Stardate 53721.3 (Mon 10 Feb 2375): While Kes traverses parallel timelines in search of one she can call her own, she lends aid to those she encounters. Set in the timeline of "Research."
4 January 2374 1427 hrs
Kes piloted the shuttlecraft away from the Starship Voyager, her home of the past three years—nearly all of her life. She could sense the finality of her actions as she put an increasingly large distance between herself and the ship, just as she could feel the energy of her rapidly-expanding powers building, threatening to explode. It was unlike anything she’d felt before, exilharating in its own right, but frightening at the same time because of the threat she posed to her shipmates.
Voyager was still in Borg space, constantly in danger of death or assimilation. Kes couldn’t let that happen. She concentrated, putting all of her energy into moving them, somehow knowing that it was within her abilities.
"My gift to you," she said as she and the shuttle were overtaken in a flash of white light, a light that had come from Kes herself and had been steadily increasing during her escape from the ship.
And with that flash, Voyager was gone. Thanks to Kes, the ship had been transported nearly ten thousand light-years, putting it safely outside Borg-held territory. But while the crew was sighing in relief and cheering their good fortune, Kes was confused and afraid.
She was everywhere. She was nowhere. Was this what Tom felt when he crossed the transwarp threshold? Kes wondered. Her body was gone, vanished, as was the shuttlecraft in which she’d been mere moments before. At least, she thought it had been moments before. She was alone—or thought she was—but then she began to sense something else, a presence—something other—with her. Around her. In her. Wherever it was that she was.
Kes felt like time had passed, yet hadn’t. She had become so confused in the place that was no place. She grew to fear the other presence, not knowing, understanding or comprehending what it was. She tried communicating with it, but got no response. Could it not understand her? Was it ignoring her? Or was it plotting against her, planning to destroy her?
She had to get back to Voyager—but where was it? How much time had passed? Would they take her back in, or would they push her away again?
Again? she thought. Did they push me away before, or was that my imagination? Neelix always said I had a vivid imagination. She realized her thoughts were beginning to drift, and tried to think about Voyager again. How did I move Voyager? she asked herself. I just thought about it, and it happened. That’s all there is to this place—thought. I have to concentrate. Voyager.
The place that was no place vanished in a flash, and was replaced by Voyager‘s bridge. Kes looked around. She was home. Or am I? a voice nagged in the back of her mind. Can you really be sure?
"Kes!" Harry Kim said, recovering from the shock of her sudden appearance and rising from the captain’s chair at the heart of the bridge. He straightened his crimson uniform jacket, and it smoothed itself atop the orange turtleneck. "I didn’t expect to ever see you again!"
"How long–?" Kes began, but was suddenly unable to finish the question.
"Almost two years," Harry said. Kes looked from him, to the captain’s seat, and back to him, confused. "This is the night shift," Harry explained. "I’ve been taking command of it for about a year now. Everyone else is probably asleep."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
26 March 2376 1538 hrs
The Doctor eyed his tricorder as he waved a scanner over Kes, who was lying on the main biobed in sickbay. "Hmm," he said. "Interesting."
"Doctor?" Kes asked.
"Your body," the Doctor explained. "It reads as Ocampan normal in every respect, save one: aging. According to this, you not only have both of your lungs, but your lifespan may well last into the triple digits!"
Kes sat up slowly in stunned silence. Both lungs? A life expectancy comparable to a human’s? How was that possible? Perhaps, she considered, her body was somehow created by her powers—after all, it had disappeared when she entered the non-place she’d apparently inhabited for two years.
During the Doctor’s examination, she’d been reading through the ship’s logs for the past two years. Encounters with the Borg. Alien communications networks. Seizure of the ship by a race of nomadic hunters. Negotiations with Species 8472. It was mind- boggling. It didn’t feel right.
Maybe she wasn’t really on Voyager. In that non-place she’d been, thought was everything. Maybe her mind had created this convincing illusion. She decided to test her theory. She would concentrate on Voyager again. If she was really on Voyager, nothing would happen. If not… she had no idea what would happen.
Kes concentrated on Voyager. There was a flash of light, and she was standing on the bridge again… but there was something decidedly different—everyone’s uniforms. Instead of the crimson jackets, black pants and color-coded turtlenecks she was used to, everyone was wearing black jumpsuits with color-coded shoulders and gray turtlenecks.
The others were staring at Kes in shock, then astonishment, then joy at seeing their old friend once more. They began smiling and were about to greet her when their joy became confusion as her face became lined with terror and she disappeared in a flash of light.
The light receded and Kes found herself on the bridge again. The others were still in those strange uniforms, but now they were at red alert and taking weapons fire. Tuvok and a pair of security guards had their phasers trained on her, but they relaxed their aim when they recognized who she was.
"Kes?" Janeway asked in shock. "It’s great to see you again, but you’ve got some lousy timing. You’ll excuse us if we can’t greet you properly right now."
The ship shook again. "Direct hit to our starboard shield emitters," Tuvok announced from the Tactical station. "They are off-line."
"Get those shields back up!" Janeway bellowed.
"Already on it!" Harry yelled from Ops.
"Kes, you have to help us," Janeway said, pleading with the young woman who had just appeared on her bridge. "You moved the ship before, but it wasn’t far enough. You have to do it again!"
"Intruders," Tuvok called. "All decks!" Suddenly, several Borg drones appeared on the bridge.
"Kes!" Janeway pleaded again as she fired at one of the intruders.
This couldn’t be real, Kes decided. She moved the ship well beyond Borg space. She was certain of that. With a flash, she was on the bridge of another Voyager.
No, not Voyager. Another flash of light, another not-quite- Voyager. And another. And another. Finally, the strain was too much. Before the light of the flash had completely receded, she fell to the deck, unconscious.
She awoke to find the Doctor standing over her as she lay on the main biobed in sickbay once more. The others were there, eager to greet her—except for Janeway. And there was almost a full medical staff, with obvious years of training and experience in their minds and movements. And the uniforms yet again, were different—black jumpsuits, this time with gray shoulders and color-coded turtlenecks.
Someone was pregnant—Kes could feel it in the mind of the mother. It was Seven of Nine, the Borg drone Voyager had rescued from her enslavement in the Collective before Kes’ departure. Seven was planning to marry the father—Harry Kim. Kes’ mind wandered as the others spoke to her. They were evasive when she asked about the captain’s absence. This couldn’t be real. But she was too weak to make another attempt to leave.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
6 April 2376 1600 hrs
Time passed. Voyager had stopped at the earthlike world of Rrasskarr, home to a friendly, technologically-advanced race of felinoids. Chakotay—in command following the court-martial of Captain Janeway for leading a sabotage ring aboard Voyager—managed to barter with their hosts for supplies and shore leave.
Initially, Kes joined the Doctor at a medical conference on the planet’s surface, but returned to the ship after a few hours, only to find a skeleton crew aboard. Harry was incommunicado while he and his new bride shared their honeymoon. Tom and B’Elanna were off caving in one of the mountain ranges. Chakotay was stopping at every museum he could, to learn about the planet’s natural history. Neelix was busy arranging new trade agreements with representatives of worlds friendly to Rrasskarr, in anticipation of Voyager‘s impending return to the Federation and the introduction of slipstream technology to that society.
She found Tuvok as he was ending his shift on the bridge, the only senior staff member still aboard—and even he was planning a visit to a monastery on the surface when his shore leave began. She approached him cautiously, still unsure of the reality of this Voyager—or of anything, save herself.
"Can I help you, Kes?" Tuvok asked his one-time student in the mental disciplines.
"I don’t know," Kes admitted. "I’m still not sure of the reality of this Voyager… but I can’t prove it’s not real, either."
"Perhaps you should meditate on the situation," Tuvok suggested. "You still do not know what happened to yourself over the past two years. Clarity of one could well lead to clarity of the other."
"I don’t know where to begin," Kes admitted.
"Logically," Tuvok said, "at the beginning. The last memory you possess with clear definition of self will lead to your first without. Begin there, and work your way forward."
"Thank you, Tuvok," Kes said. "I’ll let you know if I figure anything out."
"I anticipate your solution," Tuvok replied.
Kes took her mind back to the day she left Voyager, the first time, as she sat in her quarters across from several lit candles with her eyes closed. She breathed deeply, exhaling slowly. Her perceptions after that point were so cloudy; she had to know where she’d been if she wanted to know where she was at, and where she was going.
She paused in her meditation only to relieve herself, to sleep, and to eat. Suddenly, days later, everything became clear. She could see Voyager, as it was two years in her past. When she moved it, the ship split into several other Voyagers—some moved further than others, some not at all. All of those Voyagers constantly split again. Some of those still in Borg space were assimilated. Others weren’t.
Everything that could possibly affect Voyager—events, phenomena, decisions, everything—split the various Voyagers further still. This Voyager, all the other Voyagers she’d been on, and countless others still, were real. They were all real. She was crossing the boundaries of time as well as space, moving between parallel timelines. She wasn’t insane. And her new body—somehow she’d created it with her mind.
But this Voyager wasn’t the home she wanted. Even after Tieran no longer controlled her body, she hadn’t resumed her old relationship with Neelix because she realized that she wasn’t in love with him any longer. It wasn’t until after she’d experienced a possible future in which she’d married Tom that she discovered the person she really loved was Harry. But she didn’t move fast enough, and before she knew it, she was noncorporeal and no longer aboard Voyager. And now, on this Voyager, he was married to someone else.
She vowed to find another timeline—one in which she could be with him. And maybe, along the way, she could find redemption for not helping another Voyager crew against the Borg when she’d had the chance.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
19 September 2376 1054 hrs
Janeway looked down at the display between her and the young twins, Azan and Rebi. "Why potatoes?" she asked, looking up at their guardian, David Ayala.
