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One crew are united in what could be the final battle to defy their fate.
28th - 30th October 2015
1st - 10th, 13th - 17th, 19th - 20th November 2015
The entire table was left speechless. The pair who had caused it stood by the table, their faces masked with an awkward air. They decided to wait for the rest of the room's occupants to recover and say anything.
After what felt like hours somebody burst out laughing. It wasn't because they were amused, it sounded like a cover to stop the person from getting angry. The rest of the table turned their attention toward her. Some were annoyed, while others were confused. One just looked disgusted.
"I knew there was a conspiracy. You all laughed at me!" Annika's laughter turned into a bitter shout. "I knew it. Who's laughing now?"
"Still us, at you. Nothing's changed there," Lena said.
Annika scowled in her direction. The hatred in her yellow tinted eyes was bubbling. Before she could say anything back, Jessie decided to verbalise her disgust. "Did you steal that thing from my psycho mum's wardrobe?"
Strangely the comment soothed Annika enough to giggle, then stroke her frilly pink catsuit from arm to thigh. "Like it? Too bad. You couldn't pull it off with those tiny bubs."
Jessie's eyebrow just raised while most of the table shifted their chairs so they were further away from her. "You do look like a sickly white bonbon that's been chewed and spat back into its ugly wrapper. You're right, only you could pull that look off."
Kathryn cleared her throat, hoping it would change the subject, as well as stop her from laughing. "Yes, you were right all along. We engineered the trip to the Delta Quadrant, instigated the Species 8472 war, got assimilated by the Tolg, just so we could bring you into our fantasy world and dress you up, nice and tight. You're our dolly."
"I love that song," Neelix laughed.
Lena's face turned a little red. "We're never living this down." James sniggered quietly to himself.
"Anyway," Chakotay said, also clearing his throat. "I think I know what you're all thinking."
"What's a bonbon?" Harry asked.
Chakotay sighed in frustration. Kathryn left him to it so she could walk around the table, making eye contact with everyone as she passed them. "What did we know about the Softmicron before any of this happened? They looked relatively harmless, yet had access to technology we couldn't imagine. Glorified Holodecks falling out of the sky, forcing people to play and win or die." Her next target was Annika, so she averted her eye to avoid her. "A whole planet being turned into a playground for one little girl. They even infiltrated our own ship, posing as cutesy holograms before we knew they existed."
The last one made Chakotay a little uncomfortable, which he tried to hide. A lot of the table didn't look happy to be reminded of that incident either.
"They could change their shape to suit their agenda, yet they'd make their holograms do all the dirty work. Said holograms could mutate or glitch into vampire creatures, then escape from the Games and breed more of their kind. We knew they had some sort of network linking the games together, guarded by these things," Kathryn continued.
B'Elanna nodded, "the game sprites, which according to Daniel used to live there."
"And that it was a digital domain, which makes sense," Tom said.
Chakotay scoffed and rolled his eyes. "Yes I imagine it's simple reducing you down to binary ones and zeroes, mostly zeroes, when a game is lost." Tom didn't look amused, he narrowed his eyes at the former commander. "But in reality, he was talking gibberish and probably on purpose too, like the watcher he is. The whole lot of them have kept a lot of things close to their belts. They're the ones who insisted on keeping the Softmicron, the Games and especially the Slayers a closely guarded secret. You do remember the whole evil manipulation saga."
"It's likely because of their ignorance. They do like to pretend they know everything," Craig said.
"Wesley did seem really miffed when there was evidence of vampires existing before the games," Lena said with a smile.
Kathryn nodded quickly, eager to get back on topic. "It sounds like we knew quite a lot actually," Tom pointed out before she could. Kathryn sighed impatiently.
James noticed it in the corner of his eye, he glanced at her briefly. "Not really. How many of these things help us now? We know the Soft hated us and the reasons why..."
"You," Annika huffed. Her bottom lip was sticking out and her arms folded to make a bigger show of it.
Lena copied off her and exaggerated her huff. "Aaaw, still mad that no big bad even knows you exist, Anny? Boo hoo, I'm treated like the rest of the Voyager crew, how mean. News flash, nobody cares." Annika followed that with a higher pitched hmph, which Lena parodied as well by sticking her nose up in the air and turning her head to the left.
"Yes well," Kathryn chuckled. "The Soft hate us for a number of reasons. Having the Slayers is one, true enough." Annika stuck her tongue out at Lena with a told you so look on her face to follow it with. She expected Lena to copy as before but she just laughed instead. "But we also had Damien turning a group of them into his slaves. The Equinox farming them for power."
"Ironic," Harry commented. A lot of the room agreed.
Tom turned to him, "yeah but they put those spies on our ship long before either of those things happened, and before they could've known we had any Slayers."
"That's not true. James was in the team when we recruited them," B'Elanna reminded him. She briefly glanced toward James, "no offense." He shook his head to tell her not to worry.
"And they knew about him enough to send cubes to his home country," Harry said. "The same planet may be seen as stretching a coincidence excuse, but all cubes landing on one tiny island on a large world mostly filled with water. They knew and they were trying to aim directly for him."
Kathryn wasn't deterred, she expected someone to bring that up anyway. "For all we know that's what they do for every generation of Slayers. You misunderstand. They had a special interest in us. Why? One ship and one idiot doesn't represent a whole species." She began to pace around the table again. "They saw us as a bigger threat and so they responded. Every time we've fought back, they've upped their game quite literally. We defeat one game, they raise the difficulty, they create new ones and make up new rules. We defeat their spheres and they change the design, make them bigger. We defeat their vampire leaders, they make something far more deadly."
The Doctor sighed as he felt more uncomfortable with every passing second. "I hope you're not suggesting this Game Sphere and those experiments are our fault."
Kathryn gave him a confident smile. "Of course not. It's just another Soft tantrum we have to spank into submission."
Chakotay smirked at her, his eyes beamed with pride. "They hate us because we know how to hurt them."
"Exactly. Remember what they told us when they first introduced themselves?" Kathryn said in Lena and then James' direction. They looked at one another, hoping the other would remember. Lena shrugged, James frowned. "The first Game Sphere," the Captain attempted to remind them.
"Oh we know," Lena said quickly, her face began to scrunch a little with disgust.
James smiled awkwardly, "we worked so hard to forget it, that's all."
Kathryn wasn't surprised, just disappointed that their reaction broke her momentum.
Harry thought about it, then clicked his fingers when one particular memory came to mind. "We're evil, blah blah, better than the Borg. Rule the galaxy. Kill all rivals."
Tom faked a gasp, "I knew it, Damien's their leader. Mystery solved. Let's kill him."
"I wish," Chakotay groaned.
Kathryn perked up, she aimed a proud grin toward Harry. "That's it." A lot of the room stared hopefully at her, making her head shake. "Not the kill Damien part," she said disappointing everyone that wasn't Annika. "But that does help prove my point. Damien hates it when we best him. It bruises the ego."
"In order to be the big cheese of this universe, they need to eliminate the competition. The Borg were first. If 8472 succeeded with their plan two years ago, they probably would have targeted them," Chakotay said.
Kathryn briefly glanced at him, "they were probably little more than a distraction for us while the sphere was covering Earth."
Tom was puzzled by all of this. "In the Softmicron's eyes we're equal in power to the Borg?"
"Equal in how much of a threat we are to them," Chakotay replied.
"I can't see the Borg losing a Game, or letting it play out at all. They'd probably try to assimilate it," Jessie said. She smiled as she worked something out, "then the Soft would have an equal rival. I see."
"It was only a matter of time before they'd attack us again with something bigger and badder. I needed to know how and a way to stop them for good, or we'd be forever playing with them. About their technology, about who they are as a species, their fantastical connections," Kathryn said.
"Wait," Lena cut in, her eyes darted between her two parents. Worry was starting to make her colour drain. "You didn't?"
Kathryn's face fell, which confirmed things for Lena but not for everyone else. They weren't sure what she was accusing her of. Kathryn still nodded, "the Borg only knew them as a species number, they were long defeated. Species 8472 were always their allies. Only one powerful race managed to avoid being targeted, which was always odd to me."
The same realisation hit James, his eyes widened in horror. "You wanted to know what the Tolg knew that kept the Softmicron in check. Only you would do something so stupid."
Kathryn wasn't offended, she felt complimented by the remark even if it wasn't how he intended. At least most of the room were on the same page now, they were just as horrified. Tom was shaking his head rapidly.
"We all thought... Chakotay," he stuttered, getting Chakotay's attention. The Commander turned his head toward him. "You let her do this? You?"
"That wasn't the intention, no," he answered.
Lena leapt out of her seat, her eyes flashed with rage. "If you tell me that mum wasn't really dead and you two waltsed into the Tolg, volunteered for assimilation, then I'm never talking to either of you again." The accusation left the ex command team speechless.
The memory of finding Kathryn lying still in her bed, covered in her own dry blood made James wither internally. To everyone else he just closed his eyes, lightly grimacing. "No, she was dead. I think what they're saying is that Chakotay took advantage of a horrible situation. They wanted to know what the Tolg did, mum was dead, they had nothing to lose."
"I don't think so. What was that trying to turn me evil all about?" Jessie asked irritably.
Lena slowly lowered herself back into the chair. "You're still a liar. You told me that mum ending up in the Tolg was a mistake. Now you're saying it was all part of the plan. Which is it?"
"You did?" B'Elanna questioned Chakotay. "Everyone else thought it was intentional she was there, but you meant to free her and failed."
Harry rubbed his temples, all the while groaning. Tom looked at him with sympathy, "I know bud, just think it's almost over." Harry nodded.
"There had to be secrecy. There was far too much at stake," Kathryn said.
"Do you remember when he went into a hissy fit at us keeping some of that vision a secret?" James asked in Tom's direction.
Tom brightened up at the reminder. A small smirk formed on his lips, while Chakotay rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath. "Oh yeah, so it wasn't us he was mad at. Guilty conscience perhaps? Or maybe I'm giving you too much credit, Mr Hypocrite," Tom said.
"Do you really think that Chakotay listened to my plan and went along with it?" Kathryn said in bemusement. She had to laugh at the thought.
"So did Janeway deadwalk her way to the Tolg on her own, posing as Chakotay, just well enough to fool Damien? Then Chakotay dashed to her rescue, getting assimilated in the process," Craig said as sarcastically as he could so they knew it.
"To answer Jessie's question, I was trying to avoid doing what Kathryn asked of me," Chakotay said. "I'm not proud of what I did. It just ended up how she wanted anyway. I couldn't tell anyone the truth. I thought it was easier to not deny the accusations."
The resulting silence was uncomfortable. Annika broke it off by huffing loudly. "You tricked my Damy-wamy into this, how..."
Tom interrupted while Kathryn pulled a disgusted face, "that's a point. Does he know?"
"No. He just thinks he does," Chakotay muttered.
"Somebody please tell me that her and Damien aren't a thing," Kathryn said.
Everyone shook their heads, Annika was the only one nodding. Harry thought to answer, "a one sided, funny and very gross thing."
Kathryn accidentally made eye contact with the drone, only then noticing her different eye colour. It only confused her more than anything else. "Any scene will do, I suppose."
"Oooh, ooh. I volunteer for a landing attack party," Annika said eagerly while sticking her hand up into the air.
Jessie looked disappointed, "I hoped she'd say suicide mission."
"We all did," Tom sighed. He forced a smile Annika's way, "I'll keep you in mind." He shuddered when she give him an air kiss in response.
Lena sat back in her chair, her arms tightly folded. "I hope after all the lies and punches to the face, that you have a plan of attack," she said, her voice cold and bitter.
Chakotay's eyes dropped to the floor, while Kathryn looked forlorn. It was more than an answer to Lena and not a good one, she shot up out of her chair. "Lena," Kathryn tried to calm her as she charged toward the nearest door. Craig hurried to his feet to follow her.
Tom meanwhile was starting to panic, he glanced around at everyone. "Wait, you don't?"
"What's the big deal? The Softmicron don't stand a chance now that we know why they hate us. Who needs a plan? They're as good as dead," James said.
Kathryn groaned into one of her hands. "James please, that's not helping."
"No, no, it's fine," Tom said, calming himself down. "We know what the rifts are and where they lead. He and Lena weren't here when you shared that info. That's why they're being a bit touchy."
"No, it's the plan to have our mother assimilated by the zombie Borg's just to get information that we already knew," James snapped.
Chakotay scowled in his direction. "Oh, so what are the rifts, since you figured it out before any of us."
"They're tears in the sphere probably caused by power being cut off from destroyed towers," James answered irritably. He was showing some guilt in his eyes, he tried to push it aside. "That's what I was told anyway. I wasn't here so..."
