Star Trek Voyager: Lower Decks

Author's Note: Paramount "tidied up" by shoving everything into the attic and leaving it. We got in there and tried to clear up the mess. The only significant character I created is Anton - the rest appeared (or were at least mentioned) in Voyager over the years.

Tying The Threads

Chapter Nine: Chatter in the Ranks

by Sängerin

In a café on a well-hidden back street of San Francisco, a familiar scenario was being played out. Three women, relatively young and all good-looking, were commanding the attention of the owner, chef, waiters, and the other patrons, simply by their presence. They had taken over a large table, big enough to seat six, and the three spare chairs were piled with shopping bags. The table itself was covered with the remnants of a substantial afternoon tea - plates holding no more than smears of cream and custard and a few stray pastry crumbs; glasses with the dregs of wine lying at the bottom; raktajino cups with stains around the edge. The women were talking cheerfully amongst themselves, seemingly not caring who overheard their conversation. What made the group even more noticeable was that two of the women were so identical in their features that they were immediately identifiable as twin sisters.

Breaking off in the middle of a statement, the third woman turned to a waiter hovering nearby. "One more round of raktajino, please."

"Certainly, ma'am," said the waiter.

The woman turned back to her friends. "And would you believe," she said, continuing a point begun earlier, "that I was actually happy to see her?"

"Seven years can do strange things to a person, Suse," said one of the twins. "Even make you appreciate your mother-in-law."

"Seven years obviously didn't teach you that I don't like being called ‘Suse,' Jennifer Delaney."

The other twin spoke, her expression deadpan. "And in seven years, Susan Nicoletti, you haven't learnt that my sister couldn't care less?" The three women broke into delighted laughter.

"Gods, I've missed you two," said Sue. "Thank goodness Starfleet finally lifted that ridiculous ban!"

Jenny smirked. "We've been fine."

"Yeah, I know you have," said Sue, pretending to pout. "They couldn't exactly keep sisters apart, and you had Freddy and Pablo as well. I've been away on my own for five months."

"You've had Anton," said Megan.

"All right, yes, I had Tony," said Sue. "But all I could do was tell him what happened - I couldn't discuss it. Tony barely knows you two, the Captain - he knew Joe, and Stadi - but it's hard to talk about Seven and B'Elanna arguing in engineering and putting me in the middle, when he's only ever seen either of them on the newscasts." The mood at the table had grown somber, but it didn't remain so for long.

Jenny let out a giggle. "Remember when Seven had all those other memories, and the Klingon personality tried to mate with B'Elanna?"

"Remember B'Elanna‘s face!" added Sue.

"Have you seen Seven at all, Sue?" asked Megan, through the laughter.

Sue became more serious and shook her head. "Not since Voyager docked and we all left. Not in person, I mean."

"She's been busy, I guess. Stellar cartography is waiting for her input to our analyses - she hasn't turned up yet."

Jenny looked over her shoulder at the others in the café, then leaned towards the center of the table. "I heard something."

"You mean, gossip?" asked Sue, with a wry smile. "Jen, when are you not peddling gossip?"

Jenny checked over her shoulder again. Her hesitancy intrigued her sister and her friend. "I heard...that there was something going on between Seven and Commander Chakotay."

Sue had been sitting forward in order to hear Jenny's whispers, but at that she sat back sharply, almost knocking a tray of raktajinos out of the hands of the waiter bringing them to the table. "Sorry," she said to him apologetically, then turned back to Jenny. "You're out of your mind. Seven?"

Megan was equally dubious. "No way," she said.

"Way," replied Jenny, then shrugged. "At least, that's what I heard."

"Where did you hear it, Jenny?" asked her sister.

"Oh, I don't know - around."

"You're out of your mind," repeated Sue.

"Or else Chakotay is," muttered Megan.

"Do you have any proof at all?" asked Sue.

"Suse, it's a rumor. By definition, rumors have no proof."

"Evidence then?" said Sue.

Jenny's face fell. "None that I've heard of."

Megan smiled. "Well maybe you're wrong, and Chakotay's brains are where they ought to be."

Jenny grimaced. "We all know where Chakotay's brains can be - and it isn't his cranial cavity."

Sue frowned a little. "Jen...."

"Hey - it's the one thing we do have evidence for. Lots of it."

Sue and Megan tried to look stern, but Sue giggled, setting Megan off. Jenny, as the instigator, tried to stay serious, but she was soon laughing along with the other two. While the women were in this state of hilarity, the door to the café opened and three men, one tall, beefy and blond, one tall, dark-haired and incredibly handsome, and the last, shorter and darker than either of his friends, walked in. The waiter, looking harried, went up to the men and began to apologize for the lack of seating, but the tall, dark-haired man shook his head and indicated the table of women. The waiter's face immediately took on a look somewhere between envy and pity, and the men made their way to the women's table, led by the dark-haired man. "Looks like you're having fun," he said as he reached the table. Sue looked up.

"Hey, honey," she said, standing up to kiss him on the cheek. "Tony - this is Jenny and Megan Delaney."

"Pleased to meet you," said Anton, shaking hands with the twins. He turned to the two men who had come into the café with him. "So, which of you is with which one of them?"

Freddy Bristow opened his mouth to speak, but Jenny beat him to it. "He's mine," she said, indicating Freddy, as he removed a shopping bag or two and sat down next to her.

