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Something is lurking in the shadows as Voyager stumbles into a region of space devoid of stars.
26th October 2014
19th August 2015
11th, 16th, 25th - 26th February 2016
8th - 13th March 2016
"What is this? Is this the best you could do?"
"What do you want? It's better than the alternative. That, I couldn't even measure."
"You better be right. This isn't something that will go unnoticed."
No matter how hard he tried not to look at it, he could still see it in on the edge of his sight. Short of standing up and turning his back on it, it would have to do.
The silence on the Bridge wasn't helping the tension he was feeling. Occasionally a station would beep gently as fingers would be pressed against it.
Everyone heard the turbolift open and the footsteps that followed it.
Chakotay took that opportunity to do what he thought about; stand up and turn his back on that horrific sight.
"You better have good news," he said to the newcomer.
"I must disobey. I have no good news to report," Seven told him, making her way over to join him. The PADD in her hand was passed into his. "I've completed an astrometric scan of the entire region. There are no star systems within 2,500 light years."
Chakotay didn't have time to read the report, he felt his eyes widen. He looked up at the ex drone. "Nothing?"
"Nothing," Seven confirmed.
Chakotay's eyes were drawn to what his mind wanted to avoid. It was dark, yet empty, with no end in sight. Even if he ordered someone to turn off the viewscreen it would look exactly the same. Either way, it was a window to their predicament.
"We should still be able to see stars. Why can't we?" he had to ask.
Seven appeared a little frustrated to him. Her chest heaved, on her it was a lot more noticeable. "I do not know. Something is occluding our sensors, I have not been able to determine what it is."
"Can we even see if anyone's out there?" Chakotay asked. He didn't need to, he knew what the answer was.
"We are alone," Seven answered how he expected.
It was a disturbing sight but as usual Chakotay could not keep his eyes off it. His whole body had turned to stare at the viewscreen. He hoped if he could stare long enough that he would make out a star in the distance, anything to make it feel like they were making some progress. Nothing, they may as well be sitting still.
First Officer's Log Stardate 52367.4: It's been fifty three days since we entered this desolate region. If we want to continue our journey towards home, we have no choice but to cross it. We won't be able to gather any food supplies for a while. I suppose there's always a silver lining to everything.
"That was uncalled for," Neelix pouted.
Chakotay wasn't in the mood for niceties, his eyes rolled. "Well maybe you can use these next two years to learn how to not kill people."
"Hmph!" was Neelix's only retort. He folded his arms tightly.
Tom sighed sadly. "First the Deck Thirteen explosion, then the time loop, now this void. We can't catch a break." He looked to B'Elanna for someone to agree with him, but she just blanked him.
"There's nothing new to report. What's the point of this briefing?" she asked.
Chakotay didn't dare think about saying something similar to her, he smiled weakly. "Humour me."
"Apart from Thirteen, all decks are running smoothly. Warp core is operating at peak efficiency," B'Elanna answered. "My people are going stir crazy. I tried to give them a task, repair Thirteen but everyone claims to be too wigged out by it."
Neelix shuddered, "I'm not surprised. The last thing anyone needs is a reminder of where we are."
B'Elanna nodded. "Also someone..." Her eyes averted to Tom, he grimaced at the dangerousness of them. "Nearly overloaded the hologrid in Holodeck One."
Tom pointed at the Doctor, Harry did as well. The Doctor rushed to defend himself, "Mr Kim and Paris frequently overlap their Holodeck time with others."
"I'm sure that won't happen again," Chakotay said with his own dangerous glint in his eyes.
"Yeah sure. I'm just glad no one's reprogrammed my things again," Tom grumbled impatiently.
"Are you sure?" the Doctor questioned playfully. "The program seemed to think you were the hero of the story."
"I am," Tom said defensively.
"Oh, that'll be why you still haven't finished it in the last two months then," the Doctor smiled.
Chakotay cleared his throat to distract them. "Harry, Operations report."
Harry timidly shook his head, "nada."
"Perhaps if you spent more time there than playing Tom's love interest..." Chakotay muttered.
Harry's face turned very red, most of the room smirked as a result. "Everything's running fine, and that's not what a partner is."
"Seven and I are still trying to determine what is blocking our sensors," Tuvok butted in. "It would be prudent to investigate."
"You're right. At the very least it could distract the natives," Chakotay sighed.
Tom perked up a little, "oh, maybe the reason we can't see anything is because there's a giant cloud beast that eats ships."
Jessie rolled her eyes. "That's the stupidest thing I've heard you say."
"Hey, this is Voyager, crazy is part of the job," Tom said, trying badly to hide his offense.
Chakotay tried his best not to laugh at the two of them. He wasn't the only one. "Something must be blocking our view ahead. Two thousand light years of no systems shouldn't look like this."
"It might make us think there's nothing there before it eats us," Tom muttered quietly. There were a few sniggers amongst the group. "Fine when it happens, you'll be sorry you didn't listen."
"Next you'll be saying that we'll be knocked out and only Naomi Wildman can save us," the Doctor said.
"And Seven," Jessie groaned.
"Don't say that like she always does. When has she saved us so far?" the Doctor asked.
Jessie frowned, "when has Naomi?"
"I don't need to ask, but crew morale," Chakotay said to change the subject slightly.
"Deteriorating, obviously," the Doctor replied.
Neelix sat up in his seat, his bad mood had faded away. "Perhaps I can offer some suggestions. Rotate crew assignments. Offer training programs. Add variety to the daily routine. I myself wouldn't mind squeezing in a little tactical training."
"What did I say about learning not to kill people?" Chakotay muttered under his breath.
Tuvok's eyebrow raised high, it had been a while so it took two tries. "Perhaps Astrometrics would be more to your liking."
Neelix didn't take him seriously, he was on a roll anyway. "The Holodecks have been in high demand. I was thinking, we could install a few emitters in Cargo Bay Two. Make it a third Holodeck."
"Yeah cos that worked so well when the Hirogen did it," Tom commented.
Chakotay felt his forehead as it started to ache. "How many times... it didn't happen."
