.
The young Bajoran had remained shy to the last. Harry decided
to go talk to her -- she didn't seem to have anyone else,
and neither did he. Besides, she was cute.
seconds. The countdown began.
* * * *
her quarters, T'Pel savoured the peace and silence of Vulcan
meditation. Hers was a quiet life, but it held more meaning
for her than a busier one ever could.
her mind, T'Pel began to reach outwards. Telepathy was not
her strong point -- it had always held more interest for
her husband than for her -- but she had come to know her
personal limits and do as much as possible within them.
She lightly brushed the hundred minds around her, drawing
strength from that contact and increasing her range. This
was the first step in a complicated meditation.
second step was to see oneself in a greater number of dimensions.
For convenience, most humanoids reduced their standard worldview
to two dimensions; T'Pel would need at least four. She focused
the energy of her powerful mind on understanding time as
a continuum, just like the three spatial directions. Slowly,
slowly, the three-dimensional mask of space fell before
her eyes, and she began to see herself and her surroundings
in more than the present.
to back up, to view the scenario from a distance so that
she could take it all in at once. Her field of telepathic
vision drew farther and farther back. She gained a strong,
distinct sense of Tuvok on the bridge, then of Vorik and
the other Vulcan crew, then the remaining telepaths, and
finally the nontelepaths and less defined cases like the
Doctor. Most were humans, of course, but T'Pel understood
humans. It was a characteristic of her family. T'Pel was
of a somewhat more important family than her husband, in
fact; Tuvok was distantly related to the house of Sotek,
but she was in the direct line of T'Pol, the first Vulcan
to serve on a Starfleet ship. It was from her that T'Pel
drew inspiration when dealing with the human mind, for T'Pol
had come to know humans better than any Vulcan before her
and most since.
listened to the voices of these minds. She watched them
unite to begin constructing a shape.
the shape grew well-defined, T'Pel recognized it: it was
Voyager. She drew back farther to see the space around
it, and soon she had gained enough telepathic distance to
add Earth to her image. The ship pointed straight for Earth
and was proceeding there with great speed. The minds knew
this, and they rejoiced. The numbers continued to descend.
telepathic explosion caught T'Pel completely off guard.
She fell forward, losing all her mental distance from the
ship. Slowly she regained her presence of mind and pulled
herself together, trying to make sense of what had just
happened. Something...something had been added to the image,
too quickly for her to comprehend. No, not one something
-- many somethings. The Vulcan stood, steepled her fingers
together, closed her eyes, and concentrated one more time.
Perhaps she could regain this new telepathic image, understand
it, before it was too late.
T'Pel was standing atop Voyager as it moved closer
to Earth. She found herself unable to adjust the field of
vision this time; a little bit of the chill of vacuum managed
to creep in. Perhaps this vision was more...real than the
last one in some way.
looked around. She was not alone.
flew silently on its way. Beside it, on the left, was the
Solstice in escort formation. But T'Pel could see
another ship of the same class on the right, flying in perfect
symmetry. It didn't look as real as its sister ship, yet
there it was...a telepathic image constructed from whatever
telepathic images were constructed of.
turned around to face the aft of the ship -- and nearly
lost her telepathic hold completely. Behind Voyager
was an enormous flottila of ships. The nearest was a large
one, heavily scarred from battle, which was of vaguely human
design but certainly not Starfleet. To T'Pel's amazement,
this image overlapped with the aft section of Voyager
itself. Behind it were two smaller ships, one on each side;
the first was a garbage scow of some sort, the other a small
shuttle from some distant alien world. Farther back still
were two Starfleet ships, very faint, of the Defiant class.
T'Pel could see a great many more ships, even more distant,
but they were too far and too alien to be recognizable.
this unreal fleet was an enormous Borg cubeship, but one
the Borg themselves could never have made. Its design was
Borg, but it had a strange, undefinable quality to it...a
quality that was distinctly non-mechanical. The ship was
Voyager's ally, and it was, in some sense that T'Pel
couldn't pin down, beautiful. Nothing created by the Borg
had the least bit of beauty to it, and so this cube could
not be theirs. Then what was it? The image was confusing.
All the images were confusing.
yet, together with Voyager, the picture as a whole
took on a strange coherence. T'Pel could look at the individual
parts and question them, but the whole was a telepathic
vector of incredible magnitude, directed inexorably at Earth.
There was something true, something right, about her vision.
She understood something about --
about the journey.
opened her eyes and folded her mind back into itself. Her
whole experience had taken only three seconds. She would
remember it for a lifetime.
Two! One! ZERO!
the company of ghosts, U. S. S. Voyager came home.
* * * *
Unicomplex of the Borg Collective no longer exists. Its
network of transwarp conduits is damaged beyond repair.
The Queen of the Borg is dead. The balance of power in the
Milky Way galaxy has changed forever -- and it is not done
Aboard the dead Queen's royal yacht, a man stands alone
in the primary control node. He watches the universe move
by him with the unthinkable velocity of transwarp. He is
the last survivor of a once-strong race, and he has taken
on a task whose magnitude terrifies him. He is also a Borg.
A Borg, but not a drone. The concepts are distinct. A drone
has no will; or rather, it has a will, but it is the same
will 'possessed' by every drone in the Collective. It is
the will of the Queen, whose wish is their command. No one
commands this man, and so he is not a drone. He is only
a Borg, and even this is in a strange sense that he does
not fully understand. The universe has not seen fit to give
him that particular knowledge yet.
The universe keeps many things to itself.
Another Borg enters the node. He too is not a drone. He
bears a message from the Collective's information-gathering
scanners, one of the few networks that survived the recent
cataclysm undamaged. Then, as if to prove beyond a doubt
that he is not a drone, he speaks with one voice -- his
own. 'Axum, we just received the latest packet of information
from our scanners. Most was irrelevant, but I thought you
would want to see this item.'
The Borg called Axum winces at the word 'irrelevant'; his
companion lowers his head slightly in apology. Axum takes
the message and reads it throughly, running it through his
mind in every detail to make sure nothing is missed. Then
he turns back to the window and stares in evident frustration.
He clicks a button and the message dissolves, its heat absorbed
by the ship's systems for reuse.
His companion is perplexed. 'You asked to be notified if
any news of Voyager became known.'
'I did. Thank you.' Axum frowns. 'I'm better for knowing,
even if it doesn't change anything. What news from the fronts?'
