“This is absurd,” Vice Admiral Kathryn Janeway said, crossing her arms and fixing her gaze on the streaks of starlight visible from the long bay window in Counselor Hugh Cambridge’s office.
The counselor did not reply immediately, a tactic Janeway had become all too familiar with in the last few days of regular morning sessions with Voyager’s resident therapist. She didn’t need to turn back to know that despite her outburst, she would find him as she’d last seen him, resting comfortably in the deep black chair he favored, his long legs crossed at the knee, and his hands resting in his lap. His features would be placid, though occasional hints of ironic mischief would flash from his eyes.
“Can they actually do this?” she demanded of the heavens.
“Starfleet Command?” Cambridge replied drolly enough for Janeway to infer his meaning: How well do you know the lunatics currently running our high-tech asylum?
Finally facing him with the full sum of her fury, Janeway said, “They already offered me the damned job.”
A faint smile flickered too quickly across Cambridge’s lips for her to demote him for it on the spot.
“They did,” Cambridge agreed.
“So what’s the problem?”
“You didn’t accept,” Cambridge replied.
“I didn’t accept immediately,” Janeway corrected him. “The issue was first raised twenty-four hours after I had witnessed the deaths of Captain Eden and my godson while doing all I could to prevent the end of the entire multiverse. Hell, I’d only been alive again at that point for three days. And those three days were a little fraught, even by the Delta Quadrant’s standards.”
“Mmm-hmm,” Cambridge murmured.
“They ordered me to think it over,” Janeway said.
“And you excel at following orders?” Cambridge asked.
“I do,” Janeway said, genuinely surprised at the implied criticism.
Cambridge said nothing, obviously wondering if she was going to dig this hole any deeper before tossing her a rope.
Janeway’s shoulders fell as she released her arms to her sides, finally saying, “I excel at following the important ones.”
A chuckle finally escaped the counselor’s lips. “Congratulations, Admiral. We’ve been at this for days, and that might be the closest you’ve come to dispassionate self-reflection.”
“What do they want from me?” Janeway asked.
“How should I know?” Cambridge countered, matching her bewildered tone.
“You’ve served under Admiral Montgomery for almost four years now,” Janeway shot back.
“And you served right next to him for almost three,” Cambridge said. “I’d hazard a guess that you know him better than I ever wish to.”
Janeway paused for a moment to consider Admiral Kenneth Montgomery, who now held the future of the Starship Voyager, along with Galen and Demeter, in his hands. There was no denying that Montgomery and Janeway had begun their acquaintance at odds. But once the unpleasantness of Starfleet Intelligence Director Covington’s bizarre and reckless attempt to turn herself into a Borg Queen had been put behind them, they had certainly become allies if not friends. While he didn’t tend to reflect as deeply as she would have liked before taking action, Montgomery was hardly unreasonable and could be downright pleasant when the mood struck him. He had certainly seemed patient and understanding enough during their lengthy conversations of the past few days.
“Maybe he changed his mind,” Janeway ventured.
“That would require him to acknowledge that his initial assessment was flawed,” Cambridge said. “A useful ability, but not one I’ve seen Montgomery display, oh let me think . . . ever.”
Janeway felt her face falling into hard lines. “Montgomery and his superiors sent nine ships to the Delta Quadrant five months ago. Although they were equipped with slipstream drives and staffed by Starfleet’s finest, this fleet has suffered unimaginable losses in that short time, including the destruction of five ships, the deaths of more than eight hundred officers and crewmen, and the loss of two fleet commanders. He asked me if I would be willing to assume command of what’s left to us: an Intrepid-class ship never truly designed for deep space exploration, an experimental medical vessel staffed largely by untested holograms, and a third, small ship that as best I can tell is little more than a roving airponics bay. With these resources, I am tasked with continuing exploration of one of the most dangerous areas of space Starfleet has ever entered in search for the remnants of the Borg, who were responsible for sixty-three billion deaths a few months ago, and the Caeliar, a species advanced enough to destroy the greatest threat the Federation has ever faced through the use of technology that our best scientists still classify essentially as magic.”
“A tall order, I’ll grant you,” Cambridge allowed.
