Star Trek: Odyssey – Isle of the Sun Chapter 6

CHAPTER 6

Zut! That test was absolute merde!” said Lucy. She was still enjoying her newfound grasp of twentieth-century French. She’d studied Vulcan and Tellar languages in the Academy just to meet the core requirements, but she never really had a good head for languages. And besides, the universal translator was simply too convenient of a shortcut to even bother. She would have been hard pressed, these days, to recall even the more salient Tellarite curse words. But now, French invectives were free-flowing.

“Whoever wrote that program can brûle en l’enfer! And what are you laughing at, Owen?”

She whirled about on the security officer who was escorting her back to sickbay.

Owen pinched his lips tight, trying to hide his mirth and failing. The other security officer, Crewman DeVries, subtly distanced himself from Owen, leaving him to bear the brunt of Lucy’s wrath.

“Is it funny to you, that the Doctor is going to judge my fitness as a Starfleet officer on the outcome of a badly written holodeck melodrama?”

After a promising start, the atmospheric Roma carnival setting had dissolved into chaos. A series of contrived plot twists revealed that half the food vendors were actually terrorists. They locked down the fairgrounds and rounded up as many hostages as they could get their hands on. Of course, the task of rescuing everyone fell almost immediately on Lucy. There was never a satisfactory reason given for this. She was simply a stranger in their midst that everyone decided to turn to for leadership.

By this point, Lucy strongly suspected that someone had taken a beautifully crafted holodeck worldspace and overwritten it with the plot of a haphazard, clichéd action/adventure novel.

Owen shook his head. “No. You’re right. The Doctor’s program was… merde.” He struggled and failed to hold in a smile.

“Then what’s so funny?” Lucy shouted.

“Nothing,” said Owen. “It’s just… nice to see you getting angry.”

“What?” said Lucy. She shook her head in bewilderment. “Why?”

“Just…” Owen cast a glance at Bobby DeVries, and lowered his voice to near-inaudibility. “Since what happened… You haven’t once gotten upset about anything.”

Lucy blinked. “So what?”

“So it was a really upsetting thing that happened!” he said. “I just… I don’t know if you’re in denial about it or what, but…”

DeVries cleared his throat, bringing Owen up short.

“Sorry,” said Owen, “I’m not supposed to talk about that. Let’s just get back to sickbay, ok?”

Lucy didn’t move. “I’m not in denial,” she said. “I know what was done to me. I feel it, even now. But the worst is long over. I understand why everyone has their doubts, but I wish people would listen to me when I say I’m fine!”

Owen sighed. “Well, good. I’m glad you’re ok. But I can’t help worrying about you, Lucy.”

She almost asked “Why,” but the look on his face drew her up short. His concerns were etched into the lines around his ice-blue eyes, and deeper emotions seemed to dwell just under the surface of his gaze.

Suddenly, Lucy didn’t know what to say. She stared into his eyes for a long moment, looking for a clearer sign of what he was thinking.

Bobby cleared his throat again.

Owen cast an annoyed glance at his colleague, then looked back at Lucy. “Your eyes are changing again,” he said.

“Oh?” said Lucy. “Now what are they doing?”

Owen smiled. “They’re going back to normal. They’re dark brown again, and the makeup is fading, too.”

Lucy was relieved to hear it. She glanced down at her arms and saw her porcelain pallor was returning to its natural, olive tones. “Good,” she said.

Another beat of silence passed, and suddenly it felt awkward.

“Well, the Doctor’s going to start wondering where we are,” said Owen.

“Right,” said Lucy. “Let’s go.” She turned around to head towards sickbay, but at the mention of the Doctor, she remembered the bloodbath that the holonovel had become, and her anger returned in force. “But I swear, if he tries to blame me for the outcome of that terrible program…”

“I’ll vouch for you,” said Owen. He put a comforting hand on her shoulder, and soothing warmth seemed to suffuse her body from the touch, working wonders for her temper. She was halfway tempted to put her hand over his until he began gently pushing, trying to urge her back into motion. “You did everything that could be expected from a junior science officer.”

The way he qualified his statement rubbed Lucy the wrong way. She pushed his hand away and turned on him again. “What, you think you could have done better?” she challenged.

Owen just pointed down the corridor towards sickbay.

“Hmpf,” said Lucy, and she turned around and marched the rest of the way to sickbay without looking back.

 


 

“I’m sorry, Ensign, I can’t clear you for duty yet.”

“Why?” said Lucy, “Because I couldn’t save some of the hostages?”

“No, that’s not it,” said the Doctor.

