Lessons Learned

by Penny A. Proctor

After eighteen months on Voyager, Noah Lessing still had not learned how to sleep.

The first few weeks after the Equinox was destroyed, he would lie in his bunk and listen for the whine he knew was coming. The high-pitched keen always signaled the arrival of the aliens known as the Spirits of Good Fortune. He would remember how Max Burke had joked about that name. Good fortune for us. Bad luck for them that they make such excellent warp fuel.

Some nights he would actually fall asleep, only to dream that the Spirits were hovering above his bed, wailing and studying him. Other nights the dream would be different. He would be in Voyager's cargo bay, bound to a chair. Tell me where Captain Ransom is, Captain Janeway's disembodied voice would say. He could never quite see her face as she spoke. Tell me or I'll turn off the shields and let your little friends pay you a visit. You call it murder, I call it poetic justice.

On nights like that, he would wake abruptly, drenched with sweat and shaking. On those nights he would slip out of his bunk and dress quietly and go to the airponics bay.

Here on Voyager, Noah Lessing was a lowly unranked engineering tech. On another ship, in another life, he had been a xenobotanist but the Botany department on this ship operated with too little supervision for Tuvok's peace of mind. All five of the former Equinox crew on board had been stuffed into Engineering, where there was always an officer near by to keep an eye on them. Noah understood that. He did all right in Engineering.

But when the nightmares came and his soul was in turmoil, he went to the airponics bay and worked on the roses. Ensign Bronowski gave him permission. "Go ahead," Doug had told him. "The truth is, our first priority is the food. No one has had the time to pay attention to the roses since Kes left."

One night he had been on his hands and knees, pruning carefully. "This won't hurt a bit," he crooned to the plant.

"Does talking to it really help?"

He was so startled he almost missed the plant and cut his finger. That was the last voice he had expected to hear. "Captain," he stuttered, uncertain what to say next.

Apparently she hadn't recognized him at first, because her smile faded suddenly. "Mr. Lessing. I thought you were Crewman Francis. Are you the one who's brought the roses back to life?"

"I have permission –"

"Don't worry, I'm not going to bark at you. I want to compliment you. They're thriving again."

He swallowed. This was the first time he had been alone with her since she had taken him and the others into her crew. "Thank you."

To his complete surprise, she knelt beside him and picked up the stem he had just cut back. "Boothby told me that the great gardeners know how to talk to the roses. It always feels a little silly to me."

"No, it's not," he assured her quickly. "They can sense when someone understands them. Roses, they need a lot of attention and you can't be too gentle with them."

She smiled again, and despite that, he thought she seemed tired. "You obviously understand them." Then she looked at him curiously. "Aren't you on Alpha shift?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then what are you doing here now? You have to be on duty in three hours. You should be asleep."

I can't sleep because I dream about the Spirits of Good Fortune coming back for revenge. I can't sleep because I dream about you threatening to kill me. He was tempted to tell her, tempted to toss that barb and see how she would react. But when he looked at her, he saw that she was genuinely concerned about him and the desire to hurt her disappeared. "Insomnia, I guess."

Perhaps she understood how much was behind his answer, because for a moment she didn't move. She just looked at him. Then she nodded. "We all have things that keep us awake, Mr. Lessing."

She left then, and he wondered if she dreamed of the cargo bay as well.

After that, he encountered her occasionally in the airponics bay in the wee hours of the night. They would nod to each other in acknowledgement and talk briefly about the roses or Kes or Boothby. Each encounter always a little awkward, a little strained.

And then the Nygean prisoners came on board. Condemned murderers all, being transported to their executioners. Rumors of their crimes filtered through the ranks, even to Noah, who did his best to avoid shipboard gossip. If true, the crimes were unspeakable.

He sat down to lunch with Marla Gilmore. They'd been assigned to the same team this month, and he'd found that spending time with her wasn't as hard as he thought it would be. She had integrated into Voyager's crew better than he had, and seemed to have put the past behind her. They were both surprised when Brian Sofin joined them. Sofin had shunned all of his former Equinox shipmates for months.