“So when Montgomery said I should take as much time as I needed to think about it, it never occurred to me that actually doing so might be construed as a character flaw.”
“You think that’s why the offer was rescinded?” Cambridge asked.
“You just said . . .” Janeway began.
“Admiral, please,” Cambridge cut her off. “You are many things, but you are not stupid. I realize the new orders you received only moments before stepping into this office are troubling, but gather yourself and think for a moment.”
Janeway did so, forcing herself to take the frustration now engulfing her and set it aside. Her breath settled into a deep slow rhythm, and moments later, a new thought jumped to the forefront of her mind.
“Montgomery didn’t make the call.”
Cambridge smiled. “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
The admiral then took a few moments to visualize the current chain of command above Montgomery, and her heart stilled as she realized that the new order in question could only have realistically come from one place.
“Admiral Akaar?” she asked.
“He is Starfleet’s current commander in chief,” Cambridge noted.
“But why would he trouble himself . . . ?”
“Because he doesn’t have a dog in this hunt,” Cambridge replied. “His perspective is going to be a little different than Montgomery’s.”
“Akaar is the top of the food chain, Counselor. All the dogs are his.”
Nodding, Cambridge continued, “Yes, well, whoever made the choice you are now fretting didn’t do so after hours of discussion with you. They had a series of cold hard facts as their only guide.”
“And those facts led Admiral Akaar to conclude that I am not capable of leading this fleet?” Janeway asked.
“Put yourself in his shoes,” Cambridge suggested.
“I realize I have made my fair share . . . all right, perhaps more than my fair share of questionable calls over the years,” Janeway allowed.
“I don’t think this about the distant past, Admiral,” Cambridge said. “I’d guess ninety-five percent of those calls led to your promotion when Voyager first returned home from the Delta Quadrant.”
“Yes, but that calculus might have changed a bit in light of some of the more far-reaching consequences of those choices,” Janeway added.
“You think Akaar holds you personally responsible for the Borg Invasion?”
“It’s not a huge leap.”
“No, it’s an impossible one,” Cambridge insisted.
Janeway shook her head. They’d already spent several hours discussing what Cambridge felt was her misplaced need to assume responsibility for the recent actions of the Borg that resulted in the deaths of sixty-three billion and the loss of hundreds of ships and several planets. There was no arguing that her choice four years earlier to destroy a transwarp hub in the Delta Quadrant seemed to have led the Borg to reconsider their tactics against the Federation and to target them for annihilation. But Cambridge had rightly pointed out that without a crystal ball, there was no way Janeway could have predicted that her choice would have such cataclysmic results. Based on the intelligence she had at the time, it would have been dereliction of duty for her to have refused to attempt to cripple the Borg, regardless of the eventual consequences. Intellectually, she could see his point. Her heart, however, remained unconvinced.
“Then why?” Janeway asked.
Cambridge sat up abruptly. “For pity’s sake, Kathryn, you’ve only been alive again for a week and a half. You were presumed dead for the last fourteen months, but that time never happened for you. Two weeks ago, by your internal reckoning, you were on a routine mission to investigate what you believed to be a dead Borg cube. You arrived, were eaten by a wall, and transformed into a Borg Queen who then rained fiery death down upon your former comrades at arms. Violence on that level, violations of that nature, are incomprehensible to most of us. That assault left you with a wounded, terrified shred of yourself that was somehow saved by the Q and that tender shred was then asked to rationally decide whether or not to release itself into oblivion or return to the life you once knew in order to prevent the multiverse from combusting trillions of years ahead of schedule. Within hours of returning to this existence, you were faced with the death of the man you love, the man on whom you had pinned many of your hopes and expectations of the future. And despite the fact that he ultimately survived, the only solution to the Gordian knot you were trying to unravel did include the deaths of a fellow captain you respected and a godson you would gladly have sacrificed yourself to save.”
Janeway felt heat rising to her cheeks but remained silent.
“The wonder here is not that calmer heads have prevailed upon Montgomery and ordered you back to the Alpha Quadrant to undergo a course of evaluations and recuperation before making final determination regarding your future career. What you should be questioning is why Montgomery would have ever offered you the job in the first place. What demons must be driving the man who would so callously set you up to fail?”
