Disclaimer: I do not own, nor claim to own, any of the following characters, places, or events. Just the story.
Author's Note: Set immediately after the events of season 4's "Hunters," wherein B'Elanna's learns of the Maquis massacre.
In a world that had gone wrong, only her work remained the same.
She toiled steadily, sifting, downloading, labeling. Ordering her chaotic universe. Putting her world back together again, one piecemeal letter at a time.
But it didn't work. It never did.
She shoved the thought away. Focused on the words forming before her. Good. More of Chell's letter. She added it to the third padd in the second stack, noting that it looked to be closing up. Chell would be excited.
Chell had been in the Maquis with her.
Pain stabbed through her. But not physical pain. Just…pain. Pain.
The left console bleated for her attention. She checked. More of Anderson's letter. A whole paragraph. Her fingers tapped across the controls, transferring the words to a padd before the thready uplink signal unraveled them. A few more minutes, and she had the rest of it.
Another letter done; another shard in place.
It wasn't working anymore. She could feel the questions banging on her mind, the anger raging through her arteries. And above all…above all, the sorrow. Ripping down her defenses. Welling up in her eyes.
She would not cry again.
The screen filled with more words. You wouldn't believe how your brother has grown. He's joined the hoverball team, and said he'll make the Kyoto name famous yet, although you have already…
Kyoto, ensign. Engineering, gamma shift. Fourth stack, second padd, three paragraphs in. From his mother.
She filed the sentences, then turned back to the console.
And started all over again.
Her lips were numb. Unresponsive. She couldn't smile when she gave Harry his letter. Not even when his exuberance threatened to override the AG units. That would have worried her, except…her mind seemed numb as well. Even when she broke the news to Tom, about not getting his father's letter…
The turbolift was sluggish again. She would have to fix it. But…not now. She got off on Deck 9, padding down the halls at half her normal clip. She fidgeted. Her hands felt empty without the extra padds weighting them. Only Lydia's—Crewman Anderson's—remained. She clutched it, thinking back to Chell's comical delight upon receiving his cousin's letter.
Except it hadn't been comical.
Comical meant funny. It meant sparkling eyes and stifled laughter. At the very least, it meant smiling. But she couldn't smile. Not anymore. Not since this morning.
Her boot caught on a carpet snag, and she staggered, elbow jabbing into the bulkhead. The pain, though sharp, was brief. But it was enough. She could feel. She was alive.
Section Twelve came into view, and then Lydia Anderson's quarters. B'Elanna stopped, squared her shoulders. Tapped the announcer. The door shushed open, and Lydia stood before her, red hair curling over the purple of her tunic. B'Elanna rallied the life left within her and held out the padd.
"It's a letter. For you. From your father. I downloaded it from the data stream a few hours ago."
Lydia's eyes widened, and a smile curved her lips as she took the padd. "Thank you!" She ran her hands along the casing, as if she could absorb the letter through her fingertips.
"I'll, uh…see you around," B'Elanna offered, and backed away. Lydia nodded, and the door slid shut. B'Elanna walked the twelve steps to her quarters and entered.
The silence weighting them was nothing compared to the emptiness in her mind.
After two hours, she could stand it no more.
Dinner had been tasteless, a waste of replicator rations, and she had nothing to do in her quarters. Carey was finishing up the beta shift, with Vorik coming on gamma, and she knew she'd be more of a nuisance than help if she pulled overtime. The relay station was gone, swallowed by a black hole, so there were no more letters to puzzle together. The mess hall was sure to be buzzing, but the thought of people…did nothing to her.
That was the problem.
B'Elanna dragged a hand through her hair and pulled. Nothing. She pulled harder. Something. A little something.
She dredged up Chell's reaction to his letter again, turning his name into a mantra. Then she moved on to Ayala's, Chakotay's, Bendera's, Carlson's, Dalby's, and even Seska's. But it was no use.
