March 2019

Dark Star

Set late season 7, soon after 'Homestead'. Voyager gets caught in the gravitational field of a dark matter pulsar and tragedy ensues...

Captain Janeway sighed and glanced at the chronometer in her Ready Room. 0216 hours already! No wonder that the data was blurring before her eyes. She balanced the PADD she had just given up working on, precariously, on the right hand stack. No matter how many hours she put in : the pending pile remained larger than those she could sign off. Perhaps she should just delegate and be damned. On nights like this it all seemed so pointless!

Subconsciously she acknowledged the real reason for her low mood : she was missing her friend Neelix more than she had realised that she would. She had lost count over the years just how many times she had wandered into the Mess Hall around this time of night to find Neelix on standby with fresh coffee and an encouraging word or two. Ironically, although he was one of only two Delta Quadrant natives aboard for most of their journey together : he had often understood her obsessive drive to get her people home more than most. Perhaps it was the loss of any such possibility for him, with the destruction of his home world by the Metreon Cascade and the enduring pain that caused him, that made him so perceptive of her inner feelings. What she wouldn't give right now to be able to wander down there and have one of her heart-to-hearts with her dear friend.

Deciding that she really should return to her quarters and try to get a couple of hours rest before Alpha shift, she reluctantly stood and winced at the cramp in her lower back. Mentally chastising herself for sitting at her desk for far too long without physical respite, she decided that she would walk back to her quarters taking the longest route possible : then perhaps indulge in a brief soak in her bathtub provided she still had enough water rations left.

One minute she was strolling over to the replicator to recycle her coffee cup and the next she was waking up in a heap on the floor with an acrid smog filling her lungs. Mentally switching to "Red Alert" she immediately became aware of how silent Voyager was. No klaxons sounding or flashing red lights from blown power relays. She hit her comm-badge and rather than the usual blip there was just a faint background static. As she attempted to stand up she lurched forward and almost fell again, just managing to grab the leg of her desk which was fortunately still bolted to the floor. Only the floor was actually where the doorway should be!

It was then that it hit her that Voyager was listing on its side, hanging in space. No throbbing of the impulse engines; artificial gravity at around fifty percent of normal capacity (which meant even emergency power was failing) ; inertial dampers off-line...the list went on and on. They were dead in space : but why?

The first thing to do was find something to tether herself to the desk plating with, then manually lever the Ready Room doors open enough for her to winch herself through onto the Bridge. With the reduced gravity and the makeshift tether line she should be able to move about safely and assess the state of her Gamma shift Bridge crew. Then she needed to make her way to Engineering which was undoubtedly where B'Elanna was heading for right now. With luck, Lieutenant Torres's team would have communications and transporters up and running shortly and she could then focus on getting sensors and shields operational as soon as possible. Her mind was already racing at a hundred miles an hour as she proceeded to prise off bulkhead panels and strip any cabling circuitry strong enough to take her body weight.

The signs were, so far, indicative of some sort of stellar phenomena being the cause of their current circumstances. Long range sensors had a detection span of over five light years so any alien craft were likely to have been reacted to before this situation had occurred. Had a ship suddenly appeared from sub-space; hyperspace; fluidic space or some as yet unknown portal - presumably it would have either hailed them or fired. There was no evidence of either. Hanging here in space she could not be absolutely sure that they had not been boarded but damaging Voyager to this degree would not benefit hostiles intent on acquiring their technology and friendly assistance was likely to have prioritised contacting the Bridge.

Either way, there should be sounds of life the other side of these damned doors - she swore under her breath as she continued to attempt to prise them apart with the piece of deck plating she had resorted to using as a lever. So far, she had buckled and split everything else without the doors giving as much as a centimetre. There was only one option left : to burn through the door plating with her phaser. It was high risk, the atmospheric recycling system was also inoperative and she could already feel her heart beating harder and faster in her chest which meant that the oxygen levels were dropping - so the thought of generating yet more acrid smoke that she could not disperse and risking setting the Ready Room on fire with herself trapped inside, did not appeal. However, as the only alternative appeared to be death by slow asphyxiation, she had no choice. Glancing at her chronometer only confirmed that eleven minutes had passed since she was first hurled across the room and still no sign that there was any activity from her crew. Consciously refusing to continue along that line of thought, she focussed on calculating the minimum energy setting required to punch through the door without killing herself in the process. Ensuring that the fibre-optic cabling that she had tethered to her trouser belt had been stripped of any last remaining plastic polymer insulation that could melt and burn it's way through her clothing, she braced herself against the desk leg and fired a low intensity continual burst. At this setting it should take between seventy and eighty seconds to punch through a hole big enough for her to escape through, which meant there was a considerable risk of the acrid atmosphere igniting and incinerating everything in the vicinity - including herself - before her objective was achieved.

