Title: Out of the Ether: A
"Course: Oblivion" Coda
Author: J.A. Toner
Codes: K/7, P/T
Spoilers for: "Demon," "Course: Oblivion," "Timeless," "Disease"
Summary: Harry Kim and Seven of Nine, times two, sharing something of each other in the aftermath of "Course: Oblivion."
Disclaimer: I borrowed a little of the dialogue from Paramount/Viacom's "Star Trek: Voyager" series, along with the characters also belonging to them, in order to revisit the episode "Course: Oblivion." It was a sad episode, but I ended up liking it. I know this all belongs to Paramount, though.
Archiving: OK to ASC, BLTS,
PTCollective, and PTFever.
All others, ask.
Feedback: Please! To email@example.com
Out of the Ether
by J.A. Toner
"What would Captain Janeway have done?"
Seven hesitated for a moment as Harry's command resonated within her mind. She knew what their captain would have done. No matter what the risk, if it was the only course open to them, she would have taken it. In as firm a voice as she could manage, Seven pronounced: "Computer, prepare to eject the warp core. Authorization: Seven of Nine, omega phi nine three."
::::Warp ejection systems enabled.::::
"Eject the core."
The concussion from the ejection shook the bridge, indeed, shook what was left of the ship that the crew had called their home for a long time now--not that many were left of the crew. The violence of the vibration banished any expectation of success. Seven glanced at the controls. The battle, she knew, had already been lost. "We've lost attitude control and shields. Hull integrity at 19%."
The acting captain was not ready yet to consign them to oblivion. "Reroute life support! Hell, reroute everything we've got left to the containment fields."
Seven called out to him reluctantly, hopelessly, "Hull breaches on decks nine, ten and eleven."
When she fell silent, Harry called back to her, "Seven. Seven!" There was no answer. Grimly, the acting captain of Voyager called out, "Computer, how long until we're within hailing range of that ship?"
As the computer struggled to answer, he that was made in the image of Harry Kim knew there was no hope, no way for the true Voyager to reach them in time. Turning, he looked towards the engineering station, fearing the state in which he would find Seven of Nine. She was there, staring into space, her beautiful face drooping as the stuff that had been sculpted into her being returned to its natural state, that of a wondrous silver compound that once had formed pools on a desolate world, ready to be introduced to sentience by visitors from far across the galaxy. When her eyes focused again for their last, brief moments of awareness, Harry was in front of her. His arms were there, steadying her.
"I sent a message through my Borg neural implant. If that Seven is on that ship, and if my implant still operates adequately, perhaps it will reach her," Seven whispered to Harry.
A ghostly smile graced his lips. "I knew you'd find a way."
Seven leaned into Harry's embrace, resting her melting cheek against the sagging skin of his chin and sighed deeply. As the ship's tortured shell began to breach around them, the shrieking of space displacing the air of Voyager assaulted their ears.
She had caught a wedding bouquet; and as the old superstition went, she would be the next to marry. With their last second of life fast approaching, she thought of the query Lieutenant Torres had made just before they discovered the first evidence of the disaster. "How about Harry Kim?"
Monogamy. The idea of restricting herself to seeking sexual satisfaction from only one man had seemed absurd to her, but that would be her fate after all, it would seem, and with Harry Kim. If she had but one regret, it was that she had never explored with him the full sensations of shared bodies before, when they both could have been stimulated and enriched by the experience. It was too late now. This body would never enjoy such intimacies. One way of sharing themselves remained open to them, however.
Seven turned her face towards Harry. Her lips and his met. Without hesitation, he responded. With the ship dissolving all around them they held each other close, melting together into their first, last, and eternal kiss.
"Try hailing again."
"No response," Tuvok responded to Captain Janeway from his station on the bridge of Voyager.
Harry fiddled with the controls of his console, clearing away the interference until he could say, "Captain, I've found the source of the distress call. It's coming from a vessel." Tom called out that they were within 400,000 kilometers of what was obviously a heavily damaged ship. Something was strange about that distress call, Harry realized, but he would need time to analyze it. Satisfying his curiosity wasn't a priority at the moment. They were on a rescue mission.
From her command chair, the captain crisply ordered, "Drop to impulse. Are the rescue teams ready? Bridge to Sickbay: stand by for casualties."