"No, no you weren't. You were only galavanting around, playing at being the big hero, causing the damn thing to happen," Harry said.
Jessie glared at him, which he was prepared for. "Until that happened we thought destroying the towers would end the game, as it had in a previous sphere. No planets were taken over, no one was hurt..."
"The fact that nobody died doesn't absolve him. His actions angered the Soft, people have died elsewhere. The anomaly could have easily taken over a habited planet, recreating Erayas," Harry said quickly to avoid being interrupted. He dared to look in James' direction. "I'm sorry, but you have a lot of blood on your hands. We can't forget that. It's a bit rich giving Captain Janeway grief for what she did when you're no better."
"Ouch," Tom whispered to himself.
"Until your mother dies and her will says please get the Tolg to assimilate me, you can keep your worthless opinion and attempt to hurt me to yourself," James bit back.
Chakotay coughed forcefully to get them to stop. Harry didn't know what to say in response anyway, he just shifted in his chair uncomfortably.
"It didn't end up how I wanted," Kathryn said toward Chakotay. Their eyes briefly met, he was the one that looked away with shame. She then focused on James again. "I hoped to do this without you or Lena being aware of it until I returned. You weren't supposed to be the one to find me, it wasn't planned to take so long. We also had an extraction plan ready."
James couldn't look at her after that, he just kept shaking his head. Jessie watched him for a short while, then thought to ask for him. "So, basically it was oops I'm dead, time for trip to the Tolg to hang with them for an hour. Run away and then do some good old resurrecting. Give our kids the scoop and go home. All in time for supper, huh? You're right, that's better."
Kathryn wasn't impressed with her. "It's not clean no, or ridiculous like you described it, but yes it is better than what happened. The sarcasm isn't necessary or helpful. I'm sorry that it went this sour, I really am. I sure as hell wasn't going to sit back and do nothing while the Softmicron continued to be a threat to us."
Tom clapped once, his face was a bizarre mix of fearful and eager. "Okay, now that we've cleared the air, we need to prepare a battle plan. What's our target?"
"You suggested going back to the anomaly," B'Elanna answered him.
"Right, and why?" Tom said as if he were hinting for something. The air was still tense, nobody was willing to play along. The eager part of his expression faded away. He sighed deeply. "Maybe we should have a break, cool off. Don't come back until you're ready to be civil and helpful," his voice sounded forceful, confident despite his face.
Nobody argued. The room emptied slowly, leaving only Tom and the former Captain and Commander stewing in the awkward atmosphere left behind.
A large serene world covered in primarily water grew larger. Its only natural satellite cast a crescent shape over the horizon. The fleet of fourteen ships would arrive in orbit very soon. For now they were treat to the view of their home sparkling in the star's gaze.
Then, a flash in the distance. The white light briefly stunned anyone watching. It was still there, slowly fading away again when the crew quickly began to check their sensors. Several people on many of the ships saw an object emerge from the light, getting bigger as it approached. Battle stations were at the ready, shields were up as whatever it was approached their planet.
The ships picked up their speed together as it breached the atmosphere. It was coming in fast, it glowed orange and yet continued to drop. A lot of the fleets captain's believed it wasn't an attack, but someone in dire need of help. Four broke away to pursue the object before it collided into the ground, causing far too much damage than they'd like.
As they approached they could see it plainly as a vessel, unlike their own. Nobody recognised its hull, colours or design. The entry had left its hull scorched, but it was the least of their worries, it looked like it had been damaged long before their fall from orbit. They wouldn't reach it in time to save it, fortunately though they predicted it would crash away from civilisation. Unfortunately for the strangers, it was heading for the hills. Still they hurried on, hoping for a miracle.
The rest of the fleet split up once more, so one half could investigate the strange white light still brightening their system. Their sensors picked up nothing as if it weren't even there. Nobody was eager to have this strange anomaly sitting right next to their world. Neither were there any volunteers to investigate it. Nevertheless the order came through from Command, and two ships were volunteered to go in first.
The last thing any of them saw was a black abyss, before their bodies hit the floor in almost perfect unison.
On the surface, the alien ship lay in pieces in the crevice of a wooded hilltop, smoke billowing out of it. The four ships landed at a distance as safe landing spots were not that easy to find. Its crews cautiously approached the down ship, armed, just in case. The light they saw could be seen in the sky even in the daylight, fraying many's nerves.
None of them expected any survivors. The ship was obliterated. They were shocked when tiny figures emerged from the wreckage. The leader of the rescue team ventured forward to greet them. The strange aliens looked around, unsure of what he was saying, a few made a couple of gestures. Many members of the rescue team were wondering how they survived the crash with barely any injuries, when their minds all started to pound.
All of the aliens were staring toward them, the pain grew. A voice, unified by many hammered into all of their heads. "Do not be alarmed. Your language is unfamiliar to us. We must do this if we are to communicate with you."
Thankfully the pain was easing off. The leader of the team accepted the explanation until proven otherwise. "Your craft took heavy damage. Do you have any injured?"
The throbbing pain faded back as the voice spoke, "nothing of consequence. Might we ask, where are we and what is this strange sphere?"
Many looked to the sky toward the white. Imaginations were stirred as to what it was and where these strange little aliens were from.
"This is planet Mikran. It's our home," the leader replied. The answer confused them. Pain increased further until the aliens' faces softened. It was gone completely.
"I see," one of the aliens spoke aloud. "It's like ours, only soft, fragile. The shape is intriguing."
Considering the state of their ship thanks to its rather rough landing, the remark amused a few of the rescue team members.
"Where are you from so that planets are so uncommon that you've never seen one?" the leader asked.
The aliens all responded differently, the most common one was unnerved. "We've done it. We've escaped. We need to begin our excavation mission," the lead alien said to them.
Just when the rescue team thought it couldn't get any stranger, the aliens' bodies began to distort and change shape. They gaped in shock as the visitors were no longer there, instead they were looking at mirror images of themselves.
Kathryn Janeway stared at the stars streaming by as her mind once again tried to sort through the mess of information it had stored up. The sound of a door opening seemed louder as it intruded on an important point. Determined to finish it, she didn't pay any attention to the new arrival until the thought train was back on track.
Like with all her other thoughts, it branched off into numerous problems and other relevant topics. It was a good place to stop, at least until she dealt with whoever had decided to bother her now. Once she turned around she wished she hadn't, or at least made him wait far longer.
"Oh, it's you," Kathryn groaned in disgust.
The self titled villain repressed a satisfied and rude smile as he lifted the item in his hands so she could see it. A small horizontal and flat surface, on it a cup that she wouldn't have even served to her more annoying guests, and a silver pot with steam pouring out the top. The best word to describe it was an insult. "For you, Captain," he said to top it all off.
Kathryn didn't humour him with the slightest twinge in her face. "How kind," she said in a neutral tone.
Damien was obviously put off by her lack of reaction. Still he kept poking for one. "Well I figured you must be dying for a cup. I know I'd feel like the walking undead without my first shot of the morning."
"Thank you," Kathryn said to his annoyance. "Put it next to the box on the table."
His eyes directed to what she was talking about. Right at the head of the table sat a silver storage container with a lid on. Damien warily approached it to place the tray down where she asked. That was when she smiled politely.
"Since you've given me something, I don't feel bad for getting you a little gift," Kathryn said.
Damien kept one eye on the box, which he was now fully suspicious of instead of half. He tried not to show it and play along. "That's not necessary."
"Oh it is. If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here," Kathryn said sincerely. Or at least she sounded so. Damien didn't believe her. She gestured to the container. "Please."
"I suppose you'll want me to open it later when I'm alone," Damien said.
Kathryn laughed as if he said something stupid. "Ohno, anytime you want."
Damien sneered at her, which she countered with a polite smile. His eyes settled on the box, begging for him to open. His curiosity was piqued, he knew he could use it against her later whatever it was. So he leaned forward to take the lid away. What was inside he never expected.
Filled to the brim were dozens of stuffed toy rabbits, all different in styles and colours. He reached for one while wondering what her point was in doing this. As he lifted it up the head of the toy fell away, leaving him with only the body. His hands both went in to check the others, all of them had the same problem. He knew Kathryn was laughing at him so he turned his head in her direction, surprised again to find her still with a neutral expression.
"Is this some kind of threat you're making here, Janeway?" Damien snarled at her.
"No," Kathryn shrugged lightly.
"Oh, so I won't find a..." Damien said while he tried to reach the bottom through the toy carnage. When he couldn't find anything else the rest of his sentence didn't make it out. He only had more questions. "If this is some sort of payback joke, you could've put a bomb in it."
Kathryn resisted an eye roll. "I wouldn't even risk damaging a bathroom stall just to kill you. Don't flatter yourself."
Damien huffed, slamming the lid down so he didn't have to see anymore of the rabbit graveyard. "So it's just an insult you're trying to get across. Don't play with fire, you might get..."
"Talked to death, I know," Kathryn groaned again. "Oh by the way, if you really can't take what you dish out, I'd recommend avoiding using your replicator for a while."
"Why, what did you do to it?" Damien asked.
For some odd reason Damien's personal replicator in his quarters had a large and outdated item attached to it. It was mostly illuminous yellow in colour with sparkly lettering all over the lumpy parts. With two leg and arm shapes poking out of it, if someone walked in they would assume it was a person. Without a head it just looked like somebody had tried to replicate a mannequin and got stuck pulling it out.
Then it moved, a giggling voice echoed out of it. "Oh there's a crumb too." What sounded like a tongue licking a plate followed it. "Hmm, it's bitter."
The object moved backward, revealing that it did in actual fact have a head. A head covered in messy and long blonde hair, and a mouth covered in a green sloppy liquid.
"He likes some odd yoghurts," she giggled, despite the need to gag a few times. Her chest heaved involuntarily. "Tangy with bits in it. Just like him," she cooed.
She was about to stick her head back in when she suddenly fell to the floor, her whole body shook with tremors.
"Let's just say a certain unpopular ingredient was re-directed so a certain someone wouldn't find it," Kathryn said.
Damien's skin ached from the sudden loss of blood. "You put that Leola snot in my replicator? I wondered why I couldn't remember eating my breakfast this morning."
Kathryn had to laugh at the thought. "Probably for the best."
The scowl she got in return made her laugh harder. "Pretty dangerous to be toying with your trump card, Wrongway."
"Clever," Kathryn said. Her laughter faded and her face returned to neutrality. "Maybe you'll think twice about trying to recruit Failed Very Dumb Asshats the Third on my ship."
Damien was immediately confused, then offended. "I wouldn't recruit anyone from the garbage pool you call a crew."
"Hmm, that Leola root toast must have really chewed at your memory. Poor thing," Kathryn said with fake sympathy.
"Oh don't worry. My memory is perfect. Why would I want a doomed ship trapped in an enemy's playground? All I care about is getting out of it. After this, I promise you, you won't ever need to worry about me again," Damien said with a devious tone.
Kathryn's attention drifted to the window, angering him. "Who else would bring the warlocks to tears of laughter by asking them to join them?" She shrugged, "it doesn't matter. They're not getting out anyway, ever." She looked back at Damien with a frown. "I'm sorry, I was thinking of a more threatening issue. You were saying?"
Damien rolled his eyes, he looked ready to throw up at any moment. "I think if you bothered to ask the warlocks' guard, he'd tell you the person responsible was wearing heels, and knowing her, a chestless catsuit." He felt even sicker at the thought. "I wouldn't be seen dead in any of that get up."
"The fact that you are technically dead is worrying." Kathryn's face turned a bit serious, she looked concerned. "You think Annika was responsible? Why would she want to recruit a bunch of Slayer hating warlocks?"
Damien sniggered despite his lingering nausea. "You don't want to know, but I do. Look up Annika's Vampire Derriere is Fantastic Associates. Thank me later."
Kathryn stared blankly without blinking for a while. "AVDFA, it's not even FVDA backwards."
"Only brainless idiots who think they're special decide the acronym first, then thesaurus their way into a meaning, so a mistake like that is expected. We're lucky she didn't call herself Voyager Seven," Damien said.
"Hmm, I really should tell Neelix to cancel that rabbit stew I told him to do then," Kathryn said.
"Exactly... wait, what?" Damien's eyes widened.
Kathryn shrugged with indifference. "What does it matter, no one will eat it anyway. I'll just give him some shredded catsuit to go in it and I'm back on track." She smiled at him, "so glad that's sorted."
Damien's jaw and fists clenched. "You poisoned my replicator, gave me a box of torn rabbits, and told that rat to make stew out of a worshiped animal, just because some idiot made the resident nut jobs laugh?"