She sawed through her lip until blood dribbled down her chin, then sucked at the saltiness as she memorized the feel of the pain. All too soon, it was gone. She glanced down at her hands, running her nails along her arm. Too dull.
Her computer beeped, and she turned, staring. What was it she was trying to remember? Why the console was making that noise? No. She knew that. Someone was calling her. They'd try her combadge next.
The computer emitted a machine-like grunt. Huh. A message. She rose and opened it, eyes flicking over the text. Neelix, inviting her to a celebration in the mess hall. She keyed a reply.
Sorry, Neelix, but I don't feel so great. I'll have to sit this one out.
And then she sent it.
But it was a lie. All a lie. She wasn't sorry, and she didn't feel anything at all. Not physically, not emotionally. Nothing.
Her eyes fixated on the console once more. Mechanically, she navigated to the holodeck schedule, scrolling to the evening times. A surplus of empty slots. She checked her rations. Plenty. Overtime didn't leave room for holo-indulgence.
She booked holodeck one for three hours the following night.
Then she left for the holographic research lab.
She worked all night, setting up the matrix, fleshing out the hologrid, detailing the characters. When her throat became too raw to speak, she switched to manual and nearly fused her fingers to the controls.
At last, it was done. A stable matrix. Grid pulled from the Day of Honor program, tweaked to fit her needs. Characters that fit their personnel files well and her memories better.
All packaged in a neat computer file entitled Torres Zeta-1.
Her ticket out of this cursed abyss.
At 0730, she left the lab and stopped by her quarters for a clean uniform and scalding raktajino. Then, she headed for her shift in Engineering, still full of emptiness.
She skipped dinner, sure she would have no stomach for the sights awaiting her. Standing in front of holodeck one, she ordered the computer to load her program. When it was ready, the doors slid open, and she stepped into hell.
The phaser blasts tore through the caverns, ricocheting off scorched rock and booming into her chest like so many fireworks. The stench of burning flesh permeated the air, contested only by the sickening scent of blood. Shadows played cat and mouse with her eyes, drawing them every way at once. But it was the screams that drew her attention, the screams that dragged her feet deeper into the caves.
She'd spent extra time on the screams, wanting to get them perfect, but this was the first time she'd heard them in concert with everything else. She'd been careful of that, keeping everything separate. Saving the combination for tonight, the night that would bring her back to life. And she was sure the screams would do it.
Just in case, though, she'd added the bodies.
She tripped over the first one entering the second tunnel, her boot connecting with it in a soft thud. She looked down and found Tapenni Sahreen, the conn officer from the Liberty, a hole the size of a grapefruit burned into her chest. Tapenni had taken her under her wing, showed her the ropes those first few weeks in the Maquis, before she'd transferred permanently to Chakotay's ship and the Liberty had left for a raid on one of the Cardassian outposts.
She waited, but the pain didn't come. Nor did the anger, or even the sorrow. Nothing. Still nothing.
B'Elanna stumbled forward, eyes raking the bodies strewn before her. Roberto, Atara, Greta, Meyer, Nelson. They all filled her vision, limbs blackened and torn, dirt-streaked faces trampled beneath the boots of Maquis and mass-murderer alike. Anything to survive.
None of it touched her.
A strangled sound wrenched free of her throat, but that was all. Nothing else. No pain, no tears, no anger. Nothing.
"Computer, halt program."
The neutral grid replaced the death-draped cave, silence filling the emptiness where hell had once screamed. It was more than she could handle.
"Computer, load Chakotay 078."
The grid flickered and phased into a wilderness scene. Sounds of a river filled her ears, the smell of pine biting into her lungs. A yellow kayak rested several meters from the frothing water, and she padded over to it, sloughing off the equipment the safety protocols had settled onto her body. Stripped down to her tank top and shorts, she surveyed the raging, boulder-broken current.
"Computer," she said, settling into the fragile vessel, "disengage safety protocols."
::Warning! Disengaging safety protocols presents extreme risk of injury.::