Tom laughed, "next you'll be telling me there was no Demon planet either."
"There wasn't," everyone said in unison.
Tom's face whitened quickly. "What? Then what about Demon²?"
"I don't even know what that is," Jessie mumbled.
"Actually..." Tom calmed a little, his shoulders raised. "Neither do I. If it was a 2 there would be a space. If it's a squared symbol, it doesn't make sense. Is it Demon in 3D?"
"If this fourth wall conversation doesn't lure the Captain out of her quarters, nothing will," Harry commented.
A pair of blue eyes narrowed. The owners fists clenched, her ears seemed to twitch. A different pair of blue eyes stared up at her curiously.
"What's wrong mummy?" Kiara asked.
"Yes, that's the other problem. No one's seen her in a while," Neelix said.
Chakotay's face stiffened at the mention of the Captain. "What's your point?"
"People take comfort in talking to her," Neelix explained. "When they see that the Captain's happy, they're happy."
Harry pulled a confused face, "who are these people? I assume these are the ones that only see her after a hundred cups."
"I dunno. I get a good laugh when she starts tearing new ones," Jessie said.
Tom shuddered at a lot of memories coming in all at once. "Rumour has it she never leaves her quarters."
"Rumours also has it that you changed your mutiny program to reveal your true feelings for Harry," the Doctor said.
Tom and Harry blushed in unison. They didn't dare look at each other.
Chakotay was starting to get a little irritated at all of this. "She'll come to the Bridge if and when she's needed. It's up to her."
"Spare us the protocol, Chakotay. It's pretty odd, you've got to admit it," B'Elanna said. "It's not the first time she's done this either."
"She can run this ship from wherever the hell she wants to!" Chakotay snapped at her, taking her aback. "Understood?"
Most of the room froze, they worried how B'Elanna would react to that. Luckily she didn't seem the least bit angry about it. "Yeah, sure," her voice softened.
Chakotay sighed to calm himself down. His face looked apologetic. "We're all feeling the strain. At least when we were in regular space there were aliens, anomalies, planets. The things we were used to, things we were trained for."
"Better the devil you know," Tom remarked.
"Are we talking about the Captain again?" Harry asked innocently.
Everyone else seemed to choose to ignore the pair. Chakotay looked over his shoulder to stare at the abyss outside. "Two months is a long time. Two years..."
"It's not all bad. We can spend the rest of the season having a laugh and stuff, lighten up," Tom badly tried to convince him.
"Every sentence you say tops your last on the stupid metre. Try shutting up," B'Elanna muttered.
"Perhaps we could release a probe to determine what is affecting our sensors," Tuvok suggested.
Chakotay didn't look so sure, "we'd have to slow down and keep close to it to avoid losing any data we get from it. We don't know the extent of this anomaly's range."
Tom perked up at the thought that suddenly came to him. "Or, we could have a shuttle sitting in the middle, extending its scanning range."
Harry couldn't help but smirk, "here we go." He knew this was coming. Everyone else though wondered why Tom acted so excited over this idea.
"Every other day for two years?" Chakotay was bemused. "You're going to have a hard job finding a volunteer to go with you."
"We wouldn't be going in the old class two shuttles. We'll be going in our new shuttlecraft," Tom said proudly.
"That's not the reason Chakotay was hinting at," Harry said to him cheekily.
Tom brushed him off, but most of the room were staring at him like he was going on about starship eating clouds again. "Lets face it. Our current stock just don't cut it in the Delta Quadrant. We've needed something bigger and better since we got here. It's time we built it!"
"That seems like a huge waste of time for something that'll just crash when it sees a planet," Jessie said.
For some reason Neelix seemed eager after her comment. "We have a lot of time to waste. It may be the boost for morale we've been looking for."
Tom smiled gratefully at him. "That's the spirit Neelix."
"Tom, are you seriously suggesting we have and should waste the resources to build a shuttle from scratch?" Chakotay said as patiently as possible. "You do know the shuttle replicator is just a joke around here, right? We don't just walk up to it and ask for a new one."
"With how many shuttles we've lost, we've probably wasted more than twice the resources to get equally crashable replacements, than it would take to create a new one," Tom said, his sales pitch voice finally kicked in.
"We appreciate your enthusiasm..." Chakotay said.
"No we don't," almost everyone muttered in perfect unison. Harry pouted as he didn't get a similar joke in before they did.
Tom leapt out of his chair to scurry over to the wall computer. "I already made a head start on the design." He tapped the controls to bring up a schematic of a shuttlecraft that didn't look like a box with a window and nacelles. The front had a more pointed look than the older ones. Its nacelles appeared to be apart of a wide winged design near the back.
"Behold the Delta Flyer. Ultra-aerodynamic contours, retractable nacelles, parametallic hull plating," he began his spiel.
"Yes, double exhaust so it sounds louder, sorry cooler. Surround sound speakers in the back. Banging tires, we get it," Chakotay groaned.
Tom tried not to look offended. He tried to defend his new baby but someone else beat him. "You forgot the pink dice in the cockpit and the personalised number plate saying CT PRT0M," Jessie sniggered.
Harry sniggered quietly, behind his sealed lips. Tom still heard it though and glared at him. "Don't give him any ideas," Harry said now he was caught out.
"I designed a perfectly functioning shuttle. Sure it has bells and whistles, but nothing that isn't useful," Tom protested.
"Tom, I saw the Holodeck version. How do you explain the antique helm controls?" Harry asked.
Tom laughed confidently, "after your performance in the car, don't worry about it. You won't be driving stick anytime soon."
Jessie bit her lip to stop herself making more jokes. She noticed a few people at the table were struggling to do the same.
"All right fine. You're humoured. How long would it take?" Chakotay asked.
"I'd say a week if we all chip in, pull all nighters. Of course, we're not in any hurry are we, since my plans are stupid," Tom answered.
"Finally," B'Elanna sighed quietly.
Tom threw her a look of betrayal. Her blank expression made it only bounce off.
"Fine. Volunteers only, this isn't a mission. Dis..." Chakotay said.