"Their first idea was to clone Naomi," Ayala said, chuckling. "I suggested that they should start with something smaller."
Janeway nodded as she and the other judges of Voyager‘s first science fair—B’Elanna Torres and Chakotay—made their way to the next table.
"Quite a feat of engineering," B’Elanna said to Mezoti over a clear cube filled with dark material and moving, glowing objects.
"It’s a Tyranian ant colony," Mezoti said. "I infused the soil with a blue dye, so it would be easier to see the insects."
"They’re luminescent," Janeway observed.
"The drones produce a fluorescent enzyme that’s activated by the queen," Mezoti said.
"Drones and queens?" Janeway asked. She glanced up at the girl’s guardian, Jenny Delaney, with mock concern. "I thought we were trying to get these children away from the Borg."
"It was Mezoti’s idea," Jenny said. "I didn’t want to discourage her interest in entymology."
"I like bugs," Mezoti shrugged.
"Well done," Janeway said to the girl with a grin, then added in mock seriousness, "Let me know before you take up beekeeping."
"What have we got here?" Chakotay asked as they approached the next table.
"It’s Ktaria," Naomi Wildman said, indicating the holographically- projected globe rotating before her.
"Your father’s planet," B’Elanna noted.
"I’ve been learning all about it," Naomi said.
"I thought it was important," Naomi’s mother, Sam, began, "that she have some sort of a link to Gres. She’s programmed in the planet’s geophysical and atmospheric conditions." Naomi activated some controls on the holographic generator under the sphere, and several areas of the planet were highlighted.
"That’s quite a storm in those mountains," Chakotay observed.
"The Arpesian Range is known," Naomi said, "for high winds and hail."
"I’ll remember to bring my coat," Janeway quipped. The group moved on to the next, and final, table. "Now this looks impressive," she said.
"It’s a high-resolution gravimetric sensor array," Icheb said, indicating the diminuitive pyramid with blinking indicator lights on the table before him.
"Ambitious," B’Elanna said.
"It’ll augment our ability to scan for the neutrino flux associated with wormholes," Icheb explained. "It could help Voyager find a faster way home."
"The engineering principles behind it are sound," said Joe Carey, Icheb’s guardian.
"I expected these projects to be interesting," Janeway admitted, "but this is truly exceptional."
"Thank you, captain," Icheb said. "I am very interested in astrophysics."
"Well, you’ve obviously got a knack for it," Janeway said. "Well done." She pulled Joe aside as B’Elanna and Chakotay engaged Icheb in the details of the device. "This is a remarkable young man."
"He reminds me a lot of my oldest boy, Tyler," Joe said. "Icheb’s hoping for a permanent posting to Astrometrics one day. He’s even mentioned an interest in applying for the academy, now that we’ve made contact with the Federation."
"I’m afraid that won’t be possible," Janeway said.
"Captain," Joe began to protest, "Tuvok taught at the academy. He could –"
"That’s not the issue," Janeway said. "We’ve made contact with his parents. I’ve set a course for their planet."
"That’s," Joe began hesitantly, "good news."
Suddenly, there was a flash of light. It receded quickly, leaving everyone astonished to see Kes, who was looking around, taking in her surroundings.
"Kes," Janeway said, finally finding her voice after several seconds. She stepped up to the young woman. "Welcome back."
Kes looked at the faces gathered in the mess hall. "Where’s Harry?" she asked.
"That’s," Janeway began, uncomfortably, "that’s a long story. I think it would be better if we discussed it privately. But not right now."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
19 September 2376 1924 hrs
That evening, Kes sat in the old quarters of her counterpart from this Voyager, which had been "reassigned" to her by the captain. Uniforms aside, there were considerable differences from the history she remembered: there were people who had been aboard this Voyager since prior to her entry into the Delta Quadrant, but not on the Voyager from the timeline Kes had known. Some of the technology seemed to work differently, and they had only recently made significant contact with the Federation.
After she’d explained where she came from, some, like Tuvok, took the news in stride. Others, like Neelix, were a bit confused. Janeway said something about a headache, but Kes could tell the captain was putting on a show—she understood more than she let on about temporal mechanics; she just didn’t like paradoxes.
The door to Kes’ quarters chimed, startling her. She’d been so lost in thought, she hadn’t sensed anyone approaching.
"Come in, Neelix," she said. The doors parted, and the Talaxian stepped into the main room, a box in his arms.
"How did you know it was me?" he asked.
"I’m telepathic," Kes said. "I could sense your mind outside the door."
"Oh, I see," he said, looking away with a twinge of apprehension.
Is he scared of me? Kes wondered. No, I think he’s just uncomfortable with my abilities—I’m not the same Kes he remembers.
Neelix set the box on a table near the windows. "I saved all of your things," he began, "after you… after you left. I always hoped you’d come back someday."
"I’m not the same Kes," she said. "I’ve explained that already."
"I know," Neelix said. "But a difference that makes no difference isn’t much of a difference, is it? You’re Kes. That’s good enough for me."
"Thank you, Neelix," Kes said sincerely. Neelix opened the box, and the two began to redecorate her quarters, sharing stories about their time together before this Voyager‘s Kes left.
I guess this Voyager‘s not that different, after all, Kes thought.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
19 September 2376 1938 hrs
Joe Carey stepped through the double doors of the Astrometrics lab, where he found Icheb manipulating sensor data, a large map of newly-charted stars on the viewscreen. "You were supposed to go back to our quarters an hour ago," Joe said.
"I’m almost finished," Icheb said.
"It’ll have to wait," Joe said. "There’s something we need to talk about."
"Look at this," Icheb said, bringing up a close scan of a nebula on the Astrometrics lab’s main screen. "It’s a star forming in the Or-P’Say Nebula."
"That’s outside our sensor range," Joe said.
"I increased the resolution of our long-range sensors," Icheb said.
Joe blinked. "I’m impressed," he said.
"When I was on the cube," Icheb continued, "I never thought about what was outside. Pulsars. Quasars. Nebulae. But here, in this lab, I feel like I could see the entire galaxy!"
"I’m glad you’ve found something you can be so enthusiastic about," Joe said.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" Icheb asked.
"We’ve found your parents," Joe said. "We’ll be at your homeworld tomorrow."
"Do I have to stay with them?" Icheb asked.
"They’re your parents," Joe said.
"I don’t remember them," Icheb returned. He thought a moment, then asked, "I’ll never see you again?"
Joe sighed. "Probably not," he admitted sadly. "I looked up some information about the Brunali. It’s… not what you’ve gotten used to, here on Voyager."
"In what way?" Icheb asked.
"They’re… an agrarian society," Joe said.
"Are they capable of space travel?" Icheb asked.
"Yes," Joe said, "but they lost most of their ships to the Borg."
"How will I continue my studies?" Icheb demanded.
"I don’t know," Joe said honestly. The boy stormed out of the room. "Icheb!" Joe called, to no avail, then followed.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
19 September 2376 2000 hrs
Janeway stepped through the doors and into Kes’ quarters. "Good evening, Kes," Janeway said. "How are you adjusting?"
"I’m doing well," Kes said, turning to her guest. It had been nearly an hour since Neelix had left, and Kes had taken the opportunity to compare this timeline with her own. So much was like she remembered, yet at the same time, different. "Thank you, captain," she said.
"I wanted to explain," Janeway began, taking a seat, "why I couldn’t tell you about Harry earlier. A year ago, he was leading a survey mission looking for raw materials for the ship with Jill Hendersen and Seven of Nine. They were captured by a group of reptilian aliens, who experimented on them, and eventually forced them to… engage in sexual relations. When we were finally able to rescue them, both women were pregnant and all three had severe psychological damage. To this day, the Doctor’s success in treating them has been… limited."
"That’s," Kes began, taken aback by the news, "that’s terrible. Is there some way I can help?"
"I don’t know," Janeway admitted. "The Doctor’s done everything he can, but he’s admitted that he’s programmed as a surgeon, not a psychiatrist."
"I studied a little psychology," Kes said, "before I left my Voyager. I wanted to be able to help everyone who’d been separated from their families, and those who lost friends to fighting while aboard Voyager. Maybe I can help them where the Doctor couldn’t."
"I’ll speak to him about it," Janeway said. "It’s worth a try."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
On Approach to the Brunali Homeworld
21 September 2376 1117 hrs
"I’m detecting scattered enclaves on the northern continent," Lieutenant William Chapman announced from the Ops position on the bridge the next morning. "All with populations of fewer than ten thousand."
"Judging from the residual radiation," Tuvok said, "it appears they have suffered numerous Borg attacks over the past decade."
"That’s not surprising," Chapman said, reading the sensor data scrolling across the screen at his station. "I’m picking up indications of a Borg transwarp conduit less than a light-year away."
"Not exactly prime real estate," Tom muttered from the helm.
"Tuvok," Janeway ordered, "run continuous scans for Borg activity. Tom, put us into synchronous orbit."
"Yes, ma’am," Tom said.
"Janeway to Carey," the captain said, tapping her communicator, "you and Icheb, meet me in Transporter Room Two."
"Aye, captain," Carey’s voice said over the comm system.
21 September 2376 1147 hrs
Janeway, Joe, Icheb and Tuvok materialized on the bright, desolate surface of the Brunali homeworld. They looked around. Barely more than two meters behind them, the ground dropped off into an unnatural precipice—the cratered remains of a past Borg attack. Looking up, they saw they were within a larger crater. At the edges of that were the charred, twisted remains of a once-great city, which must have once rivaled any of the great metropolises in the Federation.
Several meters in front of them was a modest settlement, with several low buildings and a few scattered grain fields. Several Brunali stopped what they were doing and watched the newcomers approach the settlement.