"In visual range." Tuvok worked his own console's controls, bringing the viewscreen to life. Harry looked up to see the vessel they were approaching.
"Onscreen." A galaxy of glittering frozen silver droplets hung jewel-like in the vastness of space, shining with the reflected light of the stars. Already, they were beginning to drift lazily apart as each one took its own trajectory into the void.
"Where's the ship?" Janeway murmured.
"No sign of it," Harry replied. A yawning chasm opened in the vicinity of his stomach. Those strange fragments once must have constituted a ship. If it had sent out a distress call, it was likely that living beings had been traveling in it. No more.
"That debris . . . that couldn't be all that's left," Chakotay said.
Tuvok's calm voice answered, "I'm detecting residual deuterium, anti-neutrons, traces of dichromates. If it was a vessel, it isn't anymore."
"Scan for life signs, escape pods." The captain ordered, not wishing to give up hope.
"None," Tuvok replied.
A short moment of silence passed before Captain Kathryn Janeway took the only course left to her. "Make a note in the ship's record--we received a distress call at 0900 hours and arrived at the vessel's last known coordinates at 2120. The ship was destroyed. Cause unknown. No survivors." Turning to her silent helmsman, she added, "Mr. Paris, resume course."
Harry sighed resignedly. //And sometimes, the bear eats you,// he thought, as he glanced behind the captain, towards the station Seven manned when she was on the bridge instead of in Astrometrics. To his surprise, Seven was staring at the viewscreen, her usual cool, detached demeanor nowhere in evidence.
Rather, Seven looked like she'd seen a ghost.
He'd been restless all day, ever since he'd seen the fragments of the lost vessel--assuming that was what it had actually been. The sorts of materials usually used to build a deep space vessel were conspicuous by their absence from the debris. The paucity of organic compounds suggested that if beings anything like themselves had been on board, most of the crew must have abandoned ship long before the vessel reached the coordinates where the distress beacon was located. Harry devoutly hoped this was the explanation for the absence of escape pods in the vicinity.
It was hard to say why he still felt so uneasy. It wasn't as if this were the first time such a thing had happened. They'd encountered the remnants of lost ships before and had heard distress signals beaming out their anxious pleas for help long after those who'd set off the signals had disappeared into interstellar dust. It was one of those things you had to accept when you ventured off into space, not that it made it any easier when you ran into it. The futility never failed to be disturbing, but something about this incident profoundly unsettled him.
Now, well past midnight, he continued to toss and turn, though he was exhausted from poring over the data from that strange transmission much of the afternoon. The oddest thing about the message was the way it seemed to be directed straight at them. The frequency used was a narrow carrier wave band, one that was reserved for Federation maydays. The distress call hadn't shown up on any other frequency. It was as if the mystery ship knew exactly how to contact them. How could they possibly know that this particular frequency was the right one? Chance? Or did they have some exotic kind of sensor technology that could "read" which was optimal to use from tremendous distances?
With his thoughts tumbling around in his head as ceaselessly as his body tossed on the bed, Harry finally bowed to the inevitable. Sleep wouldn't be coming to him any time soon. Throwing off the covers and rising from bed, Harry put on his robe and walked over to the replicator in his quarters. Harry stared at it for several minutes, indecisive about what he wanted. While he was a bit hungry, for some reason, replicated food didn't attract him at all tonight.
Replicated food wasn't his only option, though. Neelix usually left sandwiches and snacks in the mess hall for Beta and Gamma shift meals or for those who, like Harry, were in the mood for a midnight gnosh. It was after 0100. It was too early for the night shift to be eating lunch, but some of Beta shift might still be in the mess hall having a late supper. Companionship definitely *did* appeal to him. Besides, on their last foraging mission, they'd picked up some really tasty fruit. Sandwiches might or might not be made from replicated food, but Harry knew that fruit would be natural.
That was enough for Harry. He slipped on shoes and some casual clothing, readying himself for a foraging mission of his own. Destination: Deck 2.
Upon entering the mess hall, Harry rapidly cast his eyes around to find someone who might be interested in some pleasant conversation, just as he was. No one was in sight. Shrugging in disappointment, Harry proceeded to Neelix's kitchen to check out what was available. At least he could get that natural snack he was craving.