The companion recalls the information he stored earlier.
'Fifteen of their ships have been destroyed in the last
week. We have lost eleven. Their death toll is estimated
at two hundred thousand, ours at ninety thousand.'
'Good. If this is what we must do, Curris, we should at
least do it well.'
The Borg called Curris nods. He begins to leave, then turns
and says, 'A detour to Sector 001 would not delay us seriously
enough to cause problems.'
The Borg aren't welcome in that sector. And I can't ask
anyone else to join me in this task. For me to see Annika
again would only make things worse for both of us.'
'Understood.' Curris leaves. Axum remains in the control
node, looking out at the darkness surrounding him. Such
a cold universe, he thinks. A universe slowly dying
as the last of its heat boils away. In a universe like this,
what a terrible, terrible thing to be alone....
The viewport fills with transwarp conduits. The viewport
fills with Borg cubes. They fire all weapons.
* * * *
space, no one can hear you scream. But there are people
in San Francisco who swear they could hear the cheering
of Voyager's crew as the ship finally entered Earth
the mess hall, hands were shaken and hugs were exchanged.
The crew's excitement knew no bounds -- even Vorik was almost
smiling. A few of the more emotional crewmen were weeping
with joy. On the sidelines, Harry Kim watched with satisfaction
but kept his own excitement contained. As a senior officer,
he was supposed to set an example at times like this.
he wasn't all that eager to reach Earth anyway. This
was home...wasn't it?
turned to him and slapped him on the back. 'You think too
much, Harry. Get into the spirit!' Suddenly remembering
who she was talking to, she jumped back two steps and clapped
both hands over her mouth, her eyes the size of Xanic plume
apples. 'Sorry, sir! I forgot! I...I...AAAAAAAA!' Before
Harry could stop her, she dashed off into the crowd. Harry
shook his head and went to try one of Chell's Returnovers.
* * * *
had known Captain Janeway for many years, but he'd never
seen her quite this happy. How much was sincere and how
much was for appearances? The Vulcan considered a quick
mind-brush to find out, but decided against it. Telepathy
was among his most powerful tools -- and such tools were
best reserved for when they were truly needed.
wife didn't share this philosophy. She reasoned that her
mind was capable of telepathy for the same reason that it
was capable of thought -- to better understand the universe.
A Vulcan never held back the power of thought, so why place
limits on telepathic powers? This was in fact one of their
major intellectual disagreements, and it had fueled many
debates between them over the years. Tuvok had come to understand,
if not agree with, T'Pel's point of view, which is why he
had felt no annoyance on realizing that she had been performing
a powerful telepathic meditation while Voyager was
stood, straightened her tunic, and gave her comm badge a
tap. 'All hands, this is the captain,' she said. 'As of
fifteen seconds ago, Voyager is in orbit around Sol
III -- Earth. This concludes our present tour of duty. Our
two exploratory missions -- first in the Delta Quadrant,
then in the Bubble -- took us a bit out of our way, but
as you can see, we got back safe and sound.
the last eight years, I have counted on all of you to keep
this ship together. You came from many different backgrounds.
Most of the crew were Starfleet officers when we left, and
some were Maquis; whatever Command decides, I want you to
know that I consider each and every one of you a Starfleet
journey was long and difficult. We had to deal with the
pain of homesickness and isolation. We had to make peace
with people we might never have trusted otherwise. We all
lost friends. But now, at long last, our sacrifices have
borne fruit. We have run the gauntlet, and now we can rest.
me make one thing clear -- you're not off the hook just
yet. This family has gone through too much together to split
up completely. We will undoubtedly take many different paths
from here, but we live in a galaxy where communication is
effortless, even at great distances. When we find each other
again -- and we will find each other again -- I expect
you all to be in one piece with some interesting stories
to tell. That's my last order to you as your captain.
any rate, thank you all for coming along for the ride. You
may now disembark, but feel free to stick around a while
longer if you wish. You've done more than I could ever have
asked of you, and I hope you all receive the reward you
deserve. Good luck.
one last thing -- I advise all crew members to look out
the window when you get the chance. The view is not to be
missed. Janeway out.'
captain sat down again, looking rather sad now. Tuvok suspected
that the emotional nature of her speech had brought home
the reality that Voyager's crew would no longer be
united. Fortunately, she didn't have long to think about
that. 'Captain, it seems the communication apparatus has
do you know, Tuvok?'
are receiving a hail from Starfleet Command.'
grinned. 'On screen.'
Owen Paris appeared on the main viewer. To Janeway's surprise,
Reg Barclay wasn't with him; to her greater surprise, he
didn't look pleased at all to see them. 'Captain
Janeway,' he said, 'it is imperative that you come to see
me at once. We have a matter of critical importance to discuss.'
was stunned. 'Aye, sir. Chakotay, Seven, you're with --'
Come alone. And make sure the transport is untraceable.
turned around in his pilot's chair. His father's urgency
(and the absence of even a quick nod for his son) had clearly
disturbed him. 'Captain, what's going on here?'
me again when I get back,' replied Janeway wryly as she
stepped into the turbolift. 'Maybe I'll have an answer for
* * * *
Paris was not one of Starfleet's most powerful admirals,
but he knew quite a few of them. To his frustration, they
were rarely the paragons of honour that those with such
power should be. Paris didn't consider himself infallible,
but he never deviated from his principles -- it appalled
him that so few of Starfleet's most powerful officers took
that same attitude. There were too many Dougherties and
not enough Quinns.
waited patiently for his old friend to arrive. She needed
to know what was coming.
familiar whine of Starfleet transporters filled the room;
Paris looked to the side and saw points of blue light spreading
vertically as a glowing mist began to form. Old-style
transporter beam, he observed in passing. Makes sense.
At last the beam congealed into Captain Kathryn Janeway,
one of the last people Paris had expected to see alive again.
He wished he could give her the joyful greeting she deserved,
but there wasn't time.
Take a seat -- I have something urgent to tell you.'
did. 'I had Tuvok use the silencer subroutine he designed
personally while we were in the Delta Quadrant. It's very
unlikely that the beam-in was detected.'
Paris rubbed his chin. 'Headquarters knows you're here,
of course, but they may not actually send for you until
daybreak. That should give me time to explain the situation.'
looked relieved. 'About time. We haven't heard a word from
any official sources since we got back, and no one on our
escort ship would talk about current events. Ensign Wildman
says that even her husband was tightlipped.'
was under silencing orders from Admiral Warhol, no doubt.
