Well, this is it...the close of this little tale. It's been fun, and there will probably be more stories to come. Thanks to everyone who has read and reviewed.
Firebirdgirl: That was a cliffhanger? Not really; I've done far worse.
Mistiwhitesun: Yep, Marla and Seven have been sort of 'sister' characters in this.
Stoko: Here's the answer to your question.
Bren: Cliffies every chapter? Heh – don't read some of my Hannibal fics, I did that in a few. Glad you liked the battle. Just this chapter remains.
Saavik: Here are the loose ends, along with a few things you'll recognize...
Webster82: Yeah, I meant to get her out alive – killing her would have been, well, overkill.
JimHawkingJr: Glad you liked it.
JadziaKathryn: Here is your wish. :)
eScapefreak: Curses, foiled again with escaping the cliffhanger. Yep, Marla has her place in Voyager's crew. I'm toying with an idea for a story in which you might find your homeland is still a going concern in the 24th century – we'll see.
The sun was setting over San Francisco., about to be swallowed by the Pacific. Crowds moved briskly along the streets. Many were in Starfleet uniform; others were in civilian clothes. A man and woman walked along the sidewalk, looking for the broad building that was the Starfleet Justice Annex. He wore a teal-shouldered uniform; she wore a gold-shouldered one.
"It's good to see you back in uniform," Marla Gilmore said thoughtfully.
Noah Lessing smiled and touched the gray collar of his shirt. "You, too," he said. "Still, that's Starfleet for you. They dishonorably discharge me and then they yank me back." He glanced down at the sheet of yellow flimsy in his other hand, which told him in very stilted legal language that whereas Starfleet Command had 'discovered reservations as to the justice and fairness of his plea agreement and dishonorable discharge, the aforementioned plea of GUILTY is revoked, and the dishonorable discharge is hereby nullified and void', and he was once again Crewman Noah Lessing, and he was ordered to report to duty on USS Voyager no later than two days from receipt of the notice, and so on. It went on for a few paragraphs, but that was the gist of it. "It's good to be back."
"Angelo said he didn't know if he wanted to come back," she said absently.
"I saw the letter. I don't blame him a bit. He's got a good thing going – he found some little colony where they've got something like five thousand people. They let you homestead, so as soon as he gets off the ship he'll have a farm. He's going to teach science to high school kids and farm. He'll never have to set foot on another starship, and nobody on that planet is ever going to care a crap that there was once a ship named Equinox. If I had that arrangement, I'd think damned long and hard before giving that up."
Marla smiled. "But you came back. Even though you said you don't trust Captain Janeway."
Noah shrugged. "Maybe I'm hoping my better judgment is mistaken. Maybe if we're worth a second chance, Janeway is. If not, I can always transfer or quit, right?" He gestured around. "Besides, everybody is going to be on Earth for a while, which is nice. We'll all get shore leave, and this time we get it too."
Marla chuckled. "Everyone's had shore leave already," she said. The starship had been here for a week. This time, Captain Janeway had heaved all of Kilbourne's command structure – those who hadn't been killed – into the brig. She'd been clearly nervous about handing them over to Starfleet Command. Marla wasn't sure, but she was willing to bet that a lot of arm-twisting had been done.
She wasn't sure exactly how it was that Noah was back in uniform and still facing charges, but she was not. Maybe some of that arm-twisting had been done on her behalf. She suspected it had. It was nice to be in favor for once.
The Maquis seemed to have warmed to her since all this. B'Elanna had been noticeably nicer to her. She had only the vaguest memories of B'Elanna and Seven dragging her out of the Jefferies tube, but now the half-Klingon seemed to think the entire thing was hysterically funny. Klingons had weird senses of humor. One of the upshots of all this mess had been that the charges against the Maquis had been quietly and unceremoniously dropped as 'not in the best interests of Starfleet.'
Noah had asked her before if she felt sour about that; the Maquis had gotten off scott-free because she'd been put through hell. The answer was simple: no. She knew what they'd risked for her, and none of them deserved to go to prison. If this was going to be different – if the Equinox crew was really going to be accepted into the fold instead of being outcasts – that had to come from both sides. The Equinox five would have to be willing to let the grudges of the past stay in the past just as the Voyager crew would. When you came down to it, Janeway was absolutely babying them. She'd made Tom Paris fly them down in a shuttle, in case Section 31 was monitoring transporter patterns.