"Hello," Janeway said as they approached the onlookers. "I’m Captain Janeway."
"Icheb," a woman—the boy’s mother—said as she approached him.
"You’ve… grown," Icheb’s father said as he stood beside his wife.
"The Borg had him in a maturation chamber for a while," Joe said, eyeing the boy’s parents warily.
"This is Lieutenant Joe Carey," Janeway said. "He cared for your son after we rescued him from the Collective."
"Then we’re very grateful to you," the boy’s father said. "I am Leucon, Icheb’s father. This is his mother, Yifay."
"How are you?" Yifay asked her son.
"Fine," Icheb said, irritation evident in his speech.
Yifay reached toward the implants on the boy’s face. "Do these hurt you?" she asked.
He flinched away from her. "No," he said.
"We’re very happy to have you back with us," Leucon said. He gestured toward the others who were nearby. "This is Arra, Remi, and Yivel."
"Welcome home, Icheb," one of the others, Yivel, said.
Icheb looked to Janeway. "I would like to return to Voyager now," he said.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
21 September 2376 1412 hrs
Icheb’s parents stepped into the briefing room on Voyager, where they found Janeway and Joe Carey waiting for them.
"Thank you for coming," Janeway said as they took their seats at the table.
"Where’s Icheb?" Leucon asked.
"I thought it might be better if we talked by ourselves first," Janeway said.
"What exactly is there to discuss?" Leucon asked acidly.
"How to make this transition easier for your son," Janeway said.
"It won’t be easy for him," Yifay said, "to give up the luxuries of your ship."
"There’s more than just that," Joe said. "Icheb has special medical needs."
"We have a physician in our settlement," Leucon said.
"We should arrange for him to consult with our doctor," Janeway said.
"He also needs to regenerate every day," Joe said.
"I’m sure you can adapt some of our technology to make that possible," Janeway said, directing a glare in Joe’s direction.
"I’m also concerned about his education," Joe continued. "He’s shown great prowess for astrophysics."
"If Icheb has an aptitude for science," Leucon began, "I’m sure that we have a great deal to teach him. We’ve developed sophisticated techniques in agricultural genetics, which allow us to grow crops in inhospitable environments."
"He hasn’t shown any interest in agriculture," Joe countered.
"I’m sure once he’s been exposed to the subject," Janeway said, her glare at Joe deepening in its intensity, "he’ll find it quite challenging."
"I can see that you care about our son," Leucon said. "We thank you for seeing to his needs, but it’s time to let go."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
21 September 2376 1728 hrs
"Hello, Icheb," Kes said as she approached the boy in the mess hall. "I’m Kes. I’ve heard quite a bit about you from Joe."
"You’re the woman who appeared during the science fair," Icheb said. "I’ve heard of you from other members of the crew who knew you."
"Well, they didn’t know me, exactly," Kes said. "I’m from another timeline."
"Indeed," Icheb said. "Interesting."
"I’m not here to talk about me," Kes said. "I’m here to talk about you."
"Me?" Icheb asked. "Why?"
"I’ve heard you don’t want to stay with your parents," Kes said. "Why not?"
"I don’t belong with them," Icheb said.
"But they’re your parents," Kes protested.
"I don’t know them," Icheb returned.
"Give them a chance," Kes said. "Get to know them."
"How?" Icheb asked.
"Stay with them on the surface," Kes said.
"I don’t want to leave Joe," Icheb said.
"I don’t mean permanently," Kes said. "Spend the night with them. Find out what it would be like to live with them."
"I don’t have to commit to a permanent change?" Icheb asked.
"No," Kes said. "Not now. Think about it, and decide for yourself what you think will be best for you, and for everyone around you."
21 September 2376 2039 hrs
Later that evening, as Icheb and Leucon walked through the settlement, the boy’s father explained how life worked on the small world.
"The Borg didn’t leave us much to work with," Leucon told his son. "We didn’t need much, with a little ingenuity. Everything you see, we built with our own hands: our homes, cultivation bays…" He trailed off.
"What’s this?" Icheb asked.
"A genetic resequencer," Leucon said. "We use it to alter the DNA of certain plants to conform with environmental conditions."
"You built this as well?" Icheb asked.
"We adapted parts from damaged vessels," Leucon said. "Nothing’s been wasted."
"Efficient," Icheb remarked.
"Efficiency’s one attribute we share with the Borg," Leucon admitted. "In our case, it’s a necessity." He paused, then continued, "I know our settlement seems… primitive, compared to Voyager, but I promise that will change."
"What about space travel?" Icheb asked.
"Someday, we’ll have ships that rival Voyager," Leucon replied. "But we need the dedication of young people like you to help us."
"Icheb!" another boy—Yivel—called from a short distance away. "How are you?"
"Well," Icheb replied. "Thank you."
"Maybe later you can join us up on the field," Yivel called, "for a game of Talla!"
"I don’t remember how to play!" Icheb called back.
"It will come back to you!" Yivel laughed. He waved and disappeared into the distance.
"You used to be quite an athelete," Leucon said. "You can make a difference here, Icheb."
"I don’t know anything about agriculture," Icheb said, "or genetics."
"It won’t take you long to learn," Leucon said. "Not with a mind like yours."
The air shimmered, and Joe appeared a few meters away from the pair. "Hi, Icheb," Joe said, then added, "Leucon."
"Hello, Joe," Icheb said warmly.
"Lieutenant," Leucon said, eyeing Joe warily. "What brings you to the surface?"
"Icheb needs to return to Voyager," Joe said, then looked at the boy. "It’s time for you to regenerate."
"I’m staying here tonight," Icheb said.
"Your alcove is on Voyager," Joe protested.
"We’re going to have to install one here eventually," Leucon said. "Might as well do it now."
Joe sighed. "You’ll have to come back with me to get the portable unit we’ve been working on ready," he said to Icheb.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
Engineering Machine Shop
21 September 2376 2104 hrs
Joe and Leucon stood in the machine stop adjacent to main engineering, while Joe explained the device on the main table before them.
"I adapted this neural transciever," Joe began, "to interface with the portable regenerator. It has enough power to complete one full cycle."
"We’ll have to devise a way to recharge it," Leucon said.
"If Icheb decides to stay," Joe said.
"My wife and I… appreciate everything you’ve done for our son," Leucon said. "It’s obvious you care about him."
"He reminds me of my oldest son back home," Joe said. "They’re about the same age."
"Getting him back," Leucon said, "is… well, a miracle."
"How was he taken?" Joe asked.
"Since the Borg first attacked us," Leucon began, "we’ve taken great pains to hide whatever new technology we develop."
"So you won’t attract attention," Joe said.
"Unfortunately," Leucon continued, "we haven’t always been successful. One morning, about four years ago, Icheb heard me talking about the fertilization array we’d constructed in the lower field. He wanted to see it. I told him I’d take him the next day. But he was impatient, the way boys can be. I never even realized he’d wandered off when the alarm sounded. It turns out the Borg were just as interested in our new technology as Icheb was. They took it; assimilated everyone in the area." He shook his head. "If only I’d kept a closer eye on him!"
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
22 September 2376 0848 hrs
The next morning, Icheb approached Joe in main engineering. "Good morning," Icheb said.
"Good morning, Icheb," Joe said. "Were there any problems with the portable regenerator?"
"None," Icheb said. "And I slept. Under the stars! You should try it."
"My dad and I used to go camping all the time when I was a boy," Joe said. "I wish I’d had the opportunity to do that with my boys more often before I was posted to Voyager."
"There’s something we need to discuss," Icheb said.
"You’re staying," Joe said.
"Yes," Icheb said. "This is my home. I have a responsibility to help them rebuild it."
Joe looked at the boy in silence for a moment, a hint of sadness in his eyes. "I’m sure it wasn’t an easy decision," he said. "I’m proud of you, Icheb. No matter what happens, remember that, will you?"
"I will," Icheb said. "Thank you."
"Do you want me to tell the captain," Joe asked, "or do you want to tell her yourself?"
"We should tell her… together," Icheb said.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
22 September 2376 1826 hrs
That evening, Icheb, Joe and Janeway stood in the transporter room, bidding their farewells to one another. Joe handed the boy a small case.
"It’s a couple of PADDs," Joe explained, "with some datachips with lessons from your teachers, a set of tools to repair them if they break down, and a recharger unit I hooked up to a solar cell." He paused, then continued. "There’s also a subspace transmitter in there, if you want to write, but it doesn’t get the bandwidth for real-time communications." Joe reached behind the transporter control console and brought out a larger case. "It’s a telescope," he explained. "It can’t compare to Astrometrics, but–"
"I’ll use it every day," Icheb said. "Thank you."
"Good bye, Icheb," Janeway said, "and good luck."
"Thank you, captain," Icheb said. "I hope you find a way home." He stepped onto the transporter pad, and Janeway nodded to the operator. A moment later, the boy was gone.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
23 September 2376 1757 hrs
Mezoti approached Joe as he ate his dinner in the mess hall the next evening. "I miss Icheb," she said.
Joe smiled. "So do I," he said.
"If we find my parents," the girl asked, "will I have to go with them?" She took a seat across the table from Joe.
"We’ll worry about that," Joe said, "when and if we ever do."
"I hope we don’t find them," Mezoti said sourly. She looked over at Joe. "What if the Borg try to assimilate Icheb again?"
"I don’t think they’ll be going back to his planet anytime soon," he reassured her."
"What if he’s in a ship?" she asked. "He was on a ship last time."
Joe’s face paled. "What?" he asked.
"One transport was detected in grid six-four-nine," Mezoti said, reciting a log entry stored in her cranial implant. "One life- form. Species: Brunali."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
24 September 2376 0021 hrs
"This better be important," Janeway said icily as Joe stepped into her quarters. "It’s after midnight, lieutenant."