"Can you believe it?" he asked them. "We're actually going to deliver those men to be executed."

"They're murderers," Noah said. "I heard that one of them tortured seven people before killing them."

Brian shook his head. "But execution – that's barbaric. I can't believe Janeway is going along with it."

"The Prime Directive, remember? We can't interfere with Nygean law."

"That's not law, that vengeance. Why should we permit that?"

Marla fixed cold eyes on him. "What's really bothering you? Somehow, I don't think it's compassion for those murderers."

"You into counseling now, Marla? Or just mind reading?"

"I don't have to be a mind reader to know what you're thinking. You're wondering if there's any difference between what those prisoners did and what we did."

"It was different for us. It was self-defense."

"Self-defense? Is that how you remember it?"

"We did what we had to do to survive."

"Yes," Marla said quietly. "We did it to survive. But why was our survival more worthy than theirs?"

Brian threw down his napkin and stalked away.

Noah set down his fork; he wasn't hungry any more.

That night he lay in his bunk for hours, eyes wide open. He could hear the distant keening of the Spirits of Good Fortune.

He was almost grateful when the Klingons came on board. The mess hall was filled with tales of battle, tales in which it was honorable to kill the enemy. For a little while he was able to imagine that Captain Ransom and Commander Burke had led the Equinox in honest combat against the Spirits. But at night, he lay awake and knew better. When the Klingons were gone, even that little bit of self-deception evaporated, and he was more depressed than he had been in months. He gave up trying to sleep at all and just went to airponics to putter with the flowers.

He was his quarters when Voyager was sucked into the Void. The ship lurched with such force that he was thrown out of his chair and slammed against the deck. As he climbed to his feet, the ship pitched again and the red alert klaxon sounded. "What's happening?" he shouted to his roommates.

Tim Gennaro was pulling on his boots. "Can't you feel that? We're under attack."

Ken Dalby was staring out the viewport. "Oh, shit. Look at that."

Noah looked out. There was nothing to see. No stars, no gasses, no planets. Just blackness.

And the blinding illumination of the shields as another phaser volley struck the ship.

That was when Noah realized something was seriously wrong. In normal space, the contrast of the shields against the ambient light of distant stars barely noticeable to the human eye. The lightning flare they had just seen meant there was nothing out there producing light.

"We've hit another damned Void," Dalby grumbled.

"A void?"

"Yeah, we hit one before you came on board. Looked like we were going to be in it for two years at first. Turned out to be six weeks, but believe me that was long enough. The Captain really lost it."

"Stories later. Get to stations." Gennaro glared at them both.

The attack was over before Noah and Dalby made it to Engineering, but the aftermath was clear. Besides the expected damage inflicted by the other ship, one of the auxiliary control consoles was missing. "They beamed it out just as I was going to use it," Mendez told them as they worked on rebuilding the aft shield generator. "Another millimeter and I'd have gone with it."

"I hear they raided airponics, too," Gilmore added. "Word is they took everything."

Not the roses, Noah thought. Who would steal the roses?

None of them noticed Lt. Torres had come up behind them. "That's enough," she said firmly. "We don't need rumors. When the damage report is complete, you'll be briefed. Until then, concentrate on getting this ship repaired."

Torres was called to the bridge before the shift was over, and when she returned she called everyone together. "Listen up, people. We've been sucked into a phenomena called The Void. It's not like the part of space we were in a couple of years ago – that was just a starless expanse of normal space. This is a discrete anomaly and we're inside it. There are other ships stuck here, too, and it seems they maintain supplies by raiding each other. That's why we were attacked."

"How do we get out?" Nicoletti asked.

Torres looked at her evenly. "We don't know yet. Our job is to get everything back to normal so we'll be ready to try when we do know."

"What about the rumors?" Dalby asked. "Did they get all the food supplies?"

"Most of them. We still have the replicators, though."

