To The Journey

Disclaimer: If you recognize it, it's not mine. This is an AU story.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Surprise Wedding Gift

"Still no word on your maid of honor?"

Tasha jumped. Julia smiled apologetically. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"That's all right. I was zoned out. And no, not exactly."

"Classified information?"

"Unfortunately." Tasha had been briefed on the situation with the Prometheus by Admiral Paris, who knew she had a personal connection and saw no reason not to inform her, considering she had a more than adequate security clearance. Unfortunately, he could only tell her what they knew, which wasn't much. The Prometheus had come under attack and been boarded by Romulans. That had been the crew's last contact with Starfleet, but several minutes later the Starfleet ships sent to assist had been attacked by the Prometheus itself, suggesting the Romulans had taken over. More Starfleet ships were pursuing, but the Prometheus' design had ended up working against them; because it was able to move faster than any ship in the fleet, their ships would not be able to intercept as long as the captured ship was at maximum warp.

"Maybe you should consider who you want to have perform that part in the ceremony if she can't be here," Julia suggested gently.

"No." Tasha knew Julia was probably surprised that she was so forceful, but the woman didn't know the circumstances. Giving up on Asil, as far as Tasha was concerned, would be more than giving up the idea of her perfect wedding. It would mean accepting that her little sister might be dead. "Not unless we get to the morning of the wedding and she's still not here."

The older woman, for her part, didn't ask any questions. "How is everything else working out?"

Grateful for the change in subject, Tasha went into a long, detailed explanation about the catering menu.

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The ship lurched again, and Asil didn't have to wait long for Mark 2 to tell her what had happened. "Direct hit. Shields down to twenty percent."

"Three more ships are approaching," Mark 1 announced.

"We're doomed," Mark 2 moaned.

"No," the other hologram replied. "They're Starfleet."

Asil was ready to point out the logical flaw in his assumption of salvation, but it turned out to be unnecessary. The ship rocked again, and this time the fire didn't come from the Romulans.

"What are they doing?" Mark 2 asked

"Firing on us!" Mark 1 realized.

"They must think Romulans are on board."

"They're right!"

Asil didn't join this conversation. She was still trying to get the systems back to full function. The repeated weapons fire wasn't helping.

"Prometheus to any Starfleet vessel. Respond!" Mark 2 yelled frantically into the comm system.

"It's no use, they can't hear us. The Romulans have scrambled the comm. frequencies." Mark 1 turned around. "Lieutenant?"

"I will address it when I have the time. I must first restore the defensive systems."

"Some...thing just went offline," Mark 2 reported as the ship began to tremble.

"Specifically?" Mark 1 preempted the question Asil had intended to ask.

"The secondary gyrodyne relays in the propulsion field inter-matrix have depolarized."

"In English!" Mark 1 protested.

"No need, I understand," she replied. "Attempting to bypass. Transferring auxiliary power to the maneuvering thrusters." The ship stopped shaking.

"You'd better get to tactical," Mark 1 told Mark 2. "We're going to have to defend ourselves."

"Tactical. Right."

"What are you waiting for?" He yelled impatiently. "Shoot. Shoot!"

"There are so many controls." Mark 2 sounded daunted.

Mark 1 wasn't. "Find the one that says fire and push it!"

"It's not working. It says here the phasers are offline."

"The relays are fused," Asil reported after a quick check. "Attempting to bypass."

"Then fire a torpedo!" Mark 1 suggested.

Before Asil could tell him, even in brief, how to aim, he had followed Mark 1's instruction. As she watched, the torpedo spun off on an unclear course, missing a Romulan Warbird by a few scant meters and impacting on the shield of a Defiant-class ship.

"You hit the wrong ship," Mark 1 informed him.

"It wasn't my fault!" Mark 2 protested.

"Well then whose fault was it, the torpedo's? You're supposed to tell it what to do!" Another hit. "Navigational control is offline."

