By: Jennica Williams
Disclaimor: Paramount owns the episode, "Extreme Risk," which this story directly follows.
B'Elanna Torres laid the isolinear chip on the tricorder.. The tiny sliver of gray matter had been the cause of numerous headaches in the past week. Who would have known that a few tweaks and dusting off to that chip may possibly solve all their problems with the Delta Flyer. As the tricorder emitted a shrill beeping, she plucked it off the tray and slid it back into the console with relief. Finally, the shielding was configured so they could enter extreme atmospheres and survive.
Pushing off her knees, she turned to regard the small group that had gathered around her. "It's fine, Captain."
Janeway's lips turned up into a smile. "Wonderful, B'Elanna. And we have you to thank for getting the crew out of there in one piece."
"No problem." She muttered dropping her eyes to the tricorder again.
"Now we just need something to explore." Tom ran a hand over the smooth outer hull of his latest 'baby'.
"All in good time, Mr. Paris." Tuvok replied. "We are not in need of a tragedy."
"We're touched by your concern, Tuvok." Tom said, sarcasm dripping from his voice. "But, who said there was nearly a tragedy? B'Elanna fixed it."
"There could have been." Tuvok remarked as the group began to file out.
"And no crew members are indispensable." Chakotay added leaving Tom and B'Elanna alone in docking bay 2.
"I still say it was fine." He grumbled casting a glance at his girlfriend. "B'Elanna?"
Her head snapped up suddenly. "What? I'm sorry, Tom."
"Hey, you okay?" Concern flitted through Tom's eyes as he caught her by the shoulder.
B'Elanna turned her head back to the tricorder. "I'm fine. I just need some time to work through some stuff."
"What sort of stuff?"
"Just personal stuff." B'Elanna slipped out of his grasp and nodded to the interior of the shuttle. "I'm going to fix a few more things."
"I thought it was fine."
"It is. I just want to run a few diagnostics."
Tom frowned as his girlfriend disappeared into the newest addition to the 'shuttle family.' He knew Chakotay had gotten to the bottom of whatever was bothering their chief engineer and friend, but the first officer had refused to tell anyone else in respect for B'Elanna. Tom would just have to 'wait it out', as the old cliché went.
"What is it?"
"It appears to be a class-13 nebula, Captain." Ensign Kim replied from his console.
Janeway stared at the whirling bits of blue and green cloud from where she had just exited the turbolift. "Analysis?"
"It appears to be composed of hydrogen and helium with a few meteors tossed in." Harry answered. "Nothing too special about it."
"I'd like to volunteer to do a close up analysis." Tom darted out of the turbolift a few seconds after the senior officers.
"Ha." Harry snorted. "You just want to get your hands back on the shuttle."
Tuvok nodded once. "A most logical assumption, Ensign. I concur."
"Hey, now. Wait a minute." Tom glared at the group with a false sense of anger. "I volunteer to go out there, risk my life, and collect data which could be useful to us, and I get laughed at."
"You're hardly risking your life by traveling in our best shuttle in a region that's not so much as sporting an electrical storm, much less a navigational challenge." Chakotay grinned as he took his seat.
Janeway raised an amused eyebrow as a smile tugged at her lips. "All right, Tom. We'll let you have your stunt this time. Besides, it may turn up something useful."
Tom's mouth broke into a smile. "Thanks, Captain. You won't be disappointed. If nothing else, I'll gain valuable experience in navigation."
"Spoken like a true boot-kissing cadet." Janeway laughed. "Get out of here. Take Lieutenant Brackwell and Neelix with you."
"He's mentioned he would like some more tactical training. And someone's got to run that station."
Tom groaned inwardly. Why hadn't he had the foresight to design the new shuttle so one person could man it?
"Let's get this baby underway!" Tom hefted himself into the shuttle with one smooth jump. Neelix stumbled up the steps after him followed by a spirited Lieutenant Brackwell.
McKenna had been with Andria Wilner and Joe Carey in engineering when the call had come over the comm system for her to report to docking bay 2. The whole group had been watching the 'dust cloud' as they'd named it and everyone knew it wasn't going to be much of a mission. She was looking forward to time off the ship and a chance to kick back-- even if she was in the presence of her superior officer. After all, Tom was about as laid back as they came.
"All settled back there?" Tom asked, leaning back in his chair to peer at the Ops station where McKenna had settled herself.
"Yes, sir." She answered briskly trying to keep up the appearance of this being an important mission.
"Tactical is ready too, sir!" Neelix puffed his chest up in pride. He would make Tuvok realize that 'not entirely inapt' was Starfleet material. Then, he could have a uniform like the rest of the crew.