"Am I the only one worried that a huge region of space has nothing in it, yet we're the only ones here?" Neelix wondered.
"Why would there be? The locals would know better than to go in. We're only doing it as we're trying to get to the other side," Tom said.
Harry stared down at the table grimly. "If there were people inside it, using it as a place to hide and ambush, we'd have encountered them by now. Two months is a long time to be rubbing your hands and cackling."
"Missed," Chakotay finished with a sigh.
Almost everyone rose out of their seats to leave. Only a few remained in the end. Tom had to finish mopping up his pride that had been carelessly kicked on the floor again, before shuffling out. That left Chakotay and B'Elanna, she still sat in place as if she didn't hear him dismiss her. He gave her a troubled look before she finally got the hint and walked out.
A deep booming voice chuckled in the darkness. "Soon, soon they will see what true terror really is," the voice echoed thanks to the computer enhancing it. The chuckle after it sounded real and sinister enough.
A few beeps were soon followed by the sound of an engine stalling, then nothing.
"What?" the computer voice snarled.
"That wasn't the replicator was it," another voice said irritably. "Seriously, why do you insist on sitting in the dark? It's my ship, should be my rules."
"Oh I see. Intimidated by my magnificently dark presence?" the computerised voice said. "Pathetic lowly man, you cannot begin to imagine..." He was interrupted by the engines stirring back on and the lights following suit, revealing the alien and very advanced bridge they were in.
The man at the front of the room seemed very relieved, despite the light briefly blinding his eyes. He hurried over to a completely different station. "I knew it, I was way off."
"Hmph!" was the only response he got.
The man turned around with a bowl of blue soup in his hands. "So what were you saying?" He wasn't surprised to see that his team mate was nowhere in sight, at first. Then he spotted a figure badly trying to crouch down behind the only chair in the room. "Nobody cares, Boss. It's not like we're in a novel or a TV show. You're not going to get described. Your so called villainous and dark presence won't be seen by anyone. Heck it's four episodes later and my name's even been forgotten. I'm the man apparently."
"As if," the computer voice grunted. "Very well ATourist, I will take my rightful place in the Captain's chair."
"Arturis," the man corrected before the wrong name stuck to him. Amusement soon replaced his worry as the figure went to sit down in the chair again. "That isn't the Captain's chair."
He got another evil chuckle. "Oh? Is that the best you can do?"
"Oh I don't care about that, even though we're supposed to be partners. I only sit in that a couple, maybe three times a day," Arturis said. When he didn't get any kind of response he decided to give him one more clue, just in case. "Sometimes I stand in front of it."
"Well how else would you go to sit in it? Float and land, crawl and climb?" the Boss said, trying badly not to laugh at him. "You really are an imbecile, that is why I'm here. Voyager may be as dumb as you but they're lucky too. You need more than a fake Starfleet ship thrown in their laps. No wonder you weren't worthy of a end of season cliffhanger."
Arturis would have been more offended if this strange man wasn't sitting in that chair. He just thought that now he wouldn't tell him. "How is your plan any different to mine? All you've done is change when it happened."
"You do not possess the intelligence to understand the finer details of the genius of this plan," the Boss sneered. "It requires cunning, a wonderful intellect such as mine, and a lost on you talent for connecting the dots." Arturis hid a smirk as his partner's arm leaned on the few buttons on the chair. "Cause and effect, or more accurately, effect and cause. It's beautiful, a work of art. Isn't it? Just like myself." His hand managed to push one of the buttons, causing the chair to make a tell tale sound that disturbed the Boss and made Arturis burst into laughter.
"Oh please, tell me more about this work of art of yours," Arturis teased him.
The Boss sighed in frustration. "Fifth Voyager sinks to a new low. I didn't think it was possible."
No program was on, the team stood within the Hologrid watching the lone hologram. It being a five foot long version of the shuttlecraft, hovering in front of them. Apart from its size, it looked identical to the one they had used in the Q fight months earlier. It did until two extra wings emerged from the main ones, making it look like a rip off of a Tie fighter.
Tuvok's eyebrow raised. "Computer, delete dynametric tail fins." Thankfully they went back where they came from, disappointing Tom.
"Why not?" he complained.
"In case you didn't notice the derision in the Conference Room, Lieutenant, this is not supposed to be a hot rod," Tuvok answered.
Harry smirked, while Seven stood beside him sighing and partially rolling her eyes.
"It's not like I'm asking for go faster stripes or a bright red hull. I just think we should make this thing look a lot meaner than our other shuttles. So people don't attack her when they see her," Tom said.
"You should have made it cube shaped, grid patterned and dark. That would do it," Harry commented.
Once again it felt like his own best friend had given him a wedgie. "Harry, you should be on my side. Their side's big enough."
"We should get back to more important matters; the structural integrity of the hull," Seven barked.
"I concur," Tuvok said with some relief.
"Lieutenant Torres's design is flawed," Seven continued. Tom and Harry froze, fearing the worst. It was bad enough whenever she criticised her work and gave her reasons why. However the ex-drone didn't even bother with that, as if it was worthless to do so, or should have been obvious to anyone. It was simply this metal is better than yours. The thought of how B'Elanna would take that insult, Harry considered stepping backwards as he stood in the middle of this potential warzone.
Nothing seemed to happen though. It was quiet, too quiet. Tom dared to turn his head to the left, towards B'Elanna standing in front of the doors. Her face was blank, eyes were lightyears away. "B'Elanna?" His voice woke her up. Maybe she hadn't heard.
"Sounds good to me," she said to kill that theory. There was no biting sarcasm, no malice, no attitude of any kind. "I'm going to finish up the thruster specs." She was gone seconds later.
Unsure what to make of that, Tom turned his head back to the others. He found Tuvok looking at him, a curious and yet accusing expression on his face. It upset Tom to think that the logical Vulcan would immediately blame him for this with no facts being shown, like he was blamed for everything. He was half tempted to bring the tail fins back and recolour the ship white with red go faster stripes. Anything to put him in his place.
