A/N - Hi guys, I know I shouldn't need to include this now, but this is an ACMSES fic. You might want to start at the beginning, else you might get a little confused. But hey, you might end up liking it as it stands.
Canon chronology sets this fic just following the episode "Timeless" in Season 5.
ACMSES chronology sets this fic prior to "Insert Complicated Plot Twist Here"
These author's notes wouldn't be complete without a special thank you to Aliso, who wrote several large chunks of this for me, and works tirelessly as my wonderful beta.
Insert Insane Holodeck Invasion Here
Agent Examination: 11:00 British Time.
Agents Invigilating: Michael & Tash
Robert read the sign that had been put up in Rhia's kitchen as he sat with Alice for breakfast. He was decidedly nervous about the impending exam. Alice had drilled a lot of information into him over the previous month, and he only hoped he could remember it all.
"You're going to be okay, Robert." Alice patted her charge on the arm. She tried to make her voice sound positive and enthusiastic, but she, like Robert, had noticed the name of the agent in charge of the exam. While Michael had slowly warmed to the former Stu's presence in the Library, there was something about him that made Robert nervous. Alice hoped that he would be able to put the nerves behind him during the exam.
Robert looked up from his peanut butter on toast. He was slightly pale. "I hope so. Do we get to take the test again if we fail?"
Alice didn't have an answer for him. Fortunately, Louise entered the kitchen at that time, unconsciously saving her friend from having to lie to Robert.
"Hey guys!" she greeted them both with a morning hug.
"Good morning Louise," Robert gasped as his friend released him.
"Dumpling!" Alice gave Louise a giant glomp, almost picking the elder agent off her feet.
"Allie…" Louise's breath was short. "I can't breathe…"
"Sowwy," Alice returned to her seat as Louise collected a box of cereal, some milk and a spoon from around the kitchen.
Sitting down with her breakfast, she looked up at Robert.
"You're nervous," she said bluntly. "I can tell."
"He'll be fine," Alice interrupted, wrapping her arms around Robert's waist even as he blushed scarlet.
"Oh, of course he'll be fine," Louise turned to look at the sign announcing the examination. "Who's the agent in…" she cut herself off as she read Michael's name. "Robert," her voice was bright as she made her face relax, "Michael will treat you like he would any potential recruit. Harriet will rake him over the coals if he doesn't."
Robert didn't too convinced as he finished his toast.
The sound of footsteps caught all three friends' attention as Rhia turned the corner into her kitchen.
"Oh, hi guys," she greeted in surprise. "You're all up early for a Saturday."
"Couldn't sleep…" Robert mumbled.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Lou…" she turned to Louise. "I've been meaning to take some leave but I didn't really want a trip back home. Any ideas?"
Before Louise could speak, Alice cut in. "You had a break when we went camping."
"Yes, but lying on the hard earth in a thin sleeping bag is not relaxing. Besides, the cold played havoc with my knee."
"How about a fandom then?" Louise suggested. "What kind of things would you like to go to?"
"Well, I have always wanted to go into one of the Star Trek fandoms, you know…" she said, "to see what their version of the holodeck is like and such."
"How about Star Trek: Voyager?" Louise commented.
"Now there's an idea," Alice put in. "But you couldn't have a relaxing time on your own, Rhia. Lou and I could come with you?"
Louise looked from Alice, to Rhia and then onto Robert.
"But Alice… Robert's exam."
"Don't worry about me, Louise," Robert patted his friend on the back. "You three go and have fun."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course… go!"
"Yes sir," Louise joked, and Robert grinned at her. Rhia watched the exchange with mild interest. Alice, missing everything, bounced down from her stool.
"Okay then," she seized Louise by the hand, "let's go pack!"
"Pack? Pack what?"
Captain's Log: Stardate 52749.2
Following the successful use of the transwarp coil, I have ordered the crew to take some R&R over the next few days. While the fact that we are fifteen years closer to the Alpha Quadrant has filled them with celebratory spirit, I am ever aware that the journey is far from over.
The general hubbub of the mess hall mingled with the occasional beeps from the replicators, not to mention Voyager's resident cook's stories as to the origin of today's unusual meal.
Louise, Rhia and Alice were all dressed smartly in Starfleet uniform to blend in. Alice and Louise both wore the teal-coloured shoulders, and Rhia the gold. The three sat around one of the corner tables, out of the way of the main thoroughfare that was the mess hall after the day shift.
"Well," Louise looked at the concoction before her. It was a random collection of pasta with some form of meat. Neelix, the Talaxian cook, had explained that the meat was from a small animal that populated a number of planets within the local systems, although to Louise and Rhia, who had both been brave enough to try Neelix's invention, it looked like overcooked beef.
"Well what?" Alice asked, as once again, Louise had lost her train of thought.
"We're here," Louise grinned.
"Yes…" Rhia was picking at her pasta with her fork.
"Alice, are you going to eat anything?" Louise looked pointedly at the empty space before her friend.
Alice looked over at the kitchen area. Neelix was behind the stoves once more as a new wave of crewmen entered.
"What'll it be?" he asked. "Angla'bosque? Frilled-eel stew?" He served up a handful of dishes to the newly arrived crewmembers, before returning to the pantry. The new arrivals settled themselves around the various seats in the messhall, as Louise turned to Alice.
"Well, you going to get something to eat?" she asked.
Alice looked at the random pots on the hob. Knowing how randomly Voyager's resident chef's food was, she was very hesitant about eating it. Louise and Rhia had been brave, and were now tucking into what looked like a mixture of lamb stew and a green salad. Alice's face fell on the concoction, and it screwed up into a disgusted expression.
"I'm not eating that!" Alice complained.
"Then you will have to go to the replicator then," Louise said, rolling her eyes between mouthfuls. The food wasn't too bad, she thought. True, it wasn't the nicest meal to look at; and there were several very bizarre ingredients; but it tasted all right.
"Can I have your attention please?" Neelix called from the edge of the kitchen. He was addressing the entire room. The crewmembers all looked up, and the Society agents followed suit. "I'd like to bring your attention to the Velocity tournament that is going to take place on the holodeck this afternoon. If you want to take part, please give me your names before you return to your duties."
A hubbub of conversation started up in the room, and a number of the more agile members of the crew gave their names to Neelix.
"You know," Louise whispered to the pair, "the captain is a very good Velocity player."
This was all the incentive that the three agents needed. Louise and Rhia tucked into their food, while Alice looked up hungrily.
"Well, I'll catch up with you guys later," Alice called to her friends, getting to her feet. "I'm going to find a replicator." She wove her way past all the tables and left the messhall, missing the pair of machines on either side of the door.
"She just walked past them," Louise commented to Rhia, "didn't she?"
"Where is she?" Rhia hissed under her breath as she and Louise took their seats on the holodeck. Alice had not been seen since leaving the messhall, and both her friends were now getting a little unsettled by it.
"I hope she hasn't gotten herself lost," Louise replied.
The two continued to chat about where Alice could have gotten to until they were interrupted by various Starfleet personnel shuffled along their row, and soon they found themselves surrounded by other spectators. In the row in front of them, young Naomi Wildman sat, waiting to cheer on her friend, Seven of Nine.
The holodeck slowly filled up, and still there was no sign of Alice, but as the first game got under way, Louise and Rhia were swept up in the excitement of the event. Their missing comrade drifted from their minds.
"Two games to zero; winner – Kathryn Janeway!" the computer announced the winner of the semi-final a couple of hours later. Lieutenant Ayala shook hands with his captain, as the next pair of semi-finalists walked onto the playing area.
Seven of Nine was dressed in a full one-piece body suit of bright blue, and her opponent, Ensign Lang, was dressed in a sleeveless golden shirt. No-one in the crowd held out much genuine hope for Ensign Lang; Seven's visual skills were significantly higher than the average human, but they all cheered for her anyway.
The game started, and the silver flying holographic disc whizzed around the room. The crowd ducked as it skimmed over their heads, flashing between yellow and blue. The two competitors spun around, phasers in hand, tracking the disc waiting for it to fix on one colour.
As it flashed over Louise and Rhia's head, the disc fixed on blue, and Seven fired and hit it, causing the disc to change to yellow, and head straight for Ensign Lang.
The young ensign fired, catching the edge of the disc, making it spin across the floor, turning it blue. Seven dove out of the way and the disc smashed into the floor behind her. She twisted around, and fired. The disc turned yellow again.
Lang was not as much of a pushover as the crowd had assumed, and she forced Seven into a deciding third round before the former drone dug the disc from the far corner of the holodeck, turning it from blue to yellow. Ensign Lang didn't have time to react, and the holographic disc impacted on her upper arm.
"Hit!" the computer announced. "Winner, by two games to one, Seven of Nine."
The crowd exploded into applause as Lang shook hands with the victor.
"The final will be between Captain Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine," the computer reported.
Ensign Lang collapsed into a seat in the stands as the finalists walked onto the playing area. Janeway had changed her top, and was now looking freshened up from the semi-finals.
The holographic disc reappeared. Three beeps sounded, and the disc began to fly around the room again. Janeway and Seven followed it like hawks.
The walls of the holodeck suddenly flashed.
"What the…" Louise started as the holodeck around her began to warp and shift. She and Rhia looked around. They were not the only people concerned. All the Starfleet personnel around her were beginning to comment.
Down on the Velocity field, the two competitors stopped as their holographic target fizzled into nothingness. Janeway, dressed in red, held her phaser tight in her hand.
"Stay calm people," she called to the watching crowd. She was trying to take control of the situation.
Suddenly the stands where the audience had been sitting vanished, and the crowd dropped several feet to the floor. Louise and Rhia landed with them, the former landing inelegantly on her back.
"Lou?" Rhia asked.
"I'm okay," the elder agent climbed to her feet. Around them, the holodeck continued to warp.
Janeway tapped her combadge. "Janeway to the bridge."
There was no response.
"Janeway to Chakotay?"