His best bet, as he'd suspected, would be the fruit. The deep purple globes were sweet, yet they had overtones of cinnamon and a hint of tartness that made them very satisfying. At least some of the Delta Quadrant foods could hold their own against the Alpha Quadrant's tastiest selections, Harry had found. Too bad Neelix had a habit of picking those that couldn't measure up when making his favorite recipes. The Talaxian was getting better at preparing foods that appealed to the crew, however. About half the time, Harry now could find something he actually liked on the menu.
Grabbing a pair of purplefruit, Harry turned to leave the kitchen. He'd prefer to enjoy them in his own quarters rather than sit alone in the mess hall. Since his recent struggle to get over losing Derran Tal, he'd already spent more solitary nights here than was good for him.
As he turned toward the door, however, he could see that he was not alone in the mess hall after all. Beside a post that had hidden her from his initial view, a blonde-haired figure was sitting. She was staring at the stars sliding by the windows of Voyager as the ship plowed its way home to the Alpha Quadrant.
"Seven?" Harry called out tentatively.
She turned her head towards him slowly, as if awakening from a trance. "Ensign Kim."
Harry approached her slowly. Her expression was unusual, almost reflective, much like the one which had reflected back at him from the mirror when he was dressing to come to the mess hall. "I would have expected you to be regenerating at this hour."
"I regenerated at the end of my duty shift this evening. I had . . . questions concerning my neural link. I wished to know if it was operating within established parameters. The most efficient way to run diagnostics is during regeneration."
"That sounds reasonable. Was it?"
"Was it what?"
"Was your neural link operating within its established parameters?"
After an extended pause during which Seven absently fingered a PADD she held in her hands, she finally replied, "Yes."
At Seven's almost imperceptible nod towards the chair next to her, Harry sat down at the table, avidly studying his companion. Invitations from Seven to join her were still a rare occurrence, but not as rare as Seven's losing track of a simple conversation.
"You're sure it's working all right? You seem a little distracted."
She hesitated again before saying, "It is working properly. But . . . I am . . . distracted."
"Is there some way I can help?" Harry asked, belatedly offering her one of the purplefruit and adding, "Want some?" as he posed his second question.
Ignoring Harry's offer of the fruit, Seven answered, "I received two garbled transmissions through my cranial implant today."
"Seven, are you saying that there are other Borg in this area?"
"No. It was not another Borg . . ." She turned her attention fully upon him. From her uncharacteristic fidgeting, he could see how disquieted she was. "After examining them closely, I realized there was a delay between the sending of the transmissions and their reception. I thought my implant might be at fault. It was not. After the diagnostic, I was able to confirm that the Borg who sent me the transmissions had precisely the same transmission frequency as myself."
"I didn't think that was possible."
"It is not. Each Borg has a unique frequency. There is no question of error. The messages came from my own cranial implant."
"Can you send a message to yourself like that?"
"It is possible, although unlikely. However, I detected a slight temporal displacement, which interfered with the reception . . . " Seven's voice broke slightly.
"Temporal displacement? You're sure about that?"
"Yes. That is why I needed to be certain my implant was working at peak efficiency. Because of the temporal shift, I believed I may have sent myself a message from the future, in order to warn Voyager of a disaster."
"You mean, like the message sent to you during the slip stream drive test?"
"Yes," she said in a hushed tone.
Both fell silent, remembering the set of messages inexplicably received from a Harry Kim of the fut He By following the course corrections Seven had received, the first use of their new drive had been aborted. When Harry reexamined the corrections he'd been prepared to send from the Delta Flyer, he saw a fatal flaw in his figures. Had they followed Harry's, the ship would have been sent careening out of control and off course, quite possibly killing the entire crew.
That incident still haunted Harry. The phantom course corrections had carried a personal message from an older, grimmer version of himself, piggy-backed within the calculations this older Harry must have sent Seven. "You owe me one," the future Harry had said. Only two people knew of this disturbing message: the captain, who had delivered it to Harry, and Seven, who had received it.
Dreading her answer, Harry heard himself ask, "Do you think it was a warning?"
"I do not believe so, Ensign Kim. Once I was able to fully decode the message, another explanation appears more likely." She handed Harry the PADD she was holding. "Here is the message."