They were back in the Doctor’s office, and Owen and Bobby were back to guarding the entrance to sickbay. For now, Lucy and the Doctor could converse in private.

“What was I supposed to do,” said Lucy, “go all Michael Bernam? Maybe that would have worked in that two-bit hack holonovel, but in the real world—”

“I said…” the Doctor tried to talk over her, but Lucy steamrolled forward.

“Those sorts of shoot-from-the-hip heroics just start wars and get people killed! I tried to get into their heads. I tried to find their motivations so I could work out a peaceful resolution! Little did I know, they were all just cartoon villains! If you took me to the holodeck just to play a shoot-em-up, why even—”

“Ensign Kang!” the Doctor shouted, and finally, Lucy broke off her tirade. “Your performance in that… ‘two-bit hack holonovel’ that I wrote…”

Lucy cringed.

“…is not the issue. The goal was never to judge you by the outcome of the scenario, but to assess your mental condition by your behavior under unfamiliar and stressful circumstances.”

Lucy absorbed this fact and struggled to process it. “Is this because I bought a hat, then?”

The Doctor sighed. “No. It was not any single decision or mistake that you made.”

“Then please, Doctor,” said Lucy, “explain it to me. I really can’t understand.”

The Doctor paused to consider. “And how does that make you feel?”

“Upset,” said Lucy.

“Upset how?” said the Doctor. “Does it make you sad? Or are you afraid for your career? Your future?”

“No,” said Lucy, “I’m angry, and I’m frustrated. I had a goal. I was supposed to save those hostages, but it was a total Kobayashi Maru. The only way to break the stalemate would have been to start killing terrorists.”

“And did that ever cross your mind as a legitimate option?” said the Doctor.

“Not for a moment,” said Lucy. “Even if we could have killed them all with zero collateral damage, which I highly doubt, and in spite of the fact I didn’t agree with their methods or their goals, it wasn’t my place to pick sides in their conflict. It was a classic Prime Directive scenario.”

The Doctor paused, momentarily considering her point. “An interesting perspective.”

“Is that why I failed?”

The Doctor uttered a frustrated sigh. “I told you, it was nothing specific! There was no ‘right’ answer! Ensign…” He grasped for the right words for a moment before going on, “You can’t feel pain. Your shoe melted into your foot, and you didn’t even limp. And your emotional responses are completely atypical. You showed more concern for the shoe than for your foot, and you demonstrated as much sympathy for the terrorists as for the victims.”

“I was mediating!” Lucy retorted, but the Doctor went on regardless.

“You approached them without even trying to work out out a contingency plan or find a weapon for self-defense. They could have shot you where you stood just to make a point!”

“They were scared!” said Lucy. “They needed someone to hear their demands, or they would have started killing hostages even sooner. Your writing made it obvious that I was the one that would be expected to step forward, so I did. I was just following the plot.”

“As you saw it, perhaps,” said the Doctor. “But the most serious problem had nothing to do with your choices or your emotions. Ensign, your biosynthetic implants just dropped the entire French language into your head, and you didn’t skip a beat. You hardly even noticed, until I pointed it out. That degree of cognitive synergy speaks to the profound extent to which an unknown alien artificial intelligence has insinuated itself into your brain.”

“What?” said Lucy. “You don’t think I’m Lucy Kang anymore? What am I then, a Borg?”

“You’re still you,” said the Doctor, his voice much softer than before. “You’re still Lucille Kang. Your capacity for empathy, your cleverness, your wit, that’s all you. But you’re something more, now, too. That’s what frightens me.”

“Well then, how long is it going to take, to prove I can be trusted again?” said Lucy.

The Doctor shook his head. “Hopefully, we won’t have to deal with that. Commander Chakotay is back on that station right now, looking for a way to reverse what was done to you.”

Lucy tasted something bitter. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” she said.

“You’re right, I should have,” said the Doctor. “I was preoccupied with setting up your assessment.”

Lucy shook her head. “You’re not the only person who could have let me know. The Captain, or Chakotay, or anyone on the senior staff could have told me what they intended to do. I’m just an afterthought in all this, aren’t I?”

“Far from it, Ensign,” said the Doctor.

“But what if the cure is just as grisly and invasive as the cause? Will they even ask my permission, or will they just order me to hop back into that pod?”

“Ensign…”

Lucy shook her head. “They didn’t even give me a chance, did they? They saw I looked different, they saw I acted different, and immediately they just assumed they had to ‘turn me back’ somehow. I can’t even imagine what that would be like, Doctor! All this trauma and misery that people keep expecting me to feel? Why would I want that?”

The Doctor looked perplexed. “You don’t want to be… you again, Lucy?”