Her eyes were smarting and she lowered herself as close to the 'floor' as she could as the hot, sparking air rose as it heated. She could barely breathe and it was impossible to see what effect the phaser beam was having on the door plating due to the billowing black smoke now engulfing everything in the room. She squinted at her chronometer. Fifty seconds down so she had to keep firing for another half a minute to be sure. By then the phaser's energy would be pretty much depleted and if her aim had waivered, then... Just keep counting Kathryn ! ... she forced herself to ignore everything but the turnover of the digital display.

Done. Seventy six seconds and then the phaser had cut out. Hopefully just enough. Covering her nose and mouth as best she could with the material she had ripped from her jacket sleeve, she moved tentatively forward through the dense smog, feeling her way by the increasing heat under her hands as she crawled towards the hole. As she neared the damaged doors she could feel a drop in temperature and the acrid smog was being diluted by clearer air rising from the Bridge below. Still, it was eerily silent which did not bode well. Pulling as hard as she could on her tether to ensure that it remained firmly attached to the desk leg somewhere through the acrid smoke engulfing her, she crouched over the gaping hole and jumped through.

Captain Janeway swung her body hard left until her boots made contact with the turbo-lift doors, which were now acting as a clear floor space devoid of touchscreen control panels. She could see that all five of the Gamma shift Bridge crew were unconscious and sprawled at awkward angles around the damaged deck. Crewman Collins head was twisted at an impossible angle and she knew without making her way to him that his neck had been broken. He was very obviously dead. Ensign Cooper at helm and Ensign Palmer at Ops both had extensive cuts and burns to their faces and were slumped against their control panels which had broken their falls when the wall had become the floor! Pulling her tether line taut to ensure it was still capable of taking her weight, she edged over towards Ops. "Ensign..." she leant in close to his left ear as she felt for a pulse in his neck. Nothing. Tentatively turning him over she tried again using his wrist. Ensign Simon Palmer was as dead as crewman Tim Collins. Gritting her teeth she edged towards the helm to check on Ensign Louise Cooper, praying that she was not too late once again.

Six minutes later and Kathryn Janeway was mentally reeling from the fact that no one on the Bridge had survived. These crew members had been wide awake and in the middle of their shift, not only that, but they were manning the Bridge. That meant that they would have been the first to have become aware of any threat and been in the best position to withstand the consequences. Yet they had all perished without one of them even having time to hail the Ready Room! The realisation dawned that there was a serious chance that there may well be very few Voyagers who were not seriously injured or worse. She may well be working alone for the immediate future.

Mentally she assessed priorities. Firstly, get internal sensors online and then communications. She needed to know who was conscious and mobile enough to work with her to restore power. Then she needed to rally them all to gather in Engineering where she could start assigning tasks. Staggering back towards Ops she fought with the sensor control pad to no avail. Pulling off the plating she saw in seconds that the bio-neural gel packs were desiccated. Something had drained all the power from every single one and turned the contents to a fine grey powder. At this stage she could only hope that the gel packs in storage were not affected. Her phaser had worked only minutes earlier, so perhaps it was just the ships integrated power circuits that were compromised. If the shuttles were still functional then perhaps she could re-route sufficient power to get sensors working and find out what had happened.

Edging over towards Tactical, she opened the panel beneath the phaser firing array and armed herself with the four phasers stored there in the event of enemy boarding parties reaching the Bridge. Checking each one, she was relieved to find them all fully charged. She would make her way towards Engineering via the Jeffries Tubes, ensuring that she collect the EMH's mobile emitter on route. She dared not contemplate the worst case scenario but it was highly likely the Doctor's services would be required once she reached her destination. Casting one final glance around the Bridge at her fallen comrades, Captain Janeway cut her tether line and opened the Jeffries hatch beside the corpse of Ensign Baytart. Lowering herself inside she took a couple of slow, deep breathes and started to inch her way forward.

Quarter of an hour later and she arrived at Sickbay to find the EMH had left her a brief note to the effect that he had reactivated himself via his mobile emitter the moment power went off-line. Having been unable to contact anyone, then decided to make his way to the Bridge where he intended to activate his ECH mode and attempt to get ship-wide sensors online. He would then endeavour to contact her and treat any Bridge officers in need of medical assistance.

Kathryn didn't know whether to be pleased by his initiative or furious with herself for giving him far too much autonomy. She needed him to accompany her to Engineering immediately, not wander off on some half-cocked mission of his own. But there was no time to double back and retrieve him now. Hopefully he would be able to achieve something up there and once she had communications back online she could relay orders to him on the Bridge. At least she now had another senior staff member working alongside her. Grabbing a medkit rucksack normally used for Away Missions and a couple of extra medical tri-corders, she had as much as she could safely carry through the Jeffries Tube network and she still had another six decks to go to reach her destination. Trying the comm-line once more and getting nothing but static in reply, she crawled back through the access hatch and continued on her way.

Meanwhile in Astrometrics ...