“You don’t think I’m ready to lead this fleet?” the admiral asked.
“You are, inarguably, one of the finest officers who has ever worn the uniform. You eat the impossible for breakfast. You seek out challenges most would never contemplate, holding yourself to ridiculously idealistic standards, and you do it with a ready smile, keen wit, formidable intelligence, and a compassionate heart. You are a bloody beacon in the darkness, an inspiration to anyone dedicating their lives to Starfleet. To a man, those who have served with you in the past would walk naked through fire for you, but right now, I wouldn’t follow you to the mess hall.”
“I see,” Janeway said, placing her hands on the back of the chair opposite the counselor.
Cambridge searched her face warily.
“And did you, by any chance, share these thoughts with Admiral Montgomery or Admiral Akaar?” Janeway asked.
Cambridge shook his head, clearly exasperated. “They didn’t ask, Kathryn,” he replied.
Her heart began to pound slowly but with considerable force. “They didn’t?”
Again, Cambridge shook his head. “I kept waiting, assuming they would. But no one has yet.”
“That’s . . .” she trailed off, unable to find the right word.
“. . . troubling,” he finished for her. Rising, he moved to her side, and she turned to face him.
“Someone up there has made a decision they believe to be final and are not the least bit interested in anyone else’s opinion on the matter. How they reached that decision is irrelevant. Be prepared to listen very hard, to what they say and don’t say. The truth will slip through the cracks somewhere.
“But make no mistake. That can’t be your primary focus right now. Even after you left command of Voyager to Chakotay, you maintained what some might call an unhealthy attachment to your former command. You crossed lines few in your position would have risked for those you once led. You did it because you are constitutionally incapable of doing otherwise. But if you truly hope to lead them again, if you actually want this job, which I can’t imagine you could reasonably decide right now, you need to shift your priorities.
“You need to spend as much time as it takes to grieve your former life, to process this extraordinary transformation, and to decide who you are now. The Kathryn Janeway who stepped onto that Borg cube wouldn’t have blinked when command of this fleet was offered to her.”
“But I did,” Janeway said softly.
“Precisely. And well done, I might add. That alone tells me your deeper wisdom is already serving you well.”
“Wonderful.” Janeway sighed.
“You will never again be the woman you once were. You have glimpsed yourself on a subatomic level. You have been altered forever by events both within and beyond your control. The mysteries of the universe, of existence, are no longer abstractions you can idly consider over drinks on a late night. They are staring you coldly in the face. They will not be ignored or postponed. There isn’t a clinical diagnosis that can contain the many levels of psychic stress you have endured or the emotional toll they have taken, never mind a treatment plan. You are now, much as you were when Voyager was first lost in the Delta Quadrant, countless light-years from your home.
“But this journey, you must walk alone. You must somehow integrate all of the violence, pain, and loss as well as the love and light that are yours into a new functioning whole. And it’s going to take a little longer than you’re ready to admit right now. It’s not a task I envy you, though I do regret not being able to be the one to walk beside you as you take your first steps.”
“I appreciate that, Counselor,” Janeway said. “And on one level, I know you’re probably right.”
“I think I’d feel better about this if the decision had been mine. You make it sound as if I have no choice in the matter.”
“Of course you do. You could march straight into Montgomery’s office the day you arrive and demand he reconsider. You could bully your way past the counselors assigned to evaluate you. You could make Akaar’s life personally and professionally miserable by reminding him and anyone else who will listen that you just saved this ship and the entire multiverse and that alone should earn you the right to do as you damn well please.
“You could try to avoid this work for the rest of your life, Kathryn. But do that and I promise, eventually, it will bring you to your knees.”
The admiral smiled mirthlessly. “Maybe. But not for long.”
“I’m rooting for you, Kathryn. You can do this. You will if I know you at all. But even I wouldn’t dare guess at this point what your final choice will be once you’ve found the path. And neither should you. What I do know is that if you return, it needs to be for the right reasons. And if that day comes, I’ll likely follow you anywhere.”
