Out of the Ether, A Coda to "Course: Oblivion"
"What would Captain Janeway have done?"
Seven hesitated for a moment as Harry Kim's command resonated within her consciousness. She knew what their late captain would have done. No matter what the risk, if it were the only chance of succeeding open to them, she would have done it. In as firm a voice as she could manage, Seven declared: "Computer, prepare to eject the warp core. Authorization: Seven of Nine, omega phi nine three."
::::Warp ejection systems enabled.::::
"Eject the core."
The concussion from the ejection shook engineering, where Seven was standing; shook the bridge where Harry Kim stood; indeed, shook what was left of the ship called Voyager which the crew had called their home for a long time now- not that many were left of that crew. The violence of the vibration banished any expectation of success. Seven did not need to glance at the controls to know the situation. The battle had been lost. She shouted through the comm link to the bridge, hoping her message was getting through to their one remaining senior officer. "We've lost attitude control and shields. Hull integrity at 19%."
The acting captain was not yet ready to give up. ::::Reroute life support! Hell, reroute everything we've got left to the containment fields.::::
Seven punched in his commands, but any spark of hope she may have harbored that by doing so she could delay destiny was quickly extinguished. Her instruments told the tale. Further attempts to slap the controls on the console into compliance had no effect. "Hull breaches on decks nine, ten and eleven," she reluctantly announced to Harry. It was time to acknowledge the obvious. "Captain Kim, we must abandon this deck. All hands, vacate engineering!"
In seconds, the isolation door to the corridor was lumbering down, shutting off the vacant engine room from the rest of the ship. Of the handful of crew who still survived, virtually all stumbled downwards towards the nacelles rather than risk heading up, where more hull fissures were splitting the hull. There was no safe place to go anyway. All of them knew that. The only thing left to do was to find a place to prepare for the inevitable, alone or gathered together with the handful of shipmates that remained, as their lives as members of the crew of Voyager came to an end.
One person, however, was willing to risk a trip upwards from Deck Eleven. She yanked open the cover to the most central of the Jefferies tubes that snaked through the ship and negotiated ladders that wavered underneath her feet. The handrails were also flexible, as if they were molded from latex rather than the alloys originally used in their construction. In the few minutes remaining before the process of disintegration was complete, Seven of Nine was going to ascend to Deck One, if possible, to assume her post on the bridge one last time.
::::Hull breaches on decks nine, ten and eleven . . .:::: There was a hiss through the comm system, then ominous silence. Harry called out desperately, "Seven. Seven!" There was no answer.
Grimly, the acting captain of Voyager called out, "Computer, how long until we're within hailing range of that ship?"
As the computer struggled to answer, he that was made in the image of Harry Kim knew there was no way for the true Voyager to reach them in time. He glanced around at each of the bridge stations, envisioning those who should have been manning each one.
No B'Elanna at the engineering station. She had been the first to die. Tom's spot at the navigational controls was also empty. Embittered by the loss of his wife and the knowledge that he was only an imitation of the "real" Tom Paris, the helmsman had not even tried to fight for his life when his body began to break down. The last words he'd ever uttered had been to Harry: "I'm glad it's over. Now B'Elanna and I can be together forever."
Neither Tuvok nor Alaya stood at tactical. The science stations were all vacant. Harry Kim stood where Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay always did. Neelix was no longer around to try to boost morale with a joke, even the self-deprecating kind he'd always told on himself.
Harry had wanted to have a command someday, but not this way.
The computer's struggle to answer the acting captain ended wordlessly, with several clicks and an eruption of static. Striding to his own station at Ops, Harry examined his instrumentation. There was nothing he could do. The computer core was gone - or its connection to the rest of the ship was. It hardly mattered which was the case; the end result was the same.
Rather than return to the captain's spot, Harry chose to move to the center console above the command chairs, the position on the bridge Seven of Nine habitually took from the time she'd first came aboard ship. He pictured her as last he had seen her: her beautiful face disintegrating as the stuff that had been sculpted into her being returned to its natural state, that of the wondrous silver compound that had once formed pools on a desolate world, ready to be introduced to sentience by visitors from far across the galaxy.
He wished he could see her again, one last time, drooping face or not. His own face looked pretty bad now.
