by Mark Childs
Mortimer Harren stepped out onto the surface of Voyager. The gravity boots of his suit clunked as he walked across the upper surface of the hull. Behind him was the upper sensor palette, in front was the row of windows that belonged to the Captain’s quarters and the officers’ mess. That was the downside of this job. He’d accepted it because it meant he’d be able to get away from everyone for a while, he could be on his own in the peace of space, the only annoyance would be the occasional check from one of the officers over his commlink. What he’d forgotten was that for part of the job he’d be on full view to anyone who looked out of one of those windows.
His goal was the large figure 7a few tens of metre away. Ever since Lieutenant Barclay had managed to create a link between themselves and the Federation, they’d had a series of briefings from Starfleet, bringing them up to date with the latest developments in the Alpha Quadrant. These ranged from the catastrophic, like the war with the Dominion, to the petty, such as the reason for his current assignment. Apparently someone at Starfleet Command had decided that 7s looked too much like 1s so had initiated a directive for all 7s on starship registry numbers to be given a cross-stroke. Harren had precise instructions as to the location and dimensions of the cross-strokes on the 7s on the upper and lower hulls. He also had the self-bonding plates that, when positioned over the correct spot, would fix themselves to the duranium of the hull. A set of large matt black ones, and some smaller white ones for the edging. He’d left these at the airlock, since all he could manage, even with the very low gravity on the hull, was the large laser etcher he carried in his arms.
When he reached half-way up the 7, Harren set the laser marker in place and programmed it to score out the outline to the cross-stoke, then started it off. He watched it travel over the surface, etching a fine line into the metal. The whole job seemed pointless, particularly as no-one in the Delta quadrant could read Terranarabic numerals anyway. And even if they could, how many of them would care what the registry number was, or even get chance to read it from the hull of the ship? Harren didn’t care, as long as it got him away from everyone else. At the moment his only disappointment was the NCC-74656 only had one 7 in its number. How long would it take if Voyager had instead been NCC-77777?
Too simple a calculation, Harren thought, and dismissed it. While he waited for the laser etcher to finish its job he looked up at the stars around him. There was a very bright one just above his head, magnitude –1 or brighter. He counted out a minute and watched it move against the background stars. A parallax of two seconds of arc. He calculated the distance in his head. "Less than 0.3 parsecs away," he thought to himself, "unless we’ve changed speed."
Voyager was travelling on half impulse at the moment, in order to carry out maintenance checks. Another request from Starfleet. At least this area of space was relatively free of activity. It shouldn’t be too big a risk to take the warp engines off-line here.
In fact the only activity reported in this sector wasn’t sapient at all. In his last briefing to the crew, Neelix had passed on some rumours he’d heard from a group of travellers with whom he’d traded about some strange light phenomenon that followed ships. They’d been called wakeriders, and also sometimes angels, since some were vaguely humanoid in shape, and their movement and ethereal quality, had recalled that people’s legends of beings which the translator had decided were the equivalent of angels in Terran mythology.
The laser etcher had finished its job. Harren picked it up and carried it back towards the airlock. The first pile of square black plates lay stacked in a pile in front of him, but his attention was distracted from calculating their surface area and mass by a movement ahead of the bow. He looked past the stack of plates and saw small points of light heading towards the ship. They had to be wakeriders. They darted towards the ship, weaving around each other in intricate patterns. Like a flock of birds. Some even seemed to have wings. And they were humanoid. The lights flew past him, scurrying over the surface of the ship, parting and rejoining each other in what appeared to be an excited investigation. Harren realised with a sick shock that Neelix’s information had been incorrect. These weren’t simply light effects. They were sapient creatures. And he was out here, exposed.
He started to open the airlock hatch, hoping to get inside before one of the creatures noticed him, but it was too late. One darted towards him. It was humanoid. It shone, and its skin appeared translucent, but it had a face, and a body that was recognisably female, and long sail-like wings. Harren was rigid with terror as it shot straight at him, but as it neared him it stopped and smiled at him. And he recognised the smile.
"Lyndsay?" he whispered.
The Wakerider stopped, and held up one of her hands to his helmet. As she touched the glass he heard a thought in his head.
"I know you," she said wonderingly. "This is Voyager. I lived here, when I was human. Did I live here?" The wakerider seemed confused. "You’re Mortimer. I know you. Am I home?"
Harren nodded mutely.
"Lyndsay?" he repeated. "How can it be you? I thought you were a Kobali now."
The wakerider smiled again. "I was Kobali, but Jeht’leya was a long time ago. Many lifetimes ago. Many deaths. I am Illumi now, I have taken the name Lynnael."
Harren glanced towards the windows that looked out onto them. No-one was watching the wakeriders yet. For the moment he and Lynnael were alone. There was so much he wanted to ask her, but conversation had always been something he found difficult. He’d never found the words to talk to Lyndsay when she was a human working next to him. Talking to Lyndsay as a strange, ethereal being of light, was impossible.
Whether she was Lyndsay, Jeth’leya or Lynnael seemed to make little difference to one quality of her personality, however. She was not at a loss for words.
