Lieutenant Harry Kim sat up at his station, the boredom of the seemingly endless Gamma shift broken as his console beeped. "Finally," he muttered to himself, "something to do."
Tuvok, sitting in the captain's chair, turned around with a raised eyebrow. "Lieutenant?"
"Sensors are detecting some kind of strange energy reading," explained Harry.
Tuvok withheld a comment on the vague description and moved patiently over to Ops to examine the data for himself. "Where are these readings coming from?" he asked.
Harry frowned. "Looks like…about three light-years from here."
"We should inform the captain."
Harry looked up in surprise. The irony that it was Tuvok and not him who suggested contacting the captain was not lost on him, considering some of his first few commands. "It's, uh…kind of late, Tuvok."
Tuvok downloaded the sensor data onto a PADD. "I'm aware of the time, Lieutenant. However, the captain asked to be informed of any unusual sensor readings. I believe this qualifies."
Harry made no answer, but followed Tuvok as he made his way to the turbolift.
Chakotay sat on the couch in the quarters he and Kathryn shared, reading the PADD as the captain was getting a cup of coffee from the replicator.
"This isn't too far away from here, Harry," said Chakotay when he finished perusing the data. "Why don't you put together an away team and take a shuttle to check it out?"
Harry glanced at Tuvok before turning back to the first officer. "Actually…I'd like to go alone if that's all right with you, sir."
Chakotay regarded him as if he hadn't correctly heard what Harry just said. His eyes shifted over to Tuvok who instantly echoed what the commander was thinking. "Lieutenant," said the Vulcan calmly, "you are well aware that Starfleet regulations strictly prohibit any officer, regardless of their rank or experience, from undertaking an unaccompanied mission."
"Unless," Harry replied, "they have a very good reason."
Captain Janeway joined them again, taking a sip from her freshly replicated coffee. "And what reason is that, Mr. Kim?"
Harry paused, at a loss to explain it. "There's too great a risk for anyone else besides myself to try and investigate that energy," he said finally.
"Why is that?" asked Chakotay
Harry paused again, but realized he couldn't put his feeling into words. "This energy pattern…it's something similar to the power the Caretaker gave me." He didn't mention his hunch that the signal might be an attempt to reach him exclusively, but he instinctively knew that was the case.
"Similar?" repeated the Captain. "Similar how?"
"I don't know," sighed Harry, frustrated at his inability to explain himself. "I just know this is something I need to do alone."
Captain Janeway sat down on the couch and swept Amelia up beside her with one arm as the puppy came trotting over to join the group. Amelia looked at Harry and Tuvok and let out a tiny yawn, flicking her little pink tongue as she snuggled against the captain's elbow. "Mr. Kim," began Janeway after some consideration, "my decision on this situation is final…and I must say that your request isn't what I would expect to hear from one of my senior officers. You're asking me to send you out alone, knowing that the Sernaix are still out there?"
Harry kept his reaction in check. He could see that she was going to nullify his request, but he still hoped that there was something he could say to make the captain concede. "I understand that, Captain…but every instinct I have is telling me I have to investigate this. Alone."
She shifted her pet over to her other arm and scratched her behind the ears before speaking again. "I'm reluctant to send anyone out there at all. And you want to go alone?"
Tuvok decided to speak up. "Captain, I agree with your logic. However, it should be noted that Mr. Kim has never been proven wrong when it comes to matters dealing with his new state of awareness. Although he would be traveling without aid, the lieutenant is still the most logical choice."
Janeway gave the Vulcan a neutral look, obviously mimicking him. "You think he should be allowed to do this by himself, Tuvok?"
"Indeed. If Lieutenant Kim is correct and this energy our sensors have detected is indeed related to his abilities, then he is the most qualified person to deal with the situation."
"It's certainly true that Harry's power has helped him out in the past," Janeway said, "but that doesn't mean he'll be able to survive the circumstances we're dealing with now." She carefully thought about Tuvok's advice before speaking. "I'm not the type of person to send anyone out on a dangerous assignment unprepared." Janeway set Amelia down on the floor and rose from the couch as she came to attention and formally addressed Harry. "Be sure your shuttle is fully stocked before you leave, Mr. Kim. Tuvok will be tracking you all the way to the source of the energy. I want there to be a pair of eyes on the bridge watching your ship at all time. And I want to hear from you at the first sign of any trouble from the Sernaix."
Harry sighed with relief. "Thank you, Captain." He paused and met her steady gaze. "I know I'm breaking protocol…but I feel that this is right."
She scowled at him before speaking up. "I can't stress the risk you're facing by going out there by yourself." The scowl disappeared after a few seconds and was replaced by a hint of a smirk. "You may not need to, but I always like to keep an extra comm badge stuck in my boots. It may come in handy sometime, and it beats trying to cram a phaser in there instead."
Harry nodded, unsure whether she was joking or not. "Yes, ma'am."
Her smile widened and she patted him on the shoulder. "Have a safe trip, Lieutenant."
He nodded his thanks, and he left her quarters with Tuvok a half a step behind him. The two men made their way down the corridor in silence until they reached the turbolift. As they waited for the doors to open, Harry turned to the dark-skinned Vulcan. "Thanks for your help back there. I'm not sure I would have persuaded the captain to see things my way."
Tuvok merely stared at the young officer as they waited for the lift doors to open. He remained stiff and expressionless, but he finally spoke up once they stepped inside. "Mr. Kim," he said evenly, "I firmly believe that you have the means to achieve anything at your disposal. If I may quote a notable human philosopher -- it is through sheer determination and the power of our will that we are able to attain our desires."
Harry contemplated this in silence until the lift stopped and Tuvok exited. As the doors closed and the lift continued towards the shuttle bays, Harry frowned, trying to figure out exactly what it was he had just heard. "Buddhism?" he muttered to himself. He shrugged his shoulders and exited from the lift, rapidly making his way towards the hangar at the rear of the ship.
A few hours later, Harry was staring out the viewport of his tiny shuttle as it sliced its way through the chemical soup of an argon-nitrogen based nebula. The familiar blackness of space soon replaced the beautiful swirling cloud as he exited from it, and Harry returned his attention to the control panel in front of him. The area of the Delta Quadrant that he needed to reach was still more than a light year away, and the current trajectory readout told him that another course correction had to be made in order for his vessel to get there.
Now that so much time had passed, Harry realized he really didn't like flying alone through an uncharted region of space. He kept on trying to track down the source of the abnormal energy fluctuations, but many more important things were already preoccupying his mind. His thoughts kept drifting, and various images of the Sernaix and their ships cutting across the galaxy were rising up to the front of his brain. He knew that they were out there, somewhere very close. Perhaps they were hiding within a nearby star system, or inside the radioactive protection created by a quantum singularity.
Debating over the numerous ways his enemy could render themselves undetectable wasn't getting him anywhere, so Harry turned back to his console in an attempt to keep his mind focused.
