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30th - 31st December 2018
Danny exited her bedroom and looked over at the main door to her quarters, heart sinking at the sight of little Duncan curled up on the floor, fast asleep. She walked over to gather him up. She heard a yawn behind her.
"Is that..." Ian said, rushing over. "I swore I put him into the crib with our Kyle." Danny sighed and carried the baby over to the sofa, sitting down with him. "They're still not back yet?"
"No," Danny answered, looking over her shoulder at the planet. "Poor thing, I dunno what to tell him. The concert ran late, but at this time that's ridiculous."
"Yeah," Ian said and frowned. He walked over to sit next to her. "It can't be as bad as I think, right?" Danny looked at him curiously. "Maybe they're helping with the investigation, you know, into the weird suicide sabotage."
Danny shook her head, "no, they'd have called to tell us. Something's wrong."
Diedera lead Kathryn down a bright hallway with its outside wall made completely out of glass. Everyone they passed seemed to be in a hurry, running in the opposite direction, frantic about something she didn't care to ask about. Diedera was growing increasingly worried and quickened his pace.
They arrived at a section of the building fronted by a wide desk manned by five people. Diedera headed for them, while one of the five rushed over to meet him halfway. "Minister Diedera sir, we didn't want to disturb you."
"It's alright, that's my job, what is happening?" he asked him.
"One of our patients has woken up," the man replied to the confusion of both of the new arrivals. Kathryn shrugged it off, only one thing was on her mind.
Diedera frowned, "what's the problem, isn't that the point?"
"Yes but in the middle of his treatment. Room eighteen," the man said, eyeing Kathryn. That got her attention, then she was suddenly interested in what was happening. As they walked through the doors to the left of the desk, they heard him tell them to be careful.
"It's him, isn't it?" Kathryn said.
Diedera seemed surprised, "how did you know?"
Kathryn tried to force a smile, but the frown she had was very heavy. "Only James would cause this kinda commotion."
The pair reached a room with a window beside its door, several medical personnel waited outside.
"What's the emergency?" Diedera asked them while Kathryn walked around them to peer through the window. All she saw were a couple of what looked like guards holding rifles, she noticed one of them sporting a fresh swollen eye. She didn't have to try that time, her lips curled upwards.
"He demanded to know where his friend was," one of the medics answered. "When we couldn't answer him he tried to get up. His leg's still under repair, so we were able to block him from leaving... at first."
"And the security?" Kathryn asked, gesturing to the guards with her thumb.
The same medic looked guilty, "they were already outside. High security case. They came in while we tried to hold him back, managed to put him off for a moment. I..." they stammered a little nervously. Kathryn then realised the rest of the staff looked unnerved as well. Her brief and small smile already faded away.
"Even with his leg, he still overpowered us. If it weren't for them, he'd have left," another medic finished for her.
"He can't. The leg's not set," the first medic said.
Kathryn nodded apologetically, despite still feeling the anger from earlier. "Yes, that's one of the reasons why I asked to take him off your hands. May I?" she pointed again, this time at the door.
Diedera nodded, beckoning the medics to clear the way to the door. He still walked forward first to knock on it. The guard with the sore eye walked over. "This is Diedera, you're cleared to open the door." The handle pushed down, door creaked barely an inch open. Kathryn pushed forward to get inside before him. Instead of the guard the first person she saw was James with his back to her, eyeing up the window beside a bed surrounded by equipment.
"James," Kathryn said to get his attention. He swung around, eyes wide. She sighed, annoyed and deflated as he was covered in bruises and cuts still. "You..."
He attempted to limp over to her. The guards raised their rifles in an instant. He stopped not because of them, his weaker leg buckled slightly, so he had to lean against the bed to keep upright. "Have you found her?" he asked. Kathryn's sullen face answered him. "Oh. Then lets go." He tried to walk again, she rushed forward to block his path and be there just in case he lost his balance again.
"No, no. You're too injured to help. I'll take you back to Voyager, since they clearly aren't doing anything here," Kathryn said without any attempt to hide her contempt.
Diedera flinched behind her, "that wasn't the agreement." Kathryn's eyes narrowed, he didn't have to see it to know it. "My medics are trained to treat the severe wounds first. He hasn't been here that long."
"Please," James said quietly, if a bit vulnerably, "I have to find her. She was right there. I wake up, they tell me she's not around."
"James," Kathryn said softly in a whisper, clasping his arm, "we're on it, I promise. Sit down and calm yourself. Tell me what happened."
"I can't do both," James said. He shook his head, ignoring the pain that gave him. "She was hurt when I found her. We were getting away when... I dunno, I fell, something hit me."
"Was that when you jumped down from the roof?" Kathryn asked.
James looked around, first at the guards, then the door before looking back at her. "How do you..." Kathryn stared firmly, he got the hint, "no, after. Jess was with me then. She's not now. There were so many of them. I can't just sit here."
"It looked like things died off relatively after that. She's probably ok, in hiding. Don't..." Kathryn tried to sound reassuring.
"No. I can't let her down, not again," James stuttered, "if something happened, I know where it was, where she is."
He tried to move her aside despite her standing her ground, he barely got to the door when Diedera shouted in the guards direction, "stop! He's a patient, not a prisoner."
Kathryn looked around at the guards lowering their weapons, then at Diedera. "Then how will you stop him?" she asked.
James looked at her accusingly. "What?" he sounded more confused though.
"Clearly I can't," Diedera sighed. "If a patient insists on being discharged earlier, we legally can't stop them."
"Then why did they try?" James asked, gesturing towards the door.
Diedera's face tightened. "Leaving here voluntarily means you forfeit our protection. I can't guarantee your safety out there, here I can. You understand?"
James nodded, "yeah... later." He continued to limp towards the exit, Kathryn went to follow.
"What's later?" Diedera wondered aloud.
Outside Kathryn didn't need to put in much effort to catch up with James and walk slowly alongside him. "We find her, then you're going to Sickbay," she whispered.
"That was the plan," James whispered back.
"Wait," Diedera called after them, nodding at the cautious medical staff. They walked off in different directions while he approached the pair. "If you are serious on returning to the crime scene, you'll need an escort."
James groaned, "so you're following us?"
Kathryn held out an arm, signalling him to stop. "Do you remember being brought to this place?" she asked. The answer she got was a blank stare for a moment, then a side eye roll. "It's okay, I have a better idea. An escort won't be necessary."
"Your F9 vessel won't fit in the town square. The closest it can park is where it is already," Diedera said.
"You mean in orbit?" Kathryn said with a pretend frown. Diedera looked a little offended by that, making her sigh. "Surely in these circumstances, you can waive the parking ticket?"
"It took up 90% of the spaces, so tickets," Diedera muttered. Kathryn's resulting glare actually made him laugh and not nervously. "I'll arrange for transport, shall I?" He walked around them casually despite her best efforts.
When they arrived back at the town, they found police cordons all over to keep the reporters out, with little success. Teams of officers combed the streets, and they weren't the only ones. The two Voyager crewmembers looked a little surprised to see the residents offering their help as well.
James tensed at the sight of a group of civilians forming their own search team. "We should hurry." He left for the same street he chose the previous night, leaving an unaware Kathryn looking confused.
"I don't think they'll do anything with..." Kathryn said, then noticing he was gone. "I really got to put a bell on that boy," she groaned, running off after him.
He'd only managed to get a few yards ahead, trying to walk fast on his bad leg. As she caught up, he stopped to look up a building. Its doorway was protruding outward on the ground floor only. His focus turned to the upper left floor, then he walked that way.
"Maybe this would've been easier if you stuck to the ground level," Kathryn said. James kept going despite that, though she could hear him mumbling to himself. "I saw some of the footage. I can help from what I saw. Stop me if I get a detail wrong or missed something. I assume you climbed up there first, then..." she pointed up to trace the roof of the terraced building, "the jump was next..."
James stopped, then abruptly turned down a narrower path, mumbling something about an other side.
Kathryn followed, growing increasingly worried. He seemed to be getting more and more agitated with every painful step he made. "You know, no one could've defended themselves from an angry mob. Even if you could see every attack coming, it'd be impossible..."
She heard a tired, almost growling sort of groan right before he stopped. "Why do you think I ran and climbed..." James snapped, trailing off before walking back the way they came. Kathryn didn't follow this time. She waited until he reached the original path and turned off to the right, in the direction they had been going before the detour.
Once they turned yet another corner, James stopped abruptly, his eyes darting around the road ahead. Kathryn walked ahead of him, eyeing the left side, recognising the street from two of the videos. On further inspection she noticed the road looked rundown, covered in rubbish and bins. There didn't seem to be any doors leading into the two terraced buildings on either side of the road, only windows and balconies. The road seemed to only lead to a gate at the opposite end, almost the same height as the second floor balconies. It had been half opened to allow a few people to mull around the other side.
Many were scattered all over already; taking pictures, filming and or searching for clues. James walked in the general direction of one crouched on the ground. He passed by them, staring with a frown at the puddle of blood they were collecting samples from. His attention drifted up to the building on the right, paying close attention to every level. "Four stories tall," Kathryn heard him mumble.
She approached, glancing curiously between him and where she assumed he was looking. "Well, three if you call where we are the ground floor. Why does it matter?"
"Someone said that before..." James answered, trailing off when his eyes landed on one particular balcony on the second floor. Kathryn once more tried to follow his gaze, spotting the same balcony, its metal fence badly broken and sporting a larger gap than the others. The bars around it bent outward. On closer inspection, the concrete under the gap seemed to be chipped.
James walked away towards the nearby gate while she tried to think of another reason for it besides the one in her head. The people there, moved aside while closely watching him. He meanwhile looked around the square courtyard, walled by the two terraced streets merging into one a short distance ahead of him.
"James?" Kathryn said on approaching the gate.
It barely registered. James heard little more than a quiet and muffled voice when he spotted the cracked commbadge lying on the pavement by his feet. Shards of it were pointing him in a certain direction. In that general direction lay an archway to the left of the building. He hurried in that direction.
Kathryn rushed into the courtyard, just missing him walk through it. Apart from the main entrance, which was too far ahead for him to get to and through with his injured leg, the archway was the only other direction he could've gone in the little time so she followed.
The arch had been so deep, James hadn't been able to see what was on the other side until he was halfway through. Crates and litter lined the walls, the air stunk of booze and meat rotting. What lay ahead that he could see was more of the same.
He reached the end, only to find barrels as well, stacked up and lying abandoned on the ground. The small area was surrounded by a six foot tall wall with a couple of steps leading to a door bolted shut.
Some of the barrels that were lying were blocking a lopsided crate by the far left wall. James hobbled towards it as Kathryn entered the archway, unaware she was being followed.
The barrels moved to one side, James found what he was looking for, lying half under the crate with dry blood around a nasty open head wound.
Kathryn arrived in time to see him lift the crate up, then toss it clear out of the way to the right. The gasps behind Kathryn alerted her to the extra company. "Oh for..." she growled. For the moment, she focused on James kneeling down besides the still Jessie. Just in case she tapped her commbadge, only getting crackling in response. "Still out of range. Damn."
James stood back up shakily with Jessie slumped in his arms. Kathryn hurried forward to help.
"I remember. She said the perimetre was close. She had a signal, then the gate..." James said, only then noticing the crowd. With a stoney face he coldly said, "move."
They knew he wasn't asking, and quickly parted to let him back through the arch, most of them nervously so. Kathryn followed closely while still trying to get her commbadge to properly respond. It wasn't until they were a few metres clear of the archway that they got a very weak, muffled response.
"Voyager? Can you hear us?" Kathryn asked, cueing James to stop.
"Just about... where..."
"No matter, just get a lock on myself and the two humans near me. Careful not to get our voyeurs in the beam." She eyeballed the people following, they froze fearfully. "Straight to Sickbay."