"Why are you out here? What are you doing?" As she spoke she became less confused, more in touch with the reality around her, as if her human past was coming more to the fore.
"I have to change the number 7 on the registry. Starfleet want it to have a cross-stroke."
Lynnael laughed. "I’ll help you," she said. Harren lifted the stack of plates and carried them over to the section etched out by the laser. They made an incongruous couple, the human clumping around in his gravity boots, a stocky figure in his environment suit, accompanied by a faery figure, fluttering and darting around him, chattering about incidents from her past lives, her reminiscences forming complete stories in his head.
"Once, when Lyndsay Ballard was a little girl, and a human, she had accompanied her father on one of his lecture tours. They had gone to Vulcan, then Betazed, then Bolarus and then Tellar. By the time they’d got to Tellar she’d been so thrown by the constant travelling that she’d woken up one morning and had to spend several minutes trying to work out what planet she was on. She’d only worked it out by recalling all the spaceships she’d been on. Since she’d been on the Bolarus-Tellar ferry, but not the Tellar-Andor cruise ship she’d deduced that she was on Tellar. The disorientation, of lying there not knowing where she was, had been over-powering, as if she’d been cast adrift from everything that connected her to who she was.
"She’d felt that again, one morning on the Talaxian farm. But that time she couldn’t remember what species she was. She had only been on her sixth life then, had only just begun life as a Talaxian, and her assimilation by the Borg was still years away. But the same feeling of being cast adrift had hit her. Who was she? she’d thought. She’d recalled being killed by the Hirogen, so she wasn’t human any more. She’d remembered being with Q'ret on that trip back home, and them colliding with, and being absorbed by, the Phalarn vessel, so she wasn’t Kobali any more. The Phalarn only harvested intelligences as part of their symbiotic relationship with the Wreltch, she’d only know that if she’d been Wreltchborn. So she wasn’t Phalarn. Besides the Phalarn were plant-based life-forms, and as she’d lain there in her bed on Talax she’d recognised the feelings of being part of the animal kingdom again. And she wasn’t Wreltch. She had no chitin. And she remembered being cocooned for the seeding.
"Her cocoon had landed on Talax. She recalled emerging from the cocoon, seeing the unconscious Talaxian lying next to it. Looking down at her body, touching her face, realising that she was now also Talaxian.
"So who was she now? She couldn’t remember any death as a Talaxian, so she must still be Lynnix, the name she had taken when she entered Talaxian society. Lynnix had fully woken up then, and had begun the task of entering into the role that went with her present species, re-creating her current self."
"I don’t understand the references to the Phalarn and the Wreltch," Harren objected. "We’ve never encountered them."
"Haven’t you?" Lynnael responded. "They live throughout this sector." She extended tendrils from her body to hold the final matt black plate in position. "The Phalarn are a species of plant. They live in huge seed-like spaceships in orbit around stars. They lure other species to them by using distress signals. It’s all totally instinctive, they have no innate intelligence. They’re a bit like pitcher plants or Venus fly-traps on Earth." Harren thought this new version of Lyndsay seemed very familiar. She chattered away, seemingly saying the first thing that came into her head.
Harren lined up the plate so that it would fill in the final gap between the left-hand side of the cross-stroke and the down-stroke of the 7. "Why do they do that?" he asked.
"It’s part of their symbiotic relationship with the Wreltch. The Wreltch have no innate intelligence either, but they’ve evolved an ability to absorb other species’ identities and use them to populate their own colonies with intelligent beings."
"They’re insect-like beings. They propagate the Phalarn’s seeds, taking them from star to star so that they can feed off the energy they give out. In return the intelligencies within the seeds get passed on in small pods tht contain the genome of a new individual. Those individuals then become Wreltchborn, and maintain the colonies."
"They sound like the Borg," Harren offered.
"Not at all. I’ve been Borg. Being a Wreltch was much more enjoyable. I remember being a grubling, newly encoded with my identity absorbed from the Phalarn. I felt I was part of a community and had a purpose of my own, although actually that purpose was pheromone-driven."
"What did you do?"
Lynnael thought for a moment, trying to remember. "I tended the grublings, feeding them the genome-pods provided by the Phalarn. I loved the role, I found them so cute. I was heart-broken the day I was selected for cocooning."
"Cocooning?" Harren had always prized himself at being intelligent, but even he was finding it difficult to keep up with her.
"The Wreltch send out millions of cocoons to seed other planets. The cocoon lands, selects DNA from the first sapient being that it encounters and then turns the Wreltch inside into a member of that species. Again it’s not consciously designed. It’s what they’ve evolved to do. It’s a defence mechanism. The re-born Wreltch is part of the other species in every way, except that it will act to defend the Wreltch colonies if its new species ever encounters one."
Harren began to feel stifled. He began to breathe heavily.
"My oxygen supply. I’ve stayed out here too long."
Lynnael nodded sadly. "Will you come out here tomorrow?" she asked, but Harren was already heading towards the airlock..