"Everything is offline," Mark 2 moaned, though Asil didn't need to hear this; the readout was right in front of her. "Weapons, shields."

"It gets worse," Mark 1 replied. "There are two warbirds coming right at us!"

"My brilliant existence cut short," Mark 2 said to no one in particular. "No time to explore the universe, no time to smell the roses, no time for sex."

But Asil knew the ship still had one trick left. She hadn't wanted to engage it if they had any choice left; this system was untested, and many of the "bugs", as Captain Scott called them, had not yet been repaired. But the Romulans had tried the system before, and nothing major had gone wrong. While additional uses of the procedure would strain the systems, she had to assume if it had held together once it would do so again.

Abandoning the engineering station, she ran to the helm, pushing Mark 2 out of the way. The helm control had been scrambled by the multiple malfunctions, but she found what she was looking for.

"Initiating decoupling sequence," the computer intoned.

"What's that?" Mark 2 asked.

"Auto-separation in ten seconds."

"Auto-separation?" Mark 1 replied. "I think the Romulans did this before."

"Sit down," she told Mark 2, indicating the other seat at the front console before stepping back to seat herself in the Captain's chair.

"Five. Four. Three. Two."

"Brace yourselves," she warned, firmly gripping the arms of the chair.

"Separation sequence in progress."

The ship shook violently as the pieces separated - one of the biggest problems still left to correct - but it was over in seconds. The computer voice came through again. "Specify attack pattern."

"Attack pattern Beta-Four," Asil replied instantly. She remembered that programmed sequence as one of the most aggressive, and that would be necessary to dissuade their enemies and prove to Starfleet who was operating the Prometheus.

"Specify target."

Both holograms preempted her command. "Romulans!"

The four subsections whirled around, targeting the warbirds, weapons firing. One directly hit a warbird in a weak spot, apparently taking them aback.

"Bulls-eye!" Mark 2 crowed triumphantly. "The warbirds are in retreat! Doctor, Lieutenant, we've done it!" He stood on the bridge, puffed up with pride. "Two holograms and one Lieutenant, alone. Romulans on one side, Starfleet on the other. Alarms beeping everywhere!"

"EMH Mark 2," Mark 1 chimed in, "newborn but filled with courage."

"EMH Mark 1," Mark 2 took it up again, "armed with years of experience."

"And a Vulcan Lieutenant," Mark 1 added, favoring her with a gentle smile, the first she'd seen from him, "inexperienced in deep space missions but more knowledgeable about the ship than either of the others. Together they emerged triumphant."

"The end," Mark 2 finished, just as several alarms beeped. "Or not."

Two figures began to materialize on the bridge, weapons drawn. Asil put her hand on her weapon but didn't draw it. She could see even as they began to materialize that they were Starfleet, most likely Starfleet security, and she had no desire to provoke them. They were only armed because they had no idea what they would find.

It was Mark 1 who spoke first. "Welcome to the Prometheus, gentlemen. It's about time."

They seemed to realize they were among friends; their weapons came down and their defensive postures were relaxed. The superior of the two, a Lieutenant Commander, turned to her. "Report, Lieutenant."

"The crew is dead, sir," she replied somberly, "myself excluded. The ship is substantially damaged. The Romulan insurgents are in the brig."

His eyes darted to the two Doctors, and she hastened to explain. "Holograms. This one," she nodded towards Mark 2, "is this ship's Emergency Medical Hologram. And this Emergency Medical Hologram," she indicated Mark 1, "claims to have been transmitted onto this ship from a Starfleet ship lost in the Delta Quadrant."

He looked at Mark 1, skepticism written all over his face. "That's quite a distance to get lost over."

"We were pulled into the Delta Quadrant four years ago by an alien entity. Captain Janeway made the decision -"

"Janeway?" Asil interrupted before she could stop herself. "The Starship Voyager?"

"That's right." Mark 1 nodded.

"What can you tell me about Voyager, Lieutenant?" the Commander asked.