And anyone else who tried to contact the ship was deflected.
Did you discover any problems with your comm system?'
just didn't seem to be working at distances greater than
a million kilometres or so.'
was Warhol's doing as well. I have reason to believe he
used one of his top-level clearance codes to perform a 'quiet'
shutdown of your long-range receiver. The receiver would
still have shown all the signs of being operational, but
no incoming messages would get farther than the deflector
you think Command did contact us?'
question about it. I sent a message, and I've spoken to
several others who did. None of those messages reached you.
They were probably deleted on arrival; I doubt that Warhol
would risk storing them, either on your ship or here on
keep talking about this Admiral Warhol. Is he the Commodore
Warhol who was vice-chair of the internal investigations
group when we left?'
He's head of the group now; the promotion came five years
ago. His conduct has officially been above reproach, but
his dedication to preserving Starfleet security is strong
enough to take him to dangerous lengths. I believe his current
target is you.'
what I need to explain to you. Have a look at these sensor
Paris activated the monitor and replayed three video clips.
By the time they were done, Janeway knew exactly why the
situation was so dangerous. And why she was to blame.
* * * *
Wildman rematerialized in the middle of San Francisco. Behind
her were her parents and two friends she'd asked to bring
along -- Seven and Icheb. Of the five, only one had been
born and raised here on Earth, but each had some reason
to call it home.
held her mother's hand and walked beside her as the Wildmans
led their party of five through the busy streets. Icheb
stood as close to Seven as politeness allowed, hoping to
absorb some of her confidence and invulnerability to nerves.
Of course, Seven had more reason to be nervous --
this was mostly just another planet to Icheb, but it was
Seven's long-lost homeworld. Yet somehow the tall ex-drone
seemed unconcerned. Seven's strength never ceased to inspire
said Samantha. 'There's the science museum, and there's
the artisans' market, and there's that Creole restaurant
where you and I used to have lunch all the time....'
one? No, no. It was the one in New Orleans,' replied Greskrendtregk.
think so? Guess I could be wrong -- it's been so long. But
that's definitely T'Plana Hath Park over there.'
it was. They entered the public park and picked out a picnic
table. While the adults began unpacking the food, Naomi
ran up one of the lush green hills. 'Come on, Icheb!' she
young Brunali began to walk over to her. 'No, no!' laughed
Naomi. 'We're outside, really outside -- we can run
around all we want! Whee!' Icheb didn't see the point (wouldn't
he get to the same place, regardless of speed?), but he
gave chase as ordered.
felt freer than she'd ever felt on Voyager. The wind
blew through her hair and filled her lungs with pure, unprocessed
oxygen. This was a new and glorious feeling, and she loved
every minute of it. To run through the grass of a real planet
with a real sun smiling down on her -- this was paradise.
This was where she belonged. This was...this was home.
caught up to Naomi, and they played tag and rolled down
the hill for a while. Outdoor activities were starting to
grow on Icheb. At last they tired out and returned to the
table for their food, which they ate ravenously. Watching
them with a smile, Samantha leaned against Greskrendtregk
and savoured the sheer perfection of the moment. Seven,
meanwhile, had already eaten and had little to do but observe
the others in the park. She glanced around at this cross-section
of humanity with interest.
her surprise, she also noticed this cross-section of humanity
glancing at her with interest. Indeed, one of the young
men couldn't keep his eyes off her...until the young woman
with him noticed and slapped him in the face. (This struck
Seven as atypically harsh for a race as peaceful as humans,
but she had never fully understood humans anyway. Perhaps
her understanding would improve now that she had more of
them to study.) However, these were not the only ones who
had noticed her. A group of humans...no, two groups...seemed
to be looking at the two ex-drones with something like revulsion
and something like hatred.
had some idea of why this was, and it didn't particularly
bother her. Well...all right, it was a little unsettling.
But she could handle it. Over the years, many people had
hated her for reasons she had not understood. Once, on a
planet called Jectaris, she had nearly been killed in an
unprovoked attack -- a local resident had attempted to crush
her with a bathtub, of all things. (It bothered her that
quantum physics suggested the existence of alternate universes
in which the attack had succeeded.) At any rate, Seven had
learned that she could not expect to be welcomed everywhere
was another matter. The young ex-drone had also seen these
onlookers and was clearly very disturbed. A flash of compassion
came over Seven, and she decided to take his attention off
this problem. 'Icheb,' she said, 'redirect your ocular receptors
toward that vicinity.'
telling him to look that way,' whispered Naomi to her parents,
who held back a chuckle.
looked -- and was glad he had. There, before his ocular
receptors, was the one building he had most wanted to see,
the first step in joining an organization he deeply wanted
to become part of. The campus of Starfleet Academy was right
there for the taking. Jettisoning his customary reservedness,
he grinned broadly. Naomi, feeling the need to contribute,
patted him on the back.
task complete, Seven returned to her observations. To her
surprise, she was interrupted by a comm signal. 'Chakotay
to Seven of Nine. Please report to Astrometrics.' Mildly
annoyed at the lack of notice, she took her leave of the
others and beamed up, leaving them to enjoy the sunny afternoon.
* * * *
what did she do?'
turned around, looked those Xrabipta right in the compound
eyes -- and pulled a phaser out of her hair! I'm
the sound of uproarious laughter, Neelix disappeared from
view for a moment. Chakotay was concerned. 'Neelix? Are
you all right?'
okay,' said the red-faced Talaxian, pulling himself back
into the field of view. 'Sorry, I was literally rolling
on the floor there. Her hair? I can't believe it!'
could I, but then I realized -- she'd done it up in a bun
that day for the first time in years. Now why would she
have done that unless she had something up her sleeve? And
at that point I was annoyed with myself for not guessing
on you, Commander,' grinned Neelix. Chakotay hung his head
low, inciting even more laughter.
let's hear about your adventures. How are you and
the other Talaxians holding out?'
bad at all,' said Neelix, smiling out of pride now instead
of amusement. 'Commander Nocona came back a few months ago
with a bigger ship, but we'd just finished fortifying the
shield. Before he could even make a dent in it, we'd sent
up enough small fighters to make him think twice. We haven't
seen him since.'
done,' said Chakotay. 'You've more than proven yourself
as a leader.'