Harry read the words with difficulty. The message wasn't particularly long, but the sentences were disjointed. The meaning came through well enough, however, for Harry to read it twice more before commenting. Raising his head to look up at her, Harry said, puzzled, "Voyager is thousands of light years from the Demon Class planet, Seven. They couldn't possibly have gotten all the way out here. In fact, from the ion trail we found, that ship was even further out than we are. They were coming from the opposite direction, on a heading back in the direction of Demon. It's impossible for that ship to have been our clones."
Assuming the bemused air she often maintained around Harry, Seven said, "On what basis do you make that assumption, Harry Kim? The clones were our exact replicas, except they were adapted to a Y-class planet environment. They shared our memories, our intelligence, our creativity. We are 'way out here.' Can you be so certain they could not accomplish what we ourselves have done?"
"Are you saying they might have perfected the slipstream drive when we couldn't?"
"No. If you recall, they were not exposed to the slipstream drive. That occurred after we left them on Demon."
"That's right! I'd forgotten that."
"Besides, I have analyzed that ion trail residue from the ship's course. It appears that the drive used was a variant of this ship's own warp drive, but tuned to the utmost efficiency."
"I haven't had a chance to look at it, but I'll take your word for it."
"As you should." Although he would not have chosen this way to disrupt his companion's melancholy mood, Harry was pleased to see a hint of a smile touch her lips. It had been quite a while since they'd had a chance to interact in such a casual manner. It buoyed Harry's spirits.
"I guess we've got another idea for a new technology to get us home to the Alpha Quadrant, then."
A shadow flashed across her features again, and Harry mentally kicked himself. The Alpha Quadrant wasn't "home" to Seven of Nine. Hurriedly, he said the first thing that came into his head. "Seven, this all sounds very reasonable, but where could the clones get a ship? We only left them one Class 2 shuttle--and it wasn't exactly in good shape."
"The biomimetic substance replicated our comm badges and my Borg implants. A ship may not have been outside its capabilities. If you recall, the ship sank into the semi-liquid surface of the planet."
"Voyager is an unbelievably complicated bit of technology!"
"As are my Borg components. If nanoprobes and implants can be reproduced accurately, why not a ship?"
"An entire ship, perfectly duplicated? Capable of functioning even more efficiently than the original? Incredible!"
"Perhaps the ship was imperfectly duplicated. That may account for its destruction."
Sobered by her statement, Harry exhaled slowly while he considered her hypothesis. "You may be right, but I still have trouble believing Voyager could have been duplicated so exactly that it could get out here. The ship didn't have to be a clone of Voyager. Maybe somebody else stopped on the planet after we left and picked up some of the clones. I could see that happening."
"That could have happened, but I do not believe it did."
"Did you find any collateral evidence to substantiate your theory?"
"I have," Seven declared. Taking the PADD from Harry's hand, Seven activated a file. "You will see a table displaying the compounds found in the debris field, comparing them to the biomimetic gel on Demon as recorded by our sensor records."
Harry read down the file, shaking his head sadly when he came to the end. "And the volume of that debris field is what we would expect to find if a cloned object the size of Voyager--and its contents--were to be destroyed."
Harry looked over the file for several seconds more, but he could find nothing amiss. He wanted to find a flaw in her logic. He could not. "So this is why you were so shook up on the bridge?"
Seven glared at him with a raised eyebrow, and Harry steeled himself for a lecture about it being impossible for a Borg ever to be "shook up." The eyebrow descended rapidly, however, and she admitted, "I was already disquieted before I reached the bridge. I had partially decoded the first message--enough to recognize the sender was identifying herself as one of the Demon clones. When Commander Tuvok recited the composition of the debris, it confirmed the possibility . . ."
Her thought hung unfinished in the air as she stopped speaking, her eyebrow raised now from furrowing of her forehead rather than pique with Harry.
". . . the possibility that the sender of the message was one of the Demon clones," Harry finished for her. "Your clone."
"Yes, but that was not why I was . . . 'shook up.' That occurred when I received the second message." Seven stood up and walked over to the windows. Facing the stars, she searched deeply into space, as if she were seeking to find an answer to an unspoken question.