Icheb had been working on his second year Dissertation on Xenobiology. Specifically, lifeforms found in radiogenic particle emitting nebulae, of which they had encountered three since he had joined Voyager's crew. He was just proof reading the penultimate chapter when the room was plunged into darkness and he found himself thrown against the view screen. Winded, but otherwise unhurt as far as he could tell, he staggered across to his workstation that was now lying on its side. Groping in the draw under the control panel he found the flashlight and a flask containing Seven's recommended 'nutritional supplement I' , "I" standing for Icheb. It was a foul concoction that she had created under the Doctor's direction that they both insisted was the optimal balance of nutrients for a young man transitioning through puberty. He had been mortified at the time, but now that he was a little older and wiser, he understood that they meant well and he had come to appreciate her little motherly gestures.

A few, futile, minutes later and Icheb accepted that there was no way he was going to coax life back into the sensor array from his current location. Communications were down and even his comm-badge returned nothing but static. His best bet was to head towards Engineering and hopefully he would rendezvous with Seven on route, if she was not already there. Once there he could assist B'Elanna and Vorik with essential repairs and determine what they had run into. As he crawled laboriously along the darkened Jeffries Tube with only the flashlight to guide his way, he mulled over the possibilities in his mind.

There had been no 'Red Alert'; no klaxons; no flashing panels; no indication from the Bridge that anything was wrong before the sudden blackout. Having remained conscious throughout, he knew that they had not been impacted by either space debris or any type of projectile weaponry. It was impossible to know for sure that they hadn't been boarded by hostile aliens, but there had been no ships within detector range only moments earlier. He may have been engrossed in his Dissertation but he had set sensors to maximum range and put the system on auto alert before he got stuck in. Had anything at all shown up, he would have been instantly informed. Besides, it didn't make sense. Voyager was listing on her side with all major power systems off-line. In her current state she would be of little use to a hostile boarding party. No. Somehow they had come within the range of influence of some space borne phenomenon that was invisible to sensors, yet capable of instantaneously draining all power from the ship's primary systems. Icheb mulled over the possibilities :-

Q or his equally miscreant son Q-Ball? Unlikely. They had both caused the Captain more than enough trouble over the years but it was never purely malevolent. If either of them had wanted her attention now, Icheb felt sure they would have found a less destructive way to make their presence felt.

A Black Hole? No. If they had been caught in the event horizon of such a phenomenon, they would be experiencing intense gravitational sheering effects and an exponentially increasing gravitational field. He would already have been crushed flat against the hull plating and by now effectively become a two dimensional smear of organic matter!

So what could sap all the energy from the warp core and bio-neural circuitry whilst leaving them floating intact, but inert, in space? Instantly he knew, a remnant of his Borg past and the extensive collective memory he still carried. A dark matter star. Such objects emitted vast dark energy fields which immediately cancelled out any positive energy signatures on encountering them. They must have inadvertently caught the edge of one such field. If the dark matter star was more than five light years distant from their present location it would be out of sensor range. Dark energy would not be detected until they were almost on top of it and, even then, would take a very experienced eye to recognise.

Icheb suddenly felt guilty. He was sure Seven would not have missed it. Had she been on duty her full attention would have been on the sensor array at all times. She would have immediately notified Commander Tuvok, the Captain and Ensign Kim and they could have averted this disaster. He was so busy chastising himself that it escaped his attention that it was the middle of the night shift with only junior officers on duty. Dreading the dressing down he would rightly receive on reaching Engineering, Icheb determined to work out the solution before he arrived. There had to be a way out of their current predicament and it was up to him to find it. He sifted back through the collective memories he retained. Every Borg cube that had been caught by these emission fields had perished but they had just had time to relay the systems malfunctions back to the central plexus. The Queen had determined that the only solution would be to create a negative energy emitter system to counteract and repel such fields but that thought had never been put into effect. Only six cubes had ever been lost to these rare phenomena, and as such, the Queen had decided that they were a small price to pay in her search for perfection. Certainly not worth diverting significant resources to. So the technology had not been considered further, yet alone created. Icheb dug harder. No, they had never assimilated a race that had successfully designed a defence against a Dark Star. So it was down to the Voyagers. They were on their own.

Kathryn Janeway had had to resort to burning her way through the Jeffries hatch in Engineering as it would not budge however hard she pushed against it. As well as the acrid smoke from the melting paint work on the aluminium panel, she detected the stomach sickening but unmistakeable stench of burning flesh. Rapidly cutting the power to her phaser, she rolled over and kicked the molten panel as hard as she could with the dense rubber composite soles of her Starfleet issue uniform boots. It finally gave way and sure enough, a body fell to one side. Inching her way through the still glowing edges of the charred exit, she dropped down next to Ensign Vorik. Scanning him rapidly with the medical tricorder it was evident that he had died almost instantaneously a little over an hour ago. Just as the 'phenomenon' hit them. There were two further dead crewmen and one Ensign who was barely alive. Diane Ferguson had a severe concussion and a cranial haemorrhage. She needed the assistance of the EMH and to be transported to the surgical bay very soon if she was to stand a chance of making it.

