Starting Over

by Jason Race

Crewman Marla Gilmore sat at the furthest table from the crowd in the Mess Hall, lightly nibbling on her breakfast. It had been six weeks since the Equinox had been destroyed and they had been transferred to Voyager, but the crew still was uneasy about her presence. But for Gilmore, the isolation was even worse than the other crewmen. She had been the one who helped Ransom in the end, and Lessing and all the others saw her as being the reason they were stripped of their ranks. Not only did the woman have no friends among the Voyager crew, her former friends also estranged her.

"Is something troubling you, Crewman?" Neelix said as he approached the table the young woman was sitting at. "You've hardly touched your breakfast."

Marla looked down and noticed that in twenty minutes she only managed to eat a few forkfuls of scrambled eggs and a half of a sausage. She found it amazing that anyone even cared to notice, but Neelix didn't seem to have the same mentality as the rest of the crew. "I don't know," she finally said. "I'm just not that hungry this morning I guess."

"Anything you want to talk about?" Neelix prodded, wanting to know more about the woman's problems but Marla didn't feel like explaining it. Thinking about it just made her feel more unwanted on this ship.

"I'm sorry Neelix, my duty shift starts in five minutes and I don't want to be late," she replied, glancing at the chronometer in the mess hall. Then, realizing that if she had to recycle her materials, she may not make it to her post in time, pointed to her dishes. "Could you recycle these for me?"

"Of course," Neelix replied in his customary cheerful tone. "Don't you worry about them, just hurry up and get to Engineering, you don't need be late," he continued.

"Thanks, Neelix, Really," she told him and rushed out the doors. Gilmore walked down the corridor until she came to the turbolift. The indicator showed her that it was in motion, so she pressed the control that would inform the computer it would need to stop at this location.

A few moments later, the doors opened, revealing Seven of Nine holding an Engineering Repair kit in each hand. "Crewman Gilmore," she stated openly. "Lieutenant Torres has assigned you to Astrometrics today to assist me with repairs."

Although Seven of Nine held no official rank aboard Voyager, the crew had told her that she was to be treated as a senior officer. "Yes, Sir," she replied as she stepped into the turbolift and took the kit that Seven offered her.

" Astrometrics," the former Borg drone said, and the lift began its descent again. Seven did not have many chances to work with any of the new crewmembers, and knew Gilmore by facial features only. When she heard Gilmore's "yes, sir" response, Seven had to utilize her Borg technology to keep from wincing. Kathryn had told her how much she despised that particular part of Starfleet protocol, and Seven now understood why. "You may call me Seven," she told the crewman.

"What?" Marla said, startled by the remark. She was not used to saying any more than protocol needed and thus the remark was unexpected.

Seven turned and looked at Gilmore. "I do not prefer to be addressed as 'Sir," she explained. "Therefore you may call me Seven."

"Oh," Marla said. "Understood, Sir...umm I mean Seven." Great, she thought, my first time talking to a senior officer in over a month and I screw it up. "I'm sorry," she said, apologizing.

The doors opened and Seven stepped out, with Gilmore falling close behind. Seven would not have pursued the conversation further, but she had a conversation with Captain Janeway two weeks ago and said she should try to make the Equinox crewmembers feel as welcome as possible. "What for?" she asked, and turned the corridor.

"Umm," she replied, "for using protocol."

Seven raised the ocular implant above her left eye a notch, a expression she had learned from Tuvok. "Since you did not know of my preference at the time," she stated logically, "then you do not need to apologize." She walked through a set of doors on the left and entered the Astrometrics bay.

"Oh," Gilmore responded, resisting her urge to say 'Sorry' once more for not knowing that. Instead, she said "Thanks"

Seven looked back over her shoulder as she entered in both their names logged onto duty. "You are welcome," Seven said, relying on her training from the Doctor and Kathryn. She had learned that sometimes there wasn't always a logical explanation for a person to say 'thank you,' but 'your welcome' should be returned anyway. "Assist me with this panel," she instructed, and they began to work.

Captain Kathryn Janeway nodded to Chakotay on the bridge, not knowing how he always managed to report to duty before her. She was even five minutes early this morning thanks to Seven's help with breakfast. She shrugged it off as one of those things that she'd never figure out and walked down the steps and into her ready room. She put the coffee mug she had carried from her quarters down on the desk and sat down in her chair. It was crew reports day and Janeway knew that by 1300 hours she would be swamped with PADDS to look over, providing nothing happened on the bridge. Where is the Hirogen when you need 'em? she thought wryly.

She turned on her terminal and started to look over the progress on repairs. Although Voyager's encounter with the Equinox had happened a month ago, the ship was still licking her wounds. But Janeway was glad to see that, if these reports were any indication, her ship would be back up to peak efficiency by the end of this week. Her door chime rung, interrupting her from the readout. "Come in," she said, switching off the screen.

The form of her first officer, Commander Chakotay, walked through the door and up to the front of her desk. "This week's department reports," he stated, handing her the PADDs.

Janeway looked at it with trepidation, not wanting to go over them. True, they were far away from home and putting them off a few days would hardly constitute any responses from Starfleet. However, Janeway had made sure that all reports were filed on time since her first week in the Delta Quadrant and she didn't want any to be late now. When the day came when Voyager finally pulls back into dock, she wants every report to be signed on time as a testament to the ship's commitment…and her commitment as well. "Thank you, Commander," she replied, taking the PADDs from him. She began to glance over some of the reports when she noticed that her first officer had not left yet, signaling to her that there was something else he wanted to say. "Pull up a chair, Chakotay," she offered. "What's on your mind?"

Their friendship over the past five years and allowed them to be totally honest with one another. "I've been talking with the Equinox officers a lot since they arrived on board." Most of them, anyway, he corrected himself. Chakotay hadn't visited Crewman Marla Gilmore since she was stripped of rank more than six weeks ago. He didn't know how he could approach her.

"And?" the Captain prodded, disturbing him from his thoughts.

"They've been integrating with the ship very well, performing most of their tasks perfectly. Crewmen Lessing and Gilmore have received exemplary reports from their department chairs," he said.

"I sense a ‘but' coming," Janeway said as she got up and walked over to the replicator, her coffee already needing a refill.

"However," Chakotay continued, "they're still uncomfortable interacting with the Voyager crew on a social level. It's affecting crew morale."