Lieutenant Commander Thomas Eugene Paris entered Captain Chakotay’s ready room at precisely 0700 hours, as ordered. And that was no mean feat, given that his morning had started three hours earlier and consisted almost entirely of nursing his wife through her worst bout of morning sickness to date. Had Paris not seen it, he would never have believed it was possible for any individual to eliminate that much of anything from her body continuously and over so many hours. He had wondered, but not found the courage to ask B’Elanna, if one of the redundant Klingon organs was the stomach. If this morning was any indication, she must have six of them.
Paris had finally prevailed upon her to go to sickbay, over her strenuous objections. He had then activated Miral’s holographic nanny to watch over her, hurriedly replicated a fresh uniform, and rushed to the ready room for his morning meeting with the captain. Thankfully, the thought of breakfast hadn’t even been tempting or he would have been late.
He found Chakotay seated at his desk and staring out through the windows of the ready room, several padds stacked untouched before him.
“Good morning, sir,” Paris greeted Chakotay briskly.
As his captain turned to meet his eyes, Paris registered deep consternation tinged with a smidge of anger.
“Chakotay?” Paris asked, dropping the official pleasantries at once.
“We have a problem, Tom,” Chakotay began.
When isn’t that the case? Paris thought, but was wise enough to keep to himself. Instead, the first officer did a quick mental inventory of the ship’s status, ongoing personnel issues, pending duties, last-known orders, and came up with absolutely nothing to account for Chakotay’s mood. True, in a few hours, Voyager would arrive at New Talax to regroup with its last remaining fleet vessels, the Galen and Demeter, and a few hours after that, a lengthy memorial service no one could be looking forward to would begin.
But Chakotay had spent the last few months in Voyager’s center seat turning calmness in the face of chaos into an art form. And less than two weeks ago, he had unexpectedly been reunited with Admiral Janeway, the only woman Paris believed Chakotay had ever truly loved, and whom all of them had thought dead for the last year or so. If anything, this unlikely turn of events had seemed to deepen Chakotay’s reserves of strength while bringing a new and healthy light back into his eyes.
“What happened?” Paris asked, when his best efforts came up empty.
Chakotay clasped his hands before him and began to knead them, as if he could force some insight from them.
“We have new orders from Starfleet Command,” Chakotay replied.
“Okay,” Paris said, wondering how bad this could possibly be.
Chakotay rose from his desk and moved to place his back against the railing that separated his work space from a small raised lounge—the room’s most comfortable and inviting feature. “Once the memorial ends, Admiral Janeway will board the Galen and return to the Alpha Quadrant for an extended period of recuperation.”
Paris’s stomach turned so hard he was grateful it was empty.
“I thought they had offered her command of the fleet,” he said.
“They did.” Chakotay nodded. “And I was certain that the only way they were going to allow us to stay out here in the Delta Quadrant was if she accepted.”
“So . . . she passed on their offer?” Paris ventured hesitantly.
“No.” Chakotay shook his head. “It took some convincing, but she decided to accept it. And when she advised them this morning of her intentions, the offer was rescinded.”
“Then this isn’t Admiral Janeway taking some much-needed and well-earned rest,” Paris realized.
“This is going to be weeks or more of intensive psychiatric evaluations, and wait a minute.” Paris paused as too many thoughts rushed through his sleep-deprived brain at once. “Are we going home?”
Chakotay’s eyes met Paris’s, searching them with the precision of a laser scalpel.
“No,” he said softly.
“Then I don’t understand,” Paris admitted.
Chakotay sighed. “I don’t either. That’s the problem.”
The first officer made his way up the low step into the seating area where he had an unobstructed view of streaking starlight.
“So we’re supposed to continue to do the work that was once assigned to nine ships all by ourselves?”
“Demeter is staying as well.”
“What about Achilles?”
“She is still officially connected to the fleet, but there’s been no word of her returning to the Delta Quadrant any time soon.”
Paris turned back to face Chakotay. “You think they’ve written us off?”
“Resources are pretty scarce these days in the Alpha Quadrant, and Admiral Janeway has mentioned some new political developments that are troubling. But clearly they don’t trust us to assist with any of that.”
“Have we been assigned a new mission?”
“Captain’s discretion,” Chakotay replied.