"This is the data we downloaded from the cube," Joe said as he handed a PADD to Janeway. "It says Icheb was alone aboard an unarmed transport vessel when the Borg took him. Mezoti told me the same thing earlier today. Leucon said he was assimilated on the planet’s surface."
"Is it possible you misunderstood?" Janeway asked.
"No," Joe said. "He was quite specific. He also said Icheb was assimilated four years ago, but according to this, the Borg attacked three times in the last ten years—nine years ago, six years ago, and again last year. And you saw the looks on his parents’ faces when they found out he was still alive and no longer Borg."
"They were in shock," Janeway said. "They didn’t expect to ever see their child again."
"I don’t think that was it," Joe said. "It looked to me like they’d just been caught doing something they shouldn’t have been doing. I can’t tell you how many times I saw that look on my kids’ faces back home. His mother even looked disappointed to see him. How can you explain something like that?"
"All right," Janeway said. "Let’s assume your information is accurate—after all, the cube was heavily damaged and had been infected by a deadly pathogen. What does it prove?"
"Leucon was lying," Joe said.
"Why would he do that?" Janeway asked.
"I’m not sure," Joe admitted. "But we need to find out."
"What are you proposing?" Janeway asked.
"We should go back and check," Joe said.
Janeway sighed. "These people have been through enough," she said. "Do we really need to interrogate them?"
"We need to make sure Icheb is all right," Joe said. "I need to."
"He chose to stay with his parents," Janeway said.
"Captain," Joe pleaded, "if they’ve been hiding something from us, we need to know! Don’t you find it odd that these inconsistencies about him should crop up, that his cube was wiped out by a disease, and that his parents are unparalleled geneticists?"
"Just because they haven’t been completely candid," Janeway began, "doesn’t mean they’re covering up some monstrous scheme. At some point, you have to let go."
"Would you give up your child?" Joe snapped. He composed himself, then said, "I’m sorry, captain, but that is how I think of him. You can’t deny that these circumstances are a mystery, and I know how much you dislike mysteries."
"Actually, I rather enjoy mysteries, Mr. Carey," Janeway said, "but only when I get to see how it turns out." She activated the comm system panel on her table. "Janeway to bridge."
"Tuvok here," the security chief’s voice issued over the speakers.
"Bring the ship about," Janeway ordered. "We’re going back to the Brunali homeworld." She closed the channel.
"Thank you, captain," Joe said, making his way toward the door.
"Mr. Carey," Janeway said, stopping him, "I hope you’re wrong."
"So do I," he replied.
Residence of Leucon and Yifay
24 September 2376 1437 hrs
"Couldn’t we at least wait a few days?" Leucon pleaded with his wife.
"What would that accomplish?" Yifay asked harshly.
"His consent," Leucon snapped.
"The longer we wait," Yifay replied, "the harder it’ll be for everyone. You know that."
"Why do it at all?" Leucon asked. "There’s nothing compelling us to go through with it."
"It’s what he was born for," Yifay retorted.
"Hasn’t he been through enough?" Leucon asked. "Why not give him a chance with an ordinary life?"
"He’s not an ordinary child," Yifay said.
"No," Leucon replied, "but he can help us in other ways. He’s bright, and he’s hard-working–"
"Leucon!" Yifay snapped, interrupting him. "His return was a gift. We can’t waste it."
"I don’t want to lose him a second time," Leucon said.
"To survive," Yifay said, "we all have to make sacrifices. You taught me that!"
The door handle began to turn, and the pair fell silent. As the door opened, Icheb stepped into the room. "We won three games," he said. "In a row." He walked toward the center of the room.
"Sit down, Icheb," Yifay said, indicating one of the seats at the table in the center of the room. As he sat, she continued, "We need to talk. You know that you’re very important to us."
"Yes," Icheb said.
"What you don’t know," Yifay said, "is why."
"What do you mean?" Icheb asked. Yifay removed a small, hand-held device from a nearby cabinet. "What is that?" Icheb asked.
"If you relax," Yifay said, "it won’t hurt you."
"Father," Icheb pleaded, looking to Leucon.
"You’d better hold him," Yifay said to her husband. Leucon grabbed his son, pinning the boy to his chair.
"What are you doing to me?" Icheb demanded fearfully. Yifay placed the device against his neck. "No," he protested. She activated the device, and he fell unconscious.
"Prepare the launch," she said to Leucon.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
In Orbit of the Brunali Homeworld
24 September 2376 1458 hrs
"Hail them," Janeway ordered as Voyager eased into orbit of the Brunali homeworld.
"No response," Chapman replied.
"Can you locate their lifesigns?" Janeway asked.
"Icheb is not in the settlement, captain," Tuvok said. "He and two other Brunali are several kilometers away, aboard what appears to be a transport vessel."
"Status?" Janeway asked.
"The vessel’s engines are coming on-line," Tuvok said.
"Tuvok, we’re beaming down there," Janeway ordered. "Full security detail. Bridge to Lieutenant Carey."
"Carey here," Joe’s voice came over the speakers.
"Meet us in Transporter Room One," Janeway ordered.
"Aye, captain," Joe said, and the line went dead.
Janeway, Tuvok, Joe and four security officers materialized on the ship, a few meters away from Icheb and his parents. Joe rushed to the unconscious boy’s side.
"What the hell have you done to him?" Joe demanded of the boy’s parents.
"He’s fighting for his people," Yifay said.
"Alone," Janeway said, glaring at Leucon and Yifay. "On an unarmed transport."
"We don’t have particle weapons," Leucon said, "or powerful starships at our disposal. We’re forced to use the only resources we have!"
"Your kids?" Joe asked, disgusted.
"No," Yifay said. "Our genetics expertise."
"Icheb’s not bait," Janeway said, realization dawning on her. "He’s a weapon. The first cube that captured him was infected by a pathogen. Icheb was the carrier, wasn’t he?"
"Every time we try to rebuild," Leucon said, "begin to make progress, the Borg come and take it away from us!"
"You son of a bitch!" Joe cried, hurling himself at Leucon. Before he could reach Icheb’s father, however, he was grabbed by the three security guards nearest to him.
"Janeway to Voyager," the captain said, tapping her communicator, "beam Icheb and Mr. Carey directly to sickbay." The guards released their grip on Joe, and he and Icheb disappeared in a shimmer of light.
"You have no right to interfere," Leucon said.
"We’re trying to save our civilization," Yifay added.
"By sacrificing your children?" Tuvok asked, indignity creeping past even his Vulcan reserves.
"If we don’t stop the Borg," Yifay said, "there won’t be any Brunali children."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
24 September 2376 1521 hrs
The Doctor stood over Icheb’s unconscious body at the main biobed in sickbay, Kes at his side. Joe and Janeway stood a few meters away while the pair worked.
"Are you saying," Janeway asked as the Doctor walked over to the visitors, "his parents reinfected him?"
"No," the Doctor said, "they merely sedated him."
"I don’t understand," Joe said.
"He was genetically engineered to produce the pathogen," the Doctor explained, "from birth."
"Bred to kill Borg?" Janeway asked, aghast.
"Will he be all right?" Joe asked.
"We can suppress the pathogen," the Doctor said. "He’ll be fine. Physically. Kes has volunteered to help him recover from his emotional wounds, in addition to the others. I must admit that she’s more qualified than I."
"Can I speak to him?" Joe asked.
"I was just about to revive him," the Doctor said. "Please be brief—he needs time to recover." He placed a hypospray along the boy’s neck. After the telltale hiss, Icheb’s eyes fluttered open.
"What happened?" Icheb asked. "My parents–"
"We rescued you," Joe said. "Th-they genetically engineered you to be a weapon against the Borg. That’s why you were assimilated the first time."
"Engineered?" Icheb asked.
"Your DNA was altered," the Doctor explained, "to produce a pathogen."
"It’s barbaric," Joe said. "That’s one of the reasons genetic engineering was outlawed in the Federation."
"They were trying to defend themselves," Icheb said, "their way of life. To preserve their species."
"It’s inexcusable," Joe said. "You don’t have to forgive them."
"They’re my parents," Icheb said.
"There’s more to being a parent than genetics," Joe said. "In every way that matters, they have no right to call themselves that."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
8 November 2376 1615 hrs
Over a month’s course, Kes became the ship’s de facto counselor, and turned some unused quarters into an office. In addition to her regular sessions with Harry, Seven, Jill Hendersen and Icheb, several other crewmembers would stop by. Crewmen Boylan and White would seek advice on their relationship. Celes Tal started seeing her infrequently about her feelings toward Billy Telfer after a near-disastrous shuttle mission with the captain. The former Equinox crew sought her out, needing nothing more than her friendship. Kes had made great progress with her regular patients, but Seven was giving her the most trouble.
She walked across the makeshift nursery in sickbay, feeling a young mind stirring to wakefulness. Kes lifted an auburn-haired infant into her arms from one of the cribs, then made a funny noise and face at the child. The girl laughed, then reached out, grabbing for Kes’ hair.
The door slid open, and Seven of Nine entered the room. "Thank you for watching Katie," the former drone said as she took her three- month-old daughter from Kes’ arms, cradling the infant in her own.
"I’m happy to help," Kes said. "How’s Harry?"
"He is… better," Seven said. Kes could sense that the other woman hadn’t actually spoken to him at all in nearly a week. "The Doctor believes he is fit to resume his duties."
"I’m glad to hear that," Kes said sincerely. "And how are you doing?"
"I am well," Seven said, "although adjusting to life as a parent has been… difficult."
"That’s not surprising," Kes said. "I’m sure Harry feels the same."