She sat down on the sofa near the window, motioning for Chakotay to sit in the chair that was opposite of her. "It's a hard transition to make, Chakotay," she stated. "It's not always easy to welcome officers who not too long ago were willingly following the orders of a Captain who would kill innocent beings to get home a little quicker."

Chakotay could still sense some residual anger towards the Equinox as a whole in Kathryn's voice. While Ransom did realize his actions and Janeway forgave him for that, she was still mad at those crewmen who did nothing to stop their Captain's rampage. "I know we imposed strict restrictions on them when they first came on board, Kathryn," he said, "but now that some are beginning to fit into their positions, I think we should ease off some of them and credit them like any Starfleet officer. Ransom made a mistake and realized it; maybe they've realized the same thing. We should give them a reason to continue on Voyager."

Janeway studied Chakotay's expression for a minute. Was he being entirely objective? She asked herself as she looked at his face. She tried to figure out what it could be when she remembered some of the rumors that Seven and B'Elanna had been circulating around the ship. "Marla Gilmore," she said. It wasn't so much of a question as it was a statement.

Chakotay got a surprised look on his face. "How'd you know?" he asked with curiosity.

"Small ship," she told him and it was true. As soon as one person knew something on the ship, it was understood the whole ship would know what it was by the next morning, which is why she rarely involved junior officers at the Staff meetings.

"Ah, I see," he replied. "I should have known that Voyager's grapevine would get hold of the story soon enough. Anyway," he continued, letting the grin subside, "what do you think I should do?"

There were times where Janeway wished she had signed on a ship's counselor before they departed DS9 so she wouldn't have to pull double duty, but when she was asked advice, she rarely disappointed. "Chakotay, she's still the Marla Gilmore that you talked to before now, that hasn't changed."

"I know, Kathryn," he told her, "I've already gone over that in my head. But I was a part of stripping her of the rank she had, making her a crewman. I don't know how I can face her."

Janeway stood up, leaving her coffee mug on the table, and turned to face the stars as they flew by at warp outside her window. "You acted as a Starfleet officer in the exact letter of regulations when the Equinox crewmembers were punished, not personally. You have to distinguish between your Starfleet career and your personal life." She took a breath and looked back at Chakotay, who was listening to her every word. "I would suspect, that at a time like this when she's looking for somebody to cling to, somebody to be open with, she would need a friend the most. I can't tell you what to do in this matter, Chakotay, but I think you should show her that you are still her friend."

Chakotay continued to sit in the chair and look out at the stars as Janeway walked back to her desk, realizing that her first officer might want a few minutes to think this out. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him stand up and walk over to the desk. "Thank you, Kathryn," he said and he walked towards the door.

"Commander," she said, causing Chakotay to turn around. "Tell her I send my regards," she told him, hoping that he had decided to visit with her.

Chakotay smiled and nodded. "I will, Captain," he said before stepping out the door and back onto the bridge. He wanted to go and see her now, but knew that he was on duty. He sat down in the command chair and sighed, wishing his duty shift would end soon.

Seven of Nine was crouched down at the back of the main console in Astrometrics as she attempted to repair a damaged ODN line which had been preventing the station from sending or receiving any data from the port sensors. However, each time she tried to repair the line, the damage spread to the next section. The continuity of the conduit was failing and Seven did not want to accept that as a finality, knowing the massive work it would take to fix. She sighed. "Crewman Gilmore," she stated, "I require your assistance."

Gilmore was busy re-aligning the input pathways at the secondary science station when she heard Seven. "Hold on just a sec,'' she replied. The ex-Borg and Marla dropped most of the normal Starfleet formalities because Seven believed it was 'inefficient.' Marla agreed and did the same, making the work environment much easier to deal with for the Crewman since friendship did not come easily for her. She inputted a couple of commands and curved her lips into a smile of satisfaction. She walked behind the console and crouched down to match Seven's position. "What is it?" she asked cheerfully.

"This ODN line is damaged. I will need to replace the whole conduit," Seven responded curtly, not pleased with her inability to repair the line efficiently.

Gilmore saw the disappointment in the Borg's eyes and sighed, knowing that it would take both of them the rest of their duty shift to install the new conduit. "Damn," she whispered in an outward expression of her frustration. "Alright," she continued, "I'll return to Engineering and have a new one replicated." She stood up, using the console as a support with her hand.

"Also inform Lieutenant Torres that ODN access will be rerouted to the auxiliary conduits for this section for the rest of the shift," Seven added. While the conduits were being repaired or replaced, all network traffic through them must be routed through auxiliary systems so that no station on the ship would be cut off completely from the main computer. However, the rate of transfer was slow and stations operating on the auxiliary ODN lines suffered severe performance degradation.

"Understood," Marla replied and walked out the doors into the corridor. The morning had gone by slowly and the stress was beginning to make some of the muscles in the crewman's shoulders tighten. She shifted them beneath her uniform but the action had no effect. Every time they fixed one problem, a new one would show up somewhere else in the bay. The ODN conduit failure was their latest problem and Marla knew she would probably be reporting here with Seven tomorrow as well.

Not that is necessarily a bad thing, Marla thought. Today had not only been her first day working outside of Engineering, but the crewman actually enjoyed Seven's company as she did not hold Gilmore's mistake on the Equinox against her and made feel useful again. She only wished that Chakotay thought that way. Marla hadn't spoken with the first officer since they were transferred to Voyager and the last time she saw him was in the conference room when the former Equinox crew were all demoted to Crewman. Even then, he couldn't look at her for more than two seconds at a time as he was always shifting his eyes to the conference room walls. Although she didn't have much of an opportunity to get to know the Commander all that well, she liked his demeanor and was hoping their friendship would survive this tear. Gilmore intended to visit him in his quarters sometime, but she never managed to get beyond the doors to her quarters, much less walk to Chakotay's. Why haven't I gone? She asked herself and stepped into the turbolift and told it her destination. Maybe it's because I'm frightened of another rejection, she proposed to herself, but immediately rejected it. After all she went through, what could she possibly have to be afraid of?

The turbolift doors opened, disrupting her thoughts. She strode down the hallway and turned right, entering Engineering to find everybody doing their best to meet B'Elanna's deadline for repairs, the end of the week. "Lieutenant," she yelled, spotting her superior on the opposite side of the warp core.