I still don't really think of myself that way. But Mr. Tuvok
said the same thing when I talked to him this morning, so
I guess maybe I should take the hint.' They shared a smile.
be it from me to steal someone else's conversation material.
Let me ask you about something our Vulcan friend never would.
How's your relationship with Dexa coming along?'
Talaxian blushed a bit. 'We're engaged. The wedding will
be in two months unless something comes up.'
you never know -- those Xrabipta just might want their next
target to have a little less hair!'
men burst out laughing, even more so when Chakotay added,
'In that case, I'll be sure to get the Doctor a security
sighed contentedly. 'That's enough of my love life.
How about yours?'
don't have a love life,' said the commander uncomfortably.
What about your relationship with Seven of Nine?'
resequence the signal parameters so we aren't limited to
that's right. I forgot.' Neelix tried to remember the code
to enter. Whew! thought Chakotay. Now I have
time to figure out how to explain to him.
if on cue, Seven entered the room. 'You sent for me, Commander?'
nodded. 'Don't you remember? It's our turn to talk to Neelix.'
was scheduled to do so with Lieutenant Kim.'
traded timeslots with me so he could visit his parents this
afternoon. That's where he is now.'
had finally figured out the code. 'Got it, Commander! We've
got a seven-minute buffer zone before the MIDAS array has
to cool down. Seven! Sorry, I didn't see you! When did you
seconds ago,' answered the ex-drone.
who's counting?' said Neelix with a smile. 'It's wonderful
to see you again! And seeing both of you together...well,
it does my heart good to know I can still be a good morale
officer at this distance. Congratulations!'
cleared his throat. Seven glanced to the side.
are in order, right?'
took a sudden interest in the floor. Chakotay cleared his
sighed the sigh of the downcast. 'I see. What happened?'
looked for words. 'Well...you see....'
terminated the relationship due to Commander Chakotay's
inadequacy as a candidate,' said Seven.
shouted Neelix and Chakotay in unison.
later re-evaluated that decision,' continued Seven dispassionately.
'At the time, however, a much larger group of candidates
had just become available. I had chosen Commander Chakotay
only because of the limited selection.'
thought it was because of my advice!' replied a stunned
was. Your advice was what incited my evaluation. When that
evaluation became invalid, it was necessary for me to discard
me,' said Chakotay.
stared blankly at Neelix. Neelix stared blankly at Chakotay.
Neelix and Chakotay stared blankly at Seven.
something wrong?' asked Seven.
certainly hope so,' said Chakotay. 'This is not what
you told me when we talked about this before.'
the contrary. It is what I told you when we talked
about this before. Perhaps my wording was different.'
you should --'
Guys!' interrupted Neelix. 'Calm down. Let's just forget
I ever brought this up, all right?'
had no objection to that. 'So...' He tried to think of a
new topic of conversation.
I should go,' said Seven. 'The diagnostic on Voyager's
comm system is not yet complete.'
snapped his fingers. 'Neelix, Seven just reminded me --
perhaps there's something you can help us with.'
Commander! Anything you want.'
long-range comm system has been offline for the last week,'
explained the first officer. 'We haven't had problems with
this transmitter, but ordinary communications haven't been
working. In other words, we've had no way of knowing what's
been going on in the Alpha Quadrant. Now, am I correct in
thinking you've been in touch with Reg Barclay?'
that's right,' said Neelix. 'This comm system still worked,
so Reg set up a device on Earth just as you had on Voyager.
We've been in touch quite often.'
you must have heard about any important news.'
let me think.' Neelix tugged on his whiskers, a Talaxian
gesture of variable meaning. 'Yes, there was one pretty
important thing. A little while after you disappeared, Starfleet
started detecting --'
screen went black.
come on,' said Chakotay. 'Our luck can't be this bad!'
His fingers flew over the console.
these events were taking place in a work of literature,
I would consider them clichéd,' agreed Seven. She too tried
to restore the connection. Suddenly --
Alert! Vessel Zero-Zero-Zero under heavy fire! Our weapons
are ineffective! We need reinforcements NOW!'
the source of that transmission!' demanded Chakotay. 'Chakotay
to bridge: Red Alert! Prepare to respond to a distress call!'
of Nine to the bridge. Belay that order.' Seven turned to
Chakotay. 'The distress call is well out of Voyager's
range. It is being sent directly at the MIDAS array. The
array picked up the signal and transmitted it to us; that's
why we lost the connection to Neelix.'
sighed in frustration. To hear a distress call and not be
able to help in the least....'Chakotay to bridge. Confirm
Seven's belay order.' Whoever's on the bridge must be
pretty confused by now, he thought.
Crewman Gilmore was confused. No matter what she
tried, she couldn't get her fingers out of this Chinese
finger puzzle. She'd have to ask Chell about it before it
became a serious problem.)
sustained damage to 74% of our outer hull. Our regeneration
alcoves are inoperative. We have lost 459 crew. We cannot
survive any more of this!'
you determine the source of the message?' asked Chakotay.
is Borg,' said Seven.
goes without saying. Can you be any more specific?'
transmission has been encoded with a frequency specific
to the Queen. The source must be either the Unicomplex or
her personal transport, and the Unicomplex no longer exists.'
she survived Admiral Janeway's virus somehow?'
The speaker is not the Queen, and more to the point, he
is not connected to the hive mind.'
do you know?'
recognize the voice,' said Seven.
one of our transwarp coils is functional! We cannot escape!
The enemy cubes are attempting to drive us into the --'
Static cut off the end.
cubes? Why would a Borg ship be fighting its own cubes?'
wondered Chakotay out loud.
is possible that another race has chosen to build cubical
ships,' said Seven.
did not say it was likely.' Seven checked her console. 'The
transmission is degrading. Something has happened to the
second-division forces, regroup in Grid --' Loud explosions
drowned out the voice for several seconds. '-- not survive!
Annika! I love you!'
MIDAS array is no longer responding,' said Seven. 'I believe
its transmitter has been damaged or destroyed.'
was still trying to make sense of the message. 'You said
you knew this man. And he didn't just know you, he called
you by your human name. He was Axum, wasn't he?'
said Seven. 'Based on the contents of his message, his ship
has most likely been destroyed.'
calmness amid this possible tragedy was starting to anger
Chakotay. 'He said he loved you! Don't you even care?'
he is no longer alive, my grief would do him no good. If
he is alive, it would be misdirected.' Damn her. Even
when she infuriates me, she makes sense. 'We should
inform the captain immediately,' continued Seven.
bother,' said Chakotay. 'I've been trying to contact her
for hours -- she's been unreachable ever since she went
to see Tom's father.'
