"It's not that we're scared, it's just that it's delicate." Damien Rice
There were certain things that Kathryn Janeway loathed about her job. Some things were unique to Voyager like replicator rationing, always being low on every supply, and the completely irrational sense of competition between the Beta and Gamma shifts. There were things that came with Starfleet as a whole – time paradoxes, being passed up for an expected promotion, or how crawling through Jefferies tubes was hell on the knees.
Also, she really hated alien implants.
She woke up disoriented with her face pressed into the cold ground. Her body ached like after taking a hard fall and when she pushed her hands into the ground to lift her body, her shoulders didn't cooperate and she was forced to stay down for a bit longer while all the different parts of her body tried to get working at the same speed again.
The longer she was conscious, the more the pain became specific to a single location. It felt tightest at the crown of her head. It was an itching, a burning just beneath her hair.
It was odd that her hair was down, actually, tangled and dirty. She tried moving again and was able to lift an arm and feel her scalp carefully. She expected tenderness, maybe some blood. She clearly had hit her head. But instead, her fingers found something foreign and metallic. It protruded slightly from her head and most definitely didn't belong. When she tried to pry it away, the pain tripled and she yanked her hand away, groaning.
Time to open her eyes.
It was dark and she gave herself a moment to adjust. She was outside – she could hear the sounds ubiquitous to nature no matter what the planet. Insects buzzing, night birds chirping, the wind through the trees. Above her, a canopy of leaves and branches interrupted her limited view of the night sky but even without the trees she doubted she'd be able to see any stars. The only thing in the sky was darkness, an inky blackness that threatened to overwhelm her.
She pushed up again and managed to spend a couple seconds upright before a wave of nausea overtook her and she bent over to empty her stomach. She steadied herself with a hand on a nearby tree trunk and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand.
She tapped at her chest, willing to try communicating even though the odds were most definitely against her. The only thing, however, her hand came into contact with was fabric. Her communications badge was gone and she scanned the ground around her but saw nothing.
She scratched her head careful not to actually touch the device. Her hair seemed even more matted and dirty around the implant. Perhaps there was blood after all. She wished she had some way to see the device. To know what she was dealing with even slightly, but it was hard to think.
Where was Voyager? Where was she? What had happened?
Trying to remember the events that led up to the present seemed like a good way to start. A few images floated to her mind but they were disjointed and she sat down, a few meters away from where she had been sick, and tried to put them into order.
She remembered brushing her teeth – spitting into her sink. That had been this morning, hadn't it? She remembered riding in the turbolift with Chakotay at the start of the shift. She remembered giving her holodeck time to Harry.
Wait. Did she remember that? She could see Harry's face, surprised and pleased, as she turned over the chunk of time.
But why would she give it to Harry of all people? Why would she give it away at all?
She remembered the slice of blue melon she ate for lunch.
She remembered spilling her coffee onto the carpet on the bridge as the ship shuddered.
The ship! They'd been attacked, hadn't they?
She remembers feeling the shaking of the ship and throwing off her covers, barreling out of bed in an effort to get to the bridge hastily.
How could she spill her coffee at the same time she was getting out of bed?
Oh, her head ached. It seemed like every time she had a clear thought, something muddled it up. She took a deep breath, trying to clear her head with oxygen.
That was a familiar smell. It smelled like the training ground north of Starfleet Academy where they did the level one phase of wilderness survival and where the three-week piloting crash course location was.
Not that she'd ever taken such an intense piloting course. Had she? What was that smell?
Yes, that was it. Oak trees had a distinctly earthy smell and this place reminded her of it.
But, odd. She hadn't remembered oak trees herself, had she? It was more like she had wanted to remember it, had asked for the information and someone had handed her the answer.
She had to focus. She remembered Harry telling her that they'd lost the aft shields for a moment and then…
She jumped, on her feet in a second.
"Who's there?" she asked, reaching for the phaser that wasn't at her waist. Still, she groped blindly for a moment before realizing that she wasn't armed and raised her hands to shield her face.
"Captain?" This time she heard the voice outside of her head. It was weak and some distance from her. It was also vaguely familiar. She took another deep breath and forced herself to think.