The Doctor couldn't hide his concern as he worked, hovering a tricorder over Jessie's swollen, bruised face and broken nose. He switched on the scanner, then went to carefully place two circular devices on her forehead.
Tom approached but kept a wide berth from James, eyeing what the Doctor was doing in distaste. "That's just a precaution, yeah?"
"Start on the fractures," the Doctor sighed.
James glanced between them as Tom got to work too, unsure what to do. Kathryn gently grasped his tense shoulder and lowered her voice, "sit down. You've done all you can, and more."
"No, I can't. I've got to... wait, how long has it been?" James stuttered.
"A few hours, at most..." Kathryn reluctantly answered as he stumbled towards the equipment tray. "What are you doing?"
"Duncan's still at Danny's," James said, Kathryn wasn't sure if that was an answer.
"Hang on. Settle down. I can tell her, you wait here," she said.
James continued undeterred, picking up, squinting and putting them back. "A few hours. He'll think I've abandoned him."
"No, no he won't, silly," Kathryn gently scolded, placing a hand on the one he was using, it flinched back. Tom glanced across with his eyes downcast. "Danny or Ian will have gave him a place to sleep, or taken him home. He probably doesn't know enough to worry." She noticed his hand hesitating near the tray. "He definitely will if his daddy limps in, in the middle of the night."
"Is it?" James asked, looking around.
Tom cringed and turned back, "no."
"Tom," Kathryn warned him through gritted teeth. "I'll take care of it. If he asks, what do you want Danny or Ian to tell him?"
"I don't want to lie to him, it's not..." James said, shaking his head. He reached for the tray again, grabbing whatever he landed on. Kathryn went to stop him, but he was already waving it over one of the cuts across his cheek. "Not... fair, right," he mumbled.
Kathryn shook her head as well, "he's eight months old. He's not going to remember a little white lie. You will though frighten him in your current state."
James froze and turned a little pale, he shakily lowered the device he'd been using down to his side. His eyes closed tightly as he grimaced.
"Sometimes you have to lie," Kathryn whispered, placing a comforting hand on his arm, "to protect them."
James hesitantly looked across at the occupied biobed, then at the Doctor dividing seconds of his time between the body scanner and the devices on her head. Tom was next, as he walked around to heal her shoulder.
"Let me tell people that you're back, you stay here," Kathryn said, backing off, then turning towards the door.
Tom finished what he had been told to do, so looked across at the Doctor. He shook his head and returned to treating what little was left of Jessie's facial wounds. Tom moved away towards James, still eyeing the device he had picked up. Tom noticed then his hand shaking a little.
"Maybe I should handle that," he said, reaching out. He took it from James, not realising how easy it was until it he put back into the tray. Hiding the shock behind a professional mask, Tom reached for a tricorder, sensing he should start his scan from the top. The first readings he got, he chewed the inside of his mouth but couldn't bite his tongue. "So, these aliens. What kind of injuries do they consider the most urgent?"
"I don't know, leg's not that bad," James mumbled while staring towards nothing in particular.
Tom's eyes drifted up from the tricorder, noticing then James' eyes were narrower like he was squinting. "Doc!" he called before looking over his own shoulder, "he has a concussion as well."
James looked in his direction, only slightly widening his eyes for a moment. "As well?" The Doctor looked up in alarm. "No, no... I'm fine, she...."
The Doctor clicked his tongue, "I was informed the worst was a broken leg. You'll have to handle it, I'm afraid. Jessie's is far more severe, since he's still awake."
"Yeah but," Tom protested at first, then sighed. "Okay, sit down but don't get too comfy. First, I need to find something that'll keep you awake without giving you an energy boost either..."
"Don't bother, I'll come back later," James said, turning to leave.
Tom hurried after him, easily catching up and stepping in front to block his escape. "Hey look, Janeway's right. You go to Duncan looking like I would if I insulted your mother, and you'll freak him out. He'll know something's wrong then, and that's before he notices his mum's not with you. Then what?"
"I'm not..." James quickly said. "I've got to do something, anything to keep me busy. I can't sit here."
He looked about to walk around him, but Tom stood his ground and inched a step to one side. "Like what? No one else is in danger. People have been arrested. I doubt they'll find them all. It's not like you're going to hunt the rest of them down and off them as revenge."
James' eyes flickered from glazed to sullen staring down at the ground. "Wouldn't I?"
Tom hesitantly didn't answer right away, his first answer would not go down well. While he was thinking, James limped over to the nearest biobed. Tom followed while he took a seat. "Look, I don't like you, we both know that. But today, I understand you. If the situations were reversed..."
"Hold on," James mumbled. "Who is the injured party in your version; Harry or B'Elanna?"
Tom let slip the smallest of smirks as he began to use a regenerator on one of the bruises across his forehead. "Even now you can't be nice, huh?"" He shook his head and chuckled, "now that you mention it, either of them, both? If Harry, B'Elanna, anyone I cared about were on that bed because of some mob, then I'd want to do something too. You're not that different, you know."
James raised an eyebrow lightly. "I never said I was."
"No but you're thinking it," Tom said. "You're the Slayer, you should've been able to protect her, fight the hundreds of people off. But no, shock horror, you're human like the rest of us, not Superman."
"Why does..." James snapped, turning his head away for a split second. Only then he noticed the regenerator hovering near his head. It gave him the second to re-think. "I tried to get us away, both of us. Divert them, distract them. Nothing. Everything I did made things worse. That's what I do."
Tom stalled, his patient's sullen mood seemed to be infectious. "You don't know that for sure. Even so, you tried. You weren't the aggressor. Who should be feeling like rubbish are those fanboys."
"Were they though?" James said, frowning slightly. "An image of someone hung themselves over our performance. This isn't about cancellations or saying one band was rude in an interview."
"Why can't it be all of the above?" Tom said, moving onto a gash on the left temple.
"Cos it didn't work," James mumbled, absent mindedly turning his head forward. Tom adjusted his aim with a silent grumble. "I only wanted to do well for Lena's sake, to help her, you know. Now."
Tom finished with the gash and took a step back. "You still can. That's what you can do."
James forced a brief laugh, "what? Go out onto their breakfast show and murder My Heart Will Go On?"
"How does everyone know that..." Tom stammered and furiously flushed. James had no idea why and so frowned. Tom coughed, trailing off. "I mean, no to more murder."
"Hmm." James looked bemused. "I don't care about that anymore. All I care about is Jessie getting better. I'm not going back, not that I could anyway."
Tom tried to smile but he looked too nervous, once again leaving James very confused.
Craig's jaw dropped. He had to stop mid step to collect himself, but not for long. Lena kept on going down the corridor without him.
"Wait a minute, how?" he stammered as he ran after her.
Lena shrugged when she reached one of the doors. "Beats me, I'm only telling you what I saw."
"Can't be," Craig stuttered over the top of the door chime. "Is it just me, or does this all feel like the next step of some master plan to screw us over?"
"I don't follow," Lena said. The doors opened, revealing Danny on the other side with a blanket around her shoulders. The pair stared, baffled at her. "Uh, hi? Are they in?"
"No," Danny whispered, glancing back over her shoulders. She noticed their faces and frowned. "You don't know?"
Lena and Craig exchanged similar worried expressions. "No?" Lena said.
Danny checked over her shoulder again, then beckoned them into the dimly lit quarters. They followed her inside. Lena noted the only light came from the computer sitting on the coffee table. Danny tiptoed over towards it to pick it up slightly so she could turn it around, allowing them to see the screen. Whatever she was watching seemed to be paused until she leaned over to press on one of the panels.
An alien man continued talking directly at the camera, "...top story this morning; chaos at Nutropa. A mass of locals, angered by the events at last night's semi finale, take to the streets in a very violent protest."
"Oh boy, I don't like the sound of that," Craig mumbled at the same time the screen switched away from the reporter.
In his place, an aerial view of a town square. Crowds of people charged through it, all seemingly going in the same direction. People that were already in the square, some ran to join them. "At least fifty people have been arrested so far. Appeals for some of the activists captured on video have gone out."
The reporter returned to the screen, along with a grey box in the bottom right corner of the screen displaying the headline. "As we announced an hour ago, one member of Voyager band Virus..." the grey box changed to show a promotional image of the group, "was taken to hospital with severe injuries, under secure guard in case of further attacks. Another member is still assumed missing, and..."
"What?" Lena stuttered, her whole body shook.
Meanwhile the image of the band had been zoomed in to only focus on Jessie. "Nutropan civilians are being asked to report any sightings of her to the authorities. This..." The whole screen changed once more to a different video, overhead but on an angle so for the beginning, they could only see the large gates partially open. A figure ran from off screen towards them, looking over her shoulder, shouting something as she sped through. "Was the last sighting of Jessie Rex, captured by a resident at Kui Homes."
James entered the video from a similar direction, only to get the gate close in front of him. He instead headed for his right and down in the camera's point of view until he was out of its sight. Swarms of angry, shouting people spread out, filling the majority of the screen until it was paused. The image zoomed into the gates to show Jessie grabbing the railings and peering up. The image lingered for a moment until the reporter appeared again.
"Investigators are studying the security cameras for any clues to what happened to her after this video was taken. We..." the reporter paused and glanced away. Looking back, his eyes were a little wider. "Breaking news on this developing sto..." The whole video froze as soon as Lena pressed one of the panels.
"Uh, maybe you should watch it till the end, or at least that bit," Danny said.
Lena tapped away, rewinding the video back to the previous shot focused on Jessie. It zoomed in further, right into her face. Craig and Danny had no idea why until they spotted the faint shot of a hand reaching out behind her. "Son of a bitch. I gotta..." Lena turned around to stomp out.
"Wait!" Danny yelped to stop her. Lena did right at the door, staring back at her furiously. "You stopped it too early. He announces her being found."
"So they're in Sickbay then, fine," Lena huffed, once again turning to leave. Craig looked on, unsure what to do.
Danny though marched over to the girl. "Fine what? I just told you. They're back, but they're injured. Be patient, wait."
"Why?" Lena grumbled, swinging back around to face her. "I need to find the cowards that did this. You heard him, only fifty were arrested. I saw more than that on the clip before I spotted the creep who grabbed her."
"Somehow I doubt Jess or James will be able to give you a detailed description of everyone involved. Bothering them now seems pointless," Danny said.
"So these prats get away with it, go free after beating Jessie and even James to a pulp, and I'm supposed to forget it"? Lena hissed.
"Dad?" a small voice said from a bedroom door. Danny and Craig winced. "What about dad?" Duncan asked while rubbing his tired eye.
"Duncan... I..." Lena stammered. "He's fine. Daddy's stubborn as hell, he's fine. On an unrelated note." She turned on her heel to escape before she was stopped again.
Since he was closest, Craig walked over to the sniffling Duncan still in his pyjamas, and knelt down beside him. Danny hurriedly closed the computer before approaching him as well. "Hey, hey, it's okay. Lena didn't mean anything," Craig whispered softly.
Duncan looked at him with wobbly eyes. "You mean he's not fine?"
"He... will be," Craig stuttered. "I mean she was making stuff up, being all dramatic."
"Why?" Duncan sniffed, his face scrunched up like he was annoyed despite the tears building. "That's really crappy of her."
"Er well," Craig mumbled.
Danny struggled to repress a giggle, "yes it is, but Lena can be crappy." Craig glanced in dismay at her. "Why don't I get you some breakfast, hmm?"
"No," Duncan huffed, "where's my mum and dad?"
Craig glanced in Danny's direction nervously. "Um?" Duncan ran around him towards the door. Craig got up in a panic, "they're busy, no..."