"He doesn’t have to share quarters," Seven said bitterly, "with a child that wakes up crying every night."
"He wants to," Kes said softly. "He loves you, and he loves your daughter. He’s asked you to marry him three times, yet you keep rejecting him. Why?"
"The child is my responsibility," Seven said, avoiding the question. "He is merely the father, as he is also the father of Crewman Hendersen’s son."
"She isn’t isolating herself from the rest of the crew any longer, though," Kes countered. "She’s agreed to marry Ensign McKenzie, and she’s going to go back on duty soon, too. She and Harry are both recovering. You’re not."
"Hardly," Seven said imperiously. "Emotions are irrelevant. They impede efficiency and interfere–"
"You’re scared," Kes said, startling the former drone with her blunt interruption. "You can’t lie to me. I’m a telepath, remember? I’ve gotten to know you pretty well, and I know that whenever you encounter something that actually challenges you, you crawl inside your Borg shell—and I know for a fact that farce is nothing more than a house of cards. You told Harry once that you loved him. He never forgot that. But when he tried to get close to you, you shut yourself off from him and everybody else that cared about you."
"They are irrelev–" Seven began.
"Stop that!" Kes snapped, her own anger beginning to burn inside of her. Why am I helping her form a relationship with Harry? she asked herself. She doesn’t deserve someone like him! She paused, trying to regain her composure. Because this Harry loves her. "I’ve tried talking to you," Kes continued. "I’ve tried helping you. But I can only do so much. Until you decide to come out of your shell, there’s nothing more I can do. You’ve got to help yourself, too, and lately you haven’t been helping much of anything. In fact, you’ve only been making things worse for yourself and everyone around you."
Seven stared at Kes, furious. But she couldn’t come up with a retort to the Ocampan’s argument. Seven turned on her heel, fuming, and stormed out of sickbay with Katie in her arms.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
10 November 2376 1208 hrs
"Have you spoken with Seven at all, lately?" Kes asked Harry as they ate lunch in the mess hall two days later.
"Not since last week," he said, stabbing something purple on his plate with a fork. He stuffed it in his mouth, chewed for a while, then added with a wry grin, "I’m beginning to think she’s avoiding me."
A moment later, Seven entered the mess hall, Katie resting lazily in her arm. She noticed Kes and Harry, stopping a few paces from the doors, but before she could make a hasty retreat, Neelix ushered her into the room and to Kes and Harry’s table. He seated Seven between the others, then rushed back into the kitchen to get some food for Seven and a bottle for Katie.
"Hello, Seven," Kes said after Neelix left. "We were just talking about you."
"Indeed," Seven said dismissively. Harry was looking at his infant daughter, unsure of what to say, what to do, or where things would go.
"Seven," Kes continued, "why don’t you let Harry hold Katie? I can tell just by looking at him that he wants to."
"I am responsible for the child’s welfare," Seven said, almost imperceptibly tightening her grip on Katie.
"He’s her father," Kes said. "And she’s going to need him just as much as he needs her. He wants to be more than a father—he wants to be her dad." The women’s eyes locked. Kes refused to let the matter pass, and finally, Seven relented. Harry stood, then gently scooped his daughter from Seven’s arms.
"Hey, beautiful," he said to the infant. "It’s been too long since we did this." As Harry continued to play with his daughter, Neelix returned with a plateful of food like what Harry had been eating earlier, then set it before Seven.
"What is that?" Seven demanded.
"Stewed Arveborderain sea beast," Neelix replied proudly. "It’s quite the delicacy among the Arveborderain people."
"Try it, Seven," Harry said, the first words the pair had shared in ten days. "You’l like it; it’s really not that bad."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
17 November 2376 1834 hrs
The door to Kes’ quarters chimed that evening as the Ocampan read through a medical journal recently received from Earth.
"Come in," she said. As the doors parted, Icheb entered the room. "What brings you here?" she asked.
"I overheard a letter Joe received from his wife," Icheb said. "They have apparently been discussing the possiblity of adopting me."
"That’s wonderful," Kes said.
"Is it?" Icheb asked. "What of my parents?"
"Icheb," Kes said, "take a seat." After the boy had seated himself, she continued, "Who do you think of as your father?"
"Leucon," Icheb said, "of course."
"Not here," Kes said, tapping the side of her head, "but here." She tapped the center of her chest. "In your heart, who do you think of as your parent? Ignore genetics."
"Genetics aside," Icheb began, "Joe would seem to perform in the role of parent. Yet I remain uncertain. Why is that?"
"Adolescence can be a trying time enough," Kes said, "without the added confusion you’ve experienced."
"Why has he not approached me on the matter of adoption?" Icheb asked.
"He probably wants his wife’s consent," Kes said. "I wouldn’t worry. If he’s willing to consider officially making you a part of his family, then that shows just how much he cares about you."
Delta Flyer Crash Site
2 December 2376 0631 hrs
B’Elanna Torres woke to find herself injured in the wreckage of the Delta Flyer, tied to a chair and looking into the face of an unknown alien.
"Who are you?" she demanded angrily.
"Kelis!" the man exclaimed. "Kelis the Poet. Your humble servant." He prostrated himself before her.
"All right," B’Elanna said, "then let me go."
"I… can’t," he said.
"Why not?" B’Elanna asked, irritated.
"You’d fly from me," he said. "The way inspiration always does."
B’Elanna looked at the gash in her arm. "You’re trying to kill me," she said.
"I’m releasing the heat from your veins," Kelis protested.
"What are you talking about?" B’Elanna asked.
"You’ve been in a fever since I found you," he said. "Bleeding is the best way to treat it."
"Oh, I can see I’m in good hands," B’Elanna muttered.
"Something tells me you have your doubts," Kelis said.
"There’s a medkit over there," B’Elanna said, nodding toward a storage locker. "A box. Made out of metal." Kelis brought forth the medkit. "There’s a small cylinder inside. Bring it here." he moved toward B’Elanna, but made no move to give her the object. "Give it to me," she said. Hesitantly, he handed the device to her. She tapped some commands nto the device—a dermal regenerator—and made sure it was still unctioning normally. "Don’t be afraid," she said, handing it back to him. "It won’t hurt you. Here, pass it over where you cut me."
As Kelis waved the dermal regenerator over her arm, the wound closed. The device shut off automatically, and he looked up at her. "You’re an Eternal," he said. "I suppose such things are to be expected."
"What other things do you expect from an Eternal?" B’Elanna asked.
"The power to make the ground open up," Kelis said, surprised that she should have to ask, "and the sky to fall, like the strange events sung by the ancient poets. Fortunately for me, no poet has ever sung about your clan; I’m the first."
"My clan?" B’Elanna asked.
"The Eternals on Voyager," he said, again surprised that she should ask that which she should know better than he. "Shining Voyager, far from home."
"How do you know about that?" B’Elanna asked, her stomach sinking. Kelis walked to a relatively undamaged panel and pressed his hand to it, somehow activating the shuttle’s logs.
Delta Flyer log, Stardate 53918, the recording of B’Elanna’s voice began. Harry and I are continuing toward the fourth planet. Sensors have picked up natural dilithium deposits on nearly every landmass — The recording became jumbled for a moment, then Chakotay’s voice came on.
Acknowledged, the recording said. Has your warp core been damaged?
Yes, B’Elanna’s voice said. We’re running on thrusters. Can you track our position? Kelis pressed the panel again, ending the playback.
"How long have I been here?" B’Elanna asked.
"Eight days," Kelis said. "I was walking through these mountains, and I saw a light burn across the sky and I heard a terrible sound. When I arrived, I found you. I treated your wounds."
"And you tied me to the chair," B’Elanna said acidly.
"When a gift falls from the heavens," he replied, "only a fool would let her go. You’ve already given me one play—the story told by those voices. I pieced them together, had to fill in the gaps…"
"You made a play," B’Elanna said in disbelief, "out of our logs?"
"The away mission of B’Elanna Torres," Kelis said. "My patron was impressed."
"He has great taste," B’Elanna said sarcastically. "Now get that knife of yours and cut me free."
"That… would be unwise," Kelis said.
"Why?" she asked.
"My patron is intrigued by the Voyager Eternals," he explained. "He wants another play. And to pose that, I need more… details."
"And you expect to get them from me?" B’Elanna asked.
"I did save your life," Kelis said.
"I really need to get back to Voyager," B’Elanna said.
"I need another play," Kelis countered.
"What exactly do you want to know?" B’Elanna asked.
"Everything," Kelis said.
"That’s not possible," B’Elanna replied. "We… Eternals have our rules. We can’t just give everything away."
"How did you get lost?" Kelis asked.
"Cut me free and I’ll tell you," B’Elanna said.
"You won’t leave me?" Kelis asked warily.
"Cut me free," B’Elanna repeated. Kelis sliced trhough her bonds with his knife. When she was on her feet, she turned to him and snapped, "You’re the one who’s leaving!"
She grabbed a phaser and fired it into the rocks jutting near the shattered canopy. "Don’t come back." Once he was gone, she sat at the engineering station. "Computer," she said, "bring the subspace transmitter on-line."
The computer beeped. "Unable to comply," it said.
"Why not?" B’Elanna snapped.
"Insufficient power," the computer replied.
B’Elanna tried to reroute what power was available in the small craft, but after several seconds of manipulating the power transfer conduits under one of the consoles, the panel sparked, then the lights went out.
"Great," B’Elanna said. "Now there’s no power."
"Are you hungry?" Kelis’ voice came from near the engineering console. B’Elanna shot to her feet.
"I told you not to come back," she said.
"You haven’t eaten in days," Kelis said. "We have to support each other, we poets."
"I’m an engineer," B’Elanna said, taking a bite of the food Kelis handed her. "I fix things."