When the warping of the holodeck stopped, Louise and Rhia stared at each other incredulously. The group of Starfleet personnel, along with the two agents of the Society, were now standing in a perfect replication of…
"It's the Library," Louise muttered.
"Have these people not heard of aesthetics?" Alice wondered aloud as she stood at the beginning of the endless corridor, stretching out in front of her and gently curving away to the right, punctuated occasionally by a door, a panel or a support.
She realised now that she had no idea of where everything was on this ship, and she gravitated towards one of those panels. Touching it, the public root menu came up as it would for anyone on board who didn't possess command clearance, and after examining the varying access options, she found something called 'base schematics' which she hoped was a map.
As Alice was studying the panel, a young Science officer strolled past, humming quietly, her marble-like black eyes scanning her padd and her powerful mind casting a mental net of vague awareness around her. She was a Betazoid, the only one now on board Voyager.
She barely even noticed the crewman to one side of the corridor – until her mental grid brushed over the innocuous scene.
It wasn't a pleasant feedback.
The Betazoid leapt to the other side of the corridor with a yelp, dropping her padd and staring at the crewman. She wasn't anyone she recognised; the young human woman had jumped and put her hand to her head, only just noticing there was someone else and had begun to turn around. Almost instinctively the Betazoid's mind touched hers again and she recoiled, reeling it back in furiously.
"Sorry, excuse me…" she gabbled, scrabbling for her padd and legging it for the turbolift.
The cylindrical space felt refreshing after the soreness she had experienced in the corridor. She gasped for air before calming down and brushing her hair back into place.
After a moment, she glanced to the ceiling. "Computer, locate Commander Tuvok…"
The computer paused briefly, but replied. "Commander Tuvok is in Cargo Bay One."
She nodded. "Deck four."
The turbolift stuttered a bit – she frowned slightly – but then hummed its way downwards. Its doors opened and she set off at a run towards the cargo bay – practically colliding with the tall Vulcan in the middle of the passageway.
"Commander!" she gasped.
Tuvok coolly held the Betazoid upright by the shoulders and spoke calmly. "Ensign Jarot, why are you running in the corridors?"
The tale fell out in a rush. "There's someone on Deck two. Someone or something, I don't know. She – oh God, it hurts to just walk past her! It – "
Jarot looked up as he raised his voice slightly.
"Are you trying to tell me that there is an intruder on Deck two?"
She nodded furiously. "She – "
"Ah – " He held up a finger. "Remain calm, Ensign. Think about what you are trying to say."
Jarot closed her eyes, trying to get her rushing thoughts into coherent sentences. "I'm a Betazoid. We're very telepathic. I'm always casting my mind out to receive, and pick up surface thoughts – it's something we have to learn to control as children." He knew this already, but nodded as describing the reason behind her undue panic was calming her. "I came across a woman on Deck two, just passed her – and – I know you don't appreciate simile, Commander, but just an automatic touch of minds – it, it was like walking into a thorn bush!"
"Attempting to read this woman's mind produces a painful feedback?"
More furious nods. "Yessir. And it's not like trying to read a Ferengi. That's like trying to read a plank of wood. This hurt."
"Hmm." He considered the potential threat level is this supposed intruder carefully. He signalled to a nearby security team who fell in behind him. "Come along, Ensign. Describe her for me."
As she followed him back towards the turbolift, she rattled off what she saw: "Medium-height, a bit weighty, long wavy brown hair, eye-glasses, and wearing a blue Starfleet uniform."
Tuvok called for further assistance, preparing to face the intruder. He tried contacting the captain to inform her of the development, but she didn't reply; he thought this slightly odd, as unless she was actively playing Velocity at that very moment she would have responded, and even then she would have called back after a few minutes. But he was resolute; anything that had such an effect on a telepath had to be contained quickly.
Meanwhile, Alice had walked the entire ring of Deck two, and had finally found her replicators: right in the entrance to the mess hall. Fuming, she ordered a carton of good old macaroni-and-cheese, sat down to devour it, relaxed for a moment and then resumed her wandering of the corridor, wondering how to get down to the holodeck to go and join Louise and Rhia. She hoped she hadn't missed too much of the tournament. She sauntered towards that panel with the map again, hoping the holodeck was easier to find than the replicators.
However, before she could get that far, a pair of security officers came striding down the corridor in the other direction. Alice instinctively slid to the wall to allow them to pass, but as they spotted her, they drew their phasers and began to advance on her.
She backpedalled slowly, looking over her shoulder – but behind her came more security, including none other than the Chief of Security himself. The woman with the dark eyes that had passed her earlier was next to him.
Alice, rather stupidly, jerked to one side and prepared to run – but Tuvok was already reading her movements, and calmly intoned "Computer, erect a level five force field between sections nineteen and twenty of Deck two." Immediately two silvery invisible walls lifted from two of the corridor supports, which Alice ran straight into…
Shuddering, she withdrew, pressing herself into the real wall; three of the security officers were within the field with her, and they quickly surrounded her. She was beginning to panic – the last time she had been surrounded by soldiers had not ended well for her – and refused their soft demand to surrender quietly. They grabbed hold of her before she could make another move, pinning her arms behind her back.
Tuvok, satisfied that the intruder had been secured, ordered the computer to lower the force fields. He approached Alice, held by two guards with the third holding his phaser on her still. Alice swallowed; he was only slightly intimidating, not only for the fact that she barely came halfway up his chest.
"Who are you," he said, with his usual cool composure, "and what are you doing on Voyager?"
She struggled wildly, wincing as he approached.
"Since you are quite clearly not co-operating, I have no choice but to have you taken to the brig." He nodded to the trio of security guards, and hauling on Alice's arms, they frogmarched her towards the nearest turbolift.
Ensign Jarot rubbed her head now that the odd feelings were gone. Tuvok tried once more to contact his superior.
"Tuvok to Captain Janeway." No response. "Tuvok to Captain Janeway, I apologise if you are in the middle of a game, but we have an urgent situation. Please respond."
And finally, he got a reply.
"I'm sorry, she's unavailable at the moment! Can I take a message? Tee hee hee!"
Tuvok whipped his combadge off his uniform shirt and narrowed his eyes. Jarot stared at it, shocked at the high-pitched voice that had issued from it.
"Perhaps we have a bigger problem than we thought…"
"Computer, arch!" Janeway commanded, but nothing happened. "Computer, exit!" she tried again, but still to no avail.
Unlike normal people, Starfleet personnel did not usually succumb to panic, and so the majority of those in red, yellow and blue in the holographic Library were now looking to their captain for guidance.
"Seven," Janeway turned to her, until recently, opponent. "See if you can find a computer access panel." She turned to the others. "Everyone stay calm."
Louise and Rhia were looking at each other. This was most definitely NOT canon.
"You know," Louise muttered to Rhia as the rest of the crewmembers explored the immediate vicinity, "this doesn't look like any part of the Library that I've been to."
"And yet it's clearly the Library," Rhia agreed. "Maybe it's one of those really weird out of the way areas that only Adrian can find his way back from?"
The crew hadn't been able to find much in the immediate area of the holographic Library besides hundreds upon hundreds of fictional books. Most had taken to sitting on the wooden floors. Little Naomi Wildman had been alternatively lingering by Seven as she worked, or following the captain around like a lost puppy.
"Captain, I am unable to locate the computer access panel, or any reference to there being a world outside of this building," Seven reported a couple of minutes later.
"How about inside one of these rooms?" Janeway suggested, heading for one of the closest of the Library's many doors.
The crew in the holodeck all got to their feet and, as they crowded around the mysterious door, Janeway reached for the handle. Louise and Rhia, despite their concerns, were equally curious and joined the crewmen at the door.
Janeway teased the door open, having learnt from a multitude of away missions never to rush headlong into a room.
All the people looking in the door blinked once. It was a vast expanse of scrubland desert. This was all that they were able to take in, besides the giant mass of black steel that was hurtling towards them. The Captain slammed the door, hardly daring to believe what she had seen.
She peeped around the door again, and true enough, there was a huge black steam train heading right for the entrance. Tracks ran up to the doorframe, but no further. Janeway closed the door again, turning her back on the door.
Louise peered around the edge of the door, and slammed it instantly. The train was getting closer, and this time there was a loud HOOONNK! Unsure of what would happen when the train reached the doorway, she yelled, "Get out of the way!" to the crew.
Rhia blinked; Janeway blinked. What little glamour that Louise and Rhia had managed to stay hidden by collapsed. The Captain turned to the shouter, spotting Louise for the first time.
"You're not a member of my crew; who are you?" she demanded.
"Uh oh," Louise muttered, her eyes flashing between her friend, and one of her fictional idols. Despite being only a fictional being, Louise looked up to Janeway, her strength and what she stood for.
"Well?" the captain asked again, crossing her arms.
"Captain," Louise went to step forward, but Janeway raised her phaser. The Society agent froze. "Captain, my name is Louise, and this is Rhia." Louise pointed out her friend.
"And what the hell are you doing on my ship, and in Starfleet uniforms?"
The entire collection of the crewmen in the holodeck had now gathered around the intruders. Louise explained, as best as she could, as to why she and Rhia were there. She mentioned nothing about Alice, who for all they knew was still undetected.
It took a lot less time to convince Janeway than Louise would have thought it would, though that was probably helped by the fact that they knew what this place was and they didn't have time to faff when the holodeck was malfunctioning to this extent. Seven and Naomi were a great help. The young girl was intrigued by the prospect of exploring the real version of the Library. The agents didn't have the heart to tell her that Adrian would never allow it. Seven, on the other hand, with her sense of priority, believed their story without question. During her time as a Borg she had experienced a lot of strange things; the story of the Society was just another strange experience.
"So, are you responsible for this?" Janeway gestured to the holographic Library.
"No!" Louise and Rhia answered in unison. Louise took a deep breath. "We don't know what has caused this, but we will help you find out before we leave."