"Let's go then." Tom slid his fingers over the gadgets to his right and then pressed a few buttons on the console in front of him. The floor beneath their feet shuddered slightly as the Delta Flyer lifted gently off the deck of the docking bay before internal sensors took over and smoothed out the ride. Maneuvering the large shuttle through the bay doors, Tom let his hands guide the shuttle by the feel of the ship and what he could see through the window instead of by his instruments.
Directly in front of them, the nebula twisted and turned. Even after seeing dozens of them, Tom was awed at how each one was distinctly different despite certain similarities. Watching the blue and green churning mass growing larger in their view screen, he briefly wondered what it'd feel like to take the controls off-line and allow the shuttle to ride the waves and be tossed about in it. It might be like one of those roller coaster things they used to ride, he mused. Why someone would put their body through the motions of extreme speeds, sudden drops, and gut wrenching twists that left the rider's heart pounding and their lungs gasping for breath was beyond Tom's comprehension. Heck, they could just take a shuttle piloted by a brand new cadet and get the same results. Though, if there hadn't been large chunks of rock and ice that could damage the shuttle, he would have been tempted to try it. If nothing else, to satisfy his own curiosity.
Oh well, if he couldn't turn off nav controls and simply ride the waves, he would have fun creating a navigational challenge. Like he had when he used to ski. Imagining that the next meteor was a pine tree, he smoothly executed a swift turn around it. Narrowing his eyes, Tom prepared for the next one.
Neelix looked down at his console. The colorful graphs were helpful in determining to which systems certain symbols belonged, but some were still a mystery to him. For instance, the yellow dot represented them and the blue dot Voyager. If a red dot appeared, he knew that was an enemy ship. Gray was unidentified. And in the Delta Quadrant, there were more gray than any other color. A purple swirl that encompassed nearly a whole block of the grid represented the cloud they were enroute to investigate.
To his left, Neelix watched as a half dozen bars moved up and down slowly in accordance to whatever they measured on the ship. Life support was still registering in peak condition. Shields and weapons also. There were a few he didn't recognize or know what they belonged to, but that would come in time. Or, so Tuvok had told him. As long as none of them turned red, he was okay.
McKenna glanced over her systems one last time. Nothing interesting. The cloud was resting peacefully and Tom was enjoying his chance to pilot without the use of the computer. Pushing back so that she was more slouched in her chair than vertical, McKenna closed her eyes and began to day dream about Harry Kim. It was really a shame she hadn't been more forward as a cadet. They had been at the academy during the same years and could have been good friends. Maybe more than friends, she thought to herself as a grin slipped over her features. He was certainly cute enough to catch her attention-- even if her friends had called him 'baby face Kim'.
Imagining what it'd be like to run her fingers through that dark hair, McKenna was unprepared for the sudden dip the shuttle took toward the port side.
"What was that!?" she exclaimed jerking to a sitting position.
"I,..uh, I believe it was a pocket of gases." Neelix attempted to answer from his console.
"It was just a few rocks." Tom shot over his shoulder. "Learn how to read, Neelix. Short range sensors are on the top, long range on the bottom."
"Of course..of course." Neelix muttered glancing carefully over them.
McKenna glanced down at her own sensors quickly. "Sir! Those next two are too close together for us to get through."
"I've been flying since I was three years old, Lieutenant." Tom tossed over his shoulder. "I think I can handle this."
"Simulators." Tom amended.
McKenna gripped the edge of her console as they narrowly missed the chunk of rock and ice. "No disrespect intended,....sir....but a few centimeters closer and we'd have a hole torn in the outer hull."
"None taken." Tom replied lightly before squeezing the shuttle past another massive meteor. "No holes either."
McKenna held her breath as they approached the next massive chunk of ice and earth. She heard the outer hull groan as they neared the edge. Then, there was the sound she dreaded. A sharp crack resounded through the Delta Flyer as a gash was torn out of the side. The hiss of escaping air caused McKenna to involuntarily suck in a deep gulp of breath as the void of space tugged on her body and urged her to let go of the console.
She couldn't! If she did, she'd be lost to the vacuum of space forever! A thud against her thigh caused McKenna to look up instantly. Tom's body bounced past her and slammed into the wall before being swept through the opening. The last she saw of him was two wide orbs staring at her in terror. Releasing her grip on the console with one hand, McKenna pounded on the comm badge attached to her chest and tried to utter a single syllable. It wasn't possible. She was feeling too light headed. Mustering a groan, she prayed that it would be heard and Captain Janeway would get them out. Vaguely, her mind registered that Neelix pulled her down to the deck with and pinned her lighter frame under himself to prevent her from flying through the open gash in the hull of the new shuttle. Then, all consciousness was lost.