Scanning the room it was obvious that all the primary systems were down. She needed to find the auxiliary power packs and try to re-boot life support and site-to-site internal transporters. That way she could get both the ensign and the EMH back to sickbay and buy herself a few precious minutes to start effecting repairs. She levered open the supply cupboard door and was relieved to see the equipment, although sprawled in a heap, appeared intact. Dragging out the largest power pack she could manage single handedly, she hauled it across the 'floor' and proceeded to connect it up to the life support relay system. She was so engrossed in her work that it wasn't until she heard coughing directly behind her that she was aware that someone had followed her through the burned out hatch. Icheb!

Icheb had taken in the scene before him whilst Captain Janeway was busy welding circuits together. There were no crew members on their feet and he had no way of knowing if they were dead already. The fact that the Captain was ignoring them and focussed on making the circuit repairs told him that they were likely lost. He was just about to report his presence and offer his services when he was overcome by a fit of coughing. The acrid smoke from the burnt hatch plus the smell of molten flesh made him want to gag. In an instant the Captain was pressing a hypospray to his neck and the relief was immediate.

Kathryn knew she needed Icheb to focus. It had not escaped her notice that no one else had made it to Engineering and worse case scenario, she had a functional crew of three. Handing Icheb Lieutenant Torres portable tool kit, she pointed towards the power pack store and the site-to-site transporter control unit. He immediately nodded and began work as she ordered him to report. By the end of his account she was feeling a deep sense of dread. Not only had Icheb encountered no other conscious crew on route here, but his theory that they were caught in the dark energy field of a dark star, seemed highly plausible. Unfortunately, to herself and Starfleet as far as she was aware, such objects were still purely hypothetical. So, with no experience of this phenomenon, she had to find a way to counteract it. And fast. She ran through in her mind the resources that she may still have and came out blank. Even if all the spare power packs were integrated into Voyager's systems they would be lucky to keep essential services running for more than a couple of days at most. They may well be able to get life support, transporters, sensors, inertial dampers and shields functional but they would not be able to spare sufficient energy to charge the phaser banks or launch any torpedoes.

How on earth were they going to create a dark energy field, sufficiently strong to push Voyager far enough away from the dark star to escape its hold?

Icheb finished connecting up the site-to-site transporter circuits and called out to the Captain. She made her way over to Diane and checked her pulse again. It was weak but she was still alive. "Cadet, we need to transport the EMH and Ensign Ferguson to sickbay immediately. How stable is the power supply?"

Icheb knew what she was asking. "It's fluctuating Captain. The fault is not with the power pack but the circuits. They are all damaged to some extent so I had to bypass the primary ones and bridge through many cables that would normally take a smaller load. I doubt if even Lieutenant Torres would be quite so reckless. I can't promise you that it will hold. We need to send a test through first. I'll go."

"Cadet, much as I appreciate the gesture, the answer is no. As far as I am currently aware we have a functional crew of three, ourselves and the Doctor. I diverted to sickbay on my way here and found that he had taken it upon himself to head to the Bridge in his capacity as ECH. I need him back in sickbay now. Please lock onto his emitter's energy signature and transport him there now. Then we will transport the Ensign." She made sure to keep her voice low and calm. Cadet Icheb had to believe that his commanding officer was confident that the transporter repair would hold for long enough to get the job done. There would be no way of contacting them to check they had both arrived in one piece. Holding the young man's gaze for a moment longer, in the hope of instilling as much confidence in him as she could, she issued the order. "Transport".

Icheb locked onto the mobile emitter on the Bridge and initiated the transport. As far as he could tell the EMH had successfully materialised in the correct location, though the targeting sensors had waivered at the last moment. Ensign Ferguson would be a far greater challenge. Her mass was many times that of the tiny mobile emitter and she was a living, breathing human being. If the circuits failed mid transport then... He re-initialised the targeting array and attached a second power pack. Just as he was about to begin the actual transport an irate voice boomed out of the Captain's comm-badge. "Sickbay to Captain Janeway, I must protest! I was in the middle of implementing vital repairs on the Bridge. I do not have time to treat patients for minor knocks and cuts just now. Please transport Mr. Paris to my location and send me back to the Bridge immediately."

Icheb tried and failed to mask his shock at the Doctor's tone. Captain Janeway made no such allowances. Her tone was icy and Icheb strongly suspected the Doctor would be a guest of Commander Tuvok's facilities once the current crisis was over. "Doctor" Captain Janeway made sure to emphasise his clinical title and primary role aboard ship "I will be the one to decide where you serve and in what capacity. Right now I need as many of my crew on their feet and able to effect emergency repairs as possible. That means you will remain in sickbay, treating everyone that arrives there until further notice. Is that crystal clear?! Now report!"