Danny got to him first and picked the boy up before he could slip through the doors. He cried out and struggled, forcing her to bring him down closer to the ground so she didn't have to carry him as well as hold him still. "Shh, take it easy. They'll be back soon."
"I don't believe you," Duncan grunted with tears streaming down his cheeks. "Mum said she'd be here today to open presents."
"Presents?" Craig said but the realisation struck him right then. "Ohno, it isn't?"
Danny nodded as a lump grew in her throat. "Christmas Day, yeah." Duncan pulled away from her and bolted outside. Danny quickly got back up to run after him.
Kathryn pinched the bridge of her nose as she groaned. "Lena, I'm just as angry about this as you are."
"No you're not!" Lena shouted. Kathryn at first looked surprised, then her face hardened. Lena barely blinked in response. "You're sitting there playing diplomatic nice Captain, when these people have attacked us..."
"I have not done nothing," Kathryn barked back, standing up to face her daughter. "Don't take that tone especially with me. I stayed behind to look for them, I was there with him in that butcher's hospital, and again at the crime scene."
Lena rolled her eyes, "alright mum, well done and everything, but you walk around here and nobody cares. Nobody on Voyager noticed the hanging, the power cut and attempted to get us out. Did any of them bother finding out who sabotaged us, or how these people, including James and Jess got out of the locked up arena. Which..."
Kathryn slammed her hands onto the desk, the loud bang startled Lena enough to shut her up. "That's enough Lena!" Kathryn snapped back. "You're scared, I know. Don't take it out on me, or anyone else for that matter."
"I'm not," Lena stuttered, shaking her head, "I'm pissed off. Aren't you?"
Kathryn scowled, then covered her face with one hand. "What do you think? My people get hunted through the streets, then beaten by the people who invited us here. Of course I'm angry, I'm furious. But all we can do is investigate the suicidal hologram. Unfortunately the rest of the tour are leaving Nutropa to head back to that first planet, so we'll have to tag along. Though share time is over now, no visitors, no contact, no anything. Not until we figure out who's behind it."
"Isn't it obvious?" Lena said with disgust in her voice. "That pillock who said we were not welcome, the Rhythm lot. Doesn't matter though, those Nutropans were the ones who attacked them, so both should be held accountable."
"We assume," Kathryn said, confusing Lena. "Think about it. There were so many visitors to the planet at the time, it could've been anybody."
Lena's shoulders slouched, "you're right. Then how do we do this?"
"We keep up our guard while we play along. Hopefully the saboteurs will try again and we'll catch them in the act. The problem is, who will represent us. I'm not keen on either in these circumstances," Kathryn said.
"Mum?" Lena sounded confused. "They've already announced it. I saw a repeat of the results when we got back to the ship. I dunno how we made it. All I understood was the first round had its votes collected before everything kicked off."
Kathryn's eyebrow flickered, lips curling. "Suspicious no?" Lena flinched, slightly nodding. "I asked them for a recount, and if it's still correct, another vote. They've basically left it up to us, and delayed the final by a few of their days."
"No, Kiara shouldn't be there," Lena said before firmly biting her lip.
"I'm not exactly jumping for joy about it either. But this doesn't seem to be an anti-Voyager or Humans thing, it's all focused on Virus," Kathryn said.
Lena rapidly shook her head, "no. We'll do it, that's what they want, right?"
Kathryn lowered back into her seat, watching her carefully. "Not so fast, aren't you forgetting something?"
"Hardly," Lena scoffed and rolled her eyes. "I know them, they're tough and they'll want to show these creeps up."
"Lena," Kathryn sighed, sounding a little dejected to Lena's surprise. "I'll tell the officials we're not making any decisions until James and Jessie have recovered. I'd suggest in the meantime you think about this carefully."
Lena turned to leave, "yeah whatever, mum."
Tuvok and the rest of Security Team One joined James in the Doctor's office. While Tuvok and Foster were discussing the situation with him, Thompson kept rotating a PADD and squinting. After five attempts he sat at the desk to use the computer.
"It seems that in a situation like this one, they only allow neutral parties to investigate to eliminate bias," Tuvok was saying while Foster looked on nervously. "We can only work with what scans we have, as well as the video evidence."
James leaned back against the chair opposite Thompson. "Okay," he said with disinterest.
Foster made a little squeak before speaking up, "I figured you'd be a little more... upset than this. We'll probably never find out which of the bands, if any, tried to sabotage you."
James shrugged and folded his arms, "call me crazy but I'm more upset about being attacked."
"Then perhaps you can assist us in describing some of the assailants, preferably the ones who caused any of the damage," Tuvok said. "I can pass that information on to the neutral delegate."
Thompson caught a laugh in his throat, the snort got everyone's attention. He looked up, wincing. "The dominoes bit was funny." He made a little bang sound then gestured with his hands a falling motion. Everyone stared blankly at him. "You know, when you pushed them out of the way," he said awkwardly.
"Anyway," James said while facing Tuvok once more. "The cameras saw to that. The only one or few I want to but can't describe are the ones behind the gate."
Tuvok nodded, "indeed. I have a theory about that, which I was trying to get Mr Thompson to help with." Thompson's head darted back up, alarmed. He hurriedly tapped something. "In his own time."
James glanced over his shoulder at Thompson once more. "Oh?"
"Perhaps you'd be better to assist?" Tuvok suggested, walking across to the desk. Thompson grabbed the computer, but Tuvok took the PADD instead and walked back. "It concerns the moment the two of you split up, the first time." He waited for a response but James didn't move an inch. "It seems your diversion of the crowd did not fully succeed." The PADD brought in front of his face, playing the aerial shot of the town centre video in slow motion. Tuvok pointed at a few stragglers going the same direction Jessie did. Finally James did react, he took it from him to replay.
"Oooph, no wonder you're hobbling around like Chakotay does when the coffee pod machine is broken," Thompson snickered. Only Foster this time stared blankly toward him, prompting him to smirk back. "Or whoever's closest when Janeway finds out."
"You think it was these guys who followed her?" James questioned.
Tuvok briefly nodded, "I cannot assume. I ran a facial recognition scan on the later videos, and they don't reappear during the attacks. It's possible, but there's no proof unless I can convince the delegate to find them and bring them in for examination."
Thompson laughed, "oh, you mean a mutilation right?" James stared back with a raised eyebrow, "what, too easy?"
Foster meanwhile walked around to the same side of the desk as Thompson with curious, wider eyes. "You got the moment he fell? Apart from Jessie, that's the only part we don't have."
"Nah, just the aftermath. Brutal," Thompson snickered.
James was about to respond other than rolling his eyes, when the Doctor's voice shouted from Sickbay. "Mr Stuart, can you get back in here... now please?" That was quickly followed by an angry mutter, "that is not necessary." James tried to hurry out as he normally would, but was forced into a limp once more.
"Curious," Tuvok said before following.
As soon as James returned into Sickbay itself he instantly saw why he was called back. The Doctor struggled to stand up from a crouch with a squirming, tiny boy in his arms trying to wiggle free. "Duncan?"
The boy looked in his direction with angry tear trails on his red cheeks. "Daddy?" He pushed against the Doctor's chest, "put me down, now!"
James hurried over as the Doctor once more crouched down to let him go. Duncan scowled up at him and gave him a kick in the leg. "Bad Doctor."
"That's nice," the Doctor muttered, shaking his head. He returned to treating his patient.
"How, what... how did you..." James stammered as he picked up the little boy. Duncan immediately threw his arm around him, once again crying softly. "It's okay," James sighed, stroking his son's back to try and soothe him, "why don't we get out of here."
Duncan pulled back a little to stare at his dad with his jaw dropping, "why? I want to stay with mum. He won't say why she's sleeping."
"Because he's trying to help her. Let him," James replied. He got a huff, pet lip and Duncan turning his head away for that. "Duncan, how did you know to come here?"
"Saw a picture of mum, Lena talking about you," Duncan huffily answered. He slowly turned his head to look in the general direction of his dad, seemingly avoiding eye contact. His hand hovered over James' arm where there was still a cut and bruise. "You're hurt too. Why?"
James sighed while he took him back to the office. Duncan looked down while watching, tightening his grip on a different arm. "It's a long story, okay. We'll be okay, so let's just wait here."
"But..." Duncan squeaked.
Thompson meanwhile was too engrossed in watching something on the computer he didn't notice James limp over to him, clear his throat, then gesture with his eyes to move. Not until he heard a harsh, "move!"
"Okay cranky," Thompson stammered as he got up, quickly too.
Duncan was then gently placed in the seat. A nervous Foster panicked and reached over to slam the computer closed. Thompson smirked, taking that as a cue to snatch it away.
"Look, I need to finish talking to Tuvok. After I'll be right back. So..." James said while Duncan inched forward on the chair. James gently took his arm, "stay put. Can you do that for me?"
"Oh," Duncan pouted, huffing out through his nose, "fine."
"Good," James gave him a smile, then a forehead kiss. Duncan's pout went away, he looked a little better.
Thompson laughed in the direction of the computer he had re-opened on top of his left arm. James and Foster gave him a funny look as the former passed by to leave. "Poor kid's scared enough," Thompson snickered, "he doesn't deserve that."
James stopped to give him a dark, hard glare which even melted Thompson into a puddle of goo. He closed the computer and shuffled backwards pathetically.
Neelix didn't look impressed. The entire room was heaving, but not one of his spread had been touched. Even Sid had joined in on the TV watching, only he kept attempting to elbow people not to get them out of the way, but so they'd do so back. He had only been there two minutes and already had a swollen eye and bleeding lip.
"Look, there," Triah said, pointing at the screen currently showing Jessie lying on the ground, buried under the container. The crowd rumbled with muttering and gasps. Triah noticed Tani beside her, the only one not watching and instead staring off to the side. "Aren't you watching this?"
Tani grunted in offense, "I've seen it already. I'm not so sick as to find my rival getting beaten entertaining."
Somebody behind her snorted and laughed, "rival, good one."
Tani narrowed her eyes but didn't look back at whoever it was. Triah chuckled, "then maybe you could move aside then..."
"Why, so these other sickos can watch a member of their own crew being injured, almost dead," Tani said. A few crewmembers overheard, they awkwardly started to move out of the crowd. A little bitter smile appeared on her face. "I bet he's earned a few hundred fans from that stunt."
Triah frowned, confused, until she looked at the screen and saw James carrying Jessie around and then out of view. "How... what? That's a bit cynical isn't it?"
"Yup," Tani sighed, shrugging. "But it's true. Everyone loves the hero of the story."
Someone shushed her when a reporter took over the screen instead. They were all dead silent for a while, listening to her recap everything so far.
Tani shook her head, got up and squeezed through what was left to go to a quieter part of the hall. Neelix of course made a b-line to her, shoving a tray in her face.
"Maybe later. Christmas Day has barely started yet," Tani said glumly.
Neelix didn't notice her tone, so grinned. "I know things are a little tense at the moment, but there's no reason why a young lady like you should be on her own today."
"What would you know?" Tani snapped back. That he noticed, his face fell. "Today's all about friends, family, people who love you. Sharing and crap, food," Tani said.
"Exactly," Neelix gestured the tray again.
"I'm sure there was a comma between crap and food," Tani muttered, confusing the Talaxian again. She managed to escape while he was thinking about it.
Tom stuck his head through the Sickbay doors to peer inside. Most of the lights were off, leaving only the Doctor's office that could be clearly seen. The rest of the room, dimly lit by the consoles only. Tom gestured to someone outside and stepped in lightly.
"I'm not going in there. You're mad," Harry's voice said from the still open door.
Tom tweaked with a thin device wrapped across his forehead, a little blue light switched on above his right eyebrow. "Suit yourself. Keep the channel open, but I'll be on radio silence," he whispered.