Megan smiled at the third, olive skinned man. "And Ensign Baytart, here," she said, holding out a hand to him, "I've got dibs on him." Pablo smiled back, and sat down next to Megan, an arm around her shoulders.

"So she's what's keeping you from that assignment you were offered, Pablo?" asked Anton. "He was telling me about a shuttle testing range in Australia," he explained to the rest.

"Oh, I'll take it," said Baytart. "I've already drafted my acceptance."

"It's only a short commute between here and Woomera, anyway," said Megan, philosophically. "He'll be able to come back here on weekends - and Australia has some great scenery. I'm looking forward to doing some exploring."

"I'm planning a trip to Kakadu," added Baytart. "And besides, there should be no danger at all of Harry Kim's clarinet practice waking me up if I'm in the middle of the Australian outback."

"Well," said Anton, "If a fellow officer's music practice was the worst that happened over a seven year journey, I think you're doing well, Pablo."

"What about you and Jenny?" Sue asked Bristow. "What will you do while she's with the Stellar Cartography team?"

"He's had more than a few offers," said Jenny, a gleam in her eye. "Most of them..."

Bristow interrupted her before she could go on. "I'll be taking what I'm given," he said, a little too forcefully.

"That's not what I heard," said Megan, with a sly smile.

Sue looked from Megan to Jenny, and then to Bristow, who was doing his best not to look embarrassed. "This is going to be even better than when he had a crush on Torres, isn't it?" she asked.

Megan nodded. "Go on, tell her," she said simply.

Bristow had clamped his lips together as though he was never going to open them again. Jenny, still with an evil gleam in her eye, took a breath, and began. "It's like this - Freddy-fitness-freak here decided to work out on the Academy track the first morning we were back."

Sue interrupted. "The track is like a fishbowl!" she exclaimed. "The officer's quarters..."

"Who's telling this story, Sue?" asked Jenny. Sue nodded her head in a silent promise not to talk anymore. "So, anyway," continued Jenny, "the Academy track is something of a fishbowl." Sue grinned, but said nothing. Jenny continued for the benefit of Anton, "the officer's married quarters overlook three sides of the track, and Academy classrooms on the fourth. My honey, here," she said, jabbing the embarrassed Bristow lightly in the ribs, "went running in tight shorts and a tighter shirt, just around 0800, when a whole lot of wives, a few husbands, and a gaggle of first year cadets were all just desperate for some entertainment."

"And they got it," Megan added, "but of course, that isn't the best bit." She exchanged glances with her sister, then continued. "Apparently, Commodore Salada had a number of requests that Freddy be reassigned as their personal trainer. But the best request came from Mrs Cogley." At the name, Bristow made a show of banging his head on the table. Grinning at him, Megan continued. "When Freddy turned up, totally oblivious, to run the next morning, she came up to him, leading about ten dogs - Setters, Dalmatians, a couple fluffy little Terriers - and asked him to take them all for a run."

Sue was almost in hysterics by this stage. "So, Freddy," she said, once she had calmed down, and could face Bristow with an almost straight face, "I'm guessing you're not exactly enthusiastic about staying in the city?"

Bristow shook his head as though it caused him pain. "I just want to get away from Mrs Cogley," he said.

"And Linda Hayes, and young Brynn Nechayev," added Jenny.

"Admiral Nechayev's kid?" said Sue in disbelief. "Oh, Freddy - you have no idea what you're doing. Nechayevs do not give up easily!"

"I'm out of here the next ship that's going," said Bristow. "If Jenny wants to see me, we can meet on Risa."

"You think I'll be satisfied with that?" asked Jenny. "You can leave, but within reason," she said. "In other words - I want you closer than Risa."

As something of an outsider in this group of Voyager crew, Anton had remained quiet during this conversation. But at Jenny's comment, he turned to Sue and smiled. "I can understand what Jenny is saying, you know."

"Well, Utopia Planetia is pretty close," Sue replied. "And it's not like you have to live on Earth, either, Tony."

"You're working at Planetia?" asked Bristow, glad that the focus had left him. "Design team or construction?"

"Both, would you believe," said Sue. "I get to follow the designs I work on through to the construction stage. Starfleet wants to try, eventually, to incorporate some of the more," she hesitated, "benign aspects of Borg technology into their designs. Who knows - I may end up bringing a new shuttle or two down to Woomera for you to test, Pablo."

"And Planetia isn't too bad a commute, either," said Megan. "What do you do, Anton? Amazingly, I've managed to forget."

"Communications technology - Sue obviously didn't mention it this afternoon."

"No, she didn't," said Jenny, with a smirk. "We had too much to talk about to mention husbands and boyfriends." The three women laughed. The men exchanged disbelieving glances.

"Admit it," said Bristow, "You were gossiping, which means you mentioned us."

"You're awfully certain about that," said Jenny.

"I've spent seven years on a small ship with all three of you," said Bristow. "I know how your discussions usually degenerate."

Baytart nodded his agreement, and Anton laughed. "So have you enjoyed the afternoon, honey?" he asked Sue.

"Absolutely," replied his wife. "We've still got a lot to discuss, but we don't necessarily have to do it today."

The waiter approached the table cautiously. "Will the gentlemen be having anything?"