It was two days before Harren was allowed to continue his work. His immediate superior had reported the fact that he had run into difficulties with his oxygen and he had not been permitted any EVA until he had attended a training course on safety and environmental suits. He had also been questioned by the Captain about the Illumi. They had been detected by the ship’s sensors and Janeway wanted to know if Harren had seen anything. He had told her they were just lights. Harren knew that if the Captain had discovered that the Illumi were sapient, she and the rest of the senior officers would have been out on the hull initiating first contact protocols. He didn’t want it to get crowded out there.
Harren was in a mood he found strange as he entered the airlock. He tried to identify it, then realised it was anticipation. The last time he’d felt like that was just before the last date he’d been on. That had been while he’d still been at Starfleet Academy, and it had gone disastrously badly. He hadn’t made the same mistake once he’d been posted to Voyager. Making a fool of yourself in front of someone didn’t matter so much if you were to be posted to another part of the Quadrant the next week, but looking like an idiot and then seeing that same person every day for the next thirty years, and them telling everyone else, so that everyone else also knows you’re an idiot. That wasn’t a risk Harren was prepared to take.
Harren stepped out on to the outer hull, and looked around for any Illumi. He saw a group clustered along the upper port phaser array. They flew aftwards along the length and then forewards. Harren waved to them but they didn’t respond.
Morosely he headed towards the 7.The right-hand side of the cross-stroke was shorter, so he wouldn’t take so long with that, but there was still the white outline to complete. As he neared the 7 he saw a light detach itself from the surface and fly towards him.
"Hello, Lyndsay," he said.
"Lynnael, please," the Illumi replied.
"I’m sorry I couldn’t come out to play yesterday," he apologised. "I got into trouble for staying out too long last time." The comment was ironic, Harren intended to ridicule the paternalistic way Starfleet Officers treated the lower ranks, but the irony was wasted on Lynnael.
"How is everyone on Voyager?" Lynnael asked.
"Oh, the same," Harren answered non-commitally. "They’re all enjoying Ancestor’s Eve at the moment."
"And you didn’t want to join them?" Lynnael enquired.
"No. I can’t stand them. I’ve realised recently that there is something to be gained from being out in the Delta Quadrant, seeing things I wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It’s just such a pity that it’s with people who are so irritating."
"I like some of them," Lynnael replied wistfully. "I like Harry Kim. Tom Paris is OK too. And the Captain. I always looked up to her."
"Uhm," Harren was unimpressed. He began laying down the first of the plates.
"Tell me, then. What’s wrong with Captain Janeway?"
Harren was uncomfortable with the line of conversation. He didn’t like talking about people. Not individuals anyway. He wished Lynnael would go back to talking about he species she’d met. Or been.
"Tell me," she prompted.
"OK, then," a note of irritation had crept into his voice. "Last year she took me and two other crewmen on an away mission. We were in a shuttlecraft taking readings. All three of us were people who ‘didn’t fit in’, weren’t quite ‘Starfleet material’. She thought that just by showing some interest in us for a few days we would somehow be transformed into solid reliable productive members of the crew." Lynnael realised she had touched a nerve from the vehemence in Harren’s voice. "I think it worked on Celes and Telfer, but they were different to me, they wanted to be Starfleet but were failing. Janeway never thought that maybe I didn’t want to buy into her way of thinking. That I wasn’t fitting in through my own choice. And that a day of her support is not going to have such a profound effect that it’s going to overcome a position I’d chosen to adopt after years of experience. How condescending is that?"
Lynnael was silent for a moment. "I hadn’t thought about her in that way. I’d always automatically idolised her because she was in command. But three of the species I’ve been worked as collectives, no-one in charge, we just all knew what we had to do. I don’t think Voyager could work so efficiently like that, we need someone leading us, but there is a drawback with having leaders. They do tend to become very smug and self-congratulatory."
"Janeway is full of herself," Harren concurred. "All the senior staff are."
"Harry Kim is different," Lynnael argued.
"Only because he’s not there yet. He just spends all his time sucking up to them so that he can get a few steps up the career ladder. How dignified is that?"
Lynnael paused for a few moments and looked out at the stars that surrounded them. "He loved me," her thought was a whisper.
"No he didn’t," Harren responded angrily. "When did you die? Lyndsay die, I mean? Stardate 51563. How long did he mourn for? Do you know? Well he didn’t. I saw him a few weeks later and it was like nothing had happened. OK so he had a ship full of Hirogen ordering him around and half the crew trapped in some holodeck simulation, but he could have shown some regret."
Lynnael looked at Harren. Her blank pupil-less eyes seemed to bore into him. "How do you know when I died so accurately?"
Harren busied himself with laying a few more plates.
"So what was it like? Being part of a collective?"
"You’re changing the subject," Lynnael objected. Then she relented and began her story.