"Tom?" she called out.
"Over here?" he whimpered. She started moving slowly in the direction of his voice and saw him lying on the ground after several meters.
"Tom," she said again, rushing to his side. "Are you all right?"
"I think my shoulder is dislocated," he said. He was cradling the arm and it did hang eerily from his shoulder, unnaturally. His face was pinched in pain.
"All right," she said, buying time to think. In the darkness it was hard to see him clearly but he seemed just as filthy and disoriented as she was. "Nothing to do but pop it back in."
"No," he said. "It's all right, I'll just…"
"Mr. Paris," she said, her voice soft. "Lie back."
"It's really not that bad," he tried to argue. She touched his good shoulder and held it to the ground.
"This is going to hurt," she warned him. Realizing she was serious about putting his shoulder back, he kept still and set his jaw. She took a deep breath and gave the shoulder a hard shove. He howled but she felt the shoulder go back into the socket with a sickening crunch.
The pain hit her a few seconds later. She was watching him with concern, noting how ashen he'd become when pain blossomed from her own shoulder, like someone had stepped on her shoulder with a sharp heel and ground down with all their weight. She gasped, the pain knocking the wind out of her. She fell to the ground next to him and clutched at the pain, as if she could contain it somehow.
She heard Tom's voice distantly and in a few moments, the pain lessened and faded.
"What the hell was that?" she gasped, mostly to herself.
"Maybe you tweaked something," he offered.
"It was more like…" She shook her head, disregarding the insane notion. "Do you have any idea where we are?"
"No," he said. "I remember there was weapons fire and we lost the shields and then… here. I could… I could hear you talking about it. Who were you talking to?"
"I wasn't talking to anyone," she snapped, feeling irritable, confused, and scared. "I think the implant is making it difficult to think."
"What implant?" he asked. She realized she hadn't checked him for it.
"Hold still," she ordered and crawled around him. She could see a blinking light, red and covered only slightly by his hair. "I want to get a good look at this."
"At what?" he demanded.
"There's something implanted into our heads. I have it too," she said. It was hard to see in the darkness and small enough so that she knew she'd need a tool of some sort in order to access any information. What she wouldn't give for a bobby pin.
"Someone did this to us," Tom said.
"I suggest we wait for first light before we do anything," she said. "You're going to be in some pain, Tom, you should sleep first."
"Do you really think sleeping is a good idea?" he asked. "I don't know about you but I'm sporting a pretty wicked headache. It could be a concussion."
"Voyager has to be searching for us," she said, trying to sound positive.
"I hope they know where to look," Tom said.
She didn't mean to fall asleep. Tom had slipped under first. She'd woken him up a few times to make sure he could wake up, but when everything seemed all right, she let him sleep. They'd moved against a large tree trunk for back support but it was hard to move around in such a thick darkness. He'd curled up next to her, his head on his balled up uniform jacket.
Morning had to come soon. It felt like it'd been hours.
"Captain?" Tom's voice roused her from slumber. She opened her eyes and looked at him. He'd sat up and was leaning over her. Behind him, the sky was beginning to lighten. She sat up and noticed he'd shoved his jacket under her head in the night.
"Tom," she muttered. "The sun is rising."
"I think…" He smiled in a nervous way. "I think I know what these implants do."
"You've had one before," she said. The image of him and Harry in the space station prison sprung to mind unprovoked.
"Yeah, but, I think this one does more. It makes it hard to concentrate but… Captain, I could see your dreams," he said. This got her attention. She pushed her hair out of her face. It hung limply – she must be a sight. "You look fine."
"I can hear your thoughts," Tom said. "I think these implants… I think we're connected."
"Did you give your holodeck time to Harry?" she asked, suddenly.
"Yes," he said.
"And the pilot course? Three weeks?"
"Oak trees," he agreed.
"Oh my god," she said, raising her hand to her mouth. "The attack. You were asleep."
"You spilled your coffee," he said. "It's very disorienting. Whoever did this to us, it must be a way to subdue us."
They sat in silence for a moment trying to process this information.