She and Noah and Seven had been researching something last night. Marla glanced over at the forbidding walls of the prison and thought. She'd spent a few months in there, along with the Maquis. Now, Kilbourne and Ransom were being held there. Maybe this trial would actually happen. But there was just one thing she had wanted to do for herself.
His voice dropped a little. "You sure you want to do this?"
She paused, considered, and nodded.
The guard at the Annex did a double-take when he saw them. "You guys forget something?" But the Starfleet uniforms entitled them to a certain amount of respect that prison uniforms had not. According to his rank pips, he was the equivalent of a crewman, and didn't want trouble from an ensign, who was an officer even if a low-ranking one.
She'd thought she might be frightened going back into the prison. The first time she'd been here she'd been just shy of tears, terrified as to what her future might hold. But there was no fear now. It was a place of misery, but not hers. She would leave this place as an ensign instead of an outcast. A second chance. It felt good. But first, there was something she had to do for her prior captain and for herself.
The guard escorted them through the halls down to maximum security. She'd never been here herself; she'd behaved herself during her incarceration. This was where they kept the dangerous ones.
Kilbourne's cell was at the end of the hall, but he wasn't her destination. This was something she had to do for the sake of the pastShe turned to Noah and cleared her throat.
"You can wait for me here," she said.
They'd known each other for far too long for rank to become a necessity. He simply gave her a look and shrugged.
"If that's what you want, Marla," he said softly.
"It is. It's nothing personal, Noah. I want to do this myself."
"Yes, ma'am," he said, smiling sadly.
Marla walked to the second to last cell and looked in at the man inside. He looked over at her, surprised. Sandy blonde hair, rough-hewn features. The very picture of the captain she had served so loyally for five years. Rudy Ransom.
Rudy Ransom was the alias he was booked in as; they didn't know his real name. Marla found something obscene in that. Rudy was dead. He had died honorably, and in his death he had allowed Marla and the other four to survive. He had done his penance and been cleansed, and he would not have wanted her to do the same. She knew that now that she had her mind back.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello, Marla," the man said, and smiled. "What are you here for? Closure?"
Marla pulled herself to attention and eyed him. He seemed small and deflated now. He wore the baggy blue prison uniform. There was nothing of her flawed but noble captain to him.
"I want you to give me something," she said. "And I want to give you something, too."
He chuckled. "I'm sure you understand. You were in this prison not too long ago yourself. I'm not giving you a confession."
"That's not what I want," Marla said sharply, and heard strength in her voice she hadn't heard for a very long time.
The fake Ransom seemed puzzled. "Then what do you want?"
"When you were booked in, you were wearing a Starfleet uniform you weren't entitled to," she told him. "I want your pips."
He blinked at her for a moment, clearly surprised. The harsh light revealed a man who was clearly under stress, reduced to this tiny cell, wondering about his future. She understood that.
"Pips?" He seemed incredulous. "You can get pips from any replicator you want."
"I want yours," Marla said. "You didn't earn them. I want them."
He chuckled and sat down on his thin bunk. "What right do you have to them? You're not a captain."
Marla shook her head. "No, I'm not," she agreed. "But I am the sole surviving officer of USS Equinox. And I want them in the name of my former captain, Rudolph Ransom."
The man waved a hand dismissively. "Symbolism," he said. "A little ritual, to put your captain to rest? Restore the honor of the dead? That's...droll."
Marla smiled, her eyes veiled. "You could say that," she agreed. "It's not droll to me, though."
The man in the cell seemed sardonic. "Fine," he said. "Take them. What did you have to give me?"
Marla let her smile become a bit more predatorial. "A name," she breathed. "No one knows what your real name is...or do they?"
The man frowned and seemed troubled.
"I read the notes you took on me, on Grambyo," Marla said. "You really knew your stuff. You had me down cold. You knew everything about me, and you had some pretty good insights into me, I'll give you that."
The man chuckled and ran a hand through his hair. The same haircut as Rudy's. The same features. The man had been duplicated as assiduously as the ship.