A high-pitched buzz from one of the shuttle's consoles drew his attention, and he swiveled his chair to reach the other side of the shuttle. The science station reset itself at his touch, and an L-CARS display began dancing across the monitor. "That's it!" he shouted, instantly returning to the navigational controls and redirecting his vehicle's path.
The multi-colored lights of the stars outside spun and twisted as he pointed his shuttle in a new direction, homing in on a binary star system. Within minutes, he had crossed the heliopause of a distant Red Giant. Harry reduced his speed to half impulse, then recalibrated his line of flight so the ship swung around the blood-coloured colossus. A normal sized yellow star appeared from the other side, and a quick scan of the area near the fourth planet of its solar system looked promising. He silently hoped that this would be the place where he'd find the source of the mysterious energy.
For a brief moment, Harry imagined that he was playing one of Tom's old Captain Proton holonovels. But this time, it was Buster Kincaid who had to go on a solo mission for a change of pace. He smiled at the silly comparison and shifted in his seat as the brown colored marble of an M-class planet came into visual range.
Right after his ship cut its engines and prepared for a standard orbit, Harry felt a slight nudge in his belly. Seconds later, his shuttle began to shake violently. It dipped as the planet's gravity grabbed hold of it and the forward tip of his vessel started to flare as it raced through the atmosphere.
Acting on reflex, he reinforced the structural integrity of the ship while attempting to regain helm control. The shuttle continued to plunge, and Harry could see a tremendous range of mountains come into focus below.
A light screeching noise began to fill the cabin. He realized what this signified -- the strenuous pressure resulting from this unbelievable fall was about to break through the hull and destroy him. Harry braced himself as he activated the secondary thrusters. Instantly, the ship began to tilt and arch slightly as it was pulled up from the steep and deadly descent.
The strain on the engines proved to be too much; they fizzled and died out in a hail of sparks as the rear consoles exploded. Harry barely managed to prevent his ship from immediately slamming into the ground, but he was still heading towards an inevitable impact with the alien planet.
His shuttle bounced once, twice, then became lodged in the earth, spilling huge amounts of dirt and stone into the air around it. The speeding metal box continued to skid, carving a thick, smoky line into the crumbling sediment as it ran for more than a kilometer before stopping.
Harry sighed and leaned back in his seat, taking a moment to catch his breath. He looked out at the dust settling around his crashed ship. "Not again," he muttered to himself.
Without wasting any more time, Harry reached out and disengaged all of the fuel injectors and power cells within his ship. He activated the emergency distress beacon, checking to see that it traveled along a return trajectory through subspace. He rummaged for a bit, and then picked a survival kit out of the storage container that sat inside the guts of his once proud vessel.
A quick scan with a tricorder revealed that the environment outside was hospitable. Harry prepared himself before he opened up the emergency hatch, and then he stepped out onto the planet's surface.
Glaring sunlight assaulted him as he made his way around the smoking carcass of his ship. It was stifling hot and there wasn't a single cloud in the sky. Once his eyes had adjusted, Harry took a full survey of the land. Everything that encircled him was the perfect example of a desert, although a few amounts of vegetation could be seen growing every fifty paces. He noted that this area of the planet looked very similar to Mars during the early years of its terraformation.
The mountain range that he had struggled to avoid was now behind him, and his tricorder told him that a minimal source of water could be found due west. There was an underground spring located within several hours of walking distance.
He was tempted to crawl back into his shuttle and try to reactivate the environmental systems, but the temperature in that coffin would soon exceed the heat he now felt standing outside of it.
With a sigh, Harry set out to reach the oasis before it became dark and the planet's climate changed too drastically.
Tom Paris was having a wonderful morning. Usually the first several hours of Alpha shift on board Voyager would crawl past in a blur…but today was special.
Lieutenant Ayala wanted to get some time at the helm, giving Tom an unexpected reprieve from his duties. He wouldn't be needed on the bridge until after sometime after lunch, and that suited him just perfectly.
While B'Elanna was busy polishing up a few things down in the engine room, Tom was enjoying the company of his delightful baby daughter. He really couldn't refer to Miral as an infant any longer; anyone could clearly see that she had evolved into a toddler.
They were both lying on the carpeted floor in the bedroom of the Parises' living quarters. Tom held his pinky finger out near Miral's tiny hands and laughed each time she made an attempt to grab it. He was always too fast for her, but he'd often let her get a light grip around his knuckle before quickly pulling his arm out of range. She let out a loud giggle each time this happened, but that probably had to do with the silly noise her father made as he dangled his hand in the air.
Miral soon tired of this game. "Wokin!" she insisted. Tom laughed -- he loved to practice walking with her. He had Miral stand on his feet, then began stomping around the room. He bent over to keep his eyes on her as he carefully held her little arms up in the air near his knees for balance. He remembered how much she used to cry when he first tried this, but B'Elanna was eventually able to convince the child that it was supposed to be fun. And now, she could hardly wait for the chance to step on his feet and go for a ride around the room.
Tom was about to pick up his daughter and try a few rounds of "Airplane!" with her when his wife walked into the room. "Hey," he greeted her. "Long shift?"
"You could say that," she answered, falling into the nearest chair. "The starboard nacelle is on the fritz again, and two of the dorsal phaser strips had to be realigned with the primary sensor array in order for them to be fully repaired before this afternoon."
"Whoa… sorry I asked."
"Well, don't worry too much about it. Seven will finish what I started, and I know she can handle it." B'Elanna looked down and saw Miral trying to slip away from her father's grasp. "And how's my favorite little girl doing today? Do you have a kiss for mommy?"
"Mommy!" cried Miral. "Mommy geda kiss, Daddy?"
"Don't mind if I do." He gently picked her up and held Miral against his hip as he leaned in to kiss his wife.
"Not so fast, flyboy." B'Elanna moved away from her husband and accepted a tiny peck from Miral before kissing her in return. "You need to respect a lady's wishes before you decide to go for your own."
"Yes ma'am," he replied, smirking and grinning as she came over to embrace him.
Miral reached out and started to pat her mother's neck and ears before B'Elanna broke off from her husband and returned her attention back to her daughter. "You've certainly got a lot of energy today. Daddy wasn't flinging you around the room again, was he?"
She took the child out of his grip and hugged her, noticing as Tom gave her a mock frown of displeasure. B'Elanna knew him too well though, and the accusation she'd just made was probably justified.
Miral squirmed in her mother's arms, looking distractedly around the room. "Wanna go!" she insisted.
"Go where, peanut?" asked Tom, leaning down so he was at eye level with her.
Miral scrunched up her nose. "Dunno," she said grumpily. "Wanna go!" She continued trying to free herself from B'Elanna's grip, and after a few minutes B'Elanna set her down on the floor. Miral sat up, then slowly got to her feet and wobbled for a second before taking two steps towards the viewports. She didn't get far and soon lost her balance, falling over backwards with a soft thump as she landed. She turned to her parents, pouting as she pointed towards the window. "Wanna go see!"
"I wonder what's gotten into her," said Tom. "She sure is hooked on something."