"The starship Voyager last made contact with Starfleet on Stardate 48315.6 before entering the Badlands in pursuit of a Maquis ship that had also disappeared, which was carrying a Starfleet operative." Considering that nearly all the Maquis were dead thanks to the Dominion's alliance with Cardassia, this information was no longer considered classified. "It was classified as missing after failing to return to base or report in after its scheduled mission time elapsed. Fourteen months ago, after all searches failed, Voyager was classified as officially lost, and the entire crew as dead."

The commander turned back to Mark 1. "But you're saying that rather than being destroyed, this alien entity pulled Voyager into the Delta Quadrant."

"That's right."

"For what purpose?"

"I'm not entirely sure. No one thought to share those exact details with me. I believe, however, that it had something to do with trying to find a compatible mate to reproduce. We've been trying to get home ever since."

"Doctor," Asil drew his focus back to herself, "what of the Maquis ship they were pursuing? Were they also drawn into the Delta Quadrant?"

He nodded. "After the Maquis ship was destroyed, Captain Janeway merged the ship's crew with her own. Com - Chakotay, the Maquis ship's captain, became her first officer after Commander Cavit was killed when the ship was first transported to the Delta Quadrant. In fact, my own initial activation was under similar circumstances, when the medical staff were killed by an explosion during the same transition. I can tell you the names of Voyager's crew at this time, as well as the times and methods of death of anyone who has at any time been a member of the crew."

Asil heard all of this, but she didn't fully take in all of it. Her mind was still processing his point about Chakotay being appointed first officer, and she hadn't missed that the EMH had started to refer to him as "Commander". Had Captain Janeway done that in order to facilitate the integration of the Maquis - or had she done it because there was no other viable candidate?

She was saved from having to find a way to pose this question by the junior Security officer. "Why promote a Maquis captain above one of her own people?"

"Commander Chakotay was a respected member of Starfleet before he resigned." Mark 1's voice had taken on a slightly defensive edge. "Captain Janeway believed that promoting him to first officer would create the sense of a unified crew - when the crews first joined, tensions were at a maximum."

That failed to answer her true question.

The Commander turned to his junior officer. "Notify Starfleet Command." As he continued to rattle off orders, Asil pulled Mark 1 aside.

"Doctor, I must ask you something."

He took a long look at her. "Fire away."

She raised her eyebrow a little at the human expression but decided not to argue on semantics. "My father was a member of Voyager's crew when I last had contact with him. I must know if he is alive."

He glanced at her, and a look of realization came across his face. "You're Commander Tuvok's daughter?"

"Lieutenant," she corrected almost automatically.

"Not anymore." He smiled widely. "I suppose that answers your question."

It took all of her self-control not to laugh in sheer relief - or cry, she wasn't sure which. As it was, she knew she was smiling. "I am glad to hear it."

"Lieutenant."

Asil looked up and then left the EMH to join the Commander. "Sir?"

"We're transmitting Voyager's EMH to Starfleet Command. The Prometheus will be remaining here until he's done so we can send him back, and then will probably have to be towed back to base. I know you were due back today. We can't quite do that, but the Ulysses is on her way back to Earth and should be there in thirty-eight hours. You're welcome to go aboard."

She nodded. "Thank you." She turned back to the EMH. "Thank you, Doctor."

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"You really should grow your hair out longer."

Tasha batted Lwaxana Troi's hands away from her head. "It's impractical for a Security Chief. In any case, I haven't had long hair since I was five. It would be weird to grow it back now. It looks fine."

"Your dress looks nice, in any case."

"I've had it for awhile. Just haven't worn it." The garment had been made for her by the Cardassian tailor Garak as a thank-you gift, but though she had appreciated it she hadn't been able to wear it. Hadn't had a reason to.

"You'll knock your Mr. Data dead." Lwaxana smoothed Tasha's skirt down. "What if we curled your hair?"

She ran her fingers through her shoulder-length blond hair. "You think it would look all right?"