I don't know what this is about, and I don't like it.'
I cannot contact Captain Janeway, I should proceed with
the diagnostic.' Seven started to leave. Chakotay, finally
out of patience, grabbed her by the arm. The ex-drone did
not resist, but turned around and glared at Chakotay in
a way that delivered a clear message: Release me or be
want to know what's going on, Seven,' he said. 'Your recent
behaviour has been very disturbing. I'm not the only one
who's noticed -- Captain Janeway and the Doctor have both
been wondering if you're all right. I want you to tell me
why you're acting this way.'
what way am I acting?' asked Seven with a false-sounding
a word, unemotionally. You've seemed completely uninterested
in the ship, your friends...everything since we left the
was unaware that unemotional behaviour was considered disturbing,'
said Seven pointedly.
took the hint. 'I respect Tuvok, and his way of life is
his own business. But you are not Tuvok. You're a human
being, one who only recently regained the ability to feel
the full range of emotions. You've spent the last five years
distancing yourself from the Borg. This sudden reversal
is out of character, which is enough to worry those who
care about you. I'm your friend, I care about
you, and I want to know what this is about!'
then -- just like that -- Seven changed. Her arm went limp
in Chakotay's hand. 'I'm sorry, Commander,' she said, sounding
genuinely repentant. 'I have no wish to worry you or any
of Voyager's crew. Perhaps I should ask the Doctor
to examine me in case something has gone wrong.'
think that would be a good idea,' said Chakotay. He released
her, and she left.
first officer stood alone in Astrometrics, pondering this
strange situation. Seven had indeed been acting oddly --
there could be no doubt about that. But what had brought
on her change of heart a moment ago? At that point, Chakotay
had felt exactly like he was talking to the 'old' Seven.
If she'd faked that, she'd done a bang-up job.
I'm making too much of this, thought Chakotay. I'm
being too hard on Seven...I'm not considering how our return
to Earth may have affected her. Besides, we were a couple
so recently, and heaven knows I take relationships seriously.
This is probably all in my head. His mind more or less
at ease, Chakotay left Astrometrics to go see how Tom and
B'Elanna were doing.
* * * *
were just his parents, but Harry couldn't help but feel
a little nervous about seeing them again after so long.
In many ways, he wasn't the same man who had left them eight
years ago. A combination of the Delta Quadrant, Tom Paris,
and more bizarre experiences than he could count with his
shoes on had accelerated his maturation, much as the Borg
did with their drones. (Actually, there weren't really any
parallels to what the Borg did. But a guy in Harry's line
of work thought about the Borg a lot.) Overcoming his doubts,
Harry climbed the stairs of the old porch and rang the door
answer. He tried again.
answer. He tried again.
answer. He --
get the door for Criminy's sake! I'm in the shower!'
smiled. Same old Dad.
doorknob turned; the lock disengaged. The door of casa de
Kim finally opened, revealing a middle-aged woman with an
uncanny resemblance to Harry. She gaped in amazement. 'Harry!
It's you! You're back!'
Harry could react, she had pulled him into the house and
was squeezing the living daylights out of him. The young
lieutenant felt his lungs deflating dangerously fast. Mary
Kim, hearing her son's desperate wheezes, finally released
him. He gasped frantically for air. 'Oh, poor Harry!' she
said. 'Your trip back to Earth must have been terrible
-- look at the shape you're in! You go sit down in the
living room, quick quick, and I'll get you some tea.' Harry
was happy to oblige.
the comfortable old chair which had always been his favourite,
Harry looked around the room. It's amazing how little
this place has changed, he thought. I guess you can
go home again. It surprised him to realize how easily
he was falling back into considering this old house his
home. What about Voyager? These thoughts reminded
Harry of something Chakotay had once said: 'Home is wherever
you happen to be.' Come to think of it, he and Libby had
had yet another home for a while, and Harry realized he
would probably still think of it that way if he were back
there. Maybe there wasn't a one-to-one correspondence between
people and homes...maybe the same person could be at home
in many places.
mother returned with three cups of tea. She set one in front
of Harry, another at her husband's usual spot, and the third
on her side table. Harry gratefully sipped the drink --
his mother used replicators for most food, but always served
natural tea. 'Is it all right, dear?' she asked.
was surprised to realize that it wasn't. Something seemed
odd. 'I'm not sure,' he said. 'It tastes great, but...there's
a funny edge to the taste. Did you put in anything extra?'
your usual milk.'
was it! 'I get it now! Sorry, mom -- that took me by
surprise because I've gotten used to drinking it black.
We didn't have a lot of extras on Voyager.'
Kim winced in sympathy. 'I'm so sorry, Harry. You must have
had such a horrible time on that ship.'
it was no walk in the park...but after a while, it wasn't
so bad. At least I was with good people.'
yes, like that delightful Mr. Paris you told us about! How's
Tom's fine. He's become a real family man -- settled down
with his wife and daughter. He's never been happier.'
this Torres girl -- did you ever get the nerve to ask her
was flabbergasted. 'What? B'Elanna and I are friends,
Ms. Kim looked surprised. 'It's just that you talked about
her so much in your early logs....'
was one of the first friends I made on the ship. I guess
I brought her up pretty often.' Suddenly it hit Harry --
'HEY! You read my logs?'
Voyager's database was recorded by Starfleet Communications
that database is classified information! It's only available
to officers above the rank of Lieutenant Commander -- even
I can't access it!'
they did say no when I talked to them the first time. But
then later I was having lunch with Ms. Barclay -- you remember
Ms. Barclay -- and she told me her son worked at Starfleet
Communications. And so I said, 'Could you put in a good
word with him for me?' and she said 'Of course, Mary!
Anything for an old classmate,' and then she did just that.
So the next day I woke up and there was my authorization
code for the database! So of course I went right down to
Communications and had a look around, and what should I
find but your personal logs? Then I --'
right, all right!' Harry sighed uselessly. 'You read them
no. I've been reading one a day to remind myself of you.
Just yesterday I came across the one about those funny lizard
men who were hiding on the ship.' Relief flooded Harry.
With luck, he would find a way to protect those files before
she got to Stardate 52628 or so....