To the rear of his position, Harry could hear a whistling whine issuing from out of the captain's ready room. The viewport must be giving way. Pinging and popping sounds began to surround him. He looked upwards as a defect in the shields was announced with a hiss. He became aware of a creaking sound issuing forth from the hatch of the Jeffries tube which emptied onto the bridge.
The creaking sound changed to that of a door opening. Rushing over, Harry grabbed the handle and pulled hard enough to rip it off its hinges. Offering his hand to the one emerging from the tube, Harry helped her stand. When he was face to face with her, however, he wondered if Seven's neural pathways still functioned well enough for her to know who he was. She stared at him without any sign of recognition. It didn't really matter to Harry. The very thought that she would even want make that terrible climb to be with him now was enough.
He put his arms around her and held her close, comforted by her presence. At least he wouldn't be standing here alone with only memories of his friends at the end. One friend would still be here with him. The dearest one, if he dared admit that to himself now.
When her eyes were able to focus again, Harry's face was there. His arms were around her, steadying her. She was pleased she had attained her goal, but there was one thing more she had to say to him before words became impossible.
"I sent a message through my Borg neural implant. If the other Seven is on that ship - and if my implant still operates adequately - perhaps it will reach her."
A ghostly smile graced his lips. "I knew you'd find a way to contact them."
"There is no guarantee of success."
"I don't need guarantees. The best we can do is try - and hope it will be enough."
Seven leaned into Harry's embrace, resting her melting cheek against the sagging skin of his, and sighed deeply. The ship's tortured shell was breaching all around them now. The shrieking of space as it displaced the air of Voyager assaulted their ears.
It was strange, but at that moment a memory slipped into her awareness. Only a few short weeks ago, she had caught Lieutenant Torres' wedding bouquet. As the old superstition went, Seven would be the next to marry. Unfeasible now. With her last second of life fast approaching, she thought of Lieutenant Torres' question about who might constitute a suitable mate for Seven, just before they discovered the first evidence of the disaster that was now coming to a conclusion. "How about Harry Kim?"
Monogamy. She had sneered at the very thought when the chief engineer mentioned it. The idea of restricting herself to seeking sexual satisfaction from only one man had seemed absurd to her. Seven had not hesitated in telling this to the newlywed lieutenant who had promised to live a monogamous life with Lieutenant Paris. That had, indeed, turned out to be her destiny, for within days, Lieutenant Torres had perished while her husband looked on helplessly. She had experienced only one day of wedded bliss before her life had melted away.
Even that one day of monogamous life Lieutenant Torres had enjoyed seemed preferable to the fate Seven now faced. The man whose arms encircled her deserved a fate better than this one, too. He had always been a steadfast friend to her - a warm and loving friend. She'd rejected what he'd offered because she knew he would want monogamy.
She had been taught by the Borg that regrets were irrelevant. She no longer thought so. Seven bitterly regretted she had never explored the full sensations of shared bodies with Harry Kim when their lives could have been stimulated and enriched by the experience. Too late now. This body would never enjoy such intimacies, in a monogamous relationship, or otherwise.
Seven eyes met Harry's and read in them feelings that she had never had the chance to fully experience for herself. That no longer mattered. At least a small measure of sexual satisfaction might be achieved. She could still share a little of herself with Harry Kim. His breath was warm on her cheek as she moved close enough to touch his lips with hers. As he responded passionately, pulling her into the tightest of embraces, she closed her eyes and lived only in the moment for those brief seconds of awareness left to her. To them.
As their universe dissolved away, Harry Kim and Seven of Nine melted together in a first, last, and eternal kiss.
"Try hailing again."
"No response," Tuvok replied to Captain Janeway from his station on the bridge of Voyager.
Harry fiddled with the controls of his console, trying to clear away interference. Finally, he had enough information to say, "Captain, I've found the source of the distress call. It's coming from a vessel." Something was strange about that distress call, Harry realized, but he would need time to analyze it. Satisfying his curiosity wasn't a priority at the moment. They were within 400,000 kilometers of what was obviously a heavily damaged ship, and the nature of the distress call wasn't essential to their rescue mission. Afterwards, he'd have time to figure out what seemed off about it.