"I have a hunch…" murmured Rhia quietly.
"Let's keep looking through these doors then, people!" Janeway ordered. "We need to find a way out of the holodeck. For all we know, our colleagues outside the holodeck have no knowledge of our predicament."
Louise opened the next door. She dreaded to think what she would find on the other side of the door. She simply saw another Library corridor. Confused, Louise stepped inside, followed by Rhia, Janeway, Seven and Naomi. As the rest of the crew attempted to follow, the captain held up her hand.
"Wait here!" she ordered, and they fell back.
Something was wrong, Louise could feel it. Everything looked familiar, but not in the way that was comfortable. She kept walking though, ever aware that Janeway was with her.
"Ouch!" Louise walked into a solid glass pane, and the others behind her cannoned into her.
"It looks like a take on the old-fashioned hall of mirrors," Janeway suggested.
"Except without the reflective panels," Rhia pointed out.
A high pitched giggle rippled around the holodeck, putting a shiver down the spines of both agents. Louise spun around to look at Rhia.
"Was that who I think it was?" she demanded. Rhia didn't say anything, but she grimaced, and Louise wondered whether Rhia had truly forgiven (a) for her role in assisting Roxelana with the agent's kidnap.
"(a)..." Louise called to the open air. "Is that you?"
"Teeheehee!" the voice tittered again.
"Oh dear," Louise muttered. She turned to Janeway and the others. "Captain, might I suggest we backtrack to the main room?"
Janeway looked as if she was going to protest, but it was at that point that (a) turned off all the lights in the glass maze.
"All right people, back into the main room," she ordered, and the crew gradually extracted themselves and retreated to the relative safety of the main room of the Library.
"Should we try another door?" young Naomi Wildman asked.
"There's one round here, Captain," Ensign Lang, still in her training gear, called as she peered around the edge of a corridor.
Janeway and the others joined her. In fact, there were two doors, one opposite the other.
"Which one?" Naomi asked again.
The captain walked to the door on the right side of the corridor, the crew following like faithful puppies. Opening the door she saw a group of Starfleet personnel gathered around a door on the opposite side of a corridor.
Louise peered over her shoulder and gave a small gasp. The door behind them was open, and she could see the entire group staring back at her. Rhia tapped Louise on the shoulder.
Hmm?" she looked back. Louise's reaction caused the others to look at them again.
"When you turned around, the other person over there…" Rhia pointed towards the new door, "they turned around and it was you."
"Creepy…" Louise murmured. If it hadn't been for the fact that she knew (a) was the one responsible, she would probably have made some sort of inappropriate joke at that point, but (a) scared her.
"Aren't we having fun, little ones?" (a)'s voice trilled through the speakers. "I have a lot more fun games to play!"
Janeway looked quizzically through the speakers, then heard the sighs of both Louise and Rhia. "You know what that is, don't you?"
They both nodded.
"I think an explanation might be a good idea…"
First Officer's Log: Stardate 52749.5
The Captain and a number of the crew have been trapped in the holodeck, and we have an unexplained visitor on board – not to mention the numerous computer malfunctions that have plagued the ship today. I intend to question the young woman held in our Brig in the hope of finding some answers.
"Good luck," came a likeness of the computer's voice, but it wasn't her. The voice was higher pitched, much more mocking. "She won't tell you anything."
"Who's there?" Chakotay demanded, aghast at being interrupted.
The voice giggled.
"Computer, who has gotten into your programming?"
"Damn you, whoever you are! I will find it out, and then there will be…" Chakotay regained his composure before he could finish his sentence. He took a deep breath, and spoke again.
"Computer, delete last sentence."
Meanwhile, back in the Library…
"We had how many?"
"Dear God, that has to be the worst applicant rate we've had for months!"
"…it was five, Tash, but through our usual crazy attrition…"
Tash sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. "What happened…"
"Well," Michael began, counting on his fingers, "one fled in utter terror through no fault of our own; Adrian's gone to try and find him again. The second fell afoul of Shirley; the third fainted with happiness when they saw Nixie; and the fourth sank to their knees and begged for mercy when I gave my no-nonsense 'what the hell you're letting yourself in for' speech…"
"I thought we were going to tone those down?" groaned Tash.
"We did." Michael grinned wryly.
"So who's the one left?" she asked, peering through the small window in the door to the reading room where the applicants had initially met up. "Or needn't I ask…immersion in our insanity seems to have worked. I wonder…"
Michael left Tash to ponder while he pushed open the door. Inside the reading room was the last remaining applicant: Robert.
After witnessing all four failures before the test had even begun, Robert himself was beginning to feel in over his head. But the useless limbo he had gone through over the last several months of his probation had grated terribly and the chance to finally be of use again was certainly one to jump at.
He rose to his feet as the Chief Agent stood in the doorway and beckoned silently. Gingerly he stepped out of the reading room and allowed himself to be led to the nearby classroom, where row after row of desks were kept set up; most of the room was useless now only one desk would be occupied. A small group of Litwicks sat on one of the shelves that made up two of the classroom's walls, and they shuffled along and cheeped at Robert as he came into their view.
"All right," said Michael, returning to the desk at the head of the room. His voice retained a sharp terseness. "Since there's only you, we don't need Tash to invigilate as well. The test paper's on your desk; the instructions are on the front; it's just like any normal exam. You ready?"
The vast majority of the people who took the Society's entrance examination were all drearily used to the experience of large, draughty halls, silence save for pen scratching and the horrible moment where all the knowledge has fled their mind. They all had been taking tests from the age of ten. Robert had never sat an exam in his whole life, but while he was unsettled he was much older than ten and knew the hour would pass quicker than he might think. So, calmly, he replied to his invigilator: "Yes sir."
"Good. Your time starts…now."
The Commander was not in a good mood.
He entertained a few wandering thoughts of wringing this voice's neck, before he forced himself back onto the matter at hand. There was some annoying computer virus in the holodeck that had not responded – or more accurately, responded mockingly – to B'Elanna's increasingly angry attempts to wipe it. This virus had locked down several key systems. And now there was at least one unco-operative intruder on Voyager who was bound to be related somehow to these issues.
He had perused the report the Doctor had made after he had paid the prisoner a short visit. Nothing was immediately alarming, but almost everything raised a multitude of questions. She had made a good impression with the hologram, being polite and answering his enquiries while still being recalcitrant on certain details. But the medical exam and bloodwork study had proved concerning. A chemical had been found permeating her bloodstream, and was identified as 'sodium valproate'; the Doctor had gone through his database, discovering it was an archaic drug once used to treat epilepsy. There were also some highly unusual antibodies that matched nothing they had ever seen before, and that wasn't counting other antibodies for diseases that just didn't exist any more.
She had been in the brig for around two hours – about the time that the tournament started and communication was lost with the holodeck – but time dragged terribly there. It was time to question her. Chakotay tried to rein in his rage and not take it out on her – she had looked somewhat terrified at being caught, after all – but he didn't know if he could manage to stay civil.
Beside him strode the reassuring stoic Vulcan. Tuvok had his own doubts about the young woman, but wisely said nothing. The two senior staff reached the brig, nodding to the young crewman on guard. The prisoner sat on the bench in her cell, her head in her hands and looking some way between bored and worried.
It took Alice a few moments to realise that a couple of the main characters were looming over her, but her jaded foot-scuffing stopped and her gaze locked onto them. Chakotay came to a halt in front of the cell's aperture, studying their prisoner; Tuvok exchanged reports in a low voice with the guard and glanced at the box containing all her belongings.
"So," Chakotay began. "Are you feeling in a more co-operative mood now?"
Alice sat up straight and swallowed nervously. "Er…"
The Commander turned to Tuvok. "Tuvok, return to the bridge, and continue all attempts to access the holodeck. Keep an ear out for reports of any other intruders. Keep me appraised of your progress."
"Yes sir." The Vulcan nodded and left.
Chakotay turned slowly, and glared at Alice. "Now, I want answers."
Alice shuffled towards the back of her cell a few feet.
"Firstly, I want to know who you are and how you got aboard this ship. Your name?"
"Er…it's, er…it's Alice. As in, 'In Wonderland'."
"Do you think this is funny?" Chakotay snapped angrily.
"No, not really!" Alice snapped back.
"Then tell me who you are, where you have come from, and what the hell you are doing on this ship!"
Alice trembled slightly. His anger – or even frustration – was almost palpable, and it made the force field flicker. "Don't yell at me!" she shrieked. "I'm not 'DOING' anything here; w – I just came to see what it was like!"
"So you're a spy, then?"
"What? For whom?"
"Oh, I don't know…" Chakotay said sarcastically. "I could name a fair few species who wouldn't mind getting their hands on Voyager's technology…"
"I'm not any of those!" Alice squeaked.
"Then answer my questions!"
Alice shuffled into the corner, pulling her knees up. This circular questioning was beginning to look hopeless already.
"Where are you from?" Chakotay asked again.
"The UK." She thought for a moment, remembering the galaxy-spanning fandom. "You know…"
Alice rolled her eyes slightly. Here we go.
"And just how have you managed to get almost three-quarters of the way across the galaxy?"
"Magic," she said, without thinking.
He sighed angrily. "You know, I would be quite inclined to leave you in here to rot."
"Oh lovely. Thanks a lot," snapped Alice. "I haven't done anything! I'm just here!"
"Look," he said slowly, struggling with ever-building rage. "I have had just about enough of strange occurrence today, what with the holodeck malfunctioned and the computer having a virus…"
"Damn ship falls apart on a weekly bloody basis…" Alice mumbled under her breath, completely missing the mention.
"…I thought that you might be a little more civil."
"ME, more civil? YOU'RE the one threatening me with starvation!"
"Are you going to answer my questions or not?"
Alice desperately wanted to tell him to shove his repetitive questions up his arse, but she dropped her head and sighed.