Neelix kept himself busy for as long as he could. Unfortunately he was between meals, between days even. The kitchen was closed. The few crewmembers that were there were off duty crewmembers looking for something to do, or somewhere else to be but their quarters.
At one of the occupied tables, Jessie and Craig sat opposite each other, heads buried in their laptop style computers. Jessie tapped on hers with growing frustration, while Craig took the opportunity to take a sip of his drink.
When she stopped, she clicked her tongue and sat back in her chair. Craig quickly put his drink down to work on his computer.
"Predictable," Jessie said while shaking her head.
Craig's eyes drifted up mid finger tap, "what?"
"The nice guy routine, you always use that strategy," Jessie said.
A smile spread across the young man's face, "that's because it always works. If you don't want to get wiped out, don't steal my tech."
Jessie folded her arms across her chest, "you deliberately avoid trading to piss me off. One city for a tech is reasonable, not all of them."
"It's the principle of the thing. Don't steal," Craig smirked while tapping.
Something on her screen made Jessie's eyes narrow and her jaw slowly drop. "Since when did you get tanks?" Sounds emanated from the screen, making her even more frustrated. She tried to tap but nothing happened. "No, no. That's not fair. First you continuously chuck a unit into my territory every turn, now this. You're hoping I start the fight to keep your reputation spotless."
"Ten games later and now you figure it out," Craig teased her.
"Ten, it feels like a hundred," Jessie groaned with a hint of defeat in her voice.
Craig nodded, "Civilisation is the game of long nights."
"Too long for me," Jessie muttered.
One tap ended his turn, so Craig reached for his drink once more. His eyebrow raised to join his smirk, "I'll bet."
That was a mistake and he knew it as soon as Jessie's eyes sharpened in his direction. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well... the game can't be beaten by you reaching into it and punching my king in the face, soo..." Craig badly improvised a joke.
"Fine. Go back to playing the AI," Jessie spat as she shot up out of her chair. "I hope you enjoy the building right next to your cities and caravans mapping your territory for hundreds of years."
Craig divided his panicked stare between her and the computer displaying his turn, right before a city takeover. "But... where did you think I learned to wipe out a country over a spy stealing Communism?"
"You're a one trick guy, I'm not worried you'll learn something new," Jessie grumbled as she turned to leave.
"Don't be ridiculous," Craig quickly said. He stood up, "I could beat you the old fashioned way, which I do anyway. Just don't get so mad all the time."
Their argument by now had gotten the whole Mess Hall's attention. Everyone were mostly hoping Craig would stop taunting her, or he'd be knocked out cold any minute.
"I'm not. If you want to build cities for twenty straight hours, hoping for some schmuck to send a unit into the borders of Farttown by accident, so you have an excuse to commit genocide. Be my guest. Just don't expect anyone to play that game with you," Jessie grumbled.
Craig laughed a little nervously, "it's revenge for stealing my hard work from me. I was only joking about it being a tactic. I've proved I don't need to do it."
"No, you like being the one that says no for once, then you get that stupid grin on your face when the opportunity for your revenge comes up. Typical passive aggressive little boy wanting to show up a girl because they keep wronging him," Jessie said.
"That... that hurt," Craig stuttered. He snatched his laptop away, unable to look her in the eye. "Congrats, you win. You now have no friends left." He marched away without looking back, almost bumping into one of the people watching them.
Jessie closed her eyes and sighed while sitting back down. The anger she had faded away with it. Even staring back at her computer screen showing most of her territory in his control now didn't stir it up again. Her hand reached out to slam the lid of the computer down at the same time someone carefully approached the table.
"How's the anger management going?" he asked.
Jessie's head snapped up, ready to bite his off. "Great, I'll prove it on you."
The man standing beside her smiled, bouncing the threat right off him. He seemed more offended than worried. "You don't remember me, do you?"
"Of course I do. You're the idiot therapist that told me to breathe everytime I got angry," Jessie snapped. "Gee, I can't even remember what I used to do before that great advice. Probably suffocate and die, I'm guessing."
The man slid down into the nearest chair, not breaking his stare toward her. "Not even my name? Just therapist."
"No," Jessie answered with indifference. "I remember you being nosey, wasting my time for a few afternoons and the not speaking English. I didn't need to go to you. I've always been like this."
"You insulted your friend over a game. You think that's a reasonable thing to spit fire about?" the man questioned gently. "And it's Andy, by the way."
"Who cares?" Jessie said, rolling her eyes.
Andy didn't take any offense, his smile even grew. "You wanna know what I think?" Jessie shook her head, mouthing no. "You're angry about something else, and you are trying to offend people on purpose so they don't get close to you."
Anyone who were still watching quickly averted their gaze, the last thing they wanted to do was be called in by Tuvok as murder witnesses.
Jessie meanwhile stared blankly at the man sitting next to her. Her eyes turning cold. "I've played that stupid game with that kid every night for the last few months. If I wanted to get rid of him, I'd have done it that first night he took over my city before I could open the first negotiation window. I hate those damn boats."
"Yes, might I suggest concentrating on one objective, and that one objective being raising the culture level. Nothing more satisfying than stealing a passive aggressive enemy's city without moving a single unit," Andy said.
"God, is everyone playing this stupid game?" Jessie groaned, even if she did like the sound of his strategy. Her eye caught sight of the abyss outside and it only then made sense to her. One long game kept the attention off the situation they were in. "Look, I don't need to be counselled okay. I'm not your patient anymore. Why are you here and don't say because Chakotay wants me to go to you again."
"No, I wasn't going to say that," Andy said. "I thought after everything you told me, eventually, that what you really could do with was a friend."
"Yeah, because I'm very good at keeping them around," Jessie muttered.
Andy's face grimaced, his eyes briefly pointed upwards. "Except for the boy I saw storm out, and the friends you told me about in session."
Jessie's blank stare turned into silent pity, "are you serious... do you really not understand sarcasm?"
"Oh," Andy laughed at himself. He quickly tried to stop it to avoid offending her. "I'm sorry, I usually take things at face value. I'll work on it."