Paris placed his hands on the rail as Chakotay turned to face him. “I think it’s fair to say that from command’s point of view, the last few months haven’t gone as well as they probably hoped for our fleet.”
“Maybe. But I look at the last five months and see amazing, if qualified successes,” Chakotay insisted. “I know the costs have been great, but I also know that they should have been greater, and would have been if not for the dedication and resourcefulness we’ve all displayed. But I don’t see how we can possibly fulfill our mission, a thorough investigation of this quadrant, with our two small ships. And for now, they’re not offering any reinforcements.”
“You think they want us to fail?”
“I wouldn’t go that far. I think they don’t know which end is up right now. I think the sheer volume of catastrophic change they’ve had to absorb in the last year probably has everyone still connected to their behinds looking for a way to cover them. Putting Admiral Janeway immediately back in command was a tidy solution on paper, but obviously they must question her fitness right now. It took a lot less than being assimilated, killed, and resurrected for them to question mine.”
Not that much less, Paris thought, but held his peace.
“They have to know that one Intrepid-class vessel and a special-mission ship can’t make a dent in unraveling this quadrant’s mysteries, but bringing us home now is tantamount to admitting that sending us out in the first place was a mistake. And I don’t think anyone is eager to add that to their resume right now.”
“Do you think it was a mistake, Chakotay?”
“No,” he replied as if offended by the thought.
“You want to stay?”
“I know this is where we can do the most good right now, even if they don’t.”
“So how do we show them that?”
“We do what we’ve always done . . . we prove them wrong . . . again.”
“Yes, but again I ask, how?”
The captain stepped back from the railing and began to pace the small area before his desk. “We need to avoid any appearance of impropriety or renegade impulses. We need to demonstrate to Starfleet that we take our responsibilities seriously and that we can play by the rules. But we also need to show Command that continuing to explore this quadrant is a worthy investment of time and resources.
“I want you to compile a list of possible targets for exploration. When we first left the Delta Quadrant behind, we’d barely scratched the surface of its depth and breadth. We need to find a mission that could yield significant results, not just for us, but for the Federation.”
“So no baby stars, uninhabited systems, or interesting nebulas?” Paris quipped.
“First contact would be nice,” Chakotay mused.
“Agreed, but those can be a little unpredictable. I know things ended well with the Children of the Storm and Riley’s people, but we ticked off the Indign and the Tarkons pretty well, and there’s still that little matter of our lost hologram to consider.”
“Unless Reg has found any promising leads in our absence, I’m not sure where to begin looking for Meegan.”
“We can’t just let her go.”
“Call it instinct, but my sense is if she plans to move against us in any way, she’ll find us when she’s good and ready.”
Paris shrugged. “If in the meantime you’re suggesting we revisit any of the territories we already know a little about, we do have something of a reputation preceding us to deal with.”
“Not everybody called us the ‘ship of death.’ ” Chakotay smirked.
“No, just the ones who survived our first visits.” Paris chuckled.
“You know what I mean,” Chakotay insisted.
“I do.” Paris nodded. “And with your permission, I’m going to ask Seven and Harry to help me create this list.”
“Absolutely. Be prepared to present it first thing tomorrow morning.”
“I was planning to spend most of the day finalizing preparations for the memorial service, and then, attending it.”
“Sleep is for sissies.”
“Don’t you just love being first officer?” Chakotay teased.
After a moment, Paris added, “Are you going to be okay?”
Chakotay had moved to take his seat, but paused. “How do you mean?”
Paris considered testing the waters but honestly no longer had the patience for anything less than a reckless dive. “Without the admiral,” he replied.
“Yes.” Chakotay smiled, and Paris sensed he meant it. “She’ll be back. And when she returns, we’re going to have done ourselves proud in the interim.”
Paris wanted to take this at face value, but he knew he needed to push a little further. “You lost her once and it didn’t go all that well. You’re not afraid of losing her again?”
Chakotay might have punched anyone else for insubordination at this, but coming from Paris, who had come painfully close to losing his wife and daughter, it was a fair question.
“I’m not going to lie. The thought is too awful to contemplate. But I’m not going to live every day of the rest of my life in fear. And neither is she. Tomorrow is promised to no one. We can’t waste today. A few thousand light-years between us changes nothing. She will come back.”
