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Through the Eyes of a Child

by monkee

I'm standing on the balcony outside the dancehall. I think Ensign Paris programmed it—it's absolutely amazing. The Voyager crew is celebrating their sixth anniversary in the delta quadrant. On the Equinox, that would never have occurred to us. We seldom had any reason to celebrate.

I'm transfixed by the view. Rolling hills with trees and a deep blue sky - almost black, but not quite. There are stars everywhere. I can smell the pine and feel a breeze wash over me, cool and bracing. It's laughably superior to the synaptic stimulator. From time to time, I hear someone come through the doors behind me, but as soon as they spot me, they turn and leave. It's only been three weeks, and many of them are still quite hostile. Towards all five of us.

Not everyone is, though. Some of them do make an effort. Even Captain Janeway, of all people. She's spoken to each of us, individually, over the course of the past week or so. I don't know what she said to the others but with me…she mostly listened, I guess. She said she'd seen me with Captain Ransom at the end and asked me about the mutiny. I told her, then found myself just babbling on and on about the ship and our experiences. I just couldn't shut up. I wanted to shut up– it all feels too personal to share – but it was like she'd opened the floodgates accidentally and everything just poured out of me. I found myself telling her the strangest things. Like how Rudy would sit in his ready room with that stimulator on for hours, just trying to escape the horror that was our lives. I found myself defending him to her—although she was just sitting there, strangely silent. I can't imagine what it must have been like for him, trying to captain us under those circumstances. She asked me, then, gently, to tell her what he was like before it all started. I tried, but it was honestly hard for me to remember. That was a lifetime ago. A hundred lifetimes ago.

Anyway, I spent over an hour with her. I don't know what to make of her yet. She's still quite harsh around us, but in her ready room that day, her eyes were kind. I might get to like her, someday. I don't know.

I still wake up disoriented. Sweating, scared…feeling for my phaser. The whiteness of this ship still surprises me. I can't get used to how people smile and joke around and make plans for after their shifts. Their lives here are so different than ours were. I still can't ride in the turbolifts.

I wish that I could turn back the clock, to when the crew welcomed us with open arms the first time we came on board. People were so kind to us, then. I spent a lot of time with Commander Chakotay, and he was so friendly. Now, well, he's polite…but distant. But I'm grateful for even the most basic civility.

I hear another set of footfalls at the doorway, subtly different this time. It almost sounded like skipping. Curious, I turn around.

It's Naomi Wildman. She's stopped just outside the door, and is staring at me. She's seen me and I've seen her, and there's no graceful way out for either of us.

"Hello, Naomi," I say, to break the deadlock. "How's the Captain's Assistant tonight?"

She hesitates, and looks around uncertainly. Then she squares her shoulders, and responds carefully.

"I'm fine," she says. As an afterthought, she adds, "How are you?"

Trying not to snort out loud, I say, "Oh, just fine, thank you," I turn back towards the view, to give her a chance to escape. But I don't hear her leave. Soon, I see that she is standing beside me, looking up.

"I was wondering," she begins, nervously, "Why did you take away the field generator and let the aliens attack us?"

I look at her sharply, but there's no innuendo in her question. And why should there be? She's just a little girl. She just wants to know. It's almost refreshing, even though the question makes my stomach clench and my palms sweat. I don't even know how to respond, and I remember…

"Are the sensors picking up Voyager?" Captain Ransom asked.

"It looks like they're under attack," Lessing replied, grimly.

There was only a moment of hesitation. Just a moment, but it seemed like an eternity. We had to turn back and help them—they were being attacked because of us. But we just couldn't. We'd burned all of our bridges.

"Maintain course," the Captain said, but his face…his face was just stricken.

And with those words, I knew what we had become. It was easy, before, to delude ourselves, to tell ourselves that we simply had no choice. It felt like it was us against the delta quadrant, and we were justified in doing whatever we could to get away. But this time it was other human beings, other Starfleet personnel, that we were turning to the wolves. I knew right then that we had gone horribly wrong. I knew that the aliens coming out of the fissures weren't the monsters—we were.

Swallowing hard and blinking back tears, all I can say to Naomi Wildman is, "I just don't know the answer to that, Naomi."

She accepts this with a nod, as only a child would. Then she turns and looks out over the hills. After a moment, she begins to speak. Quietly. Almost as if she's talking to herself.

"I was so scared. When the aliens came, there was a red alert. I met Mom in the messhall, like I always do. We always stay there with the other people who don't have red alert duty stations. There was a security team with us, too. When the first fissure opened, one of the aliens came through it and it was screeching so loud. It sounded so mad. Someone fired on it and it went back through the fissure. But then there were lots of fissures. The security team was firing and firing, but the aliens still came. Mom had me pinned down on the floor and she was covering me up with her body and I could hardly breath. She was shaking and crying and hugging my head really tight."