Miral continued to stare at an empty area of space somewhere outside their quarters. Every couple of seconds, she would swipe at the nothingness that was in front of her. "Unka Hawee," she quietly mumbled.
B'Elanna knelt down to her level. "What is it, sweetie?"
She looked up at her mother with a frustrated expression. B'Elanna sighed and swept the girl into her arms. "You must have tired her out, Tom," she said.
Miral, her displeasure increasing, continued writhing in B'Elanna's grip. She let out a loud cry and swung her arms. B'Elanna was tossed backwards like a rag doll by some unseen force, taking Miral with her. She hit the ground with a thud, still clutching Miral to her chest.
Tom was stupefied and stood with his feet rooted to the floor, frozen in shock. B'Elanna was panting as she held onto her daughter. She could feel herself lightly trembling but was unable to stop it. She slowly sat up, still clutching Miral to her chest, trying to calm the rising waves of panic and anxiety.
Tom managed to unglue himself and he went to join her. "Are you all right?"
B'Elanna nodded, more concerned with her daughter. He wanted to carry B'Elanna over to the couch, but she wrenched her arm away from him. "No!"
He could see that she was shaking, and her grip was becoming too tight around the little girl in her arms. Tom merely stared at his wife as she clutched their daughter. He focused his concentration on Miral and what she had just done. Her frustration had manifested itself in tossing her mother across the room…solely on the impulses of her mind. How can we possibly control her? he contemplated.
Miral had been silent for a few minutes, but she was now beginning to protest her mother's overly protective embrace. B'Elanna eased the amount of pressure she was using to hold her, but she refused to let the child go despite what had just happened. Tom watched as she fidgeted and complained, but his wife had become oblivious.
B'Elanna was still clinging onto her, no matter how much noise she made as she whined, nor how fiercely she squirmed and pushed against her chest. She started to gently rock back and forth in an attempt to soothe the child and clam her down as much as she could.
Eventually, she looked up and acknowledged that Tom was still in the room. "This has to stop…" Her voice was thick and raspy, but it also held a tinge of sadness and desperation. Right after she spoke, B'Elanna relaxed her arms and let Miral tumble lightly onto her lap.
Tom saw that they were both staring at him, but only Miral tried to invite him closer. He folded himself down to sit in front of his family and picked his daughter up. He curled one of his arms underneath her small body and reached out to touch his wife with the other.
She remained stiff and unresponsive to him as he traced the outline of her chin. Tom lifted up her face and their eyes met. "B'Elanna," he whispered quietly, "it's okay now."
"No, Tom," she said, her voice barely more audible than his, "it's not okay. Didn't you see what just happened?"
"Of course I did, but --"
"But what, Tom?" He could hear a familiar growling sound underneath each of her words. "What if this happens again? What if it gets worse? What if she does it to somebody else?"
"She's never done anything like that before."
"She was never supposed to be able to do anything like that -- ever! This has to stop!"
Tom felt the anger rising in his voice. "You want to tell me how?"
"There has to be some way," she insisted. "Some way we can fix it."
Tom smoothly shifted Miral in his arms, placing her in a more comfortable position. "This isn't one of your engineering problems. You can't just bypass a faulty circuit or make a repair this time."
B'Elanna dropped her head and shook it slowly. She began to cry very lightly but soon stopped herself. "We can't go on like this," she said in a low whisper. Tom heard her sniffling so he moved in closer to comfort her. "I can't imagine what she's going to do next."
He rubbed the back of her neck, trying to melt away the tension he felt there. "You need to stay calm, B'Elanna. You're putting yourself through more stress by worrying." Tom wanted to say something that would reassure her, but all he could think of doing right now was getting off the hard floor.
He helped her to stand up then set Miral down on her bed and tried to cheer himself up by playing with her for a little bit.
Tom looked over to see his wife sitting on the edge of their bed. He could tell that she was still greatly disturbed by all that had happened. B'Elanna glanced at him as he tried to tickle and wrestle with their child, and it immediately caused her anger to resurface.
"What's wrong with you, Tom?" she cried. "She can't live this way! Don't you see that?"
Her words cut right through him, and Tom stopped moving his arm around. Miral looked at his big hand as it lay there next to her. She tilted her head up at her father and stuck out her bottom lip.
Tom thought about what she had asked him, and all he could actually see was his wife suffering and his child pouting. Witnessing his family in this terrible state saddened him beyond words. "You're right," he finally managed to say. "I thought I could learn to deal with her… special powers. But this is too much." Tom lovingly looked at Miral. "Who knows what she may do next?" He went over to B'Elanna and sat down next to her.
B'Elanna placed her hands onto the opposite sides of her husband's face and spoke directly at him in a deadly calm voice. "This isn't how it's supposed to be. The Caretaker left something inside me, but it was lost. And somehow, Miral received it. And it's completely unfair! She didn't even have a choice. And now…" B'Elanna's mouth fell open and she felt her jaw quivering as she tried to finish speaking. "Now, she can't control the power any more than we can try to understand it. This is too much for her, Tom… and she's so young."
Tom quickly wrapped his arms around his wife in an attempt to soothe away the emotional trauma she was going through. He grasped her almost as tightly as she had held onto Miral a few moments ago.
He moved his mouth next to hers, but didn't pull her towards him for a kiss. Instead, he spoke his words on top of her lips as she continued to cry. "She's still our kid, no matter what. Powers or not."
"But, Tom," she said, "I don't know how we're going to raise her. I don't know if it's even possible…"
B'Elanna continued to sob very lightly, but Tom could see that his confidence was having a positive affect on her. "We'll always love her, B'Elanna, and I promise you that we'll find a way to take care of her."
"Promise me something else; that we'll fix her, and make her normal, if we can ever find a way."
Tom silently answered his wife with a slow nod of his head.
Less than half an hour into Harry's journey, the tricorder beeped out its familiar pattern of a proximity alert. Just as he was reaching for his phaser, Harry found himself already surrounded.
Obviously, his shuttle had attracted the attention of the local inhabitants. Harry could see dozens of the indigenous people. All of them were wrapped in heavy cloaks to protect themselves from the sun. He couldn't tell if they were carrying any weapons, but he offered no resistance as they intercepted him.
A friendly sounding voice filled his mind. Do not use your weapon. We will not harm you. Harry turned all the way around; trying to see which one had addressed him. He was very wary of trusting these people, especially after everything he'd been through with the Sernaix and on dozens of other away missions.
"What do you want?" he said, his hand still on the butt of his phaser. "I don't want to hurt anyone either."
Kim was approached by several of the more imposing aliens. He watched as four of them, each a whole head higher than he was, moved closer to him. You have been summoned. You must go with us.
Deciding that the aliens seemed to have no hostile intentions, and realizing that even if they did he was outnumbered, Harry slowly removed his hand from his phaser and nodded that he would go with them.
They led him off towards a sparse forest that sat in the distance. Once they were inside and the shade from the foliage covered them, Harry relaxed a little and tried to determine where the natives were taking him.