"That'd be a first," Harry's voice said. Tom waited until a little PADD could be seen dangling from behind the door, before tip toeing further into the room.
A small groan and light shuffle froze Tom mid step. While his whole body felt like ice, his forehead poured with sweat. He forced himself to look for the source, only to find it came from the far corner behind the biobed, where he quickly spotted James sitting, leaning back against the wall with his eyes closed.
"I'm going to be filming a murder scene," Harry whispered, also sweating despite his safer position.
Tom carried on a few more steps so he could get a better view of the biobed itself. His throat throbbed while his torso continued to prick at him continuously with tiny icicles. Still, he remained, turning around briefly to make sure he wasn't blocking Harry's PADD view. Turning back, he focused and zoomed the device in on Jessie, still with the circular pads and wires across her forehead, pale and unresponsive. Despite the thin blanket covering her up to the shoulders, she had been given a jacket as well to keep warm. Tom noticed the small lump underneath it on her left, so stepped closer, only then noticing Duncan's head poking out from under the coat, snuggled into her shoulder.
"Damn, this is worse than I..." Tom whispered to himself. He heard a throat clear behind him, reminding him he was meant to be quiet.
He was almost done, he figured. There was one last shot he needed, just in case the first time didn't come out right. He turned his head in the direction of the corner James was in, catching him in the act of getting to his feet. Tom's heart jumped up into his throat, choking out his panicked swearing.
"What the hell, what are you doing?" James grumbled on approach. His eyes drifted up to the device on Tom's head. "Are you bloody kidding me, Paris?"
Tom attempted to back away, far too late to avoid being grabbed by the scruff of his neck. James snatched the device with his other hand, giving it a brief squeeze, breaking it in two.
"No no, look, calm down. I'm doing you a fav..." Tom stammered as he was pushed, forcefully walked backwards.
"Get out. What's the matter with you?" James said, surprisingly calmly despite the killer look in his eyes.
"I'm trying to help," Tom only had time to splutter before he was pushed into the corridor wall, winding him into silence.
Harry had quickly stepped back in time, out of their way, discreetly bringing the PADD partially behind his back, enough exposed to capture the event.
"No, you're doing what you always do. Filming people, us for your sick, twisted hobby," James no longer sounded calm, his voice had raised to a sharp growl. Tom could feel him shaking, he knew he was only just getting started. "I stupidly thought you had a line, and that line was you caring about Duncan enough not to spy on him." Tom tried to reply but he was shook and re-slammed into the wall. "He's just a baby, a baby who's mother could be dying, and you're filming him!" his voice rapidly rose to a shout, scaring Harry into hiding the padd completely. "I kill monsters like you, talk me out of it."
"I do care, that's why," Tom stuttered, wincing even before the expression opposite him hardened further. His eyes inadvertently drifted over to see if his friend was still there. He regretted that immediately as James followed his glance. It gave him a moment to try again, "these people see this, they'll see what you are. The victims." James' stare directed back at him. Meanwhile Harry took the opportunity to step further back. "Anyone who knows someone involved, who has a heart, will not stand for it and turn them in. I would..."
"Of course you would," James hissed, but he let go of him. Tom wasn't expecting it and tumbled partway to the ground. "You can't live without your cameras, spying on everyone, manipulating them. It's because of people like you she's lying there."
"Now hold on," Harry blurted out. He regretted it when he was glared at. He trembled, but still soldiered on, "the alien media portrayed you as this hateful group who not only didn't get along with anyone, but thought you were better than them. The only reason the public are still on your side at all is because of cameras capturing what really happened. The attack, the aftermath. You can't argue with the truth being shoved in your face."
"You've always been a naive prat Harry, but I didn't think you were that bad," James muttered, causing Harry to frown.
Harry grumbled under his breath while Tom collected himself, desperately trying to straighten his torn uniform collars.
"He doesn't know, Har," Tom managed to say, slightly breathless.
James glanced between them. "Know what? That people everywhere in any species will still side with the angry mob because we asked for it, or I fought back too much, or I made the mistake of splitting up. Any excuse they can think of to justify it so they're not the bad guys. Look at you two, filming an injured woman and her baby to get sympathy. Spare me."
"More footage has come out. You noticed the people lurking about when you rescued Jessie, right? You must've known it'd come out," Tom said. He hurriedly side stepped a few times just in case he was grabbed again, James' glare merely followed him. Harry brought the PADD slightly back into his view to tap on it.
"Rescued? Yeah right, so what?" James grumbled.
"So, because of that we all know that you put yourself in front of a violent mob to protect her. When you were trapped and she wasn't, you scaled the walls via the balconies to get away, divert them. Only you know for sure. Something went wrong though," Tom said.
He was about to side step again, James slammed his palm into the wall to cut off what he assumed was his escape attempt. "You really can't handle not knowing something, do you? It's none of your business."
"Something hit you, you fell," Tom said, ignoring James' very brief wince. "One of the balcony's was ripped apart, almost as if somebody super strong tried to cling on. It doesn't take a genius to put the pieces together."
"How does this convince me that I shouldn't at least make you and your twerp over there headbutt each other?" James said while trying not to clench his jaw.
Tom laughed nervously. "Well it's an upgrade from murder, it's a start."
"That depends on how much effort I put into it," James muttered.
Harry attempted to swallow the lump in his throat, it failed and his attempt made a loud gurgle that got both Tom and James' attention. Tom tried to slink down and slip away while he was distracted, the hand blocking him only moved further down.
"What's that?" James meanwhile asked, still focused on Harry.
Harry squeezed the PADD behind his back. "What's what?"
James rolled his eyes before walking over to him instead. Harry backed off fearfully until he bumped into the wall himself. "You two... ugh, you're not even worth it," he growled in disgust. To both Harry and Tom's relief he headed back into Sickbay, leaving them to stew in their own nervous sweat.
"I told you, suicidal," Harry muttered.
Tom sighed as if in relief, but he was faking it clearly. "He'll understand later. You did get it all, right?"
Harry brought the PADD out in front of him to have a good look. "Yeah, but you didn't tell me Duncan was there. You deserved more than what you got for that."
"I..." Tom stammered, his face fell, "I know, bud. I'm doing this for him, remember? People need to be punished for what they did to his mum. There is no other way."
"Really, cos no one's seen the face of the person or people who got to Jessie after James was out of the picture," Harry said. "Only a hand. We'll only know who chased her there."
Tom nodded as he stared at the carpet. "I know. If one person is turned in, or turns themselves in after seeing this, then it was worth it. Opinions sway when innocent children are involved."
Back inside Sickbay, James made his way back to his previous position, checking on the biobed before he sat back down.
He'd barely reached the ground when he heard a quiet muffled voice. His haste to stand again made his leg twinge, he had to press against the wall to steady.
"Put that down before I... what?" Jessie's groggy voice groaned, stirring Duncan awake. Her eyes narrowly opened, wincing from the very little light in the room. Duncan was the first she really saw, peering over her. "Duncan?"
"Mummy," he said with a smile, snuggling back up to her.
James limped across to join them. Jessie sighed in relief when she noticed him as well. "James, you're okay."
"Me, it's you we're all worried about," he said.
Jessie glanced down at the boy hugging her a little too tightly. It didn't bother her, she held him back. "So I see... but," she winced from a pain in her head, "you, I saw you... the balcony."
"Don't worry about that. I'll get the Doc," James said, noticing her reaction. He turned to leave, but Jessie grasped his hand, stopping him. "Jess?"
Jessie stared up as firmly as she could, "I'll worry a lot less if you didn't keep running off." The flinch she got in return softened her face, she smiled instead. "I thought they..." she glanced down at Duncan, then up again, "k word-ed you. That was quite a..." she nodded once deeply. James got the message, weakly smiling back. "Glad you're okay... ish."
"You too," James sighed. He lifted the hand she held slightly to give hers a kiss, which she smiled at, unaware the Doctor had exited his office in a hurry and was approaching.
"Come on you two, give her some space," he tried to say lightly, grabbing a tricorder on route. He was relieved James listened to him, but Duncan only looked up at him with his eyes wide and his bottom lip out. He tried not to let that get to him. "The sooner you do, the sooner she can go home with you." That worked, Duncan went to climb down. The Doctor carried him instead.
Voyager and their Liger allies dropped out of warp, joining the rest of the alien fleet waiting around a spacestation for them.
Kathryn stared at every single one of them accusingly, before finally settling on the station.
"Our neutral party?" Chakotay wondered aloud.
"Looks like," Kathryn sighed.
Harry glanced up from his station, "we're being hailed by the station." Kathryn gave him a mere hand wave.
The viewscreen switched to show inside a Conference Room where three people sat facing them, one of which was Diedera. The middle woman greeted them with a friendly smile and nod. "Captain Janeway, I'm glad you decided to meet us here considering the circumstances. I'm Tark of the Bruellans, the designated judge for this matter."
"I hope you asked us to stop because you have some answers for us," Kathryn said icily. Chakotay side eyed her and winced.
The woman didn't look like she took that personally, her expression remained. "I'm afraid not, Captain. I've been discussing the situation at length with the Nutropan and Yuma prime ministers about whether or not the competition should go on, and if we do how we go about it."
"Mmmhmm," Kathryn said with disinterest, turning back to take her chair.
Chakotay purposely cleared his throat behind his hand. "I'm afraid it doesn't look good, either way." Diedera looked dismayed, glancing between the two others. "I think you can understand our reluctance here."
The only one they didn't know stammered before replying, "our people have come a long way since the Asyla tragedy. We thought we'd put the pettiness behind us when we reinvented the peace tour."
"Hmmph, ironic," Kathryn mumbled in between coffee sips.
"Um." Chakotay started to sweat. "No one's accusing anyone here. We simply wish to keep our people safe. It's still too soon to make a decision."
"This situation has already caused massive unrest on many of our worlds," Diedera said. "Both sides are blaming each other, while the other factions blame the furthest neighbour. If we don't resolve this, we may be looking at another conflict."
Kathryn sighed impatiently to hide her concern. "I'm sorry. None of this was because of us. You can't beg, guilt trip us, we're the victims here."
"Captain, if I may..." Tuvok piped up.
"Nope," Kathryn rudely said over her shoulder.
Tark gestured both her hands towards the pair at her side. "We discussed what we'd do if both of your groups turned us down, and that would be to cancel until next year. Tensions are too high to start again. However, the opinion of the masses around the sector would indicate that would make things worse."
"What about bringing in the groups who were kicked out in the previous round," Harry suggested.
"Then suspicion would fall on one or both of those worlds," Diedera said sadly.
Tark nodded, "that's unfortunately true. We all agree that our best chance of quelling the unrest is for a human band to be in the final."
"Contact the Z5, I'm sure Davey and his lackeys will love the chance to lose again," Kathryn said.
"They were kicked out too early to consider," Tark said. "We've delayed the final, there's still time. I won't demand or force you, but please, ask your bands to think about what we've discussed. I assure you, the security will be extremely heightened, most of which will be soldiers from my faction."
Kathryn repressed a scowl for the moment, "if there's still time, why are you in such a rush?"
Diedera reluctantly brought out a small laptop computer from under his seat. He placed it on the table so the bridge crew could see it play a video showing angry protesters in their hundreds outside the building he took Kathryn to.
"What?" Harry stuttered.
"Without any answers, the media have presented their own ideas on what happened. People on a mass are easily convinced of what they want to. History is repeating itself," Tark said.
"Is this really necessary?" Craig anxiously asked, gesturing his head to one side.
Lena looked around to see what he was talking about. When she couldn't see anything but a few empty bowls on the coffee table, she frowned. "That's a little rude, isn't it? Jessie's on bed rest."
"Yeah, emphasis on bed," Craig said.