"Uh, Lieutenant," Maya Powell asked hesitantly, "how's the Captain?"

"Captain Janeway is just fine." Her tone of voice left no doubt that further questions along that line were not welcome. "All right, let's get this ship repaired."

Noah walked over to Powell. "What was that about? Dalby said something similar."

Maya glanced over her shoulder to make certain Torres wasn't watching them, then spoke in a little more than a whisper. "Last time we were in a void like this, the Captain kind of went nuts. She locked herself in her quarters for almost two months, then nearly killed herself so the ship could get out of the void sooner. She would have, too, if Chakotay and Tuvok hadn't stopped her."

She continued on to her post, leaving Noah feeling shaken. Unstable Captain. Low supplies. It's going to happen again, he thought. It's going to happen all over again.

The next day Voyager attempted to leave the Void. They succeeded only in draining energy to near-critical minimums. The Captain ordered the ship placed on gray mode, with only critical systems functioning. Lights were reduced to 15% shipwide, and power cut completely to the empty cargo bays and the holodecks. A day later, Astrometrics was shut down along with all the labs except Engineering and Medical. On the third day, personnel with living quarters on deck eight were ordered to find someone on another deck to bunk with, and the entire deck was shut down.

The darkness affected everyone. Noah realized that normal conversation was almost non-existent; people tended to speak only when necessary and then in hushed tones, as if it were night and they were afraid they might wake someone. There was no banter, no joking.

So he was surprised when Brian Sofin sought him out, lingering after his shift to speak with Noah. "Have you heard?" Brian asked. Even in the dim light, Noah could see that his eyes had a strange light.


"We're going after the ship that stole our supplies. We’re going to take them back."

Noah nodded. "Yeah, I heard. Sounds right to me."

"Uh-huh. Just wait. We'll take what's ours and then some. And next thing you know, Captain high-and-mighty Janeway will be going after the other ships." His smile was hard and humorless. "She's not any different than Ransom. She'll do what she has to do to keep us alive. Then they'll all understand, what we did wasn't so bad."

He managed to sleep that night, but he dreamed of Max Burke. It's our good fortune, but their bad luck.

Voyager got back some of its supplies. The roses weren't among them. The Captain took only what belonged to them and left the rest, even though they could have used the extra food. Some of the crew grumbled about that, but not Noah. He did miss the roses, though.

Word got around that Captain Janeway was trying to form an alliance some of the other trapped ships. They brought alien commanders on board and gave them supplies without asking for any in return, and no one joined the alliance.

Food rations were cut again. The Void was draining energy so quickly that the power to the replicators had to be conserved. No complex recipes were permitted, and emergency rations were served at lunch.

He and Gilmore ran into Sofin as he left the mess hall, still munching a ration bar. Brian stopped. "Just wait," he said. "This alliance business won't last. Captain Janeway will change her tune when the power runs out. You'll see."

"You're wrong." Gilmore was genuinely angry. "Captain Janeway isn't like that."

"We're all like that." Sofin almost sneered. "At the heart of it, we all want to live." He continued on his way, and Noah and Gilmore went in.

"He makes me so mad," she said as they picked up trays. "He refuses to see that Captain Ransom was wrong."

"We were wrong," Noah agreed. He looked across the room and saw Captain Janeway with Chakotay and Tuvok. He heard her voice in his mind as clearly as if they were back in the cargo bay. I want Ransom's tactical status and I want it now. Tell me or I'll drop the shields and let your little friends come pay you a visit. "But what if Brian's right? Captain Janeway is determined to save this crew."

"But not at any cost." Gilmore shook her head. "I'm sure of that, Noah."

Some would call it poetic justice. "I wish I were."

That night, he made his way through the darkness to the airponics bay with his wristlight. Without the usual flats and trellises, it seemed cavernous. Somehow he was not surprised to see Captain Janeway sitting on the bench that had once faced the roses.

"Captain," he acknowledged her.

"Mr. Lessing. What brings you here? There aren't any flowers to tend."