"Yes. You really should see the Doctor. Effects of Leola Root can linger in the system unnoticed for weeks," Kathryn said with fake concern. She picked up the tray to take it with her out of the room. "Thanks for the coffee by the way, it was very thoughtful."
Damien grumbled a few obscenities under his breath until even after she was gone.
"I thought I'd find you here," a voice brought James out of his head, and back to reality. He looked over his shoulder, surprised to see it was Tom walking toward him. "Re-living the good old days?"
James returned to his previous position, smiling lightly all the while. "Oh yeah. Those days when I was a social pariah because of some rifts and terrorist demons. That was awesome."
Tom laughed despite what he said. "Yeah, it's weird. For a while we managed to put it out of our minds, hide the trauma as it were." His eyes hovered in the direction James was looking. The scars still lingered along its walls. Everytime Tom visited this particular deck, he no longer felt he was on Voyager. It seemed like it was a few degrees colder. The thought of somebody watching his every move always entered his mind. He briefly wondered if people like James or Lena felt the same, or if it were magnified. "Maybe it wanted us to forget about it. All those years and nothing."
"Deck Thirteen isn't sentient you know. It could have easily infected any other deck," James said.
Tom stared at him curiously, his arms folded. "Ah, and what exactly is it?"
James gave him a bemused stare back. "Now you ask? It's only been eleven years." Tom reacted with an impatient throat clear. "Fine, it's probably more like ten."
"I know it's easier to open up anomalies on it. But why? I mean I get that weird one you took a two week holl in..." Tom said.
"For the last time," James grumbled, his eyes half rolled. "If you think demon central is a holiday hotspot, please promise me you'll let B'Elanna decide your future family holidays."
"Focus James, plan holidays later," Tom said a little seriously, which instantly made James think he wasn't listening to him. "It was like a parallel Voyager, where demons had taken over it. During the Softmicron attack, the demons apparently varied. They weren't the same ones." His face contorted while he thought it through. "Maybe they just recruited new guys since. It has been ten years, as you say."
James had paced slightly while he had been talking, leaving Tom behind. Once he was done, he panicked at the thought of being abandoned. It took only a few seconds for the Lieutenant to spot him again. He hurried over, breathing heavily. "Don't do that. If something happens..."
"Then history suggests it'll be me that gets it. Calm down," James said.
"Oh yeah," Tom sounded a little too relieved at being reminded. "Still, too many nasties have come from this very deck. Now that I think about it, the demon Voyager doesn't explain why it was this deck, only this ship as a whole."
James nodded. "Yeah. The barrier between us is just weaker here. It being number thirteen's just a coincidence."
"Hmm. I do remember when Voyager was originally split into at least two, that our Kes slipped through a similar weakening on a lower deck. I wonder if that was Thirteen too," Tom mused aloud.
"I don't remember," James said mid frown.
Tom did as well, then the light bulb switched on. "Ah, ha, coma!"
James' eyes widened, his eyebrows shot up to go with them. "Ah ha, coma? Is that the mystery solved? Clue me in genius."
"Hmph no," Tom grunted. "Way to rain on my parade."
"Sorry, that must have been hard for you to figure out," James said as his face went back to normal.
"Oh come on, you know what I'm talking about. Surely someone told you..." Tom said, only then noticing the sarcasm. He laughed mockingly. "Mock all you want, it should be something we should look into. It could be vital."
He expected further ridicule, but James didn't give him any. He seemed to be thinking about what he said. "The Softmicron knew about the weakness to exploit it. They'll know about the forcefield system though."
"If they do, they know more than I do," Tom muttered to himself. James still heard and understood him, he raised his eyebrow again. "I get the whole power draining part, it turns the tables on those old anomalies you closed ten years ago. I assume they're the same kind considering what happened to a poor trainee getting thrown into one."
James stared forlorn towards the ground. "I didn't know."
Tom shook his head, he was about to pat him on the shoulder, something he'd normally do to comfort another man. He wasn't sure if it was ever safe with James though. It hovered and eventually pulled back. "I never got how the forcefield itself worked. We could walk through, but anything from the anomaly couldn't."
"I looked at it once. I think what B'Elanna did was completely invert the polarity, and..." James said, trailing off after noticing Tom's blank stare. "She stole the energy to make it do the opposite. Instead of the anomaly being deadly to humanoids, she mirrored it so the forcefield was deadly to them. Pretty clever."
"That's my girl," Tom laughed nervously to cover his still confused feeling. "Can we use it?"
This time James was confused. "Did I miss another meeting where you came up with a plan?" He got a sigh in response. "Yes, if the Softmicron attack us the same way. I doubt they will if they know we can stop it. You heard Janeway, they're more likely to create a new version and use that instead."
"She's no longer mum, huh?" Tom said sympathetically.
James chose to ignore that for the moment. "They had to enter the game to open the anomalies. That's telling. This is their turf, so you'd think they could do anything. It could be useful to keep that in mind."
Tom gasped, his eyes briefly widened. "Didn't you say in that last sphere they started to cheat, basically reprogrammed it so they had a higher chance of winning."
"Yep," James answered hesitantly, his gaze appeared to be elsewhere.
"Hmm," Tom thought about what he said. "Do you wonder if this rift and anomaly business is one of their cheats."
James glanced back at him. For a reason that Tom couldn't understand, he was showing the tell tale signs of a smile trying to escape. "No I don't. They weren't losing. The Soft inside the anomaly apparently couldn't leave on their own either."
"Okay, that's good because we've still caused it, yey?" Tom said in monotone. Another thought came to him which he had to voice immediately. "The bigger they come, the harder they fall."
"Don't encourage me," James said with a smirk.
Tom scowled back at him. "Haha, at least I'm taller than the majority of women."
"Ohno, you hit me straight in the don't cares. Just when I was getting better," James said.
Tom didn't take him seriously, he sniggered. They both did in the end. "You know, I prefer the more mellow you."
"Don't ruin it," James said, this time Tom knew he meant it.
"Right," he said. "What I meant was that you make one change to a small program and it'll transform into something new really quickly. A large one you'd be hard pressed to see anything. Then you add more until you do. Next thing you know, it starts to break. Bam, you've got Chaotica in a feedback loop yelling at a giant spider in a Janeway wig, while the secretary bounces off open cell doors."
James stared at him as if he sprung another head that looked like Annika's. It took a while before he was able to blink, when he did the eyes were watering. "What?"
Tom had flushed red all over. "Oh, I was kinda hoping it was you messing with my programs again. Must have just been the Arachnia mods and new villain episodes then." James looked away, still with the same expression on his face. It made Tom's blushing even worse. "It's still a good example, so um... yeah. Too many edits to the Game Sphere may have contributed to its failure, and viola! Anomaly," he stammered.
"Ookay?" James said slowly. "Are you saying they cheated too much or that the Game was just too big to cope?"
"Both, either, and or..." Tom replied.
"I get it," James cut in quickly. "The towers being obliterated wouldn't have helped either."
"It seems the rifts were already there when that happened. It was the anomaly," Tom sounded worried.
"We know what the rifts are and that the Games Matrix is on the other side. The anomaly is still a question mark," James said, worrying the Lieutenant further.
Wesley chucked obnoxiously while leaning back in his chair. "That's a silly question, isn't it?"
Chakotay narrowed his eyes further. Daniel's uncomfortable shiftiness caught his eye, his head turned to see him try to relax against the wall he stood in front of.
"How is it a silly question?" Chakotay asked.
"I assume you'll want to know what Game Cubes are next," Wesley said.
Chakotay closed the gap between them by about half and abruptly. It startled the older watcher enough so that he nearly slipped off the chair. "I know the basics. It's where the Games are formed before they enter normal space. The moron here assumed it was a digital network..."
Wesley recovered in time to laugh. Daniel joined in with the current scowling the Commander was doing. "Oh lord no. It's been theorised that it's a gateway between realities, a subspace corridor that the Softmicron hijacked, and even just a hallucination from the shock of being carried across huge distances so fast. But never a digital network. I couldn't even begin to go over the flaws there," Wesley chuckled.
Chakotay thankfully saw the funny side, only slightly. "Yes it does sound more like a Season One style idea than Four."
Daniel rolled his eyes. "You weren't even around when I talked about it. You're getting the stupid summary mate."
"Oh, I'm not your mate," Chakotay grunted in his direction, a dangerous glint in his eye. It made Daniel uncomfortable once more. "You're the watchers, you should be the ones in the know. What else are you good for besides screwing over Slayers, and we've got equally stupid witches and warlocks to do that."
Wesley winced at the final sentence. "Oh, now where would you get a stupid idea like that? Now, the Games Matrix, what an interesting question."
Chakotay stared suspiciously, "oh, so now that I've mentioned the witches with Slayer killing on their list of hobbies, my question is no longer silly. That's what's interesting."
"It's Wesley. Being shady is his only cup of tea," Daniel muttered.
"I assume that's a watcher trait," Chakotay bit back.
Daniel groaned, his patience clearly wearing thin. "I looked past the whole trying to kill me thing, I'm sure you can get over me bringing your daughter back. If you haven't gotten the message yet, I'm really sorry."
Chakotay cast him a withering glare, it didn't land quite as well as he imagined as Daniel had his own. He had no comeback other than that. Daniel was right, he had brought Lena back to him, but his methods were what drove him to attack all those months ago. No matter how much he hated her, Daniel still killed Ylara to do it, and three lives on the Leda were extinguished. He hadn't come here for that, there was something far more urgent to discuss. "The Games Matrix. Everything you know about it. It's not just us that will suffer if you miss anything, you're here with us after all."
"Hmm, a compelling argument," Wesley said. It sounded sarcastic to Chakotay, he wasn't sure if the bookish watcher was truly capable of it though. He brushed it aside and waited for him to go on. "Mr Lavine here was the closest thing we had to an expert. Unfortunately as you know, his memory has not yet returned and probably never will."
"Thankfully," Daniel grunted.
"Surely he wasn't the only one who knew practically anything. He must have told someone," Chakotay said impatiently.
Wesley reacted nervously. "Oh, I'm not saying I don't know anything. Just that I don't know as much."
"Anything will do," Chakotay said.
"Well we've all ventured into it at some point. Can't win all the games, can we?" Wesley said in a chirpy fashion. The tone and words annoyed both of the men in the room with him. He carried on, "you recall what happens when a Game appears on a planet?"
Chakotay walked over to the nearest object to lean on, which ended up being a bookcase. "The clouds change colour, there's a warning."
Wesley nodded. "Yes, correct. Ever notice how there's never anything above these clouds? The Game must come from somewhere, but where?"
"Can we do this without the questions?" Daniel said rudely.
Wesley wasn't put off. "When the Game has to break out of the Games Matrix, it needs a door. The colour you're witnessing is the atmosphere churning from interference. Subspace interference to be exact."
Chakotay raised his hand to signal him to stop for the time being. "Wait, I recall Kathryn mentioning that Damien invented something to detect cubes. A subspace thing."
"Ah, we could do with a man like that on our side," Wesley's mood picked up. Chakotay and Daniel exchanged disgusted looks, Chakotay followed it with a shudder. "The warning itself is pretty interesting. The Softmicron are cruel in the way they work. They could easily have no warning and have the cubes destroy anything it lands on, no game, just death. Instead they give you a few minutes to scramble from where you think it will land, and then..."
Daniel grunted. "They're literally playing with us, because they can. It's obvious to everyone."
"Yes I agree. It also has nothing to do with what I asked," Chakotay said.
Wesley huffed, annoyed at being interrupted again. "The current theory is a little more complicated than that. Your Manchester is a good example. One cube landed, destroying the city. Another landed, won with nobody around to play it, which left behind an army." He paused to see if the two would cut in again. They didn't, they just pondered what he said. "The Games Matrix is the subspace the Games come from. It can reach almost anywhere, is near infinite and is crawling with their creations and Softmicron themselves."
"So the only way out...?" Chakotay questioned.
"Is in another Game," Wesley answered. "That's where we come in. Daniel and I are attuned to the network once we're inside. Call it a sixth sense. We know the destinations of nearby Games, their play style."
"Why?" Chakotay asked, frowning.
The question took Wesley aback. Daniel was surprised as well, his made him smirk to himself. "Why what?"
"Why do watchers have that ability?" Chakotay asked with interest.
Wesley wasn't sure how to answer that. "Well, that's... not important."
"Not sure Wes, or just don't want to share?" Daniel asked.