"What can I do for you, Crewman?" she asked.

There wasn't any sense of anger in the word that was directed at Gilmore, but every time somebody called her by that rank it felt as though it was a personal attack on her even though she knew it wasn't true. "Seven and I are going to need to have a new ODN conduit replicated for Astrometrics," she reported and tried not to make it sound too grim.

But B'Elanna, a seasoned engineer, knew exactly what that meant. "The entire conduit is bad?" she asked, not quite believing it. "I just replaced that conduit two months ago!"

"Yes, sir," Gilmore responded. "Seven has been trying to restore it all morning but no luck. I guess the last attack the Equinox made damaged it beyond repair."

B'Elanna let out a heavy sigh and waved over to her second in command. "Vorik, I need a new ODN conduit replicated for Astrometrics now. As a matter of fact," she said, waving the PADD she was carrying, "just beam it directly to the bay."

"Understood, Lieutenant," the calm voice of the Vulcan replied as he entered in the parameters to replicate and transport the conduit.

"Gilmore to Seven," she said, unknowingly stepping over B'Elanna's command authority, causing the Klingon-Human hybrid to fold her arms across her chest and lean back against the protective guard rail that surrounded the ship's warp core.

"Go ahead, Crewman," the voice of the ship's Astrometrics officer replied, not understanding nor recognizing the breach in protocol Gilmore had committed.

"Lieutenant Torres is going to have the new conduit beamed directly to your location." She was aware of the Chief Engineer's eyes staring directly at her, but did not understand why. It was just common courtesy to let Seven know of the transport.

"Understood. Seven out," she said, breaking the communication link between the two.

B'Elanna shot a look at Gilmore. "That was my responsibility, Crewman Gilmore," she barked.

Marla mentally hit herself against a bulkhead, realizing now why Torres had stared at her with what was now clearly anger. It had been six weeks since she was transferred. When was she going to learn that she wasn't the Chief Engineer anymore?

The doors to Engineering opened and Gilmore turned away from B'Elanna to see Commander Chakotay walk briskly through them and approach her. Torres, logically thinking that he was by to pick up the crew report she held in her hand, walked up to him and extended the PADD. "Excuse me, Lieutenant," he said, brushing off B'Elanna with his eyes focused directly on Marla. "We need to talk."

Crewman Marla Gilmore stood in the middle of the Engineering deck, stunned at Commander Chakotay's sudden appearance and even more so by what he said. She noticed B'Elanna's hand was still outstretched with the crew reports and wasn't sure which of them was stunned more by his presence.

"I've got to head back to Astrometrics," she replied curiously, each word a struggle for her to say. After all the times she had mapped out what she wanted to say to him, it seemed now it was hard for her to say anything at all. "Um," she continued, "you can walk with me if you like."

Chakotay, who had been monitoring her location from the bridge, knew where she was working but didn't think he should tell her that right now. Instead, he said, "Very well, Crewman. Whenever you're ready."

"Lieutenant?" she asked, looking over at the still baffled engineer. Marla wasn't even sure she knew what was going on herself and B'Elanna was looking on as a helpless bystander to the interaction.

"Vorik should have the ODN conduit transported to Astrometrics by the time you return," she informed the crewman. "Dismissed," she ordered, casting a burning glance first at Gilmore and then at the first officer. Two people have overstepped her command in her domain in less than two minutes and she didn't even know what the hell was going on.

"Aye, Lieutenant," Gilmore replied, looking at Chakotay and nodding, signaling him to follow her as she strode out Engineering.

Chakotay caught up to her and found a place at her left side as they walked through the corridor. He opened is mouth to say something but quickly closed it, deciding against it. Then he opened it again. "So how is the work progressing?" he asked, and inadvertently made the conversation a professional one, like he always did when he encountered her.

"We've got to replace the main ODN conduit in Astrometrics and tomorrow refinish the consoles that got damaged, but the work is progressing fairly smoothly," she returned, curious as to why Chakotay decided to ask that.

"Ah," the Commander replied simply. "That's good," he added. They walked into the turbolift and Gilmore told the computer the destination. Chakotay couldn't help but admire the young woman after all that she had went through. Her voice was more relaxed than when he first met her and Chakotay also noticed that she did not mind riding in turbolifts anymore.

"I thought you wanted to talk to me?" Gilmore asked nervously. Neither of them had said much on the journey up to Astrometrics lab and now as they stepped off of the lift she wanted to know what was going on.

"Hmm?" Chakotay said. "Oh," he continued and tried to get up enough courage to ask. "Look, Marla, I know you've been having a hard time since you were demoted and I wish it didn't have to happen. After all, you are the one who helped us to defeat the Equinox." He sighed, knowing everything he said had been told many times before, not just to himself but also to the Captain. He argued that since Gilmore had decided to help Ransom and Voyager in the end that she should get a lesser punishment. He had lost that argument but did not want to lose this one.

"You have no idea," she returned with a slight edge to her voice. "Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing by helping Ransom in the end." They approached the doors to Astrometrics and she leaned against the wall adjacent to them. "I've lost so much. I don't know if I'll be able to recover."

Chakotay, who noticed that Marla put a little more distance between herself and him stepped closer and placed his hands on her shoulders. "Let me help," he told her, repeating the old phrase. "I know you're hurting, Marla," he said softly, "and I know I've not been there all the times I probably should have but I'm here now."

Marla looked at him for a moment. She saw the compassion in his voice and the worry in his eyes. "I don't know, Chakotay," she replied. "I can't now I've got duty but…I don't know." Gilmore sighed because she didn't know what to do.

"How about this," Chakotay offered. "Meet me in the Mess Hall after our duty shifts are over."

"I need to think about this first," she said. "I want to say ‘yes' but something is keeping from saying that and I don't know why."

Chakotay nodded. "I'll be there just in case." He wanted to embrace her in his arms and take away all the hurt that was going through her mind but knew that it wasn't appropriate to do so and also didn't know whether she would accept his embrace or not.

Marla nodded and lifted his hands off of her shoulders. "I've got to get back to work," she told him and walked through the doors to Astrometrics, leaving Chakotay in the hallway thinking of what to do next. Finally he shook his head and walked off towards the turbolift that would take him back to the bridge, taking one last look at the doors that Gilmore walked through before turning away for the final time.