"A member of a collective has no name, just a designation. As Jeht’leya emerged from her pod on the Phalarn vessel, to find that she was Jeht’leya no more, she felt the lack of a name, but only for an instant. The birthing vine to which her pod had been attached had imparted two things to the seed that grew within. One was the memories and identity of Lyndsay Ballard-Jeht’leya, the other was the shared knowledge of the Phalarn. The pod had created a humanoid body to house her identity, if she’d had a mirror she would have been able to identify herself as a continuation of Lyndsay Ballard or Jeht’leya, but for the green skin, and the limbs that were boneless and pliable. Cellulose fibres ripped as she tore herself away from the inside of the pod, she felt sap pump within her body, she felt the green tendrils of the life around her brush against her as she walked through the vacuole. She felt part of a greater organism, and that sense of oneness continued for the years she lived within the vessel, tending the seedlings, cultivating the branches, and her main role of making sure the chloroplasts had their grana operating optimally. Her designation was therefore Lamellae Exchanger in Epidermal Wall, though she thought of herself simply as Lamella.
"Lamella ended her time as one of the Phalarn when she began budding. She saw the small growths appear on her arms, knowing that each one was a copy of her, containing every memory and thought that she was experiencing. She knew the time would come soon when the Wreltch would harvest those pods. The thought did not frighten her. Her life as a Kobali had taught her that death was a gift that would bring her new experiences and new opportunities for growth.
"When she was reborn as Wreltch, and felt the skin of the grubling split as she emerged, rubbing her chitinous arms together in pleasure at the new life she had been given, she felt the humming of the colony all around her. Her life as a Phalarn had been idyllic but aimless, now she sensed a drive to do, to be. All about her other grublings were hatching, these would be her colony partners from now on. She half-expected to see Q’ret, transformed again, but he had not been Wreltchborn. She had met him on the Phalarn vessel several times, he had been one of the xylem workers, but he had not befriended her. He had not taken his rebirth well and resented the Phalarn for having deprived him of his life as a Kobali. Lamella had not resented them. And she would be profoundly grateful to them for all of her lives for the moment when the Wreltch had arrived and taken her from the Phalarn vessel to their colony. As they carried her through the open space between the ships, the rays of the star around which they were in orbit had activated the chlorophyll in her body, and for a moment she had felt the ecstasy a leaf feels when the sun shines on it.
"As a Wreltch her designation had been Nurse Worker Inner Comb. She had not felt unindividuated , but she shared with her co-workers an almost obsessive desire to ensure the survival of the grublings. She had also enjoyed the power her body had, and as a Talaxian she had still, on occasion, missed being able to see with her ommatidian eyes, or chew with her maxillae.
"In comparison, her life as a Borg had been joyless. From the time of her assimilation to the destruction of her Cube she had felt comfort in the shared collective mind, even peace, but never joy. She recollected her life as species 218, and all the other species, only abstractly, not as something real and as part of her past. As 23 of 42, Nonary Sub-Section of Cube 666 she had been an insignificant cog in a soulless mechanism. Of all of her lives her time as a Borg was the one she remembered with the least pleasure."
Harren had started on the white outline around the 7. He shuddered, thinking of the Borg.
"There’s something about them that scare me more than anything else," he said. "I guess it’s the idea of assimilation. Having your body dismantled and turned into something else."
"I didn’t like the idea of that either. But now …" Lynnael smiled to herself and shook her wings out, stretching them far apart. "Now I know there’s always something that survives. No matter what happens, there’s still an essential core that goes on, altered, metamorphosed, maybe even corrupted. But that fundamental you will always carry on – if you are determined enough."
"And how did you escape the Borg?" Harren asked.
"A transwarp accident. I only pieced all the clues together later, with the help of Kuros. I spent years as Lamella, Nurse Worker and Lynnix so by the time I was assimilated it must have been some time in the 25th century. The transwarp conduit accidentally took my Cube back in time and crashed us on into the surface of a Y-class planet thousands of light years away. We couldn’t have survived the crash, but the next thing any of the drones on the Cube were aware of we were spaceborne again. We didn’t know it at the time, but we had all died in the crash, and a mimetic fluid on the planet’s surface had replicated us all without our knowledge."
"We’ve been there," Harren told her. "The silver blood reproduced everyone from Voyager, only a few months after Lyndsay died. There’s a replica of me on the planet now."
"’Silver blood’. I like that. Very poetic. The problem was that the Cube couldn’t survive away from the planet. After a few months everything started to decay, but then ..."
"I have to go," Harren interrupted. My time’s up," he put the last of the white plates in place. "I’ve got to do the 7 on the underside tomorrow. I’ll see you there?" He made the statement into a question at the last moment. He didn’t want to seem too presumptuous. But the angel nodded.
The next day there was much more activity on the upper hull. Captain Janeway had observed the Illumi close-up, in fact there had been three of them looking through her window when she had woken up that morning. The senior officers had met and decided to attempt to try and communicate with the strange ethereal beings. Three of the senior staff were now standing by the airlock hoping to initiate first contact with them. Harren, meanwhile, was on the underside of the hull, adding a cross-stroke to the 7 in the registry number there.
He checked his watch. Lynnael was late. He felt a jealous twinge that perhaps she was conversing with the Captain on the other side of the ship. He had just completed the left-hand half of the cross-stroke when she appeared.
"I’m sorry I’m late, Mortimer," the Illumi gave him a very human smile. "It’s typical of me I’m afraid. Nine lifetimes and I’ve never been on time in any of them. Well, that’s not true," she corrected herself. "I never had any choice as a Borg, and when I was an android I had my own internal chronometer, which helped enormously."