"You wanted to know about the Games Matrix. May I finish that first?" Wesley said, making Daniel nod as if he said something else. Chakotay gestured for him to go on. "I hope you're not planning on going into it, Mr Chakotay. I'm sure you must know how dangerous it is inside. There's no guarantee it can take you where you want before you're found by the habitants."
"Just weighing our options," Chakotay said plainly.
Wesley started to stutter nervously, "I'd cross that one out. It isn't getting into it that's the problem, it's everything else. Humanoids are not supposed to be there. If the beasts don't kill you, the exposure will."
"So the signal we generate if a Game is lost..." Chakotay said.
Wesley cut in quickly. "If you're inside a Game when it returns to subspace, well I don't have to spell it out do I? Game is won, it lets you out. Lose and it locks you in, dooming you to be pulverised on Games Matrix entry. Its only use is to shield everything that isn't rooted to the ground from that. Nothing more, if that's what you're hinting at."
Chakotay shook his head with a nonchalant look on his face. "No. This exposure bit is new to me. As you've said, we've been in it multiple times."
"I can't stress this enough; the Games Matrix isn't for humanoid life. Every watcher is told to teach Slayers to escape into the next Game, regardless of its destination and type, for that reason," Wesley said.
"So, your abilities are basically useless then. Hmm," Chakotay said.
"Not at all. It serves its purpose. Mr Lavine for example wouldn't have learned as much as he did if he didn't have them," Wesley said.
Daniel chuckled, "it helps get you around, doesn't it?" Wesley's face paled slightly. "So exposure huh? Something I should know? I'm assuming memory loss is one of them."
"Don't be ridiculous, the memory issue was a conk on the head," Wesley said. Chakotay noticed his forehead starting to sweat. "It's hard to say. I have heard it can be especially draining if you're inside for too long. Fortunately there aren't many cases. They either find a cube or..."
"Get ripped apart by demons, vamps and blood thirsty Game holograms. Yep," Daniel cut in casually.
"Interesting. I don't remember anything other than an attack on our hiding place," Chakotay mumbled to himself. "And we were a little picky about where we were going so..."
Wesley quickly dabbed his brow with his wrist. "The network is the hub of the games, manipulated by the Softmicron. If you end up in an empty corridor or vacant space you've struck it lucky."
"How? There's nowhere to hide in that scenario," Daniel asked.
"No, but it means there should be no one around. Rooms, full buildings, objects, ships are all signs that something is living there, or worse," Wesley said. The pair stared at him intently. "A potential Game in the making. Either way, you don't want to stick around. Although I still protest against any plan that involves that ghastly place."
An overwhelming stench had encouraged the occupants to evacuate. One had warned the poor girl making the big mistake of going in while they were. Everyone else dashed around her. As the crowd disappeared down the corridor, she heard a few murmurs about cleaning up the Enterprise's Mess Hall. She pinched her nose so she could enter, get her order from the replicator and run out again. Even still the smell managed to sneak through the cracks. Her hunger was long gone.
Neelix scampered over to her cradling a bowl in his hands. "Oh Kiara, you're just in time. I've made my super popular stew. You can be first to taste it."
The first detail she noticed was the vicious bubbles still fizzing on the surface. She could just make out the sickly green and white underneath it. What looked like green bread had been dipped into it, attached to the rim of the bowl. It took everything she had not to throw up her last few meals.
"Oh my god. Why do you hate us so?" she stammered, just before gagging.
Neelix was puzzled. "I don't. Why would you think that? Oh, should I make more?"
"No!" Kiara shouted in a panic. "How can you be this oblivious? Nobody eats your food and lives. I really doubt that your stew was popular with anyone but maybe the Doctor."
"It seemed to be a much needed comfort food in times of great stress," Neelix huffed. "In fact I remember James running off with the whole pan so no one else could have it."
Kiara instantly thought he was twisting the situation around and her uncle was actually throwing it out an airlock, or burning it. Neelix's food would probably be useful as a weapon at the right time. She shook the thought off. "I'm sure that everyone was gutted, and they showed that by cheering and clapping at him."
"Ohno, there was a riot," Neelix said. "They chased him. You don't pick a fight with him unless you're really passionate about something."
"Hmm, maybe they just wanted to see what he'd do to it," Kiara said quietly, confusing him further. "Nah, if this really happened I would've heard about it. Yeah right, when Annika flies."
"She can jump quite far," Neelix said helpfully.
"I would have said pigs would fly, but you'd probably find a way to cook a flying pig," Kiara said with disgust. "What horrible disaster did you cook this one in?"
Neelix pondered that for a moment. "Oh I remember. I had to use my backup stove as the main one didn't have power, which gave the stew a slow cook texture to it. That's why it doesn't seem as good. Thank you." He ran back to the kitchen leaving Kiara staring blankly.
"Didn't have power?" she asked, keeping her distance.
"Yes, that anomaly," Neelix replied over the top of some pots and pans clattering.
Suddenly it all made sense. "Oh. Your fantasy is for everyone to worship your cooking. I wonder how many people were confined to Sickbay in comas after that day."
"I'm sorry, what?" Neelix asked when he was finished rummaging.
"If they're apart of the illusion then maybe no one was. I hope," Kiara mumbled. Then she realised Neelix was staring at her, befuddled by her comments. "Come on, everyone knows. The anomaly didn't just drain the power. It used tricks to keep people in it or in your case to possibly kill the crew."
"Oh that I know. Nothing happened to me, how strange," Neelix said.
Kiara rolled her eyes even though she expected that. "Everyone thinks the rifts were the result of a glitch. The anomaly though sounds intentional. Don't you think?"
"It sure sounds like it. Those Soft are nothing but cruel after all," Neelix answered.
"Yeah, they're more about people destroying themselves than doing it directly. Win the game or die, ignore the fantasy and escape the anomaly. Destroy the towers to free your planet but possibly kill others," Kiara said. "I doubt the others have forgotten that."
"Oh they haven't. The rifts and anomaly don't appear to be linked in my opinion. Though maybe the Soft don't like people seeing their mistakes and covered them up," Neelix said.
Kiara didn't feel so sure. Her attention drifted toward the window. "Why didn't they do something when we were in it then? We're their biggest threat and yet they let us escape with little fight. When mum and James took the Katane back in for the Enterprise, and then the Enterprise twice after, they didn't try to stop them."
Neelix looked annoyed, "ooh that overrated hunk of junk and its pretty Mess Hall with its fancy sound proof room. It wouldn't surprise me if it was evil."
Kiara turned back toward him, with a half amused and confused expression. "That's not what I meant."
"I'm glad I could help," Neelix said through gritted teeth. He shuffled back into the kitchen muttering about being replaced.
"What the anomaly did, it was kinda familiar. I wonder why," Kiara said.
There was another clatter from the kitchen. This one though made Neelix whine like it was the end of the universe. "Ohno, it's going to spill all over the bench!" Another clatter was followed by a relieved sigh. "Oh, it's still there in place. I love this stuff."
Kiara turned her nose up in disgust. "You're the only one." She tried to get back to what she was thinking about. "Maybe it was just because it drained our power, like the towers and Sphere does. Doesn't matter." The smell from the kitchen was starting to feel toxic. Typically right then it hit her. "The Sphere does. It drains and it tricks." She was starting to feel a bit woozy so she decided to continue a few decks away.
"And done. My masterpiece!" Neelix announced proudly. He attempted to serve the new slop into a bowl but the ladle only hit a solid mass, it couldn't scoop. "Hmm, needs some more milk."
Meanwhile in the supposedly evil Mess Hall of the equally evil Enterprise, Lena sat at a table barely touching her food in front of her. She failed to notice a few of the Voyager evacuees rushing in. The volunteers trying to move the furniture and carpet from the wedding did though and they weren't impressed. Even more so when the new arrivals proceeded to dismantle the pile of tables and steal the chairs. Then they attacked the replicator.
A figure already in the room approached Lena's table, which she didn't notice right away.
"Hmm, seems like I missed a bit of action," the familiar and annoying voice sneered.
Lena groaned, her eyes shut tightly. "Oh god, I must have ended up in hell."
Damien plopped himself down in the opposite chair. "Wrong ship and hall, Leany."
"What do you want?" Lena asked irritably.
"Straight to the point, I like that," Damien said in a smarmy way. "We have a shared enemy, you and I. An enemy that would be most annoyed if they saw us together."
"Forget them, I'm annoyed," Lena said.
The villain waved the comment away from him, he had a look of pity on his face. On Damien it was patronising. "I see I've overwhelmed your tiny meat-head mind. You see..."
Lena reached around to kick the back of his leg underneath the table. It had the desired effect, he fell face first toward the table. Unfortunately he laughed before he could land and picked himself back up.
"Will that help?" she asked in a fake sweet voice.
"You know, I can never tell the difference between you and your body snatcher," Damien sniggered.
Lena pulled a disgusted face and moved her chair back a bit. "Oh, James told me about your weird interest in Ylara. I hope that's not why, though you always were a bit twisted. And not in a big bad evil way, just an itch on the bottom of your foot annoyance."
Damien scoffed a little too forcefully to be genuine. "Don't flatter yourself. No one is good enough for me."
"Oh I dunno," Lena said, smiling. "There's one girl on this ship who is so perfect for you. I can't say who as I don't want to encourage the grossness. Only that she's crazy, we never know what she's up to, and makes me want to barf on sight. Though to be fair, you don't make me sick, just very violent. Close enough though, right?"
Damien shuddered horribly. He pointed a finger at her afterwards, "I came to you in mutual disdain."
"And I gave it, what's the problem?" Lena asked innocently.
"Boobs of Nine, that's the problem," Damien snarled in response.
Lena giggled behind her hand. "Yeah, I suppose that was a bit harsh, even for you. No one deserves Annika."
"Which brings me to why I came to you," Damien muttered through near gritted teeth. "The silly doll thinks that we're an item, despite my undying hatred and disgust for her. I can't say I blame her for being infatuated, but..." He ignored Lena's roll of the eyes. "How can I put this so you understand? Oh, imagine that you're killing a bunch of vampires. You're half way done when that Craig runs in, pinches your butt and runs away with your jacket so he can sniff it."
Lena stared at him blankly. "Craig?"
"What, you got somebody else obsessed with you?" Damien grunted. He continued on, "then imagine coming home after a long hard day, and finding him sitting in the tub waiting for you with a rose stem in his mouth."
"Eew," Lena groaned, her face scrunched in disgust.
Damien nodded furiously, "yes, you see. Then turn Craig into Annika."
Lena actually screamed at the thought, startling everyone in the room. Damien though seemed genuinely sorry for making her do that. "Not only is it traumatising, it's bad for my villain image, you see," Damien said.
Lena noticed she was shaking a bit after her outburst. She tried to take deep breaths to settle it down. "That's the most vile thing you've ever done," she whispered.
"Hmm, possibly," Damien mumbled, feeling a bit torn about the guilt he was feeling. At least he thought that's what it was.
"Definitely. So what does all of that nightmare fuel, brain bleach inducing horror got to do with me?" Lena questioned.
Damien tried to smirk after all of that. "Like your slow brother, Barbs thought that I liked Ylara. Only, the stupid bimbo didn't even know you were dead. It was quite funny when the Ylara name popped up, she thought I was cheating on her with two girls."
It was starting to make sense now. The strange hand written notes, the following her around. Annika saw her as a rival. Lena groaned at the realisation. History was repeating itself. "She thinks I'm stealing her spotlight again. Why didn't you just say that?"
"Funny you should say it that way. I had a rather interesting meeting with her and your fellow fools the other day. We both know she's no stranger to betrayal and side switching. Whatever gives her the most exposure really," Damien said. They both shuddered at one of the words they both took literally. "Basically, she tossed Chuckles and I to the wolves. Since it was Tom and Harry, more like puppies, but still."
Lena didn't look as surprised as he expected, or hoped. She even seemed bored to him. "And?"
"And she still lurks around like a bumpy and badly dressed shadow. She's trying to catch me in the act, fish for more incriminating evidence. Which brings me back to you, the so called slayer of vampires," Damien answered.
"Why should I do it for you? If she's really just snooping, why is she bothering me?" Lena said bewilderedly. "If you are up to something, then it's you I should be killing."
Damien chuckled darkly, "oh, if only you knew."
"Convincing," Lena muttered.
"I know you've always despised her, and she you," Damien said quietly. "Before you she was the super special Borgflake. Oh her childhood was wasted, poor thing. Then you came along with your being related to Janeway, the Kiara mix up and paradoxes, stealing all of her thunder. The gloss had faded, nobody cared."