Harry glanced down at the PADD he was holding and searched the index for the second message. "Did you put the second one in the same file as the first, Seven? I only see one message here."
"The second message was . . . difficult . . . for me to describe." At the haunted quality of her voice, Harry looked back at her. Silhouetted against the window, her body backlit by the dim light of the stars in the partially lighted mess hall, Seven stood with her arms clasped around herself, as if she were holding herself together.
Laying the PADD down on the table, Harry rose out of his chair and approached her. He didn't know quite what to say or do to help. Before he could speak, however, Seven turned to face him, her arms still crossed around herself, saying, "It was less a message than a set of images and sensations. I believe it was sent inadvertently. I suspect her neural implant was no longer functioning properly."
He looked into her eyes and saw pain. Without thinking, Harry put his hands on her arms and drew her close to him in comfort. Gently, he asked her, "What kind of 'images and sensations,' Seven?"
She replied, in an even softer voice that he had used, "I could see flashes of what she saw. Everything seemed to be melting. There were explosions. The shields were failing. And then, she . . ." Seven searched his face for a moment, as if looking for something she couldn't find. ". . . and then she saw you. The clone of you, to be precise. They were standing in front of each other, as we are now. Then I felt arms holding me. Holding her. Perhaps it would be preferable to show you rather than tell you."
He waited expectantly for a few seconds, but he was still surprised when Seven released her hold upon herself, slippng her arms around his torso instead. When she leaned in towards him, he stared at her in amazement. He was even more stunned when her lips touched his in a cautious, experimental kiss.
Stunned or not, Harry could not resist her. His lips responded to hers as if by their own volition, returning the kiss she had initiated. Friendly when it began, the kiss quickly turned into something warmer, much closer to the kisses he'd shared with Tal than one of the friendly pecks on the cheek "Uncle Harry" sometimes gave to Naomi Wildman.
Breathless, Harry broke off first, expecting to see anger in Seven's eyes. Instead, he saw even greater pain. He started to murmur an apology when Seven said, ". . . and then there was nothing. There was nothing. The message terminated . . ."
Harry closed his eyes. "They died? You felt it?"
She nodded her head ever so slightly. "I know the sensation. I have perceived it before, when drones of the Collective ceased to function. But then, the Collective as a whole survived . . . "
"Seven! I'm sorry," Harry gasped, pulling Seven more tightly into his arms and hugging her closely. Tightening her own hold on him and burrowing her face into his shoulder, she made no attempt to pull away. Any thought Harry may have had that this was a dream come true was suppressed by his knowledge of how deeply she had been affected by this totally unexpected blow. To Seven, in that split second that the message ended so abruptly, surely she felt as if she herself were dying.
So engaged in mutually comforting each other were they that neither of them heard the mess hall doors opening, nor did they hear the footfalls of the pair who entered. The first time either of them knew they had company was a female voice's admiring, "Way to go, Harry!"
Harry whipped his head around to see the laughing faces of B'Ela dowTorres and Tom Paris. He started to jump back, but Seven clutched at him tightly, keeping him in close contact with her. When he looked down, he saw her head was averted from Tom and B'Elanna. The light from the stars shining on her face might even have reflected more brightly off her right cheek than her left. Surreptitiously, Harry raised his hand and rubbed a bit of moisture from Seven's cheek with his thumb. His amazement that he was performing that particular act for this particular woman did not show on his face. Later, he would wonder over it. For now, he had to figure out how to minimize the damage--and the amount of betting that all the gossips on board would be doing once this got out.
Tom cleared his throat. "So, uh, are the two of you demonstrating assimilation holds, or something? Or did we interrupt another courtship rituals discussion?" Harry didn't have to see Tom's face to detect the smirk that had to be lurking there.
"Tom!" said B'Elanna.
"Ouch, B'Elanna. You've got a really sharp elbow, you know that?"
Harry grinning at that, looking over at his friend, who was rubbing his side vigorously. Stepping back, he released Seven from his embrace, although his hand still rested on her forearm.
Seven faced the couple and stated coolly, "Individuals hold each in their arms for purposes other than single cell reproduction, although doubtless you find that difficult to believe."
"Nah, I know that, Seven. I just prefer the single cell reproduction purpose. How about you?" Tom inquired, keeping a wary eye on the location of B'Elanna's elbow.