"Do you think it's odd…"
"That we haven't seen anyone yet?" he finished. "If we're being held captive…"
"Then where are they?" she asked.
"It's like the wilderness survival training," he said. "We just got dumped in the woods."
"The first thing we learned was to look for water and food," she said. "That's what we're going to do."
"At least this way we can communicate without our badges," he said.
"Let's split up then, look for water," she said. "How's the shoulder?"
"Fine," he said. "How's yours?"
A look of understanding crossed her face. She reached out and pinched his arm hard.
"Ow," he said. A second later she felt a stab of pain in her own arm.
"Like a time delay," she said. She pinched herself hard and watched him jump.
"We're going to have to be careful," he said.
"Agreed." They took off in different directions. Her eyes scanned for edible plants and her ears strained for the sound of water moving – a stream or a river. She'd even take a stagnant pond. She tried to keep her spirits up and not dwell on how she knew very little about her ship.
"Do you think we're the only crew members missing?" Tom asked, suddenly beside her.
"I don't know," she said, knowing he brought it up because she'd been thinking about it. "I thought we were splitting up."
"I did walk away from you but then…" Paris shrugged. "Every time I tried to get some distance, I some how circled back to you."
"The implant?" she asked.
"Let's test it out," he said. "We'll face each other and step back together."
"All right," she said. They tried it, taking measured steps back, their eyes locked. It didn't take long for them to feel the resistance and then a jolt of energy that made them hurry back to one another. She reached out and touched his hand and the contact made the pain fade more quickly. "Are you okay?"
"What should we do?" he asked.
What could they do but work within their circumstances and wait?
Tom found some nuts and there had been a stream about a kilometer away. Now they slept. It was much colder than the previous night and though it made them both mildly uncomfortable, they huddled together in the darkness.
Janeway wasn't sure why it happened, but for some reason Tom was beamed back to the ship before she was. Perhaps it had been easier to get a lock on him – perhaps they only had the energy for one transport at a time, but the pain was agonizing nonetheless. She clutched at her head and screamed.
It must've only been a few seconds but it seemed to take forever. The shock of it kept her whimpering long after she was in sickbay aboard her ship. She couldn't see or hear, couldn't speak. The only thing that existed was the pain. She wished for death and when it came, gave in willingly.
She could hear Tom again. Had he gone with her? It was as if they were standing at either end of a long tunnel. She could hear him from a distance but everything came distorted and with an echo. She could feel that he wasn't happy. That he was tired and frightened. She was these things, too. If she could move, she would go toward him. She wanted to comfort him, to tell him that here had to be better than the pain they had faced before.
The more she thought about him, the more she reached toward him with her mind, the closer he seemed to become. Soon it was not as if she could hear him from afar, but as if they were standing right next to each other. She thought about taking his hand, and then she felt his fingers.
"I think she's waking up." Janeway recognized the voice. It was Chakotay and instead of sounding warm and confident he sounded tired and frightened. "I saw her hand move."
"I'm surprised she would wake up on her own." This voice belonged to the Doctor. "The damage to their neural patterns was severe."
"She's always trying to get out of Sickbay," Chakotay said. It was a pale attempt at humor.
"I'm going to bring her out of it," the Doctor said. She felt a jolt of energy and her eyes opened. It was too bright so she shut them again and tried to orient herself once more to the living world. She hadn't been imagining it – she could feel Tom's hand in her own. She could also feel his breath on her neck. He was still asleep, his conscious mind was quiet.
When she opened her eyes again, she could focus. She saw Tom, his sleeping face right next to hers. She realized that they were on the same bio-bed in sickbay.
"Captain Janeway, can you hear me?" the Doctor's voice was soft and close her ear.
"Yes," she said, softly.
"You're in sickbay," the Doctor said. "Do you remember how you got here?"
She looked over Tom's head to where the Doctor and Chakotay were standing at the bed side wearing similar pinched expressions of concern.
"We were on the planet," she said. "They put something in us… I don't know who, though. It made us… I could hear him. And then… pain."
"Voyager was scanned by an alien vessel. We lost our shields and they transported you and Mr. Paris onto their ship and went to high warp. We followed their warp trail to an M-class planet. You were there but we lost the trail of the ship," Chakotay said. "What can you tell me about the alien's captain?"