Had he been flesh and blood the Doctor had no doubt he would have been sweating and quaking in his boots. "Ensign Ferguson just materialised on the floor and I have her on a bio-bed and am initiating a blood transfusion and cranial scan as we speak. There are two other patients who have made it here of their own volition. Naomi Wildman who has a broken wrist and dislocated shoulder as well as extensive second degree burns to her arms and legs and Seven whose cortical node seems to have been drained of power. Apparently she staggered in here carrying Naomi then collapsed. She is currently unconscious but I have her vital signs stabilised and am about to place her on life support. Without internal sensors I have no idea who else is alive and in need of medical assistance. I was in the process of effecting said repairs when I found myself materialising here."

So that meant the internal sensors may be almost ready to bring online. Icheb immediately piped up "Captain, I volunteer to make my way to the Bridge and complete repairs. Once sensors are operational I'll run a wide field dark energy screen and see whether I can confirm our theory."

She couldn't remember being more proud of young Icheb than at that moment. "Go ahead Cadet, but you'll need to take a portable oxygen tank and respirator with you. I'll get life support systems stabilised as soon as I can but it will take a while for the recycling plant to clear the smog from the Bridge. I'll continue reinforcing the transporters then get the inertial dampers and shields online. Here, take this." she handed Icheb her comm-badge "It's the only one we are sure is working just now and I'm ordering you to report in every ten minutes. Understood?"

"Yes Ma'am."

Kathryn watched him until he was out of sight then redoubled her efforts, hoping and praying that B'Elanna and the rest of her senior staff would put in an appearance soon.

Two hours later...

Icheb had managed to get both the short and long range sensors operational for long enough to complete a 360 degree sweep before the power conduits burned out again. It was enough to confirm his suspicions. They were indeed caught on the periphery of a dark energy field of a small, high density, dark matter star about half the size of Earth's moon, located 4.8 light years from their current position.

The port nacelle had clipped the very edge of the field and that is what had caused Voyager to list so suddenly without warning. The power drain from the port side of the ship was total but it was possible that the circuits on the starboard side were less extensively affected. He had reported this to the Captain and she was heading towards Cargo Bay 2 right now to see if any of those circuits were indeed intact. The captain had managed to stabilise life support and he had re-initialised internal sensors from the Bridge. The results had made for grim reading. Of the one hundred and twenty three crew who had made it this far through the Delta Quadrant, there were only eighty nine life signs aboard. It was possible that the others were in a critical state so the detectors were not picking them up, after all, none of the 'Heath Robinson' repairs they had effected so far had brought any of their critical systems up within normal operating specifications. Though if they were working correctly, then they had potentially lost thirty four crew. He could also not determine which species the life signs belonged to. The circuitry was just too unpredictable and the power supply was fluctuating wildly.

Captain Janeway had managed to right the ship, and in the process no doubt exacerbate any injuries of the remaining crew. They still had no ship wide communications, so it was impossible to let anyone know what was happening. Shields and weapons were still off-line and structural integrity was failing on several of the lower decks on the port side. The only crew that he could communicate with were the Doctor and Captain. Whilst Captain Janeway attempted to route some the Borg circuitry to the dead systems port side, he had been instructed to keep the site-to-site transporters operating and gradually lock onto and transport the EMH to each bio-signature site where he would determine which crew needed to be transported to sickbay and which could be treated in-situ.

It was time to make the first major command decision of his fledgling career. Did he prioritise the eighty nine "life signs" or the thirty four crew who were potentially more seriously injured and in need of assistance, but could equally already be deceased? He had no time to mull over the pros and cons. Deciding that the first 'patient' would be one of the 'dead' he locked onto the mobile emitter and sent the Doctor to the Wildmans' quarters and immediately ordered the Doctor to report. To his credit, the EMH did not take issue that he was being ordered around by a second year cadet. He reported that Samantha Wildman was unconscious and had several fractures due to being flung about as the inertial dampers failed, her pulse was weak but steady and she had some internal bleeding. They needed to transport to sickbay immediately. Icheb felt an enormous load lifting from his shoulders. If Samantha was alive then possibly so were the others. As soon as he had successfully transported them both back to sickbay he contacted the Captain for confirmation of his idea. He wanted to keep the EMH in sickbay and sequentially transport the thirty three other 'dead' crew first then start site-to-sites for the EMH if the Captain had not managed to gather the rest of the crew in Engineering by then. He had been surprised that the Captain had hesitated for over a minute before giving him the go ahead. Now he was going to have a very busy hour or so. He just hoped that Captain Janeway could feed some power through from the relays in Cargo Bay 2 before the remaining power packs gave out.

Kathryn Janeway cut the link to Icheb and wiped away the tears, hoping that her voice had held steady. Whilst she was much relieved to know that Samantha had made it and young Naomi had not been effectively orphaned, she knew that most of the remaining 'dead' were likely to be just that. Still, if there was a chance of saving one or two more then they had to try, she just fervently hoped that the delay would not sacrifice the lives of any of those whose life signs were still registering.