"I was demonstrating to Ensign Kim the manner in which I comforted Naomi Wildman when the rest of of the crew was entranced by the space creature that attempted to consume Voyager. You interrupted us when I was preparing to lift him bodily from the floor to carry him out of the mess hall." Seven turned to Harry, adding, "Another time, perhaps, Ensign?"
"No problem, Seven." Harry smile broadened.
"Oh, please. They really *are* in the middle of some sort of strange courtship ritual! Let's get our fruit, Tom. Leave the lovebirds in peace!" B'Elanna swung around, physically dragging a protesting Tom towards the kitchen.
As the chief engineer and helmsman bantered their way into Neelix's domain, Harry examined his companion. Her eyes were dry, and she was composed again. No sign of her recent distress could be detected on her face.
"Do the two of you want some fruit? It's really good. Seven?" Tom called out from the kitchen.
"No, Ensign Paris. Ensign Kim has already provided me with one."
The purplefruit he'd come to the mess hall to seek out still sat forlornly on the table next to the PADD. Seven walked to the table and retrieved both the fruit and the PADD. Handing one purplefruit to Harry, Seven cleared the PADD of the file on display and sat down in the chair she had been occupying when Harry first saw her. He took the seat next to hers. B'Elanna and Tom, carrying a tray laden with fruit, four glasses of water, and napkins, sat down across from them.
"Looks like the two of you really whipped up an appetite," Harry commented archly. "Whatever have you been doing to get so hungry?"
Tom only grinned and bit into his fruit. The lush flesh released a stream of juice that dribbled down his chin. "Umm," Tom mumbled as he chewed. "I think we're going to run out of napkins." Smiling suggestively at B'Elanna, he added, "If we run out, think we can find a more creative way to clean up?"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes, but Harry couldn't miss the affection in them for Tom. Glancing over at Seven, who had yet to take a bite of the fruit in her hand but was staring at it intently, Harry observed, "We should all have followed Seven's lead. With a purple outfit like hers on, we could be as messy as we wanted and no one could see the dribbles."
Seven raised her eyebrow and took a napkin. Hesitantly, she opened her mouth, finally taking a delicate bite that oozed juice from the side of her lip despite the small scope of the bite. She quickly fastened her mouth on the same spot, stanching the drip from her lip with a finger while sucking the fruit to keep more juice from dribbling down.
"Harry, close your mouth," ordered B'Elanna.
He laughed, realizing that he probably had been a little too interested in Seven's eating technique. He took a bite of his own sweet and luscious purple confection. The four of them slurped over their snacks, with the first verbal comment coming from Seven when she'd finished. "This is a most inefficient way to obtain nutrients."
"But it tastes really good, doesn't it?" Tom asked.
"It is acceptable."
"Uh, huh," said B'Elanna, dryly. "So, if I may be so bold, what *were* the two of you doing in here when we came in?"
"Seven told you. We were discussing the ways people comfort each other."
"Uh, huh," said B'Elanna. "Fascinating. And how did 'comforting each other' come up?"
Tom's expression grew somber. "I don't think that's hard to figure out, B'Elanna, after what we found today."
"No, I guess not," agreed B'Elanna, her hand lightly brushing against Tom's. After a pregnant pause, B'Elanna added in a more reflective tone of voice, "You know what I thought about when I heard Tuvok read off what was in that debris field? I thought of that Y-class planet. You know? Deuterium, dichromates. The silver blood was made from those materials. It's odd that stuff was out here. I wonder where it came from?"
"Hard to say," Harry said neutrally. Carefully, he looked at Seven. She was still calm, but her eloquent eyes met his. Through her complete silence, Seven conveyed to Harry that their conversation about the messages from the destroyed ship were to remain confidential, not to be shared with anyone else--particularly not that last, inadvertent message. Even the captain would never learn of it, Harry vowed. He lowered his head slightly, just enough to let her know he understood.
"I hadn't really thought about the clones since we left Demon. I wonder what they're up to?" B'Elanna continued, oblivious to the subvocal communication between Harry and Seven. Harry stole a glimpse at Tom, however, and saw a quizzical, thoughtful look on his friend's face. Tom's eyes flickered between Harry and Seven, as if sizing up a situation. Harry held his breath.
