"So, you obviously got Jor to a medical facility in time," Harry said to B'Elanna, in between forkfuls of his favourite pleeka rind casserole – this batch with extra grub meal and a side of potato chips. B'Elanna failed to see the appeal of grub meal herself. It sounded like something a Ferengi would enjoy.
The mess hall was all but abandoned tonight. Neelix pottered about in the galley working on some recipe for tomorrow's breakfast that required twelve hours to simmer. The fumes that filled the long room were potent enough to dissuade many potential diners, but, having been present before the concoction came to the boil, B'Elanna and Harry had acclimated to the smell gradually, and now they hardly noticed it. Compared to the foul air B'Elanna had just been describing to her friend, the atmosphere in the mess hall was like Risian perfume.
Tom was pulling an extra shift in sickbay this evening. The Doctor had the night off to work on one of his infernal holographic essays. It had given B'Elanna and Harry a good chance to talk about the events of the previous week. Harry had been keen to learn more about B'Elanna's first command experience, and, after giving it some thought, she'd decided that discussing it in detail with him might be cathartic for her too.
B'Elanna smiled tightly and nodded. "We headed straight for Marva IV. There was a doctor there who was sympathetic to the cause, and we'd used him before. He fixed Jor up in about ten minutes after he'd treated Sahreen first." She peered into the mug of hot, watery liquid on the table in front of her, swirled it around to mix in the residue that had settled at the bottom, and took a sip. Thinking back to that disgusting water she and her Maquis comrades had been forced to drink during their 'confinement', Neelix's 'speciality tea' really wasn't so bad. "He'd been walking around with a subdural haematoma for three days and not said a word to anyone about the pain in his head. He was fine after treatment. We were lucky that the Doctor on Marva had experience with patients that had unique physiologies."
"So Sahreen was part-Vulcan?"
B'Elanna smiled even as a wave of regret hit her right in the gut. "I asked Chakotay. When we got back to the Val Jean. I said I needed to know in case the same thing happened again. In case Sahreen was under my command and got injured. He told me that next time we'd have Starfleet tricorders, so it was irrelevant. But if I wanted to ask Sahreen, then I was welcome to try."
Harry gawped, pleeka rind and grub meal dripping from his fork to splash into his plate. "And?" he asked eagerly.
B'Elanna winced. "I never did. After that, Chakotay never assigned him to any missions that I led, so I never had a good reason to. But Chakotay knows. Only he swore never to tell."
"Sahreen's idea of a joke. I think he enjoyed the thought of keeping us all guessing."
Harry frowned. "That doesn't sound very Vulcan."
"Even Tuvok has a slight sense of humour, and he's as Vulcan as they get." She took another sip of tea. "Who knows. Maybe Sahreen had some Klingon blood. I don't see it, but stranger things have happened."
His plate cleared, Harry sat back in his chair resting his hands on the edge of the table. "How come you've never told me this story before?"
B'Elanna shrugged. "That mission … it wasn't exactly my proudest moment."
"But it turned out all right in the end."
"Through luck more than any particular skill on my part."
"You were in charge. You made the right decisions."
B'Elanna scoffed and swallowed down the dregs of her tea. "I had the right combination of people with me to get the job done. Between them they brought wisdom, patience, and, most importantly, muscle power."
Neelix, ever alert to the needs of his customers, presented with a pot of fresh tea to refill B'Elanna's mug. Feeling daring, Harry had him pour another. The Talaxian looked ready to pull up a chair and join them. B'Elanna wasn't feeling receptive to his well-meaning morale-boosting efforts. A request for two stacks of pancakes soon sent him scurrying back off into the galley with Harry's empty plate. Mixing the batter would occupy the chef for at least ten minutes. More if he started singing and got carried away.
Perhaps picking up on the downturn in her mood, Harry moved the subject onto scientific matters. "Did you ever find out what caused the rock slide?"
B'Elanna shook her head. "No. I didn't even bother examining the sensor readings from the shuttle when we got back to the Val Jean. There didn't seem much point given that the sensors were giving us misleading information. I had to work an all-nighter recalibrating them. I guess it could have been our entering the tunnels – you know, the vibrations from our footsteps or the stirring of the wind from the shuttle landing was the tipping point that set off a chain of events causing the rocks to tumble down the mountainside. Like a domino effect. Or a butterfly effect. One of the two. Or some stray electrical charge caused an instability in the uridium. Or it could have just been chance: an act of God, or however you want to label it. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time." She paused to steal a chip from Harry's side plate, contemplating as she crunched it. "But, actually …" and she'd not reflected on it in such a way before, but, "… maybe it was the right place at the right time."
Harry arched an eyebrow. "How so?"
"If we hadn't been stuck there for those three days, then … who knows, we might have been assigned another, more dangerous mission. While the seven of us were digging ourselves out of that hole, Jarvin and Ayala got into trouble during a raid on a Cardassian fuel depot. They barely escaped with their lives. A couple of guys that were with them didn't make it …" She shook off that memory, of Ayala stumbling around the ship with a thousand-yard stare, barely coherent enough to respond to his name or answer a yes/no question. He'd never been quite the same since. "So," she said to Harry, consciously lightening her tone, "just think: if Voyager hadn't just spent the last few days at the mercy of that 'talking bomb' and on the detour to Salina Prime, it's possible something far worse could have happened to us. Another encounter with the Borg, or 8472 …"
Harry's eyebrows rose higher.