"But those notes told me something about you," Marla went on. "You're not Rudy. He was an exobiologist. And he was a pretty good one, too. You, on the other hand...your training is in minds. Psychology or psychiatry. According to the doctor, he said there's no question you knew your way around drugs and had medical training. You've been to medical school somewhere. You're not an exobiologist. You're a psychiatrist, aren't you?"
"I'm not answering that," the man said. He wasn't Rudy any more to her; his power had been broken. He was watching her intently, clearly looking for something. Marla was going to give it to him.
"You're not just a psychiatrist. You're a good one, really good. The EMH said you had to be very good. So then, the question becomes this." She smiled at him again, feeling the balance of power tilt towards her.
"If you're a psychiatrist, how come you're working for Section 31? How come you're not working in a mental hospital or something, helping people? You're good at it, so there's got to be a good reason why you're doing this instead of what you were trained to do."
The man chuckled. "Interesting theory. I suppose this is the part where you thrill me with your keen analysis."
"There's a system about twenty light-years from Earth," she recited, ignoring the barb, "with a planet called Baltos IV. It's a colony of about a million people now. It had a mental hospital there, that serves that planet and the other colonies around it. One on Baltos II, one on Baltos V. It's called the Chespik Psychiatric Hospital. Ever heard of it?"
The man in the cell tensed.
"About twenty, twenty-five years ago, the chief resident psychiatrist at Chespik was caught doing unethical experiments," she said, and her smile turned cool. "He was trying to do nanosurgery on the patients. Messing with their brains. Many died. Others were permanently damaged. He had a couple of helpers. One was a lower-ranking psychiatrist, a man of Russian descent named Vladimir Chiltov. Another was an orderly named Samuel Miggs. The chief resident's name was Chretel. Dr. Henry Chretel."
"I suppose that's true," the man said, but his voice was tense.
"It is. I can show you the indictments. Those three were arrested, and were going to go on trial. Then, all of a sudden, they just...disappeared. Gone. Poof." She made a flicking gesture with her hands, as if to accentuate the suddenness of their departure. "No one ever heard of them again. They've been wanted for twenty years."
The man looked at her from his small, beady Rudy Ransom eyes and sighed. Was it an act? She couldn't tell, but she had his interest, and that said a great deal. She went on, watching him carefully for any signs of reaction.
"The funny thing is, Samuel Miggs was a black fellow, and wouldn't you know it, his skin tone is just a few shades darker than Noah's. And they've got similar heights and builds. For a funnier thing, Vladimir Chiltov had a pretty strong resemblance to Max Burke. And as for the good doctor...well, wouldn't you know it, Dr. Henry Chretel is about the same age, height, weight, and coloration as Rudy was. Why, if you had the one set of men and a skilled surgeon...nobody could tell the difference with a little plastic surgery. In fact, I couldn't tell the difference, and I knew those men for years."
The man smiled, sensing a chink in her armor. "Oh, don't take that so hard," he said. His tone was gentle, but above his eyes were ice chips. "You were heavily medicated from the moment you came on the ship. The stuff we used on you later is what made you feel sick and dizzy, but there wasn't a moment on that ship you weren't under the influence of something. Of course you were fooled. We're professionals, you know."
She stopped and gathered herself. The reminder of her helplessness was unpleasant. And couching it as a sympathetic gesture didn't prevent it from stinging. All the same, she held her head high, not letting him have an inch.
"You're Henry Chretel, aren't you?" she asked.
He shook his head slowly, indicating that he would not tell, not that she was wrong. If he thought she was aiming for a confession, he was mistaken. She knew her former captors better than that; he wouldn't blurt out anything in a prison, where his every word was monitored.
"Nice story, Marla," he said. "You know, you shouldn't take this personally. It wasn't. Just a job. I liked you, actually."
She raised an eyebrow at him in unconscious imitation of Seven. "Then I'm curious to see what you do to people you don't like," she said. "Ultimately, it doesn't matter what you say to me, or what I say to you. I know you're not going to tell me. But just so you know...the Baltan authorities are en route. They'll be here tomorrow. If you aren't Dr. Chretel, you don't have anything to worry about. If you are...well, then it might be time to think about a deal."