John Kim had finally arrived and was just as delighted to
see his son as Mary had been. He lifted Harry a good two
feet off the ground. 'Look how tall you've grown! And is
that two more rank pips on your collar?'
looked down. 'Er, no...the second one is just a cookie crumb.
I'll wipe it--'
Commander Harry Kim! I'm so proud of you, son! Just
wait till Pat Westing hears about this!' Harry sighed...Mr.
Westing was his father's lifelong nemesis. Trying to correct
him at this point was a hopeless cause. 'Thanks, dad,' he
said in resignation.
sat down and took a sip of his tea. 'So, Harry -- tell us
about your trip.'
was long. Very long. But it mostly went well. I got along
with the rest of the crew, and my duties weren't too demanding.'
yes, your duties.' John thought. 'Hrm...what exactly do
you do, anyway?'
was about to tackle that one when a triplet of beeps interrupted
the conversation. Mary tapped the console next to her chair.
'News report,' she explained. 'Something important just
family's picture window became a gigantic viewscreen. Wow,
thought Harry -- that's cutting-edge. They must have
set this up after I left. The screen resolved into the
image of a grey-haired man, wearing a Starfleet uniform
and a grim countenance. 'Good afternoon, citizens of the
Federation. This is Fleet Admiral Gregory Quinn. It is my
unfortunate duty to inform you of a disastrous event.'
screen displayed an object Harry knew very well. 'The MIDAS
Array, Starfleet's most advanced long-distance communications
transmitter and receiver, was destroyed one hour ago. The
last sensor logs we received from the array were these.'
staticky videoclip filled the screen. In front of the array,
a peaceful stretch of space was ruptured by dozens of transwarp
conduits. Out of the conduits flew Borg cubes -- all of
which were attacking one small ship of a different shape
know that ship,' muttered Harry darkly.
cubes continued their attack until the smaller vessel lost
attitude control. It spiraled straight into the array and
the image went blank. Fleet Admiral Quinn reappeared on
the screen. 'Starfleet is studying this information to determine
whether or not we have been the victims of a deliberate
attack by the Borg Collective. At this time we are asking
all citizens not to jump to conclusions. There is no proof
that the Borg were targeting us; until we have more information,
it is too soon to make judgements. Please remain calm.'
The admiral disappeared.
began John Kim, but he trailed off.
is bad,' said Harry. 'This is very bad. I have to talk to
Captain Janeway.' He tapped his comm badge. 'Kim to Janeway.
Please respond.' No answer. 'Kim to Voyager. Who's
this is Chakotay. I saw it too. I'm contacting the others;
we're meeting in T'Plana Hath Park in ten minutes.'
sir. I'll beam over right away.'
to interrupt the reunion. Chakotay out.'
hugged each of his parents. 'I'll be back soon. Don't you
worry.' Then, standing in the centre of the room, he contacted
Voyager's transporter operator for a quick beamout.
Yet again, John and Mary Kim watched their son disappear.
* * * *
which point Captain Janeway was able to warn her in time,
and Seven successfully evaded the falling projectile.'
mean the bathtub.'
Warhol was having trouble keeping a straight face. 'Mr.
Tuvok...are you sure you're being entirely honest
am Vulcan, Admiral. Further, I have sworn an oath to Starfleet.
I would never break that oath by lying to a superior officer.'
well. As strange as this sounds, I've heard stranger stories.'
Most of them from Ben Sisko, he added in his head.
'I take it you had no further contact with these Jectarisians?'
No. We broke off communications and left orbit.'
hard to believe that their government would sanction
an assassination attempt on one of your crew. What did they
stand to gain? And why Seven?'
do not know. The Borg have not yet discovered Jectaris,
nor have the Jecters discovered them, so their anger cannot
be racial. Nor can it be gender-based, for the Jecters had
no such problems with the captain.'
yes, that was another part of your log. What exactly did
you say they did with Captain Janeway?'
transported her and Commander Chakotay to an enclosed room.
We believe it was a prison, for the room was very small,
although not uncomfortable, and their clothes apparently
did not make the transport with them.'
had been in the log, but Warhol had needed to hear it from
Tuvok himself to believe it. 'All right, let me get this
straight. Voyager sent down an away team to negotiate
with these Jecters. As soon as you landed, the captain and
first officer were trapped in a small room naked?'
then, while you and Seven were looking for them, the aliens
tried to kill her with a bathtub?'
is completely insane! What in God's name did they hope to
However, I have theorized that their religion was somehow
involved. The bathtub is an important symbol in that religion,
associated with the chief male diety.'
You know, I don't want to talk about this anymore. We'll
finish this debriefing tomorrow, same time. You're dismissed.'
sir.' Tuvok stood and walked out, likewise grateful to be
leaving that subject behind. Voyager's encounter
with the Jecters had taxed his logic to the limit. He stepped
into the nearby transporter and beamed himself to T'Plana
Hath Park, where Chakotay had called a meeting of the senior
he reappeared, the Vulcan spotted Lieutenants Kim and Torres
already there, at some distance. He began to walk towards
them. 'Tuvok!' came a shout from behind him; he turned and
saw, to his mild annoyance, Tom Paris running to catch up.
have got to tell you about this,' said Tom. 'Remember
thought. 'Yes. He was a fellow Maquis aboard the Liberty
until three months before our abduction.'
Well, I just ran a little check, and it turns out there
was a lot more to that guy than we thought. First of all,
he was an undercover Starfleet officer, just like you.'
know,' said Tuvok. 'I was his replacement.'
blinked. 'Then why were you both on board at the same time
for a month?'
both switches to occur at once would have been too conspicuous.
We left a month in between to allay Chakotay's suspicion.'
Too late, Tuvok caught himself calling Chakotay by name,
as he had on the Liberty.
course. Well, anyway, he got back to Starfleet. He was a
Commander when he started that mission, so he'd made Rear
Admiral by the time we reached Borg space. But guess what
on, guess.' Tuvok glared at Paris slightly. He gave in.
'Okay, okay. But you're no fun. Anyway, get this -- he was
raised an eyebrow. 'For how long?'
don't know. Their best guess is that the shapeshifter replaced
him just a few weeks after he left our ship. After that,
he managed to avoid detection right up until the war started
-- when they started running blood checks on everyone at
Starfleet Headquarters. He couldn't come up with a good
enough excuse in time. But they found out later that this
shapeshifter had managed to get 200 kiloquads of
sensitive information out to the Gamma Quadrant.'