"Are you out of your mind?! You could have been killed!"
Tom winced against the bright lights of sickbay and the harsh voice of his girlfriend as he fought his way back to the world of the living.
"Remind me next time." He whispered turning away from her.
Arms being thrown around him and a face pressed against his neck caused him to lose all thought of arguing with her. He could feel the silent sobs as they shook her body and the hot tears as they wet his medical gown.
"I'm okay, B'Elanna." He turned to catch her in his embrace, all the while ignoring the amused glance of the EMH. "I've beaten death again. How's the shuttle?"
"You're more concerned about the shuttle?!"
"How is it?"
"Fine. We tractored it in. But, if you ever do that to me again...." she threatened pulling away and glaring into his eyes.
"If I ever do it again, I promise to bring you along so you can pulverize me before Death can."
"If you could please postpone this little reunion," The Doctor broke into their view, "I'd like to examine the patient and make sure he's not going to relapse."
"Of course, Doctor." B'Elanna pulled back and moved towards the door. "I'll meet you in the messhall at 2100, Tom."
"Aye, Lieutenant." He winked at her.
"B'Elanna!" Chakotay quickly side stepped the chief engineer as they nearly collided at the entrance to sickbay.
"Sorry, Commander." She attempted to duck around him, but the large first officer caught her by the arm.
"How are you doing? Really."
She glanced up at him, "I think I'm going to be okay in a day or two. Right now, I just want some time to myself."
"I understand. You nearly lost him."
"Yeah...." She glanced away. "Guess you never know how much you love someone until they're nearly ripped from your grasp."
Chakotay glanced away quickly as the color in his face deepened. "Yeah...." he replied absentmindedly.
"I'll be going now. Thanks Counselor." B'Elanna silently congratulated herself for getting the XO's mind off of her so fast. She'd have to remember that trick.
"What are you doing?"
Seven jumped as Lieutenant Torres made her presence known in cargo bay 2.
"I..-" Seven turned slowly and raised her chin. "I was smiling."
"I could see that." B'Elanna glanced down at the piece of glass resting in the former Borg's hands. "Any particular reason why?"
"I am practicing in an attempt to better fit in with the crew." Seven laid the mirror aside and turned to face the chief engineer with both hands behind her back as she straightened to her full height.
B'Elanna attempted to crack a smile. "We've got to get you some hobbies, Seven."
"I do not relish the concept of orbital sky diving or participating in a 'Captain Proton' holodeck adventure."
Torres glanced away. "Do me a favor and don't mention the orbital sky diving to the rest of the crew, okay?"
Seven raised and eyebrow, but gave a short nod. "Is there a reason you came here?"
B'Elanna glanced down at the padd in her hands. "Actually, I was hoping you'd be in astrometrics and I could have the cargo bay to myself. I've just got a lot of things to sort out."
"Are your quarters inadequate?"
"No, but if I go there people will be stopping in every few minutes asking about Tom."
"What is the current condition of Lieutenant Paris?"
"Lucky to be alive." B'Elanna shook her head and looked towards the ceiling as a tear gathered in her right eye. Her voice grew husky as she continued. "He could have been killed. Technically, the Doctor said he should be dead. All of them should. They were just extra lucky this time."
"Luck has nothing to do with it." Seven stated crisply. "They took the necessary precautions as the hull buckled.
"Bull." B'Elanna spat. "Have you ever been threatened with the void of space and yourself without a forcefield between? Instinct takes over. The fact that he's alive is a miracle."
"Yes." Seven turned away and looked towards the tote that held the looking glass. "Before I was accepted on Voyager as 'one of the crew', they attempted to flush out the Borg in a jeffries tube. A hatch to the void of space was opened. I was the only one to survive. In that instant, I believe I experienced my first emotion. Terror."
B'Elanna gently placed her hand on the Borg's artificial one. "I'm sorry, Seven. I'd forgotten."
Seven turned back to face B'Elanna. "It is of no consequence now. I am grateful to be alive and to be on this ship with this crew.
B'Elanna nodded. "Have you experienced anymore emotions of late?" Okay, she'd admit it. She wanted to know exactly how Seven had felt about having One on board.
"Regret. Sadness. Captain Janeway told me I would feel those emotions whenever I think of One."
"At least you can feel." B'Elanna whispered leaning against a tote and sliding down to a sitting position as she clutched the blank data padd to her chest. "After we got the letters through the relay stations and I found out that the Maquis was gone, I couldn't feel anything." She dug her nails into the palm of her hands. "That's why I was running holodeck programs without safeties. Then, at least I'd feel pain."