"You were an android?" Harren was surprised.
"Yes. In my life before this one." Lynnael laughed. "So I’ve done animal, vegetable and mineral."
"And which do you prefer?" Harren asked.
Lynnael thought for a moment. "I don’t have a preference, I just like having the variety."
"And this Kuros that you mentioned yesterday?" Harren asked. "Is this the guy who was head of the Think Tank?"
Lynnael was surprised. "You’ve heard of him?"
"Voyager ran in to him a couple of years ago."
"This was about six years ago. I was drifting in space, amongst the debris of the Cube, which had reverted back to mimetic fluid. I was decaying, reverting back to undifferentiated fluid as well, all traces of Talaxian and Borg had disappeared, when Kuros and the others rescued me. They brought what was left of me on board, downloaded my mind to a computer, then developed a procedure to alter my body, by accelerated cell evolution. They forced each part of the ‘silver blood’, I like that name, to undergo extreme natural selection, so that it evolved into a form that was able to live away from its planet. The final form had lost its mimetic ability, but it was viable. You should have seen me. If you thought this is weird," Lynnael raised her wings. Tendrils, which she seemed to be able to project from her body at will, sprang forth and waved at Harren. "Then you should have seen what I looked like then. Totally silver, tentacles all over the place, etiolated. Still vaguely humanoid. Kuros loved me though."
"You were lovers?" Harren couldn’t quite keep the jealousy out of his voice.
"We were. He was very intelligent, capable of compassion at times, and he saved my life. Twice. Or so I thought. And after my experience with the Borg I was feeling traumatised. Very vulnerable. I felt drawn to him. He was utterly unscrupulous though. But, well you know relationships. Sometimes that can be part of the attraction."
"No. I don’t know relationships," Harren replied.
"Well I do. I’ll tell you about some of them."
"Lynnix was found in one of the rural provinces on Talax. She was wandering naked, with no memory of where she was from or what her name was (the name Lynnix was one she adopted later). Another person, a farmer named Havrix, was also found nearby, suffering from dehydration and malnutrition. He was lying next to a large cocoon-like organism that seemed to have attached itself to him. The cocoon had burst open, but whatever had been inside was never found. The doctors who examined Havrix and the young woman determined that they had been infected somehow by the alien cocoon and were kept in hospital for observation for several weeks. Despite the best efforts of the authorities, the identity of the young woman could not be discovered. It was as if she had appeared out of nowhere.
"A firm friendship developed between the elderly farmer and the young woman, and when he was fully recovered Havrix invited her to stay with himself and his family on his farm. However, Lynnix became dissatisfied with the rural life and moved to Paxau, where she worked as a waitress and as a dancer at the resort.
"It was there that she met Allixanda, a researcher and explorer, and became fascinated by his stories of other worlds. He also was surprised by her perspective on his research, seeming to be able to draw on experiences she could not have. She was also a very good dancer.
"The two were married, and lived and travelled together for twenty years. Those years were the happiest of Lynnix’s lives, and were only marred when the research team they were part of discovered a vast colony ship orbiting a white dwarf star on the edges of Talaxian space. Insect-like life-forms moved across its surface. This was a species none of them had seen before and they were keen to return to their homeworld to report the discovery. Lynnix, however, had other plans. Seemingly without volition she sabotaged the controls of the spaceship sending it at high warp in the opposite direction. When her husband tried to stop her, Lynnix killed him, again seeming to be doing so involuntarily. Before anyone could stop the ship’s flight into deep space it ran into the path of a Borg Cube, and it and its crew were easily assimilated.
"The story of Kuros and Bludselber ended no less ignominiously, although it did not last quite nearly so long. Kuros gave Bludselber her name, and her life. He found her decaying, drifting in open space, gradually reverting back to the mimetic fluid from which she had been formed. He copied her consciousness into a computer, then spent months experimenting, evolving the fluid into a form that could remain stable. The lifeform he created was sustainable, although it could only breathe the sort of air that would be found on a Y-class planet. Once he succeeded in stopping the decay of the mimetic fluid, Kuros transferred Bludselber’s consciousness back into her body. Bludselber became part of the Think Tank, her intelligence and her training in so many disciplines made her an invaluable part of the team. Despite the problems of different physiologies and an inability to survive in each other’s atmosphere, a relationship developed between the her and Kuros, a relationship that was only threatened when she became ill, and seemed to be unlikely to recover. However, once again Kuros saved her. He knew of a race that created android bodies, into which they transferred their minds when their organic bodies became too old or too ill. The race, who called themselves the Artificers, etched Bludselber’s face onto one of their female android templates, and transferred her consciousness into the silver metal body.
"The android body brought a whole new aspect to Bludselber’s life. It was stronger than any she had had before, and capable of surviving in a vacuum. With it she should also have been practically immortal. However, it was also unfeeling, and limited in comparison to the sensory range of her previous body, she felt isolated from her surroundings. Kuros, too, seemed more distant from her. She suspected that he was losing interest in her. Even though she guessed this, and knew the man was unscrupulous, she was still surprised at the contents of one of the files in the database that she accidentally came across while she was doing research for their latest client. The file revealed that the illness in the evolved mimetic fluid had been faked, Kuros had a customer that wanted the body to help colonise a Y-class planet. Even though he had once loved her, he had chosen to exploit her when he had the chance.