He didn't react, but she could see his eyes widen for just a second. Her smile became cool.
Now he could be the one with the weight on his mind.
"I told the truth and owned up to what I did on Equinox. It wasn't easy and it cost me a lot. But I don't think I'd be here today, in this uniform, if I hadn't done it. I've been in your shoes, Dr. Chretel. If I were you, I'd consider owning up to what you've done. There might be some skeletons in your closet about to come out." She flicked her head at the next cell, knowing Kilbourne was in it and listening. It didn't matter to her. If Kilbourne could have obtained his freedom so easily, he would have already done so.
The fake Ransom was pondering something. She decided to let him have his silence and his thoughts; he'd be in there for a very long time with them. His parting gift was a sweet smile.
"Shall I just see the guard for your pips?" she asked sweetly, sounding deliberately like a passenger liner stewardess.
He nodded slowly, his eyes focused on the past.
Marla turned to her right and eyed Kilbourne for just a moment. He was not hiding his reaction; his eyes blazed at her in helpless anger. He might have been able to do a great deal once, but he could not stop her from planting the seed. She eyed him for just a moment. Such a plain-looking little man! The dark purposes were not visible to the naked eye. No wonder he'd gotten away with so much for so long.
She held his gaze for a few moments, then turned on her heel and strode away without a word.
At the picket, the guard passed her an envelope; apparently he had been monitoring her conversation. That didn't bother her. She opened it, saw the four pips, and smiled, murmuring a quick thank you and continuing on her way.
Noah fell into step with her as she left. He watched her for a few moments before speaking, his eyes studying her face, then back down to the envelope, then back up to her face. His mien was thoughtful.
"Did you get what you wanted?" he asked.
Marla shrugged. "I guess," she said. "He's Chretel. He looked scared when I mentioned it. I just wanted him to know that we found him out."
"Yeah," he said. "That was some good work. It'll give them a hook to hang him on."
"I hope so," Marla said. "Seven helped. I guess if you spend twenty years hooked into a computer by the eyeballs, you're good at searching databases."
"Let me ask you something," Noah said thoughtfully. "You really think there's a place for us on Voyager? A place that isn't bottom of the barrel, scumbag-prisoner, sort of deal?"
Marla shrugged and smiled softly. "I don't know," she said. "I'd like to see. What's the worst that'll happen?"
It wasn't far back to the shuttleport. Tom Paris was waiting outside the shuttle, standing outside and enjoying the sun on his face. He turned to see them and nodded politely.
"Hey, guys," he said matter-of-factly. "How did it go?"
"It went all right," Marla said.
"Good." He opened the shuttle doors. "For the life of me, I will never understand why you wanted to go back to a prison."
He'd been relatively nice to them during their outcast years on Voyager, Marla remembered. Now he seemed to have a quiet sort of pride, seeing them coming along the same path he had taken. Noah liked him in a grudging sort of way. Janeway's rehabilitated problem-children brigade. There were worse groups to be a part of.
"Let's get back to the ship," Tom suggested. "The brass will shoot me if we lose a shuttle on Earth."
Marla smiled tiredly, remembering Voyager's profligacy with shuttles. "You are the brass, Lieutenant. You're fourth in command of the ship."
"You're not far off yourself, Ensign," he reminded her. "Maybe now that we're in the Alpha Quadrant, you could actually get promoted." He turned in his seat, his educated hands still preflighting the shuttle. "You too, Noah. Now that all this bull is over and done with...there's officer material in you. There's a reason Ransom picked you."
Promotion. The idea seemed so far away; she'd spent so long convinced she would never get home, then on Voyager she had been a permanent crewman. She might be able to be a Chief Engineer on her own ship someday.
"We'll see," Noah said.
Tom shrugged. "Take the test. It could happen. All up to you."
The shuttle rose into the air, and it was only a few minutes' trip from the surface to where Voyager waited overhead. The idea of taking a shuttle seemed silly to her, but she understood why Janeway was being a little paranoid.
The ship itself was busy, even in dock. There was always plenty to do, and Janeway kept the crew busy even if there wasn't. The shuttle bay officer greeted them.
"Ensign Gilmore, Crewman Lessing. You need to see Commander Tuvok in Security."