"I never saw them," she said. "We woke up on the planet."
"I may be able to give you more once I learn more about your implants," the Doctor said.
"Did you remove them?" she asked trying to sit up. The Doctor's firm hand pressed her back to her small part of the bed.
"I'm afraid not. For a time, they were the only things keeping your and Mr. Paris's brains active. They are extremely complex and embedded deep into your brainstems. It's going to take some time to figure out how to remove them," the Doctor explained.
"Why isn't Tom awake?" she asked looking down at him. "And why are we so…?"
"Your healing rate improved considerably when you maintained physical contact," the Doctor explained. "Tom will be fine, but you both need more rest. In the morning, I'd like to hear more about your experience."
"Captain, would you like us to continue our search for the alien ship or resume course to the Alpha Quadrant?" Chakotay asked.
"I have too many questions to simply let them go," she said. "Continue the search."
"Aye Ma'am," he said. "It's nice to have you back."
She looked at him but didn't know what to say. She was grateful when the Doctor pressed the issue of rest and Chakotay left sickbay.
"I suggest you get all the rest you can," the Doctor said. "I can move Mr. Paris if you'd like."
"No," she said. "It's… better this way."
The Doctor nodded once and dimmed the lights. It was easier than she expected to slip back into sleep.
Tom was dreaming. He was dreaming of the first time he'd piloted a vessel solo. The first legal time, anyhow. It had been a small shuttle and he'd carried cargo from Earth to Jupiter Station. What would now be a routine mission was then exhilarating. In his dream, instead of the engineering and medical supplies he'd been carrying, he was hauling a cargo full of flowers. They were pink roses and the whole shuttle smelled fragrant and wonderful.
When he opened his eyes, Janeway's own blue eyes were staring back at him.
"You were still a cadet," she said, whispering. They would only have a few moments before the Doctor realized that both of his patients were awake.
"My father pulled some strings," Tom replied. Cadets weren't allowed to pilot solo vessels but Tom had always been an exceptional pilot.
"Pink roses are my favorite," she said.
"I know," he replied.
"Lieutenant Paris!" the Doctor said, coming over to the bed they shared. "Welcome to the world of the conscious."
"Thanks Doc," he said.
"I'm going to need you both to sit up. I will get clearer medical readings if you are apart."
Her head felt a little woozy when she sat up but she couldn't tell if it was because of her or what Tom was feeling. He scooted over to put a few inches between them. The Doctor ran his tricorder over her first, and then him.
"Can you tell me what you experience with the implant?" he prodded. Tom glanced at her and she nodded.
"I can hear her thoughts," Tom said. "It's more than that though… I can see images that don't belong to me."
"We share sensation, also," Janeway said. "If he gets hurt, I can feel it."
"I wonder if unconsciousness dampens the effects," the Doctor mused.
"Yes and no," she said. "I was aware of him and… I could see his dream."
"Fascinating," the Doctor said. "The implants are acting like a tether. When we beamed Mr. Paris aboard, the tether was stretched too far and snapped causing excessive damage to both of your brains. I had to reactivate the implants to reboot your brains."
"Can you remove them?" she asked.
"I'm not sure," the Doctor said. "Perhaps if we contact the aliens, I can learn more about the technology and the motive behind implanting you with it. They seem to gather a lot of data but I'm not sure what for."
Tom and the Captain said this together. It had been Janeway's though, originally but possession of thoughts was becoming sticky the longer they shared a connection.
"Sorry?" the Doctor asked.
"Seven of Nine," Tom said.
"She might recognize the technology," Janeway added.
"From her days with the Borg," Tom finished. Seven hadn't been on Voyager very long and though Janeway probed Tom's mind on the subject, she found no ill will toward Seven or herself for insisting Seven stay aboard.
"Oh, you finishing each other's sentences won't get old, fast," the Doctor muttered. "Doctor to Seven of Nine."
"Yes, Doctor?" Seven's voice was even and dry.
"Please report to sickbay."