"Uh huh," Lena said, glancing briefly at Jessie slouching on the sofa with a few cushions propping her up. Then it hit her, "oh, well yeah. Jessie should have a say too, so yes it is necessary."
James walked across the room from the replicator to put down a glass in Jessie's reach, then stood back a touch. "A say in what?"
Lena sighed impatiently. "Well, apparently which band takes part in the final is up to us." James rolled his eyes and walked off again, making Lena twitch in anger. She tried to calm herself and carry on, "we got through and Kiara didn't, but mum thinks that it's some conspiracy or something."
"She's probably right," Craig commented.
"So what?" James asked while his back was still on everyone. They looked in his direction, then he turned to face them again. "You're not seriously asking us, are you?"
"We're in this together, so duh," Lena scoffed.
James smiled bitterly. "Yeah, I can see how much you care about your bandmates. No how are you, no sympathy, no nothing, you just waltz in and ask us to join you in the chorus. Who cares what happened to us, huh?"
Lena's eyes narrowed. "Don't get pissy with me. I didn't do anything."
"No but maybe if you stopped acting like a selfish bitch, none of this would've happened," James snapped.
Jessie and Craig looked a little shocked, Craig slunk back to get away.
They weren't the only ones, Lena's stare had hardened and she jumped to her feet. "What did you call me?"
"I'm sure I can think of worse," James said, angering her further. "You signed us up to this thing without asking us, and then have the cheek to complain when any of us have an opinion, disagree with you, or if god forbid, somebody sings instead of you."
"Oh, is that what this is all about?" Lena snarled, then faked a laugh while glancing back at Craig. He shook his head timidly. She faced James once again, practically seething. "You're still whinging about your screamfest in the last round? Get over it, I did. I was even nice enough to get over the you going behind my back and adding extra lines for you to wail, because the deaf sods liked it. You..."
"See," James butted in a little smugly. She was unsure why so didn't stop him. "You've done nothing wrong, not once, not ever. Everyone else is at fault for ruining your little competition." He approached her as he spoke, "did it ever occur to you that we didn't tell you I was doing that because you'd have reacted exactly like this? Or that I normally wouldn't have done it at all because..."
"Because you're a coward, too scared to face me," Lena snapped back.
James rolled his eyes once more, continuing his gap closing. "I did that so we'd get through to the next round, so you could continue being happy. I was doing this for you, otherwise I would've told the official where to stick it." Lena's anger floundered, she went into a daze. "I didn't say anything because I knew it would offend you, and doing that before it may have screwed that up."
"Oh enough," Lena groaned, "you accuse me of being all Miss Perfect, then you portray yourself as this thoughtful guy doing the little girl a favour. You can go to hell."
"Guys," Craig tried to intervene but his voice barely broke through.
Fortunately for him, Jessie had the same idea, "oh, cut it out, both of you or I'll make you." The pair briefly stared in her direction, only briefly as Lena had more scowling to do. "We all know you've been through a lot lately, Lena. That's why we all tip toe around you sometimes."
"I didn't ask you to!" Lena turned to snap at her.
Jessie's eyes sharpened, "well you don't make it easy to not to, do you? We're your friends, you don't take that crap out on us. You keep this up and even Craig will be put off."
"Hey, what do you mean by even Craig?" Craig mumbled.
Lena's body and voice shook, "but, I'm not..."
"You are, or James wouldn't have been doing it too. You know how straight forward he can be," Jessie said.
James pulled a bemused face, "that's a rather, diplomatic way of saying I piss people off on purpose."
Jessie smiled and shrugged, "call it what you like."
"But, I just wanted to take part, do something besides... anything," Lena stuttered.
James sighed, he looked a little apologetic. "I know, we all do. That's why we all worked so hard. I'm afraid that only goes so far."
"What do you mean?" Lena asked.
"You came here to ask us if we should go to the final. Well I vote no. Even if yes wins, I'm not going," James replied.
Jessie stared at him with a slight frown, while Lena and Craig stood around with blank faces, he awkwardly shuffling his feet.
"You can't, this wasn't a vote. We all go or we don't," Lena said.
James shook his head. "You don't need me, you said it yourself. You never know, showing up without a member or three might get the people talking and voting. Also, more lines for yourself."
"Don't be such a prick, she's trying," Craig said bitterly.
Jessie had enough and tried to get up, but still was far too sore to do anything more than turn on her side.
James chuckled derisively, "oh there's Craig to the rescue, he's a little late."
"Oh for..." Craig grumbled, "just leave the vicious little backstabber behind. We'd probably be safer."
James' mood shifted in an instant, his face like thunder he marched around Lena to go over to him. Craig's nerve ran off before he could and he started backing off. Lena hurried to get in between them, firing a warning glare towards James. "Way to prove his point, jackass," she sniped.
"It would be if that was what he meant," James said, glaring over her shoulder in Craig's direction.
A cushion flew over from the sofa towards the three, bopping Craig in the cheek. It got all of their attention, they turned to look and for two of them, quiver at Jessie's staring at them.
"When I get better, I'm gonna smack all of your heads together. Don't think I won't," she growled. All three believed her so they didn't say anything. She fortunately softened her features. "If we back out, that means Pulse, the band that consists of three kids, will have to take our place. Personally, I'd rather go back than subject them to what we've been through."
"I'm not saying we should. Neither band should show up, let them sort it out," James said.
Jessie cleared her throat and eyed him, he knew that meant to shut up. "They hoped we were out because of the cancellation snub..."
"You won't let me live that down, will you?" Lena complained, knowing she'd cue a similar glare in return.
"But we weren't, we came back fighting," Jessie continued with a louder tone. "So they decide to sabotage us in the most disgusting way possible. That's not enough, they chase us through the streets like Neelix did when last month's crop got loose."
Craig's eyes shot wide open, "what? I didn't hear about that."
"Anyway!" Jessie barked back at him, making him duck as if another cushion was flying toward him. "They think they've gotten rid us, they're bloody wrong. If I didn't show up at that final, the people who attacked me and got away with it will smile and think, job done. But if I do and in one piece, they'll not be so smug, will they?"
James took a few steps toward her, looking very worried. "Jess... are you sure about this? After everything they did to you, you're gonna go risk another incident just for the sake of singing a couple of songs in a competition we won't win. I'd understand if there was more at stake here..."
"James," Jessie said sadly, "sorry, but yes. I've come too far to start running away from the bullies again."
Lena nodded with a smile. "So that's two against one, Craig?"
Craig looked around the room, deliberately avoiding James just in case he was deathglaring him. "I'm in."
"But," James stuttered when all eyes fell on him. He shook his head and walked off to the other side of the room again. "I'll go, but only to make sure no one gets hurt."
Craig snorted into laughter, "can you even do that?" He regretted that immediately, his head shrunk into his shoulders before not just James stared at him, but Jessie and Lena too.
Jessie tore her melting Craig gaze away, shook it off and returned to looking towards James. "We have plenty of time, I mean look..." she gestured at herself, lying on the sofa with a blanket over her, "promise me you'll think about it first."
"Do we? We don't have a song, let alone two," Lena said with some worry.
"As long as I don't have to jump around or anything, we should," Jessie said, forcing a smile.
Craig perked up, "oh, what about a sitting routine. I heard it was pretty popular two hundred years ago."
James scanned the room, eyes wider in disbelief. He shook his head on his way out into one of the bedrooms. Only Jessie noticed, she gazed after him with a forlorn expression.
Tani wandered into what she thought was an empty Mess Hall, only to find James had beaten her to it, sitting alone at a table and staring at the stars streaming by. She approached with mixed feelings about it.
"This is the last place I expected you to be," she said. James looked over his shoulder at her, then back again. Tani then noticed the couple of empty glasses beside him, and the half full one in his hand. "Or doing."
"I'm not in the mood to be harassed right now," James mumbled, then took a swig. "Or ever."
Tani flinched, but decided to sit down at the table anyway. "I figured you'd be with Jessie after all that."
"She's..." James said before sighing and putting down the glass, "with the others, so she's fine. Figuring out song choices, probably."
"Oh?" Tani frowned. "But you're not?"
James bitterly laughed. "Is it only me that thinks worrying about winning some ego driven singing contest is a tad less important than... everything?"
"No," Tani answered nonchalantly, "isn't that the point though? A distraction."
"Sure, it was," James said with little enthusiasm. "Now it's just another day on the job."
"Oh I dunno. I think you guys could easily snag the win now," Tani snickered. "That'll piss off whoever hated you."
James slowly looked at her without moving his head. "I can't stress how little I care about that."
"Bet Lena does, so Craig will as well. Obviously Jessie," Tani said, her lips curling slightly as she turned towards the window. Still, her eyes drifted back in James' direction, instantly disappointed he'd lost the little interest he had and was getting another drink from the replicator. She sighed irritably. "Seems a little odd that you'd stay behind when there's a good chance they'll get attacked again."
James was in the middle of sitting back down when she finished, he paused for a moment. With a tired groan, he sat back down and made a point to turn his chair slightly so it was pointed further away from her. "I'll still be going."
"Oh?" Tani teased, then smiled. "Then why not join them on the stage? It makes no sense. They need you for more than your muscle you know."
"Right," James pretended to laugh. "Lena will be there, she can do both, and better."
"You have no idea, do you?" Tani said mid-grimace, then she got up in a hurry.
James hoped she was leaving him alone, but she only walked over to the large TV in the corner to switch it on. He left her to her channel flicking, at least until she ended up on a one recapping the competition, which was typically one of Virus's performances. The little oooh sound she made inspired him to get up and escape, nearly bumping into Lena on route.
"There you are. Jess is asking after y..." she said, trailing off when she noticed Tani and the TV.
"Oh, I love this bit," Tani almost drooled.
James shuddered on his way out, leaving Lena behind pulling a disgusted face. "Oh gross Tani..."
"What?" Tani stuttered, turning around wide eyed.
"At least wait until he's not around, or better yet, when you're at home," Lena muttered.
Tani shook her head and blushed. "No, I was showing him..." She looked around the whole room, "where did he go?"
Lena meekly shrugged. "Probably gone somewhere to continue his sulking."
All of the embarrassment fell off Tani's face, leaving only fury behind. "You've got to cut that out."
"Cut what out?" Lena chuckled.
"What else?" Tani scoffed, rolling her eyes. "The jealousy act, it's getting tired."
Lena looked confused for a second, then laughed again. "I'm not acting jealous."
"Oh, so it's the legit kind then?" Tani said, developing a smirk.
It got the response she was after, Lena gave her a deathly scowl. "What? How many times do I have to tell you? I don't like James like you do. Even if I did, you're not the one I'd be jealous of. Not even close."
"Wrong," Tani teased, annoying her further. "You've been special since the day you were born. Now there's someone else who is super strong, can hold a note and has stage presence, only he's not smug about it, has charisma, and didn't alienate everyone."
"Oh god stop," Lena spat out, "you'll make me choke on my non existent drink."
Tani giggled, "he's also wittier, people love that."
Lena groaned in disgust, "you're having a laugh, right? If anyone's jealous here, it's him or he wouldn't be trying to best me at everything. I mean, he was on this ship first..."
"And yet, you're more than happy to let him go when you know full well that his rising popularity will help you win," Tani said. "That sounds a bit jealousy to me."
"Is that what you're doing?" Lena asked, pointing at the screen. She started giggling derisively. "You can't pet James's ego like that. He's only happy when he's got something to whinge about. If the aliens hated him, he'd be the first to volunteer. He's a weird one, a little twisted if you ask me."
"Yeaaah," Tani said slowly, glancing away briefly. "That makes no sense."
"Tsk," Lena spat while walking off, "it's scary that it does."
Tani hurried after her, "so what was it then? His contributions gave your band a little oomph, and it pissed you off because it wasn't you that did it. It's your band right? He doesn't care."