Finally, Tom said, "Oh, they're probably very busy reproducing. You know--making more clones. Duplicating themselves, using the replicators we left to make more of them. Some of them may even be doing a little old-fashioned baby-making."
"There you go with the sex talk again, Tom," B'Elanna said, not sounding at all displeased.
"Just stating the obvious, B'Elanna."
"Tom, do you really think they might have duplicated themselves the way they duplicated us?" Harry asked.
"Sure, why not? If they wanted to populate that world, it would be the fastest way."
"Making perfect copies from copies in generation after generation is improbable, Ensign Paris."
"True. They might do it for a couple of generations, though, to increase the population and help protect against mutations and genetic problems."
"So you think there could be four or five Tom Parises on Demon right now?"
"Why not, B'Elanna? And at least four or five B'Elanna Torreses, too. One for each of the Toms." He grinned, eyes brimming with affection as he gazed at his lover.
"I hope you are correct, Ensign Paris," Seven said softly. Harry heard the mournful undertone, but Tom and B'Elanna did not. Their eyes were busy sending communiques of a much different nature.
After a lengthy pause, Tom said, "Well, B'Elanna, I think it's time to leave our lovebirds alone so they can talk about comforting each other again. You had enough to eat?"
"For the moment. And you're right. I think it's time for us to go."
Harry and Seven remained seated while the other couple whisked away the tray, littered with soaked napkins and the pits of the devoured purplefruit, to the recycler. B'Elanna said her good-byes as they walked towards the door, but Tom pivoted around before exiting.
"Yes, Tom?" Harry said resignedly, awaiting the humorous but barbed comment that was sure to issue forth from Tom's lips.
"Just promise me, Harry. No nervous breakdowns tonight. I've got plans."
Harry shook his head and laughed. Waving good-bye, Tom threw his arm over B'Elanna's shoulders and strolled out of the mess hall.
"Nervous breakdowns?" Seven asked.
"It's a long story. Another time." He smiled gently back at her. "Are you going to be okay now?"
"I believe so, Ensign Kim," she answered, after a short pause.
Harry caught the hesitation. "You know, I'm not really tired. I wouldn't mind having a little company. May I sit here a little longer with you? As long as you don't mind, of course."
"I do not mind."
Harry dimmed the lights, which prompted another raised brow from Seven. He made no move towards her, however, instead settling back into the chair while staring out the window at space.
Seven looked at Harry's profile for a few moments before turning her attention back to her own view of the stars streaming silently by.
Within the mess hall, it was equally silent.
Voyager had left the silver fragments far behind. Only two beings on that ship truly suspected the truth.
The fragments tumbled through the soundless, endless night of space, gradually scattering apart as their separate trajectories carried them in different directions.
The frozen silver chunks were of many different sizes. Some sections that had once constituted parts of a ship were quite large, although the force of the breaching of the shell had tended to keep most rather small. Others were tiny, even microscopic in size.
One of the sizable pieces had once been two forms standing together on the bridge. At the moment the infinite cold of space surrounded their bodies, they had been tightly wound together--in fact, they were in the act of melting together at the moment of death. Thus, that which had once been two separate beings was now wedded together, with but one shared trajectory through space. Whatever fate one of these formerly separate beings might have, so would the other.
Did these two beings ever have souls? It was hard to say. If they did, then those souls may have already flown into eternity, together, when molecular cohesion failed to hold their vessel and themselves together.
As for the sentience that had lived in the silver blood, prompting the creation of the beings from the templates that had bed ithe crew of Voyager--in the smaller bits, it died. In other, larger pieces, however, it only slept. If a passing comet or meteor or space vessel chanced to pick up any of those larger fragments, the silver blood could be transported, perhaps to another place which awaited new life. Within the frozen chunks not yet completely broken down when the freezing occurred, some strands of DNA still might lurk.
Could new life--and, eventually, intelligence--be carried to another world when the silver blood melted, releasing DNA fragments and seeding a new world with the beginnings of life? The laws of probability made the chance minute, yet even a slight chance is better than none at all. Just as even a brief life may be better than none at all.
It was hard to say.
In the here and now, however, the silver droplets floated majestically through the empty, dark silences.
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