That made her tremble a bit; Tuvok had always been harder on them than other officers. At their security reviews, every three months, he had constantly recommended that they not receive any more privileges or access to the ship's systems. It had taken a year before Captain Janeway had finally decided not to side with him. He'd always sworn that there had been no personal animus, but it was hard to believe that sometimes.
All the same, she would go. What could he say? He didn't have to like her. God knew they'd had plenty to say about him in the privacy of their own quarters.
At the security office, Tuvok observed them emotionlessly and handed each a PADD.
"I have added you to the roster and assigned you quarters," he said. His tone betrayed no emotion; neither anger nor welcome. "You must sign here to receive appropriate security clearances. Ensign Gilmore will be in Engineering. Crewman Lessing, you will be assigned to Astrometrics."
Well, if he could be businesslike, so could she. "Of course, sir," she acknowledged, and scribbled her signature on the PADD. Tuvok simply nodded. His face was implacable; she couldn't tell what he was thinking.
"I am also curious as to how the false Captain Ransom responded to your deduction," he said. "Did he admit to being Dr. Chretel?"
Marla thought. "He didn't admit to it, no," she said. "But I think he is. He started getting nervous when I mentioned it."
Tuvok considered and nodded for a moment. "Then your assessment is probably correct," he said. "Please report to your quarters and then to your posts. Your department heads will wish to work you into the schedule while we are here on Earth."
"Yes, sir," Marla said, and left quietly. The moment they were out of the security office, she chuckled.
"He don't like us very much, do he?" Noah said.
"He's a Vulcan. They all act that way. Besides, he's security. It's his job to be paranoid. Just give it a chance, will you, Noah?"
He chuckled. "Is that an order, oh grand high commissioned officer?"
She had to laugh. "Just a suggestion. Who have they got you rooming with?"
He checked. "Jim. Good. I can deal with that. How about you?"
She looked at her own PADD. "Nobody. I got my own room on deck 9. Junior officer's quarters."
"Lah-di-dah," Noah said.
"You ought to take the test, Noah. You could score a commission. You did officer's work on Equinox."
He sighed. "Fat lot of good it did me." Then he smiled sheepishly. "I know I'm skeptical. I've had to learn to be. Maybe this is different. We'll have to see."
Her quarters were a deck above his. The suite seemed absurdly huge; she'd been used to a bunk in a room that had two other roommates, neither of whom had particularly liked her. This was almost as big as guest quarters. Her own replicator and bathroom. Compared to where she'd lived recently, it was a palace. When she'd been in guest quarters, Captain Janeway had allowed her to replicate some things to replace those that Section 31 had stolen. That had all been moved to this room. There was a note informing her shortly that she was to replicate duty uniforms, one dress uniform, and sleepwear. Now, she rated the usual amount of replicator credits issued to any ensign.
Putting away her stuff and ordering up new uniforms and other necessities didn't take long. For a long moment she thought about what she wanted, and whether or not they would understand. She drummed her fingers against the desk for a moment. What the hell.
The replicator informed her that her order would be ready in an hour. There would be enough time to check in with B'Elanna Torres. That could go either way. At first, Torres had been pretty hard on her, not trusting an inch. Later, she'd eased off a bit. Now, she seemed friendlier. Still, what if the chief engineer was not happy that she'd been given officer's rank again? When Torres was not happy with an engineer, she tended to show it.
Still, she had the orders in black and white, so she went down to Engineering to report in. Torres was busy shouting orders at people, which wasn't anything new. When she saw Marla, she beckoned her over.
"In my office, Gilmore," she said in a businesslike tone.
Her hands were trembling as she waited. The few minutes seemed like hours. She tried not to fidget as the chief engineer came in and closed the door.
She closed the door. That's probably not good. She's not happy with this situation.
"All right," B'Elanna Torres said. "Have a seat." She took her own seat behind the desk. Marla swallowed.
"Captain Janeway says you're back to being an ensign now," Torres said. "Did you ever have command of other people on Equinox?"
Marla paused for a long moment to gather her courage. "Yes, ma'am," she said unsteadily. "Well, sort of. I was the only trained engineer, but I had to train some people until they...well, until they died."
Torres nodded. "How long did you have command?" she asked.