Lena stopped, her shoulders tensing. She swung around, cheeks reddening and eyes sharpening. "He went behind my back and added extra lines for him to sing, cos apparently people liked him. Yeah right! I'd sooner believe that in my previous life I was best mates with Annika, than James even believing something positive about himself, let alone using it."
"You know, I'd die happy if I had a friend who'd do something so out of their comfort zone, to help me out during a rough patch," Tani said wistfully. Lena's face fell. "Not that I have a friend to speak of."
Lena hesitated, she found herself watching the screen. Tani waited for her to respond, but her continued silence left her feeling guilty. "Look, I'm not defending him. He shouldn't have done that without telling you. I've noticed that he's one of the few who can brave the wrath of Lena lately, so if even he chickened out back there, that's very telling."
"Why does everyone blame me? I'm tired of it," Lena sighed.
Tani started to stutter, "I'm not, I... If he couldn't tell you his plan, he shouldn't have done it at all. Problem is, you four got as far as you did because you were a team of friends and it showed. Then the big ballad happened." She gestured her thumb, turning slightly towards the screen to check if it was still showing the same performance. The pair recognised it as near the end, as Lena was in the middle of singing a chorus on her own. "Then you weren't anymore. You were full of yourself turning down that concert invite, and for what? To fool people into thinking you and Kiara had patched up, it wasn't even sincere."
"You're wrong," Lena blurted out angrily. The chorus was over, the part of the performance she refused to re-watch was seconds away. "It was fine until his bit. The reaction to it." She cringed when the camera eventually found James on the dark stage and focused on him.
They stood around in silence, with Lena wincing and looking away occasionally. She saw herself briefly flash on the screen with an annoyed scowl pointing upward, it was merely a second but it hit her hard.
Tani waited for the quiet, uncomfortable part to speak up again, "you're both good at what you do. You do even better when you work together. You treated him as the enemy and it all fell apart."
"But he..." Lena stammered, then huffed defensively, "he started it, getting on my case about Kiara." Tani didn't say anything, and yet it still poked at her already sensitive nerves. "Why do you care? You're the one who turned on me because we were hanging out more, you spread those rumours."
"Yeah," Tani said with a nod. "But I've grown and matured since then, I see the truth now." Lena looked at her in bemused disbelief, making Tani laugh. "I didn't realise back then that awkward, no backbone boys were more your type. If I did..."
Lena turned up her nose. "Admit it, you're only saying all this crap cos you want James back on the stage, so you can drool over him some more."
Tani stuck out her bottom lip, widening her eyes innocently. "Maybe. I am pretty selfish."
Lena laughed lightly, "at least you admit it."
"I told you," Tani said, laughing too. "Grown and matured."
They both laughed until they noticed the streaming stars slowing down. Lena felt a sudden knot in her stomach.
"Chakotay to all senior officers, and Lena, please report to the Conference Room."
"Lena?" Tani sounded worried as she stared at her old friend.
Lena shook her head almost timidly. "You're right," she said in a hushed voice. Tani frowned, unsure what she meant. "I should return the favour," Lena said before walking outside.
Tani blinked rapidly, "huh?"
Everyone sat in silence, engrossed in the footage of protesters screaming at one another, brandishing signs, chanting outside a building that looked like an arena. Judging from the little light and the white sparkling ground, they had chosen to do this during a chilly winter night. Many of the table occupants felt uncomfortable about it, and yet still couldn't tear their eyes away.
"We've never seen a reaction quite like this," a reporter said as the camera moved to the right to capture a fight breaking out. "How can a harmless, peaceful competition turn into such a violent, disgraceful show of events? A lot of people are calling for disqualification, while others are torn over whether to cancel or postpone the festivities."
The shouting was getting so loud, Chakotay felt he had to turn the volume down a little.
"Breaking news!" the reporter shouted. "The tour are arriving. We go now live to our orbital cameras. Now remember, be civil folks."
Most of the room held their breath, a few divided their attention between the wall panel screen and the window as they dropped out of warp. The mixture of cheers and jeers that erupted seconds later did nothing for the sour mood already in the room.
"Amazing, the atmosphere here is tense and electric. No one knows what will happen over the next few days. One thing's for sure, we're in for one hell of a show. If you've been living in your cellar the last few weeks, you'll be wondering 'just how did this happen?' Well, lets take a look, shall we...?"
Kathryn touched a little panel beside her to turn the wall screen off.
"That's a no," Tom glumly said.
For once no one scolded or glared at him for breaking the silence.
Kathryn shook her head, "yes... lets talk about it." Nearly everyone looked on, shocked. "But I want to hear it from you." Her eyes pointed towards one corner of the table, the occupants there grew increasingly uncomfortable.
"I just want to state on the record, that Tom told me it was an arranged interview, and I didn't know," Harry stuttered.
Tom glared at his friend, "gee thanks!"
Craig was unfortunate enough to be sitting in between them, he shuffled on the spot awkwardly while clearing his throat. "Ok, now I know why no one wanted this seat."
Kathryn drummed her fingers across the table and loudly too. Most of the room tensed in anticipation.
"It worked, didn't it?" Tom blurted out, "they're angry, and so they should be. My video did that."
"What, you mean that mixed angry crowd waving obviously alien banners we can't read, fighting between each other," Chakotay said. "Yeah, good job Paris. Everything will be fine."
Tom winced as he stared down at the table. "At least it's indecisive now, whereas before they all hated us."
"I'm sure we can all agree that our little competitive holiday is over now," Kathryn said, prompting dismayed and worried stares her way. "You don't honestly expect me to allow one of the bands to go down there for some silly music contest. Either way, I'm sending one of my precious girls into that bloodbath and that's not happening."
"Is it really a question, which I mean?" Neelix asked. "Last I heard, Jessie's still recovering and James..."
"He's fine, I asked Jessie to call me when he went to sleep. I dunno why he was so stubborn about his leg being fixed," the Doctor grumbled.
A lot of the table glanced around anxiously. Kathryn cleared her throat aggressively.
"I've been informed that the security has been ramped up and we're allowed to bring our own, regardless of who we pick," Chakotay said.
"I'm not so convinced, there is no discussion here," Kathryn cut in, staring daggers into him.
"So why are we here?" Neelix asked.
B'Elanna growled in his direction, "that's a good question. I thought for a moment we were seriously discussing whether or not to send my son to a planet where he could be hunted down for sport just for getting a lyric wrong."
Kiara folded her arms and shrunk down in her seat, glancing off to the quieter side of the table.
"Captain, it is not often that I agree..." Tuvok chimed in.
"Oy," Kathryn barked before he could finish.
Of course his eyebrow shot up, "however I agree that the risks outweigh the gain in this matter. We should depart during the concert so to avoid further incident."
Chakotay seemed puzzled, "but what happened to your investigation into the holographic sabotage? Surely that would tell us just who is gunning for us, then we can prepare accordingly."
"Inconclusive Commander. The technology involved is shared amongst the factions. My investigation only excluded us and the Ligers," Tuvok answered.
"Please," B'Elanna scoffed, "it's very clear to me and anyone with a working braincell at least, that the ones behind it were not the hosts. However a vast majority of them were involved in the attack. We can't trust either of them."
Kathryn glanced between her and Tuvok, until she finally noticed her daughter almost nose level with the table. "Lena?" She noticed her eyes twitch but not in her direction, "sweetheart? I understand my decision will have upset you, but..."
Lena's eyes pointed toward her gradually. "I'm not."
Neelix smiled cheerfully at her, "oh, is that so? Perhaps tuck in that lip, it gives you away."
"What?" Lena tiredly said. She sat up only a little bit so she still looked slouched and disinterested. "I agree with mum. Going down there after everything, it'd be selfish."
B'Elanna's eyes and face hardened, "but sending your daughter in your place isn't? I've heard it all now." Kiara flinched and looked up.
"Torres," Kathryn warned.
Lena shook her head, "I never said that."
Chakotay sighed, hinting at B'Elanna to leave it. "Is that what your bandmates want?"
"Sorta, one anyway," Lena mumbled. "Me too now."
"What?" Craig was taken aback. Lena only turned her head part the way in his direction. He meanwhile looked around, deliberately avoiding Kathryn just in case. "When did this happen?"
"It's like I said earlier; we're either all in or we're all not," Lena replied. She lazily gestured to the wall panel, "we've done this. I don't want to make it worse."
Kathryn's features softened as she stared at her sullen daughter. "No, you didn't. It's clear these people were already on tenterhooks if a street fight could set them off."
"But it wasn't," Chakotay chimed in. "We're caught in the middle, sure, but the fact is the two stronger factions treat this peaceful competition as a battle one of them must win. One clearly tried to cheat at it, and we don't know if this has happened before. The factions that never win would be annoyed too. This was going to happen someday even if we didn't show up."
"Yes," Kathryn nodded, "and we shouldn't provoke things further."
Craig nervously drummed on the table as his mind raced. Kathryn looked like she was about to dismiss everyone. "Wait!" He got many bemused stares in return, as well as Kathryn's hardened stare. "Question. If this whole thing is a huge pissing match between Yuma and Nutropa, what would happen if their only competition dropped out?"
"They said they usually cancel when that happens, but it'd escalate tensions this time," Tom glumly replied. His eyes lit up further, "so doing nothing is going to make things worse."
Kathryn growled while rolling her eyes, "oh don't start making sense, it gives me the creeps." Craig and Tom both weren't sure who she meant by that, so assumed it was the other.
"Not really. It sounds like we're risking provocation no matter what we do," the Doctor said.
"Lena?" Craig said curiously in Lena's direction. She responded by staring at the table. "I don't know what James has said to you to change your mind, but..."
"He didn't," Lena mumbled.
Craig was put off for a second, "well, either way we can do this without him."
Tom laughed nervously, then stared at him with pity. "Can you?"
"Oh for god's..." Craig grumbled very irritably. "I'm tired of the kiss ass crap that's going on here. You may be afraid of him, but I'm not." A few people laughed to themselves, he ignored it. "That's not what this is," he stammered defensively. "I've watched the aliens' TV shows too, and all he brought to the band was tension and a lot of violence. I don't know why you thought filming him threatening you two would endear him to them, anymore than him flattening the crowd and intimidating other camera crews. We're trying to calm things, not make it worse."
Harry sheepishly nodded in agreement, "yeah, I did wonder if that was such a good idea." Tom shrugged his concerns off.
"I was the one who they hated, I just wasn't there," Lena blurted out angrily. "I threatened the Rhythm guy, I cancelled on the Jailbreakers. All because I wanted to win instead of Kiara." Kiara watched her with a neutral expression. "Jessie and James were attacked cos of me, these people are fighting cos of me. Whatever it takes to fix it, I'll do it, just tell me what..." Lena stuttered, trembling while getting some tears in her eyes.
Kathryn got up to walk over to her daughter and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "I wouldn't do anything unless all four of you are onboard, it's your decision. We'll support you whichever."
Lena peered up at her, squinting her burning eyes. "But, James would never agree, so what's the point?"
"Oh I dunno about that," Tom smiled sneakily. Most of the table stared at him, some curiously. "I've known him longer than you, and one thing about him has always been consistent. Apart from cruelty to Tom anyway." Harry snickered a little too loudly, Tom narrowed his eyes at him briefly. "Anyway, if you want to get him to do something, all you have to do is pretend it'll be dangerous for people if he didn't. He'll be all oh no, I suck too much, but he won't be able to help himself."
Kathryn stared blankly at the helmsman for a while, he struggled to maintain his resolve. "You come up with the stupidest crap sometimes, you know that?" Tom withered and shrunk down in his chair. Yet she smiled warmly, "and yet sometimes, you have a point." Tom brightened up, though thought about pinching himself just in case he was dreaming. "Just try to tone the convoluted, I'm so funny, rhetoric from now on."