In fact, Tuvok was impressed. Commander Burgess had
always struck Tuvok as an astute and wary man; the shapeshifter
who had replaced him must have done an excellent job, both
in the inital capture and in passing for Burgess.
thought so,' agreed Paris. At last they had reached Harry
and B'Elanna, both of whom were looking intently at a PADD.
Tuvok. Glad you're here. Take a look at this,' said Harry,
showing them the PADD. It was a list of events in the last
few months which were related to this latest Borg attack.
Tuvok immediately raised both eyebrows; Paris took a moment
longer to take in the information, but reacted with equal
astonishment. 'My God,' he said -- 'there have been six
Borg attacks in the past two months alone!'
Mr. Paris: not merely Borg attacks,' specified Tuvok. 'These
were Borg ships attacking other Borg ships, and chancing
in some cases to damage Starfleet equipment in the process.
The only common element is that all the attacks took place
within range of Federation sensors.'
as far as we know,' added B'Elanna, 'there have been hundreds
of others outside our range.'
We may be looking at nothing more or less than a Borg civil
war.' The thought chilled all four officers.
question,' said a voice, 'is why.' They turned to see Chakotay
standing behind them. 'Sorry I'm late -- I was showing Fleet
Admiral Quinn the evidence Seven and I found.'
evidence?' asked B'Elanna.
were talking with Neelix at the time of the attack. Before
we lost the connection, we heard a Borg distress call --
Unimatrix Zero drone?' asked Lieutenant Kim. See you
We don't quite know what to make of all this just yet, but
every bit of information helps.'
about Neelix?' asked Tom. 'We haven't lost the connection
for good, have we?'
spoke to Reg about that. Apparently there's no reason the
array can't be rebuilt, but it'll be a technical challenge
to get its sending frequency perfectly matched with the
original so that Neelix's receiver will still work. He also
says that he doesn't know when we'll be able to do it --
as you can imagine, communication with our ambassador in
the Delta Quadrant is not a priority for Starfleet when
this sort of thing is going on.' He gestured at the PADD.
said Tom. 'One lousy week after all this time out of touch
with him, and now we lose it again for who knows how long?'
was about to agree when his comm badge beeped. 'Janeway
to Chakotay. Where are you?'
here!' he replied instantly. 'I'm in San Francisco -- where
time. Hold on while I get a lock...there we go. Energize!'
Before the others could react, Chakotay vanished in a flash
* * * *
What's going on?' Chakotay had rematerialized in a darkened
transporter room; from the looks of things, he was somewhere
in Starfleet Headquarters.
brought you here with Admiral Paris' help,' answered Captain
Janeway. 'It'll only be a few minutes before we have to
get you out of here, so let me explain quickly. I'm about
to be courtmartialed.'
was stunned. 'What? Who's doing this, and why haven't
they gone through channels?'
started fitting together in Chakotay's head, but the puzzle
wasn't complete. 'We've heard about these random Borg attacks....'
shook her head vigorously. 'Not attacks. The Borg have no
interest in us -- it's each other they want.'
they're in a civil war.' Just as Tuvok suspected.
Starfleet doesn't know for sure, but they have a theory.
You remember Admiral Janeway's virus?'
was programmed to destroy the Queen and the Unicomplex.
It also had a backup routine which we hoped was capable
of destroying the entire Collective. It was based on a geometric
shape that was impossible to interpret from any one perspective.'
sounded familiar. 'So what happened?'
worked. The Collective was wiped out, across the board.'
the drones from Unimatrix Zero.'
was the last piece. 'Of course! We'd disconnected them from
the hive mind -- they had no way of getting the virus!'
What's more, most of them had used the same trick as Korok
-- namely, uploading the individuality virus into their
cubes' vinculi, liberating all other drones in those cubes.'
considering how many drones were in Unimatrix Zero, hundreds
of ships must have survived.'
Starfleet's guess is 14600 -- that's classified information.
Nowhere near the size of the original Collective, but far
more than even the Dominion can handle.'
why the civil war?'
part's sketchier. Starfleet doesn't have a clue, but I've
got a theory. Think about it, Chakotay -- so much power
in the hands of individuals. They didn't have to pay the
price of assimilation because they were already Borg.
Don't you think that might have tempted some of the former
drones? Perhaps enough to set up a faction in favour of
using that power to carry out the Borg agenda of 'pacification'?'
possible. Then who would be fighting them?' Chakotay answered
his own question: 'Axum. He was the closest they had to
a leader, and we know he's not the kind of person who would
succumb to that temptation.'
my best guess. If the sides are about evenly matched, this
war may take a long time to complete. And remember,
it's being fought at transwarp. Finding your opponent is
half the battle, and that means fights will be erupting
over an enormous range.'
far as the borders of Federation space.'
farther -- we don't know. But whatever is really going on,
you'd better believe it's got Starfleet scared stiff. There
are admirals trying to quell panic, trying to come up with
a battle plan...trying to find someone to blame. And I'm
their sacrifical anode.'
why? It's thanks to you that the Borg at large are no longer
it's also thanks to me that these Borg have survived.
I was the one who liberated them. Besides, I committed plenty
of questionable actions in the Delta Quadrant. I don't regret
a single one, and none in itself would be enough to get
me under this kind of attack, but they're going to use every
weapon they have to punish me for this offense. And that
means they'll dig up everything on my record.'
you think you'll win?'
sighed. 'God only knows.'
help you. I knew a lawyer at the Academy who --'
You can't get involved -- this is still classified. I just
wanted you to know what's going on. Tell the senior officers,
but make sure no one else hears about this.'
worry about you, Kathryn.'
smiled ruefully. 'They'll have their own worries in the
next few weeks. I doubt that their debriefings will be easy.
For one thing, some of them are being conducted by Admiral
Warhol, the head of the internal investigations group --
and this witch-hunt against me.'
winced. 'I'll talk to Tuvok about it. His debriefing has
Janeway pulled Chakotay back to the transporter pad. 'Time's
up -- we've got to get you out of here.' Reluctantly, the
first officer stepped onto the pad. 'Good luck, Kathryn,'
smiled at him. 'And to you.' The words echoed through his
head as he rematerialized in San Francisco.