"So…Alice," Chakotay said, seeing her lift her head at the sound of her name. "How did you get aboard? Was it one of these items?" He walked over to the box and picked up her gadgets one by one. Her goggles he put down despite their interesting controls; her communicator likewise, though it wasn't hard to see what that was. Then he picked up her Plothole generator. "Is this a weapon?"
Well, it did look like a ray gun… alarm came into Alice's voice. "No, it's not, but you really don't want to pull the trigger – "
But he did so anyway, pointing the instrument towards the opposite wall. He jolted with the resultant shock and the sound of a loud raspberry made the guard jump.
"Oh that's right, just ignore me…"
Glaring at the generator, he thrust it back into the box. "So it is a weapon!"
"No! It's not." She thought quickly. "It's like a portable teleporter doobrie. And before you ask, no I don't know how it works, and it shocked you because it's gene-coded to me so only I can use it."
"Interesting…" he mused. "So you teleported onto Voyager?"
Alice sighed. "Magrathea."
"If you don't want to tell me the truth, that's fine by me…" Chakotay started to head for the door.
"Oh for fuck's sake!" Alice cried. If there had been bars on the cell she would have gone to shake them, but as she approached the force field it flickered again and she backed off. "Look, I'm a normal human woman, I come from Earth. I haven't done anything to your pretty little ship and I don't intend to. We just wanted to have a nose around and watch some Velocity."
"We?" He had picked up on that important pronoun easily. "There are others."
"No." Alice's response was too quick.
Narrowing his eyes, Chakotay hit his combadge. "Chakotay to Tuvok, we have at least one more intruder on board. Find them!"
"Yes, Commander," came the reply.
"Shit!" Alice cursed quietly.
He turned back to Alice. "Now, young lady, you will tell me what I want to know, one way or another. How many are there of you? Are you an invasion force?"
Alice had begun to look slightly scared. She could only mumble – but this time she was loud enough for him to hear. "Who would want this bucket of magnesium bolts…"
"Voyager is the most sophisticated ship in the quadrant. I can think of many reasons that someone would want her."
She clammed up, continuing her chuntering silently. "…thinks highly of this thing doesn't he…friggin' shuttle compared to a battle barge, let's see you take on one of those eighteen kilometre monstrosities…"
"Tuvok to Commander Chakotay," came the tinny voice suddenly.
He tapped the badge again, turning to one side. "Chakotay here. Report?"
"There seems to be no sign of uninvited guests aboard. I still have patrols on the decks. If they are here, they may be on the holodeck."
Chakotay's head whipped round to glare at Alice again.
"WHAT!" she snapped.
"That's where your friends are, isn't it? They're responsible for the malfunctions on this ship."
Alice made a strangled noise. "How the ever-living fuck should I know? Contrary to popular belief I am not a mind-reader nor am I omniscient! I don't know why your stupid always-broken useless holodeck has eaten itself. I've been here for hours and you haven't told me jack or shit. So if you want answers off me you need to stop whining that I'm coveting this P-O-S rustbucket shuttle and tell me what's going on!"
There was a tinny sigh from the combadge. Chakotay was going red from rage. "Tuvok, get down here NOW."
He turned back to his hapless prisoner, and she shrank away from anywhere close to the force field.
"Now, we will get to the bottom of this once and for all. I am fed up with your stalling. When Tuvok gets down here I will have him find the correct information from you, and once your friends have been extracted from the holodeck we will deal with you as intruders and saboteurs. I have no doubt the Captain will want to interrogate you herself."
All the colour drained from Alice's face. "No…I…I don't…"
"I have had just about enough of strange things happening today; as if the stupid malfunction with the computer's voice recognition was bad enough! Damn thing is beginning to answer back – "
The breath caught in Alice's throat as she realised.
"…and the Captain is stuck in the holodeck with God knows what programme and God knows how many arrogant little interlopers!" He scowled at Alice again. "And when I – "
Alice walked up to the force field, but she took a step too far and the shield rippled blue around her touch. She yelped and tumbled onto her knees. He cut off from his rant, the fact that she may suffer from epilepsy just about managing to surface in his thoughts. She then looked up at him.
"Chakotay – what do you mean by 'the computer is answering back'?"
"You haven't…been seeing silver hearts running around on the screens, have you?"
"It's just a glitch resulting from the malfunctions. They go away when touched."
She sighed. "I…think that she…might be your problem."
He was listening now. "Who might be? Another of your friends?"
"Bloody (a)…" Alice snorted. "No, not a friend. She's a…a sentient virus with almost unlimited power in the digital world and with a mental age of six. Don't ask. She just is. She'll have been harassing the ship's computer for a while."
And right on cue, from the computer speakers came a light giggle. Alice scowled in annoyance, and Chakotay studied the terminal.
"Is that her?
"And…she is responsible for the computer malfunctions?"
Alice nodded. "Most likely…and the holodeck…"
The doors opened and Tuvok entered, throwing Alice a sharp look.
"Tuvok, I've got some answers," Chakotay said. "This young woman is not responsible for the issues with the computer. Voyager has become infected by a sentient computer virus."
The Vulcan's eyebrow lifted incredulously. "Seems unlikely; surely such a thing would be an oxymoron. Are you sure she is not spinning you a lie, Commander?"
Alice looked to the speakers again; but (a) did not indulge her a second time.
"I have heard this voice myself," said Chakotay. "For the moment, this is the only lead we have."
Tuvok studied Alice, who was still on the floor. "Then what are your orders?"
Chakotay mused for a few moments. "Alice," he said eventually, "do you know how to deal with this…this '(a)'?"
"Right. Tuvok, I want you to release the young woman, and escort her to the bridge. Keep her under guard. We are going to get this matter sorted."
The Commander left, and Tuvok stepped towards the cell controls. Alice backed nervously to the rear of her cell. The force field fell, but she didn't move. Tuvok drew his phaser, not completely convinced of the woman's apparently harmless character.
She swallowed, and bumped into the bench behind her, causing her to sit involuntarily.
Tuvok was getting an uncomfortable feeling, a sense of wrongness that seemed to hang around the woman's mind – or lack thereof, as he could not get a grasp on it at all. Ensign Jarot, as a more receptive telepath, certainly had a reason to find her presence difficult if he was getting this.
"This way please," he said politely.
Alice was getting a bad feedback from the Vulcan's presence too – her head was beginning to spin and the scar on her right arm had started to sting like mad. She blinked furiously and rubbed her eyes. She edged away from him as she stepped out of the cell.
"My…things?" she said, looking towards the box.
"They will remain here to be collected later."
She met his gaze and looked confused.
"If you would, please."
It was halfway through the exam time. Halfway through the sixty minutes that was all Robert had to prove his worth to the Society.
He glanced up at his adjudicator. To pass the time Michael had flipped open his DS and seemed to be doodling animatedly on the bottom screen with the stylus, but he caught Robert looking at him and narrowed his eyes. Robert bowed his head back over his exam immediately. The animosity between him and the Chief Agent still remained.
He felt his test was going well, although he remembered Alice's anecdote of always doing badly if she ever felt the exam at the time was good. With only forty marks in the whole thing he could not afford any mistakes; he did not know the pass mark, even though Alice had assured him the ones she'd taken in university only wanted 70%. Some of these questions were ridiculous. 'What is your name'? How was that worth anything other than identifying the paper? Most of the questions were less silly, and some took a lot of thought. Very few were essay-style as they wanted as many questions as possible answered within the time, but Robert was fast with his cursive and had spared some minutes at the beginning to answer the mark-less, but still very important, bonus question of why he wanted to join.
He finished question six with a detailed list of the Society's command and departmental structure. All in all a correct answer would simply be Tash's, Harriet's and Michael's names, as the three Leaders. Robert wasn't sure, and went further with his explanation.
A lot of the exam was Society protocol. He wondered how much of this people were expected to know; or did they not expect such prior revision such as what Alice had walked him through, and instead just wanted what each applicant thought and compared it to the truth to see if these thoughts ran congruent?
His pen drifted to rest on the next question he was answering: 'Explain how Plotholes form'.
This shouldn't be too tough…
The door hissed open almost silently, allowing egress onto Voyager's high-tech bridge. Those at their stations around the round room looked curiously at the young woman who was being shadowed closely by Tuvok.
Chakotay was just finishing a somewhat short and terse explanation to stave off any questions, and as Alice could see a lot of the screens were being blitzed by silver hearts, it probably explained the Commander's further blackening mood.
"…so with the holodeck incommunicado, this is what we have to work with. Right!" He turned to Alice. "You obviously have dealt with (a) before. What did you do and how did you purge her?"
Alice was taken aback slightly by his tone. "Er, well, we haven't purged her. She copied herself to every computer in the Multi…everywhere, so you can forget getting rid of her really."
"So, what did you do?"
Alice pushed forwards to the nearest panel and watched the hearts tossing about like an old screensaver. Chakotay sighed angrily as she prodded the screen.
"You are not permitted to – "
"Just hold on a minute, would you!"
Several jaws slightly dropped at her effrontery towards the Commander, but she didn't notice. Instead, she spoke to the screen.
"(a), lovey, what are you up to?"
The hearts immediately vanished. "Allie! You live!"
"Yes, I do. Look, I know you're having fun, but this isn't like Minecraft, or the Wii Fit or Halo multiplayer – this isn't a game, sweet, there are actual people on the holodeck you're toying with…"
"But I'm having fuuuun!" (a) was suddenly extremely petulant.
Chakotay was having none of it. "Now you look here! I'm THIS close to having B'Elanna pull the plug and send us back to Dial-Up – "
"Shush! You're not helping!" Alice flapped her arms at him. The others in the bridge could barely bring themselves to turn away from watching her continued rudeness. "Look, (a)-ling…we want to join the fun too. Can we have a look and listen into the holodeck so we can share?"
"Oh! What a great idea!" And suddenly every station on the bridge contained a large screen into the holodeck.
Chakotay shoved Alice aside as he spotted the captain. "Chakotay to Captain Janeway, do you copy?"