“I am me, Doctor! You said it yourself! I’m me, and I’m more! And your bogus test is a far cry from convincing me that that’s a bad thing.”

The Doctor’s confusion faded, giving rise to a carefully neutral expression. “I’ll be sure to pass that sentiment on to the Captain, then,” he said.

“Well… good!” said Lucy. “I’m a member of this crew, dammit. I deserve to be heard.”

The Doctor nodded. “Of course.”

With that settled, Lucy walked out of the Doctor’s office and back into sickbay. “So, what am I supposed to do now? Sit on a biobed and twiddle my thumbs?”

The Doctor shook his head. “Your security clearances are still on hold, but you’re clear to visit all unrestricted areas of the ship. You’ll have two security personnel with you at all times outside of your quarters, and your activities will be monitored.”

Lucy opened her mouth to complain, but the Doctor cut her off.

“Those are the captain’s orders. Furthermore, you’re to report back to sickbay at oh-seven-hundred hours for a complete medical assessment, so I can monitor the progression of your condition. And keep me informed of any new symptoms you may experience in the meantime. Those are my orders. Are we clear, Ensign?”

“Yes, Doctor,” said Lucy, making every effort to stifle her resentment. As stacked as the test had seemed, she had to acknowledge that the Doctor knew what he was doing. Whether she agreed with him or not, his judgment must have had some merit, at least from a certain point of view. Continuing to belabor the point would only serve to reinforce his conclusions.

Lucy turned to the sickbay doors and walked straight through, studiously avoiding eye contact with Owen or Bobby as she passed between them. Without looking back, she knew they had followed her through the door by their soft footsteps on the carpeted deck.

Lucy pondered what to do with the rest of her day. She couldn’t even enter the BNG labs without her security clearances. She found it a little absurd that she would even contemplate visiting her workplace on a day off, and yet, she yearned to do just that. Voyager only had a couple other technicians that were even qualified to do her job, and they would both be pulling extra shifts for the foreseeable future to cover for her absence. Even if she couldn’t take on any of the work, she would have liked to check in on them and offer some moral support. Maybe she could catch up with Raeger or Kigon in the commissary later to see if they could use any work advice or moral support, but right now they were sure to be in the middle of a shift or deep in a sleep cycle.

She wasn’t hungry, so there was no reason to visit the commissary right now. She was absolutely sick of holograms, so obviously the Holodeck was out of the question. Lucy supposed she might as well just return to her quarters.

Crewman Jarvin passed Lucy in the corridor. His step faltered when he saw her, and his eyes darted over her several times.

“Something the matter, Crewman?” said Lucy.

“Nossir,” said Jarvin, making the formal reply sound like a friendly greeting. Three years in the Delta Quadrant had worn away some of the polish from Starfleet code of conduct, and the Maquis crew members like Jarvin rarely stood on ceremony in the first place—especially not for the likes of Ensign Lucy Kang. “I’m glad to see you’re back on your feet. Are you headed to the holodeck?”

Lucy remembered the costume she was still wearing, complete with a melted shoe. “No. Why?” she said. She met his eye, daring him to make another comment.

Jarvin’s eyes darted to Bobby and Owen in uncertainty.

Lucy just straightened her posture, glared at him, and waited.

His eyes met hers again, and after another moment of uncertainty, his face broke into a grin. “I heard there was a pool tournament at Sandrine’s tonight. If you’re off duty, I’d like to go with you.”

Lucy couldn’t help but smile at his audacity. “That’s sweet, Crewman, but…” She cast a glance over her shoulder at Owen. His face was a stony mask of professional disinterest, but she swore she could see something burning in his ice-blue eyes.

She turned back to Jarvin and put on a winning smile. “I’ll let you know a little later.” She started walking again, and as she passed Jarvin, she reached out and brushed a bit of imaginary lint off the back of his shoulder. He looked back and met her eyes, she offered him one more small smile, and she went on her way.

Lucy went to her quarters to change. Thankfully, Owen and Bobby didn’t follow her through the doors, although she knew they would be waiting for her when she emerged again; they or two others, at any rate.

She stripped away the jewelry, the scarf, the skirts, the ruined shoes, the blouse, the corset. Patches of mud and soot still clung to the skirts, though thankfully the bloodstains had vanished at the end of the simulation, along with her holographic hat. As the illusion faded back into black walls and golden grid lines, the corpse she’d been checking for a pulse dissolved under her fingertips, and across the holodeck, the bracelet she’d traded for the vanishing hat clattered to the floor.