Seven arrived and eyed the Captain and Tom with some curiosity. Captain Janeway tended to keep a professional distance from her crew, but now she sat next to Tom on the bed, close enough so that they were flush – their legs and shoulders touching. Seven looked at the scans the Doctor had taken of the implants on the terminal.
"Species 4539," Seven said. "The Agorna."
"What do you know about them?" Janeway asked.
"The Borg assimilated two vessels. Their bone structure was incompatible with drone body structure."
"Lucky bastards," Tom said. Janeway tried not to smile.
"Go on, Seven," she said.
"Species 4539 are extremely paranoid. They live believing that other species are after their technology and resources," Seven offered.
"Why would they attack Voyager? Why would they abduct us?" Tom asked.
"It is an effective way of dealing with an enemy," Seven offered. "They separate the two most important people from their ship. They interrogate the officers and leave the vessel without leadership."
"Captain Janeway, yes, but Mr. Paris?" the Doctor asked, scandalized.
"Hey!" Tom said.
"Mr. Paris is the ranking conn officer, is he not?" Seven asked. "He plots the course and is often the first to detect the obstacles in space ahead. He maps the territories and designs the flight plan."
"See?" Tom asked.
"Tom is important," Janeway said. "Seven, what can you tell me about their technology?"
"They are technologically advanced," Seven said. "Capable of warp flight and medically superior."
"She wants to know about the implant," Tom said, impatiently. "Do you know how it works? How to remove it?"
"I do not," she said. Tom sighed. Janeway didn't need to be able to read Tom's mind to know what he was thinking – they were going to be stuck this way for a while.
"Forever?" Tom asked.
"I don't know," she murmured. Tom searched her face and she lifted one shoulder. "We could try."
"If he'll let us."
"Captain?" asked Seven, watching them with a confused expression.
"Are we fit to return to duty?" Janeway asked.
"I don't think so," the Doctor said. "While I'm not close to solving this problem, I think you'll find having two people in your head distracting during the best of times."
"Voyager needs her Captain," Tom said.
"And her pilot," Janeway added.
"Take a day or two off duty to get used to life together," the Doctor offered. "Find a rhythm."
"The collective was efficient because the hive followed a single leader, one dominant mind," Seven offered. "Perhaps that would work in your case as well?"
Janeway elbowed Tom in the ribs lightly, retaliation for a comment the Doctor and Seven couldn't hear.
"Thanks for the suggestion," Janeway said. "You're dismissed, Seven." They watched her exit the room before turning back to the Doctor, their movements oddly synchronized.
"You understand what this is going to entail, don't you?"
"We're beginning to," Tom said. Already he had to work harder to shield her from things he didn't want her to see and he knew she was doing the same. He was getting snippets of the oddest images, things too personal to be shared aloud. An Irish Setter running through a green field, her father in his admiral's uniform, his father with Captain's pip aboard the Al-Battani.
"You'll need to stay close. Physically I mean. Share quarters, eat your meals together. I know you'll want to try to keep things private, but it will start to exhaust you," the Doctor warned. "I can't imagine the sensation is pleasant, but being open will help you cope with this new… adjustment."
"And you'll work on the solution?" Janeway asked.
"Around the clock," the Doctor promised. "I need to find a way to remove the implant from your brain stem without damaging it."
"So we can go?" Tom asked.
"I want to see you first thing in the morning to check on your progress," the Doctor said. "But there is no reason to keep you here."
Janeway slid off the bed first and grabbed Tom's arm, tugging him along with her.
"Thank you, Doctor," she said. Once outside sickbay, Janeway seemed to relax slightly.
"You really do hate that place," Tom commented.
"It represents…" Janeway paused to consider her words. But he saw what she meant – Sickbay full of injured crew, cradling broken arms and flowing lacerations. The Doctor pulling a sheet over a lifeless body, an image of himself lying asleep on a bed in a blue medical gown.
"I see," he said. "But that is no excuse to sacrifice your own health."
"I know the lecture," she snapped.
"Yes, ma'am," he murmured. She got images from him too – herself in a matching blue gown, herself limping across the bridge, holding her side, herself wiping blood out of her eyes. She felt fear and concern from him.