A series of caves were hidden underneath an area that was crowded with trees. The tallest of the aliens pulled Harry to the side and led him over to one of the large openings in the earth. Steps had been carved into the rocky floor, and he could see a variety of sparkling crystals and smooth stones embedded within their structure.
The hooded figure waved for Harry to go forward and enter by himself. He hesitated before moving and took only a few steps underground. Before he had descended too far, Kim felt the shadow of the giant move directly behind him. He could see the outline of a head on the side of the wall as two hands delicately peeled away the layers of cloth from around the stranger's face and neck. His guide turned to leave, but Kim spun on his foot and called out to him. "Wait."
Harry succeeded in halting the tall alien, and he could finally see that it was a red-haired man with humanoid features. "What's your name?" he finally asked.
"I am Locin," he replied, moving back towards Harry. As the lofty fellow approached him and stepped out of the deep shadows, Harry noticed the flat, dual-pointed shape of his ear.
Harry's eyes widened. "You're Ocampan," he said in awe.
The two men looked intently at each other, and Harry could see an intelligent light shining in the man's eyes. The alien merely stood there at the top of the chiseled stairs, carefully examining him in the same scrutinizing way. Yes, the alien replied telepathically after a few seconds. That is the name of my people.
Harry was stunned. "But…how?" he stammered.
Locin spoke with his own voice again. "You must go below." Harry opened his mouth to protest, but Locin cut him off. "You have been summoned. You must obey." And with that, the man promptly left.
Kim watched him walk away until the top of his head was out of sight, then after a few moments he turned and continued down into the fissure. He was soon enclosed in total darkness, and decided to wait there for a little while before going any further. Then, Harry sensed a pair of eyes upon him. He moved further into the tunnel and was able to make out a faint display of glowing lights several yards up ahead. As he drew closer, the haze became solid, and a humanoid figure could be seen.
The luminous figure, definitely female, was hard to make out against the dark shadows behind it. As she approached, the glare she emanated slowly dissipated and Harry was able to distinguish her features. The flesh around her face broke into a warm smile.
Harry gasped loudly as he recognized her. He forgot to exhale again, and his breath became stuck inside of his body. It refused to leave and allow him to take in any more air, but he was barely able to squeeze out a single, tiny syllable. "K -- Kes?"
"Harry!" she exclaimed, obviously as surprised as him Her voice sounded as smooth and lovely as he remembered it. "I had no idea it was you that…." She trailed off and looked at him in amazement for a few seconds before she smiled. "Welcome to New Ocampa."
Captain Janeway strode on to the bridge, concern lining her features. "Report," she barked.
Tuvok rose from her chair and turned to face her as she made her way down the ramp to the command deck with quick steps. "We have lost contact with Lieutenant Kim's shuttle."
"Did he send out a distress call?"
"Any sign of Sernaix activity?"
Janeway sighed and massaged her temple, her frown deepening. "I shouldn't have let him go alone," she said softly to herself. Tuvok remained silent. After a few seconds, she seemed to shake of her train of thought and turned to the helm. "Ensign, set a course for Mr. Kim's last known position, maximum velocity."
"Aye, Captain," responded the officer at the helm.
Captain Janeway watched as the slipstream corridor opened in front of them. "Let's hope Harry's instincts were right."
Harry shook his head in disbelief for what seemed the millionth time in the past half hour. "I still can't believe it's you."
"Why is it so hard to believe?" Kes asked him, smiling pleasantly.
As he stood opposite his old friend, he examined every alteration in her appearance. Although her skin revealed some traces that Kes was no longer a young Ocampan, her eyes were still as young and vibrant as he remembered. "When we last saw you…."
Kes' expression saddened. "I'd rather not talk about that. At least, not right now." She removed her eyes from his gaze and took a deep breath before speaking. "Harry, I must tell you that I went through many hardships following that incident. After leaving Voyager, it wasn't always easy to have these powers and still exist peacefully in the Delta Quadrant."
Kim was speechless. He couldn't bring himself to accuse her of anything, but he had to know more. "What do you mean, Kes? What happened to you?"
She gave him another one of her beautiful smiles as she took a seat at a nearby table. "It's a very long story my friend, and I really don't have the time to tell it right now. I'd prefer if you would answer some of my questions instead."
Harry accepted this with a nod. The worn and tired old woman he remembered from their brief encounter two years ago was gone. The person standing in front of him now looked happier, younger, as if a great burden had been removed from her. But at the same time, she looked wiser and more mature than the familiar juvenile version he had once known.
Kes shook her head in disbelief as she took a seat at a small table in the room. "I can't believe it was you that came," she said with a smile.
"What do you mean?"
She motioned to the seat opposite her. When he hesitated, she laughed at his sheepish manners. "I won't bite, Harry. You can relax."
He felt a small grin spread across his face and he sat down. "Of course, Kes. Please, ask away."
She opened her mouth as if to say something, but when she noticed something on his uniform, she broke into a wide smile. She reached out her hand and gently brushed the tip of her finger onto the side of his collar. "Is this a second pip I see?"
Harry almost erupted in laughter. He couldn't believe that he thought she was possibly going to hurt him. "Yes, it is. Looks kinda nice there, hm?"
"Congratulations! I'm sure it's well deserved."
Harry smiled at her comment as he noticed how Kes' overall attitude had become significantly different. She was much more confident and self-assured compared to when he had first met her. He became a bit more comfortable as they continued to talk. "I just hope it doesn't take another seven years to get my next increase in rank."
"I'm sure it won't." Her mood turned serious but her voice remained calm and steady. "How is it that you're still here in the Delta Quadrant?"
"Still in the Delta Quadrant?" He snorted softly. "We've been across the galaxy and back."
"Sounds like a long story," she said with a smile. "But the more important question is how you ended up here. How did you get my message?"
Harry frowned. "Message? What mess…." His eyes widened. "The energy we detected."
Kes pointed to Harry's tricorder on his belt. "Why don't you scan for the energy again, Lieutenant, and tell me what you find this time."
He gave her a greatly puzzled look as he grabbed the utility and flipped it open. Less than a moment later, his curious expression gave way to one of extreme astonishment. "The source of the energy -- it's you!"
"Of course it is!" she announced. Kes laughed gently at her old friend upon seeing his stunned expression. In fact, she was beginning to wonder whether or not he had the ability to do anything else.
Harry continued to glance back and forth from her sincere face to the tricorder. "But how? This isn't possible! My scans show that you're giving off more power than a small warp core."
"Anything is possible, Harry," her voice dropped to a whisper as she leaned in closer to him, "especially if you have the power of the Caretaker within you."
After she said those words, they stared at each other for what felt like an eternity. Harry finally broke the silence with a rather discontent reply. "Well, uh… what do you mean?"
"Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean. Only someone with that kind of power would have answered my summons." Kes rose and began pacing the room. "I can see his glow upon you; it's permeating right through your skin. I can also see a great amount of power residing within you. I'll bet you probably don't even realize the potential you've been carrying inside you."