Lena was unimpressed by his mini speech and she made it obvious in her face. "Her thunder wore out long before I arrived. She was nothing but a gimmick that out stayed her welcome. That's why she turned into a nut bag. It kept her around, kept her noticed. In fanfiction, no one can see your inflated boobs. What choice did she have? How that's my fault is..."
"Because you were always her replacement," Damien sniggered.
The Janeway glare was out in full force. "Our only commonality was the Borg, and I wasn't even assimilated properly, or there that long."
"Doesn't change the fact that she was your inspiration," Damien teased.
Lena took a deep sigh as if she were trying to calm herself. It didn't work as the next thing she did was kick at his chair, sending him flying hard into the ground. "Fight your own battles," she said, standing up to leave. "I'm done."
Damien quickly scrambled back onto his feet. "All right, okay, fine." She stalled for the moment to see what other ridiculous things he was going to say. "Even I find comparing you people to that awful screen waster low. So I'll tell you what, how 'bout we put this behind us."
"No," Lena butted in harshly.
"I can't get rid of her on my own, and you won't know how to get her off your back without me," Damien said.
"She's only a vampire, they no longer scare me. How hard can it be?" Lena scoffed.
"I wouldn't call her a vampire. A stab to the heart will be shrugged off, though you're likely to hit the silicon anyway," Damien answered, laughing a little. "Holy water, garlic, she'll probably dab it behind her ears as perfume."
"As usual I haven't got a clue what you're blabbering about," Lena said, her anger threatened to bubble over.
Damien nodded, he expected that. "There is a big gap in IQ points, I apologise. My research told me there are only two ways to kill her type. One I can't do, and one I could do but I won't."
Lena's eyebrow raised, "feed her yoghurts? Throw rabbits at her?"
Damien gasped in horror. "Ohno, something equally heinous. The one I can't do, that's where you come in. The sparkle monster is currently pretending to be on the good side, at least until she's uncovered a few things. She'll switch with a little prodding."
"Does it matter when we kill her?" Lena said while stifling a yawn.
"Who said we were going to kill her? We want to destroy her," Damien sniggered, then he burst into his usual evil laughter.
Lena rolled her eyes and waited for him to finish. It took a while, so she spoke over the top of him. "No, I just want to kill her." That shut him up, only for him to groan afterwards.
Craig's eyes darted to whoever was talking, or rather shouting at the time. He couldn't get a word in so all he could do was wait.
"No, you can't do that," Wesley protested.
"It's like you said, the Games come through doors leading to the Matrix. So why not?" Chakotay argued.
Daniel tried to butt in, "it's your funeral."
He was ignored yet again, this time by Wesley. "Spheres are completely different. The cubes are the weapons, fired and then returned to the Softmicron. The Spheres are nothing more than a plug."
"Yes, and what exactly is this plug plugged into?" Chakotay asked confidently.
Daniel muttered something under his breath while he fished around in his pocket. Seconds later he was pulling out a lighter and a cigarette. "Dunno why I bother," he mumbled once the latter was in between his lips.
"That isn't known. We believe it could be powering anything from the cubes to the Matrix itself. All of which share the same subspace signature you're saying these rifts have," Wesley countered back.
"Are you seriously suggesting that if we fly through one of these rifts..." Chakotay started to ask.
Daniel flicked the lighter cap open while muttering, "goodbye Voyager."
"That we could end up in the latest game of not-Pokémon matches?" Chakotay finished.
"No, that's ludicrous," Wesley snapped. "It would be as if you walked into a cube itself. You'd be vaporised."
"Aren't you forgetting the anomaly in the way?" Craig tried to remind them.
"Yes, that's the biggest problem," Daniel commented, which brought Craig's constant glance around's to a stop.
Chakotay nodded, "see, now you know how you've sounded for the last ten minutes."
Wesley sighed impatiently. "Even if the rifts lead to the Games Matrix, how would you get there? Both that we've detected have been absorbed by the anomaly."
"Hey, I just..." Craig complained.
Daniel sniggered in response. "Priceless." As soon as he attempted to light the cigarette, the computer started bleeping harshly at him.
"Warning, fire detected Deck Nine, section four. Evacuate the area. Two minutes until oxygen deprivation system is active," it barked.
"Oh god, I forgot to disable that," Daniel growled, he switched the lighter back off and put it back in his pocket.
At least it got Chakotay and Wesley to stop arguing for the time being. They stared at Daniel like he was an idiot, then they spotted Craig had joined them.
"So erm, you couldn't have this little catfight in a different office?" he asked.
Wesley hurried over to him a little too eagerly. "You'll do. I need to know if the final reports for our Slayer trainees are finished."
"I'll do?" Craig said, not bothering to hide his offense. "It's been two months since the last training session. It has nothing to do with Security either."
"Oh, so you won't do," Daniel smirked.
"Well I can sum it up if you want," Craig said. "Rude, stupid, shouldn't be a Slayer, can't remember, can't remember, secretly a demon."
Wesley wasn't amused. "Fantastic," Chakotay said not seriously.
"No, there was no one like that," Daniel remarked.
"You still have yet to answer my question, Mr Chakotay," Wesley complained.
Chakotay looked to Daniel and Craig for help briefly. "What question?"
"How do you plan to go through the anomaly?" Wesley repeated himself.
"I don't have a plan. I'm just gathering information," Chakotay snapped.
Daniel walked up to him, still with an unlit cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "Let me. I've seen Voyager's destruction, and it happens in an area a lot like the Games Matrix. Perhaps investigate something else."
"Voyager itself is represented in the Matrix? That's unprecedented," Wesley said, slightly dismayed.
Everyone focused on him, each with their own puzzled expressions. "I think my universal translator is broken," Daniel muttered.
The look the older watcher gave him was tired and irritated. "You've guided the Enterprise through a few cubes, post memory loss. You must know what I'm talking about." Daniel's smirk told him otherwise. "When you enter a game, do you have your vessel handy? No. Why would you have access to it in the Games Matrix?"
"Ah. So what you're saying is that it is odd that Daniel saw Voyager in it," Chakotay said with interest. "Finally, something useful."
Craig turned to the Commander and then Wesley, his brow furrowed. "How is that unprecedented? It's happened before." This time it was him everyone stared at, their expressions made him feel like he admitted undying love for Annika. "Chakotay, you do remember right?"
"If it happened on the Enterprise when it was solo, how the hell would I remember if I wasn't there?" Chakotay snapped.
The tone and words annoyed Craig greatly. "I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about when Damien tried to get rid of both Enterprise and Voyager by trapping them in the Games Matrix." Chakotay stared blankly at him, then he started to laugh at the absurdity of the statement. "We were trying to save a planet from a Softmicron invasion. You remember surely, it was when Damien brainwashed all of them."
Chakotay stopped laughing, disturbed by what he just told him. His eyes darted around. "Yes, I definitely remember that. I don't remember a trip to the Matrix though."
Daniel and Wesley watched them both curiously, Wesley though didn't look surprised like Daniel was. Craig meanwhile couldn't believe what he was hearing. "How can you forget that?"
"You tell me. We didn't enter any games. The point was to stop them coming," Chakotay said. Saying that aloud helped something click in his mind. "Damien, he said he had a way to close the door allowing them in."
Craig nodded. "Yeah and instead he opened a new one right next to the ships. You seriously don't remember? That's... that's..."
"Weird," Daniel finished for him. Craig only mouthed the word yep.
"Come to think of it, I'm not even sure how we resolved that," Chakotay said.
Daniel scoffed, "you probably didn't."
"Don't be absurd," Wesley snapped at him. "You don't just abandon a problem like that."
"Right, and we did. Damien sent all his Softmicron in as fodder, his ship was destroyed, Annika turned on him. He had nothing left," Craig said. He stuttered and then exhaled sharply as he looked back at the former Commander, "you seriously don't remember the Games Matrix? How you hid, what games you returned in, if the ships were with you or not?"
Chakotay was now very worried. At first he thought Craig was mistaken or joking around with him. He seemed deadly serious though. Then he noticed Wesley's almost smug expression, and that sealed the deal for him. Without warning he grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him closer. "Is there anything else you like to tell me about this exposure?"
"I... I don't know what you mean," the older watcher stammered.
"Ohno Daniel, your memory loss had nothing to do with Games Matrix exposure, it was just a conk on the head," Chakotay mocked him by using his posh accent. "Excuse me while I act shifty!"
"At the very least it contributed to it," Craig said. "So I heard."
"I was telling the truth. I swear. Mr Lavine wouldn't be affected, his body is used to it," Wesley stuttered.
Chakotay shook him roughly, making him yelp. "Why is that?"
"Well you said I spent a lot of time in it," Daniel said.
"No," Wesley said. "Normal people wouldn't survive long enough to get used to it."
Craig approached as well while Chakotay stared the watcher into trembling violently. "What do you mean by that?" Craig asked.
"Like I told these two..." Wesley stuttered. He tried to smile politely at the man holding him. "Fine gentlemen. Watchers are attuned to the network. It wouldn't make sense if we were affected like everyone else."
"Does the Slayers have the same immunity then?" Chakotay asked. Wesley shook his head timidly, squeaking in fear. Chakotay reluctantly let him go. "Again I ask, why?"
"Please, I don't know," Wesley answered.
Daniel groaned, eyes half rolled. "He's lying."
"No!" Wesley cried.
"No? Why didn't you mention that little tidbit earlier then?" Daniel questioned smugly.
Chakotay copied his expression, "yes, why?"
"It didn't seem necessary. Believe me. There's still a lot we don't know about the network, or our abilities. We're just born with them. There's nothing insidious about it. It's just how it is," Wesley said.
Craig sighed, "so, do you know why he doesn't remember the visit to the Games Matrix?"
Wesley seemed relieved at his gentler tone than the other two men. The topic though he wanted changing. "The question you should be asking is did your vessels materialise inside it, as it arrived there by unusual means."
"Yeah, that is a good question," Daniel said.
"I wasn't there, was I!" Wesley snapped in frustration.
"Theorise from what you know," Craig said.
"Well, the Game is what removes technology and weapons a majority of the time. Ships every time. If they didn't go through one, it is possible," Wesley said reluctantly. "I wonder if the same signal was used to protect their entry."
Daniel shrugged and protruded his arms while doing it, "there you go. If Voyager goes into those rifts it's gonna be torn apart. Don't say I didn't warn you."
"You never saw the Enterprise though," Craig said thoughtfully.
"No, which means either it doesn't go in or it does and it isn't destroyed," Chakotay said.
Wesley shook his head, "the vision probably didn't need to show the Enterprise being destroyed too to get the point across. Don't go in the Games Matrix."
"Other than destroying all of the towers, how else are we going to get out?" Craig questioned.
"That's true. We'd still be leaving behind hundreds of worlds, with billions of people at stake. Could we live with ourselves? I doubt it," Chakotay thought aloud.
Daniel glanced briefly at a dismayed Wesley. "You... you can't stop them. All you can do is survive," Wesley said.
"They really seem to believe we can or we wouldn't be high on their hit list," Craig said.
Chakotay agreed. He noticed the two watchers disagreeing, one more frantically than the other. "Yes. We're missing something. Something only we can do, but what?"
Slowly Lena peeled the lid from the box, only slightly so she could peer inside. All she managed to see was what looked like a plastic eye staring back at her. It was enough to slide the lid back on.
Oblivious to her daughter's antics, Kathryn sat at the table deep in thought. In front of her was the same tray that Damien blatantly gave her out of spite.
"I don't want to fight," the Captain said finally.
Lena hovered around the box, unsure whether or not to sit. "You could've told me."
"You're absolutely right," Kathryn tiredly sighed. Her arm pushed the tray further away, the other rested on the table. "I hope you understand that I felt powerless, I only wanted to protect you and James."
"Just us?" Lena said sadly.
"When it all comes down to it, everyone will be expecting you both to be on the front lines, one way or another. So much pressure, expectations. I saw how badly that affected James ten years ago. I didn't want to see him like he's been recently and I didn't want the same to happen to you," Kathryn explained softly. "It's not how it should be."
Lena decided on sitting down, only on the table for the time being. "I wish I had known before..." she hesitated, grimacing slightly. Kathryn knew what she meant anyway, it made her dead heart ache. "It was what you were trying to avoid."
"It was a rash, excessive and impulsive plan that wasn't guaranteed to work. I don't blame your father for trying to avoid it, you shouldn't either," Kathryn said. Lena turned her head away, it was all she could to keep her emotions bottled up for now. "I wish I could take it back, but I cannot. All I can do is apologise and hope that the information I gathered will help you."
"I just want to forget it," Lena blurted out, turning her head back. "The Tolg thing I mean."