Seven of Nine scanned the newly transported ODN conduit with a tricorder to determine whether there were any micro fractures along its surface or if the fiber-optic technology at its center had been damaged in any way. Even the smallest detection could make the whole conduit defective and Seven would rather find out now than later. The tricorder beeped once to inform Seven that no such problems had been found and the conduit was in full working order. Now she would have to begin removal of the old one.

The doors opened behind her and she noticed Crewman Marla Gilmore walk and kneel down by the place the conduit was currently at. The conduit was about 6 feet long and was lying in the middle of the room. "Crewman Gilmore," she said. "Please assist me in disconnecting all the terminals from the main computer."

"Understood, Seven," Gilmore replied as she stood up and walked over to the consoles on the left. In order to replace the conduit, all network activity must be stopped so that the damaged conduit could be disconnected and removed. Seven went around to the three consoles on the right side of the room but noticed Gilmore was still on the first one on the left side.

"Crewman," Seven said but Gilmore didn't seem to hear, as the woman did not turn around. "Crewman Gilmore," Seven repeated but a little louder this time.

Evidently this caught her attention as she whipped her head around. "Yes?"

"Please de-activate the other stations so I can remove the damaged conduit," she ordered and wondered what the young woman was thinking about.

"Oh right," she replied.

Seven walked back to the main console, disconnecting it from the rest of the ship. "You appear...distracted," Seven said, searching for the right word.

"I was just letting my mind wander, Seven. Sorry," she apologized as she finished disconnecting the last console. "Ok all of these consoles are now standalone. All that remains is to cut the power to them."

Seven nodded. "Seven of Nine to Bridge," she said, hitting her communicator.

"Go ahead," the voice of Commander Chakotay replied through the link and Seven noticed that Marla had walked up the ramp, sighing as she did so.

"We are ready to replace the damaged ODN conduit. Please disengage power to all the workstations in Astrometrics," she ordered, as was her typical style. Ever since she was severed from the collective, she found Voyager's command structure disorganized at times and inefficient. Because of this, she did not always obey Starfleet's proper protocols.

"Understood. Bridge out," the first officer acknowledged, ending the link. Shortly after, all the consoles in Astrometrics, including the star chart display on the forward wall, went blank as the bridge took them offline.

When Seven had confirmed all of the consoles were dark, she walked up the ramp scanned the opening where the head of the damaged conduit was. "The bottom of the conduit seems to be fused into the connector circuit," she stated.

Gilmore was looking over at the darkened display at the front of the room. She turned around after a few seconds. "Try sending an electromagnetic pulse through the fiber-optic relays," she suggested. "The conduit is already damaged so let's try to use the fiber channel to push it away from the connection circuit."

"I do not agree," Seven stated, curious as to why the engineer even suggested such an action. "Sending an electromagnet pulse through the relay might damage the connection circuit it is attached to. I suggest releasing a minute amount of Compound 13-B into the relay. The compound will defuse the connection without damaging any other equipment."

"Right," Marla replied, apparently remembering the tactic now.

As Seven injected the compound into the fiber relay, she looked back at Gilmore. Although she was physically present, the Borg saw that her mind was not with the task at hand. "Crewman," she asked, "what is troubling you?"

"What do you mean?" Gilmore replied, feigning innocence.

"First you expended more time than necessary to disconnect the consoles, then you suggested a potentially harmful solution to removing the conduit, and now you are staring at the blank forward screen. In my time on Voyager, I have discovered that when crewmembers act in this way, their mind is pre-occupied. Perhaps if you tell me what is on your mind I might be able to assist you in alleviating your trouble," she offered as the tricorder beeped twice, signaling the compound had been successful in defusing the connector.

"I don't think you would be able to help in this case," she said. "But thank you for offering." Gilmore knelt down again and began to assist Seven in removing the 6-foot long thin, rectangular unit from the opening in the floor.

"Often times," Seven replied as she removed the last of the conduit, "I have found that all that is usually needed is a 'sounding board.' Talking about it seems to help one towards finding a solution."

Marla helped Seven move the damaged conduit out of the way and then they walked down the ramp to the new conduit, each of them picking up one end. "I was in engineering and Commander Chakotay showed up," Gilmore said as she walked up the steps, carrying one end of the new conduit. "He said he wanted to talk to me."

"About?" Seven inquired as she walked up the steps and gently placed the conduit down on the deck.

Gilmore sighed. "He wants me to have dinner with him tonight."

Seven hit a few of the buttons on the device, bringing the internal systems online and preparing to connect it to the connection circuit, which would allow it to access Voyager's computer. "The conduit is prepared to be inserted into the connection circuit," she stated. "Assist me in placing it in the grooves," she ordered.

"Understood," Gilmore replied as she assisted the ex-drone with inserting the new conduit into the deck. Why am I discussing my personal life with a Borg? she wondered as she waited for Seven's response.

"Commander Chakotay is a very competent individual as well as a very...attractive...human male," she commented. "Have you decided to accept his offer?"

"That's just it, Seven," Gilmore said as they guided the rest of the conduit into the deck, pushing it down so that it fully connected to the circuit. "I don't know if I should. The last month has been an emotional roller coaster for me. You were the first person who didn't look at me with a look of blame in their eyes...and then Chakotay did in Engineering."

Seven pressed a couple of more commands into the control pad on the floor and the new conduit hummed to life. "You were not responsible for the actions of Captain Ransom," Seven told her, knowing that the crew was still trying to recover from that incident.

"I know. But I should have done something," she said. Gilmore picked up the tricorder and scanned the new conduit. After it completed the scan, the device beeped once. "The tricorder reports all relays are at optimal levels."

"Seven to bridge," she said, tapping her communicator again. "You may now restore powers to the Astrometric consoles."

"Acknowledged," Kim said from his post at Ops and the console display's reactivated, the words "LCARS...standby" appearing on them momentarily.

Seven nodded to Gilmore and they walked back down the steps and began to re-connect all the consoles. "Do you think I should accept?" Gilmore asked Seven.

"If you are interested in pursuing a relationship with the Commander," Seven said, "I suggest you accept his invitation. Otherwise, though, it would be best if you decline."