As she worked on re-routing the circuitry from the three unused regeneration alcoves (which had been shut down before they had encountered the dark energy field, thus had been unaffected) she was reminded of Cadet James T. Kirk and the Kobayoshi Maru scenario. Another no win - yet Cadet Icheb had made the impossible choice of his own accord before contacting her for authorisation to go ahead with his plan. She strongly suspected that Cadet Icheb was destined for great things within Starfleet and possibly, eventually, the Captain's chair. Whether that would be on Voyager or a ship of his own would depend on her overcoming this latest crisis and finding that short cut home... Suddenly a thought occurred, was it possible not only to repel the dark energy field they were caught in but to harness that same energy to resurrect the quantum slipstream drive they she had ordered mothballed only three years ago?

Was it a totally crazy idea? So far, the only person she had to run it past was Icheb, a second year cadet. Yet he was more than that. He held in his mind the accumulated knowledge of the Borg and also an innate ability to think "outside the box". Besides, the Starfleet database held no data on this phenomenon and the slipstream drive had been designed by herself and Voyager's engineering team without any assistance from HQ.

Wiring the last of the alcoves power supplies through to hers and Chakotay's Bridge control panels she hit her comm-badge. "Cadet, I have completed the relay re-wiring this end and am about to re-activate mine and Commander Chakotay's control consoles. Please head over and confirm that they are operational. You'll need my command codes to enter the system. Type in Epsilon 5 - Beta 46 - Omega 9."

As she waited for Icheb to confirm they were indeed on-line she was already heading back towards the Jeffries tube. "Good. I'm on my way to the Bridge. Re-initialise the site-to-site transporter controls in Sickbay and instruct the Doctor to continue sending himself to locate and assess all the crew. Any that are fit enough for duty are to come to the Bridge as soon as possible. The rest he is to transport to sickbay and do his best to treat. Prioritise locating and transporting Lieutenant Paris, crewman Gilmore and crewman Evans to sickbay to assist in their capacity as field medics. Janeway out."

Still non the wiser as to whom would join them on the Bridge or when, she would just have to hope that between herself and Icheb they could find a way to harness the energy that was now holding them captive. There had to be a way to turn this situation around to their advantage...

Two and a half hours later, Voyager's Bridge...

Captain Janeway was sitting in her command chair having just sent Icheb down to the shuttle bay to power up the Delta Flyer. She was still reeling from the Doctor's latest report. Of the thirty four 'dead' that had been transported to sickbay in the first wave, only five had proven not to be so, and all of those were in a critical condition. Of the eighty nine life signs that the Doctor had transported to, ten had died before he arrived and the remaining seventy nine had been transported to the Mess Hall due to lack of capacity in sickbay. None were yet fit enough to be released for active duty though the Doctor was prioritising treating the senior staff, all had thankfully survived so far. So she had a remaining crew of eighty four, thirty nine having perished in this latest catastrophe, and still only herself and Icheb on duty.

Their current plan was audacious or plain insane, depending on your perspective, but it was the only one they had. Since Icheb had joined her on the Bridge they had detected an asteroid, 1.6 times the size of Voyager, drifting less than a quarter of a light year from their present position. They did not have enough energy to initialise Voyager's impulse engines but it was possible that the Delta Flyer was still operational. She was the only shuttle with a sufficiently powerful tractor beam to tow that asteroid between themselves and the dark star. And crucially, the asteroid was composed of nickel, iron, gadolinium with traces of neodymium and lodestone. Thus it could be strongly magnetised. The tricky part would be to inverse the polarity of the resulting field so that it repel Voyager rather than draw her rapidly inwards and smash her to smithereens! Icheb would have to tow the asteroid to within fifty meters of Voyager's hull to generate enough force to fling them clear of the dark energy field of the star. Her job was to divert every remaining Joule of energy their ship could muster into magnetising Voyager's hull and activating the field at the last possible moment. There would be enough energy to keep the field operational for one hundred and six seconds maximum - assuming she diverted everything they had to it - and they wouldn't get a second chance...

Icheb was exhausted as he staggered into the shuttlebay. It was obvious that the Sacajawea, Cochrane and Drake had all suffered extensive damage to their nacelles as Voyager had been flung onto her port side then later righted. Fortunately, apart from a few scratches and dents, the Delta Flyer looked to be intact. On a cursory external examination anyway. Climbing the stairs to the hatch he was relieved when the door slid open and he could make his way inside without having to damage the locking mechanism in the process. Many of the supply cupboards had thrown their contents across the cabin but nothing appeared damaged beyond repair. Clearing his way to the helm he initiated the Flyer's auxiliary systems to be greeted with an array of green panel lights. Running through the pre-flight checks he quickly ascertained that what repairs were needed were superficial and he could have her ready to depart within the hour.

Hitting the Captain's comm-badge he reported in "Captain, the Cochrane, Drake and Sacajawea have all suffered extensive damage to their nacelles and are not at presents space-worthy. I am sitting at the helm of the Delta Flyer and although she has some minor damage to her hull plating, her structural integrity field is at full power and the energy banks are ninety eight percent charged. There is an amber warning light on the tractor emitter circuit that I need to deal with before take off but I think I can have her ready for departure within the hour."