"I wonder if you'd clear the table for us, please," said Anton. "Then bring a carafe each of red and white wine, and new glasses." The waiter nodded and began to gather the dishes. "We'll have drinks here," said Anton to the group, "then go on to dinner, if that's agreeable to you?" He turned to Sue, then to Megan and Jenny.

"Sounds great!" said Jenny.

Sue smiled. "You don't mind spending the evening with a group from Voyager?"

"Not if you're with me," said Anton, matching her smile.

"Don't I have a wonderful husband?" Sue asked the room in general.

The face of the young Bajoran glowed with excitement. "I know a lot of people are going to be disappointed," he said, "but I think it's great! Voyager has been running on whatever Lieutenant Torres could throw together for seven years. It would take forever for Starfleet to refit Voyager to current standards, so why not convert the ship into a museum?"

"When you put it like that, Dev, it does sound like a good idea," replied Ken Dalby. "Are you going to become the Starfleet spokesperson for the plan?"

Gerron Dev laughed at his end of the comm signal. "I'll be busy enough with the Academy - besides, New Stanford has its own PR department. I think they can handle it. If the worst they have to deal with is whether the museum orbits Earth or sits in the Presidio, they'll be doing well."

Dalby grinned back at the young man he'd looked after for almost eight years. He'd come into his own while Voyager had been in the Delta Quadrant. Dalby hated to admit it, but for Gerron, being out there, 75,000 light years from home, had been exactly what he needed.

"So," said Gerron, "How's Vorik enjoying his visit?"

"I'll say this for him," replied Dalby, "He's pretty good with a hammer."

"You and Mariah put him to work? Ken, he's on leave!"

"He isn't, actually. He's in transit. I don't know what Starfleet's got him doing, but it certainly involves plenty of travelling."

"It's part of the job, Ken," said Gerron. "And besides, I know I couldn't live planetside for too long anymore. Space got into my veins the last seven or eight years. Did I tell you that third year includes a three-month rotation on a Starbase, or one of the bigger ships?"

Dalby nodded. "Have you applied anywhere in particular?"

"The Enterprise, of course - everyone applies to her. Other than that, any ship that will have me."

"Hey, Ken!" Dalby heard from behind him. "When do I get a turn?" Mariah Henley came up behind him and place a hand on his shoulder. "Hi, Dev - how are you?" she said, peering over Dalby.

"Mariah! I'm great, thanks. How about you?"

"Okay, Dev," said Dalby, "I'll leave you with Mariah. Have fun at Icheb's party - give our best to everyone."

"I will. It's been great to talk, Ken. Good luck."

"You too, kid." Dalby handed the seat at the console over to Mariah, patting her gently on the shoulder before leaving the community hall where the comm link was. He stepped out into the hot, dry sunlight of Ronara Prime. They had been here only a month or so, but the reconstruction teams had already managed to rebuild the community hall and housing for the entire population. Soon they were going to begin modernizing the water and waste systems, and build some extra shelter for the recon teams. Dalby stretched his arms and turned around, looking at all they had accomplished.

When he had left this planet and this township, eight years ago, to join Chakotay's Maquis cell, he had been morose, lonely, and bitter. When he returned, that same depression threatened to engulf him once again, triggered by the situation in which he found his home; damaged by the Cardassians during the Maquis unrest, the planet lay directly in the path of the invading forces - first the Klingons, then the Dominion. The people had been evacuated by the Federation and the struggling remnants of the Maquis, but the invasion forces had laid the planet to waste. Although the Klingons had paid reparations to the Federation years before, a reconstruction team had not been put together until just after Voyager returned to Earth. It was a civilian operation, and therefore found bureaucratic hurdles slightly harder to jump than if it had been Starfleet. After the trial of Voyager's Maquis had ended, Dalby, hearing of the reconstruction project ready to set out for his home planet, resigned from Starfleet and joined the team. The day the team left Earth he saw Mariah Henley at the transport station - independently, they had both decided on the same course of action. They worked well together, and the project coordinator had swiftly put them in charge of the team working on this particular township - Dalby's hometown, for what it was worth.

Vorik approached Dalby from the direction of the last unfinished buildings.

"I've just been talking to Gerron on the comm," said Dalby. "He hopes you're enjoying your vacation."

"I am, thank you," said Vorik, placidly. "Construction on the final dwelling is almost complete. Beta team is still working."

"It's good of you to help us, Vorik."

"I believe there is an appropriate human phrase - a change is as good as a holiday."

Dalby laughed loudly. "Well, building housing is certainly a change. What is it that you're actually doing, anyway?"

"A rather sophisticated type of courier, I believe - I carry sensitive messages around the quadrant, and I assure you," Vorik added with a quirk of his eyebrow, "It was not my choice. I will, however, do my duty to Starfleet."

"I'm not surprised. If you had the choice, what would you do?" asked Ken.

"As I have not been presented with such an opportunity, it would be illogical to speculate. I am satisfied with my present assignment, however, as it allows me ample space travel, this time within the confines of known space."

Henley joined the two men as Vorik was finishing his statement. "Well, I'm all for staying within the confines of known space," she said.

Together, the three friends turned to walk away from the community hall and down the road. On one side, nestled amongst the spindly, gray-green trees were the houses the team had been building. On the other, the ground sloped gently down to a creek that ran down the valley - the main source of water for the township. By the creek, a number of children were playing, enjoying the cool of the water splashing over them, relieving them from some of the planet's dry heat. As the three ex-Voyager crew walked along the road, they were greeted by people sitting by the buildings, and those wandering up the road. "Good talk with Dev?" Ken asked Mariah, as she walked beside him.