"I don't know if I am, Seven," she replied, re-activating the last console.

The Borg looked at the chronometer on her display and noted it was 15:30 hours. "I can not assist you with that," she said, "You must make that determination yourself. I can take care of the rest of the setup, Crewman. You may log off duty for the day."

"Thank you for the advice, Seven," she said, punching in the commands that would take her off duty into the nearest console as a way to test the communications of the new conduit. The console beeped in acknowledgement and recorded the information in her duty log.

"I am glad I could be of some assistance," she responded as Gilmore walked out the door and tried to contemplate what she was going to do.

Captain Kathryn Janeway took her newest cup of coffee from the replicator and walked back to her chair, setting the mug on one of the only open spaces on her desk. Crew reports littered the surface and obscured almost every section of the desk. 1600 hours and I still have to get through the Security reports, she thought. And where the hell are the Engineering reports?

As if in response to her question, Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres walked through the doors with fire in her eyes. Janeway stood up from her chair and watched the chief engineer walk up to her desk and hand her the PADDs. "Here is the crew reports for Engineering," she said and the Captain could hear the anger in her voice.

"Thank you, Lieutenant," she said, placing the reports on the desk with all the others. B'Elanna turned on her heel and began to walk to the door but Janeway stopped her. "B'Elanna," she said, gesturing towards the upper portion of her ready room, "Please join me." She took her coffee and walked up the steps to the couch.

The engineer stiffened - if only for a moment - and then accepted the Captain's request, sitting down in the chair opposite her. "Captain," she said, "I'm sorry the reports came in late but Chakotay seemed to have more important things to do then collect them from me earlier."

Janeway didn't want to be Chakotay right about now. B'Elanna was pissed. "Lieutenant," she said softly, trying to comfort the woman, "what exactly happened?"

"My command has been overstepped twice today, Captain. First by a Crewman then by Chakotay because he wanted to talk to the Crewman. All the while I'm just leaning on the rail as these two carry on a private conversation in my engine room," she snapped, counting the incidents on her fingers.

It didn't take Janeway long to figure out who that crewman was. After all, she thought, I gave him the advice. She wasn't about to tell her chief engineer that though. "Marla Gilmore," she stated.

"That's right," she said astonished. "How did you know that?"

"B'Elanna," Janeway said as she leaned forward on the sofa, sipping from her coffee, "Gilmore was the chief engineer on the Equinox. It only seems logical that you two are going to bump heads for a while."

"Captain," she retorted, amazed that Janeway was taking Gilmore's side, "she blatantly overstepped my command by contacting Seven directly about an EPS conduit. That is my responsibility, not hers."

Janeway put the cup down on the table and leaned back in the sofa again, gesturing to B'Elanna with her hand. "But at one time it was hers, Lieutenant. A little over a month ago, she was the supreme engineering authority. She gave the orders. Now she is a Crewman in that same department and it's going to take her a long time to adjust." Janeway paused a moment, allowing her point to sift its way into the woman's mind. "How has her performance in her duties been since she arrived, B'Elanna?"

"Exemplary," the engineer replied. "She only reported late for duty once and I cut her a little slack that time because it was her first week on board. Other than that, I've valued her on my Alpha shift. Her time on the Equinox has given her some interesting approaches to fixing problems and has already helped us cut down repair time by a couple of days." Seeing the direction that this was taking, she added, "I'm not disputing the fact that she's a competent officer, Captain, only that she oversteps my authority."

Janeway stood up and turned around, staring at the stars beyond the transparency of the windows. Was Chakotay right? Did I punish her too much? She shook the thoughts off as soon as they appeared. I can't afford to lose my objectivity. Janeway spun back around to face Torres, who was still sitting down with her arms crossed. "I read Neelix's morale report before you came in. He showed some concern at the fact that the crew weren't adjusting well to the Equinox crewmembers and a lot of times they sit in the corners of the Mess Hall during breaks." She sighed, raising her hand out to the stars. "I can't order my crew to be nice to them, Lieutenant, but perhaps if you took some time to get to know this Crewman you might be able to help her adjust."

The engineer merely nodded, and Janeway could tell she wasn't extremely happy with that plan.

"As I said, I can't order you to get to know this crewman, B'Elanna and if you don't want to then you don't have to." She walked back to the sofa and sat on one of its arms. "I remember when I first had Chakotay as my first officer. He overstepped my authority on occasion as well. Then I decided to make you chief engineer. Not many supported that decision. Carey was officially next in line and then Vorik. But there was something I saw in you, Lieutenant, and you were the better choice. The talent and competence in that crewman is not unlike you were when you first came on board. I gave you the chance to expand. Maybe you should give her the same chance." She let the engineer think about that and she began to descend the steps to her lower office, cradling her mug in her hands. "As for Chakotay," she said, swiveling her head back towards the engineer, "I'll have a talk with him."

Torres followed the Captain back and stood in front of her desk. "Thank you, Captain. I think I recognize what you saw in me then and what you see in her now. The experience and knowledge of a different type, of unorthodox methods that Starfleet wouldn't always approve but that work."

Janeway curved her lips in the slightest smile and nodded. "Dismissed, Lieutenant," she said formally and B'Elanna returned the grin before turning and walking out the door. She decided to give Chakotay a small talk - very small - so she could get these crew reports completed before Gamma shift. She had a feeling that if she could make three crewmembers happy before the day was over, though, that she had done her job. Her gut told her that B'Elanna and Marla were going to become good friends over time, just as she and her first officer had. She sighed and decided that instead of calling Chakotay now, she'd wait until morning, remembering he had other duties to attend to. Namely, Crewman Marla Gilmore. And she needed to finish these damned crew reports.

Crewman Marla Gilmore stepped into the quarters she shared with Ayala from Security. Of all the cabin mates, she thought, I get stuck with Security's third in command. Ayala's scrutiny of Gilmore was intense and she couldn't figure out whether he was like this with everyone or if it was because of her connection with the Equinox. She heard him in the ensuite preparing for Beta shift duty on the bridge. "Hello, Lieutenant," she greeted, knocking on the bulkhead.

"Marla, why are you back from your shift early?" he asked, popping his head out of the doorway. He had just finished using the hydro shower and was drying off his hair.