Marla shrugged. What was the other woman's point? "About five years," she said.
"Good." Torres scribbled something on a PADD. "What I want to do is this. We've had Engineering divided up into two teams. We always end up stealing people for other things anyway, so I want to make it official and have three teams. I'm putting you in charge of the third team. You'd start out on Alpha shift. Then, once we've seen you in command, we can talk about moving to another shift as needed.."
Marla blinked. Command? Commanding these people? Her? The idea seemed preposterous.
"Me?" she squeaked.
"You," Torres said. "You did pretty well on Grambyo. You've had command experience, you're a good engineer, and you've forgotten more about crisis engineering than some of these guys have ever learned.. So yes. You."
She knew she ought to be grateful, and she was. Being called a 'good engineer' by B'Elanna Torres usually required engineering feats that could put Zefram Cochrane to shame. Still, the thought came tumbling out of her mouth before her brain had a chance to suggest it might not be diplomatic. "Did Captain Janeway make you do this?"
Torres looked up, and her mouth quirked. Marla quailed. All the same, she could see a sort of respect in the Klingon's eyes: Torres approved of bringing things out in the open. She certainly never held too much back.
"Fair question," she said. "The answer is no. My personnel decisions are my own. And you may have noticed...I don't exactly worship at the altar of The Big Starfleet Rule Book. I promote who I see fit. Captain Janeway approved it, but you're there because I want to put you there."
Marla grinned nervously. "I'm sorry," she said. "I just...well, you know...,"
Torres chuckled. "I do know. Better to say it and get it over with. Starfleeters would be better off if they did it more often, if you ask me. Yeah, right now you're in the captain's good graces. I've been in her good graces, and I've been on the top of her shit list. All I'm giving you is a chance, Gilmore. You'll either rise to the task or you won't. That part is up to you."
Marla looked down and felt stupid. Great way to get along with her supervisor. "I'm sorry. Thank you. I'll do my best."
"All I ask," B'Elanna said archly. "Besides, some of our people are leaving. There will be other new engineers here, and I hate breaking in newbies. You start tomorrow." She checked her chronometer. "That's all. Dismissed. I have to check my kid's diaper. Enjoy the rest of the day while you've got it."
There were still a few muttered curses and dirty looks behind her as she went back to her cabin, but it didn't spoil her mood. She wouldn't let it. There would always be people who didn't like her. She could cope with that. Being allowed back into the fold was definitely enough.
She sat at her desk and checked her replicator order. Not yet. It was pretty backed up, although her one order was going to take some time anyway. To pass the time, she wrote a letter to her sister, informing her of everything that had happened, and finished by suggesting that Voyager was going to be on Earth for a while, and perhaps they could get together. Once her uniforms arrived, she put them away. The cabin looked stark and bare; she'd have to decorate it and make it look a little nicer.
For a moment she wondered if Angelo Tassoni would ever come back to Starfleet. After everything they'd been through, she could understand his desire to stay away. Two feet firmly on terra firma, and a place where he could truly start anew. It was a powerful draw. But this second chance was something she'd never expected, and she didn't want to give it up so easily. Such a chance might never come again.
The door chime buzzed. "Come in," she said, expecting Noah or Jim or possibly Brian. Instead, the figure of Captain Janeway stood in the doorway. Marla swallowed.
"As you were," Janeway said, and took a step inside. "Nicer than before."
"Yes," Marla said. "Captain...thank you."
The captain nodded and looked thoughtful. "You know, this isn't going to be all fun and games. Starfleet is planning to try Kilbourne and the others for piracy of a starship. It won't be easy."
Marla shrugged. "I've been through worse," she said.
"Did Ransom say anything?"
She had a feeling that she was going to be asked that question a lot. She shook her head. "Not a word, but I think it's him. We'll see."
Janeway paused to think. "You know," she said, "perhaps you're not the one I should be telling...but this is a legitimate chance."
Marla pursed her lips. "Noah," she said simply.
"Yes. He doesn't trust me, and I suppose it's only understandable that he's skeptical."
How could she defend him without alienating the captain? The reflex to immediately defend another one of the Equinox Five was strong; they'd been through a lot.
"Noah's been through a lot," she said.