"You're a therapist and you take things at face value," Jessie stated slowly, hoping he got irony at least.
"You'd be surprised how often that's a benefit. I've always had a knack for judging a person's character right off the bat," Andy said. "Which is why I'm here, badly trying to befriend you. I can tell, behind the rage there's an awesome yet lonely girl dying for someone to see that."
"Get over yourself," Jessie scoffed. "I don't need your pity friendship. I'm fine."
Neelix hurried over with an anxious face. "Excuse me, I couldn't help but notice that..."
Andy shook his head, "from what you told me, you lost three friends, and your last remaining one was a tense relationship. I assume that was him I saw. You can't keep pushing people away."
Jessie shot back out of her chair, glaring down at him with killer eyes. "No, wrong, I chased him away months ago. Let's cut to the chase, shall we."
"Please," Neelix tried to intervene again.
"Another he, it sounds like your issue is with trusting men. Now we're getting somewhere," Andy said a little too hostile for Neelix's liking.
It wasn't well received on Jessie's side either, "no, if that were the case, you'd have nothing to worry about."
"That's not very nice, I..." Neelix started to wheeze as he looked between them. His hand pressed on his chest.
"You think that all men are like your friend..." Andy started to say. Jessie interrupted by laughing briefly. He cleared his throat to continue, "or you judge them for not being so. Either way, you're afraid they'll hurt you again. This..." he said while gesturing his hand toward her, "is a defense mechanism. It's not going to work on me."
"No? But a punch in the jaw might," Jessie said, clenching her own hands.
The window leading to nothing outside, the suffocating arguments he kept overhearing, only after two months out of two years. Neelix had enough. Something inside him clicked and so he shouted, "stop!" That did the trick, the pair looked at him in shock. "Don't you think things are hard enough without screaming at each other. You should..." he gasped and wheezed. "Should be getting along, not..." His next gasp took his words away completely. Both of them surrounded him to make sure he was alright.
Seven entered the lab, expecting it to be empty. Instead she was surprised to find Commander Tuvok on his knees on the raised section. His hands crossed in a meditation stance, a Vulcan candle sitting in front of him.
"Commander? Am I disturbing you?" she asked neutrally to hide her surprise.
"No," Tuvok replied, despite his answer he separated his hands and began to rise to his feet.
"Has the Astrometrics Lab been reassigned for recreational use?" Seven questioned.
Tuvok collected his candle before making his way back to floor level. He wondered if the drone was trying her hand at humour, or if it were an actual question. Nevertheless he thought she deserved an answer. "I come here to meditate. Needless to say, the view from my quarters has been less than stellar lately."
"Astronomical phenomena help you to focus your mind," Seven balked.
Tuvok arrived by her side, "yes. I imagine that each star represents a single thought."
Seven's attention floated up to the images he had on the big screen. "Meditation, it rejuvenates you?"
Tuvok nodded, "it does."
She turned to him with a stern look of seriousness on her face, her arms folded behind her back. "I suggest you try Borg regeneration. It's much more efficient. A simple cortical implant would be required."
Now he was convinced she was trying out humour. At least he hoped that was the case. "Another time, perhaps."
The console beside them bleeped a few times to get their attention, and it did exactly that. Seven brought her fingers to the panel, an annoyed glint in her eye. "Curious. The signal from the probe has vanished."
"Has the probe gone out of our sensor range, a glitch perhaps?" Tuvok asked.
"No," Seven replied stubbornly. "The probe was programmed by myself to remain within the exact circumferential range to Voyager."
"Perhaps the interference ahead of us is far more dense than we've encountered so far," Tuvok suggested as he monitored another panel.
Seven briefly looked over her shoulder toward him, "perhaps. Our own sensors will be affected, grossly shortening our already limited view."
"It seems we will have to speed up Mr Paris' shuttle project," Tuvok said. His eyebrow briefly raised curiously, "even at this distance, the probe shouldn't disappear so quickly. We received no warnings of a deteriorating signal."
"Indeed," Seven agreed, she had thought the exact same thing.
"Recover the last data logs we received from it. If it isn't a mere communications range issue, the probe will have detected it," Tuvok ordered.
The view outside wasn't the only darkness Voyager had to deal with. Deep within its belly, one of its decks still remained abandoned, left to rot in its own debris.
Several figures crept down its mutilated corridors, each one armed with lit up phaser rifles.
Some repair equipment had been left behind, like they were dropped in a hurry. Some areas looked like they had been swept clear. What appeared to be a fresh new panel was hooked up to one of the few remaining walls, but clearly had no power running through it.
"No one's here. This should be easy."
The one leading them smiled, "something is. I can sense it."
The group continued to walk down the deck, gradually splitting up as they did. Any spot that didn't have a light shone towards it was pitch black. It clearly didn't daunt them though. At least until they heard a thud behind them. As soon as they swung around they also heard scraping and smaller bangs. They pointed their lights to see what was happening, but all they could see was debris and charred everything.
One of the group then realised they were a man down. As soon as he did a shadow briefly flickered by him. Seconds later he was gone following another loud thud.
"What is it?" the leader snarled. Every one of his group were on full guard, they each turned to cover every corner of the deck that they could, none of them could see anything. He swung around at another thud, then another. Before he could figure anything out or see something, he was alone. He smiled despite everything. "More of it for me then."
He stepped forward carefully to avoid making any noise. Not in a straight line either, he kept straying left and right randomly to hopefully throw off his attacker.
A crack behind him, like the sound of a heel crunching against thin metal. He swung around to point his weapon at it. Like the others, all he saw was a shadow dart away from the light from his rifle. Left it went, he thought. His body slowly turned to apprehend whatever it was. He looked forward to the praise he would get for killing this thing. Little did he know whatever it was, had sneaked up behind him.
Fortunately for him he sensed an incoming blow, the light breeze it generated gave whatever it was away. He swung around to block it, the rifle was immediately knocked hard from his hand. It was surprisingly strong enough to not only do that but twist his arm unnaturally as the weapon flew to the ground. It didn't bother him though, he swung his other arm to hit only air.