I'm shaking now, too. Those unearthly shrieks still haunt me, even when I'm awake. And hearing about the terrors of one of those attacks as seen through the eyes of a child is gut wrenching. I don't want to remember that this was our doing.

"I was scared," Naomi continued, "but I wanted to see what was happening. I didn't like not being able to see if something was coming. I was peeking out from under one of Mom's arms when I saw one of the aliens come swooping down and hit Lieutenant Takako. She was on the security team. She fell down, and I could see her face. And then I saw her face get all shriveled up until she looked like a skeleton. I think I screamed, but I don't remember too well."

Tears are running unheeded down my cheeks. Naomi is not looking at me, but I know she isn't trying to hurt me. She's still looking at the hills. I think this must be the first time she's talked to anyone about this. You would think that she would be upset recounting this horror, but she mostly just seems numb. I know precisely how she feels.

"I still have bad dreams about it," she says, staring vacantly. "I have to sleep with the light on, but I still wake up screaming. Mom comes in and wakes me up, and I can hear myself scream. It's weird."

Again, it's a feeling that I know all too well.

"After the attack was over, everything was busy and noisy. People were calling for the Doctor, and Mom kept yelling at me, 'Are you all right, Naomi? Answer me!' I can't remember why I didn't answer her. I saw one of the aliens lying on the floor. I kept staring at it. It was dead. I remember that I was really glad that it wasn't moving, or making any noise. But I felt sad looking at it anyway—it looked so small. It was a lot smaller than me."

I want nothing more than to run from here—flee the party, the holodeck, even the ship—if it were possible. I'd like to go to my quarters and never come out unless I'm on duty. But I can't do that. I have to face this. And this child deserves something from me. Some composure. Some words. I don't have the right words. No one has the right words. Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I take several deep breaths, struggling to stop crying. I will myself to be calm so I can talk. When I can breathe, I kneel down beside her and turn her head. She looks at me, expectantly, and with no malice.

"I don't understand why it all happened, Naomi. I don't know why we left you alone with the aliens. Sometimes people, even grownups, just do the wrong thing. Sometimes we get caught up in something that we just can't control. I wish I could change what happened. I would give anything if I could. All I can do is say I'm sorry. And it's not enough. It will never be enough."

She nods her head, and her lip starts to tremble. A tear rolls down her cheek, and it's almost a relief to see some emotion in her. She whispers, "I miss Lieutenant Takako. She was my friend. When I was little, she used to take me with her onto the holodeck. She had a holoprogram of a park near where she lived, with a swingset. We used to see how high we could swing. And we would have contests to see who could jump off the farthest. I really miss her."

Sobbing, I gather her up in my arms. She hasn't chosen to confide in me out of spite. Maybe she's telling me all this because I am an outsider, and it's easier. In any case, it's no less than I deserve.

It's several moments before I notice that she's patting me on the back. I'm crying and she is trying to comfort ME.

Ten minutes later, I'm still reeling. But Naomi's eyes are dry and she's talking about holo-programming. Flotter and Trevis, of all things. This is something that always amazed me about my nephew—kids are able to compartmentalize everything so easily. Naomi is an incredible little girl.

"Naomi?" There is a voice behind us.

"Oh, Hi Mom," Naomi says, cheerfully.

Samantha, Naomi's mother, glances at me uncertainly, then holds her hand out for Naomi. "Naomi, I've been looking all over for you," she says. "We have to go, honey. It's time for you to go to bed."

"Oh, all right," Naomi says, disappointed. She turns to me, "I'll see you later, okay?"

"Goodnight, Naomi," I say with a smile. A little more tentatively, I add, "Goodnight, Samantha."

Samantha smiles at me, not unkindly, and nods her farewell. She and Naomi leave the balcony. I feel almost stung by their kindness to me. I don't deserve it at all.

Someone behind me says, "Oh good, it's you."

I recognize the voice; it's Brian Sofin. He is having the most difficult time of it, here. He has a rather…strong…personality, and it isn't serving him well in this situation. He slumps beside me, leaning on the railing. He's quite tense.

"I hate these things," he spits out. "I would almost rather have gone down with Equinox. These people are never going to treat us like anything but dirt."

Usually, I try to be sympathetic with him. He seems to need that. But tonight, I just can't do it.

"People died on this ship because of us, Brian," I tell him. "It's just going to take time for them to forgive us. But they will."

He looks away, swallowing hard. "I know," he says, quietly. For all his bluster, I think he does know. Sighing, he puts his arm around me companionably. I lean into his shoulder gratefully. Together we look out at the stars.

They will forgive us someday. I do believe that.

Will we ever be able to forgive ourselves?

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