Kathryn smiled warmly. "I understand."
"I'm not sure if I do," Lena said, cringing afterward. "I'm not still talking about the Tolg thing, god, my head's all muddled."
"Have either of you read the file I gave you?" Kathryn asked, her tone wary.
Lena shook her head. Her imagination ran wild everytime she thought about it. "Not yet. Should I?"
Kathryn felt a pang of guilt for bringing it up. "No. Maybe it will help you understand my actions, or it could tear us further apart. It isn't needed in the here and now."
One more thing to worry about, more ways for her to imagine the contents. One thing was certain, Lena didn't want that answer. She tried to recall what she had wanted to bring up before the data file distracted her. Several words flew through her mind, one in particular reminded her of something else. A feeling she had everytime the rest of the crew talked about the situation. "I'm supposed to be this linchpin, the cog in the paradox, and I don't even know what's going on half the time. I don't think Ylara knew either."
"Explaining a situation isn't the same as living it," Kathryn said.
"I get these faint images, kinda like remembering a dream. During them I feel lost and out of place. I see Kevin telling me to run. Dad yelling at me. Damien's sneery face that I just want to punch over and over..." Lena's soft manner turned into an angry grumble by the time Damien was mentioned. Kathryn tried to resist laughing at the transition. Lena cleared her throat nervously, "sorry."
She was not having that. "Why, it's the least he deserves," Kathryn said frankly.
"Yeah," Lena said while nodding. "I feel like I can't contribute as I wasn't here during the war, or during that first tower heist, when we entered the sphere. Ylara didn't make sense of many of the things happening around her, so the memories about them aren't forefront enough. Does that make any sense? I... dunno how to explain it."
"It's all right. No one expects you to instantly understand. Most, if not all of the crew are still struggling," Kathryn smiled. "I think you understand far more than a majority of them, despite missing a few events. Give yourself a break. If you happen to repeat something that someone has said while you were away, no one's going to hold that against you."
Lena found herself standing again, slouched against the nearby chair. "The biggest one that bugged me, was how we got here in the first place."
Kathryn's face stiffened. "How do you mean?"
Multiple ways to answer that were experimented with in her head. Lena walked back and forth while doing so. "This Dead Corridor thing we flew through. What was it? Every Game Sphere we've encountered, or Cube as well, we couldn't just fly into it. Is the Corridor like the anomaly, because from what I remember faintly from Ylara, it sure seemed like it. If it is, what are they? Gateways, the walls, what? Can we just fly out if we keep going through it?"
"I've never heard of Dead Corridor, but from what you're saying, it was what Voyager flew through upon entering," Kathryn said, a little frustrated that she was the one lost now. She still smiled though, "you're not the only one who's missed things."
"So your Tolg friends didn't know about it. How did you guys get in then?" Lena asked.
"It was like you say, like going through a wall. We could see it from the outside unlike that anomaly, so perhaps they're not related," Kathryn replied.
Lena sighed impatiently. "Speaking of hitting a wall."
Kathryn laughed very briefly. "Well you know what they say, or I say anyway."
"No," Lena said, frowning. "I can get through the wall if I wanted, I suppose."
"Close," Kathryn laughed for a while longer this time. Lena let slip a smile because of it. "It's not that much different than a normal sphere. It's easy to get into it, but you won't get out until you defeat it. Or break it." There was a twinkle in her eye after saying the last sentence. Lena spotted it even from the other side of the table.
"Trying to defeat it already broke the sphere," she said. "Crashed games don't end well for the ones stuck in it. I've never heard of a Sphere breaking though."
"It worked well last time," Kathryn said, confusing her daughter further. She looked apologetic afterward. "I suppose Ylara wouldn't understand a Game Sphere on Earth and it glitching to oblivion."
Lena's blank stare was making her eyes water. She tried to shake it away. "You got that from dad?" Kathryn nodded. "How did it break?"
"Time travel shenanigans. You know, the usual," Kathryn answered.
"Great," Lena groaned, partly disappointed. "That gives us another choice. Win, escape or cheat. I didn't like escape that much."
"No, me neither. Winning could be almost as bad. That thing will consume everything if we try," Kathryn said.
Lena was annoyed since after all that, she was right back to her original thought; the anomaly. At least unlike the Corridor she had experienced it for herself. She could be just as confused as everyone else who had been there. Though out of everyone she spent the most time inside it. She saw what kind of damage it could do to a planet trapped within. It was a horrifying, desolate hell that she didn't want happening to anyone else. A place where your only choices are to stay and watch your planet die around you in crippling darkness and ice cold. Or take your chances in a ship only to die when your life support systems drained. The only mercy you'd get there would be if you were still hallucinating while you suffocated to death.
It brought a cold chill to her skin everytime she thought about it, but it was worth it this time. She remembered something that happened, which was glossed over when she watched her old frend's hollow body try to murder her and then die before her eyes. "They don't know."
Kathryn was puzzled by her random comment. "Who doesn't know what?"
"The Softmicron," Lena started to answer, her eyes and body language picked up. "The anomaly, it took them by surprise too."
"How could you know that?" Kathryn questioned.
"Two of them. One was only interested in escaping, she hid amongst refugees. The other, probably wanted to bring more aboard. I'm not sure," Lena tried to explain. "They couldn't get away on their own. Why would they stay on a dying planet with very little people left, when they went to so much trouble to create an army. Why hadn't they taken them somewhere safer?"
Kathryn smiled, "they couldn't. They'll have known that if it was their creation and prepared their ships for it."
"Which means it wasn't something they did intentionally," Lena said.
"One question remains, are they aware of it now?" Kathryn mused.
Lena walked back to the nearest chair so she could lean on it, her lips started to curl. "No, the question is, can we use it against them?"
"Oh so now we're catching up," Tom's voice teased barely a second after the door opened.
Kathryn and Lena followed his voice, just catching him strolling in with James not far behind. Kathryn had a look of derision she only ever saved for Tom. "Of course you figured all of that out days ago, you were just waiting for us," she said.
"Mock if you must..." Tom said.
"Oh, no take backs," James said as he continued passed him.
The women in the room laughed quietly as poor Tom stammered a bit. "But er... I was the one that suggested we return to the anomaly."
"Did you figure something out from what I told you about the tears?" Kathryn asked.
"Yes, it's a way out," Tom replied almost like he was winging it. Determined not to be ridiculed further he tried to put on a stern facade. "It's the only lead we have left. The way in was closed long ago. Towers are out. The underground structure on that one planet was destroyed. The anomaly is the only unknown thing left we haven't fully explored."
Kathryn gave him a look of approval. He naturally assumed it was another attempt to make fun of him. James and Lena did too, so they waited to see or hear it. "I agree," she said disappointing them.
"I do too. I don't like it," James said.
Lena giggled, while Tom looked offended. "It's okay, because I was thinking that it was odd that the only Soft activity we saw in there, were two desperate individuals trying to get on the Enterprise," she explained.
"That's true. We went in there so many times, you'd think they would have tried to kill us," James said. "It's not like they didn't know we were there."
"Surely they would have a ship that could travel through it safely," Tom said thoughtfully. When everyone stared at him he started to feel insecure once again. "We've seen them fly into the game in a blazing ball of light, travel huge distances through some energy thing, open portals to some demon dimension with a phaser beam."
"What was the second one?" James blurted out.
Tom wasn't put off, "What do you mean what was the second one? How can you forget there being a future you and friends, the tale of Voyager and Enterprise's fiery deaths at the hands of the Soft. Which makes me think they can probably just nab any ship they want if they've infiltrated a planet. Do they have their own ships for that matter?"
"You're talking about the portal we used to get to the Softmicron homeworld?" Kathryn said toward James.
"I remember Lilly comparing it to a control centre or base of operations for the games. I'd go with that," Lena reminded her.
"Yeah, what was it that allowed them and then us to travel such a huge distance to it?" James asked.
Tom winced, "I hope you're not going somewhere with this. Been there, done that. We let the future guys take care of it, the only one left who'd know how that was done was Lilly. She's not here."
Lena pulled a face of uncertainty. "I always assumed it was the Games Matrix to be honest." Everyone looked at her this time. "What?"
James smiled at her, "yeah, that thought crossed my mind too."
"Oh yeah right. We went to all that trouble of programming in a game we could use, ending up in us being split up, when we could have just avoided that all together and hitchhiked through the portal," Tom sniggered.
It seemed so long ago that Kathryn gave him the approving glance. "With little to no chance of finding a game to the Alpha Quadrant? Yes that would have been a better plan."
"If we're right, then it's possible to fly through the Games Matrix with a ship, as long as you don't go in via a cube," Lena said directly to James.
He was about to reply but Tom beat him to it, "and I'm made fun of for suggesting the exact same thing?"
"It's not the exact same thing," James said.
"Sounded like it to me," Tom muttered.
"How? I just said it was possible. I'm not interested in merely escaping," Lena said, a little offended by the accusation.
Tom stammered nervously, "I doubt any of us are. I don't want to leave all these planets to die anymore than you do."
"Good!" Lena snapped, her eyes sharpened and widened.
Kathryn cleared her throat in an attempt to clear the air. "Unless somebody saw the future James, I believe it was, enter the commands to open a door, a mere escape isn't happening. The fleet will not survive in the anomaly long enough to reach the two rifts."
"If we could get back to the Softmicron's control slash home world, we may be able to change the sphere's programming, end it," Tom thought aloud. He turned to James. "Future you did leave you his memories, right? Do you remember how to open the portal?"
James laughed bitterly, "you think I'd remember something like that? Seeing Voyager blow up and then the Enterprise, with Jessie and Lena still on board, that's the memories that stick."
"Oh I get that, I just mean," Tom said hesitantly, his body fidgeted slightly from it. He quickly thought of a better way to explain it without getting his head bitten off again. "If we can trigger that chip of yours, it may spark the memory of it."
Kathryn sighed uncomfortably, "luckily it doesn't work like that."
"Luckily?" Tom frowned.
"Yeah that's an odd word," James said awkwardly.
"There is no more chip," Kathryn said, shocking both Lena and Tom. James just seemed confused at the news. "Fortunately the Tolg are experts at removing degraded implants from the deceased, otherwise their drones won't last very long."
James' eyebrow raised, "well the Doc did say not to worry about it, so he wasn't technically lying."
Tom was torn between being disappointed that they couldn't use it, and relieved that James wasn't going to keep lashing out at things that weren't there. Or drop dead suddenly. He laughed without really thinking about it, he had no idea why he was doing it. "I didn't want to go back to that Softmicron infested galaxy anyway."
"I doubt we'd be able to use the same portal. I remember it depending on being in a certain area," James said.
"The odds of stumbling on the Soft's doorstep are astronomical. We need another way," Kathryn said.
"The game's already broken. We know the bugs are focused around their transport system, possibly triggered by losing their connection to a few planets. Why?" Tom murmured.
Kathryn grew annoyed but only at herself. "What it's always been about with the Softmicron." All eyes were on her. "Power."
"I wouldn't worry about it. No one's going to be able to pull that stunt off again," B'Elanna assured the person hovering nearby while she studied her station.
Jessie wasn't convinced though. "I don't fancy having to deal with more prejudice warlocks when we're fighting the Softmicron."
B'Elanna held back a long drawn out sigh for the time being. "No one's getting in the system but me, and I'm not a witch. The only thing that will activate it will be an actual portal, okay?"
"Right. If only we could find a way to keep it up at all times," Jessie said.
"We could but it wouldn't work the same way. The energy it drains from opening portals allows the shield to form a defence against the demons that come out of it," B'Elanna said.
"So I heard," Jessie nodded. "How did you come up with it so quickly?"
B'Elanna chuckled as she turned her back on the station to lean on it. "I was inspired." Jessie's face said by what without opening her mouth. "You remember the virus that would allow demons to take over people?"
"Like I'd forget," Jessie said in distaste.
"The same signal which we used to banish the Deck Thirteen demons ten years ago, worked on them. So naturally that got me thinking; they must be from the same plane of existence. The portals the Softmicron were opening onboard acted the same way, so..." B'Elanna explained, her voice picking up speed the further she got.
"They're from the same place too," Jessie said.
"Exactly. I know that we were supposed to have a shield anyway, as James heard it mentioned in his vision," B'Elanna's voice continued to pick up speed. "Then I remembered the spells you used to block demons or vampires, but everyone else wouldn't even know it was there."
Jessie started to wish she hadn't asked. "I get it, thanks."
B'Elanna wasn't pleased about being cut off before she could get to the good part. She had to share it. "That led me to the shield modulation that kept out the Equinox's lab rats. We used the same thing to hold off the Softmicron's portal attack."