Harry locked eyes with her for a long few seconds before he nodded slowly. "Have a seat…this is kind of a long story."
Kes returned to her seat with a smile. "I like long stories."
He took a deep breath. "It all started about a year and a half ago…."
More than an hour later, Harry had finished telling the story of how Voyager had found itself stuck within the Phase as well as all the consequences that resulted from their eventual escape. The subject of the Sernaix invading their galaxy came up again and again, but Kes was unmoved by many of his dire descriptions. She merely concentrated on the blank space in front of her, patiently listening to all that he had to say. He settled back in his chair after discussing the alliances that were recently made with the other Delta Quadrant races, but he hesitated before telling her about the new emergence of Species 8472 throughout this area of space.
Then, it was time to answer a few of Kes' more specific questions. Kim realized that he couldn't hide anything from her, so he willfully told her all about the unforgettable conversation he had shared with the Caretaker. During this discussion, Harry could see that she was much more intent on his words. Kes asked him countless questions, pressuring him for numerous details about what he had perceived while he was in the heightened state of awareness.
When Kes finally paused her questioning, Harry took the opportunity to ask her about something she had said previously. "Kes…you said that I had answered your summons. What did you mean by that?"
She rolled the information around inside her mind for a bit before speaking. "My energetic transcendence has allowed me to rescue my fellow Ocampans and bring them safely across the galaxy. I thought they'd find peace here, and finally be able to flourish. And we have. But now…."
She nodded. "They could destroy everything we've worked so hard to build here."
"They're threatening the entire galaxy," he said.
"So far, I've been able to use my power to keep us safe. But it's becoming difficult. I'm not sure how much longer we can hold out. That's why I was calling for help. That's what drove you to come here."
Harry frowned. "How can I help you?"
"You have the power of the Caretaker," she explained. "That could protect us against the Sernaix."
"I don't see how. I can't stay here, Kes. You know that."
"Of course," she said, shaking her head. "You're right. I can't ask you to stay here." She paused and looked at him as if seeing him in a new light and a smile slowly spread across her face. "But there might be another way."
As Voyager burst out of slipstream, the anxiety level on the bridge was at its highest for at least a week. Tuvok noticed the fact but devoted no attention to it. The emotional atmosphere was a logical consequence of Lieutenant Kim's absence. This was far from the first time he had noticed it… Mr. Kim seemed to have a penchant for disappearing on away missions.
"Report," said Captain Janeway as the planet appeared on the viewscreen. These were Kim's last known coordinates; the best chance of finding him lay here.
At Kim's station, Ayala examined the sensor readings. "We've got him, sir!" he said. "The shuttle's down on the planet... it's damaged, but the distress beacon's working. We should be able to get a hail through."
Janeway nodded. "By all means, Mr. Ayala -- do it."
Ayala worked the controls for a moment. "I've got a frequency set up. You can start," he said, looking up to Janeway.
The captain cleared her throat. "This is Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager. We've detected your distress beacon. Mr. Kim, is that you?"
There was a pause, and then a reply came back. "Yes, ma'am. I'm all right."
"Glad to hear it," said Janeway with a smile. "We'll beam you up right away, along with whatever parts of the shuttle can be --"
"Wait!" Kim interrupted. "I think it would be a better idea for you to beam down, Captain. There's someone here who wants to see you."
That got Janeway's full attention. "Who?"
"She doesn't want me to say, Captain, but I think you'll understand when you get down here. She's asked that you bring Tuvok as well."
"Acknowledged." Janeway signaled to Ayala to mute the transmission; he did, and she turned to Tuvok as the Vulcan had known she would.
"It is inadvisable," he said, "and contrary to security regulations. However, Mr. Kim's voiceprint has been authenticated, and it is unlikely he would deliberately lead us into danger."
Tom scoffed. "Just 'unlikely'?"
Ignoring him, Janeway turned to her first officer. "I think the risk is acceptable," he said. "As long as you bring a security team."
"My thoughts exactly," said the captain with a smile. She signaled to Ayala, who resumed the transmission. "All right, Harry," she said. "We'll beam to your location. Give us five minutes."
"Janeway out." The captain immediately turned and headed for the turbolift. "Tom, you're with me. Tuvok, assemble a security team and meet us in Transporter Room One. And get B'Elanna -- I'd like her with us. Mr. Chakotay, you have the bridge."
The door closed behind Janeway and Paris. As he tapped his communicator, Tuvok pondered the situation and its logical outcomes, forming a tentative plan of action for each. Before he began to speak, he knew exactly which officers would be the best choices for this mission and what equipment would be needed. An unusual thought about who might be on this planet visited his cortex briefly, and then he was out the door.
The away team materialized in a bizarre landscape. Behind them was desert; before them were caves. Forests surrounded them on both sides. The effect was strange and jarring for the humans on the team, and even Tuvok seemed intrigued.
But the surprise of their surroundings paled before the one right in front of them.
Harry Kim was standing in a group of humanoid aliens. Their ear crests were unmistakable -- they were Ocampans. And at the front of the group was the one living member of her crew Kathryn Janeway had been most certain she would never see again.
Everyone was silent for a long moment. Janeway could see the emotion in Kes's eyes as she looked at her former crewmates. The darkness Janeway remembered from their last encounter was gone; Kes was older, but she was Kes again.
"See anyone you recognize?" asked Kes with a slight smile.
Overcome with emotion, Janeway stepped forward and embraced her old friend. The two women shared a long hug before separating again. By now the rest of the away team had come forward, and Kes hugged Tom and B'Elanna in turn. To Tuvok she simply nodded with a knowing smile; the Vulcan returned the nod. After greeting those she recognized on the security team, Kes returned to stand with Harry and the group of Ocampans, all of whom took in the scene without comment.
"It's wonderful to see you all again," said Kes warmly. "I've missed Voyager so much. How are the others? Is everyone healthy?"
"We're all right," Janeway said. "But what about you? Are you still…"
Kes shook her head. "I've finally gained control of the power. The confusion is gone."
Tuvok's face darkened; he was clearly pondering that, trying to gauge its accuracy. Janeway wondered what to say, but Kes took the next step. "Come," she said, gesturing to the caves. "We can talk in there. And there's a great deal we need to talk about."
Kes's party turned and began walking, and the away team followed. Looking ahead, Janeway realized to her surprise that Harry hadn't come back to join them yet. She came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder; Kim turned. "Captain. Thank you very much for doing this -- you see now why I didn't tell you over the comm."
Janeway nodded. "You've scanned her, I hope?"
"Yes. She's definitely Ocampan, and she knew a few things only the real Kes would have."
"Then we can assume she's telling the truth. Does she know anything about the signal you detected?"
Harry gave her a worried look. "Captain… she is the signal I detected. She… it's…" He frowned: "It's hard to explain."