It's fast and small, whatever it is, he thought. Once he caught it, it would die easily.
Then his throat was grabbed with such force he couldn't breathe. He tried to resist; push it to one side, hit it but every attempt was deflected. He felt himself lift off the ground. The next thing he knew his whole body flew, it hit the ground hard.
He knew then he was the prey at this moment in time. He would return later, more prepared. He ran.
She had only been back for no more than ten minutes, and she had spent nine of them in their bedroom. Tom glanced over his shuttle schematics once more to pass the time. Inspiration struck him, so he quickly made a note of it. He almost missed his fiancée re-enter the room and head for the door without even a passing glance. He just caught the blur in the corner of his eye.
The door opened for her, she stopped in between them. He heard her lightly sigh.
"Have I done something to upset you?" Tom asked her gently.
B'Elanna turned on her heel to face him, though her gaze seemed far in the distance, the expression on her face unreadable. "No."
"Okay, so what's wrong?" Tom tried once more.
"Nothing," was the answer he knew was coming, but still upset him to hear.
"Then, how come everytime I try to talk to you, you either give me one word replies or biting comments?" Tom said.
B'Elanna didn't reply right away. "I'm sorry." When she did, he wondered why it took her so long to not answer him.
"I don't want an apology," Tom said, climbing from his chair to walk up to her. "I want an explanation. I know this void is affecting everyone, I feel it too, but now we have a project to keep us busy. Something you and I can work on together. All you can do is make fun of it. When Seven threw your idea into the trash and spat on it, I thought you'd care at least a little."
"It wasn't a big deal." B'Elanna's eyes seemed to flicker, finally a response of some kind that wasn't scorn. "I delivered the thruster specs on time, didn't I?"
"That's not the problem," Tom quickly said, his hands reached forward to gently clasp her shoulders. He peered deeply into her eyes, they seemed so much further away than he thought. "I feel like you're not really here, like you're trying not to take part or be noticed. I'm worried, I want to know what's going on."
B'Elanna reached up to take his hands, but not for the reasons he hoped. She lowered them back down in front of them both, finally looking into his eyes for the first time in months. They still seemed like a million lightyears away. "I have to go," she said and then she was gone, again, leaving Tom wondering what he was going to do. Once more, coming up blank.
A couple of crewmembers walked by, talking amongst themselves. B'Elanna watched them as discreetly as she could while she passed them. Her head turned over her shoulder, her pace slowed as they turned the corner. She was alone. She looked around another time to make sure. Then she headed for the nearby turbolift.
Her body tensed when it opened with somebody already in it. The woman didn't move. B'Elanna side stepped out of the way. The woman nodded and walked out. B'Elanna kept an eye on her as she did the previous pair. Once she was gone too she finally stepped into the turbolift.
"Deck Twelve," she ordered. The doors closed and the lift sprung to life.
It didn't take long for it to reach her destination. Slowly she stepped out of it, her head turning to scan the corridor. It was clear, so she hurried the rest of the way and down the corridor.
The sound of a light click, then approaching footsteps slowed her down considerably. Her arms raised to fold in front of her stomach as she walked at a normal speed. She was close to the corner, and with the footsteps she knew the person they came from was on the other side, going the opposite direction to her.
As expected, when she turned the corner she was forced to move to one side to avoid bumping into someone. To her disdain it was someone she knew. He moved as well to get out of her way, so they were in the same predicament.
"Sorry," James said, moving to the side once more. B'Elanna remained on the spot this time, allowing him to pass or in her view get rid of him quicker. Like with everyone else so far, she kept a close eye on him until he was gone. It was only then she noticed the large, heavy looking bag hanging off his shoulder.
It didn't matter, not to her. She was alone again. The Jeffries tube junction was ahead to her left. With no one around, she was free to make her way toward it and open the tube door. It didn't take her long to crawl through the small chute to get to the ladders. Once she reached them, she began to climb down.
The darkness was beginning to make his eyes burn, it was a struggle to keep them open. Chakotay could barely see ahead of him, what little light left a few shadows in one small corner of the room, that helped him distinguish where he was in it. One of them was in the shape of a person standing by the window. He focused on that, hoping his eyes would eventually adjust to give him some clarity.
"It's probably nothing. The probe may have slipped into a deeper stretch of water, so to speak. It could mean that there's something or someone nearby," Chakotay said.
"Distance?" was the half hearted question from the shadow.
"It'll take us slightly off course for an hour," Chakotay reluctantly answered.
"Alter course," Kathryn said tiredly. Her head turned slightly, "you're still here."
Chakotay stood his ground, it wasn't the first time she'd been blunt with him and it wouldn't be the last. "I thought that since Kiara is with Naomi for a few hours, that we could do something. Maybe a few rounds of Velocity to clear your mind."
"Is that slang or something?" Kathryn asked in a dismissive, almost flat tone. "God, you can't keep it in your pants for a few weeks, can you?" Despite her words, her voice wasn't as biting as it usually was when she spoke like this.
Even so, Chakotay felt his own voice go into a stammer before he even spoke, "that's not... the game, Kathryn. You used to play it all the time."
"Oh right. Yes, I haven't played since Boobzilla spat her dummy out. Everytime I think about it I get a whiff of whiny entitlement," Kathryn said.
"Well, I'm not a sore loser so... I'm not leaving until you join me," Chakotay said firmly.
"I'd say have a seat to help with the wait, but you being here is getting in the way of my staring at the window time," Kathryn muttered.
Chakotay stared at her blankly, his shoulders slumped. "But you're still doing it." He shook his head, that didn't matter. "Look, I'll be blunt. You've picked a really bad time to lock yourself in here. Voyager needs her Captain. Without you around to scold Tom or accent correct Seven, this ship feels somewhat dull."
Kathryn sighed but not out of impatience like he hoped, it felt like she did it to make her sound annoyed. She finally turned away from the window to look at him, side stepping slightly toward him too. "If you prefer, I can randomly call and insult him. It's not the same if I can't see his reaction." Chakotay's slight frown pushed her away, she paced her quarters in a semi circle. "I'm not sure I get it myself. It all started when we entered into this, what are we calling it?" she asked, once again facing him.