He shrugged. "I guess I just think better here."

She smiled. "Me, too."

He knew he should leave then, that she needed to be alone or she wouldn't have come here. But something in him couldn't go, not yet. "Captain? I still hear them. The Spirits of Good Fortune. That's why I can't sleep. I think I will always hear them."

She didn't respond, and he thought he had offended her somehow. "Good night, ma'am," he said and turned to go.

As he was at the door, he heard her say softly, "I hear them, too, Mr. Lessing. I hear them, too."

The next day, the Nygeans joined the alliance. Then a new race, the Gellinians, signed on and with the combination of technologies, they were able to get the replicators functioning at full strength again. Noah didn't hear anyone in the crew complain about the principles of the alliance once their hunger was appeased.

They spent days trying to construct a polaron modulator from four different technologies. Noah and Gilmore were on the team, although he was little more than a pair of hands doing what he was told. The engineering principles involved far exceeded his limited knowledge. All he knew was, if they could build the thing, the five ships of the alliance might be able to break through the barrier of the Void together.

Then their newest ally, Bosaal, beamed in with the very piece of equipment they needed. Torres stared at him for a full ten seconds. "How … convenient," was all she said to the alien commander. "Gilmore, Mendez, Lessing – over here. Let's get this puppy installed."

Noah did as directed but he felt cold. Torres hadn't even questioned how Bosaal had come by this equipment, but she couldn't have missed the gleam in Bosaal's eyes. She just didn't want to know how he got it. He could hear the Spirits of Good Fortune wailing, and he wasn't even asleep.

Captain Janeway came down when Torres called her. She asked Bosaal what he had traded to get the generator. "I don't answer to you," he snarled.

Noah set down his spanner. He suddenly had the feeling – no, he suddenly knew - that the balance of his life was going to be decided in the next few moments.

In the dim light, he couldn't see Janeway's face. He could tell only that she was staring at Bosaal and not moving. Finally she spoke. "Disconnect the modulator, B'Elanna."

He caught his breath.

"Captain?" Torres asked, uncertain.

"But why?" Garon, the Nygean commander, asked.

"It goes against every principle of the alliance." Noah recognized that voice; it was the one that haunted his nightmares. Angry. Implacable. Tell me Ransom's tactical status.

"Not using it won't bring those people back." Garon voice was deep and reasonable. Persuasive. Our good fortune and their bad luck.

Noah still did not breathe.

"But using it would make us accessories to murder. Take it and go," she said to Bosaal.

No compromise. No easy answers.

No murders.

He didn't realize he was crying until Gilmore touched his hand. "Noah?"

"I'm all right," he said quietly.

The Spirits of Good Fortune were silent at last.

They had been out of the Void about two days before he was able to get back to the airponics bay. The botany team had made the fruits and vegetables top priority, and seedlings were already sprouting. The flower garden was still pretty thin, and there were no roses. Noah checked on the flats to see if there was any sign that some had been planted, but found nothing.

"Perhaps this will help."

He turned and found himself facing Captain Janeway. She was holding a potted miniature rose bush. "Kes gave this to me, years ago," she told him. "I think it might be the last rose bush on board, unless Neelix has one. Do you think we can coax it to grow here?"

A smile grew across his face. "Ma'am, if you'll let me work with it, you'll have roses all over this trellis in a month."

She handed him the pot with a smile. "I've no doubt of that, Mr. Lessing. You are our resident wizard with roses."

"Thank you, Captain." He took the pot from her almost reverently.

She nodded at him, and turned to go. Then she thought better of it. "No, Mr. Lessing, thank you."

For a moment he was puzzled, then he realized she was not thanking him for the roses. He met eyes and for the first time since he had met her, he felt that they understood one another. This time he nodded, and she smiled with satisfaction and left.

Noah took the rose bush and turned to the task of rooting it in the garden. He smiled at the thought of actually working with plants again, at doing what he loved. Humming a little, he thought of something else.

He was going to sleep well that night.

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