Janeway looked at her operations officer a little sadly. For so many years, Harry had been the most human, down-to-earth member of her crew, more so even than Tom Paris. He had been her strongest link to the home she had lost. Now, the eager young man wasn't even her species anymore, and there was so much about him that neither of them knew. And what Harry did know, he was unable or unwilling to explain.
Kim and Kes. So young, so innocent… and now both caught up in biological processes that left them in worlds of their own. Of all Janeway's crew, they were the two she had most wanted to protect, and she had failed more completely than she'd thought possible.
As she walked among old friends, Kathryn Janeway had never felt so sad in her life.
Two hours into the conversation, Tom Paris was no less confused than when it had begun. "Let me get this straight," he said. "You -- all by yourself -- brought the whole Ocampan species across the quadrant to this planet."
"That's right," said Kes, sounding a little bit shy about it.
"But you're telling us you're worried that you don't have enough power?"
Kes laughed lightly at that. "That's the idea, Tom. I know how strange it must seem, but I can't be sure I'm capable of protecting my people from the Sernaix."
"Why not? If they do decide to come here, why not just move everybody again?"
"Because I can't. I no longer have the ability to do something so complicated. I'm weaker now."
Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. Do you know why?"
"I do… now. I wasn't sure until Harry helped me put the pieces together." Kes smiled at Kim, who smiled back. "When he got my signal and found me here, it made the connection in his mind… some of the knowledge the Caretaker gave him became clearer."
"Let me put it this way," said Harry, addressing himself mainly to Janeway and Tuvok. "Did you ever wonder why Kes's telepathy seemed to flourish more and more the farther we traveled?"
"On numerous occasions, I assisted Kes in exploring her abilities," replied Tuvok. "It was my belief that she became better able to open her mind as time passed."
"That was part of it," said Kes. "It might not have happened without your help, Tuvok. But there was something else."
"You spoke to the Caretaker," continued Harry. "Do you remember what his greatest concern was?"
"That someone be there to protect the Ocampa when he was gone," said Janeway. Tom noticed a slight annoyance in her tone; the captain wasn't happy with Harry's ‘leading questions.'
Kim nodded, oblivious. "That was why he captured me and B'Elanna, infused us with his memories and experience. But before he began to search, he knew it would take him a long time to find someone worthy. He wasn't sure he would live long enough. So, when he first began thinking about all this -- not long after Suspiria left -- he came up with a backup plan."
"He gave us a way to defend ourselves," finished Kes.
Janeway guessed it: "The telepathic powers."
"That's right. He found a way to alter our DNA and encoded his own mental abilities in each of us along with our existing dormant telepathic skills. Every Ocampa has the potential to be a stronger telepath than even I had dreamed possible."
"Then what went wrong?" asked Tom. "If you had all this power, why did you even need a Caretaker?"
"There was a catch," Harry answered for her. "The Caretaker realized that the power of the Nacene -- that's his species -- would be too much for the Ocampa to handle. Instead of saving them by giving them the power, he realized he might be destroying them. So he designed a failsafe."
"The telepathic abilities of an Ocampa are suppressed under normal conditions," said Kes. "They emerge only in great danger, and we aren't even aware of them at any other time."
Tuvok's expression didn't change, but Tom could see the wheels turning in the Vulcan's brain. "The presence of other Ocampa would be the determining factor. The power would activate when you were in insufficient numbers to repel an attack on your own."
Kes smiled. "Always one step ahead of me, Tuvok. You're right -- that's exactly how it works. Harry ‘remembered' that after he arrived."
"So that's why your powers grew," said Janeway, comprehension dawning. "You were the only Ocampan for lightyears around. Your mind opened itself!"
"And the Caretaker's fears were proven right," said Kes. "It was too much for me. For years I fought to break through confusion so extreme I don't know how to describe it. When I came back to Voyager --" Janeway raised a hand and Kes broke off. "It took me a long time to learn control again. But I did."
Tom knew he'd just missed something. He didn't let on, though; this looked like something they didn't want him to know. He would have to wait for the right time. At least one thing was clearer now, though: "That's why you're worried about protecting them. Now that you're with them again, your power may get weaker."
"Exactly," said Kes. "I can already feel it fading. I don't know how to stop it… which is why I sent out the call. I was hoping I would reach someone who knew what I could do to keep my abilities."
"And she did," said Harry with a smile. He looked at Captain Janeway and added, "But you're not going to like it."
Janeway raised an eyebrow; her expression darkened a bit. "Oh?"
Kes took a deep breath. "Harry knows how to transfer his gift to me. If he does that, I'll be able to readjust my DNA the same way the Caretaker did -- and take the failsafe away."
Tom was shocked -- and suddenly a little relieved. Ever since they'd rescued Harry from Sycorax in the Realm, Tom had been worried about his friend. The Caretaker's "gift" hadn't seemed very much like one. Now there was a way for Harry to be free of it, and to help save Kes and her people while he was at it. Why had Harry expected Janeway not to like the idea?
Tom turned to the captain and realized why, moments before she opened her mouth. "Kes…" she said, "I don't know if I can let him do that. We aren't certain why, but the Sernaix consider Harry sacred as long as he possesses what you call the Caretaker's gift. It's given him insight into their behaviour on more than one occasion. The entire galaxy is in grave danger as long as the war with the Sernaix continues; I can't let Harry give up what may be the key to defeating them."
"I brought my people here because I knew that sooner or later the Kazon would overwhelm them. They weren't far from doing that. Captain… I can't have brought them here just so the Sernaix could kill them instead." Kes didn't seem angry, but she was obviously upset.
"I know that, Kes, but there has to be another --"
Everyone turned to B'Elanna. Tom realized before anyone else what she meant. And he agreed.
He wondered if he should.
Captain's Log, Stardate 56561.5. I've decided to remain in orbit of New Ocampa, at least for now. Despite my remaining doubts about Kes, given our last encounter with her, I've allowed her to remain on board for the duration of our stay. I can't help but wonder if there's more to her wanting Harry's power than meets the eye...but my instincts tell me she's sincere.
B'Elanna stood in the turbolift with her arms crossed, staring down at the bland grey carpeting under her feet. She was completely motionless, deep within her own thoughts. "Are you sure about this?" asked Tom, standing beside her.
B'Elanna nodded without taking her eyes off the floor. "Yes." After a few seconds, she looked up and met the concerned gaze of her husband. "I'm sure, Tom. This is the right thing to do."
The turbolift stopped and the doors to the bridge slid open before Tom had a chance to answer. He followed his wife as she made her way past the tactical station and towards the ready room. B'Elanna pressed her thumb against the button outside the doors. They heard Captain Janeway call for them to enter, and the couple stepped into her sanctuary as the door slid shut behind them.
The captain was seated at her desk, a stack of reports in front of her. She set down the PADD as they approached her. "What can I do for you?"
Tom and B'Elanna glanced at each other. "We want to know if you've decided on our... proposal, Captain," said Tom slowly.
Janeway stared at them in silence for a few seconds but made no comment, so B'Elanna continued: "You heard what Kes said. Having the power of a Caretaker would help her keep her people safe. And you said yourself that Harry's abilities are an advantage we can't afford to give up."