She wanted to sigh but instead just fell down in the chair and unzipped her uniform jacket. "Seven and I completed the repairs to Astrometrics sooner than expected so she allowed me to log off duty early," she explained.

"Well," Ayala said as he stepped out of the ensuite and grabbed his jacket from the chair, "I wish I could chat but Beta shift begins in fifteen minutes and I need to meet with Tuvok before it starts. Good night."

"'Night, Ayala," she responded as he exited the quarters. She missed the days when she had her own cabin aboard the Equinox back in the Alpha quadrant. She also missed her rank as well but knew that was something not achievable.

She let out the sigh that she held in earlier and picked up an extremely old book off of the end table. The Best Loved Poems of the American People was written on the front of it in faded bold text. The book of poetry had been passed down for generations in her family and was a cherished part of her life. This book, however, was a replicated version of her family heirloom. The original was destroyed along with the Equinox when it's core breached. Now she wouldn't be able to pass it down to her children, should she have any, and let them take the same joy she did in its words. She felt feelings of buried rage begin to rise up within her because of everything she lost. The anger was strong and she put the book back down on the table and it landed with a loud thud against the glass top.

She forced herself to stand up and walked over to a table near her bed. She looked at the silver timepiece that was glittering in the starlight. It was a gift from her grandfather who died fifteen years ago. The timepiece was all she had to remember him by. She picked it up and held it in her hands, lifting the cover to see the time, which was synchronized with Voyager's internal chronometer. She placed it down on the bed. It was yet another replication of one of her belongings.

Marla took off her uniform jacket, laying it over the timepiece. Everything she knew was replicated and everyone was a stranger to her on this vessel. Something on the bed caught her eye. Funny, she thought, I never noticed that before. She sat down and nudged herself over to the bed's head. The sheets were pulled over the covers almost entirely, but Marla could make out a partial Starfleet insignia on the hem. Curious, she pulled the sheets back from the covers and looked at the emblem: U.S.S. Voyager, NCC-74656; United Federation of Planets. It was nearly identical in form as the sheets she had on the Equinox but the name was different. New. In her six weeks aboard, she had never noticed the change. Chakotay is new too, she reminded herself. And he cares about me.

Marla pushed herself off the bed and walked into the ensuite, opening her side of the closet that she shared with Ayala. She didn't have many off-duty clothes as she tended to stay in her quarters most of the time but she replicated a few outfits at Ayala's request. She pulled out an indigo blue dress with shoulder straps. She tilted her head as she looked at the dress. It would do.

Marla undressed and threw her uniform on the floor, remembering to remove her combadge and her pips. On Voyager, pips were not cheap – they took up a lot of replicator rations to replace them because of the material they were constructed of. She slid the new dress on and frowned as she looked into the mirror. Something wasn't right. Gilmore walked back out of the ensuite and over to the replicator. She scanned through the menus until she found the perfect choice. She instructed the computer to replicate it and the piece materialized below her. It was silver and shined in the light of her quarters. Gilmore placed it around her neck and fastened it behind her neck. A greenish blue gem from Rilos IV, a planet whose sunsets were among the best in the Alpha Quadrant, rested on her upper chest and Marla smiled.

Gilmore re-entered the ensuite, grabbed her combadge from the table, and slapped it on. She walked through the door to her quarters and out into the hallway. Ready to try something different. Something new.

Chakotay was nervous. He'd been sitting in the mess hall for fifteen minutes. Granted, he thought, I arrived five minutes early but that still leaves ten minutes. The mess hall doors opened and he looked up, for the sixth time, and saw Paris and Torres walk through the door. I hope they don't spot me, he hoped. Especially after what transpired in Engineering.

Unfortunately, luck never seemed to go in Chakotay's favor. They walked over towards his table. B'Elanna crossed her arms and stared at him with eyes that could cause a warp core to breach. "Tom tells me you left the bridge early today," she accused.

"Yeah," he replied, "I had some last minute crew reports to file. I thought I'd stop for a bite to eat before handing them over to the Captain," he concluded, holding up a PADD as evidence. The PADD contained poetry, though, not crew reports. And the fact that he was not in uniform further degraded his story. She didn't buy it. Not a bit.

"Oh. Well we just stopped by get some take out food. We'll let you eat your dinner," she said and began to walk away. Tom was at her side, not saying a word.

"Wait," he said. "B'Elanna, I'm sorry for what happened in engineering. It's just that I've never felt this way about a woman before. I'm doing things I normally wouldn't. Including breaking protocol. And leaving the bridge early to get ready for a date." He looked at Tom with eyes that said, now you know why.

"See," Paris said in victory towards B'Elanna. "I told you that Chakotay and Gilmore were going out. I think I'll take those holodeck hours off your hands now." B'Elanna just rolled her eyes and directed Paris to follow.

"Hold on," Chakotay yelled after them, "you wagered on whether or not I was dating a girl?"

B'Elanna turned her head around. "Why not? There's nothing else exciting happening on the ship." They picked up their trays from Neelix and left, leaving Chakotay with an angered look on his face. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to apologize in front of Tom. Now that he knew, it would only be hours before the rest of the crew found out. He walked back to his table, hearing the doors open again in the background. He didn't bother to see who it was and instead sat down and looked at the words on the PADD.

"What are you reading?" a familiar voice asked from the other table, dressed in a indigo blue dress with a wonderful gem resting on her chest.

Chakotay looked at her. She looked like an angel. "Marla," he said and got up. "I'm so glad you came."

"Sorry to keep you waiting," she said as Chakotay pulled out the opposite chair for her. "I had to think some things over." She looked over at him and found the gem she had worn captivated him. "It's from Rilos," she informed him.

"Yes, I know," he replied. "They have the best sunsets in the Alpha Quadrant," he told her as he brought his eyes up to meet hers. "I was there a few times before I joined the Maquis. When we get back home, it will be the first place I go."

"I was there once when I was little. But I can still remember the way the rainbow of colors fell on the ocean as the twin suns set. I had a gem like this before – a real one – but it was destroyed with the Equinox. This one is replicated."

"It still looks wonderful on you," he complimented her. The doors parted once more and they looked back and saw Janeway and Seven of Nine enter. They exchanged glances and polite greetings before returning their gaze to each other. "So how have you been doing on Voyager?" Chakotay asked.