There was no response, or even any sign of her having heard whatsoever.
"Right. Everyone, you all seem to have a different angle. Adjust the visuals and the volume until we get a clear picture of what's going on. Continue every effort to get into contact with anyone there." Chakotay stopped briefly and narrowed his eyes as he spotted two crewmen in the holodeck whom he did not recognise.
"Hey, that's Lou – " Alice cut off before she could implicate her friends further. "Chakotay…what should I do now?"
"You're coming with me, is what you're doing," he snapped, seizing her arm and hauling her rather bodily towards the Ready Room.
Several tried not to giggle. Several did, bending low over their stations to hide their mirth. Others covered their face, utterly mortified. Tuvok, stoic as ever, simply raised an eyebrow.
If there had been actual hinges to any of the doors on Voyager, Chakotay would have slammed it. Instead he just barked at the doors to seal and paced furiously up and down the room.
"NO," he shouted at Alice. "I am fed up with your cocky, discourteous behaviour. You are only out of the brig to help us with the investigation; you are still a prisoner and an intruder. You may not be a member of Starfleet but while you are aboard this ship and in that uniform you shall behave like one – and you can start by addressing me properly! You will call me either Commander or Sir, NOT my name, and from now on, you will only act or speak when asked to. Is that clear?"
Alice looked suitably cowed, but there was obvious resentment boiling within.
"IS THAT CLEAR?"
"Yes sir," Alice managed.
She turned and near fled from the room, shaking from trying to hold back tears.
Chakotay sat down in the right-hand chair from the head, trying to regain his composure before he too returned to the bridge to try and solve their holodeck problem.
"Put a mark on that door," Janeway gestured with a soaking wet hand as the door before her closed. "We are not to open it again."
Little Naomi Wildman was wringing her hair out on the floor. The water landed with a splash on the wooden tiles.
Janeway and Naomi weren't the only soaked people. The majority of the crew in the holodeck were now standing in mini-puddles.
"Bah…" Louise started to wring out her ponytail before giving it up as a hopeless cause. She pulled it out of its elastic band to help it dry quicker.
Ensign Lang raised her phaser, and delicately scorched an X on the door.
"We need to be careful from now on," Janeway pointed out to the others. "Who knows what could be behind the doors."
"Captain," Lieutenant Ayala spoke up. "Are we still looking for the control panel?"
"Of course. We need to find a way off this holodeck."
The next door was a surprise to even Rhia and Louise. Whilst on the outside, the Library walls were full of wooden shelving units, the interior of this room was grey and lifeless. The two Society agents were at the front of the group as it entered. They stepped onto a large ramp.
"What the hell?" Louise gasped. Rhia peered around her, catching sight of the large metal ring standing upright before them.
"That's…" Rhia spluttered.
One of the seven visible chevrons on the circle clicked into place, and the inner ring of the huge device, which was decorated with simplified constellation icons, started to spin in the other direction.
"What is that?" Naomi asked, leaning around the two so she could see.
"It's called a Stargate," Louise explained without thinking. "It's a…well…what does (a) think she's doing?"
"Lou, if it's going to finish the cycle," Rhia turned to Louise, "we are going to want to get out of the way."
"Good point," Louise backpedalled off the ramp, forcing Naomi out of harm's way as the Stargate kawooshed open. A bright blue puddle of light now illuminated the room and the crewmen standing in the doorway, all staring at it in wonder.
Janeway moved to the front of the group.
"What is it? What does it do?" There was a significant amount of awe in the captain's voice. Janeway was a scientist, after all, and the strange and unexplained always interested her. She stepped up to the 'puddle' and touched it with her phaser. It rippled, but otherwise did nothing.
"It's a wormhole, Captain," Louise explained. "Formed between this one, and another…somewhere else. Though this is (a)'s doing…"
The light showed the eagerness on the captain's face.
"Could it lead – ?" Janeway started.
"No," Louise answered before she could finish. "I'm sorry Captain. It won't lead back to the Alpha Quadrant."
A slight scuttling noise broke the silence that occurred following Louise's bad news. Rhia turned to her fellow agent.
"Was that – ?"
Louise, who was known for having occasionally dodgy hearing, asked, "What was what?"
The scuttling grew louder and more repetitive; it was loud enough now that everyone could hear it.
"I know that sound," the elder agent muttered.
At that point, a group of what looked to the untrained eye like miniature mechanical spiders appeared out of the darkness. Lit by the glow of the Stargate, the scuttling spiders made a bee-line for the group in the doorway.
"Replicators!" Louise yelled.
"What? That's not a repli…" Naomi trailed off as she got the first hint that these 'creatures' were dangerous.
"Shut the door!" Rhia screamed, hustling the group back into the holographic Library. No one argued. The panic in her voice was plain enough.
As they ran from the room, the replicators followed, but too late. A young ensign slammed the door shut, but one small replicator, faster than its comrades, managed to sneak through. It made an immediate dash for Seven.
"SHOOT IT!" Janeway ordered. Phasers were fired, hitting the replicator but to no effect.
"Watch out Seven!" Naomi screamed.
There was a mechanical 'SHUNK', a click, a loud BANG! and a high-pitched 'clink' of a metal bullet casing hitting the floor. The replicator exploded into its constituent parts with a shot from Louise's Glock, a comparatively ancient – but at the moment, much more effective – firearm. Janeway looked at her as the agent replaced the gun in her trousers.
"Impressive for such ancient technology," she commented. She nudged the pile of replicator blocks with her foot.
"They absorb energy blasts," Rhia explained. "It makes weapons like phasers near enough useless. Only projectiles are effective…"
"Captain?" Louise asked nervously straightening her top over her pistol.
"There's a good chance that (a) has taken the safety protocols offline. Whatever we find in these rooms could potentially kill us. Shouldn't we all be armed? My pistol will not work against everything (a) might dream up."
"That is a good point," Janeway agreed. She plucked her spare phaser from her belt, and handed it to Louise. Lang handed her spare to Rhia.
Both agents, not having a suitable holster for them, simply held the weapons in their hands.
The group were now a little more nervous about just opening the doors randomly. Louise looked sidelong at Rhia. Her face showed the exact same concern as Louise herself was feeling. If (a) really had taken the safeties offline, and there was no end to her imagination; she didn't see how they were going to get out of the holodeck alive.
"Be careful," Janeway urged as Ensign Lang started to open another door.
"Captain, it's… it's just…" Lang couldn't put her thoughts into words.
"Just what…?" Janeway, followed by Louise and Rhia, joined the young ensign by the door.
Inside the wooden room, windowed to look out onto a wide green field, there was an elderly lady in a rocking chair. Rhia snorted, but Louise was hesitant.
"Okay (a)," she spoke to the ceiling, "we're not going to fall for this. What's the catch?"
"No catch, dearie," the old woman replied, her voice wavering and ancient.
Louise looked around at her. "Oh, I'm not going to believe that behind a door in the Library is an old woman… knitting!"
"Why grandma," Rhia joined in, "what big teeth you have."
The old woman heaved herself out of her chair, and started towards them. Louise raised her phaser automatically.
"This is almost as bad as finding a bedroom for Adrian's mother!" she was getting angry now.
Rhia snorted again. None of the others in the group got the reference, for which both agents were thankful.
"We're sorry to disturb you," said Janeway, backing out of the door.
One of the walls of the largish classroom was now made of glass, exposing a view of the massive aquarium that housed the Society's pet Liopleurodon, Fish Finger. The low rippling hum that permeated the room was distracting but at the same time comforting.
Robert had five minutes left, as evidenced by the big clock hung above the desk at the front of the room. He was beginning to have that nervous tight-stomach feeling as he struggled with the last couple of questions. He resisted the temptation to reread the questions he had already answered – he didn't have the time to consider them when he still had unanswered questions left. Every mark counted.
He wondered if the short time limit was also a test, designed to see the applicant's way of dealing with pressure, or whether this was simply the same feeling experienced by everyone in every exam.
Robert could only write a small paragraph on question eleven – 'Explain the function of a Total Author Lock' – and puzzled at the last one – 'Which is better and why: Tea or Coffee?'. It was yet another problem that didn't make any sense in context and just screamed of an ulterior motive that Robert was unsure of. Or it could just be a filler question put in place when they couldn't think of anything else. You never could tell with the Society, and even after all these months it was unnerving.
He answered it anyway, falling squarely on the tea side of the fence: Robert appreciated a good strong black tea like Assam, and it had been provided in copious quantities to the Witch-Hunters, when he had been among them last.
He forced his nostalgia for his old militia far down. This wasn't the time.
"All right!" said Michael suddenly, startling Robert with a loud bang on the table. "The hour's up. Finish writing now." The Chief Agent strolled down the desks and slid Robert's paper from his table.
"Is…is there anything else I need to do?" Robert asked tentatively.
"No. You can go." Michael gestured to the door. "I'll have your mark soon enough."
"Thank you, sir," said Robert, picking up his pen and slipping quickly from the classroom. Michael rolled his eyes after him.
Now free to wander the Library unchallenged, Robert made his way down the book-lined corridors, past another wall of aquarium and around a large atrium-like place made up of two stories of more bookcases, and entered the Monitor Room. Alice and Louise were not waiting for him, so he could only assume they were not back yet…
But he saw the amber light lit on the 'Status' board – someone was in trouble. Adrian and Tash conferred in low voices on one side of the room; Inara and Tom manned the monitors, with her controlling the varying angles into the fandom in question.
"Thomas," Robert ventured. "What's happening?"
"(a) is making a nuisance of herself in Star Trek: Voyager," the young man replied.
"That's where – that's where Alice, Louise and Rhiannon went, isn't it?"
"Yeah. So far she's not done much…trapped our two girls on the holodeck and we can't get hold of Alice. We're keeping an eye on the situation…"
"It's actually rather funny," chirped Inara.