"Bludselber was furious, and began tearing into the ship. Her android body was powerful and managed to cause a lot of damage before she decided she just wanted to get away from Kuros and the rest of the Think tank. She stole a shuttlecraft and left them, going anywhere to get away from the place of her betrayal. What Bludselber hadn’t realised though, was that as she had attacked the Think tank’s spaceship, she had activated a defence mechanism. She had been infected with nanites which had been programmed to replicate themselves inside her body, turning her metal into more nanites, like infinitesimally small Von Neumann machines. Even as she sped away from Kuros, her body was dissolving.
"The only other man in her life who had mean as much to her as Allixanda and Kuros was Harry Kim. She had known him as a friend for years while she had been a human, and had lived close to him, studied close to him and served on Voyager close to him. Yet always there seemed to be a division between them which she could never understand. It was only later, when she was no longer human but Kobali, that she discovered it had been his fear of damaging the friendship that had prevented him from attempting to initiate something more. He had been with her when she had died as a human, and yet even then, when her experience had taught her that people were most open to those around them, she felt that gap between herself and Harry. The one thing that had driven her back to Voyager when she was a Kobali was a feeling that there was something incomplete between them, that she needed to bridge the gap that had always been there. The two of them becoming lovers was what she felt would resolve her feelings. It had resolved her feelings, but only in that she learnt that their failure to become more than friends was not what had been the cause of that feeling of distance, but instead that there was something lacking, in him, or in herself. There was something about him that failed to make her feel alive. That disappointment was part of what helped her decide to return to the Kobali. In a way Q’ret’s appearance had been a relief. It had given her the opportunity to escape from a relationship that suddenly seemed very claustrophobic. It seemed so obvious in retrospect, and with her Kobali ability to see and understand the entirety of patterns. If there could have been anything between them during all those years, then there would have been."
Harren was silent for a few moments after Lynnael had finished her stories. Even when Lynnael described the feelings of distance between her and Harry, and the emotions were reproduced in his mind, that relationship was still far closer than anything he had experienced. Harren suddenly and keenly felt the sparseness of his own life. The person who floated before him had fitted more into each of her lives, short-lived though some of them were, than he had in his single one.
He looked at the stars that surrounded him. Rather than appearing silent and peaceful, as he had always felt about them before, they now seemed cold and isolated. He felt uncertain, about the life choices he had made, leaving Vico Five, cutting himself off from those around him, finding escape and security in the abstract calculations of cosmology.
"I …" he stopped. Where could he start. There was so much he wanted to say about how he’d felt about Lyndsay, about his response now to the unwordly, ethereal beauty of the angel-like being that floated before him. And about the awe he felt for that single, unbroken self that had maintained itself through lives, deaths, assimilations and transformations, and survived intact. "Ah …" He paused again. How do you speak to an angel? he asked himself. "This is it. I have to go. I’m not sure if I’ll get permission for another EVA. This job’s finished." He looked at the completed white outline around the newly crossed 7. "I…" He gave up and said simply "bye".
Harren turned and walked back to the airlock, feeling as if he was retreating from life itself.
The mess hall was dark as Neelix tidied way the last of the day’s pots and pans. The senior staff had been working late, discussing the contact they had made with the species floating around the ship. Neelix had looked out of the windows, but he had not yet seen any of the creatures. He had thought about taking an environmental suit and going outside, but all extra-vehicular activity, except for that of the senior staff, had been stopped, to avoid complicating the first contact procedure. It hadn’t mattered. All the routine maintenance being carried out on the surface of the ship had been completed anyway.
Neelix caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of something moving. He turned, and dropped the pan he was carrying in surprise. One of the Illumi was floating outside the mess hall window. Its large sail-like wings undulated. Tendrils from its torso flicked over the surface of the window.
It whispered his name.
"What?" Neelix responded, also in a whisper. "How do you know my name?"
"I’m Lyndsay. Lyndsay Ballard. Acsxmamca m ioziximic."
"You speak Talaxian," Neelix was even more shocked.
"I was Talaxian. Or I will be. Please. Do you know Mortimer Harren?
Neelix nodded, confused.
"Please fetch him. And don’t tell anyone. Fu uxmexem axxkmk lznniahn."
Neelix did as he was told. Harren had always made him very nervous, there seemed to be no way of communicating with the man, which made Neelix try even harder, which in turn seemed to make Harren even more surly and unapproachable. Neelix activated the chime at the door to Harren’s quarters. Harren emerged, half asleep, but already preparing some petulant barb, which he withheld when Neelix told him who had requested to see him. Harren returned to the mess hall with Neelix, who then left him alone by the window, staring at the being on the other side.
"Mortimer," Lynnael said only his name. Now she seemed at a loss for words.
"Lynnael," Harren echoed.