From her command chair, the captain crisply ordered, "Drop to impulse. Are the rescue teams ready? Bridge to Sickbay: stand by for casualties."
"In visual range." Tuvok worked his own console's controls, bringing the viewscreen to life. Harry looked up to see the vessel they were approaching.
"Onscreen." A galaxy of glittering frozen silver droplets hung jewel-like in the vastness of space, shining with the reflected light of the stars. Already, the drops were beginning to drift lazily apart as each one took its own trajectory into the void.
"Where's the ship?" Janeway murmured.
"No sign of it," Harry replied. A yawning chasm opened in the vicinity of his stomach. Those fragments once must have constituted a ship. If it had sent out a distress call, it was likely that living beings had been traveling in it. No more.
"That debris . . . that couldn't be all that's left," Chakotay said.
Tuvok's calm voice answered, "I'm detecting residual deuterium, anti-neutrons, traces of dichromates. If it was a vessel, it isn't anymore."
"Scan for life signs, escape pods." The captain ordered, not wishing to give up hope.
"None," Tuvok replied.
A short moment of silence passed before Captain Kathryn Janeway took the only course of action still available. "Make a note in the ship's record - we received a distress call at 0900 hours and arrived at the vessel's last known coordinates at 2120. The ship was destroyed. Cause unknown. No survivors." Turning to her silent helmsman, she added, "Mr. Paris, resume course."
Harry sighed resignedly. /And sometimes, the bear eats you,/ he thought, as he glanced behind the captain, towards the station Seven manned when she was on the bridge instead of in Astrometrics. To his surprise, Seven was staring at the viewscreen, her usual cool, detached demeanor nowhere in evidence.
Rather, Seven looked like she'd seen a ghost.
He'd been restless all day, ever since he'd seen the fragments of the lost vessel - assuming that was what it had actually been. The sorts of materials usually used to build a deep space vessel were conspicuous by their absence from the debris. A paucity of organic compounds suggested that if beings anything like themselves had been on board, most of the crew must have abandoned ship long before the vessel reached the coordinates where the distress beacon was located. Harry devoutly hoped this was the explanation for the absence of escape pods in the vicinity.
He wasn't sure why he still felt so uneasy. It wasn't as if this were the first time such a thing had happened. They'd encountered the remnants of lost ships before, had heard distress signals beaming out their anxious pleas for help long after those who'd set off the signals had disappeared into interstellar dust. It was one of those things you had to accept when you ventured off into space - not that it made it any easier when it happened. The futility never failed to be unsettling, but something about this incident profoundly disturbed him, even more than usual.
Now, well past midnight, he continued to toss and turn, though he was exhausted from poring over the data from that strange transmission much of the afternoon. The oddest thing about the message was the way it seemed to be directed straight at them. The frequency used was a narrow carrier wave band, one that was reserved for Federation maydays. The distress call hadn't shown up on any other frequency. It was as if the mystery ship knew exactly how to contact them. How could they possibly know that this particular frequency was the right one? Chance? Or did they have some exotic kind of sensor technology that could "read" from tremendous distances which frequency was optimal?
With his thoughts tumbling around in his head as ceaselessly as his body tossed on the bed, Harry finally bowed to the inevitable. Sleep wouldn't be coming any time soon. Flopping around in bed when he knew he was going to stay wide awake was ridiculous.
Throwing off his blanket, Harry donned his robe and walked over to the replicator in his quarters. Harry stared at it for several minutes, indecisive about what he wanted. While he was a bit hungry, for some reason, replicated food didn't appeal to him at all tonight.
Replicated food wasn't his only option, though. Neelix usually left sandwiches and snacks in the mess hall for Beta and Gamma shift meals or for those who, like Harry, were in the mood for a midnight nosh. It was after 0100. It was too early for the night shift to be eating lunch, but somebody from Beta shift might still be in the mess hall having a late supper. Companionship definitely did appeal to him. Besides, on their last foraging mission, they'd picked up some very nice fruit. Neelix's sandwiches might or might not be made from replicated food, but the fruit, Harry knew, would be natural.
Just remembering their tart sweetness was enough to make Harry decide upon a course of action. He slipped on casual clothing and comfortable shoes, readying himself for a foraging mission of his own. Destination: Deck 2.