"You enjoyed pain?"
"No." Torres watched as Seven knelt beside her. "I hated it. But, it was better than feeling nothing at all." She looked down at the black floor of the cargo bay. "Today was the first time I'd felt something different. Fear."
"An unpleasant emotion."
"But an emotion." B'Elanna's eyes took on an animated glow. "It's more than I was feeling." She suddenly shook her head in confusion. "Why am I telling you this? It's not like you care or like we've been good friends."
Seven wisely said nothing.
B'Elanna pulled herself to her feet. "This conversation never happened." She muttered over her shoulder as she left the cargo bay. Turning in the doorway she added, "And I expect that anything I told you is kept confidential."
Commander Chakotay laid down the padd he'd become engrossed in and wondered who would be visiting this late at night. It wasn't the next day, technically, but most officers stopped calling him around 2200 and resorted to calling the bridge if they had a question.
The doors slid apart and revealed a figure hesitant to cross the threshold.
"Captain." Chakotay rose from his place on his couch and motioned for her to enter. "What can I do for you?"
She sent a quick glance around his living area as she stepped inside. They were sparse. Not having too many personal momentos to bring from the Liberty, he had only a small collection of things holding special memory since he'd come on board. The small coffee table in front of the sofa sported a single mound of rocks carefully sculpted together. From New Earth, Kathryn remembered. He'd been modeling it and creating it as nothing more than a door stop, but apparently now it had taken on a new meaning. A few holochips were scattered across the table also. The only picture in the room was one of the senior officers. It had been taken on the first anniversary of their coming to the Delta Quadrant.
"You haven't changed much," Chakotay said noticing her gaze resting on the picture. "Physically at least. Other than your hair. Mentally, I think you've grown."
Yes, the room fitted him. Kathryn glanced up at him and found his eyes trying to peer into her and discover why she had intruded upon his solitary evening.
"Maybe." She bit her lip and leaned against his desk. "You said for me to come to you when I was ready to talk."
"I think so." She glanced out the window to the stars streaking by. The only constant in her life. And, as she had just learned so recently, they weren't even that constant. "I just hope I can get out what I'm feeling."
"Have a seat and talk it out." Chakotay dropped onto the sofa and gestured to the seat beside him.
Kathryn followed and sat on the edge while wringing her hands together. "I'm not sure where to begin."
She glared at his twinkling eyes, but a twinkle of her own shone through before she glanced out the window again. "I guess that you really know most of it. I just hate the feeling that if I do something wrong, one hundred and fifty people will suffer for it. I detest my authority being the only one. When I make a decision, I can't relay the blame back to an admiral in some stuffy office at headquarters. It's my fault. It's my fault we're out here and my fault that they're going to die."
"I'm assuming that 'they' are the ones the Malon are killing off."
"Yes." Janeway turned to him, tears shining in her eyes. "I don't know what to do as far as matters like this. No win scenarios were never my forte. I could hardly pass them while in the academy. I guess I'm just hard on myself because someone always ends up getting hurt."
"Do you trust me, Kathryn?"
She looked at him sharply. "I told you I do. More than anyone on board."
"Then, trust me when I say this. As long as you do your best to keep this crew together, they will always support you. Whether our journey takes an extra ten days or fifteen years, they'll be behind you as long as we stick together. From the rumors and gossip that I hear, the majority are content right where they are." He reached over and covered her hand briefly. "We are each other's family now. The crew sees us as one large community. A family. Splitting us up when we get back to the Alpha Quadrant will be the hardest thing they'll ever have to face."
"I've told you once, I'll tell you again. They were distraught at first when you destroyed the Caretaker's array. But now, they'd kill anyone who tried to separate them."
Janeway allowed a wisp of a smile to flit across her visage as she stood up. "I guess I needed to hear that."
Chakotay rose and followed her to the door. "You have my support, Kathryn. And my friendship, for always."
Kathryn nodded. Then, shyly, she took a step forward.
Seeing the question in her eyes, Chakotay answered by meeting her half way and enveloping her in a bear hug.
Burying her face in his shoulder, Kathryn reveled in the sense of being held again. It had been years since someone had offered her friendship, much less a tight embrace. She found herself enjoying the strength of her first officer and best friends' arms around her more than most captains normally would. But then again, most captains weren't stranded in a strange quadrant with no one other than a few officers for friends.
"I-....thanks." Kathryn stepped out of his arms and backed away towards the door.
She turned back quickly.
"Even captains need a hug every once in awhile."
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