The Captain's muffled voice could be heard in reply "Very good Cadet. I'm sending the ECH to your location to assist until take off. As soon as the Flyer's systems are optimised he will transport to the Bridge to initiate Voyager's magnetic field and I will take the Flyer out. As soon as I get to you, you are to make your way to the Mess Hall and assist with the triage efforts. And cadet, well done. Janeway out."

Moments later the Doctor materialised wearing his red command uniform. Icheb braced himself for the inevitable pompous ordering around, but was surprised when the ECH informed him that his orders from Captain Janeway were to assist Cadet Icheb as instructed. The ECH looked none to happy to be put in that position but was wise enough to realise that any insubordination would have him transported back to sickbay forthwith.

Icheb was just glad to have a second pair of hands and immediately asked the ECH to carry out repairs to the tractor emitter circuitry. Crucially, that was located in the aft section of the shuttle, which would allow him to remain at the helm undisturbed to carry out the necessary calculations to optimise the flight path to the asteroid and the power and angle of tow required to place the asteroid in the optimal orientation and distance from Voyager's hull for the repulsive field force to override the draw of the dark star. Although they were not yet caught within the gravitational field of the star itself, Voyager had already drifted several hundred meters further into the dark energy field since their initial encounter. It was only a matters of hours at most before she would be caught and then in was game over for all of them!

As the calculations progressed, Icheb realised that the Captain must have beaten him to it. That was why she intended to take the Flyer out herself. There was less than a one percent chance that the Flyer would survive. In order to keep the asteroid near enough to Voyager's hull for the two fields to produce a sufficient 'repulsive kick' to propel her out of the dark fields reach, the Delta Flyer would have to remain within thirty meters of the asteroid's surface until after the magnetised hull plating was powered up. That meant she would either be flung at force into the asteroid or crash into Voyager herself. The only way to be absolutely sure that they did not destroy Voyager in the process of trying to free her, would be to angle the Flyer such that her own magnetised hull would be drawn towards the surface of the asteroid. It was a suicide mission for the pilot but, if successful, would save the lives of everyone still alive on Voyager herself.

As the realisation struck : so the decision was made. He had come full circle. His parents had engineered him to fly a shuttle towards a Borg cube to save an entire planet. Now he would fly a shuttle towards an asteroid to save his true family : the Voyagers. The moment the ECH confirmed that he had repaired the tractor emitter array, Icheb would transport him back to sickbay and launch the Flyer before the Captain left the Bridge. As he completed the flight plan and encrypted the shuttle controls so that no one could beam him out (apart from Seven who was still unconscious) he called out to the ECH. "Doctor, how are the repairs coming along?"

The ECH muttered under his breath but Icheb's enhanced auditory acuity meant he heard it anyway. "I'm an Emergency Command Hologram, not an Engineering crewman" but then added for Icheb's benefit, "Almost done Cadet. I will inform you when I am ready for you to test the system."

Icheb was glad he had his back to the Doctor so he did not have to suppress his amusement. "Very good Sir. I'm just going to tidy up on the flight deck. Perhaps you would be good enough to secure everything back in the storage lockers back there. We don't want the Captain tripping over anything when she arrives."

As the Doctor grumbled his assent, Icheb silently engaged the forcefield between the cockpit and main compartment of the shuttle before recording his final log entry.

"Computer, begin recording. Stardate 71656.2 Cadet Icheb recording. Let the record show that from this moment forth I am acting on my own authority. In order to free Voyager from the dark energy field that is slowly drawing her towards a dark star encountered 5.66 hours ago, it is necessary to tractor a magnetised asteroid to within fifty meters of her port side hull. In order to ensure that the ship and asteroid are sufficiently close for the repulsive force of the two fields colliding is sufficient to throw Voyager out of danger, I will need to position the Delta Flyer too close to the asteroid to have sufficient power to escape the resulting sheering force and subsequent collision. It is over ninety nine percent certain that the Delta Flyer will be destroyed. Captain Janeway has ordered me to return to sickbay and she will pilot the Flyer herself. For the first time since I became a Cadet I will disobey a direct order from my superior officer. The Captain of Voyager no less. The truth is this ship needs her Captain more than it needs a second year cadet. All the knowledge that I retain from my time as a Borg, is also known to Seven of Nine. She is more than capable of replacing any of my functions on board. In most instances her knowledge and skills are superior to mine. Firstly Captain Janeway, I want to thank you for everything you have done for myself; Seven; Rebi; Azan and Mezoti. If it were not for you, we would all have been destined to never be more than automatons, ceding to the will of the Borg Queen. Know this, that I go to my grave content in the knowledge that I have saved my true family. I was always destined for this, but now I face my destiny of my own free will. I wish you well and know that you will succeed in getting Voyager home. To Naomi, you have been a sister to me since the day we met. I know that you will fly through your training and one day will sit in the captain's seat of a starship yourself. Do it for both of us. Seven, I'm sorry. I know how much my loss will hurt you, but there is no other way. Captain Janeway will blame herself - irrationally, of course - for my demise. She already bears far too much guilt. Be there for her as she has been for you these past four years. To all my other friends and family onboard, I wish you God's speed home. Remember me fondly. Your brother, Icheb. Computer end recording and send to the Ready Room as soon as I engage the tractor beam."