"The Void," Chakotay replied.
"Oh, Tom's Head, right," Kathryn said nonchalantly. Although her mood was obviously rock bottom, Chakotay felt a small smidgen of hope that she'd recover from it if she kept up her rude comments, even if she said it without feeling. "Strange as it sounds, I almost miss the times when something happened, at least it was a distraction. No time to think how we got into this mess."
"Kathryn?" Chakotay said with some confusion.
"How did we end up here, Chakotay? Tell me," Kathryn said with what he thought was a little venom.
Chakotay wasn't sure how to answer that. He wasn't even sure what she was asking. "There was no going around it, Astrometrics data didn't tell us about it either. We still don't know what this..."
"No!" Kathryn raised her voice, and yet it still had little feeling to it. "No," she said calmly this time.
"It didn't start when we entered Tom's Head though, did it?" Chakotay said, avoiding the question. "You've been on edge for over a year now. Maybe this place has been another trigger, but it's not the cause."
Kathryn shook her head. "No. The Delta Quadrant, how did we get stranded here, on a ship with a cursed deck that likes to explode. A deck that no engineer goes to without coming back nursing a scratch, swearing that he'd rather eat Neelix's food than go back. How did we end up in the Borg and 8472 war? Stranded in Borg Space in pieces. How? Answer me."
"You say no, but you've proven my point. It's pretty hard to ignore what happened when there's nothing but black outside. It's a reminder that on one part of your ship, it looks exactly like this," Chakotay said, gesturing to the window. "We're in the dark, literally. You like answers, we have none. I know how frustrating that is. It's something we can figure out, together, all of us. Staring at it will only let it swallow us."
"I made errors in judgement Chakotay," Kathryn's voice raised sharply it caught him off guard. "They were short sighted and selfish, and now all of us are paying for it." Her words left him speechless for the moment, he even held his breath for a while. "If you don't mind I'll pass on the game. If you want to shoot someone, I'm sure Seven is eager to prove herself."
"What happened on Deck Thirteen wasn't your..." Chakotay tried to interrupt.
Kathryn turned her back on him to return to the window. "I'll leave crew morale in your hands. If the crew ask for me, tell them their Captain sends her scathing regards."
Once more she retreated into the shadows. Chakotay had no idea how to tempt her out again. For now, he had to retreat and regroup.
Tuvok stepped out of the turbolift, he immediately felt a chill as he did so. At first glance, the Bridge seemed normal. He kept on until he reached the barriers behind the command chairs. Doing so he got his first clue to why the atmosphere felt so tense. Harry sat in the Captain's chair so rigidly upright, perfectly still, he didn't even turn his head to greet the Commander.
"Lieutenant," Tuvok thought to greet him first.
He got little more than a whimper from the man, he still didn't turn his head.
"Is there a problem?" Tuvok asked him.
"No," someone else replied from the Tactical station. Tuvok turned his attention toward her, eyebrow raised in curiosity. Jessie smiled forcefully, anger still brewed in her eyes. "No I fixed it. Not to worry." Another whimper from the Captain's chair got his attention. It also made whatever was holding Jessie back snap like a foot on a twig. "Oh my god Harry, I only told you to stop strangling that cat you call a musical instrument. Get a grip!"
"Cat?" Tuvok questioned.
Harry trembled as he looked up at the Vulcan, hoping he'd save him in someway. That was when the Commander noticed he had a rather large bump on his forehead. "She threw my clarinet at me."
"You were sitting on the bridge of a starship all on your own, in the middle of dangerous unknown territory, playing a glorified recorder," Jessie countered. "News flash, the Ode to My Love, Paris should never be played around people with ears."
The insult made Harry a tiny bit braver, still not enough to look in her direction though. "It's called Echoes of the Void."
"My mistake. Echoes of Paris' Brain," Jessie said. "Still, I know we've been in dull territory for two months, but am I the only one who thinks it's really stupid to have one person on the Bridge even then?"
Tuvok took a few steps closer to her, not too close so he was still further than arms length. "Commander Chakotay stipulated that there was no need for a full crew compliment, and that the journey through the void would give the crew a needed break."
"For two years?" Jessie stuttered. She pointed at the Lieutenant in the chair, he flinched as if she threw something instead. "I walked in on the guy sitting with his feet up, both hands on his stupid instrument, with his eyes closed." She paused as if expecting a comment, then remembered Tom wasn't there. "In a place where we can barely see two feet in front of our nose. What if some violent ship is lurking out there while Harry was on Bridge duty alone? I suppose he could open the channel and scare them away. A bit risky as it may convince them to fire faster instead."
"I didn't have my feet up," Harry argued meekly.
"It's not your job to question the orders of your superiors. Or to do noise control," Tuvok said. Harry shot him an offended look. "Anything else to report?"
"No sign of the probe, or anything for that matter," Harry answered. "You got a minute?"
Tuvok nodded, "too many, in fact."
Jessie rolled her eyes, "really. We pass the two years of nothing time by doing nothing. What could go wrong?"
Harry tried to ignore her, a lot easier now that the Chief of Security was in between them. "I finished my concerto. I'd like a second opinion who isn't homicidal."
"Shouldn't you be on the Holodeck now playing Captain Proton's secretary. You can make all the ear piercing noise you want there," Jessie muttered.
"Crewman Rex does have a point, petty insults aside," Tuvok said to Harry's disappointment. Jessie pulled a face at the use of her surname. "Perhaps treating the two year trek through the void as any other part of space, returning to a normal routine, may relinquish the sense of boredom shared amongst the crew."
"That's not what I said, but fine, I'll take the cred," Jessie commented with a half-hearted shrug. "I'm gonna assume the bridge was empty when I came in because everyone had already ran to Sickbay, with their ears bleeding. It's better than thinking that someone intentionally left a little mouse to guard a fortress during the night. I don't think I could feel any safer if our badass clarinetist took a nap or went for a twenty minute toilet break."