"I only learned from the best," Tom bitterly mumbled very quietly.
"What?" Kathryn snapped anyway.
Tom panicked, "I said I'll learn from the best." Kathryn bought it thankfully and smiled again.
Kiara shook her head. "So what if that doesn't work, what then? I'm not taking Lena's place, no way. I'm still getting grief from the last time I was accused of it."
The majority of the table froze in horror.
Jessie waited twice as long as she expected to, it gave her a chance to finish her hot chocolate. Once that was done all that was left was silence, so she looked around to check on what James was doing, only to find him still staring at the PADD she gave him. Only then she realised he was only staring in its general direction. "Well?" she asked and waited.
James was a few seconds away from getting a cushion to the head when he handed the PADD back to her. "That's putting it mildly."
"Oh?" Jessie raised an eyebrow quizzically. "So you were reading the lyrics, and not pretending to?"
"Well," James sounded hesitant. He turned to her looking a slight sheepish, "I read the first line."
Jessie faintly laughed, taking the PADD back to put on the table next to her. "We can't go back with a defiant, FU song but we can't not do a related one either." She got a disinterested mmhmm in response, prodding her slightly. "The second one I suggested, it's subtle I think, but it's missing something."
James sighed as he leaned forward, covering his eyes with his hand. "Jess, I can't. I'm not doing it. For me, it's not worth it."
"It is for me. I don't want to play the victim any longer," Jessie said. She gave him a smile that was sweet and yet sad at the same time. "I know you, you'll change your mind for my sake."
"Ohno, no, that's cheating," James complained as his hand slid down his face, then dropped onto his lap. "Please don't ask me like that."
Jessie's smile dropped, a frown quickly replaced it. "I'm not. I'd be lying if I said I didn't need you up there with me. I couldn't have done all that if you weren't by my side, holding my hand. But still, I don't want you to go because you think I need protecting, or to make me feel better." James glanced across at her. "Well anything other than because you want to, no one else."
"Then why?" James questioned, with a confused eyebrow raise.
"I know you said you did all this just for Lena, so she could be distracted from and forget about all her problems for a few weeks," Jessie said in a hurry. She grimaced and shook her head. "It feels like that's what you wanted too, but then you had to be you again for all eyes to see." She laughed from the distorted face he was pulling, and what she was thinking. "You'd do whatever on stage, even flirt and not bat an eye. But now that people have seen the real you, you're too embarrassed to show your face again. It's funny."
James still looked confused. "What do you mean by the real me, or having to be me. I wasn't acting."
"I mean the first, no only person who bothered to try and help save the hanging girl before we knew she was a fake. Little things like jumping in front of an angry mob, searching an unfamiliar town with a broken leg and concussion to find someone. The man who defended his baby son and girlfriend from creeps filming them," Jessie said. James' eyes widened in her direction, she smiled in response. "Yeah, it's been on a few of their shows."
James groaned, "great."
"I know, I looked all pasty, my hair flat and all over the place, that awful Sickbay gown, ugh. You tried to stop people from seeing that, so I appreciate the heroics," Jessie said with a little smirk.
James couldn't help but laugh. "Anytime."
"I know you don't. That's okay. You'll be remembered by these people no matter what you do," Jessie said, faking a sad sigh. James watched her as she turned her head towards the planet. "I just hope that's not all they remember you for."
"You know, it's not really doing this cos I want to if you put the idea in my head," James said.
Jessie pretended to look surprised back at him, "what idea?" James leaned over to give her a soft, brief kiss. "Hmm, I like it but it could do with more details. Essay length."
"A compromise," James said, reaching across to pick up the PADD again, "two songs length."
Jessie laughed while shuffling a little closer. "Two songs? You certainly know how to spoil a girl," she teased while bumping her arm into his. He turned his head in time to see her nuzzle into his shoulder with a warm smile. "At least we'll definitely win."
James looked confused for a moment. When he got it he had to laugh with her. "You're still sorta talking about the kiss, right?" Jessie attempted to nod without moving, smirking all the while.
Lena paced the length of the mostly empty Conference Room, while the only other occupant sat staring at the table. "So let me get this straight. No matter what I do, I'm wrong huh? I decide to go on with Jess and Craig and I'm labelled selfish. I back off, take the blame and I'm..."
"No that's not..." Kiara tried to interrupt her. "This band stuff, you know why I did it. I didn't expect for it to last this long, and I got caught up in it all. I should've been out long before the semi's."
Lena stopped at the head of the table by the window, staring at her blankly. "What are you talking about? You earned it, and I can't say anything about changing lyrics to take the mick out of someone. I'm not a hypo."
Kiara smiled cutely, resisting a laugh. "Thanks but, we're not the same anymore. I'm not you, you're not me. You can quit if you'd like, but I'm not taking your place."
"But..." Lena protested with a lost look in her eye.
"Besides, the Lena I used to know would have loved the idea that Virus got to the final, even when lots of people hated them. She'd go into that final guns blazing. For me, the thought of it is terrifying. The whole thing was scary, I don't want to do it again. As I said, I'm not you so I'm going to stop trying to be and be me. It's better for both of us."
Lena laughed, then mockingly frowned, "stop sounding so grown up. You're making me look bad."
"Of course, that's my job now isn't it?" Kiara said teasingly.
"Oh don't think you're getting off that easy now, you little headache," Lena said in jest, or at least Kiara hoped.
She pretended to look offended anyway, "little what?"
"Hey, it's a massive up or downgrade from migraine," Lena smirked.
Kiara giggled as she shook her head, "well, why not. It runs in the family." Lena pretended to scowl back. "Okay, so why am I not getting it easy?"
"I need a favour," Lena answered.
"Tonight's the one we've all been waiting for, all year long, and yet the mood tonight is sombre. Bitter. Our 98th tour comes to end here on Yuma, and it's certainly one for the history books. Three bands, three different representatives. For the first time since the changes, we have a visitor from not just outside the system, but outside our quadrant in the final, up against Nutropa and the host planet. We all hope that everyone can put the last few weeks behind us and focus only on the music."
The shouting amongst the cheers echoed around from the front of the building to the heavily guarded back entrance. Each Voyager or Liger audience member stood in a line going to the door, waiting for the next person to be escorted to their supposedly secure seating area. No matter where they looked, there was a screen broadcasting the same opening show on the side of a building. The volume from it blaring all around the city, there was no escape for anyone not interested.
"We know Jailbreakers and Rhythm are our home groups this year, vying for the much sought after trophy, but our third act has still not yet been announced to the public. Will it be the original choice Virus, or their wild card Pulse, both of them representing our Federation visitors."
"That's right. It's a closely guarded secret due to the hostilities over the last week," this time the female host Eylene spoke. The shot focused on the both of her and Jepp.
Kathryn rolled her eyes in disgust. "We hope we can forget about all the crappy things we've done, oh by the way, here's a reminder we did those things. Idiots."
Chakotay couldn't resist sniggering since his back was to her. She heard him though and scowled.
"Even if Virus are chosen as representatives, it's not known if they'll be the usual four piece. There have been no announcements about half of the band's recovery, only rumours. The most popular one is one member quit, while another claims the injured party have been replaced. Again that's if Virus are showing up at all. I guess we'll find out soon."
Only five were left in the queue to get inside. Once B'Elanna had gone in, Tom was next. Kathryn pushed in to gently pull on his arm, still giving him quite the fright. "You did remember that you were supposed to park in the VIP bay, right? Just in case."
"Duh, like I'd forget," Tom said confidently. As soon as he was ushered inside his eyes widened.
"Now as most of us know but our guests don't, each group must choose two songs. This time with no theme restrictions. However..." Jepp paused for dramatic effect. Meanwhile Chakotay was next to go inside. "Both are sang back to back, conjoined into one performance."
Tom accosted Chakotay as soon as he was through the doors, much to the two guards annoyance. "What does she mean by the VIP bay? I parked the Flyer alongside the tour buses, like Tuvok instructed. She was there," he stuttered.
"The trick is to get them to fade in, merge without being identical."
Chakotay quickly glanced behind him. "It stands for Vicorum Inta Pakrat, victors parking. I think she expected VIP, ie coffee waitressing service. Just go with it." The two hurried away with one of the guards before Kathryn was brought inside.
"Yes, easier said. The idea is our winning band must be able to adapt to all possible problems, while still entertaining their fans."
They arrived in a raised podium at the side of the stage. The nearest seats were a couple floors below them, or even in the opposite podium. There didn't seem to be a spare seat in sight, the stadium looked completely packed and for the moment, civil.
Tom went to take the seat his wife reserved for him beside her. "Oh sure. They're making it all up as they go, aren't they?" B'Elanna commented as he sat down.
"What's that?" Tom wondered. B'Elanna pointed at the giant screen behind the stage, showing the same two hosts chatting. He though noticed the little one on his right attached to the wall of the podium.
"This year our groups have had to have a hit for a first song, filmed a video at the last second, usage of props and different staging, comfort zones taken away..."
"Beaten to a pulp," Danny remarked.
Ian cleared his throat and gestured to Duncan in front of them, trying to peer over the balcony edge twice his height, only to get a forcefield buzz as a warning everytime. Danny sheepishly leaned forward to pick him up and put him on the next seat. "I told you this wasn't a good idea," Ian whispered. Danny brushed him off with a hand wave in front of her face.
Tuvok and Kathryn walked into the podium next, Kathryn busy downing a cardboard looking cup with a twisty straw. They sat down in the last two seats while Tuvok shook his head. Chakotay stared at her bemused, "where did you get that?"
She slurped before answering, "I asked one of the guards to go to the concessions stand, obviously. It wasn't warp drive science."
Tuvok's eyebrows were both up to the people around him's amusement. "You neglected the part where you ordered me first."
A few who heard laughed quietly. Kathryn though glowered at him, "you're not human, I thought you'd get away with mixing in with the crowd."
"All three bands have proven themselves. Now it's up to our judges and the public in each faction to choose who is their winner." The lights started to dim, the hosts looked eager. "We'll explain more about the voting system later, as our first act is about to take the stage."
The hosts were demoted to a small window in the corner of some of the screens, except the biggest one behind the stage. Videos of the first group began to play there instead along to some introductory music. While the usual cheers and claps rang out, it was nowhere near the volume they were used to. The Voyager crew could hear some booing and chanting mixed in. Any of them watching the smaller screen noticed the hosts whispering between themselves, looking shocked.
"I see the tampering rumours have reached their world too," Eylene said in a hushed voice. Some of the Voyager crew frowned, wondering what rumours. Instinctively some eyes fell on Tom as he bopped his head subconsciously to the music. He noticed the ones beside him, including his own wife but since he didn't hear the comments he had no idea why and thought it was his head movements, so he stopped.
"This group have been consistently getting top marks all throughout the competition. Their talent and drive are barely matched. We can't assume because of ancient history that they'd do something so cruel, just to simply cheat. I hope their performance will distract much of the gossipers."
Kathryn grunted as she stirred her drink with the straw. Chakotay looked at her expectantly. Only she tossed the drink over her shoulder, thankfully there was no one behind her. "I told that idiot, no ice."
The stage erupted in showery fireworks for a few seconds, leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Three figures emerged during heavy marching style drumming. The boos were getting harder to hear, the trio acted as if there were never any. While the smug, rude man took to his podium, the lead singer grabbed the microphone aggressively and started to project her powerful voice around the stadium.
"Pfft, she's not that great, miss shouty," Danny scoffed. She smirked as she spotted Duncan covered his ears, pulling a disgusted face.
The majority of the podium though were enthralled with her.