The final death toll was eight. Out of eighty-odd hostages, eight died before Lucy managed to convince the insane terrorists that their point was made, nothing more would be gained, and she would personally hand deliver their nonsense manifesto to the President of Earth, or Napoleon, or whoever the king of France was in nineteen-whatever, if only they would stop killing people.

It worked, because the terrorists had indeed already accomplished much of what they set out to do, and because she’d managed to convince them that she was neutral to their bigoted cause, and because the program had been poorly written. If she’d been trained as a security or tactical officer, maybe she could have organized the braver holodeck characters to rise up and kill or capture the terrorists. The death toll would likely have been even higher, but at least the dead would have consisted more of the cartoonish villains, and less of the peaceful bystanders.

If she’d been a diplomatic or command-track officer, maybe she would have done a better job of negotiating. She couldn’t fathom what more she could have done to convince them, and yet, she was sure that somehow, Captain Janeway would have come through that scenario without losing a single hostage. She would have found a way to trick them, or turn them against each other, or… something.

Lucy stuffed the remnants of her costume into her bedroom replicator and signaled it to dissolve the outfit back into formless energy reserves. Then she used her wallscreen to call up the file for that silly, stupid hat, and she deleted it. It wasn’t really such a special thing, after all. Looking back, she’d really just chosen to fixate on it to get a little rise out of the Doctor. It had seemed like such a small thing, but now she couldn’t help cursing herself for taking the whole assessment so lightly from the start. She hadn’t had any doubts at all about her own competence. No wonder the Doctor hadn’t passed her.

It didn’t do to dwell on it, though. She’d just have to work harder to prove herself going forward.

What Lucy needed was to work up a good sweat. She went to her dresser and changed into her gym clothes, then looked around the room for her preferred off-duty sweater, only to recall that she’d left it in the deck eight gymnasium before the away mission. By now, the ship’s self-cleaning system had probably tractored it into the gym’s clutter repository. If she didn’t find it and pull it out soon, it would wind up being reclamated, and she’d have to use precious replicator rations to recreate it.

Lucy set off straight away, deciding not to worry this time that she was only wearing her shorts and a sports bra. If it was fine in the gym, there was no reason it wouldn’t be fine in the corridors.

When she stepped out through the door to her quarters, she turned to Bobby. “I’m going to the gym,” she announced. She hardly spared Owen a glance.

The security officers shadowed her through the ship. They reached the turbolift, and the doors slid open, revealing, of all people, Ensign Vorik.

Lucy stepped into the turbolift, flashing a smile at Vorik that he did not return. Her guards crowded into the turbolift behind her.

“Deck eight,” said Lucy. As the turbolift whisked into motion, she looked over at Vorik. “You’re not heading to a briefing with the senior staff by any chance, are you?” she asked him.

“I am on my way to engineering,” responded Vorik.

Lucy nodded. “Good. I wouldn’t want to show up in front of Chakotay in my underwear again.”

“Commander Chakotay is not currently on board,” said Vorik.

Lucy rolled her eyes, then turned and faced him directly. Just then, though, the turbolift came to a halt, and the doors opened on deck eight. “Remind me to gripe at you the next time I see you, Vorik,” she said.

The Vulcan just arched an eyebrow. Lucy stepped out of the turbolift, escorts in tow, and made her way down the corridor to the gymnasium.

The gym was empty, as expected at 1700 during a Yellow Alert. Almost no one would be away from their post this long after shift change.

Lucy found her sweater in the clutter repository with a couple empty water bottles and someone’s misplaced PADD. The shirt was a little rumpled, but none the worse for the wear. She handed it to Bobby and asked him to hang onto it for her, then she found her usual fifteen-kilo dumbells, walked over to the variable-g exercise zone, and took a few experimental lunges.

She found it didn’t require her usual level of exertion. “Computer, what is the gravity setting of the variable-g exercise zone?”

“Gravity is set to one g,” said the computer.

“Increase fifteen percent,” said Lucy.

She took a few more lunges and marveled at how little effort it still required. “Computer, increase the gravity an additional fifteen percent.”

Her next lunges required a little more effort, but for the first time, she felt confident that she could go beyond this setting—well beyond. “Computer, increase gravity to three g’s.” That was the maximum allowable g-force for Human users.

Immediately, Lucy was seized by the illusion that she was being aggressively shoved upwards, as if she were on a turbolift with malfunctioning inertial dampeners. The weights became leaden in her hands, and she was forced to tighten her grip.