Tom pulled a chair towards Robert, and he sat down to watch, though he was forever waiting for the Chief Agent to come to the doorway and declare his fate.
"Captain, this is becoming untenable," said Seven, her voice its usual tranquillity but the anger in her eyes beginning to boil. (a) had found a way into her implants and was now using the hapless woman as a hi-fi.
"Mmm bop, ba duba dop, Ba do bop, ba duba dop, Ba do bop, ba duba dop, Ba dooooo!"
"Oh dear…" sighed Janeway.
A junior Engineering officer who was trusted by Seven took a closer look at the facial implants, and they lowered the poppy tune to a quieter volume. Seven could still hear the awful cacophony within her head.
This was becoming less and less like a game with every attempt to find an access panel. One of their latest doors had entered out onto a large expanse of trees, flowers, mushrooms, water and surprisingly, lava, all formed out of oblique blocks and perpendicular wafers. None even dared step within, whether they knew what was going on or not; those that did spotted the Enderman in the distance and wisely eased the door shut. Their search continued.
The next door held only a singular tall golem-like figure, armoured in blue. Many disregarded it, glad to find a room where they could search properly for an access panel.
But then the figure's red eyes lit up, and with seemingly impossible fluidity for the bulk of its armour, it turned to face the nearest intruder.
"HALT! In the name of the Emperor!"
Louise stared into the muzzle of the large bolter that had been levelled in front of her.
"State your intentions!" the armoured figure ordered. Louise could have kicked herself – it was a Space Marine!
"We are…" Louise spluttered. "We are from the Ordo Maria Rosa?"
"Yes…?" Louise wished she had Alice with her. She was one of the Warhammer 40K experts in the Society.
"Um, excuse me…" Janeway stepped forward. The Space Marine looked over to her, never taking his bolter away from Louise's face. "I'm Captain Kathryn Janeway, of the…starship Voyager." Wisely she decided to leave out the 'Federation', after hearing mention of an 'Emperor'.
The Space Marine, for all his armour plating and all-enclosing helm, didn't look amused. His red-gauntleted fist still held the huge gun muzzle in Louise's face.
"I am tasked to protect this area. I have not heard any demands from the Holy Ordos."
Rhia shuffled over to Ensign Lang. "I suggest you close the door quickly," she whispered. "When I grab Louise, slam it shut before he can fire."
Lang nodded silently. The younger Society agent slid over to Louise's side.
With the Space Marine's attention on Janeway, he didn't see Rhia slide her arm into her friend's and give Ensign Lang a side long look.
As Rhia pulled on Louise's arm, yanking the agent out of harms way, the wooden door crashed closed. Louise collapsed as she was pulled to one side.
On the bridge, Alice had made herself useful by giving information on what they saw behind each door. She was putting her hand up and waving it in the air, just like in school, before she volunteered what she knew; slightly irritating to Chakotay, but he knew he had ordered her to only speak when asked, and this was her way of obeying. Luckily, it was Tuvok who had made himself in charge of replying to her.
She was getting increasingly worried and animated at the same time as more doors were opened. When the Stargate had been revealed, she was almost jumping up and down with excitement. Suddenly she was happy to talk about what she knew, and almost at the same time Louise was explaining the ring's purpose, Alice was too. The Starfleet personnel were just as intrigued at the concept of a galaxy-wide stable wormhole network, and Tom Paris actually started pestering her with questions until Tuvok reminded him he had a job to do.
However, at sight of the Space Marine, Alice panicked slightly.
"Holy hell!" exclaimed Paris, staring at the sheer size of the…man?… and the massive gun he brought to bear.
"It's a Crimson Fist," gulped Alice. "Don't antagonise him, just don't antagonise him…(a) what the hell are you doing?"
There was no response from the Sue-virus.
"Is that gun real?" gasped Harry Kim.
"Oh it's real," said Alice. ".75 calibre, mass-reactive explosive bolts the size of coke cans that will make your head disappear."
"Well come on, you saw the Repli – the Lego spider thing. Your exaggerated flashlights aren't the be-all-and-end-all."
"Ensign," interrupted Tuvok. "Please try and get the safety protocols back online. 'Lego spiders' and explosive projectiles notwithstanding, we should make the holodeck's safety a priority."
"Be careful," Naomi murmured from behind the group.
This new room was pitch black. Even the light from the Library outside was casting little more than a faint haze in the entrance way.
"You wait there, Naomi," Janeway ordered. Although it was unnecessary. The young girl had no intention of entering the room. She hung back, peering around the doorframe, as the others entered.
"INTRUDER!" came a metallic voice from the darkness. Two lights lit up in the middle of the room, intonating as the voice spoke.
Louise and Rhia froze on the spot. They knew that noise all too well.
"Hello?" Janeway called into the darkness. "Is there someone there?"
"INTRUDER!" the metallic voice called back.
"We're just trying to find our way…" the captain didn't get a chance to finish her sentence.
"Get out! Get out now!"
"EXTERMINATE!" the voice screamed, and a blast of energy shot from the blackness, only just missing a young security officer. Rhia watched him fall to get out of harm's way.
"EXTERMINATE!" the Dalek called again.
"GET OUT!" Louise shrieked, pushing the captain backwards.
As the door closed, Janeway turned to the Society agent.
"What on earth was that?"
"A Dalek," Louise panted.
"It's a genetically enhanced creature living inside a metal shell," Rhia explained.
"And Crewman Smith?" Lang asked.
"I think he's okay. He was lucky." Rhia's answer was blunt and to the point. Smith was sat down, examining the wound to his arm. Even being missed by the beam itself had caused a nasty large burn via convection.
Everyone looked around at the doors surrounding them. They were one crewmember down with no first-aid in sight, and all now realised that (a) had most definitely removed the safety protocols. Smith struggled to his feet, the twist in his face betraying his pain.
"That is going to be the last deadly encounter we have today," Janeway spoke aloud. "We just have to survive until the bridge crew are able to override the controls."
The next door was also pitch black. Louise murmured as they stood on the threshold.. "I hope there're no more Daleks in the Library."
"Yeah," Rhia muttered under her breath, "we had enough of that in the real one."
As the group entered, a scuttling sound could be heard from the far aside of the room. The lead officers, phasers drawn, froze. Having encountered the replicators earlier, they were unsure as to the effectiveness of their weapons against the creatures they were facing.
Janeway made her way, flanked by Louise and Rhia, to the front of the group. The elder agent pulled her pistol from her belt. No one batted an eyelid at the sight of the ancient technology. Louise had clearly demonstrated its effectiveness.
The scuttling continued, getting louder as whatever it was approached. All hands tightened on their weaponry.
Suddenly there was a terrible screech. Many of the Starfleet personnel covered their ears from the volume. Louise brought her pistol up to eye level, ready for whatever was lurking in the darkness.
But Rhia was the only person there to recognise the noise. She had heard it once before, and would never forget it. She let out a gasp.
"Everyone get out!" she shouted, herding the Voyager crew and Louise back into the Library, not having any qualms at shoving the captain.
Louise and many of the others fired into the darkness as they retreated, hoping to hit something. There were several thuds as several creatures hit the floor, dead, but the noise kept coming.
"SHUT THE DOOR!" Rhia screamed.
As the door was grabbed, a huge number of flying beasts came into view and swarmed towards the door.
The door slammed shut, and Rhia turned to lean against it. She was out of breath, and shaking slightly from the memory.
"What was that?" Janeway demanded
"The Ak'Zahar," Rhia gasped. "Oh I just hope to God Alice wasn't watching that…"
Unfortunately, she had been.
Alice had let out a shriek and fled, and was now cowered behind Paris' console. The sight of the Ak'Zahar had dredged up all the memories from her attack, and now she was terrified.
Curled in a tight ball, she did not see the young helmsman lean over the top of the console to look at her.
"Are you okay?" he asked gently. Paris, whilst being a hot-head and sometimes a bit of a jerk, did have moments of tenderness. He was dating B'Elanna after all.
Alice looked up, her eyes wide with terror and her face white as a sheet, before curling back into a ball. He could see, in that brief glance, that it was a memory-filled terror that the young woman was reliving. Gentle sobs came from within Alice's shaking form.
Paris quietly slipped from his seat, and walked around the edge of his console. Crouching down beside Alice, he wrapped one gentle comforting arm around her shoulder. The young agent gasped at the initial touch, not expecting it, but it was warm and friendly, and soon she turned into the hug and wept into his shirt.
"Don't let them…don't let…them…"
"There, there…" Paris soothed, looking up at the concerned expressions on his colleagues faces. "I think the doctor needs to see her," he suggested. After all, Tom was, since the departure of Kes the year before, Voyager's medical back-up. "She looks quite shaken up."
Chakotay tapped his combadge. "Chakotay to sickbay."
The doctor's tinny voice sounded. "Yes Commander?"
"We have need of you on the bridge. A crewman has had a bit of a shock."
"All right, on my way."
The First Officer walked towards Tuvok. Although there was concern on his face, he was still not completely convinced that this was not all an elaborate act.
"Are you sure this is a real reaction?" he asked Tuvok as the pair moved behind the security console. "Is this not just an irrational fear?"
"I do not believe so. It would appear that the young lady has had some encounter with them in her past. And having seen the creatures ourselves on the viewscreen, I would venture that fear of them is not, by definition, irrational. They are clearly engendering a severe phobic response in her."
"Well, the doctor will be able to make the final diagnosis when he arrives."
Rhia opened the next door and, as she reached over the threshold, her hand turned greyscale.
"What!" she swiftly retracted her hand, staring at it in horror.
"A ha ha ha ha! No-one can stop the greatness of…DOCTOR CHAOTICA!" came a voice from within.
"Oh dear," Louise muttered to herself.
Striding towards them across a monochrome environment was one of the campest characters that had ever graced the Star Trek screen. He was heading directly for Janeway, who looked on in shock and mild surprise.
Ensign Lang and Lieutenant Ayala stepped forward, barring his path to the captain, phasers up.