"Only one way to find out. If it doesn't we can wash it out. Do you have any jewelry?"

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Will elbowed Data in the ribs hard enough to leave a bruise on a human body. "Wow. Get a load of that."

Data looked where his friend was looking, and his jaw dropped. "Wow."

"You said it."

Tasha's dress was blue and fell below her knees, though it didn't touch her ankles. It was a medium-blue color with thin straps and an open back down to almost her waist. The skirt moved around her legs in a rippling motion. The neckline was low enough to show a little of her breasts while not revealing so much as to be indecent. Her hair curled above her shoulders. She was wearing flat sandals of the same color and a silver necklace with a small blue stone. Her face was made up.

"How's she doing?"

"Hmm?" Data had to tear his eyes away from his fiancee to answer his Best Man's question. "She is disappointed. She is not much for image, but I know she wanted to see Asil as her Maid of Honor."

Geordi never entirely took his eyes off of the lining up of the wedding party, and more specifically Leah who was standing with the party to keep her son from running amok. Even though he couldn't see her in the traditional sense, he couldn't stop looking at her.

Picard stepped up beside Data. "Are we ready to begin?"

"I believe -"but his attention was drawn by chaos a few dozen meters away. "What is happening?"

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Asil heard the party before she saw it. Lots of voices, music. She had never attended a "rehearsal dinner" before, but from what she saw it was another party before the even larger party she understood was to come after the wedding.

"Who are you?"

Asil stopped, turning to face a flamboyantly-dressed Betazoid woman. "Lieutenant Asil, Starfleet Engineering Corps. And you?"

"Lwaxana Troi, daughter of the Fifth House, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed, and holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx."

Asil wasn't well caught up on Betazoid tradition, but she could tell from the woman's behavior that this was something that would resonate on the woman's homeworld. "Do you know the location of Admiral Paris? I have an important message to deliver to him."

Lwaxana took Asil's shoulders as if to steer her away. "This really isn't a good time."

"This is important," she protested, stepping out of the Betazoid's grip but not raising her voice at all. "I believe he will want to hear this, regardless of the time."

"What's going on up here?" Another woman joined the two. "Who are you?"

Asil got the sense that she would be answering this question a lot until she finally found someone she'd met before. "Lieutenant Asil, Starfleet Engineering Corps. I am attempting to find Admiral Paris."

Her face took on a pained look. "Would you mind terribly coming back later? This is an important moment for my son, I'd really rather not interrupt it."

It took only this small context clue for Asil to be able tell who she was; Juliana Tainer, who had helped Dr. Soong create Data. Tasha had mentioned the scientist in one of her letters. "I am afraid this is important."

By now, a small crowd had formed, though no one Asil recognized. Everyone was in formal civilian wear. For a few moments, she wondered if she was inappropriately dressed for this event.

Then she finally saw a familiar face. Julia Paris seemed to recognize her too; at any rate, her near-sprint came to a full stop. "Oh, it's you."

"Mrs. Paris. It is imperative that I speak with you, your husband, and your daughters immediately."

She looked taken aback but recovered quickly. "Of course. But I think -"

"Asil!" The shriek cut across the crowd, who parted to let the bride-to-be come hurtling through and embrace the young Vulcan almost hard enough to knock her over.

Asil returned the hug reservedly, but not coldly. "I need to speak with you as well. I come with important news."

By this point, basically the entire crowd was gathered around. Tasha spotted Data and flagged him down. "I'm sorry to ask this, but can we hold for a few minutes? This sounds important."

Data (bless him) didn't ask questions or object. "Of course. I will inform the Captain."

She threw her arms around him, kissing him firmly on the mouth. "God, I love you."

He smiled in response. "I will be waiting."

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"All right, what's going on?"

Tasha and the four Parises had hastily gathered in the house's living room. Asil faced all of them. "I have news to deliver. Important news." She met Julia's eyes. "It concerns your son."