Lucy took a few deep breaths, then attempted a few more lunges. It was a challenge. Her joints complained, and her muscles strained. It wasn’t exactly what she would have called painful, but Lucy knew that that didn’t mean it wasn’t causing her harm. She glanced at Owen, standing with Bobby at the entrance to the gymnasium, staring at her through a furrowed brow, and decided not to let that fact stop her. She would quit if she heard something pop. Lucy finished a full set of lunges before gratefully relinquishing the triple-weighted dumbbells.

Then, rather than leaving the variable-g zone or turning down the gravity, Lucy decided to press ahead with a full set of crunches, and then pushups, and then pull-ups. She found that, even though she was exercising near her limits, she wasn’t tiring out as quickly as she’d expected.

When she was done, Lucy was drenched in sweat. She dialed the gravity back down to normal, and suddenly she felt as light as a feather. She laughed at the sudden lightness and jumped in place a couple times, landing lightly on her toes.

Lucy ordered a bottle of electrolyte-infused water from the gymnasium replicator, drank deeply, and then went to the treadmill.

She started at her typical long-distance running speed, but of course, it wasn’t offering her much of a challenge, so she dialed up the treadmill, bit by bit, until she hit the maximum allowable setting for Human users. Running at a flat-out sprint now, Lucy felt her breaths coming deeply and evenly, the muscles in her legs and feet not even struggling to keep up. She couldn’t override the treadmill settings without security clearances, but she was tempted to reprogram the equipment to read her as some other species, perhaps Kelpien or Edosian, just to see how far she could push herself.

It wouldn’t look good for her if she tripped and fell on her face in the gymnasium, though, and Owen and Bobby might step in if they thought she was being unsafe, so she decided just to see how long she could carry on at the current pace.

About half an hour later, just as the treadmill’s odometer was approaching twenty-five kilometers, Lucy landed on her right foot a little off balance and nearly rolled her ankle. She stumbled but stayed on her feet, not breaking stride long enough for the treadmill’s safeties to kick in, but she decided she’d had enough for the moment. She could have sprained her ankle, and she wouldn’t have a clue. She stopped the treadmill, walked to the replicator to refill her water bottle, drank half a liter, and refilled it again. Then she headed to a chair on the edge of the room, sat down, and picked her ankle up into her lap to give it a once-over.

“Are you ok?”

Lucy looked up and found Owen standing in front of her, looking at her with evident concern.

Lucy forced a polite smile. “Fine.”

He sat down next to her and took her bare foot gently in his warm hands. “Are you sure?” he asked. “What if you just can’t feel the injury?”

“That’s why I got off the treadmill to take a look,” said Lucy. “But it’s fine, see?”

He probed her ankle carefully with his fingers for a moment. Lucy’s breathing was still coming in deep, rapid breaths, just short of panting, and the endorphins from her workout were interacting with Owen’s tender ministrations to a curious effect. She studied the muscular contours of his shoulders and neck and the stalwart profile of his face as he examined her foot.

“We should return to sickbay, just to make sure—” the words died in his throat when his blue eyes met with the intensity of her gaze.

Lucy just slowly shook her head.

Owen swallowed. He looked like he was about to say something else, but then Lucy reached out on impulse, brushing the stubble on his cheek with her fingertips.

Across the gym, Bobby cleared his throat.

Lucy pulled her hand back, and Owen jumped to his feet.

Lucy stood up as well.

Owen started to speak, stopped, cleared his throat, and tried again. “Let’s just stop by sickbay,” he said.

“That’s really not necessary,” said Lucy. She was quickly recovering her breath, now. “My ankle’s fine. See?” She picked up her left foot, balancing her weight on the right, and hopped up and down a couple times. The demonstration didn’t tax her balance in the slightest.

Owen still looked uncertain.

“The Doctor will just consider it more evidence that I’m not fit for duty. Please, Owen, if you’re not going to back me up, at least don’t sabotage me.”

Owen was taken aback. “I said I’ve got your back,” he said. “I meant it.”

“Well then why didn’t you say anything when the Doctor was relieving me of duty?”

Owen shook his head. “If you couldn’t change his mind, there’s no way I can. You know how stubborn the Doctor can be. I’ll talk to Lieutenant Tuvok when he gets back from the mission, though.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “He’s got to be twice as stubborn.”

“Yeah, but he values my input. If I tell him you aren’t a security risk…”

“He’ll tell you your human emotions are getting in the way of your logic.”

Owen nodded. “Something like that, I’m sure. But he’ll at least take it into account. It isn’t much, but it’s the best I can do, Lucy.”

“That, and not tattling to the Doctor because I stumbled slightly?” said Lucy.

Owen cast an uncertain glance at Bobby, who just shook his head mutely.

“Fine,” said Owen. “But no more reckless use of the exercise equipment. You know all your activities are being monitored. Everything you just did in here is going to turn up in a report.”