B'Elanna frowned at him. "What?"
"Just … I wouldn't expect you to say something like that."
"Like …" His face took on a slight trace of the panic it had carried so often in the earlier years of Voyager's journey, but that he'd gradually cast aside with the experience. "… like seeing the silver lining in the cloud."
It was a fair point. It wasn't her usual way of thinking. She shrugged. "Maybe it's something in this tea."
B'Elanna took another of his chips, prompting him to push the plate into the centre of the table for her easier access. Over Harry's shoulder, she spied Dalby entering the mess hall with Gerron beside him and Ayala a few paces behind. Neelix sent the men off to a table under the window with a promise that he'd attend to them shortly. All three crewmen offered B'Elanna a nod of acknowledgment that she returned in kind before turning her attention back to Harry, who was ready with his next question.
"So, how come the others weren't with you when the Caretaker pulled your ship into the Delta Quadrant?"
B'Elanna set down her mug now, slid it around until she was happy with its resting position, and then folded her arms across her chest. For the longest time she'd envied Sahreen, Nelson and Vance, and the others who'd stayed behind on that fateful day: Li Paz, Meyer and Roberto. Atara and Sveta. She'd thought of them often during her first couple of years on Voyager, wondering how long they would have searched for the Val Jean. Knowing that, statistically speaking, a few of them might have been killed or captured, but, if so, at least they'd have died or been imprisoned for fighting a war that they believed in.
Not led to their deaths by a Starfleet captain fighting enemies that they should have had no quarrel with. She'd hoped that they were still in the fight, that perhaps the Maquis had grown in number and influence. Until just over a year ago, when Chakotay had approached her in engineering with the worst possible news.
"After that away mission, Vance was reassigned to another ship. I never saw him again. The day before Gul Evek chased us into the Badlands, Chakotay had sent Sahreen, Nelson and a couple of others to restock one of our weapons caches near Bajor. They were supposed to rendezvous with us after a couple of weeks."
"And now they're all definitely … gone?" Harry asked softly.
B'Elanna paused. Were they? All of them? Sveta wasn't one to overdramatize a situation. If Sveta said that all the Maquis were wiped out or in prison, then Sveta believed it. But she couldn't possibly know about every one of the thousands of individuals who had called themselves Maquis. "I suppose it's possible that a few of us managed to blend back into civilian life somehow," B'Elanna said. "On Bajor or in the Federation. I don't know about Vance, but I do know that Sahreen and Nelson didn't make it. Sveta – Chakotay's friend who wrote him – she … saw their bodies. That's how she got picked up by Starfleet. She and a couple of others responded to Sahreen's distress call, and Starfleet intercepted them. In her letter, she mentioned quite a few of those killed by name."
"I'm sorry," Harry said simply.
B'Elanna nodded. "Sahreen would have made a good officer. Nelson too. You would have liked them."
"The other guy, Vance," Harry continued, before hesitating, that trace of unease returning to him for a moment. "He sounds like he might have struggled to fit in."
B'Elanna swallowed hard. If Vance had made it to Voyager it would definitely have made life … interesting. That was to say more interesting than the journey had been already. The thought of seventy years with him did not appeal to her. Of course, on Voyager, Vance might have changed his attitude. Starfleet methodology had cured more than a few crewmen of their volatile tempers and general insolence. And Vance hadn't always been as much of an ass as he'd been on that botched mission and in the lead up to it … "Better that he'd been on Voyager struggling to fit in than dead," she decided.
Dalby had struggled at first. But since Tuvok's intensive training course in 'the Starfleet way of doing things', Dalby's conduct had been exemplary. Commendable, at least. None of the complaints about him were serious enough for B'Elanna to refer them on to Tuvok or Chakotay. She took care over who she assigned Dalby to work with, trying not to mix him with others prone to losing their temper. That minimised any trouble. In fact, she often placed him and Jor – who was another invaluable member of the engineering team – under Tabor's supervision. When B'Elanna saw the three of them working together on some problem, memories of those days digging in the darkness couldn't fail to resurface.
But in recent months, she'd stopped trying to suppress those memories, deciding that if she was never going to see Sahreen or Nelson (or even Vance) again, she should make sure she didn't forget the times they'd shared, good or bad.
"And now, commiserating with Harry over the sentient missile fiasco had given her cause to revisit that first command of her own in more detail than she ever had before – and to appreciate the wisdom she had gained from that ordeal and from knowing those people that had shared it with her."
The corners of her mouth twitched upwards slightly. It didn't pass Harry's notice. She answered his puzzled look by reaching for her mug and gesturing for him to do the same with his.
"We should raise a toast," she said quietly, lifting the mug as she decided on her phrasing. "Here's to … learning from experience."
Harry smiled, clinking his mug to hers as he echoed the sentiment.
Yes, this talk had been a very good idea. For both of them.
A/N: Sahreen and Nelson (and Li Paz and Meyer) are mentioned (and seen in holographic form) in 5x03 "Extreme Risk". Vance is mentioned (and vaguely seen) in the DS9 episode 5x23 "Blaze of Glory".