She gasped, and Tasha saw tears in her eyes. "Tom? Is he -" She gulped. "Is it true? Is my boy dead?" A sob escaped her, and she gripped her husband's hand. His eyes were glittering too.

"No," she answered frankly, and everyone gasped so sharply Tasha was surprised there was air left to breathe. "Tom Paris is alive."

"How?" Moira demanded. "Where?"

"Voyager was dragged into the Delta Quadrant by an alien entity that was not able to return them. They have been on a return journey ever since. They sent their emergency medical hologram to the Prometheus by way of a sensor net three days ago to make contact with Starfleet." She turned to the Admiral. "The detailed report will be given to you when you next report to work. This was merely a message given to you as a person with a direct interest."

She faced the whole room now. "Starfleet requests that you not share this information until Voyager's situation is publicly announced so that the families of the dead can be informed before the news becomes public."

"No, of course we won't say anything." Julia gave a soft gasp. Tears were running down her face. "Thank you."

Julia embraced her husband, and both of their daughters joined them, giving Asil a chance to pull Tasha aside. "I have an additional message for you." She looked down for a moment before admitting, "I am not supposed to tell you this, but I believe you have a right to know in a way Starfleet would not understand. The Maquis ship that they were pursuing encountered the same entity, and her crew was merged with Voyager's."

"Our father?" she asked eagerly, completely understanding what her sister was getting at, praying silently that it wasn't bad news. As well as she could read people, and as well as she knew the other girl, the Vulcan stoicism could still throw her, and there was a chance Asil could be concealing bad news without giving a hint of it on her face.

"Alive and well," she replied, and Tasha nearly wept with relief. "And promoted to Lieutenant Commander."

She nodded again and smiled. "That's good to hear."

Asil looked down briefly again. "I believe, under the circumstances, that if you wanted to tell your future husband, it would be, how do you say, close enough?"

Tasha smiled even more broadly. "Let's go get you dressed."

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"Where are we going?" Tasha said for what felt like the hundredth time.

But Deanna continued to tug at her hand. "You'll see. Come on."

Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, she allowed Deanna to pull her up yet another flight of stairs to the top floor of the house. She stopped at a door Tasha knew led to a large room that usually became the children's playroom at Christmas. "Why are we up here again?"

Without answering, Deanna tapped on the door. It was Julia's voice than answered. "Come in!"

Deanna slid the door open and pushed Tasha in ahead of her. She had only a moment to take in the decorated room before several people yelled "surprise!" and confetti was thrown in her face.

Tasha stumbled backwards in surprise. "What - what's this?" Brushing the confetti out of her eyes, she could see that a multitude of people were assembled there; Julia, Lwaxana, Beverly, Jenna, Juliana, Lal, Keiko O'Brien with Molly on her lap, her grandmother, Kate, Moira, and Kathleen. Asil stood off to one side, as quiet and unemotional as ever. "What's going on here?"

"It's a bridal shower, of course!" Deanna's eyes were glittering. "You didn't think we'd let you get married without one, did you?"

Multiple questions rushed through her mind. The one that came to her lips first was "Where's Data?"

"Don't worry," Jadzia assured her. "The guys have him. They're throwing him a party of their own. Now come on, come open your presents."

"Presents?" Tasha hadn't even noticed the pile of gifts on a table. Deanna and Jadzia all but dragged her over to it, and the others gathered around.

"All right." She picked up one at random. "Who's this one from?"

"Me!" Molly raised her hand, jumping up and down.

Tasha smiled. "Well, okay then."

She removed from the box a pair of teddy bears, magnetically connected at the lips. Keiko smiled a little apologetically. "I wasn't sure it was appropriate, but she found it in the replicator files and couldn't be talked out of it."

But Tasha was grinning. "No, no, I love it!"