* * * *
watched Chakotay disappear, then programmed the transporter
to send her back to her assigned quarters. A few moments
later, her wrist chronometer beeped -- the signal that the
detection grid was back online. She and Admiral Paris had
only been able to arrange a short gap in the grid; time
had been of the essence.
a rule, Janeway preferred not to cut it so close. But these
were not normal circumstances.
is it, she thought. All those years in the Delta
Quadrant...all those battles, all those judgement calls,
all those last-minute tactics, all that rule-bending...this
is when I answer for it. This is my judgement day.
tried to remind herself that she had no regrets. I kept
my promise. I got my crew home. But the words felt less
convincing than they ever had. Janeway began to wonder if
she had truly expected to accomplish her mission. The crew's
return to Earth had never been in question for her, but
had she really pictured herself making it back with them?
Or had she expected the price of Voyager's homecoming
to be her life?
a way, it was, she reflected. The thought made her uncomfortable...in
retrospect, Admiral Janeway had been almost eager to sacrifice
herself, and Captain Janeway had been all too willing to
let her. There were rationalizations, certainly -- getting
Voyager home early had doubtless saved lives, and
both Janeways would have been in very awkward positions
if the ship had remained in the Delta Quadrant -- but what
were these things compared to the guaranteed loss of a human
life? Did she really have some sort of martyrdom complex?
if so, she was getting her 'wish.' Through the ministrations
of this Admiral Warhol, her court-martial had been accelerated
and would probably be conducted by others hostile to her.
Ironically, Warhol himself no longer needed to be personally
involved -- he might not even be present for the trial.
He'd only needed to knock over the first domino; now he
could watch the others fall.
needed to see Chakotay, and she had. Now there was nothing
more she could do. With a sigh of frustration, Janeway headed
to bed...tomorrow would be a long day.
* * * *
stonefaced guards silently led her through the hallways.
When they reached the court-martial room, Admiral Warhol
was standing outside waiting. He stared at her, his expression
colder than stone, and she felt herself frozen in place.
Moments passed...and then Warhol smiled a sneering smile
of victory. His gaze followed her, chilled her, as the guards
ushered her in.
she told herself as they led her to her seat, you're
not guilty. This is not really about you. The words sounded
hollow in her head, but she did her best to believe them.
She had to.
rise,' announced a guard. At the front of the courtroom,
Judge Advocate General Phillippa Louvois entered and walked
slowly to the bench. This was Starfleet's most experienced
court-martial judge, and she knew that Louvois was her best
chance for a fair trial. But then the judge turned -- and
the chill of Warhol's glare was replaced with the heat of
righteous anger. What's going on? she thought, mentally
panicking. Has she bought into this witch-hunt too?
Do I have no allies at all?
turned to look at the spectators. Admiral Paris was there
but avoided her gaze. Admiral Hayes gave her a stern glance.
And -- was that Tuvok behind him? And Chakotay and Seven?
Why wouldn't they look at her? I'm alone--
woke suddenly. The same dream again...third time in one
night. It wasn't hard to understand, of course, but the
repetition reminded her of the unpleasant Inryeth encounter.
And that made her wonder how much of the dream might be
a premonition...or a warning. Her scientific discipline
rejected the notion immediately, but something about it
deeply concerned her.
lay back down. Maybe she could still get some sleep before
* * * *
Fleet Admiral Quinn announced earlier today, the MIDAS array
-- Starfleet's revolutionary long-range comm system -- has
been destroyed. So far, no one has claimed responsibility
for the action, but the array was able to record a short
sensor image before its destruction.'
The clip shown earlier in the day reappeared. Axum's octahedron
shuddered under the pressure of countless torpedoes and
cutting beams. At last it flew straight at the 'camera,'
blacking out its view as the MIDAS array began its final
moments of life.
News anchor Suellen Bartlett reappeared on the screen, her
expression grim. 'While there is no concrete evidence yet
to support theories about the apparent attack, the clip
seems to indicate Borg involvement. If so, this incident
would be the seventh Borg firefight detected by the Federation
in the last two months.'
Bartlett brightened somewhat. 'On a happier note: today,
after nearly eight years away from home, the starship U.
S. S. Voyager reached Earth. Since their first communication
from the Delta Quadrant on Stardate 51501.4, Voyager
and her crew have inspired the entire Federation with their
story of courage and determination. Captain Kathryn Janeway,
the leader of this historic journey, was not available for
comment...nor were any other bridge officers....' (Bartlett's
tone grew increasingly annoyed) '....but we do have a few
words from Mary Kim, mother of the ship's operations officer.'
The anchor was still smiling, but those familiar with her
broadcasts could easily see how frustrated she was at the
quality of guests available.
'Hello, everyone. My son and his friends had a very
The screen went blank as the man watching it grew tired
of Federation news. He decided instead to replay an audio
clip he had recorded earlier.
Alert! Vessel Zero-Zero-Zero under heavy fire! Our weapons
are ineffective! We need reinforcements NOW!' Vessel
Zero-Zero-Zero: the most important ship of its fleet. With
a very important passenger.
sustained damage to 74% of our outer hull. Our regeneration
alcoves are inoperative. We have lost 459 crew. We cannot
survive any more of this!' The man listened with greater
and greater pleasure. 'Only one of our transwarp coils
is functional! We cannot escape! The enemy cubes are attempting
to drive us into the Federation array in this sector --
if they succeed, it will be destroyed!' Perceptive, thought
second-division forces, regroup in Grid One-Four-Four-Seven!'
A blind, of course. Axum had known that others could detect
the message. Also, he never spoke of his people as drones
-- even under this kind of pressure. 'Whatever happens,
the Constructive must be stopped! Continue the fight if
I do not survive! Annika! I love you!'
The audioclip ended. With a feeling of deep satisfaction,
its listener walked to the viewport and watched the moving
colours of transwarp.
The man knew who Annika was, but such matters held little
interest for him. What mattered was power. What mattered
was expansion. Revenge was only a means to those ends, but
one he particularly relished. Today he had taken revenge
on his greatest enemy, the individual who had wronged him
more than any other. In doing so, he had cleared one of
the last obstacles between himself and ultimate control.
The others -- Korok, Pavriqur, the Complex -- would fall
in short order. There could be no stopping him now.
He was only one man in one cube in one fleet in a legion...but
he did not feel small. Not for a moment.
by: Zeke (Colin Hayman)
Beta: Coral, Moni
Producers: Thinkey, Anne Rose and Coral