"He's amazing!" said Henley. "His face just lights up when he talks about his studies."

"I'm glad I'm not in Starfleet anymore," said Dalby. "If I was, I'd have to salute that kid in two years time."

"Ensign Gerron," mused Henley, affectionately. "Who would have thought Dev would end up as an officer?"

"I am sure that Commander Tuvok would not have suspected such an outcome at the beginning of our journey," said Vorik. "But I do know that he has a great respect for Gerron."

Henley laughed and turned to Dalby. "Do you remember - just after those training classes - how Gerron started going to Tuvok for advice about everything? I thought Tuvok would have pushed him away, but he didn't."

"The Commander values interest and enthusiasm," said Vorik. "That is why he supported Gerron's application to the officer's stream of the Academy."

"And his acceleration through the program," said Henley, "although he admitted he's worried whether he can finish all the exo-botany courses he needs in only two years."

"He'll be fine," said Dalby. "He and Icheb did a lot of work the past year or so. He should be all prepared - especially the help they've both had from Seven and Tuvok."

"Anyone on the ship who could help them did," said Henley. "And the good thing is, with Dev at the Academy, he and Icheb will be there together for a year or so. It's amazing they get along so well."

"Dev is only four or five years older than Icheb. Most of the rest of us are over thirty by now - or older," added Dalby, with a self-deprecating grin.

"Much older, Ken," said Henley, smiling and squeezing his hand.

"They both have scientific intellects," said Vorik, "and both are quite young to be as independent as they have had to be."

"Dev always had us," said Dalby, "and Sam Wildman is looking after Icheb now."

"Icheb had ‘Mama Seven' before that," said Henley, with a slight grimace.

Vorik had a questioning look on his face, but Dalby jumped in before the Vulcan could say anything. "Don't, Vorik. Don't get her started on the resident Borg. We'll never hear the end of it."

"I'm not that bad," said Henley, reaching out and whacking Dalby lightly on the arm. "But you've got to admit..."

"I don't have to admit anything," retorted Dalby. "To change the subject completely..."

"Oh, you're so tactful!" interrupted Henley.

"...I heard from Mike Ayala the other day. Would you believe that the captain and Chakotay are a couple?"

"Finally!" exclaimed Henley with a grin.

"You saw this coming?" asked Dalby with amazement.

"You didn't?" replied Henley, equally surprised.

"It is a relationship that has great potential for success," said Vorik. Dalby had almost forgotten he was there. Vorik continued, "I am pleased they are now able to pursue it without violating Starfleet protocol."

Dalby's jaw dropped. "You knew about this?"

Vorik raised an eyebrow. "Are you of the opinion, Ken, that a Vulcan is unable to recognize a romance occurring, frustrated though that romance might be? I assure you, Vulcans are quite adept at observation of any sort."

"I'm not going to get into a debate on Vulcan abilities with you, Vorik," said Ken. "I happen to know you'd win hands down. But did everyone know about this except me?"

"Oh, no," said Henley. "There were a few men who could see it - Paris, Kim, probably Neelix, and possibly Tuvok. But most of them were as blind as you - the women of course, we all knew," she finished with a shrug. That comment earned Henley a light whack from Dalby in return. She grinned and continued. "In any case, the important thing is that they can be happy now."

"It's all anyone can ask for," said Dalby, with a smile directed first at his friends, and then out over the vista of the beautiful grey-green valley spread out around them.

When Mortimer Harren saw the announcement on the newscasts that morning, he knew his day was going to be difficult. Not that his students would ask him any questions he was unable to answer, but that his students would be asking questions totally unrelated to their assigned field of study. Harren had often wished that he could limit discussion within the four walls of the lecture theatre to cosmology and nothing more. His students, enthusiastic as they were, always seemed to have other ideas - and this particular news item was guaranteed to get them going.

As usual, Harren was right. There was an unusual buzz in the lecture hall, and he didn't think it was caused by his scheduled lecture on the Janeway theory of massive compact halo objects - in which he intended, naturally, to strongly critique the theory. He was teaching a doctorate program, so the students restrained their enthusiasm until the end of the lecture - some of them even managing intelligent discussion. Most of them were so starry-eyed over the great Janeway that they accepted her theory at face value.

The moment the lecture was done, Harren found himself surrounded at the podium.

"Professor Harren - your old ship is going to be turned into a museum!"

"Yes. I've been aware of that for some time."

"How long? It was only announced today!"

"Starfleet personnel were informed over six months ago," said Harren. "I still have some contacts among my former crewmates." None of his students had left the lecture theatre; those who weren't crowded around the podium were still in their seats, listening eagerly.

"Well, what do you think about it?" asked one of his best students.

Harren made a real effort to answer the question. "I haven't thought much about it at all," he conceded. "I'm sure that many people wish the ship could be refitted and reassigned. That may not be possible. In any case, I have been told that Voyager's journey and length of time away from the Federation is unique - it is appropriate that the ship become a seat of learning - even if it will be predominantly there for the purposes of entertaining the ignorant," he finished.

"Now that's the Mortimer Harren I remember," said a voice from the doorway. Harren turned to look.