"From the looks of it," Kelis said, "you’re not doing so well."
"Are you a poet," B’Elanna asked, anoyed, "or a critic?"
Kelis looked away for a moment, chastened. When he looked back to B’Elanna, he said, "Tell me about Earth."
"I have to sing for my supper, huh?" B’Elanna muttered.
"We all do," Kelis said. "One way or another." He paused, then repeated, "Earth."
"It’s a," B’Elanna began, trying to choose her words carefully as she spoke, "an island. A beautiful island—blue and green."
"And Voyager," Kelis pressed. "Ah-ah-a great ship?"
"In a long line of great ships," B’Elanna said.
"How did Voyager get lost?" Kelis asked.
"The Caretaker," B’Elanna replied.
"An Eternal?" Kelis asked.
"Yes," B’Elanna said. "You could say that. He… caused a storm, which blew us off-course."
"Tom Paris," Kelis said. "Are you in love with him?"
B’Elanna glared at Kelis. "Supper," she said, "is over." She stood and made her way to the door of the Delta Flyer’s aft compartment. "Come with me," she said, then pried the door open. She made her way into the darkened room, with Kelis close behind.
She activated a control panel—it was apparently still getting power back here—and data began to stream across the screen. "This is where we put all the names and dates," she explained, "when our heads won’t hold any more."
"A memory!" Kelis exclaimed, awed.
"Exactly," B’Elanna said. She pulled up one of the files. "Tell me," she continued, "did you ever see this before?"
Kelis looked at the image on the screen, then exclaimed, "Winter’s tears!"
"Can you get me some?" B’Elanna asked.
"This is… dilithium," Kelis said, remembering the name used in the logs, "isn’t it? What you were looking fo–"
"Where can I find it?" B’Elanna asked, desperation in her voice.
"The only deposit I know of," Kelis said, "is on the hunting grounds of my patron. He’d execute me for trespassing. And you… well, he’d love to capture an Eternal."
"Well," B’Elanna suggested, "maybe I’m more powerful than he is."
"Perhaps," Kelis said, "but if he caught you, he’d force you to fight against his enemies. They’re constantly at each other’s throats—bickering over territory, raiding each other’s land, starting wars whenever they could be guaranteed of good weather! And we suffer the consequences. You don’t want to get involved with them."
"Which is why you’re going to get the dilithium," B’Elanna said.
"I told you," Kelis protested, "I’d be executed if I get caught!"
"The dilithium," B’Elanna said. "Or I don’t say another word about ‘shining Voyager, far from home.’" At that moment, thunder boomed from the distance.
"Did you…?" Kelis asked, shocked. B’Elanna merely looked at him askance.
"Don’t get caught," she said. Kelis quickly exited the Delta Flyer.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
2 December 2376 0821 hrs
"That’s it?" Tom asked, incredulous, looking to the other senior officers gathered in the briefing room for a response he could find more palatable.
"Mr. Paris," the Doctor said, "please try to stay calm."
"No, that’s not gonna happen," Tom said. "Isn’t there anything else we can do?"
"Not until either something shows up on sensors," Janeway said, "or Kes picks something up with her telepathy."
"I’ll take a shuttle out myself," Tom said. "I’ll run a planet-by- planet search."
"An inefficient plan," Seven commented.
"And too dangerous," Chakotay added. "You could be hit by the same spatial eddies that sent the Flyer off-course."
"We need to concentrate our efforts from here, Tom," Janeway said softly. "All right? It’s their best chance. Kes has been pushing herself to her limits trying to find them, and so are the rest of us."
Delta Flyer Crash Site
3 December 2376 0836 hrs
"Will you stop walking around?" B’Elanna snapped at the pacing Kelis. "You’re going to break something."
"This Tuvok," Kelis continued his ranting, "he’s not like anybody I’ve ever met! No emotions? How is that possible?"
"It just is," B’Elanna said sharply. She finished connecting the dilithium crystal Kelis had procured the previous night, then activated the shuttle’s systems… which proceeded to power on.
"It worked," Kelis said in shock.
"It worked," B’Elanna echoed, surprised as well. She tapped in a quick diagnostic command, then said, "Okay. Computer, bring subspace transmitter on-line." The computer beeped, then sparks flew and the systems crashed again.
"What happened?" Kelis asked.
"I don’t know," B’Elanna said in frustration. She pulled out her tricorder and began scanning. "The transmitter must have been weakened in the crash. It couldn’t take the energy surge." She began to disassemble the ship’s systems again.
"These Vulcans," Kelis began.
"Enough!" B’Elanna yelled. She paused, trying to determine how to solve her predicament. "What kind of metallurgic technology do your people have?" she asked. Kelis looked at her in confusion. "Alloys," she clarified. "Which ones can you make? Steel? Bronze?"
"Bronze," Kelis said, recognizing a word.
"Bronze," B’Elanna echoed. "All right. I need a plate of metal—this big," she held up a damaged part of the transmitter unit, "as thin as it can be—three parts tin to five parts bronze, one side coated with gold."
"Gold is expensive," Kelis protested. "I can’t afford it."
"Then you’re going into debt," B’Elanna retorted.
"Then tell me about the Vulcans," Kelis demanded.
"Get me the plate," B’Elanna countered, "and then I’ll tell you."
"Everyone’s asleep," Kelis said. "I’ll do it in the morning." B’Elanna eyed him angrily. "The Vulcans," Kelis repeated. She sighed in defeat.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
3 December 2376 2149 hrs
Tuvok sat in the darkened mess hall reading from one of several PADDs as Neelix approached him.
"Maybe I’ve miscounted," Neelix began, "but I don’t think you’ve slept in… ten days?"
"Your count is accurate," Tuvok said.
"Don’t you think you should go to bed?" Neelix asked.
"As a Vulcan," Tuvok said exhaustion evident in his voice, "I can function without sleep for more than two weeks."
"But there’s a point of diminishing returns," Neelix countered, "when your mind starts to play tricks on you. Even Kes has been taking breaks to sleep…"
"My mind, Mr. Neelix," Tuvok replied, "does not ‘play tricks.’"
"The ship is lonely without them, isn’t it?" Neelix observed softly.
"If you would allow me to continue my sensor analysis," Tuvok said, "I might be able to locate them."
"If there’s anything else you need," Neelix said, straightening. "A stronger tea, perhaps…" He turned and walked back to the kitchen.
Delta Flyer Crash Site
4 December 2376 0608 hrs
"I need your help," Kelis said as he stepped into the Delta Flyer, where he found B’Elanna hard at work trying to get the subspace transmitter working once more.
"I’ve given you enough help," B’Elanna muttered. "Where’s that piece of metal?" Kelis handed the wafer to her, and she looked it over. "Not bad," she said.
"My patron’s been angered," Kelis said, "by the leader of a neighboring state. He’ll want to take revenge. It could lead to war."
"We Eternals aren’t supposed to take sides," B’Elanna replied.
"I’m not asking you to fight," Kelis said. "I need a way to change his mind!"
"I don’t have that kind of magical power," B’Elanna said.
"Yes, you do!" Kelis exclaimed. "I believe the right kind of play can turn the mind from violent thoughts. The perfect play might even stop a war!"
"I can’t fix the transmitter with this," B’Elanna said, handing the piece of metal back over to Kelis. "Too many impurities. It’ll never carry a charge."
"If the fighting starts," Kelis argued, "scouting parties will start moving through these mountains. You’ll be discovered. But my play—it could stop it from happening. You have to help me."
"There’s nothing I can do," B’Elanna returned.
"Come with me," Kelis said. "I’ll show you what I’ve done so far. It’s our only chance."
4 December 2376 0723 hrs
"She’s a fellow poet from across the eastern sea," Kelis said to the actors gathered before him and B’Elanna, who was hiding her ridged forehead under the hood of a cloak. "An expert on the Voyager Eternals. She’s devoted her life to them. She’s here to help."
Kelis dove into his play, and announced, "The Rescue of B’Elanna Torres. We begin with Harry Kim reaching Voyager in the esape pod. He tells Captain Janeway that B’Elanna Torres is lost. We continue to the point where they discover a piece of the Delta Flyer. After that…"
"It’s simple," B’Elanna said. "They search for B’Elanna Torres, B’Elanna Torres is found–"
"–or not found," Kelis interrupted.
"Or not found," B’Elanna echoed in annoyance. "The end. Sounds pretty straightforward to me."
"That’s exactly the problem," Kelis said. "Where’s the mistaken identity? The discovery? The sudden reversal?" B’Elanna looked at him in confusion, and he continued, "Mistaken identity—a character who is someone else. Discovery—the moment when that identity is revealed. Reversal—the situation that turns from good to bad in the blink of an eye."
"Find the truth of your story," an older man, whom Kelis had introduced to B’Elanna as Jero, said. "Then you won’t need all those tricks. I don’t know how things are done across the eastern sea, but here, poets have become lazy. They rely upon manipulation to move their audience. It wasn’t always that way. Welcome," he said to B’Elanna.
"Thank you," B’Elanna said.
"The truth of my story," Kelis said, "it’s an old-fashioned idea. Today, audiences want excitement. Passion. Let me show you what I’ve done with Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay." He clapped his hands, and a pair of actors took the stage. "Let’s make a good impression upon our visitor."
The actors looked into each other’s eyes. "Chakotay," ‘Janeway’ said, "why must I be denied what every other female officer on this ship can have?"
"Captain?" ‘Chakotay’ asked.
"The privelege," ‘Janeway’ said, "of your touch." The two became locked into a passionate embrace. B’Elanna looked at Kelis in disbelief.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
4 December 0827 hrs
The door to Janeway’s ready room chimed, disturbing the dour silence of the room.
