Judgement Day: Voyage of the Damned
Six months ago, when all the humans, and B'Elanna, and Icheb, and the Doctor, vanished off Voyager in a bright flash of light, Tuvok had still believed they could make their way home.
Six months ago, he had been called Acting Captain, and he had searched for Captain Janeway and the others, with the full support of Voyager's remaining crew. It had taken time to figure out what the connection was between all the people that vanished. All the humans were gone, but also the half-humans, B'Elanna Torres and Naomi Wildman. Seven of Nine was gone, and perhaps that was because she'd been human before becoming Borg, but Icheb was also gone. The Doctor's program had disappeared as well; his database of medical knowledge was still there, but his program had been deleted completely.
Two months of exploring and searching, and the empty Borg cubes drifting abandoned through space suggested what might have happened to Icheb. Voyager found a world that had obviously been gutted by the Borg, technological centers and cities removed from the surface with giant craters left behind, but instead of what they typically found on such worlds -- a tiny number of survivors hiding in the forests, perhaps, or dust-caused winter and the world frozen and dead -- they found millions of life signs on a planet that lacked technology any more, was iced over from dust clouds, and plainly didn't have enough agriculture going on to feed the people.
Reluctantly, because risking an away team when there were so few of the crew left was unsafe but they did need more information, he authorized an away team to explore the planet. Now that he was acting captain, he had not gone himself.
The away team had barely gotten away in time. Millions of people who had recently been Borg swarmed the surface of their world, too long Borg to remember how to grow food and their world too damaged by clouds of dust to be able to easily do so if they had remembered. So they had become cannibals. There was no source of food down there for eighty-five million people but each other. And a careful, deep scan of the planet looking for calcium deposits in the pattern of the species' bones suggested that within the past ten years there had been two billion.
One of the millions, a woman with no arms or legs who had apparently been kept alive by a band of male cannibals for sexual use after they ate her limbs, persuaded the away team to rescue her, when the team had been forced to stun her captors so they wouldn't be devoured themselves. She couldn't remember her name, but she could tell time. The sun, she said, had risen and set sixty-three times since they all appeared on their ancestral home at once. No one had any idea how long ago they had become Borg in the first place, but when Tuvok calculated her statement about their re-appearance against the rotational speed of the planet, it became clear that they had materialized on their world the same day that the humans, Icheb and the Doctor had vanished.
Neelix named the woman Irila, which was apparently Talaxian for "survivor of a catastrophe." Without a doctor, they could not outfit her with prosthetic limbs, but Vorik was able to build her a hoverchair that responded to mental commands, and she joined the crew, studying the Doctor's medical database so that Voyager could have a medic again. Neelix spent much of his time assisting her, since now that only twenty people were using the power and replicator resources that once one hundred forty had used, there seemed no need to conserve by cooking leola root.
Irila told Tuvok that the Borg had known the beings responsible for taking them apart. The beings had told the Borg that the Collective would be destroyed, dispersed back to their original homeworlds without Borg nanomachines or implants. And then Irila's people had all appeared in flashes of light on their destroyed homeworld, and had begun eating each other five days later.
The Borg called the species in question Species Designate 1732, and referred to them as well as the Inexplicable Ones. The Borg had apparently had many encounters with the species and had never found a way to predict their actions or prevent them from doing as they wished, let alone assimilate one. When Tuvok questioned Irila about the properties of the species in order to know what they were dealing with, he learned enough to convince him that he knew of them, under another name. The beings that had destroyed the Borg, and presumably taken the humans, were the Q.
That was when he gave up on searching for Captain Janeway and the others. The Q he had advocated for had said his kind was not quite as omnipotent as they liked to pretend, but Tuvok knew that nonetheless, Voyager still had no hope of finding her lost crew, if they'd been taken by the Q, unless the Q chose to return them.
Was this connected somehow to the civil war in the Continuum that Captain Janeway had reported on, three years earlier, when Q had taken her from the ship and she had turned up a few days later in a shuttlecraft some distance from Voyager? There was no way to know, so Tuvok could not speculate. He could only work with the knowledge he had. The humans were gone and could not be expected to come back. No longer the Acting Captain, he was now Voyager's official Captain, as he would have been had Janeway and Chakotay died. Which it was possible that they might have, but he refused to speculate on that either.
The Pathfinder project appeared to be completely shut down. They were unable to contact Earth, or Starfleet, no matter how they tried. Whatever had happened to the humans, it was apparent that they had not merely been returned to their homeworld as had been done with Irila's people and presumably other Borg assimilees. But without further information, Tuvok couldn't speculate as to what might have happened in that regard, either.
This did not stop the crew from speculating. Rumors ran wild. The Q had annihilated humanity. The Q had sent humanity to Earth. The Q had rewarded Captain Janeway and the other humans for the ruling that granted Q the freedom to kill themselves by sending them home, but had too low an opinion of other species to bother with anyone else. It was futile and illogical to guess, but the few crew members left spent much of their time doing exactly that.
Over the next four months, they continued the trajectory Captain Janeway had originally laid out for them, trying to find their way home. The skeleton crew they were left with could barely keep the ship running, but everyone but Neelix and Irila had homeworlds to return to, loved ones to see again. Tuvok felt that they needed to avoid dangerous territory – their numbers were too few to risk a fight with other ships. But with the Borg gone, they had all of Borg territory to travel through, largely unmolested.
It didn't help.