"Okay I guess," Gilmore responded shallowly as she looked at the table. Marla could feel Chakotay's eyes on her and she half smiled, knowing he saw right through that response. "Its been rough," she admitted. "Not just the change of rank but the loss of my friends. Not even my former friends on the Equinox crew talk to me – well except maybe a passing nod in the corridors." She sighed. "Maybe I shouldn't have helped Ransom. Then all of this wouldn't have to happen."

"You did the right thing, Marla," he reassured her. "As Starfleet officers we sometimes have to do what we don't want to. And has human beings we always have to do what is right – regardless of the outcome." Chakotay looked again at the woman's eyes and could see not only the anger but the hurt as well. "It wasn't easy for my people when we first came aboard either."

Marla looked at Chakotay. His voice was one of strictness and yet also one of caring at the same time, a quality that she loved about him. She sighed at what he said, knowing it was true but not wanting to believe it. "You're right, of course," she confirmed. "How'd the Maquis crew handle the transition?"

"It wasn't easy," he responded, and Marla could tell that was an understatement. "Starfleet and Maquis officers often clashed and ended up in arguments - even threats to mutiny ran among the ship. I, personally, found it hard to work with Paris who I did not like then."

"Are you implying you like him now?" she asked with a wry grin.

Chakotay laughed. "Well, I can tolerate him now at any rate. It's been a long road over the past five years, I won't deny it, but it's also been a good journey."

His eyes were sparkling with pride in his captain and in the crew. Marla wished she could feel the same way. "You've been lucky to have a Captain like Janeway who always stands by her morals. This ship has been away from Starfleet so long and yet it still holds up Starfleet's mission every day. It makes me feel like I'm less of a officer for not doing the same."

"Marla, you are an engineer. You did what the Captain asked and tried to keep the ship running even as it was being torn apart. When you had a chance to make a moral decision between right and wrong, you made the right one." He reached across the table and grabbed her hand. "You made the right choice."

Gilmore could feel the strength of Chakotay's grip on her hand. She squeezed back, enjoying the sensation of their skin touching. "I'm glad I made it, otherwise I wouldn't be here with you." She smiled at him. Issues still had to be resolved, she knew, but she decided to give the universe and all its issues a rest in favor of spending an evening with a friend.

"Here's your dinner," Neelix chirped and set two plates of…something…onto the table. "Enjoy."

Marla couldn't figure out whether he was being genuine or comical as she looked at her meal. It looked like a cross between Shepard's Pie and Pea Soup. "Neelix, what is this?"

"It's a recipe I acquired from the Marconian Space Station. Its served in their most prestigious restaurants from what I was told."

"So they said, I'm sure," Chakotay replied sarcastically, looking back to Marla for support. "Thanks Neelix, I think we're fine for now," he told the Talaxian. After Neelix was a safe distance away, Chakotay leaned in towards Marla and whispered with a smirk, "do you want to take a chance?"

"Well," Marla contemplated, "I've already taken one chance this evening that turned out perfect, why not try one more?"

They smiled at each other as the lights in the mess hall dimmed, signifying the beginning of the ship's "night" cycle. She took a bite of the food and realized that, although the taste wasn't anything to be overly proud of, it wasn't the meal that mattered tonight. It was the conversation. The friendship that had been forged began to blossom into something more. She didn't know exactly what that was yet, but whatever it was, Gilmore decided to let it chart its course and she would just ride along.

"I had a really great time," Marla said, the smile on her face as wide as the doors to the shuttle bay as they strode down the corridors of Voyager. The lighting was dim and not many crewmembers were walking, as the ship's Gamma shift was the lightest one in terms of crew.

"Me too," Chakotay replied, "with the exception of Neelix's cooking." They chuckled for a minute as they stood outsider her quarters and he looked into her eyes again. There was something about them that captivated his attention. He didn't want to leave but he had duty tomorrow morning.

She stepped closer to him, wanting nothing more than to completely immerse herself in Chakotay and hold him all night. He had helped her through so much just by being by her side without even saying a word. What would I do without him? She thought. "Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow night?" she asked. "Without Neelix's cooking? Although I'm not sure mine is much better."

"I'd love to," he replied. "Same time?"

"Same time," she said softly as she stepped closer to him. Marla stood on her toes and gave Chakotay a quick kiss on the cheek because she knew if their lips touched she would never let go. "Good night, Chakotay."

"Good night, Marla," he replied.

Marla waved bye and stepped back into her quarters, allowing the doors to shut between them. She wished he could stay the night with her but knew it was not possible. For one, it was prohibited to do so when an officer shared quarters with another. Two, if he did she would never be able to get up on time in the morning.

Gilmore undressed on the way to the ensuite, sliding the dress off her body easily. She picked up her nightclothes off of the countertop, which consisted of silk bottoms and a standard Starfleet T-shirt. Quickly putting the garments on, she swiped the dress off the floor and put it on the replicator pad, preparing it for recycling to keep her rations at a healthy level. Marla took off the necklace and put it on top of the dress and began the code sequence to recycle the materials. Upon a second look, however, she removed the necklace before recycling the dress and walked over to the side of the bed.

Marla noticed the timepiece was still on the bed where she left it. Picking it up, she put it back in the drawer where it belonged and then put the necklace right next to it. Sometimes replicated things could hold a meaning as well. This necklace would be forever associated in her mind with tonight, where one man pulled her out from herself and showed it was possible to have friends and appreciate even replicated items. Suddenly, the timepiece didn't look so phony. And her life didn't look so bleak.

B'Elanna Torres studied the readout on her display panel and input a few commands into the console. She looked up and around the Engineering deck but did not find a sign of Crewman Gilmore, whose duty shift had begun fifteen minutes ago. She wanted to be angry and upset that the young woman was late for the beginning of her shift but couldn't help but smile, remembering how many times she was late for her classes at the Academy.

"Carey," she ordered, "the plasma flow regulators are off by 2.4% according to these readouts. I want you, Vorik, and Johnson to handle the situation and have it fixed before 1200 hours. Understood?"

"Aye, Lieutenant," the crisp voice of her second in command said. Once adversaries, they had become quite a team.

Torres shifted her head as the Engineering doors opened, revealing Marla Gilmore still fixing her hair. "Late night, Crewman?" she asked jokingly.

"I'm sorry for being late, Lieutenant. I promise it won't happen again," she replied with a look of fear on her voice.