"Telfer," he said, evenly.

"Harren," replied Telfer. "Good to see you. Are these your adoring students?"

"I think adoring would be a bit much," said one of the students, "but he does try to teach us." The comment raised a laugh among the students.

"I teach them," said Harren, deadpan. "If they don't manage to learn anything, it's not my fault." The laugh grew louder. "All right - enough fun. There'll be a quiz sometime next week on massive compact halo objects, and I don't care if you are doctoral candidates."

The students began to disperse. Harren nodded pleasantly as some of them wished him a good weekend, while Telfer looked on.

When the last student had left, Telfer asked, "Well, are you ready for lunch? We're meeting the others at the Bulldog Bar."

"Must we?" asked Harren as he gathered his PADDs together.

"We're in the middle of New Haven, Connecticut - there's nowhere else to go."

"The Faculty apparently had a very pleasant dinner last week at the Shamrock..." began Harren.

Telfer clapped a hand on Harren's shoulder. "Trust me on this one - we're going to the Bulldog."

"I have to drop these off at my office first," said Harren.

"That's fine."

Harren's office was in one of the historic campus buildings. When they reached the statue that stood by the front door, they saw that a red woman's wig, a Starfleet commbadge, and a small model of Voyager had been added to the serious, staid looking visage. Harren shook his head.

"It's a long-standing tradition," he said. "The undergraduates dress up the Sage Boy to match the seasons, or various current events. Give it a week or two and he'll be holding pompoms and cheering for the Parrises Squares team."

Telfer smiled. "I guess people really are interested in Voyager - for the kids to go to all that trouble..."

"They're just mischief makers," said Harren, dismissively. "It means nothing."

"Marty," said Telfer, using Harren's little known nickname, "They've heard about us - that's got to mean something."

Harren looked at Telfer. "Why do you care?"

Telfer shrugged. "It's Voyager. It was my life for seven years. I can't just forget it like that," he finished, snapping his fingers for emphasis.

Having reached his office, Harren stepped inside, dumped the PADDs on his otherwise neat desk, and then replied to Telfer as he stepped back out into the corridor. "What have I got to forget? Five years in the plasma relay room, one near-death experience, and split shifts in astrometrics."

"Long debates on cosmology with the captain, the occasional evening over a good ale..." added Telfer.

"And your point?" asked Harren, not unkindly.

"I'm not sure there is one," replied Telfer. "But I'm sure looking forward to relaxing with a good ale this afternoon. Let's get going."

"All right," said Harren, following his friend across campus to the student bar affectionately known as the ‘Bulldog', after the mascot of the University's numerous sporting teams.

When Harren and Telfer arrived, Kashimuro Nozawa and William Chapman had already found a table, near one of the bar's few windows. The two men each had a large glass of beer in front of them, and Nozawa was amusing himself in the age-old way of tossing peanuts in the air and attempting to catch them in his mouth.

"Hey, Kashi!" called Telfer, a grin breaking across his face when Nozawa, turning his head, managed to knock a falling peanut into Chapman's face.

"Thanks a lot, Bill," said Chapman to Telfer.

"Any time," replied Telfer.

Harren reappeared beside Telfer before Billy had even noticed his friend's absence. In his hand Harren held four menus, which he put on the table. "They're bringing our drinks over, Bill," he said, sitting down at the table. "Kash, William, how's things?"

"Not too bad," said Nozawa. "Keeping busy."

"You see the news this morning?" asked Chapman.

"Not only did I see it," said Harren, "But most of my students did, too." He reached for a menu, then looked up. "This is all of us, right?"

Telfer, who had finally sat down, nodded. "I asked Celes and Harry, but they're busy on Mars, or wherever it is they are."

"Got a bit of a love nest going, have they?" chuckled Nozawa.

"Something like that," said Telfer. "All I know is, Celes says she's having the time of her life."

"Good for her," said Chapman.

"And what's this I hear about you, Chapster?" asked Nozawa. "Rumor has it, you're hot and heavy with someone," he finished with a wide grin.

"Wouldn't put it that way," replied Chapman, as a waiter brought drinks for Harren and Telfer.

Telfer leaned over to Chapman. "Well, spill it."

"Spill what?" said Chapman, trying to look ignorant.

"We haven't had a decent piece of dirt on you for years now - not since your date with Seven," said Nozawa.

"I think what these two are getting at," said Harren, seemingly disinterested, "is that with a rumor going around that you are ‘hot and heavy' with someone - and I don't want to know where you found that expression, Kash - you need to explain it, or dispel it." Harren picked up his beer and took a long drink. When he put it back down, he said to Chapman, "Well, out with it."

"Her name's Rissa."

"Rissa - pretty name," said Nozawa. Telfer nodded his agreement.

"We met at HQ..."

"'Fleet?" asked Harren, eyebrows raised.

"No, she's a civilian."

"How long have you been seeing her?" asked Telfer.

"Hey - what's with the inquisition?" said Chapman. "About four months."

Nozawa ignored Chapman's complaint. "Fun girl?"

"Very sweet and lovely," said Chapman defiantly. "And she's unlikely to tear any of my ligaments while we're dancing."

The other three men couldn't help it. At the reference to Chapman's infamous date, they all burst out laughing.

"I'm never going to live that one down, am I?" asked Chapman, taking a swig of beer.