Ten minutes later they were done, the crowd made a lot of noise, a mixture of cheering and shouting. Duncan joined in with a raspberry blow.
"Wow, that was the ever lovely Rhythm everyone. Simply beautiful."
"Yes, representing their home planet with style. What an honour it must've been for them to open the finale right here in their back yard."
The crowds were still chanting long after the performance was over. It sounded increasingly volatile the longer it went on. The Voyager and Liger crew watched, mostly worried as the stage remained empty for an uncomfortable amount of time. Some eagle eyes noticed microphone stands rising up from the stage cloaked in the darkness, they assumed or hoped their group wasn't next, especially with the reception of the crowd.
Finally after fifteen long minutes, similar introduction music built up, increasing the already tense atmosphere. A video started playing across the screens, but no one knew which group it was since all anyone could make out were silhouettes of what looked like different people. The background started out completely black, then started to lighten into a red gradually, the details of the changing shadows started to clear as well.
The cheers and applause the Craig reveal got was a nice relief for the crew. If there were any boos they were drowned out. Lena next got a similar response. James followed and the volume doubled, not that many of the Voyager lot were surprised. Jessie's though, and it seemed like the entire stadium were cheering her on. All four members stood together for the final shot before a fast recap of their performances were shown to the building music.
Most were focused on the back screen when the whole stage was changed into a street of houses. The overhead lights turned off one by one, leaving the right corner shining brightly on the sky blue backdrop as the music faded out completely.
Bittersweet memories, that's all I'll take with me. No matter what I know that I'll get by.
A gentle, yet midtempo track started playing. One of the doors to the houses opened revealing Lena, who immediately started singing her part. Doing so, she stepped forward in time to the music toward one of the front mic stands. "Images falling through my mind, floating outside time."
The next one through the holographic door had the crowd shouting and cheering so loudly, James had to use his louder voice to be heard over it. "And the light fades away into dark. Like my heart."
Both of them alone sang the chorus, leaving the other two stands suspiciously empty. As soon as it was over another door opened on the right of the previous one. The reaction that one got was the same as the last, but when she finished her part she got a roaring applause as well. Jessie's cheeks were already flushed bright red from that when James put an arm around her and kissed her forehead. She slipped her arm around him as well, and gave him a brief squeeze.
Poor Craig came through the door and sang most of his verse while the audience were still reacting with glee to that. He stuck it out though, smiling when he was done. Jessie remembered her cue and finished of the verse. This time all four sang along to the chorus.
The music slowed, James stepped up next, "now and then we all can lose our way."
"Tomorrow's gotta bring a better day," Craig chimed in straight after.
"And I can see that finally I'm free," Jessie sang. She glanced toward the others, catching Lena grinning at her and nodding. She continued to sing over the rising music, raising her voice as well. The others joined in with the chorus.
Bittersweet, when we meet, that's how it's come to be. Cos I'm stronger now and I won't run and hide.
By the time the song was over, the majority of the crowd were on their feet, clapping and cheering. Only it wasn't over and they all knew it. As sudden as it ended, the next song began on a flourish of violins. The crew were a little concerned that it sounded like another midtempo "ballad", but considering the circumstances they weren't surprised.
Meanwhile the holographic background's blue sky faded to mimic a night sky. The microphone stands had a little light each, turning on dimly. For the moment all the audience could see were just the group.
Lena opened the second song as well, "what you can't see can't hurt you, they say. But I've been blind too many times before. Never see it coming your way. Shadows and secret hide."
James followed with a softer tone, almost drowned out by the crowd. It only got louder when Jessie joined in mid sentence, "just say you're mine and stay by my side." Jessie reached for his hand, he clasped it as firmly. "Don't say you're leaving." They glanced at one another, smiling. Of course meanwhile Tom was having a smug told you so moment, only to get a little slap to the back of his head. "Don't turn out the lights."
"I scream, I scream," he did on his own, dragging out the last word. Then the music picked up quite a bit, the audience were expecting a routine but they stayed by their stands. Still, the song was upbeat and catchy enough for the majority, they clapped and danced along themselves.
Jessie looked like she scratched behind her ear, at least until an overhead mic was pulled from the top of her head, down in front of her. "I'm the kind who is always falling," she sang into it. As she parted from the stand and strolled to the centre of the group, the crowd went nuts. Craig walked over to join her, taking Lena's place while Jessie took James'. They meanwhile crossed paths to go to the back, Lena gave Jessie a friendly shoulder tap as they passed one another. "Into trouble and into paradise. I don't love by half, I'm all in."
The microphone stands meanwhile grew a few metres taller so they were like street lights, allowing everyone to see the stage better.
The group in their new positions started a simple, on the spot arm routine while she and then Craig sang the rest of the verse. James then repeated his earlier scream lines to start the chorus off again, to the delight of a lot of the audience. This time they did more than stand around, there was a full on dance routine to go with it.
Lights petered out one by one. The band changed positions under the darkness cover, while Craig sang one line low, over and over. James joined in with it, both of them steadily getting louder until the whole stage lit up brightly. James at the same time bellowed, "I'll never be scared of the dark," to thunderous applause.
The crowd also noticed four more hooded figures had snuck onto the stage during the blackout, and were following an individual band member's every movement, harmonising with the group after every other line.
When it was over, the reaction was deafening and it took a while for them to settle down.
Back on Voyager, many of the crew had gathered in the Mess Hall to watch the results. Naomi did so while chewing at one of her nails, "I dunno why I'm so nervous, it's not us."
Kiara eyed her briefly, then back at the screen. She tried to ignore the camera crews that were still around, filming their reactions. On the next table, she spotted Kathryn actually letting her mug get cold.
On the TV, Jepp stood to one side, talking to a woman on a monitor beside him. "A huge welcome to our representative from Bruella. We've missed your wonderful dance routines this year."
Kathryn groaned a little too loudly, "oh for god's sake, I thought the Earthvision Contest was tedious. Get on with it."
Lena blushed and hid her face, hoping the camera crew didn't broadcast that part. James though found it funny, and helped himself to Kathryn's drink. As if sensing it, she gave his hand a slap without even looking.
The woman clearly started to read off a cue card in her hand. "Virus, one point." A scoreboard took the place of the talkative host. "Jailbreaker, three points." Many members of the room tried to discreetly hide their disappointment.
"That's Rhythm with another five points, bringing them back in the lead," Jepp's voice said excitedly. "And finally..." The woman disappeared, replaced with a man, "Darjhan! You must put us out of our misery."
The man laughed, "of course, but I must thank you for hosting a splendid, violence free final. Bravo Yuma."
Kathryn went to take a swig of her drink, noticed it was empty and so stomped off for a refill, grumbling under her breath.
"The results for Darjhan. Jailbreaker, one point. Virus, three..." the man continued, cut off by far too many groans in the Voyager audience. The scoreboard updated to show their band third place, and the host's group Rhythm at the top. Then it cut to a backstage shot of the band celebrating between themselves, it churned a few of the crew's stomachs, especially Lena's. The man she dealt with so many rounds ago felt like he was smiling smugly directly at her.
"Now we find out how the public voted," Eylene said once the camera cut to her. "Will Rhythm keep on top due to all the controversy around Voyager and Nutropa, or will one of them steal the crown?"
Jessie sat back uncomfortably folding her arms tightly. Kathryn returned to the table with two cups, standing behind her and James. "We have to go through all that crap again? I need more preparation." She walked away, leaving behind her cups, one of which James helped himself to. Craig winced as he noticed that whole bit was shown on the TV.
"In no particular order..." Eylene said with flourish. She looked down to read the device in her hands more than once. "With the lowest percentage we've seen in decades in one system, and a surprising nine percent of the total votes is..." Lena bit her lip, expecting their name to be read out. "Rhythm, I don't believe it," Eylene stuttered.
The Mess Hall didn't either, the whole room went silent apart from a few whispers.
"Oh I love karma in my coffee," Kathryn sighed dreamily, cradling her freshest cup in her hands.
Rhythm were shown reacting to the news, and they were as shocked as everyone else. The lead singer tried hard not to show how furious she was as she talked over her shoulder to the rude man.
"I don't get it. I haven't seen any Yuma or Rhythm backlash at all," Neelix stammered. "It was Jailbreaker's planet where this happened, right?" He got a few nods.
"Suspicious, no?" Kathryn smirked. Lena stared up at her mother quizzically.
"Next up, with a total public vote of forty eight percent is..." Eylene continued undeterred. "Jailbreaker."
The scoreboard updated again, bringing Jailbreaker to first place. Tom massaged his aching head, "I can't make heads or tails of these scores. Can we still win?"
"Last up, our record breaking guest band, the first ever to reach a peace tour final," Eylene said with a smile. "With a total public vote of forty three percent." The scoreboard changed once more, bringing Virus up passed Rhythm and into second place. Even so, almost everyone were ecstatic. "Amazing! Our first guest band have landed in second with a mere six points between them, that makes Nutropa and Jailbreaker the winners."
Lena smiled and looked around at her bandmates. Craig went in for a hug before she could see James and Jessie, the only ones in the room that weren't celebrating. Jessie tried to smile, in case the cameras caught her. Fortunately the shots on TV were more focused on Jailbreaker's backstage reaction.
"Oh well, still one for the history books. You can't scoff at that," Neelix said proudly.
Kathryn nodded while patting a still straight faced James on the shoulder. He handed over the cup he stole to her without looking, she wasn't sure what to make of it. When she noticed his lack of expression, she hinted at him to lower it and continued to pat him on the shoulder. "I know, but it's alright, you've all done us proud." She walked around to re-take her seat.
Lena noticed then her other bandmates, only to be blocked again by Kiara, Naomi and Bryan crowding around. "Hey, good job kicking those creepy saboteurs in the nuts. That'll teach them," Naomi giggled.
"Huh?" Lena sounded confused, glancing again at her two sullen bandmates. "Rhythm? Yeah, they were cheating arseholes but..."
As the screens showed the reactions from Nutropa, Jessie got up and walked out with her smile still painted on. James and Lena got up quickly to go after her.
"Jess?" James said softly, but it still stopped Jessie partway down the corridor.
"So that's how it is, huh?" Jessie mumbled, her shoulders tightened. "One stupid little hologram cheat is worse than a street attack in their hundreds. Wish we'd thought of that."
Lena stepped ahead of James to approach her. "I know, I think it's rubbish too."
"Yeah yeah, we assumed it wasn't the Nutropans who put the hanging girl there because she was one of their own, but we don't know," Jessie said, turning to face them both. "What I do know is that I was chased through the streets, forced to hide, run and defend myself as if I was some criminal. The people who did that were angry that their idol's image had been sullied. Yeah sure, there could've been other planet's citizens mixed in but it would've mostly been Nutropans."
James closed in to give her a warm hug, which did help calm a touch but she was still trembling. "They left me in that alley along with the rest of the rubbish once they were finished with me, and they're loved for it. I could've handled the cheaters winning, but not this." She buried her face in his shoulder. Lena looked on, getting more and more concerned. "I'm sorry, it's not just me."
Lena swallowed the lump that formed in her throat. "No, don't be." The pair looked at her, a little confused. "They're the first guests in the final. Oh Yuma scored rubbish. These Yumas, Nutropans are still fighting their stupid war, using a singing contest to score literal points on the other. They've got a long way to go before they have actual peace. In the meantime I say leave them to it. It's not our fault. All we did was fall for their peace tour line, like all the other planets in this farce."
Jessie smiled at her weakly, "you're right. And at least we made a positive impact. Beating one of them, it's a start."
James nodded, "yeah."
They stood in silence, unsure what else to say.
"Hey, who stole my karmatic coffee!" Kathryn's voice screamed from the Mess Hall, cueing an embarrassed sigh from Lena.
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