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By the time she had finished, she had accumulated a rather substantial pile of gifts, from a collection of floral fragrances from Keiko, ever the botanist, to a set of family heirloom candlesticks from her grandmother, to a collection of genuine hardcover books from Asil, who had clearly been let in on the plan at some point, though how she'd found time to replicate them without Tasha noticing only she knew.

The party had gone on for over three hours before it broke up. As the rest of the guests left, Lwaxana pulled Tasha aside, waiting until she was the only person in the room before handing her a small wrapped package.

"Don't think I'd forgotten about you. Something to wear with that beautiful wedding dress."

She slid the paper off and revealed a small jewelry box. Inside was a silver necklace with a pennant containing a small crystal. It was pretty, but nothing special, certainly not what she'd come to expect from such a woman, and nothing that merited been given apart from the other gifts.

"It's very nice. Thank you."

But Lwaxana was beaming. "It's a new sort of Betazoid technology. Press the crystal."

Slightly baffled now, she pressed the small center crystal with her index finger. An image appeared, floating above the pennant. The image of a baby.

Tasha hadn't seen this particular image in years, but it was one she could never forget. A lump rose to her throat, and she swiped at the tears in her eyes. "How...?"

"As I said," she replied gently, "a new technology. It integrates with the telepathic centers of a Betazoid's brain, and transcribes specific images into holograms. It's still in its early stages, but I thought this was quite a successful test, don't you?"

Tasha couldn't speak. She just stared at the tiny picture, revolving slowly in her hand.

Lwaxana's hand cupped over hers, lifting the box out of her hand and carefully clipping the chain around her neck. "Now you can keep her close to your heart."

She threw her arms around the older woman's neck, embracing her tightly. "Thank you. Thank you so much."

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"Well, Doctor?"

The entire senior staff was staring at their holographic friend, waiting to hear the details of his latest away mission. He had told the Captain that he had spoken to Starfleet and relayed the official message, but as soon as word got out that he had said something about Romulans, the crew demanded more. As usual, he was more than happy to oblige.

"The computer told me the entire crew was dead," he said, enjoying having them hanging on his every word. "My fellow EMH wasn't being very cooperative. Then the Sickbay hatch opened..." he paused for effect.

"A Romulan?" Neelix gasped.

"No," he replied, relishing the looks on their faces. "A member of the crew."

"But you said they were all dead," Harry Kim reminded him.

"No, Ensign," Tuvok corrected. "The computer sensors were not able to detect living Starfleet crew. A highly competent officer who managed to escape an initial battle could also find a way to make themselves undetectable to the sensors."

The Doctor nodded, wondering what Tuvok would say when he realized who that "highly competent officer" was. "Precisely so. This particular crewmember was Vulcan, and had set her combadge to emit a distortion signal, causing the computer to misread her as Romulan."

"Genius," B'Elanna breathed. "Engineer?"

"Exactly. She helped us work out a plan to take down the Romulans - my idea, really." He puffed up with pride. "We anesthetized the entire ship, while she used an oxygen mask to prevent herself from experiencing the effects. Then we beamed them all into the brig and purged the environmental system." He paused for a moment before admitting, "That last part was her idea. Then we managed to get the ship stopped, but we were attacked by another party of Romulans, and then by Starfleet ships that thought the ship was under Romulan control. We - she - managed to activate a particular defensive system and attack the Romulans, which convinced Starfleet that we were on their side."

"Sounds like you got lucky," Tom commented. "Who was this mysterious engineer out of nowhere anyway?"

"Well, I suppose I should have realized. It's perfectly clear in hindsight."

"Doctor, you have failed to answer the question," Tuvok pointed out. "Who was she?"

He turned to Tuvok with a beaming smile. "Your daughter."

Next chapter, we finally get the official wedding! But one person's life just got a lot more complicated. Guesses will be appreciated but not confirmed or denied except by the chapter. (If the one reviewer I've discussed my plans with could please not use the review feature to blow the surprise so it can be a legitimate surprise for everyone else, that would be much appreciated.) Also, the Doctor and Tuvok have a conversation.

Please review.