"You look just like my beloved queen!" the monochrome character continued, almost oblivious to the danger he was in.
Louise and Rhia took up places flanking Janeway, both agents ever watchful.
"Maybe not this door then," Janeway suggested coolly, brushing off the silly man's attempts to kiss all the way up her arm, and the entire group moved, Society agents included, as one, out of the door. Lang and Ayala firmly shut it behind them.
"Who was that?" Janeway turned to Louise, but it was Rhia who answered.
"It looked like one of Paris' silly old-fashioned things…" murmured Lang to Ayala.
"And why was he calling me…" the captain started.
"You'll find out, Captain," Louise's voice interrupted. "Believe me, you don't want to know now."
Janeway looked as if she was going to argue, but a voice called from along the corridor, drawing her attention.
"Hey," Naomi's voice called from around the corner. "This one's an empty room."
"Be careful Naomi," Louise called, and the young girl looked around. The expression was almost that of understanding, but held a hint that didn't like being told what to do. She knew her way around on Voyager better than these two intruders. It was her home, her family.
The group turned the corner to see what Naomi had found, but she was no where to be seen.
"Naomi!" Janeway called.
"In here," came a squeak of a voice.
As they all gathered in the entrance way, there was still no sign of Naomi.
"Up here," she called again.
Several crewmen stepped into the room to see where the voice was coming from, Louise and Rhia included. As they crossed the threshold, a strange sensation came over them, and they began floating towards the ceiling.
"WAH!" Louise gasped, as her feet were lifted from the floor.
Janeway and the other Starfleet crewmembers were a little more savvy. As their colleagues were lifted from the floor, they all retreated to the opposite side of the corridor. They had all experienced the effects of zero-G, and were well versed at avoiding it if at all possible.
Louise collided with the ceiling.
"Ouch," she moaned.
"It's not that bad," Naomi called from the opposite corner, before propelling herself off the side wall towards the agent.
"You know," Rhia commented, as she realised that it wasn't a change in gravitational direction, but rather an absence of gravity, "this is kinda fun." Rhia gracefully tumbled through the air until she crashed into a young science crewman.
"Oomph," he groaned.
"You need to work together to combat it," came Janeway's voice from the floor. "Link arms, and work your way over to the door. You should come back down as you near it."
The crew did as instructed, and slowly but surely they made their way to the door. Naomi was the first through the doorway, landing in Seven's outstretched arms.
The others landed less gracefully, in a giant heap, as (a), tired of watching them work their way out of her problem, restored the gravity.
The turbolift doors hissed open and the EMH stepped onto the bridge, his portable emitter attached to his right arm.
"Commander," his voice was brisk and to the point. "You have a patient for me?"
Chakotay directed him to where Alice still sat, huddled in her ball. Lieutenant Paris still hadn't left her side. He had tried to return to his station, but Alice had clung to him as though her life depended on him being there. Chakotay had been forced to install a deputy helmsman at the station while Paris was dealing with Alice.
The doctor went to move across the bridge towards his patient when the bridge was filled with a high pitched giggle. Even Alice, terrified as she was, looked up. She knew that giggle.
A blinding flash of light later, and the doctor was standing naked on the bridge. Unfortunately the Doctor's 'extra subroutines' were very visible, but fortunately, this image didn't last long. Another flash and the EMH was standing in a bright pink pancake tutu, circlet and leotard. He even had the shoes and tights too.
Several of the junior crewmen on the bridge stifled snickers.
"Commander," the Doctor looked up in alarm. "What is this?"
"I'm not sure, Doctor..." Chakotay looked at him, and then briefly at Alice.
"I'm a doctor," he gasped, "not a ballet dancer!"
(a)'s giggle echoed around the bridge again, and the doctor was changed back into his Starfleet uniform.
Instantly to business aside from a scowl, he moved across the bridge towards Alice.
"Now then, what's wrong with this young lady, Mr Paris?"
"I think there's a chance of shock, Doc. She..." he looked up at the main viewscreen. "She took quite a fright just now."
The doctor prepared a hypospray. "I think a little of this should calm you down a little. Just relax…"
Alice instinctively leaned away from the hypospray. She was nervous about trying anything new and that wasn't usually reserved to foods, plus at the moment all she wanted was to go home.
The Doctor sighed, and pushed the hypospray into her arm instead; the calming agent forced its way through the weave of the fabric, and entered her bloodstream.
"Don't worry. It's only a very light sedative. Just enough to calm you down a little."
Alice nodded, not completely happy.
"Now what's going on?" the hologram asked. "Mr. Paris has missed his duties and the computer has begun to sing 'Here we go round the mulberry bush' incessantly!"
"We have a sentient virus having her fun on the holodeck, Doctor," replied Chakotay.
"Oh? Where has she come from?"
"We don't know. She spread herself when Alice here first encountered her, but other than that, her creator or source, is unknown."
Alice, still shaky and not quite ready for speech yet, signed 'I don't know' by placing a hand on her hair, pausing and moving it off in a sweep while shaking her head.
"Hmm, interesting," the Doctor mused.
"Maybe…" Tuvok could see the glimmering of an idea in the Commander's eyes. "Maybe (a) would negotiate with a being like her."
Chakotay bent down over his panel. "(a), we've found you another friend who really, really wants to join in. How about you let him in?"
For the first time, (a) responded to Chakotay. "A friend? Really really?"
"Yes. And he's a hologram, so he can beam there straight away."
"Oooh! Wonderful! He can join in after I've played a little more," said (a), briefly replacing the holodeck views with hearts and smiley faces.
The Doctor looked a little apprehensive.
"Right. Here's what I want you to do…"
"Whoa!" Rhia gasped as the last door opened onto a large green field.
"Tardis effect," Louise commented as she peered inside.
The field appeared to stretch on for miles and miles in all directions, including behind the door, which somehow seemed to be by itself in the middle of nowhere. Across the grassy surface were all sorts of wild flowers and bees flittered from one blossom to the next. The sky was brilliant blue, with white tufts of cloud gently floating across them.
"It all looks too quaint," Rhia murmured.
"I agree," Janeway joined the pair in the entranceway.
Giggles broke the stillness of the natural scene before them. From behind them in the field came a pair of excited voices.
"You know, that looks really good on you," a familiar male voice was saying.
"Do you really think so?" a female voice answered. It was not familiar to Louise, but Rhia's back stiffened.
"No…" she whispered.
Both agents looked around as the couple approached, still giggling and chatting merrily. Louise may not have recognised the voice, but she certainly knew the face. Sitting in a small patch of daisies across the field, were Adrian and Willowe. Both were dressed in white summer clothes.
Adrian had just draped a daisy chain over Willowe's head, and she was now admiring it.
"It matches your hair," Willowe commented, as Louise and Rhia forced down the snort that was building in each of their throats.
The couple giggled further, totally unaware of the people watching them.
"I want to make the largest chain ever!" Adrian cheered, completely out of character with the real Librarian. As he finished his sentence, he wrapped his arms around Willowe, and the pair tumbled onto the field less than ten feet from where Louise, Rhia and the Voyager crew were standing.
"I hope to God that Tash isn't watching this," Louise muttered.
"I think we should leave this room," Janeway suggested, "if you can call it a room. There aren't any walls for the panel to be."
As they all turned to left the field, Rhia spotted someone else coming across the field. She wasn't randomly walking, as Adrian and Willowe had been. This woman had purpose. She was heading directly for the agents.
"Oh my God!" Rhia pointed.
Louise didn't need to have studied the Society's archives to know who was approaching. Dressed all in black, with her straight black hair billowing around her piercing green eyes, was Runoa.
Neither agent was sure whether it really was another one of (a)'s recreations. Louise's hand dropped from phaser to pistol, and Rhia slid effortlessly into a combat stance.
They needn't have worried, for as she drew closer, both of them could see a smile across the woman's face.
"Hello, would you like some tea?" the holographic Runoa asked Louise.
"Not from you!"
"Oh," Runoa looked sad, before turning to Janeway. Rhia and Louise both placed their hands on their phasers. "Would you like some tea?"
"Er…" Janeway looked between this woman and the looks of wary horror on the two rather knowledgeable intruders. She wasn't sure who this individual was or what she could have done to elicit such a reaction, but she could tell that offering tea was very unlike her. She decided to indulge her, to see if she might lead them towards a panel. "I'll have a coffee, if you have it…"
"Of course I do!" Runoa was far too cheery, clapping her hands as she jumped around and turned her back on the group. As she walked into the field, a building slowly materialised in front of her. The banner across the top signalled that it was 'Runoa's Café'
"Okay," Rhia muttered. "Now I have seen it all." Louise was struggling not to laugh. She could only hope that nobody in the Library was watching…
Neither of them could stop watching Runoa. She looked just like the real thing, complete with black turtleneck. All that was missing was the sinister scowl.
Runoa returned with a tray and coffee pot, not to mention a cup and saucer.
"How British," Louise mumbled under her breath as the holographic ex-Librarian approached. Rhia poked her in the side. "Ouch," the elder agent hissed.
"You're not taking this seriously!" Rhia replied.
Janeway took the drink from the holographic Runoa, much to the shock of the two agents. Runoa skipped – actually skipped – off back to her café.
"What…what's she doing?" asked Louise weakly.
"Beats me," Rhia murmured. It was clear that the more experienced agent was still struggling with the concept of Runoa not being Runoa. (a) obviously knew what these individuals looked like, but she sure as hell didn't care about their actual personalities.
The ex-Librarian reappeared, and both agents stifled their giggles again. Runoa was now wearing her usual outfit in a lovely shade of green.
"Can this day get any weirder?" Rhia chuckled.
Runoa was now handing out cookies to all those gathered in the field before her. Louise and Rhia refused out of habit.
"Captain?" Seven spoke from the back of the group, who had also refused. "Shouldn't we be looking for the panel to exit the holodeck?"