"Yes," began Janeway slowly, "But --"
"If she had Miral's powers," continued B'Elanna, the words tumbling out of her mouth with nervous energy, "Then we'd still have Harry and Kes would be able to protect her people. And...." She paused and glanced at her husband. "And Miral would be normal."
Janeway scrutinized them carefully as she thought. "We've had this discussion before," she said gently.
"This is different," insisted B'Elanna. "I'm sure that it must sound like it's not, but...." Her voice trailed off
and she looked at Tom with a desperate expression, searching for a way to explain her desperation. "She can't live like this, Captain."
Kathryn sighed heavily. "Are you absolutely certain this is what you want? What you both want?" she added with a glance at Tom, who had yet to speak up.
"We're sure, Captain," said Tom firmly. He glanced at his wife. "B'Elanna's right... Miral can't live like this."
There was a heavy silence in the room before Kathryn slowly nodded and spoke. "She's your daughter; it's not my place to intervene. If this is what you think is best for Miral...."
"It is," said B'Elanna firmly.
Tom nodded his agreement. "We do, Captain."
"Very well." She slowly pushed herself out of her chair. "Kes implied that this only works if the one with the power gives it freely. Do you know if that would be possible in Miral's case?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "Apparently even Harry doesn't know. It could work… but we won't know until we try."
Janeway nodded. "I'll inform Kes of your decision."
B'Elanna exhaled deeply, as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. "Thank you, Captain."
The Doctor had been preparing for this moment since he first heard that Kes had come aboard, but he still wasn't ready. He felt terribly awkward. Kes seemed awkward too, and that worried him -- she had always been the warm, friendly one, the one who was never uncomfortable.
She was so much… older now.
After a long pause, the hologram finally stepped forward and took her into his arms. She hugged back tightly, saying "Oh, Doctor… I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too," he said, breaking the embrace. "I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for you. The captain tells me you were having more trouble with your mental abilities."
The Ocampan nodded. "It's all right, Doctor. It took a while, but I got my control back. Now, you have to tell me what I've missed! Harry filled me in on some things, but there's so much more I want to know. Have you been well, all these years?"
"I wish I could say yes without reservation," he replied, "but it hasn't always been easy for us. We've lost a lot of friends to the Borg and the Sernaix. Even the ship --"
"Doctor." Kes was grinning. "I meant you. How have you been doing?"
"Oh," said the hologram, a little embarrassed. "I've been, well, much the same as always. Medicine remains my domain, and despite a rather marked drop in the quality of assistance available to me, I've continued to successfully cure most of the crew's ills."
Again, Kes smiled. "And how have you been as a person?"
"Well…" The Doctor tried to figure out what to say. "I've been all right, I suppose. A few silly hobbies later, I'm the same man you remember."
"I never thought of your hobbies as silly."
"Well, I just mean things like holophotography…"
"Yes, I remember that."
"…singing, art… nothing you wouldn't have expected of me. And I suppose I achieved some minor success with my writing. Other than that --"
"Writing!" Kes's face lit up. "Doctor, that's wonderful! What did you write about?"
"Holographic rights," he said, blushing. "I used an allegorical approach to teach readers about the difficulties holograms face. The holonovel did remarkably well in the Alpha Quadrant, though we had some slight trouble with the publisher…"
"I'd love to try it."
"Really? I'm sure I brought a copy aboard. You'll like the story -- I made sure it was entertaining. It has a serious point to make, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be an enjoyable experience for the reader." The Doctor noticed Kes smiling at him. "What?"
"It's just good to see you again, Doctor."
That was when he realized what Kes had done. By getting him to talk about himself, she'd dispelled his awkwardness. For the first time, the Doctor felt like he was really with Kes again. "I just remembered something," he said. "Come in my office."
She followed him in as he reached for something underneath his desk. "Mr. Neelix left this with me before he disembarked. Ah… here we are." The hologram emerged with a flowerpot full of closed buds which slowly began to open upon exposure to the light.
"My guistren bulbs!" exclaimed Kes.
The Doctor nodded. "He tended them for four years, and I've tried to do as good a job. Ocampan flowers aren't the easiest to care for. Here." He handed her the pot. The buds had all fully opened now; in their place were vibrant green blossoms with exactly nine petals, one for each year of an Ocampan's life. Kes looked at them intently, and the Doctor could see tears in her eyes. "Are you all right?" he asked.
Kes looked up at him. "They're so beautiful," she said. "Thank you, Doctor. Thank you…"
A human would have thought the sentence ended there, but the Doctor could hear his friend, ever so quietly, speak Neelix's name. He smiled his understanding, and they embraced once again.
"Are you ready?"
Tuvok, Kes, Harry, and the Doctor all nodded their assent. Miral simply looked up, confused.
"It's all right," said Harry, putting his hand on the little girl's shoulder. "You're perfectly safe. Kes is an old friend of ours."
Miral gave the Ocampan an uncertain look.
"Don't worry," said Kes. "We're just going to do something like a mind meld. You know that special thing Tuvok does sometimes?"
Miral rolled her eyes. "Know midemedds."
"Oh," said Kes. "Sorry. My mistake."
Janeway had to smile at that. She nodded to Tuvok, who stepped forward to begin the procedure. He placed his hands at the sides of Kes's face. "My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts."
The Doctor attached cortical monitors to their temples. Several moments passed. Finally, the Vulcan said, "My connection to Kes is secure. I am ready to perform the first Bridging of the Minds."
Harry came forward; Tuvok lifted one hand from Kes and placed it on Harry's face instead. "My mind to your mind," he said again. "My thoughts to your thoughts."
The Doctor attached a third monitor to Harry. Outside the circle, Janeway and Chakotay looked over a tricorder and watched Lieutenant Kim's brainwave pattern come into sync with Tuvok's and Kes's. Tom and B'Elanna stood at their daughter's side to reassure her as the three people next to her became perfectly frozen in place.
This time it was several minutes before Tuvok spoke again. "Mr. Kim has prepared the link by which it is possible to transfer the Caretaker's power to Kes," he said. "It is time to make the connection with Miral."
He carefully removed his hand from Harry's head. The younger man started, shook his head, and then was his normal self again. He stepped back as Tuvok turned to Miral.
She looked at Tuvok and Kes, then back to her parents. "Sked."
"I know you're scared, honey," said Tom, "but I promise it'll be all right. Tuvok would never hurt you."
"You can do this," echoed B'Elanna, tears already in her eyes. "Be brave for me like I know you can. Be…." She struggled to get the words out.
"….our little warrior," Tom finished.
Miral gave them a close hug, and then turned back to Tuvok. "Reddynow," she said, clearly still nervous but holding it in as well as she could.
The Vulcan said nothing, but managed a very slight nod. He reached out, bringing his fingers closer together to fit Miral's small face, and made contact.