Harry's jaw dropped as he turned toward her, forgetting his fear for the moment. In the corner of his eye he thought he saw an amused look on Tuvok's face. Of course that was impossible. "Perhaps a minimal crew to monitor the helm and opps as well, that should suffice for the moment," Tuvok said.
Jessie nodded as she moved away from Tactical, Tuvok walked forward to take her place. Harry kept a close eye on her journey to his Opps station, waiting until she got there to summon up the courage to speak his mind. "You know, we have Tom making his stupid, almost sarcastic jokes at our expense. James for his more rude sarcastic comments about how much we fail at everything. We have Janeway to be rude about everything else. We really don't need a combination of all three, thank you very much."
Fortunately for him Jessie took his comment lightly, she smirked in his direction. "Oh I'm sorry, did I hurt your feelings?"
"Yes," Harry replied honestly, and as sternly as he could. "At first. We get it, you don't like my music, you think I'm incompetent. No need to keep bleating on about it. At first it was harsh and a little intimidating, but after ten variations of haha your music is bad, it's a little sad and attention seeking. Like I said, we already have Tom for that."
Tuvok thought it would be a good idea to stand between the two again. However he was only one man and there were two, perhaps three routes Jessie could use to get to the Lieutenant, depending on how determined she was. He wondered if he could reach Opps in time to avoid the issue. However he was a few metres away from Tactical when he realised it wasn't necessary. Jessie remained where she was, quietly seething. At least for now.
"Curious," Tuvok mumbled to himself, only getting Harry's attention. "The further we journey into this anomaly, the lower the crew morale is. Perhaps there is more to it than it appears."
"You kidding? Jessie's been a bitch for a while now," Harry muttered.
Jessie's eyebrows both twitched. Tuvok recognised it as a really bad sign. "Oh so now Tuvok's here, you grow a spine. Interesting," she hissed. "I may have gone a little far, I'll admit, but you're still avoiding the fact that a senior officer was solely in charge of 150 people's lives and he decided to finish a concertina or whatever instead. Great job, we all appreciate it. Frankly, you deserve all the ridicule you get."
"Proving the point," Harry muttered as he looked away, his courage already running out.
"Yes you are," Jessie sniped back.
Tuvok's Vulcan resolve was waring dangerously thin. "Mr Kim, as we are no closer to discovering the probe, perhaps you could assist Mr Paris and his volunteer team with the new shuttle. I can take over command."
"You're taking her side?" Harry stuttered, bemused to say the least.
"I do not take sides. With our current needs, it is the most logical method to curbing the tension. It is unproductive," Tuvok answered. "You showed that you were bored of the bridge and you are needed in both locations. Miss Rex however is better suited only here and has shown interest in working at this time."
Harry thought about arguing, but he knew he had no chance with both of them. Then he remembered why he offered to take up the Bridge in the first place. All he'd be doing is going from one unwinnable argument to another. At least Tom wouldn't hit him in the face with a piece of the hull he wanted painting red. "Fine," he mumbled. So he headed for the turbolift.
"Perhaps with no triggers, you could work on your temper and attitude," Tuvok suggested.
Jessie scowled for a moment. It wasn't helping so she ended up sighing tiredly, "fine, but admit it. You agreed with me, or you would've at least scolded me for the clarinet in his face part."
She swore his lips curl slightly when his eyebrow raised, his eyes at least seemed somewhat amused. "A commanding officer must be alert at all times, especially if he is minus a crew. His being unconscious wouldn't help the situation."
"Oh, we'll have to agree to disagree on that one," Jessie said through a butter-wouldn't-melt smile. "Besides I barely tapped him."
"Didn't you throw the instrument?" Tuvok asked carefully.
"Why bother? I'd have to walk over to him in the first place to grab it. It's quicker to conk him on the head then and there," Jessie replied.
Tuvok nodded reluctantly, "indeed."
The ship rocked beneath their feet, knocking them slightly off balance for a second. Their attention immediately flew to their closest stations. Before either of them could discover what was happening, the turbolift doors swept open and Harry burst out of them as if he had stolen Kathryn's coffee and she saw him do it.
"We've dropped out of warp," Jessie reported, struggling to keep her eyebrow down at his reappearance.
"I got it," Harry stuttered. He rushed straight for the barrier, opting to leap over it to get to the helm quicker. It didn't go exactly as he imagined. He landed in a heap on the other side.
"God, you can't be that desperate for something to do," Jessie groaned. She burst into giggles immediately after, prompting a groan from the vaulter.
The lights began to flicker off one by one, the hum of the engines dimmed.
"There's a power drain all over the ship. I dunno where it's coming from," Jessie said as Opps powered down as well.
Meanwhile in the Mess Hall, Neelix stood on top of a chair propped up near one of the windows. In his hands and over the top of his shoulder were huge, thick sheets of hideous material. One sheet of it he was busy attaching to a recently put up curtain pole.
The lights there began to do the same thing as the Bridge. The one nearest to him did so, so abruptly he gasped and jumped a foot or two. The chair wobbled, the new pole groaned as the half of the material attached to it was tugged harshly.
A lucky few were witnesses to the chair finally giving way, throwing the poor chef to the floor and the second curtain on his shoulder briefly into the air above him. The material dropped quickly dropped completely over the top of him. All of the lights snapped off a second later. The fate of the half put up curtain was unknown, the rest of the room hoped he kept a hold of it during the fall.
Kathryn sat down in one of her chairs, clasping a cup of coffee. Since there was only one light, and a very dim one at that, she didn't notice anything was wrong until the room was left in complete darkness. It chose the moment she brought the cup to her lips.
In the dark all that could be heard was a quiet slurp, followed by a contented sigh. This happened a couple more times with silence in between.
"You thought I was going to spill it, didn't you?" she muttered.
The chair groaned, footsteps gently tread across the carpet. When they stopped the silence was over. "Son of a bitch," Kathryn growled, her hand slamming against the obviously powerless replicator.
TO BE CONTINUED
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