Janeway looked around, biscuit in hand. "Good point, Seven." She turned to the rest of the group. "Everyone out of this room," she ordered.
Louise and Rhia were not sad to leave the holographic version of the Society's greatest foe, who was now walking back into her café. It was just a little too familiar for their liking.
Outside, or more to the point back in the Library, to their surprise they had a new visitor: The Doctor. He blinked, realising he was suddenly standing in the largest Library he had ever seen. Before him was the Captain, several members of the crew; not to mention two complete strangers. He gave the two Society agents a quizzical look before turning to the Captain.
"Captain," he acknowledged.
"Doctor, what have you to report?"
"Commander Chakotay and the other senior officers have been attempting negotiations with an individual known as (a)."
"Oh we've heard of her," Janeway muttered and the crew around her nodded.
"I've been asked to see if I can… get through to her."
There was a high-pitched giggle, and Louise and Rhia stared at the ceiling. The Doctor's usual black and teal uniform was turned light grey and white; he sighed in exasperation, but at least she wasn't putting him in a tutu again.
The elder agent stepped forward.
"(a), if you won't talk to us, then please talk with the Doctor. He is like you. He is a being based in a computer." Rhia could hear the pleading in Louise's voice.
A shimmer of light on the holodeck suddenly materialised into a dark-skinned woman in a white bodysuit. Louise and Rhia knew that this was (a), but even the others looked at this stranger with apprehension. It was the first time they had a face to put to this voice.
"Hello there," the Doctor stepped forward. His bald head sparkled in the reflection of the lights overhead as he walked towards the new arrival. "(a), I presume?"
"Hello Doctor!" she cheered, hugging him. "Captain!" she smiled at Janeway. (a) turned and saw the two Society agents. "You two…"
Rhia's face had solidified. Louise placed a hand on the American's shoulder to calm her down.
The Doctor turned to (a).
"It's true," (a) spoke before the Doctor could. "You are a being of photons and electrons like me!"
"Yes," the Doctor nodded. "Though I feel I am a little more…restricted by code than you are."
"You won't send me away… will you?"
Janeway looked from one digital being to another.
"Now why would we do that?" the Doctor asked.
Louise was about to explain about how dangerous (a) could be, but the subject of her concerns spoke first.
"They don't like me," she pointed her digital finger at the two Society agents, very much in the mood of a petulant child.
"Well after all that you did, can you blame us?" Rhia snapped.
"Please…" the Doctor shushed her with a flap of his hands.
"(a)," Louise started, "I'm sure the captain won't mind you living in the computer, just so long as you don't screw with their journey home." She looked at Janeway, who, for once, looked a little out of her depth.
"And I'll get to play on here?" (a) gestured to the holodeck.
"Of course…" the Doctor was beginning to have a little sympathy for this digital life-form. "Whenever one of the crew has a programme running, you can join in too." He looked at Janeway, fully aware that he was making decisions on her Starship. The captain simply nodded. She knew as well as he did that they needed (a)'s agreement before they proceeded further. "Can you sing? Dance? I'm sure we can have lots of fun together."
The digital Sue smiled. "I like that. Oh all right. I can tell you're bored now. I think I'll let you all go."
(a) faded into nothingness as the holodeck doors opened, much to the relief of the stranded crew. They flooded out into the Voyager corridor.
"Well that was easy…"
"It's (a)…she doesn't have a long attention span."
Louise and Rhia had only one thing on their mind – to find Alice, and get back to the real Library. The sound of thundering footsteps made them turn.
"(a) wait!" Alice shouted as she ran onto the holodeck, past the confused faces of her friends.
"Where's she going?" Rhia asked, watching Alice's retreating form.
"I think I know…" said Louise, chasing after her housemate, swiftly followed by Rhia.
Alice's track led the pursuing agents out into the field where the pair of them had earlier spotted holographic Adrian picking flowers with holographic Willowe.
The field was now empty, save for the large green and white building that had earlier sprung into existence. Rhia could have sworn that it was larger now than it had been when they had last seen it.
A green and black banner hung across the front of the building, now proclaiming it to be "Runoa's Restaurant".
Alice was nowhere to be seen in the field. The only place that she could possibly have gone was…
"She's inside there, isn't she?" Louise sighed in exasperation.
Inside the restaurant, holographic Runoa, now dressed in complete green frilly waitress outfit, was quietly upending the chairs, and balancing them atop the round tables.
The last of the patrons were gathered around a number of tables at the far end of the room. As Alice rushed through the room, a small bell tinkled over the door. Runoa and the guests looked around.
Alice paused briefly to take in the strange sight before her. The Crimson Fist Space Marine was attempting to drink tea using his over-sized hand; Q sat in one corner, nursing a steaming cup of cocoa and discussing wormhole physics with no-one in particular; a number of replicators were gathered around one table sipping their tea through straws; and Adrian and Willowe, still in their daisy chains, were quietly sitting in one of the window booths and giggling together over a super-thick chocolate milkshake.
"I'm afraid we're closing, dearie," she placed another chair on top of the closest table. "We'll be open again tomorrow morning."
"No, I'm not here for food. I just want to ask one thing."
Runoa turned to face the new arrival. "Okay…"
Alice beamed. "Can I glomp you?"
It was clear from the look on holographic Runoa's face that she wasn't entirely sure what a glomp was, and whether she wanted one done to her. But the angelic look on Alice's face, and the attentive grins of all the other patrons won her over.
And like everyone else in her situation, she regretted it. As Alice glomped Runoa, the holographic ex-Librarian gave a squeak of surprise.
Alice picked her up and twirled around, eventually plonking her back onto the floor. As she let go, the holographic Lieutenant Mary-Sue collapsed into a nearby chair.
"Thanking you!" Alice cheered, both to the hologram and to (a) who she knew would be watching. She darted from the restaurant to the waiting persons of Louise and Rhia, not to mention the majority of the senior staff of Voyager.
Louise just shook her head before turning to Janeway. Rhia dope-slapped Alice, who could not stop giggling. Someone gave her a box containing Alice's things.
"Captain, I think it's time for us to be leaving."
"I think so too." The captain wasn't angry, but it was clear that she had had enough strange things happen for one day.
Rhia drew her plothole generator. She pulled the trigger as (a) closed the Library hologram, returning to the familiar black and silver of the Voyager holodeck. The rainbow swirls of the plothole opened up, and the three agents of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society disappeared through it.
"Well," Tom Paris spoke as the plothole closed. "This strange day will take some matching."
"Where's Robert?" Alice asked the moment she emerged on the other side of the plothole. Inara and Tom, both still the agents on duty, looked up slightly startled and still wiping tears of laughter from their eyes.
"He…" Inara stuttered. "He's in with Michael right now."
Louise and Alice looked at each other. What if he'd failed? Would he be thrown out of the Library? Hundreds of terrible thoughts raced around the two friends' heads.
"How long's he been?" Rhia, keeping her cool, asked.
"About ten minutes," Inara replied. "He was waiting for you to return, but Michael asked to see him."
"I'm going to wait outside Michael's office," Alice declared. "And you're coming with me," she seized Louise's hand, and the two agents disappeared.
Michael's office door was shut when they arrived. An ominous sign. Voices were coming from within, but the door was too thick to allow any semblance of words to travel through it.
Louise leaned against the wall beside the door. She was nervous, for both of her friends. Alice had invested a lot of time and effort into helping Robert for this exam, and Louise knew what failure would do to her. Robert, on the other hand, would likely take failure in his stride, but if he had failed, Louise was nervous about what kind of grilling Michael would give him.
Alice fidgeted nervously, leaning against the wall facing the door, pausing occasionally to listen for the voices. After several minutes, or what felt like hours to the waiting agents, the voices changed, and the sound grew in volume as the voices moved towards the door.
The door was opened by Michael, but he wore no expression on his face. Nothing that told the female agents anything about the result of Robert's examination.
"Well?" Alice asked as Robert himself came into view.
A smile grew across his face. "I passed," he explained.
Louise looked at Michael, who was now smiling. "Really?"
Michael nodded. "He did very well. Thirty-three out of forty. You could certainly tell that he had studied beforehand. Well done, Alice, for getting him to his point. Robert, I'm sure you will want to celebrate with this lot. Go and see Tash this afternoon and I'm sure she'll give you a Society T-shirt, then we can think about taking you to the armoury. No more practicing with a ruler."
"Thank you, sir."
Michael made a face. "All right, enough with the 'sir'! It's making me feel old."
Sheepishly, Robert emerged from the office, glad to have at last shared a moment of camaraderie with the Chief Agent, and Michael disappeared back inside. No doubt the paperwork was breeding again.
"Urk!" Robert gasped as Alice threw her arms around him. Only Louise noticed that the new agent had gone scarlet.
"Well done!" Alice cheered. "I knew you could do it!"
"The questions weren't too hard really. Plus, I couldn't exactly fail on the 'What is your name?' question, could I?"
All three of them laughed.
"You know," Louise began to prise Alice from around Robert, "Michael had a good point. We should go and celebrate."
The three agents were soon sitting in Rhia's kitchen, along with Rhia herself, Phoenixia, Tash, Adrian and Tom discussing both Robert's examination, but mostly the eventful trip into Star Trek: Voyager.
"The rooms were the weirdest thing," Rhia explained, placing a bowlful of assorted crisps on the table.
"Runoa was the creepiest bit," Louise said, her hand resting on her latest fire-arm acquisition. "She looked exactly like her image on the computer…"
"I agree," Adrian groaned. He hadn't completely recovered from the three female agents reporting to him that they had seen him and Willowe making daisy chains, though even he had utterly corpsed when the glomp had happened.
"I'm just going to check on something," Alice announced suddenly, jumping down from her chair, and running from the room. Robert watched her leave, but the rest of the group simply continued the conversation as though nothing had happened.
Alice's voice suddenly echoed from several rooms away.
"OH MY GOD! SHE'S PUT WHAT ON SUEBOOK?"