"I think," she said softly. "We should stop by your quarters and get some of your things."
"You want me to stay with you?" he asked.
"You heard the Doctor," she said. "We need to stay close."
"I guess," he said. "What if?"
"I don't know," she said. They could easily schedule bridge shifts together but what about his training with the Doctor in sickbay now that Kes had left? What about off-duty time? Constant togetherness would start to wear them both down, she was sure.
She almost missed his next thought but it was as if he whispered it to her – he was trying to hide it.
I would never get tired of you.
She looked at him, surprise on her face but they were outside his quarters and he busied himself with opening the door. Well, now she knew his entry code. In his living area, she could feel a wave of embarrassment at the state of things but she made sure to think loudly that it wasn't so bad. A few clothes on the floor, a couple dirty dishes but nothing as bad as some academy dorm rooms she'd seen.
"What should I bring?" he asked.
"Toothbrush," she offered. "Clothes."
"Okay," he said.
"I'll wait here for you," she said and sat down on the sofa.
Without a distraction, her mind began to wonder. She looked around, searching for more personal aspects of Tom's personality. When she'd first boarded Voyager, she'd walked through every room of the ship, crawled through every Jefferies tube, and personally checked every system. But this was the first time she'd been in Tom's quarters since he'd moved in and was surprised to see no photographs or anything that reminded him of home.
"Do you really think I want to be reminded of home?" he asked, standing in the entryway between his bedroom and living area.
"I don't…" She wasn't sure how to respond.
"Voyager is my home," he said. "There's nothing left for me on Earth."
"Tom," she said. "I'm sorry."
"I know you respect my father, but I don't," he said and disappeared.
She wondered if Tom ever had any children, would they feel about her the way Tom felt about his own father? Would they hate her for taking him away?
Tom reappeared with a bag slung over his shoulder.
"Let's go," she said. She was nervous about having a member of her crew invading her personal space but he was nervous about doing it so neither said a thing. With no conversation and no distractions, they were going to run out of secrets soon. Janeway wondered if she'd hung her nightgown up in the closet before she'd left and Tom seemed to miss a beat at the thought of his captain in a satin nightgown.
"I am a woman, you know," she said, trying to make light.
"I know," he said gravely. It was a fact he was all to aware of.
"We're going to make this work," she said. "Like two professional adults."
"Which we are," he said. She didn't have a response to that. In the turbo lift, they stood quietly. "Oh, come on, that isn't fair," he said.
"Life isn't fair, Mr. Paris," she replied. Maybe sending him an image of himself cleaning the plasma injectors was a bit harsh but she wanted to get the point across that even if he knew her deepest, darkest thoughts, she was still the boss.
"You try your hardest to project an image of being gender neutral and now you're mad that's what I see you as?" he asked.
"You don't see me that way," she said, softly.
"Ma'am, I assure you…"
"You know what's odd?" she interrupted. "I can see myself as I see me but I can see myself as you see me too."
They stepped off the lift and she keyed in her code while he contemplated the statement.
"I see what I see," he settled on. "Maybe you're the one who is seeing a biased perspective."
"If this lasts more than a couple days, we'll get a cot in here all right?" she said. "In the mean time?"
"Couch," he said.
"Good man," she said. He set down his bag and looked around.
"Now what?" he asked.
"Now we wait," she said.
"What do you see?" he asked. She sat on the sofa and he sat next to her.
"I see crows feet and gravity," she said. "But you see… I don't know. I can see myself, but I'm different somehow. You think I'm small."
"You are," he pointed out.
"But you don't think it's bad."
"Why would it be bad?" he asked.
"And my hair… you see it red," she said. "I don't understand it."
"Your hair is red!" he exclaimed.
"Planet side," she said. "But after three years on a ship it tends to lose its luster."
She realized something.
"You see me as if it's the first time," she said. "You see me as you saw me in New Zealand."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"People change," she warned him. "It does no one any good to cling to idealized versions of people."
"So you're a woman and a human?" he asked. She smiled at him.
"Guilty," she said. "What do you say to some lunch?"
"I'd say it's a start," he said