"I know. I was responsible for part of it." She sighed, and for a moment Marla could see a flash of the person behind the pips: not the shields-up, no-weaknesses captain of Voyager but the person behind that uniform, occasionally fallible, occasionally hurt.
"Mr. Lessing has to find his own path," the captain continued after a moment. "He reminds me of Tom Paris. When the time was right, he set aside his differences and came here. There's a good officer in him waiting to come out. I can see that officer. I can open the door for him. I can call him to duty. But ultimately, I'm not the one who decides if he heeds the call." Her eyes fell to Marla's and she sighed. "Tom heeded the call. B'Elanna did. Chakotay did. And so did you," she finished, a smile playing about her lips.
Marla flushed, not sure how to take the compliment. "I, uh, well, I...," she stammered. "All I did was...," she trailed off.
"You held out. That's no small thing. Many people wouldn't have." The captain smiled maternally. "Just help me out a little with Lessing, will you?"
"He'll come around, captain. He just needs a little time."
Janeway turned her palms up. "For now, we have some time." Her combadge twittered: Chakotay asked for her on the bridge. She chuckled.
"Duty calls, ensign. I'm glad to have you aboard." With that, she turned to tend to her ship.
Marla Gilmore stared and watched her go for a few moments. What lay ahead she didn't know; as both the captain and Torres had said, all she had been given was a chance. She would make the most of it.
A soft beep told her that her replicator order was ready. She turned to take out duty uniforms, one dress uniform, and the custom orders she had entered. She was glad no one else had seen; they wouldn't understand. One was a small piece of gray cloth, much the same as her uniform collar. She took that out and pinned the four pips to it.
The others were old-style flat photographs from Starfleet's Records Bureau. The first was a picture of several people clustered around the bridge of a starship. Printed below the group was a short phrase: OFFICERS OF USS EQUINOX, NCC-72381. There she was, over on the left. Rudy in the center, seated in his command chair. Max beside him. Bill Yates, Dorothy Chang, John Bowler, Ed Regis and all the others. All of them were dead now, except for her.
The next was a picture of the Engineering staff, back when there had been an Engineering staff. All of them gone now, too.
The last was a picture of Rudy himself, poor desperate Rudy, who had been forced to be a law unto himself. He hadn't been an evil man; just a man in an intolerable situation who would have gladly died if it would have protected his crew. Ultimately, that was what he had done.
The Federation would consider them monsters and shameful failures. Someone had to tell their story. Someone had to realize that the crew of the USS Equinox had been in a truly desperate situation. There were others, far closer to home, who had repeated their crimes under far less trying circumstances. She would honor the people with whom she had served, quietly and in her own way. They had given their lives so that the five of them could get home, and that sacrifice would not be in vain.
But if Equinox was her past, Voyager was her present and future. Would Section 31 come back for her someday? Would Kilbourne slip the noose again and plan to ensnare her? She didn't know, and she couldn't spend her life curled up in a ball waiting for it to happen. But she had a place here, and she would do her best to keep it.
"Well, it took a while, but you got what you wanted, Rudy. We're home."
Home. For so long, that had been their only driving factor: to get home. They'd forgotten some things along the way. But home wasn't just the Alpha Quadrant; home was Starfleet, and all it meant and stood for. She'd been on this ship for two years, but it hadn't felt like home; it had felt like a prison. Could a prison become a home? She meant to find out.
She was stained by her past, but so was the Federation she had returned to. The murders aboard the Equinox, the genocide that Section 31 had committed against the Dominion. Voyager's captain and crew had stopped a third, even worse genocide against the Romulans.
The ding of the replicator interrupted her reverie. It delivered a rectangular piece of plastic. She reached in and took it curiously, smiling despite herself at the words printed across it. Just a plain old door plaque for her door. There was one on every crew-quarters door on the ship. Harry had probably sent it down. Was he screwing up his courage to ask her to Sandrine's again? Maybe. Only time would tell.
For now, the letters embossed in the plastic were a pleasant reward.
Ensign Marla Gilmore
Engineering/ Team Leader Team Three
USS Voyager NCC-74656
She hung the sign on her door and took a moment to look at it. Finally, after a long struggle, she knew where she was.
Finally, she was home.