Now, six months into their journey with a skeleton crew, half the ship was breaking down. People were getting injured, and couldn't be healed, because Irila hadn't learned enough yet to be a full medic. There was no time for routine maintenance to be completed on every component as often as it needed to be, because they were too few and because they spent so much of their scant manpower on solving crises. Tuvok reassigned people from specialties they could no longer afford to keep, such as biological sciences or the majority of his remaining security personnel, to doing maintenance and fixing what broke, but that put people with only minimal experience in charge of the maintenance, which still left failures much more prevalent than they'd been with a full crew.
Tuvok understood, now, that he would never see his wife again.
Had he been commanding a ship of Vulcans, he would simply have declared their journey over, and ordered his crew to find an uninhabited M-class planet they could make a new life on. Had his crew been Vulcans, they would have obeyed, trusting their captain's logic. Other races, however, were far more emotional. His Bajorans and Bolians and various other species would not trust his logic; he was not their captain, even though, six months after Captain Janeway's disappearance, he was. Their real captain would have asked them their opinion. So he did.
He summoned a ship-wide meeting and he explained the situation. The ship was failing. A crew of 20 could not keep a ship the size of Voyager going indefinitely. They could accept the unlikelihood of their ever finding a way home before critical maintenance failures that no one caught caused the ship to break down in space and kill or strand them all. They could find a world that could support them, and try to make a new life.
Or they could stubbornly refuse to accept reality and continue their futile journey, despite the extreme unlikelihood that they would ever get home.
With the exception of Vorik, who could make a decision based on logic as well as he could, every one of them voted to continue the journey. Even Neelix, who had no real reason to want to go to the Alpha Quadrant… but Tuvok knew Neelix's motives. Alpha Quadrant doctors could restore Irila's limbs. And besides, the crew wanted to go home, and Neelix was more emotionally invested in what the others in the crew wanted than what he himself might want. It was why he was morale officer; he put others first, always.
So they would continue on, on this voyage of the damned, seeking a way home until they all died. It was completely illogical, yet Tuvok realized that, against all logic, it was the outcome he too preferred. T'Pel was not here. His children and grandchildren were not here. And now, neither was Kathryn, or Seven, or the colleagues he had come to respect and consider friends, like Chakotay and Torres and Paris and Kim. The only people he knew well in the crew were Neelix, who he was far too dissimilar to for true friendship even after the experiences that had brought them to better understand one another, and his direct subordinates from Security, whom the chain of command had kept him from befriending. And now he was captain, and they were all his subordinates, so he could no longer become close to anyone on this ship.
There were fates worse than death, it seemed. It made no logical sense, but he felt that he would rather risk near-certain death in a futile effort to find his way back to his family and friends than live the rest of his life on a planet in the Delta Quadrant, effectively alone.
When he had been at Starfleet Academy, he'd had a human roommate whose hobby was the history of Earth music. He had frequently argued to Tuvok that the Vulcans' arrival had destroyed native human culture, that human art and music and fiction had become hopelessly bland and unemotional ever since the first contact with the Vulcans in the 21st century. To prove his point he had played ancient 20th and 21st turn-of-the-century music files to Tuvok. Tuvok had found the music repetitive, loud, discordant yet not mathematically complex, and the lyrics generally puerile and overemotional, and had argued to his roommate that if Vulcans had been responsible for humanity ceasing to create such noise, this could only have been an improvement.
But Vulcan near-eidetic memory brought one of the songs he had mostly ignored at the time back to his mind more and more often now. It had been a tale of absurd superstition and bathos, and at the time Tuvok had dismissed it as worthless trivia from Earth's past. The song had been the tale of a man and his son in a 21st century airship, returning home for the child's mother's birthday celebration. But a powerful, irrational being residing in the clouds had decided that humans did not belong in the air, and had violently struck the airship down, while at the same time its servants had tried to lure the katra of the child into leaving the boy's body and joining them as a disembodied spirit of the air.
Tuvok thought now of that song and its refrain.
Onward, onward, to destruction
We must live until we die... (+)
What he'd thought was primitive human superstition had come true. Irrational powerful beings had, in fact, apparently decided that neither humans nor the Borg belonged in space, and taken them all away. And by doing so they had struck Voyager down. But Voyager would continue on, struggling through the hazards of space, until they encountered hostile beings they couldn't fight, or a deadly spatial anomaly they couldn't evade, or their ship simply broke down and exploded or left them drifting in space until life support ran out.
Onward, onward to destruction. They would live until they died.
And they would, on this journey. He could not even calculate the odds that they might actually succeed in finding a way home, they were so infinitesimal. But fighting against hopeless odds was what Captain Janeway would have done, and what the crew wanted him to do… and despite the illogic, what he wanted to do as well. So they would keep on.
Perhaps it was, in fact, better to die fighting than live in surrender. Vulcans, as a species, had never been conquered, and had had great difficulty keeping their own kind in conquest in the days before space travel, because as a species they would simply keep fighting even when they were overwhelmed. Perhaps his choice was inevitable, however illogical it might seem.
He thought of Earth legends again. The Flying Dutchman, the Marie Celeste, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Vulcan had never had significant ocean travel, having no oceans, but the humans had many, many stories of ocean-going ships on endless journeys, lost and doomed to sail forever, never arriving home.
His lost human friends and colleagues, Tuvok thought, would approve of his decision.
Next: Though the black dog has him in its teeth, still he leads, because he's one of the few who can.
(+) Translation from Rammstein's "Dalai Lama". The German original is "Weiter, weiter ins Verderben /Wir müssen leben bis wir sterben". The translation comes from Jeremy Williams at Herzeleid, although I have altered the wording slightly to make it more poetic.