“And if she doesn’t?”
“You think they’ll decide she’s not up to the job?”
“I think on her worst day, she’s overqualified,” Paris replied sincerely. “But I don’t like the idea of her facing all of this alone. I wonder if she needs us right now even more than we need her.”
“She has us,” Chakotay insisted. “That’s never going to change.”
“No, it isn’t,” Paris agreed.
As Paris crossed to the door to begin what was going to be a much busier day than he hoped for when he arrived, Chakotay called after him.
“Conlon submitted her morning engineering report and indicated B’Elanna wasn’t present. Is she okay?”
“She’s fine,” Paris said. “Just a little under the weather this morning. I’m sure Doctor Sharak will have her back on her feet in no time.”
“Good. As you were.” Chakotay dismissed him.
Paris continued out the door, slightly chagrined at withholding his and B’Elanna’s happy news. Paris had only known for a few days that his family was about to get a little bigger, and B’Elanna had forbidden him to tell any of their friends for a few more weeks. It was an understandable request, but Paris couldn’t help but think that especially today, Chakotay could have used a little good news.
Still, he was determined to provide the captain with some by the next morning, come what may.
“The proper term is hyperemesis gravidarum, Commander,” Doctor Sharak said in his most soothing voice.
Lieutenant Commander B’Elanna Torres responded by heaving once again and depositing the results in a small basin Sharak had offered her the moment she had entered sickbay.
“Don’t . . . care . . . what you call it . . .” B’Elanna finally said through ragged breaths. The last several hours had sapped every ounce of strength she possessed. “Just . . . make it . . . stop,” she finished, and punctuated the thought by retching again.
“I can’t,” Sharak said.
Exhausted and dispirited, B’Elanna lay her head against the inclined biobed. “Do your people have a position on euthanasia?” she asked.
Sharak seemed to seriously consider the question. “We do,” he finally replied, “though it is a personal choice rather than one imposed by society as a whole.”
B’Elanna turned her head to make sure Doctor Sharak knew that last question had been her extreme distress talking and not a serious request. Although he was the first Tamarian she had ever met and the nuances of the expressions of his wide, dark-brown mottled face were often difficult to decipher, an assured smile and twinkle in his eyes put her fears to rest.
“But do not despair, Commander. This condition has arisen much later in your pregnancy than is normally encountered and will likely subside shortly as the hormones currently aiding the fetus’s early growth diminish to the more normal levels you will maintain for the next several months. In the meantime, I will monitor and supplement your fluid intake and electrolyte levels. I will also provide daily injections of vitamin supplements to replace those you will likely be unable to keep down until your appetite returns.”
“You mean to tell me we can communicate via subspace, create warp fields, dematerialize and rematerialize complex matter at will, and manufacture weapons that operate in multiple phase states but Federation medical science still hasn’t cracked the code on morning sickness?” B’Elanna demanded.
“Oh, we have,” Sharak replied. “We now understand the precise hormonal and chemical interactions that produce your symptoms and have learned through years of experimentation that the wisest course of action as long as your health is not seriously jeopardized is to allow nature to act as it must.”
“This is natural?”
“Yes,” Sharak replied, “and in your particular case, its intensity is likely related to the genetic issues present in your son’s mixed heritage.”
“Tom and I already have one child, and my first pregnancy was nothing like this.”
“Every union of genetic material is unique, Commander,” Sharak assured her, “as is every ensuing gestation.”
B’Elanna paused as Sharak’s words finally registered.
“My son’s heritage?” she asked.
“It’s a boy?” B’Elanna asked as wonder momentarily replaced her general misery.
Sharak’s face fell. “I am sorry, Commander. Did you not wish to know the gender of your child prior to its birth?”
The fleet engineer’s stomach heaved again, and she immediately rolled to her side and grabbed the basin. When the sensation had subsided, she sat back and replied, “It’s okay.” Placing her hands protectively over her belly that had yet to show even a hint of rounding, she imagined the look in Tom’s eyes when she told him they were about to have a son.
It more than made the last several hours worth it.