"You will feel distant from your body," he said. "You will no longer be in this room but in a place within your mind. Do not be afraid. I will be in complete control at all times. You will be safe."
Miral nodded bravely.
"Very well." Tuvok closed his eyes. The Doctor detached Harry's monitor and set it gently against Miral's temple.
"My mind to your mind. My thoughts to your thoughts…."
Miral knew this place. It was sunny and warm and there was a gentle breeze blowing through the trees. She could feel life and happiness all around her.
Her friend Naomi had told her about this place when she was just a little bigger than a baby and Voyager was lost. (Miral wasn't really sure what that meant. The ship was all around them -- how could they lose it?) This was a very special place. It was where you might go when you were all done with the things you had to do in the world, and everyone who ever loved you would be there.
The Great Forest.
Miral looked around, but no one seemed to be there. Where were her parents? She felt herself using her abilities to reach out for them and bring them to her, but nothing happened.
She turned around to see someone standing in the shade of the Guiding Tree. It was the woman from Sickbay, but she looked much younger here, wide-eyed and innocent. Miral liked her right away.
"I know this place," said Kes, looking around in wonder. "Neelix told me about it so many times. How did you…." The question trailed off. Kes beckoned to Miral, and she came closer. Her nervousness was gone. Here, she knew she was safe.
"Miral…" said Kes, "I need you to give me something."
Miral looked down at her hands and saw that they were empty. She turned them over, but there was nothing there either. She gave Kes a perplexed look.
Kes laughed. "I'm sorry. Look again."
This time, Miral saw that she was holding something. It was her favourite stuffed animal -- Toby the Targ, the one her mommy had played with when she was a little girl. "Toby!" she said, pulling it close to her. "Tobytobytoby."
Kes smiled warmly, but then began to frown as if she were realizing something sad. "Miral," she said, "I'm very sorry, but that's what I need you to give me."
What? That was strange. Maybe Kes didn't know who Toby belonged to. "Mine," she clarified, pointing at the stuffed targ.
"I know," said Kes. "But it's very important that I have it. I need you to give Toby to me."
"Love Toby," explained Miral.
Kes sighed a deep, sad sigh. "I'm sorry, Miral. I don't want to take something you love away from you. But I need it very much. I can use it to help a lot of people."
"Pee-puh?" Who was she talking about? There was no one else here.
"Yes, Miral. My people. My… family. I brought them to come live with me, but I need to keep them safe. Like your parents keep you safe."
That made sense. But how could Toby help? As if Kes had heard the question in her mind, she said, "I wish I could tell you why I need this, Miral. There's no way to explain it to a girl your age. I remember. It wasn't so long ago that I was one." She crouched down and put her hands on Miral's shoulders. "I need you to trust me. I need you to believe what I'm saying is true."
Miral clutched Toby tighter. "Love Toby. Mine."
Kes looked at her closely. "Miral," she said, "look in my eyes."
She looked up, and when she did it was as if she could see a whole world she hadn't known about. She could see things that might happen soon. And as she watched, a strange understanding came to her. She somehow knew that the tighter she held onto Toby, the sadder her Mommy and Daddy would be.
She looked away. She knew Kes had shown her those things. "Doat unnerstand," she said.
"But you know it's true."
Miral nodded sadly.
"Are you ready?"
A long moment passed. Finally, after giving it one last squeeze, Miral reached out her arms and gave the stuffed targ to Kes.
As soon as Kes touched it, it vanished. Kes began to glow, very slightly, and then stopped. Miral could see that there were tears in her eyes. She looked down at Miral, then suddenly pulled her to herself and hugged her tightly. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you so much. I'm so sorry…."
Then Kes was gone, and the Forest was gone, and Miral was sitting on a biobed again with Tuvok's hand on her face. She saw him open his eyes and say "The second Bridging of the Minds is complete. It is done, Captain." Then he took his hand away, and Miral's parents took her in their arms and held her close, and everything was all right again.
Janeway remembered the last time she had seen Kes off in the transporter room. Another ship's transporter room, she reminded herself. It felt like a lifetime away.
Kes had said goodbye to the rest of the senior staff. She came up to Janeway and they hugged, briefly, neither one wanting to believe the things they each had gone through to bring them to this point.
"Goodbye, Kes," Janeway said, and she remembered when it had all been so new. When Kes's powers had been something mysterious and wonderful. When she had been innocent, a little naďve, but loving and tender and a friend to everyone.
Before the scars.
Janeway had always known Kes would come to this, ever since her tragic encounter with the Ocampan's future self. But it had been so easy, looking at the young girl out in space for the first time, to forget the dark fate she had seen for her.
And now that was in the past, once and for all, and Kes was herself again. She had done what she'd hoped to do -- she'd returned to her people. She was doing the right thing now, the Starfleet thing. She was protecting those who couldn't protect themselves.
Kes broke the silence. "Remember what I said, Captain. I owe you more than I can say. If you ever need my help, I'm ready."
Janeway nodded. "I'll remember."
Kes stepped up onto the transporter pad. Suddenly she turned to Harry with an amused look. "Were you serious about the Krenim?" she asked.
Harry grinned. "Yep. They turned out to be more or less peaceful -- didn't give us any trouble at all."
"That's good to know," said Kes with a smile. She gave her old friends one last look, and then spoke the word: "Energize." Tuvok worked the controls, and her atoms spiraled away.
There was silence for a moment. "Mr. Paris," asked Janeway, "are we ready to depart?"
"Aye, sir," he said, and his phrasing made Janeway wonder for a moment if he'd picked up on something, or was simply upset with the way this had turned out. She could hardly blame him for that. Heaven knew she'd been shaken to her core.
"Very good," she said. "We'll break orbit in ten minutes. All hands to the bridge for that… and then I think we could all use some sleep."
B'Elanna leaned against the doorway to the bedroom in the Parises' quarters, silent and motionless. She had lost all track of time; she didn't know whether she had been standing there for minutes or hours. Her eyes were trained on her sleeping daughter. Miral was curled up peacefully in her cradle, her stuffed Targ clutched close to her chest and held tightly by one arm.
Tom softly came up behind his wife and gently rested his hand on her shoulder. She turned around to meet his gaze, her dark eyes shining with tears, and put her hand over top of his. They locked eyes for a few seconds, communicating with each other wordlessly, before Tom slowly stepped past his wife and moved towards Miral's crib. He paused for a moment, watching her chest rise and fall as she slept, then leaned over and pulled her blanket around her, tucking it around her shoulders. He slowly leaned in further and kissed her lightly on her forehead. Miral shifted slightly and squeezed Toby the Targ closer, still fast asleep.
B'Elanna moved to join Tom beside the bed. He pulled her close and slipped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.
They stood watching over their daughter for a long time.
After they had gone to bed, Miral rolled over in her sleep. The stuffed animal tumbled out of her arms. She snuggled up with her blanket, settled into a comfortable position, and smiled, dreams of happy forests drifting through her mind.
Toby the Targ lay on the floor, and the warmth
Miral's body had imparted to it slowly faded away.