Lucy stood up straight. “Well, good,” she said. “Let them see that there are some really remarkable advantages to my condition. I’m tired of everyone singling out my faults and dismissing my superior abilities.”

Owen still looked painfully unsure. “Ok, Lucy. Just… don’t start acting like the next Kahn Singh, please?”

Lucy was stunned. “Excuse me?” Did he really just compare her to one of the worst despots in human history?

Owen rolled his eyes. “I didn’t mean it like that, just…”

“Like what, then?” said Lucy. “Is that how I seem, Owen? You think I’m a monster?”

“No!” said Owen. “I’m just concerned for you.”

Lucy stormed out of the gymnasium, snatching her sweater out of Bobby’s hands on her way out the door. She pulled on the sweater while she marched down the corridor, making her escorts jog to keep up.

“Wait, Lucy, hang on a sec!” said Owen.

“Who said you could talk to me like that? Aren’t you still on duty, Chief?” Lucy said over her shoulder.

Owen sighed in exasperation. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Denied!” said Lucy.

She reached the turbolift and called for deck four, half hoping the doors would close before the security officers could make it inside. Of course, the turbolift waited for them.

They traveled the rest of the way to Lucy’s quarters in uncomfortable silence. When they reached her door, she turned to Owen and said, “Try not to be the next Adolf Hitler, ok, Chief Vance?”

Owen winced, and Lucy walked into her room, locking the door behind her.

She let out an angry huff, and then she hit a button on the panel by her door.

“—was I thinking? Why did I say that to her?” Owen’s voice filtered through her door’s comm panel.

“Hey, we were both thinking it,” said Bobby.

“But it’s not what I meant! It just came out that way.”

“Come on, she sounded like an augment,” said Bobby. “Oh, I’m better than all the normal humans! Why don’t they recognize my superiority!”

“Yeah, but Lucy’s not like that,” said Owen. “I think she just… she’s not herself, right now. She doesn’t realize how her words come across.”

Lucy was tempted to shout back through the door comm, but she just clicked it off, instead.

They couldn’t know what she was going through. The only people on this whole ship who ever appreciated her for her abilities were Raeger and Kigon, and they were in the same boat as she was—consigned to laboratories in the lower decks, performing grinding and completely thankless work, possibly for the rest of their lives. The fact that she graduated in the top tenth percentile of her class, that she had a spotless service record, and that she never uttered one single gripe about her shitty lot in life to another soul had never garnered her an iota of recognition.

Because she was meek. She didn’t complain, and she didn’t push. She thought her record would speak for itself, and that one day she’d have a chance to prove her worth to the captain of this ship.

Well, she’d had her chance, and she’d screwed it up royally. She’d allowed that infernal alien pod to catch her, and now, she was… weird. All anyone could see in her anymore was the horror of what had happened to her. They couldn’t even see her as a human being anymore.

Would it kill them to give her a chance? She didn’t expect to lose the security escort any time soon, but they didn’t have to keep her from doing her job. And if they were going to fuss endlessly over the way her emotional responses had changed, they could at least balance their perspective by acknowledging everything she’d gained in return.

The sad fact was, no matter what Lucy said or did, she was going to be viewed with suspicion from now on. Which meant her newfound strength and stamina weren’t assets, they were threats. They wouldn’t earn her positions on away missions; they would only hold her back from being a part of the crew.

Lucy needed to take a shower and clean away the sweat that was drying on her skin, but now she was too worked up to focus on that. A gnawing, hungry pit had opened in her stomach since her workout, but she was too high strung to order something from the replicator to fill it, either. Lucy paced around the claustrophobic confines of her junior officer’s quarters, wringing her hands.

She didn’t want the anger, but she couldn’t let it go. She knew the Captain was acting in the best interests of the crew. It would be stupid, from the Captain’s perspective, to trust her completely. If she could only divorce herself from her own experiences, she could see her way to understanding almost every decision that was made towards her in the last twenty-four hours.

What she couldn’t understand was how the senior staff could go back onto that space station, risking their lives trying to find a cure to her condition, without even taking the time to understand what her condition was, and without even keeping her informed of the choices they were making on her behalf. Did they think she was completely incompetent? That she no longer had the capacity to make her own informed medical decisions?

She had to remind herself that they were afraid. She remembered what it was like, that knee-jerk fear of cyborgs and genetic augments. It felt silly now, but humanity had a long and fraught history with both.

And aside from those old taboos, how many times, in just the last three years, had Voyager personnel been hijacked by alien powers and made to do things against their will? How could anyone see Lucy’s situation as anything but a continuation of that pattern?