Jessie was about to repeat her previous sentence when she realised the implications of what the engineer was saying. The look on her face told B'Elanna that. "Ransom also had a shield that would trap one of the aliens within our dimension, realm, whatever you want to call it."
"You understand what this means, don't you?" B'Elanna asked.
"The Equinox used both the aliens and the Soft for fuel. We already knew they were similar..." Jessie answered.
"Similar, as in they're both nucleogenic lifeforms with identical anti-matter properties, or Ransom wouldn't have been able to use them," B'Elanna replied.
Jessie had turned an interesting shade of white by that point. "That's one hell of an inspiration."
"The aliens had the ability to cross over into our space, and that they could be blocked in or out. That was the key," B'Elanna said.
"Wow. I never would have thought of all that. Makes me wonder why they bothered to kidnap me," Jessie said.
B'Elanna took a deep breath now that her voice had returned to normal speed. "I doubt they have foresight, Jessie. You had a history of doing things like this, that may have been enough. Or it could have been your connections. Damien worked with demons from the same realm, though they hated him more than us."
"Wait, you're not suggesting that..." Jessie stuttered. "That the Softmicron came from the same..." B'Elanna's grim nod confirmed her suspicions. "And their interest in Voyager becomes a little clearer."
"There's the Ruva refugees," Harry reminded the hologram standing next to him. He stared, his lips twisted, eyebrow raised. "You got this."
"Yes. But are we really going to be taking them with us?" the Doctor asked, worried about the answer.
Harry thought about it. He didn't know why it never occurred to him before. "You know what, that's a good point. If we can end the game, this area of space won't be together anymore."
"I guess it doesn't matter. If the need arises to use this again, I doubt they'll notice any inaccuracies in the crew manifest," the Doctor sighed. With that settled, he continued tapping on the station with Harry staring blankly over his shoulder. The EMH assumed he was watching what he was doing.
Harry though was lost in his head, worrying about what was going to happen. One person was the focus of it all. His thoughts started to scare the hell out of him.
As soon as the Doctor finished his work he turned on his heel to face the former Ensign, noticing immediately his almost blank stare straight ahead of him. His eyes on the other matter were glistening, threatening to weep at any minute. "Mr Kim?"
"The Krralef. They're from the Delta Quadrant. They need to be in a Delta Quadrant area of space or they'll be lost when the game ends, just like we were," Harry said. "We can't stick together when all of this goes down."
The Doctor knew Harry well enough to know that he wasn't talking about the ship travelling with them. He was talking about its captain. "You're worried that you may have to say goodbye to Tira soon."
Harry's chin stooped a little lower, "there's no may about it. We're from opposites side of the galaxy. If we're together, one of us will never see our home again."
"Then why are you wasting your time with me?" the Doctor snapped, throwing Harry so far off he would have rolled off the ship. "I didn't need your help with this. Go, spend time with her. You'll regret it if you don't."
"Doc. I can't just do nothing. What's going on now is far more important than us," Harry said stubbornly.
Despite his earlier outburst the Doctor smiled kindly and clasped his right shoulder. "What good is survival if we're not truly living? Go, that's an order."
Harry smiled back gratefully. He knew he was right. At the same time though it didn't feel right. With all they knew, he still couldn't think of a way to fix this situation. He felt helpless and he knew he was already taking it out on other people. Harry had been doing that on and off after he lost his ship. Those three people he let down. That wasn't who he was, he didn't like that guy. The old him wouldn't rest until he solved a puzzle, which he thought was ironic as he wasn't keen on actual puzzles. He had to focus on the Game Sphere and how to fight it. Then he realised that he'd been doing that for a while and he was no closer than he was when he knew very little about it. Perhaps the Doctor was right in more ways than one. Some time away could refresh his mind.
"Maybe, we can work on a few ideas together," he finally said.
The Doctor's eyebrow wiggled, a smirk spread across his face. "Yes, ideas."
Harry laughed at him, ignoring the blushing in his cheeks. "Gutter ball Doc, try again."
"I'm always right," the Doctor said proudly. He used both hands to try and turn Harry toward the door, he ended up stumbling forward to the Doctor's amusement. "Go, I wanted to practice my latest opera program anyway."
That did it. "Yes Doc," Harry panicked. He hurried out, leaving the Doctor smiling smugly. Once he was gone he frowned, a little insulted that the idea of him singing drove him out in the end.
Not much had been done to the poor Delta Flyer after its return. Its hull covered in scorch marks and dents, its usual white-ish grey was closer to black. The only thing fixed seemed to be the front window, it no longer was cracked. It looked good as new, unlike everything else.
A figure was shuffling around inside it. What little light the shuttle had reflected the shadows onto the nose. The new arrival hurried forward, keeping a tight hold of his only weapon, to rush in through the back entrance. He hadn't left it open so there was definitely somebody inside.
Slowly he crept towards the steps leading up to the cockpit. Both of the doors usually in the way had been pried apart by force. At least he could keep the element of surprise going this way. If he had to use the handheld devices to open them one by one, the intruder would most definitely notice him first. He raised the object in his hand up, ready to strike as he walked through them.
He could see the figure tapping brazenly at the only flickering station, the one to the left, closest to the helm controls. Their back was to him. Now was his chance. The object was above his head, ready to strike when they swung around in the chair. They were not shocked to see him. Instead her arms were folded tightly under her chest, a scowl sitting on her face, her lips pursued to make a point.
Swinging the tool kit wasn't going to do much good. Damien was tempted to still do it anyway.
"Didn't take you long to snag the Flyer, huh sweetcheeks," Annika scolded.
"Oh enough. You've already proved that you're only keeping watch of me to rat me out to the people who also hate you," Damien grumbled, still hovering the tool kit above his head.
Annika giggled darkly, "why would I do that, my love? Got something to hide?"
"No, my hatred of you is out for everyone to see," Damien answered.
Her eyes were piercing his very soul. It felt like it was threatening to jump ship, as if he was dying again. He briefly wondered if the spell was still active now that he returned home. He hoped not, Annika was the closest. The thought of taking over her body repulsed him more than his brief stint in Justin Timberlake's.
"I know you've been working on something. They think it's a cloak, but I know better," Annika said.
Damien burst into mild laughter. "Oh, they do, do they? That's their fault. They know I've already completed it."
Annika's face fell, she looked nervous. "Oh. Well, you're still up to something."
"If you must know. It's either the Enterprise or the Flyer," Damien said, confusing her. That give him the incentive to go on, "I can't take the ship with a target painted on, can I? At least this one I can chuck a coat of black paint on."
Annika gasped in horror, she pointed at him angrily. "How monstrous! A fine vessel like this should be painted golden like my beautiful hair. Shining amongst the stars. I won't let you."
"Yes, I'll steal it and then I'll..." Damien trailed off once he realised what she actually said, not what he imagined she would. "You think my evil plan was to not cloak it but make it bright pissy yellow?"
"No," Annika replied innocently. "Golden, like my wonderful locks." Damien stared blankly at her until she brought back her really bad angry face. "You're lying anyway. Scheming with Chakotay, sneaking around, altering this shuttle, keeping secrets."
"So what if I was?" Damien muttered.
Annika leaned forward while scrunching her eyes closer together. "I'll find out what it is. I'm super smart remember?"
"Then you'd know you didn't answer my question, you vapid airhead," Damien groaned.
"Voyager's my home, my family. You hurt them, you hurt me," Annika said.
Damien sighed wistfully, "if only that were true, that'd be such a huge incentive."
"What?" Annika snapped. Her yellow eyes sharped, they appeared darker. Damien assumed it was the very poor light.
"Please. You hate them. They know it, you know it. Nobody's fooled by this love struck crazy act," Damien said.
Annika smiled, purring seductively. Her hand reached for his leg, "who said I was faking the love part?"
Damien shuddered and backed away before she found her target. "The first chance you got you'd betray them. If Lena hadn't done it first, you would have abandoned Voyager to go to the Borg Queen. Voyager was taken over and you joined the other side. Lets not forget the best one, after enduring one last tantrum, you showed up on my ship."
A swoon took over the vampiric drone, her eyelashes fluttered. "You're right, you and I go so far back. It's romantic, no?"
"No!" Damien snapped. He had to get back on topic or he'd end up being molested in no time. "My point is no matter who or what it is, you'll sell Voyager out in a heartbeat."
"But I'm dead, I have no heartbeat," Annika protested.
Damien ignored that and sneered at her. "Which means you've already done it. Right?"
"No, I haven't done anything yet," Annika cried out. She didn't notice her mistake and so attempted once more to keep her facade up. "If your cloak's already done, why are you fiddling around here? Huh? It's something bad, I know it!"
"Maybe I'm testing it," Damien replied casually. "Want to watch?"
Annika considered that for a moment. "No."
"Good. I couldn't stomach another test involving you," Damien said followed by a sigh. He walked around her to use another station.
Annika stared after him, hoping to see what he was up to. She waited for him to redirect power from her station to his, then she climbed out of her seat to get a better look. He made no effort to cover his work.
"A cloak won't help you win the Game Sphere, Damy," she snarled. "It's useless."
"You'd know about uselessness," Damien mumbled while he worked.
"Exactly... er I mean, I know because I was always useful and helped every day," Annika covered.
"Nice save IQ of Nine," Damien smirked.
Annika mouthed what he called her, she didn't understand it. "That's why I know you're working on something else."
Damien rolled his eyes, then turned his head away from her sight so he could smirk. "I told you I was."
"But..." Annika was even more confused. Her eyes drifted up to think about it. While she did, Damien changed what system he was working on, all the while watching her in the corner of his eye. He didn't have time to finish it so he moved back. The ex-drone was none of the wiser. "You're working on something evil, I will stop you."
"There, time for my extremely evil scheme, test one," Damien cackled. He looked up at the nervous Annika nearby, "one step closer to freedom. Voyager will have to save itself from now on."
Annika's jaw dropped. "No, stop!"
Damien's finger edged slowly toward one panel, clearly on purpose for dramatic effect. Annika dove for him to grab his hand, and in her eyes save the day. Since he was going so slow it was easy. When she swung her head to the right to confront him on his evil deeds she found him sniggering at her, not disappointed or upset. "Huh?" Then she noticed the countdown on the station where he was about to press. The command was abort?
"Hey, what's that for..." Annika asked as a transporter beam took over her body.
Damien burst into fits of laughter once she was gone. "This I gotta see." He hurried out of the shuttle, and straight for the shuttle bay exit.
Everyone there stared at the viewscreen, squinting their eyes at it.
"Somebody get to Opps, I can't see what that is," Danny said.
Kiara stepped out of the turbolift next to opps. She noticed what everyone was doing and did the same. "Hey, there's a body floating in space!" she instantly panicked.
Everyone did the same. Faye rushed over from Tactical to Opps. She wasn't the only one, several crewmembers at the back station did the same thing.
The first person to get there told the screen to zoom in. The second tried to get a lock on them.
"Wait!" Danny cried out. "It's just Annika."
Sure enough the object floating around was wearing a pink catsuit, and had blonde hair trailing behind her. She was desperately trying to get back to the ship, or so they thought with her swimming motions. Obviously it wasn't working that well for her.
"Maybe we should move," Faye said with an evil glint in her eye.
"No, if we bump into her she'll only climb back in," Danny said sadly.
"I was thinking more of the lines of warping away," Faye sniggered.
Kiara had to laugh. It wasn't the first time this happened to Annika and it wouldn't be the last. "We could get popcorn and watch," she suggested.
"Yes! Oh, music," Danny laughed. She reached for another part of the helm. Just then most of the bridge had ran forward to join her for a better view of Annika's plight. They all expected upbeat party music, instead they got a goofy tune.
"Benny Hill Theme, really?" Faye said.
Danny shrugged, "it seemed fitting."
"Who's getting the popcorn?" one crewmember asked.
Kiara ran back in from the Ready Room with a huge bucket. She walked around in front of the helm, crouching down so everyone could still see, so she could put it on the console. Everyone then started grabbing handfuls and stuffing their faces with them.
"Previously on Fifth Voyager; everything happened. And now the conclusion," Tom joked, prompting glares and blank looks his way. "I'm funny. You just don't want to admit it."
Lena stared at him blankly. "Oh don't worry, we're laughing inside."
She wasn't the only one who wasn't amused. The new arrival gritted his teeth, insulted by the joke and interruption. "Is that your contribution to this, Paris? The enemy will succumb to bad fourth wall jokes. Everyone let's scrap everything else, he's got it in hand," Chakotay muttered.
"That... wouldn't surprise me actually," James said.