"I wanted to ask," the Illumi continued at last. "Why do you remember exactly when Lyndsay died?"
Harren looked into Lynnael’s eyes. A light shone from them, pale and lucent. And then the words seemed to pour forth. "I remember everything about you," he burbled. "I remember the first time I saw you. I was sitting here and you walked in with some others, but I didn’t notice them. There was something about the way you brought so much life into the room. I felt so much energy from you. I felt breathless, like a shock had gone through me. I always looked out for you from that point, and each time I saw you I got that same charge."
"I didn’t notice you for months," Lynnael admitted. "Maybe only in our second or third year in the Delta Quadrant."
"I keep to myself a lot. I don’t know how to get people to notice me even when I want them to."
"But I did notice you eventually. And then always noticed you. I envied your ability to be detached. I thought you were very calm, self-reliant. I remember wishing I could be like that. To be so independent I wouldn’t care what people thought. Not having to pretend to be on top of everything, to be boisterous and witty just to cover up being scared all the time."
"I never thought you felt that," Harren said doubtfully.
"See. It worked! I was even more effective at hiding away from everyone than you are. Have you ever thought that maybe everyone on board this ship is feeling like that, and feeling homesick, or waking up in the middle of the night petrified at what nightmare is coming next? The only difference between them and you is that you don’t feel you have to hide it."
"I just don’t see the reason for pretence."
"Maybe that’s a strength other people don’t have."
Harren dismissed this. "You were always so strong. You must have been. To endure through so many deaths."
"The first one is always the hardest. After that you’re not scared any more. That’s always what drove me. I had a saying, it’s a Klingon one. About meeting the challenge of each day as a battle to be won."
"That’s what I loved about you. Your zest for life."
"But I wondered, or I think it was Lynnix who wondered, whether that was really just trying to fit so much in to my life that it would eventually make dying easier. When I was little, my only childhood was as Lyndsay, my mother died. I remember a liturgy at her funeral. You know, the ‘earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ thing? ‘Man that is born of woman hath but a short time to live,’" Lynnael intoned, "’and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower. He fleeth as it were a shadow and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death.’ It scared me, the idea that I had such a short time to live. I felt I had to cram so much in it wouldn’t feel like a short time when it was over. I didn’t want that feeling of death hanging over me, so I tried to chase it away. And I couldn’t feel that ‘sure and certain hope of the resurrection’." The angel laughed, light streaming from her as she did so. "If only I’d known that I had so many resurrections ahead of me."
"You chased that fear away for me too." Harren told her. "It was like – once you’d gone there was no life anywhere any more. That boy scout you loved might have got over you quickly but I never have. When I was on that away mission – there was a point at which I tried to save everyone even though it would have cost me my life. Janeway thought I was being heroic. I wasn’t. I was just thinking that at last here was my chance to end it all. At last I had a good reason to die. It wasn’t heroism, just the opposite."
"But you don’t fear death the way I did. It's taken me a long time to realise what you seem to have known for a long time. That the real ending to fear is the ending of who you are. If the most important part of you dies, even while you’re still alive."
Lynnael flitted from side to side, as if becoming uncomfortable. The undulation of her wings became more rapid. Then she continued.
"Do you know how I came to be this?" she spread her wings, displaying her lucent, ethereal form. "I was dying, my android body losing cohesion as it was eaten away by millions of nanites. But I’d learnt so much. As a Borg I knew about thousands of species because of my link to the collective, and I’d heard of a strange life-form that existed in the region of space we’re about to leave." She shook slightly. "They were energy beings, that existed in open space. In their natural state they were formless and without any consciousness, but the information the Borg had about them was that in this form they were like blank templates. If you could capture one and force your will on it, it would take on your form and identity. The Borg had never been able to assimilate one, so I couldn’t be sure if this were true, but I had that Wreltch drive for survival still embedded in me. My long range sensors picked up their movements, but it was only because of my Kobali experience that I could calculate where they might travel next. Entering into open space was no problem, because I was an android, so once I’d captured one it was easy to hold onto it. All I had to do then was try and project myself onto the shapeless blob of light I’d caught."
"So you drew on your lives as Kobali, Wreltch, Borg and an android," Harren reflected. "So what part did your human past play?"
Lynnael was amused at the question and took a few moments to consider her answer.
"Curiosity," she answered. "It wasn't just a desire to survive that drove me on, because really the 'me' that was the android was going to die anyway. It was curiosity about what was going to happen next. That's what made me catch the blank Illumi and hold on to it. even though my body was decaying rapidly and I was floating further and further away from my ship. It must have been desperation, or sheer force of will, but it worked. I suddenly found myself looking at my dying android body, and moments later it fell apart and just whirled away."
"So the android ‘you’ was still aware?" Harren was uncomfortable with the idea. "You’re actually just a copy of that identity?"
"That’s how I’ve survived so long. I’m a copy of a copy of a copy of Lyndsay Ballard." Lynnael stopped and counted in her head, then shook it. "No more than that. I don’t know." She looked at Harren. "I don’t really care. There’s still something of that original Lyndsay Ballard in here," one of her tendrils touched her head, "and Jeht’leya, Lamella, Nurse Worker, Lynnix, 23 of 42 and Bludselber. The important part. The part that says ‘this is me’."