After a few more minutes of pacing and rationalizing, Lucy finally settled herself down enough to take a long, cleansing sonic shower. After a minute of just basking in the warm jets of air and antiseptic rays, letting the sonic vibrations soothe her nerves, Lucy began a thorough investigation of the changes in her body.

It was still quite strange, looking down at herself and seeing someone she barely recognized. Her skin looked and felt almost preternaturally healthy, uniformly firm and evenly toned. Her figure, which once could have been described mostly in straight lines, now was defined by graceful curves and aesthetically perfect proportions, like something Alexandros of Antioch would have carved out of marble.

Above all the rest, though, the thing that struck Lucy most of all was her hands.

They were the same size, the same shape and proportions, and her slender fingers still tapered the same way they always had, but they weren’t the same hands she’d known all her life anymore. They responded to the minute impulses of her mind with preternatural precision and grace. They did not waver or tremble in the slightest degree when she chose to hold them still. It felt perfectly ordinary when she didn’t think about it, but staring at them now, Lucy felt the reality of her biosynthetic augmentation to a deeper degree than ever before.

More than the way they moved, though, Lucy’s hands were strangers to her. They no longer carried the calluses that were borne from crawling through the ship’s Jefferies tubes nearly every day of the last three years, hunting down misbehaving BNG packs in the recesses of the ship and fiddling with the fine connecting fibers that joined the BNG packs into the ship’s ODN relays.

The skin of her hands no longer had the natural roughness that lingered from her occasional holodeck free climbing expeditions. Her nails no longer bore the frayed edges where she would gnaw at them in times of stress. Even the lines that etched her palms were fewer and finer.

Lucy recalled that the Roma carnival had hosted a fortune telling tent with a sign advertising palm readings. She hadn’t paid the booth a visit during her assessment, but now Lucy wondered what the palm reader would have made of her hands. Would she have told Lucy that her destiny had been as heavily altered as her hands were? Would the loss of finer creases signify vanishing possibilities for her future?

Lucy shrugged off the fanciful notion and gave up on contemplating the depths of her transformation for the moment. She picked up her hairbrush, combing through her silky black tresses, allowing the magic of the sonic shower to purge each and every strand of sweat, grease, and grime.

When she was finished, Lucy slipped on her silk robe and ordered a bowl of fish soup, a side of rice noodles in black bean sauce, and a bottle of synth-soju from the replicator. She tucked the meal away in short order and was tempted to order seconds, but she decided she couldn’t spare the replicator credits. Instead, she climbed into bed and settled in for a nap.

 

Lucy had strange dreams.

She was back in the holodeck recreation of a Roma carnival. It was late at night, and the sky boasted a clear view of the Nekrit Expanse, its deep purple, nebular cloud banks dotted with a few red giants, like the last, dying embers of an extinguished campfire. The wormhole was rising over the horizon in the East like an oblong moon.

Lucy had come back here because she’d realized she’d left the test unfinished. There was still one more terrorist in the carnival, hiding among the throngs of people, and she had to find them before they carried out their misguided plot.

Pretty quickly as Lucy moved through the crowd, she noticed that the people around her were arrayed in the exact same configuration as the bioneural gel packs that populated Voyager; a fact that she chalked up to the Doctor’s lazy writing.

It was a good bit of information to have, though; something Lucy could exploit. If one of these people was a terrorist, then Lucy could track them down the same way she hunted down malfunctioning BNG packs around the ship.

Lucy grabbed the person nearest her. She recognized the mother of that little girl Ginger. Collette was her name. “You,” said Lucy, “What are you up to right now?”

Collette didn’t answer her; she just looked Lucy in the eye, her expression flickering between anger and remorse. Lucy studied her eyes until she could get an impression of Collette’s thoughts.

Collette was thinking about balancing the port thrusters against the feedback from starboard inertial dampeners to maintain a stable position relative to an external reference point. Lucy was able to glean from the direction her thoughts were moving that Collette was receiving information from the hat saleswoman near the portside entrance of the fair, and from the “Oriental” merchant at the far starboard side. Furthermore, she was directing her conclusions to a few different people around the fair, including towards Ginger, who was still running circuits around the bonfire in the middle of the fairground’s secondary hull.

Lucy decided to find Ginger next, but she knew she couldn’t go walking out in the open, or the terrorist might spot her. So, Lucy found an access hatch behind the fabrics stall and climbed down into the fairground’s system of Jefferies tubes. When she reached the bonfire, she climbed back out into the open night sky and spotted Ginger, still running in loops around the fire.