Kathryn looked at him, her lips curling. "Who knew Tom would be the hero we don't deserve."
Tom liked the thought of that even though it was obvious they were making fun of him. He cleared his throat. "All right, Chakotay. We can fly into the Games Matrix. Then what?"
Kiara strolled casually into the Conference Room, picking popcorn out of her teeth with her tongue. She stopped when everyone looked at her. "Annika's outside," she explained.
The rush to the window happened so quickly all Kiara saw was a brief blur. There were groans of disappointment when they couldn't see anything.
"You don't mean she's outside the room, right?" Tom stuttered.
"No, the ship," Kiara replied. Lena sniggered even though she was disappointed she missed it. "I er... have a theory about the anomaly. It's probably dumb but..."
Kathryn approached her, smiling kindly. "No it won't be. You're not Tom."
"Oh come on. We're nearing the end and you still won't give me any respect," Tom complained.
Kiara smiled with relief. "That's true. Okay then." Tom huffed and started to pace around the room, muttering under his breath. "I think the anomaly is the Game Sphere, just unfiltered, pure."
"I'm not sure I understand," Chakotay said.
"Well, the old Game Spheres used to give one person whatever they wanted. That person would have to be convinced to end the game. Meanwhile like all the other spheres, it drains the energy from the planet," Kiara said.
The silence convinced her that she was talking rubbish and her cheeks burned bright red. Everyone had focused on her as she had been talking, they missed Annika drift sideways into view. She crawled frantically at the shields near the window, mouthing something. Of course since she was in space they couldn't hear anything so had no idea it was happening.
"I'm sorry, I just..." Kiara stammered.
Lena interrupted, "no, you're right." Kiara's other features brightened up, instantly relieved that she wasn't making a fool of herself. "The sphere would bring up obstacles for anyone trying to escape or end it too. Or it would convince the hallucinatee to want something that could stop them. It's just doing it to everyone and draining things faster."
"Wouldn't that mean it would go away if no one's around to sustain it?" Tom questioned.
"Why would it? The sphere's got another energy source after all," Kathryn replied.
"It also explains why Lena and I weren't affected," James said.
Kiara nodded furiously, "yes, Game Spheres could only be defeated by Chosens. I wonder if Zare was."
"Hang on. The planet. That was just drained," Chakotay argued.
The rest of the room thought about it. Annika tried again to get their attention, this time she thought flirting would work. The first thing she tried was wiggling her chest. The second, a hair flip made her body fling back away from the ship. She tried to scream as she floated slowly towards the Enterprise in the distance.
"They weren't a threat, nor could they escape," Tom said. "What was the point?"
Kathryn nodded in full agreement. "Excellent point." She double checked to see if it was Tom that really said it. "What can we do with this? There must be something."
The doors opened once more. B'Elanna hurried inside. They almost shut behind her, Jessie triggered them to re-open. The two were in the middle of a conversation as they entered.
"We don't even have a plan. It may not be of any use," Jessie argued.
"It may help create a plan though," B'Elanna argued back.
Everyone waited patiently for them to explain what they were talking about, or to include them in it.
That didn't happen. "I'm telling you, it'll only help if we're taking a trip down demon lane. We need to use the game frequencies," Jessie snapped.
B'Elanna swung around to counter. "The frequency only protects us from game endings. It won't help in the mean time."
"Ahem!" Tom coughed intentionally. The two women abruptly turned their heads his way, both with equally terrifying glares. He wilted down a few inches.
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the games themselves," Jessie said.
"Maybe we should ignore them for now," Lena suggested to the others. Tom nodded while whimpering. "It doesn't take long for all hell to break loose, does it?"
The intercom intruded. "Bridge to Paris. The portal shield system is activating, it's detected an opening in the shuttle bay."
Tom's eyes widened in a blind panic, "the Flyer!"
B'Elanna stared in deadpan, her eyes slowly rolled their way toward him.
"That's odd. It's closed already. The system had very little power to draw from, so no shield came online."
Chakotay exhaled, shoulders slumped. "That'll be Damien."
"What?" most of the room stuttered.
"Don't worry, the only way he can use it to betray us will vaporise him. No harm," Chakotay said.
Kathryn walked across the room to stand directly in front of him, her eyes met his. "What is he doing and why are you only telling us of it now?"
"To be honest, I wasn't sure it would help us. It was just something of a side project, and I only thought it an hour or so ago," Chakotay replied calmly despite her stares. Everyone else were focusing on him, he had to explain himself. "I asked him to re-build one of his old weapons. The subspace opener."
Kathryn's brow furrowed, "you mean detector?"
Chakotay shook his head. "No, but I imagine it was inspired by that. He claimed it was built to erase the Games Matrix link to a particular planet, so it wouldn't receive anymore Cubes. Only it was used to open a door instead."
"That would eliminate the need to go in the anomaly," Craig said.
"Hopefully. We should wait for the results," Chakotay nodded.
B'Elanna wasn't impressed or happy about it for that matter. "He tried to open one of those things on Voyager?"
"Not completely. We both agreed that he would cancel it once it was halfway. Remember, you can't just go in there without protection. With the Flyer being damaged, he had no way of surviving a full scale opening," Chakotay said. He seemed disappointed to everyone. "Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that to him."
Jessie rolled her eyes, "Damien unfortunately is not stupid."
"Sometimes I forget," Chakotay admitted.
Tom clapped his hands to get everyone to stop and pay attention to him. It worked, for the most part. The unfortunate side effect though was the majority were left bemused by his methods. "Guys, this is all well and good but we don't want to just escape the game. Remember? We have to find a way to stop it."
Kathryn agreed, however she was curious about what B'Elanna and Jessie were talking about so she turned to them. "What about game frequencies?"
Jessie chimed in before B'Elanna could, "I suggested we should upgrade the anti-portal shield system using the information we've gotten from games."
"That's not what you said at all," B'Elanna hissed back in protest. "You were blabbing about that end of game frequency."
Jessie raged back once more, "no, you heard frequency and assumed that was what I meant. So I said the wrong word." She looked briefly to one side at nearby people, "I meant signatures."
"The shield doesn't work like that," B'Elanna said.
"Well make it work like that," Jessie said a little too casually for B'Elanna's liking. Smoke rose from her.
Kathryn's interest was piqued. "What would using the game information do exactly?"
The other door hissed, another crewmember entered the so called meeting.
"Exactly. We're already in a sphere, there's no cubes and you can't stop that from landing on your head. Try draining either of them and we'll overload," B'Elanna ranted irritably.
Jessie ignored her. "I thought it would turn the tables on something like the anomaly draining our power. Protect us at least from its effects by using its own system against it."
"Which is exactly how the shield works, right?" Tom said. He knew immediately he was in deep trouble for saying that. He crept away and averted his eyes before B'Elanna could glare him to death, or worse.
"Weren't you listening? We don't need that anymore, and that wasn't what you said. It was just gibberish," B'Elanna snapped.
"Actually," the new arrival said a little too gleefully. Everyone groaned in response. Damien sneered back. "You do."
Chakotay quickly approached him, flummoxed by his report. "What does that mean? We got the report of a portal opening."
"Not the kind you want Chuckie," Damien said. He scanned the room, wondering how he would explain without confusing everyone. "Your little shield stole all of its juice for one. Secondly, it couldn't get a lock on the Games Matrix. As far as it was concerned, there was already a nice little connection to abuse right here on Voyager."
"The other Voyager," B'Elanna grumbled.
Damien winked at her, "bingo." B'Elanna made a mental note to kill him later. Everyone else were surprised she didn't do it right then. "If you want to get into the Games Matrix, you're going to need a stronger connection to it to tap into."
"The rifts. So what now?" Craig complained. "Will Jessie's idea work, B'Elanna?"
"No, no, no!" Tom's temper had ran out. He started to pace around, it usually helped calm him down. "Listen to me. It isn't just about us. Countless worlds and ships all share one enemy. That's the Softmicron and their Game Sphere of death. It plays with everyone and everything, turning the worst of us against each other. It's what they want. Our deaths are meaningless to them. Our suffering is their entertainment. I don't know about you, but I'm done with playing their games. Stop appeasing them."
He stood at the head of the table, blocking most of the view of the window for everyone. The amused faces he ignored for now. "We won't run, we fight. Their game will end by our hands. They will pay with their arrogance and their blood. Turn your attention, not to escape, but to the Game Sphere. Focus your efforts, on the Softmicron."
A few members of the room were laughing by the time he was done. Tom groaned, angry that they'd ruin his speech like that. Unknown to him they weren't laughing at his words. Annika had somehow managed to get back to Voyager. Since Tom was in the way, a few any could see of her were her arms flapping about making it look like he had sprouted extra ones. B'Elanna helpfully pointed behind him so he could see that for himself.
Despite her situation she waved like she was on the other side of a regular window, not in the vacuum of space. A couple of the Conference Room's inhabitants made out her miming, "help me." Then she gestured to her chest, winking suggestively. Her mood soured when she noticed Damien, she gasped and started pointing at him. The outburst pushed her away again. Nobody needed to understand lip reading to know her next word was, "noooooooo."
"Oh, so you were laughing at her," Tom said, relieved.
James killed that pretty quickly, "no, I was laughing at your original speech too."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Tom protested a little too hard.
Damien sniggered as he glanced toward James, "you noticed that too huh? Too bad we can't shoot him." James smirked back.
"Putting the inspired speech to the side for now, Tom does have a point. We don't know how to end the sphere," Kathryn said. "Surely someone has something they can contribute. The Soft know we can hurt them, but how. What makes us so different to everyone else?"
Craig cast his eye toward Lena, which she noticed in the corner of her eye. "The timelines and the paradox. Without that, we'd still be in the Delta Quadrant blissfully unaware." Lena swung her head toward him, eyes widening. "We'd never have known about the Tolg to learn what we have. Since we'd never return home, we wouldn't have another ship, we'd be alone. More importantly, we'd never know about the Soft."
"Craig," Lena said as she recalled saying something very similar to him.
He smiled at her with affection, and pride. She had no idea why, it made her a little uncomfortable too. "The answer's there, out of our window," he said pointing toward the Enterprise, but thankfully not in Annika's direction. "It's here standing with us," he said toward Lena, and then turned his attention to Kathryn. "It's in our minds. What we need to beat them."
Damien felt a bit nauseous just considering adding to this conversation. As he about to speak, he repressed a gag. "I can't speak for the first, but the second phase; influenced by a mother's impulsiveness and ignorance, ends in the path of a Game she underestimated."
"Oh not again," Tom said while Kathryn reacted with a deadly scowl.
"The third likely begins with child abandonment and is destroyed by who cares," Damien continued with distaste.
Kathryn was about to pounce when Chakotay gently placed a hand on her shoulder. She eyed him without moving her head. "The third dimension, ends with the destruction of the Slayer line and then Voyager itself," he said.
Damien rolled his eyes, "on the fourth, the other overpowered special one is born, heralding a life of monotony and uselessness to the Voyager crew."
"Do you even have a point!?" B'Elanna snapped at him.
Something made Damien burst into laughter. It could have been his story telling, B'Elanna's reaction, or merely the thought of bad times for Voyager. He tried to contain it to finish what he was saying, "the welp is right. This isn't just about the oh so Chosen ones. In two timelines, at this particular date or year, the universe already have at least one of you. Yet they reset anyway."
Understanding washed over Lena, and it annoyed her that it was Damien, even though he did steal Craig's thunder to do it. "It's always been Voyager. Voyager's the key." There was a huge sense of relief. Her shoulders felt so much lighter. She stared at her brother to see if he had reacted the same. He was already watching her, a small smile on his face. Upon eye contact he nodded.
"The ship with a door closes the final link," Kathryn repeated herself from a past meeting.
"Still doesn't say how, does it," Tom had to comment.
"I think it does. Our door is on Deck Thirteen. The final link, could it be the Games Matrix itself?" James said.
Their earlier conversation popped straight back into B'Elanna's mind, and then Jessie's. B'Elanna's thoughts started to race. "It's more than that. It's their only means to get to our reality from wherever they came from."
The sentence struck Jessie a few times in the face, momentarily stunning her. The rest of the room had time to discuss what had been said so far quietly amongst themselves. James noticed her discomfort and walked over to her. Her eyes met his, she desperately tried to verbalise the realisation that she had come to. "Except us."
"What do you mean?" James questioned her within a whisper.
"With the Matrix gone, the only way that they can come through..." Jessie stuttered.
James was hit too, his face froze. "Is here." Jessie nodded while her throat throbbed with the anxiety overwhelming every part of her being.
TO BE CONTINUED
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