"Not while we're around," Nozawa assured him.

"Ready to eat?" asked Telfer. "I'll go place the orders if you've decided." Harren, Nozawa and Chapman each made their choices, and Telfer left the table.

"So, what do you really think of this museum idea?" asked Chapman.

"Trying to change the subject?" asked Nozawa. "I like it," he continued. "A sort of lasting monument to our seven years of relative isolation..."

"...bad food,..." added Harren.

"...Kazon, Vidiians, Hirogen..." said Chapman.

"...and everything else weird and wonderful,' finished Nozawa. ‘Aren't you working on the refit, Chapman?"

"Oh, yeah," said Chapman. "Ripping out walls here, putting them back there. Demolishing people's quarters is the worst. I sure don't want to be there when someone finds out that their room got turned into an interactive lab or something."

Harren and Nozawa contemplated the concept for a moment. Harren nodded slowly. "You're right - that could really hurt."

"Almost as bad as having that Admiral Janeway look at you sadly," said Nozawa. "I'm sorry to say this about the captain, but the Admiral was a scary woman."

Chapman nodded his head in agreement. "It was like she held your future in her hands. I tried to avoid her..." he trailed off.

"We all did," said Nozawa. The three men were silent until Telfer rejoined them at the table.

"Contemplating the meaning of the universe?" he asked.

Harren looked up. "Something similar. Temporal prime directive."

"Getting into the heavy stuff, huh?" asked Telfer. "Can't do that with an empty glass."

Chapman hailed a waiter and ordered another round of drinks, while Harren contemplated just how much things had changed. Two years ago he would never have supported the idea that theoretical debates went better with a little liquid refreshment. Fortunately he'd been shown by Nozawa, Telfer, Chapman and Tal the truth of this apparently long-standing theory. It had made for many a pleasant evening, mulling over the complexities of the universe.

By unspoken agreement, the table remained silent until the next round of drinks were brought. When they arrived, Nozawa picked up his glass, took a swig, and then looked at his companions. "So - who's going first?"

"Okay - basic concepts," said Telfer, launching into a form of debate that the group had perfected long before Harren joined them. "The Admiral came from the future and gave us the technology to get back home...otherwise we wouldn't have got back for - how long?"

"Another fifteen years, I think," said Chapman.

"But in doing so," continued Telfer, "she gave us - and probably most importantly the captain - all sorts of information about the future that we really shouldn't have."

"So, what's the problem?" prompted Nozawa.

"That Admiral..." said Chapman. "She wasn't like the captain I know."

Nozawa agreed, "I think that's why I avoided her. She looked like Captain Janeway, she talked like Captain Janeway, but she sure didn't act or think like Captain Janeway."

"What could make her change that much?" said Telfer.

Nozawa shook his head. "I don't know, but does the word obsessive come to mind?"

Harren had been silent, but now he spoke. "Obsession and guilt often go together."

"Since when did you become a psychologist?" asked Telfer.

Chapman had been staring into his glass, but looked up at Harren's comment and nodded. "Think about it - we've known for years that the captain had some sort of obsession with what happened back at the Caretaker's array. Remember the first Void? She locked herself away for weeks, blaming herself for us ending up in the Delta Quadrant."

"And for all the people who died," added Nozawa.

"And what if during that extra fifteen years, someone close to her was killed? That could send someone around the bend," said Harren.

"To the point of ignoring everything she stands for?" asked Telfer.

Chapman, Nozawa and Harren exchanged glances, then all nodded at Telfer. Telfer looked back suspiciously. "I wish she hadn't," he said sadly.

"Don't tell me you're sorry to be home?" asked Chapman incredulously.

"Of course not!" exclaimed Telfer. "It's just...the Admiral changed the future. And that makes me uncomfortable."

"Bill," said Harren, reasonably, "look at it this way. You didn't like how the Admiral acted. Now, if this isn't the ‘real' future, you're saying that the captain ought to end up like the Admiral...obsessive, depressed..." Harren paused to take a drink from his glass. "It's not my area, but I don't think you can really say that there is a single ‘correct' future. If there were, the Doctor would never have got the mobile emitter and been able to leave Sickbay - and think about how many people he wouldn't have been able to save as a result."

"That emitter is from the 29th century, Bill," added Chapman, "long after the Admiral came."

"If you look at it that way," said Nozawa, "We haven't been living in the ‘real' future for at least four years."

"I don't know about you," said Chapman, "but my life feels pretty real to me."

"Fine, you've convinced me," said Telfer, looking utterly unconvinced.

"The bottom line is this," said Harren. "Temporal theory stinks. Stick to something relatively straightforward, like cosmology or exo-biology."

"Thanks," said Telfer, as Harren clapped him on the back. "I think I will." A waiter arrived with their food, and once they'd sorted out the orders, Telfer spoke again. "I went to talk to Starfleet Medical today," he said. The others looked up from their plates, obviously interested. "They've had my research proposal for a month now - and they called me in." He stopped.

"And?" prompted Chapman.

Telfer's face broke into a grin. "It's been accepted. I've got the next six or so months to do the preliminary work, then I'll ship out on a special research vessel."

"Hey, that's great," said Nozawa. "Wouldn't you know, the ship's most famous hypochondriac would end up as a medical researcher."

"Doesn't that make coming home worth it, Bill?" said Chapman.