Moments later the Doctor called out that the tractor emitters were repaired. Icheb ran the test and confirmed that they were fully functional. Thanking the Doctor he initiated the site-to-site transporter and the ECH dematerialised. Having already gained control of the shuttle bay doors from the helm, Icheb started the Flyer's impulse engines and wad already clearing the outer hull before the Captain's voice came over the comm. "Cadet, prepare for transport."

Captain Janeway had tried everything to no avail. Icheb had locked her out and erected a forcefield around the cockpit. He was already too far away to transport and still have enough power left for the magnetic field burst they needed if their plan was to have the remotest chance of succeeding. She had instructed the Doctor to remain in sickbay and he had informed her that Commander Chakotay was now well enough to be released to the Bridge and was on his way.

Icheb had reached the asteroid and was using pulses from the tractor array to rotate the asteroid into the optimal orientation for the greatest density of magnetic particles to be on the face adjacent to Voyager's hull. He was just starting back with the asteroid in tow when Chakotay burst onto the Bridge.

"Commander, take Tactical. I don't have time to bring you up to speed but that asteroid is going to be used as a magnetised buffer that we are going to bounce off. As soon as I give the command I want you to extend our structural integrity field around the Delta Flyer. I'm going to simultaneously magnetise the hull. We are in for a bumpy ride!"

Chakotay had no idea about the dark energy field but realised what was happening. The Doctor had told him that Icheb was still in the shuttle before releasing him for duty. This was obviously a suicide mission unless they could somehow retrieve him. Chakotay instinctively knew that Kathryn had been the intended pilot and that she was now risking the entire mission to save Icheb. If he did as she asked, then the structural integrity field would not withstand the blast from this close a range. All he could do was try to break Icheb's encryption or beam him out at the last moment as the shuttle impacted the asteroid. It would be split second timing and require a miracle but they had beaten the odds before...

Three minutes later Kathryn engaged the magnetic field and they were both hurled to the floor as Voyager was thrown sideways once again. This time the inertial dampers kicked in and she righted herself with the gravity plating still functional. As Chakotay hauled himself up onto his feet he realised it was already too late. Kathryn had staggered upright and was now standing behind the helm staring at the view-screen. There was a ball of light and flames where the Delta Flyer had been only seconds before. Klaxons were sounding as large fragments of debris hurtled off the asteroid and came into contact with their shields.

It was Chakotay's voice that snapped her out of it. "Captain! Take the helm and back us away from that asteroid as maximum impulse. I'm diverting just enough power to the nacelles for a ten second burst, structural integrity is down to sixty three percent and falling..." the rest of Chakotay's report was lost on her as she swung into action. It was only as they cleared the debris field and the dampening effects of the dark energy field of the star dissipated that she had time to register.

Five minutes later...

She was sitting back in her command chair with Chakotay beside her as the remaining senior staff streamed onto the Bridge and took their stations. A melee of reports were coming in thick and fast and she heard Chakotay barking off one order after the other. The situation was in hand and her faithful crew would now engage in the well rehearsed 'putting the ship back together' routine. She just needed some time alone!

"Commander, I'll be in my Ready Room. You have the Bridge." Without waiting for his affirmation she headed for her sanctuary and promptly engaged the privacy lock. A little over six hours ago she had been sitting here, bemoaning her fate, with an intact ship and a fit and healthy crew. As she surveyed the remnants of her sanctuary she felt the full weight of the guilt she always carried, pressing down on her. Then she noticed her console, despite the cracked screen, flashing to inform her of an urgent communique. Dusting down her chair and accepting that coffee was not on the menu for some time, she hit the play button. ...

As Icheb's final words faded into the ether, she knew what she had to do first. Pulling up her forthcoming communique to Starfleet Headquarters she began.

" Let the record show that the first order of business is a formal request that the Starfleet Medal of Valour be awarded, posthumously, to Cadet First Class, Icheb. He died in the line of duty, and in so doing, saved the lives of everyone on Voyager. My full report will follow. Captain Kathryn Elizabeth Janeway."

There was more to say, so much more, but now was not the time. First, she had to head to sickbay and inform Seven that she had lost her 'son'. Somehow everything else paled into insignificance, but Captain Kathryn Janeway felt sure she would never begrudge those late nights of tedium ever again.

If only Neelix were still here, if ever they needed their Morale Officer, it was now...she thought as she headed out with a heavy heart.


1 23