Like most expectant mothers, B’Elanna had been hoping for ten little fingers and ten little toes. The rest, including the child’s gender, was gravy. But something in the knowledge that this was her son, Tom’s son, filled her with awe.
It’s going to be okay, my little man. Your mom is a Klingon warrior. I’ve been through worse.
Lieutenant Harry Kim, Voyager’s security chief and tactics officer, was pleased with his handiwork. He stood beside the chief engineer, Lieutenant Nancy Conlon, and Seven of Nine in what had once been cargo bays two and three. For the time being, they had been merged into one vast compartment, empty but for a newly erected command console and the presence of dozens of specially designed holographic generators.
“Let me see it one more time?” Kim asked.
Conlon and Seven exchanged a knowing, weary glance, but the lieutenant complied without comment. At her command, the bleak gray bulkheads were replaced by a large reception hall decorated in somber earth tones. A small raised area at one end had been designated for representatives from each fleet vessels, save Plank’s, whose loss had already been memorialized. The rest of the space was filled with rows of long, low, cushioned benches running the length of the room, on which the surviving crews from the vessels Voyager, Quirinal, Esquiline, Hawking, Curie, Achilles, Galen, and Demeter would sit during the formal part of the ceremony.
“And the park?” Kim requested.
In a flash, the interior location shifted, and the same dais and benches sat in an open-air recreation of Federation Park in San Francisco at night. This would be used for a brief time at the end of the service. Once it was done, the space would be reset to an interior but populated by casually arranged tables and chairs to allow the various crews to interact more personally.
Kim and Conlon, with Seven and Paris’s help, had spent the last several days considering the most appropriate and personal forum in which those who had served together but a few short months and had recently been separated by tragedy could come together as a fleet to commemorate the lives of those lost. It had been Conlon’s suggestion to make contact with the survivors who had hastily returned to the Alpha Quadrant less than a week ago and hold the service together in real time using the communications buoys the fleet had launched when they first arrived in the Delta Quadrant. Kim had initially envisioned mounting ceiling-to-floor viewscreens to create the illusion that those assembled were sharing one space. It had been Seven’s suggestion to simply create a holodeck large enough to house Voyager, Galen, and Demeter’s two hundred plus crew while simultaneously allowing them to actually interact directly with the more than seven hundred who would be gathering in the Alpha Quadrant.
This minor miracle could never have been accomplished without the assistance of the officers at Project Pathfinder who had worked years earlier to reconnect Voyager with the Alpha Quadrant when they had been lost in the wilds of the Delta Quadrant. Although Pathfinder’s work had been refocused when Voyager first returned home, many on staff there now still felt a certain kinship with Voyager’s crew, and a small contingent had been assigned to monitor the fleet’s relays and enable continuous communications capabilities when the new fleet had launched. Seven had made direct contact with an old acquaintance, Commander Varia, and he had dropped everything to assist her in making the necessary preparations from his end.
Real-time holographic communications of this size had been reserved for only high-level meetings of Federation and Starfleet authorities. When Kim and Seven had briefed Varia on their intentions for the service, he’d agreed it was possible, and in this case, absolutely appropriate.
“Do you think we should . . . ?” Kim began.
“I’m not contacting Varia again, Harry,” Conlon cut him off. “The relays are stable. We’ve already tested the matrix fifty times, and everybody who will be running the technical side of this thing knows their job. We’re ready,” she assured him.
“Seven?” Kim asked, hoping she might countermand Conlon’s completely accurate assessment.
“While I am a little concerned at fluctuations in relays nineteen and twenty-six’s power levels, we can bypass them if necessary,” Seven replied.
“Are they still acting up?” Conlon asked, double-checking her own console.
“We are ready, Lieutenant Kim,” Seven said.
Kim nodded. While he took a moment’s pleasure in the results of their labors, certain that in a few hours hundreds of men and women now separated by more than twenty-thousand light-years would, for a short time, believe that they were standing right beside one another, that happiness was too quickly replaced by the unavoidable heaviness of the circumstances that necessitated their gathering.
“Okay,” Kim agreed. Now, he only looked forward to the evening’s end, when he could tear the thing down and begin the much more difficult process of putting the devastation of the last few weeks behind him.