Harren nodded, understanding, and finding a resonance with what she was saying in his own feelings.
"You can accept change, the loss of things, the alteration of what you are," Lynnael continued, desperate now to tell Harren what she felt, before she had to leave him, "as long as you know what the essential thing is within you that you need to hang on to. And know that you’re not going to lose that." Her tendrils writhed about her. "I have to go, Mortimer. I can’t survive too far away from my home. There’s something about this sector of space that sustains us." She let a tendril snake out and caress the window in front of Harren. He touched the window in response. "But I’ll find another species some time. I’ll be re-born again. I’ll find a lifeform that can follow you. And I’ll come for you. I promise."
She disappeared in an instant. Harren looked for her through the window, but she was already out of sight.
Harren sat in the mess hall, looking out of the window at the stars beyond. It was early in the morning and he was the only person there. He was having a bad day. Not only had they just moved out of range of the Illumi, he had also heard that the 7s had to lose their cross-stroke. Apparently the new 7s resembled the symbol of one of the political factions of Andor, and changing to them was being taken as a demonstration of support for that faction. Starfleet couldn't run the risk of being seen to support one side more than the other so the 7s had to be changed back. It didn't really matter to Harren that his work had been for nothing. But no-one had apologised to him for his wasted effort, and that bothered him. As he sat there Neelix entered and approached him hesitantly.
"Mr. Harren, excuse me. If I know you you’re calculating some equation in higher mathematics in your head."
"No. I’m not. I haven’t done that in days. I was just thinking."
"I bought you some coffee."
"Neelix. Why are you so eager to please all the time?" Harren asked him irritatedly "What’s wrong with you that you’re so desperate to be liked?"
Neelix blinked, taken aback by the man’s rudeness.
"I’m not desperate to be liked. It’s just a Talaxan trait. We care about making people feel good."
"But you realise that to humans it just makes you appear subservient?" Harren looked intently at Neelix. "You used to be a man who ran his own life. You traded, broke the rules. Now look at you, running around after a bunch of people who never take you fully seriously."
"I’ve got an important role on this ship," Neelix objected.
"You’ve become a wimp. I’ve overheard you lots of times, whining on about something or other."
Neelix considered what Harren had said for a moment. "I’ve become a different person now", he answered. "More responsible. I cook here. I look after Naomi. Those may seem undemanding things, but they’re important to me."
"No. It’s not that," Harren explained. "I think Naomi’s a great kid. She’s the only person on this spaceship who doesn’t irritate me intensely."
"Why’s that?" Neelix said, taken aback by Harren’s apparent sentimentality.
"I suppose because she’s the only one not concerned with ‘fitting in’, with upholding Starfleet principals all the time."
"She’s a child."
"Being an adult is no excuse for not behaving like a child’. I heard Lyndsay say that once."
"Oh. That reminds me," Neelix suddenly remembered. "Something to go with your coffee."
Neelix went over to the counter and brought back a plate with three small cakes on it. The cakes had a small amount of cream on top, and a chocolate button divided in two and placed in the cream like wings.
"Naomi made them for you. They’re a Terran delicacy. Angel cakes."
"Why did she do that?" Harren eyed the cakes suspiciously.
"I’m afraid I told her about your visitor last night. It made a great bedtime story. She made them for you because she had an ulterior motive."
"Ah, good," Harren said approvingly. "What?"
"She wants to hear more stories about the angel. I said I’d ask you if you had any."
Before Harren could reply Tom Paris and Harry Kim entered.
"Got any coffee, Neelix?" Tom asked.
"Get it yourself!" Neelix snapped. "You know where the replicator is."
Tom looked shocked. "Neelix? Are you feeling all right?"
Neelix glanced sideways at Harren and they grinned at each other. "Never better," he replied.
Tom and Harry emerged from behind the counter with a coffee each. Tom paused and spoke to Harren.
"We’ve got a party on the holodeck later. Risa. Do you want to come?"
"No." Harren replied. "I’ve got better things to do."
"What?" taunted Tom. "Afraid you might enjoy yourself.?"
"No. I’m not afraid. I just choose not to."
"Suit yourself," replied Tom.
"I will," Harren responded defiantly.
They left with their coffees. Neelix stood up. "I’d better be getting back" he said.
"Tell Naomi thanks for the cakes," Harren told him. "And also tell her I’ve got loads of angel stories."
Neelix nodded. He left Harren at the table. Harren smiled to himself. He could accept some changes, it wasn’t an admission of defeat or a betrayal of who he was. All he needed was something essential to hang on to. And he had something essential. He had a role now within the ship. Janeway and her cronies had had it all their own way up to now. Even the Maquis had acquiesced and become well-behaved. They needed someone to shake things up a bit. Sow a bit of discontent here and there. Remind them that they didn’t all need to be good boys and girls. He looked out at the stars again. There was someone out there for him. He knew it. All the stars meant nothing, he just wanted to see one small speck of light.
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