God am I that domineering? B'Elanna asked herself as she registered Gilmore's face. "Don't sweat it, Crewman. When I was a cadet, you couldn't force me to class on time." When Gilmore's expression changed from one of fear to one of confusion, Torres grinned and moved her hand, indicating to Gilmore to follow her. "Seven told me about your recent performance in Astrometrics."

"Sir, I can-"

"It was excellent, Crewman," she said.

"Uh…thank you, Lieutenant," she replied.

"Call me B'Elanna," Torres told her. "Marla, look," B'Elanna said as she moved over into the corner of her office, "I know it must be hard for you to adjust here. Going from Chief Engineer to Crewman is never easy. Maybe I've been to hard on you – especially in the area of protocol. I just want to make sure if we cross each other's protocols, we don't get upset about it." When Gilmore didn't say anything, she continued, "You know, you're not unlike me when I first came on board Voyager."

Gilmore was stunned. She never expected to be talking to B'Elanna in any other form other than ‘aye, ma'am,' or ‘understood, Lieutenant.' Gilmore leaned against a console and rested her hands on the surface. "Really?" she questioned.

"Even more so, if it's possible," she grinned. "I was a walking time bomb. I felt like I had no friends, no colleagues to go to and thought I didn't have a role. Then Captain Janeway made me, a Maquis rebel, Chief Engineer of a Starfleet vessel. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me, and seeing the Captain put all her trust in me to run the ship stunned me." She took a breath and looked down at the deck plating. "I realize now that I've been putting you through the same thing I went through before my promotion. So I'm going to do something equally controversial in this department. You're going to be on my senior staff, third in command behind Carey and I'm also putting you in for a promotion. Congratulations, Ensign," she told her, unable to stop the wide smile forming on her face.

Marla's jaw literally dropped. Waitaminute, she thought, I'm late for a duty shift, insubordinate to a senior officer, and I get a promotion? She smiled. "Thank you, Lieutenant," she said, still not quite clear on what just happened.

B'Elanna knew Marla wanted to say so much more but it was unnecessary for her to do so because Torres already knew it. "It's the least I could do for a fellow engineer," she replied, grinning. She started walking to the outer portion of her office, signaling it was time for them to get to work. "Listen, Marla," she said, "Tom and I are having dinner in my quarters this evening. I was wondering if you and Chakotay might want to join us?" she questioned as the words flowed from her lips.

"That would be very nice, B'Elanna," she said as she used the Lieutenant's first name for the first time. "I'll ask Chakotay on my break."

B'Elanna nodded in approval. "Good. Now I need you to start working on a way to improve our plasma relay efficiency. Pull whoever you need to help you out," she told her, giving Gilmore full authority in the matter. For the first time, she was completely confident in the young blonde haired woman. A person she was glad to call a friend.

"Aye, ma'am," she replied. Marla was aware of the amount of responsibility that this task gave her. She also smiled. It was perfect.

Commander Chakotay strolled down the corridor briskly as he came to the door to Marla's quarters. He rang the door chime and heard the reply of Lieutenant Ayala from the other side. Ayala was supposed to be on bridge duty right now but from the clamor he heard in the background he seemed to be running late.

"Sir," Ayala said as the door opened. "I'm…uh…sorry, Sir. I'm heading to the bridge now."

Chakotay waved it off. "Don't worry, Lieutenant, I'm not here to reprimand you. But I suggest that you get moving, Tuvok is likely to be annoyed. I'm here to pick up Ensign Gilmore."

"Oh. Thank you Sir," he replied. "Marla's still in the ensuite but you can wait in the living area. See you later, Commander. I've got to get going." Ayala slid through the space between Chakotay and the wall and sprinted to the end of corridor.

Chakotay grinned and entered, knocking on the bulkhead to let Marla know that there was someone else inside. He walked over to a chair near the window and sat down, looking at the stars streaming by outside.

"Hi," Marla smiled as she walked out of the ensuite in her dinner attire. She wore a short pink skirt that showcased her body to Chakotay – but not too much. Around her neck she was wearing the same replicated necklace from Rilos that she had during their first date.

"You look wonderful, Marla," Chakotay commented as he stood. He noticed that her commbadge was still on the counter though. "I think you're forgetting something," he told her as he reached for the insignia and placed it on her, also using the opportunity to kiss her. "Ready to go?"

Marla smiled and nodded. "So, anything exciting happen on the bridge today?" she asked as they made their way towards the turbolift.

Chakotay grinned. "It's classified," he joked as the lift doors opened and they stepped inside.

Marla slaps him on the shoulder as the lift continues to ascend. "Teaser," she accused but did not take her eyes off of him. "So, what happened?" she said, obviously not going to let the subject go.

Chakotay shrugged as the lift doors opened. "Not much. The area of space we're passing through right now is pretty unremarkable."

"Fine with me, Commander," she replied. "We can use all the time we can to get these systems completely repaired."

Chakotay stopped her in the corridor. "Enough work talk," he said. "We're going to dinner and we are going to forget all about the ship."

"Is that an order?" she asked playfully as they approached B'Elanna's quarters.

"Yes," he said with a straight face and then looked over to her and grinned. He hit the chime button on the door and Paris greeted them as they parted.

"Hello Commander, Crewman," he said as he nodded at them. Then, turning towards the inside, he said, "B'Elanna, they've arrived." Then he noticed that Marla and Chakotay were still standing outside. "Oh, sorry," he apologized, "come in and sit down. I promise her food isn't as bad as Neelix's."

Torres peaked out from the bedroom. "As bad, Lieutenant? With an attitude like that you won't be getting anything."

B'Elanna stepped out of the bedroom and apologized for her boyfriend's behavior as they all sat down at the table and began to eat their dinner. Chakotay reached over and took Marla's hand in his, smiling at her. He didn't know how he became so blessed to get to know the young woman who took his hand and his heart, but he was grateful for it. In the five years that Voyager has been in the Delta Quadrant he had never felt this happy, this content, with his life. But as he looked into Marla's eyes he knew that their journey home wouldn't be hard at all with her by his side. Outside, the stars streaked by as the tiny starship Voyager continued on its course home through unknown space. Chakotay didn't care as much about that though, because right here, right now, he was home. He was truly home.


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