Telfer nodded grudgingly.

"Well, I suppose I have an announcement of sorts myself," said Harren. "I'll teach out this quarter at Yale, then I'm taking up a new job."

"Where?" asked Nozawa.

"The Academy."

"As in Starfleet Academy?" asked Telfer.

"That surprises you?" responded Harren.

"Yes, it does," said Telfer. "If you recall, you were one of the first to leave Starfleet when we were given the choice."

"Oh, I'm not going back into Starfleet - I'll be teaching at the Academy as a civilian. They wouldn't want a lowly crewman teaching their beloved officers-to-be."

Chapman looked confused. "I thought you enjoyed teaching at Yale."

"Oh, I do," said Harren, "Apart from the students, of course." The four men all chuckled. "But it's a matter of priority. After all, the Academy really ought to have at least one person on Faculty who is able to critique the Janeway theory," he finished with a grin.

From her tiny office, Renlay Sharr could see exactly nothing. Her room was in the middle of the building, miles, it seemed, from a window, or any natural light at all. The walls were covered with books and technical manuals, the desk with PADDs and the remnants of the past three days' hurried lunches. Sharr looked at it all in disgust before ordering the lights off.

It really was no different at all from being on Voyager, she told herself as she hurried down the corridor. Small enclosed spaces, no natural light, no visible signs of life except the people around you, most of whom you didn't really want to interact with anyway. Seven years of forced, sterile existence, and then back on Earth, it's just the same thing. Sharr sighed, then took a deep breath as she approached the doors to the boardroom and knocked.

"Come in - Ah, Ms Sharr. Glad you could make it," said the chair of the board from her place at the other end of the table. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is Renlay Sharr, a consultant with our firm. She joined us only a few months ago - for the past seven years she has been on the Starfleet ship Voyager."

"Was that the ship that got lost in the Delta Quadrant?" asked another board member.

"Yes, it was," Sharr replied.

"It must have been an interesting experience."

Frustrating as all hell, Sharr wanted to say. Instead she just nodded politely and smiled.

"Please, Renlay, take a seat," said the Chair. "You may begin your presentation whenever you're ready."

"Thank you," said Sharr, quickly calling up the visuals she wanted on the projector in the middle of the table. "I've been asked to look at various strategies Galactic Village might be able to use in expanding your business to non-Federation worlds. Firstly, may I say that such expansion appears to me to be a sensible business decision. The Alpha Quadrant has changed immeasurably over the past ten years - relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, the Cardassians, even to some extent the Romulan Star Empire, are far more cordial. There is a market out there - I know that because you've told me so in the project brief, and because I can see it for myself. The question is how can we, as Galactic Village, utilize that market efficiently and effectively?"

Her presentation went well, and by the end of the meeting, Sharr's mood had improved markedly. The board appeared impressed with her work, and in the informal mingling over drinks to which she was invited afterwards, more than one of the board members had hinted at continuing her contract for the duration of the expansion project. Just before she left, the man who had asked the questions about Voyager at the beginning of the meeting approached her.

"An impressive presentation, Ms Sharr."

"Thank you."

"I'm involved in a few other companies with similar interests to Galactic Village - do you know if Starfleet has any intention to explore the Delta Quadrant further, now that Voyager has returned? There must be some lucrative markets in that quadrant."

"There were cultures we encountered who would be eager to do business," replied Sharr. "I have no idea, however, of what Starfleet is planning to do in the future."

"Do you have any contacts from Voyager who might have that information? Anyone in Starfleet?" he pressed.

"No, sir," said Sharr, calmly, "I'm afraid I no longer have any contact with Starfleet. I'm sorry, but I'm unable to help you." She turned away, and got through the door without him pursuing her. She got in the lift and traveled to the company's transport station in the basement of the building.

She materialized at the closest public terminal, about six blocks from her apartment. There was a breeze coming in off Lake Michigan, and every so often, when she was walking in the shade of a tree, the breeze made it so cold Sharr shivered. She walked a little faster, and by the time she was home, she was comfortably warm in body, and the walk had been the last touch needed to improve her spirits.

She pottered around the apartment for a while, doing chores, tidying away the dishes that had been left that morning, and it was at least half an hour before she thought to check the message console. She activated it, and was stunned to see, amongst the expected bills and messages from her mother, an official message from Starfleet, and a text message from Admiral Janeway.

Sharr simply looked at the index screen for a few moments before finally opening the message from Starfleet. A young Bajoran lieutenant ‘cordially invited' Sharr and up to six guests to the dedication ceremony of the USS Voyager as a museum. It was to be held in six weeks time. As a former crewmember, the lieutenant added, Sharr was also invited to be on board with the rest of the crew when Voyager was flown in from orbit. Before the lieutenant ended the message, she requested that Sharr reply with the names of her guests as soon as possible.

Automatically, Sharr opened the message from the admiral. It had been sent to all crewmembers other than the senior staff, and to a few of the relatives of crewmembers who had died. It was a mass mailing, but in Janeway's inimitable style, it was quietly personal.

Voyager was our home for seven years, ran the text. Now, it will house a history of our journey, so that our friends, relatives, and the public may see a little of what we've all been through. Voyager will have one last flight – breaking orbit to land in San Francisco, where she will stand, we hope, for a long time to come. We have been a close family over this time, and Chakotay and I want all the crew of Voyager to join us on the ship for the final flight home. Please come - be assured we will miss you if you do not.