"Come in," Janeway sighed. Chakotay stepped through the doorway, a somber expression on his face and a PADD in his hand. "If that was good news," Janeway muttered, "you’d be smiling."
"I was just contacted by an alien transport vessel," Chakotay said. "They picked up the Delta Flyer‘s distress call." He pressed a button on the PADD, keying the recording, which filtered through the comm speakers in the ready room.
"The primary systems are off-line," the recording of B’Elanna’s voice, thick with static, began. "I’ve ordered Harry to eject." The recording became unintelligible for a moment, then continued, "I’m setting a course for an L-Class planet; I’ll try to regain contact–" The recording ended abruptly.
"They couldn’t get a fix on their position," Chakotay said after a moment’s pause. "That was… ten days ago."
"B’Elanna ordered Harry into an escape pod," Janeway said. "What’s the longest he could survive?"
Chakotay’s eyes cast to the floor. When he looked back up to Janeway, he said, "Less than ten days."
"An L-Class planet," Janeway breathed, her gaze growing distant as she began to think aloud.
"I’ve already narrowed the search parameters," Chakotay said.
"If B’Elanna made it there," Janeway said, her attention returning to her first officer, "it’s possible Harry did, too." She paused, then added, "Good night, commander."
"Captain," Chakotay said. He turned and left Janeway to the solitude of her ready room, the doors to the bridge hissing shut behind him.
4 December 2376 0953 hrs
"What did you think?" Kelis asked B’Elanna as he took a seat beside her across from the ampitheater’s stage.
"Captain Janeway kissing Commander Chakotay," B’Elanna commented. "Tom Paris kissing Seven of Nine. I don’t see the point."
"Anger is like fire," Kelis said. "Love can be the rain that extinguishes it. My patron is filled with hatred for his rival, so my play should be filled with love."
"You can’t change somebody’s way of life," B’Elanna argued, "with a few lines of dialogue."
"Yes," Kelis countered, stepping onto the stage, "you can! It’s been done before! Do you know what this place used to be, a hundred years ago? A temple." He placed his hand on the stone table at its heart. "And this was the altar stone. Every year, a victim would be sacrificed on it, in honor of winter. And then one year, nobody remembers exactly when or why, a play took the place of the ritual. And no one had to die here again. Why can’t my play take the place of a war?"
"Well," B’Elanna said, "you’re going to have to do a lot better than Harry Kim kissing the Delaney sisters."
"Why?" Kelis demanded.
"Because," B’Elanna began, "when you think that you’re surrounded be enemies; when you’re up against the Borg or Species 8472, the last thing on your mind is romance!"
"You’re an Eternal," Kelis protested. "You have to help me."
"I’m sorry, Kelis," B’Elanna breathed in frustration.
"The Borg," Kelis prompted. "Tell me more about them."
"They’re," B’Elanna began, choosing her words, "soldiers. Part of a vast army. They all think the same thoughts, and they travel on… ships, that look like hives."
"Like insect colonies," Kelis said.
"They even have a queen," B’Elanna said.
"They sound terrifying," Kelis said. "Captain Janeway hasn’t been able to destroy them."
"She’s a Starfleet officer!" B’Elanna said in extreme frustration. "Trained to avoid violence whenever possible. She would make peace with the Borg if she could."
"This is what I need," Kelis breathed. "An enemy. Someone to stand in the way of Voyager‘s finding B’Elanna Torres!" He paused, collecting his thoughts, inspired. "Captain Janeway, driven by vengeance, must seek out the Queen of the Borg! The audience thinks she plans to destroy them all, but…"
"Go on," B’Elanna prompted.
"The sudden reversal!" Kelis exclaimed. "Captain Janeway, holding her spear at the Queen’s throat, throws her weapon aside, and she argues, passionately, to put an end to their conflict in words no one will fail to understand."
"Including your patron," B’Elanna said. Kelis smiled. "It’s much better than all that kissing," she added, then rose.
"Stay," Kelis pleaded, "and help me. I still need an ending."
"You’ll figure something out," B’Elanna said.
"B’Elanna Torres," Kelis intoned as she walked away, "dies tragically."
B’Elanna turned and faced him. "You wouldn’t dare," she said.
Delta Flyer Crash Site
4 December 2376 1206 hrs
B’Elanna spun as she heard a sound behind her in the wreckage of the Delta Flyer, only to see Lanya, Kelis’ companion and the lead actress in his cast.
"I followed you here expecting to find a love nest," Lanya said, her voice catching in her throat. She glanced around the cockpit, taking in the wreckage. "It’s quite a nest." She fixed her gaze on B’Elanna once again. "You’re no poet from across the sea. You’re an Eternal; maybe even B’Elanna Torres herself."
"Don’t be ridiculous," B’Elanna said, trying to laugh.
"You know all he thinks about is you?" Lanya asked.
"We’re collaborators," B’Elanna protested. "That’s all."
"If you come to the performance tomorrow night," Lanya threatened, "I’ll expose you to the autarch. Leave us alone." She turned, tears in her eyes, and fled the downed shuttle. "Just fix your ship and go!"
"Friend of yours?" the voice of Harry Kim asked from the darkness. B’Elanna spun, seeing Harry poised in the shattered canopy window of the shuttle.
"Harry?" B’Elanna asked in shock, then rushed to embrace her shipmate as he dropped to the deck, laughing.
"Give me a hand," he said, pulling a large case into the cockpit.
"How?" B’Elanna asked, still laughing with giddy excitement.
"I ran into some turbulence in the escape pod," Harry explained, "then decided to turn around and follow your ion trail. Landed about… two hundred kilometers from here."
"You walked?" B’Elanna asked in disbelief.
"At night," Harry confirmed. "I tracked your position with a tricorder, and tried to stay hidden during the day." He opened the case. "I’ve got some emergency rations left, a phaser, and… the escape pod’s transmitter, which I didn’t have enough power left to run, but–"
B’Elanna grabbed the device from his hand as he pulled it from the case. "Harry Kim saves the day," she said. "Just the ending I was looking for."
"The final moment," Kelis said, thinking aloud as his cast waited in silence, "the last scene. More important than anything that’s gone before. What is it?" Suddenly, Lanya burst into the room. Kelis spun. "Where is she?" he demanded.
"Your collaborator’s probably halfway across the eastern sea by now," Laya said smugly.
"She’ll be here," Kelis countered.
"You said we’d have an ending by midmorning," Jero said. "We won’t have time to learn it."
"It’ll come to me," Kelis said. "Don’t worry."
"Wanna give it a try?" Harry asked as he rose from an exposed panel in the Delta Flyer‘s cockpit.
"Why not," B’Elanna said. "The thirty-eighth time might be the charm." She keyed in the activation sequence… and the communications control panel came to life.
"It’s working!" Harry exclaimed.
"The subspace transmitter is on-line," the computer’s synthesized voice said with a beep.
"Why don’t you do the honors," Harry said to B’Elanna, indicating the control panel with a flourish of his hand.
B’Elanna pressed the activation control. "Voyager," she said, "this is the Delta Flyer…"
"Our patron has arrived," a runner said as he approached Kelis. "He’s not in a very good mood."
"He will be," Kelis said with conviction.
"Not if this is any indication," Jero said, holding up a copy of the script.
"Kelis," the actor portraying Tuvok protested, "this is no way to end a play!"
"It doesn’t make sense!" Jero added.
"It’ll have to," Kelis said. "Go. Go!" As the audience applauded the entrance of the actors, he pulled the runner aside, furiously scribbling a note on a scrap of parchment. "Know where the ridge ends just below the peak?" Kelis asked. The runner nodded, and he continued, "Run there as fast as you can. You’ll find a vessel wrecked against the rocks. Go inside, and give this to our friend. Don’t be frightened. Go!"
Tom heard the sound of labored breathing behind him at his post on the bridge. He turned halfway in his seat, only to find Tuvok sound asleep in the captain’s chair, snoring.
"Tuvok," Tom called under his breath, but the Vulcan didn’t respond. "Tuvok!" he called again.
"As you were," Tuvok said, straightening in sudden alertness, looking around the bridge. He sighed, then activated the comm system. "Bridge to Chakotay," he said.
"Go ahead," Chakotay’s voice replied.
"Request permission to be relieved," Tuvok said.
"Understood," Chakotay said. "I’ll be right there."
The control panel to Tuvok’s side began to beep. He keyed the activation controls, then an eyebrow rose of its own accord.
"We’re picking up a subspace transmission," Tuvok said. "Starfleet frequency."
"–elta Flyer," B’Elanna’s voice said over the speakers, the transmission laden with static. "Harry and I are all right. We’re on an L-Class planet. Propulsion is down." She said more, but it was obscured by static before the signal was lost.
"Origin?" Tuvok asked.
"Five-point-two light years," Chapman began. "F-type star… Looks like the fourth planet."
"Lay in a course," Tuvok ordered. "Maximum warp."
"Seven of Nine," ‘Janeway’ said on the ampitheater’s stage.
"Captain," ‘Seven’ replied. "The Delta Flyer has been found—in pieces, on a rocky shore."
"And B’Elanna Torres?" ‘Janeway’ asked.
"No sign of her," ‘Seven’ answered.
"Seven of Nine," ‘Janeway’ began, "you are my eyes and my ears. If anyone can find her, it is you."
"I am her ears," ‘Seven’ said, speaking to the audience and lowering her mask, "and the viper in her nest. I, Seven of Nine, have no intention of finding B’Elanna Torres. I, Seven of Nine, am Queen of the Borg. Surprised? No one will be more surprised than Janeway, when I take my revenge on Voyager. Say nothing, or you too will be assimilated." She brought her mask back up to her face and turned back to ‘Janeway.’ "Captain," she said, "I will comply." She turned and left.