Her mind whirling, Sharr sat in front of the console, then stood and began to pace through her main room. She replicated a glass of water, and gulped it down. She had just finished when her console began to beep. She hurried to answer it, but hesitated for just a second when she reached it. She activated it, and a handsome, dark-skinned face appeared.

"Noah," she said in relief.

"Yeah," he replied. "Did you get one too?"

"The invitation?" she asked. "I did. And a letter from Janeway."

"Same here."

Sharr sat down at the chair in front of the console. "Noah, are you going to go?"

Lessing's forehead furrowed. "I don't know, Renlay. You?"

"I don't know either," she said. "It's Voyager's last flight - I'd love to be there. But can you imagine the response we'd get? Tar and feathers would be my guess."

"Keel-hauled at spacedock," added Lessing, with a wry grin.

"Lynch mob?" returned Sharr, beginning to enjoy herself.

"Starfleet firing squad..."

"The admiral and her favorite compression phaser rifle?"

"All right, you win," said Lessing with a shrug, becoming serious again. "What do you think that letter was about?"

"Well, it wasn't just to us. It went to about a hundred and fifty people."

"Do you think she really wants us to come?" asked Lessing.

"What do you think, Noah?" Sharr snapped. "We went behind her back and complained about her to Starfleet. If I were in her position..." she trailed off.

"You're feeling guilty," said Lessing, with very little surprise in his voice. "Renlay...there's no need. Our complaints didn't make a difference."

"How do you know that?"

"She's still in Starfleet - she didn't get busted in rank, in fact she got a promotion - and the ‘fleet is bending over backwards to keep her happy."

"Don't you feel badly at all?" Sharr asked.

Lessing's face hardened slightly. "She would have let me be killed, Ren. I spent weeks fighting off those creatures, and she almost let them kill me. She would have, if it hadn't been for the commander."

Sharr paused before answering. In her own mind, Lessing's complaint to the Starfleet review board had been rather shaky. He and the rest of his Equinox crewmates had to face their own charges when Voyager had returned, and deservedly so. But as the only two complainants against Janeway from the ship - a surprise in itself - Lessing and Sharr had been thrown together as the board hearing went on. They had got to know each other as they never had on Voyager; Sharr had avoided the Equinox crew, disgusted by their actions. By the end of the hearing, when their complaints were dismissed, and Sharr had begun to think about her future, she and Noah were firm friends, with the one proviso that they didn't discuss the Equinox or the actions of the Equinox crew. That resolve was strengthened after Lessing and his crewmates were dishonorably discharged.

Sharr changed the subject slightly. "Well, I do feel guilty, Noah. A little, at least. Everyone else has such respect for the admiral - she must deserve some of it. My complaint was made up of niggling little things - trivialities that I should have been able to get over. I criticized her decision at the array, her cooperation with the Maquis, the amount of trust she put in a young kid like Harry Kim...I quoted regulations and guidelines and interstellar treaties. Look at me, Noah. I held her up to the highest Starfleet standards. Now she's still there, and I'm not."

"But you enjoy your work, don't you?" asked Lessing

"Of course!" Sharr thought back to the afternoon. "Well, most of the time. Did I tell you about this one sleaze on the board?"

"The one who hit on you a few weeks ago?"

"Yeah, him. Well, today he wanted to know if I still had any ‘fleet contacts. I think he wants to go into business with the Hirogen."

"I think he deserves them," said Lessing with a grin. "What did you tell him?"

"The truth," replied Sharr. "That I have no contacts at Starfleet at all."

A look of concern flitted over Lessing's face. "You shouldn't hide yourself away, Renlay. It's not healthy."

"What about you?" she returned, a little upset that Lessing would try to lecture her.

"I haven't cut off all contact. Marla, Angelo, Jim, Brian and I get together pretty regularly. We've faced the Starfleet music. We're over it. I don't think you are, Renlay."

"I'll be fine, Noah. I've got my work - my family. My mother never leaves me alone! But I was meaning to ask how your work had been going?"

"Good try, but it's not going to work."

"Why not?"

"I know you're changing the subject - you want to get me telling you all about the latest designs for incorporating nano-technology into civilian medicine. Well, I'm not going to tell you. Even if I didn't have a confidentiality agreement with the company."

"Gotta give a girl credit for trying," said Sharr.


"How's Marla?" Sharr asked, genuinely interested.

"Getting there," replied Lessing. "She had a rough time after the trial - she's like you, she takes things to heart and mulls over them for days on end. She's just accepted a job on a freighter. They needed a good engineer so badly that her Starfleet discharge didn't count against her."

"I'm glad for her," said Sharr. "I really am."

"Follow her example, Ren...get out and live a bit. Make some new friends - come to the dedication and get together with your friends from Voyager."

"See if they still are my friends," Sharr said, a trifle bitterly.

"Hey, don't worry too much," said Lessing. Then he grinned, "Just wear body armor."

Sharr grinned too, but did not reply. The silence lasted at least thirty seconds. Then Sharr asked seriously, "Are you going to be at the dedication, Noah?"

"I don't know," said Noah. "You?"

Sharr shook her head, then shrugged. "I don't know, either."

back to Tying the Threads index | chapter ten

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