"My enemies are everywhere," ‘Janeway’ said, lowering her mask and turning to the audience. "Without and within. Seven of Nine is Queen of the Borg. Surprised? So was I. Tell her nothing, or I will lose my advantage, and my ship as well."
"Are you okay?" Tom’s voice crackled over the Delta Flyer‘s speakers.
"Yes," B’Elanna said enthusiastically.
"We’re fine," Harry said.
"Glad to hear it," Tom said. "See you soon." The transmission ended, and Harry and B’Elanna turned to see the runner standing in the starboard entry hatch.
"Don’t be afraid," B’Elanna said to the young man. He handed the scrap of parchment to B’Elanna, then turned and ran.
"What is it?" Harry asked, dismayed.
"Without inspiration," B’Elanna read, "B’Elanna Torres will perish." She looked up at Harry. "He’s threatening to kill off B’Elanna." Harry looked at her in confusion. "A-as the climax to his play."
"Let him," Harry replied.
"That means," B’Elanna continued, "that he still can’t figure out the ending."
"Who cares?" Harry asked, exasperated.
"I do," B’Elanna retorted.
"You’re serious," Harry said.
"Harry," B’Elanna began, "have you ever inspired somebody?"
"That’s kind of a strange question," Harry replied.
"It’s been a strange couple of weeks," B’Elanna said, manipulating the control panel in front of her. "He needs me, or he’s the one that’s going to die on that stage."
"What are you talking about?" Harry asked.
The computer beeped. "The transporter is on-line," it said.
"Tell the captain I’ll be a little late," B’Elanna said.
"B’Elanna," Harry began to protest.
"Wait for my signal," she replied, then vanished in the glow of a transporter beam.
"So much for the Prime Directive," Harry muttered.
"My death is irrelevant," ‘Seven’ spat at ‘Janeway,’ who held a spear to her throat. "You’ll never see the gleaming cities of Earth! You will be assimilated!"
"And if I let you live?" ‘Janeway’ asked. "I’ll still be ready. You don’t believe that?" ‘Janeway’ threw her spear to the ground. "That was your weakness. Go home!"
"How foolish of you to let me go," ‘Seven’ said, "free to attack you again."
"And again," ‘Janeway’ said. "And again. Until all your drones and all my crew are destroyed. Until everything we value is gone and there is nothing left, but our hatred."
"This final scene will ruin everything we’ve done out there," one of the actors said to Kelis.
"We’ll have to improvise," Kelis said.
"It’s too late!" the actor exclaimed.
"No it’s not," B’Elanna said, stepping out of the shadows.
"I knew you’d come!" Kelis exclaimed.
"And I told you not to," B’Elanna spat.
As Kelis and the actor turned toward the stage, she called, "Wait!" When they waited for her to step into the lead position, she said, "Let’s go."
"Finally," the narrators said in unison, "Voyager has reached our shores."
"And not a moment too soon," B’Elanna interrupted, stepping onto the stage. "Kelis the Poet must say good-bye, as B’Elanna Torres returns to the Eternals in a dazzling blaze of light."
"On a faraway, snow-covered peak," Jero began.
"No," B’Elanna interrupted. "Right here, before your eyes."
"Wait!" Lanya cried, rushing onto the stage. "You’re not from across the eastern sea! She’s an Eternal! She’s B’Elanna Torres! The real B’Elanna Torres; I saw her ship!" Shocked and irate, the autarch jumped to his feet.
"The lead actress," Jero said suddenly, "in a fit of jealousy, rends her rival an Eternal. Our patron rises to his feet to stop the play." The autarch’s features softened, then erupted into a wide grin.
"Nicely done," he said, then returned to his seat. "I almost believed you. Continue."
"Stay," Kelis said, coming face-to-face with B’Elanna.
"Voyager needs me," B’Elanna said.
"So do I," Kelis countered.
"No, you don’t," B’Elanna said. "You have all that you need right here."
"I’ll be inspired," Kelis said, "every time I think of you." B’Elanna stepped away, then tapped her communicator.
"One to beam," she began, then stopped herself. "To ascend to the heavens." With a flash of light, she disappeared a moment later in the telltale whine of a transporter beam.
"And so ends the rescue of B’Elanna Torres," Jero said. "Half- Klingon B’Elanna Torres. Half-human B’Elanna Torres. Chief engineer."
"The stories will continue," Kelis said, "as long as we have the breath to tell them. And as long as our patrons remain wise, and compassionate. And Voyager will continue on her journey to the gleaming cities of Earth, where peace reigns, and hatred has no home."
"And just what the hell were you thinking?" Harry barked when B’Elanna rematerialized. "Do you realize the trouble you’re in?"
"Harry," B’Elanna began.
"Don’t ‘Harry’ me, B’Elanna," Harry interrupted. "Your interaction with the natives was bad enough, but to set the computer to beam you out in front of them? The captain’s going to have our heads!"
"Listen, Starfleet, I–"
"Damn it, B’Elanna," Harry interrupted again, his ire rising, "you went to the academy. You know how seriously cultural contamination is taken! This is my first away mission since returning to duty. I can take crashing the Flyer. I can take having to cross two hundred kilometers on foot. But to get here and find out that you were telling these people everything about us while I was sleeping under leaves during the day to avoid being seen…!" Before B’Elanna could reply, the communications console crackled to life.
"Voyager to Delta Flyer," Janeway’s voice crackled over the comm. "What’s your status?"
"We’re ready to beam up now," B’Elanna said. "Carey’ll have to bring a team down to retrieve the wreckage, but I think the Flyer can be repaired, given enough time." She could feel Tom’s silent grimace from orbit, and didn’t know which inevitable confrontation she dreaded worst: him, or the captain.
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
18 December 2376 1937 hrs
Harry and Seven approached Kes after the wedding of Daniel McKenzie and Jill Hendersen, holding each other’s hand and their drinks, smiles on their faces—a startling change for the otherwise-somber former drone.
"Kes," Harry said, "we wanted to thank you. For everything."
"I’m just glad to help you, Harry," Kes replied.
"We wanted you to be the first to know," Harry said, apparently taking Kes’ use of the word "you" as plural, not singular. "Seven and I are getting married. Unfortunately, Tom walked around the corner right after I proposed, so he was the first to know."
That certainly explains Tom’s strange behavior today, Kes thought. "So," she asked, "what brought this on?"
"When I was stuck on that planet," Harry said, "all I could think about for two weeks straight was Seven and Katie. I swore to myself that if I got out of there alive, I’d propose again. And this time, I wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer!"
"Harry’s extended absence," Seven reflected, "forced me to realize the large role he currently plays in my existence. His predictability makes him a stabilizing force in an otherwise chaotic environment."
Kes smiled, a distant look on her face, but the smile seemed forced, even to herself.
"Kes?" Harry asked. "Is something wrong?"
"No," she lied. "I’m fine. I’m happy for you both."
"You do not appear to be happy," Seven observed. "Your facial expression indicates emotional discomfort."
"Seven," Harry said, turning to his bride-to-be, "why don’t you check on Katie. Naomi may need your help with her." Seven looked at him dubiously, then turned and made her way back to the other side of the mess hall. "Okay, Kes," Harry continued, "what is it?"
"It’s not important," Kes said, knowing even as she uttered the words, he remained unconvinced. She knew that she was a terrible liar, but Harry had the ability to see right though her, just like her father. Unlike Benaren, however, Harry wasn’t telepathic.
"Kes," Harry said, half-sternly, reminding Kes once more of her father.
After a moment’s hesitation, she said, "I’m leaving this timeline."
"Why?" he asked.
"What I’m looking for isn’t here," she said.
"What are you looking for?" Harry asked.
"I," she began, uncertainly, then repeated, "I love you, Harry. That’s why I’m jumping from timeline to timeline. I’m trying to find a reality where we can be together."
His jaw dropped. After a moment, he regained his composure, then said, "You—you love me? And you still helped me get together with Seven?"
"She makes you happy," Kes said honestly. "That’s more important to me."
"I don’t think I could do that," he said. He felt a surge of emotion run through his mind—surprise, amazement… even guilt. He looked down at his hands, folded and resting on the table between him and Kes. She knew that he could make that kind of sacrifice; he was just that kind of a man—he just couldn’t see himself like Kes saw him.
"Besides," Kes continued when he looked back up at her a moment later, "if I tried to take her place, it wouldn’t be fair to any of us. Not you, not her, not me, and not the Harry Kim in another timeline where you can love me as much as I do you. There’s a big multiverse out there—and, theoretically, there’s a timeline for anything you can imagine. I can imagine myself with you quite easily, so I have faith that I’ll find what I’m looking for soon enough."
"I," he began, "I hope you find it."
U.S.S. Voyager NCC-74656
4 January 2377 2256 hrs
Kes waited two weeks before leaving—long enough to attend the wedding of Harry Kim and Seven of Nine. Though Harry said she didn’t have to attend, in light of her feelings for him, she knew that it would be one of his happiest days, and that it would mean very much to him for her to stay. She assured him that it was all right for him to continue with his life and encouraged him to do so. In time, he became more comfortable with the situation and was able to concentrate fully on his life with Seven.
The wedding, a blend of standard Starfleet and traditional ceremonies, was held on the holodeck in a large, luxuriant—and even borderline extravagant—cathedral, with the Doctor escorting Seven down the long aisle. B’Elanna held Katie, while Tom served as Harry’s best man, and the captain conducted the ceremony.
After it was all over, after the partying had died down, after nearly everyone had gone back to their quarters for the night, Kes waited still. When the mess hall had emptied and the others aboard the ship had all said their good-byes to her with a mix of sadness and curiousity, still she was there.
And in a flash, she was gone, searching for a universe that she could call home.