Lucy wondered what must be going through the little girl’s head to stray so dangerously close to an exposed matter-antimatter reaction, so she caught her by the hand and spun the little girl to face her. Lucy studied the girl’s grubby, tearful face until she could get a sense of her thoughts.

Ginger was working hard on shunting electroplasma from the reactor core without destabilizing the intermix ratio, and distributing that power to the auxiliary and operations power grids. She was receiving information from dozens of other carnival goers and sending information out to just as many others, as were her brother and sister, both of whom were still racing around the bonfire.

Good. Lucy had reached one of the central BNG network nodes for power distribution. Just about every other fairgoer fed data into this node, whether directly or indirectly. Now, all she had to do was monitor Ginger’s inputs for any irregularities.

Ginger looked annoyed. At first, Lucy thought she was annoyed because Lucy was keeping her from her game, but after a moment she realized the thing bugging Ginger was a lag in pings coming from the vendor at the pretzel stand. Could he be the terrorist?

Lucy let go of Ginger, and for a frightful moment, she feared the little girl would plunge straight into the bonfire again, but that didn’t happen. The little girl joined her siblings in their orderly circuits of the central power core of the festival.

Across the fairgrounds, near the forward bow, Lucy could just make out the sign for the pretzel stand. She ducked back into the Jefferies tubes and made her way all the way to the fore, popping out behind the counter of the pretzel stand next to the vendor.

Before he could make a move, Lucy grabbed him by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.

There were drops of sweat beading along the vendor’s hairline, and he was visibly trembling. Something had him scared. Was he really the terrorist? Lucy studied his mannerisms until she could sense his thinking. He was trying to manage inputs from all the major auxiliary vendors in the upper decks of the carnival. The problem was that the signal-to-noise ratio bleeding over from the fortune teller’s booth was way out of whack. He was still able to interpret the input with a little extra work, but if things went on like this, the fortune teller would stop functioning in such a way that her malfunction would pass its way up to the pretzel vendor, and from there it could very well cascade across the carnival, knocking out a sizable portion of the auxiliary fairgoers in the process.

The fortune teller was the terrorist; Lucy was sure, now. She would have to talk some sense into her; killing or capturing her was out of the question. A fortune teller was an important function for a Roma carnival, after all, and out here in the Delta Quadrant, they couldn’t exactly recruit a new fortune teller at the nearest starbase.

Lucy snuck over into the fortune teller’s booth and grabbed hold of the old crone before she knew what was happening.

The old woman’s face was contorted in rage, her hands balled into fists. It only took a moment of study for Lucy to realize what had her so upset. All of the fortune teller’s misplaced rage was the result of a simple sodium imbalance, resulting from a software failure in one of her homeostatic sensors. Lucy was able to force the fortune teller’s sensor to reboot. For a moment, the woman’s thinking was jumbled, unfocused. Then she smiled, and Lucy smiled back as she sensed the elderly woman’s thoughts returning to order, back to managing replicator and environmental functions for the forward sections of decks one through four of the carnival.

Lucy had succeeded. She was immensely relieved.

The dream faded away, and then Lucy found herself on the alien space station. Her mission was to find and analyze the station’s bioneural gel packs. She was excited to realize that her success on the holodeck had convinced the Doctor to approve her for active duty again, and she was determined not to make a mistake like last time. She would find every BNG on the station herself and make sure each one operated at peak efficiency so that they could use the station to open a wormhole to the Alpha Quadrant.

Pretty quickly, Lucy realized that the station’s alien bioneural technology mirrored Voyager’s much more closely than anyone guessed. In fact, they were configured in an identical grid to Voyager’s, making her mission significantly easier. Essentially, it turned what should have been a dangerous mission full of unknown variables into a normal day at work.

 

Lucy woke in the middle of what was shaping up to be a very boring dream, to the sound of her door chime. She rubbed at her eyes with her knuckles.

“Computer, what time is it?” she called. Her voice was a little froggy. She cleared her throat and pushed herself upright, swinging her legs out of bed.

“The time is twenty-three twenty-one hours,” said the computer.

“Who’s at my door?” she asked.

“Chief Petty Officer Owen Vance,” responded the computer.

Lucy sighed. She wasn’t ready to face her security escort again. “What do they want now?”

She stood and started getting dressed, deciding to put on her duty uniform even if she wasn’t on duty, just to remind people that she was still a part of the crew.

The chime sounded again as she stepped into her pants.

“Just a moment!” she called, and she pulled up her pants, only to have them catch around her hips.

Zut,” Lucy groaned. This was the first time she’d tried to don something tailored to her old measurements; something that wasn’t designed through the magic of modern textile technologies to conform to any body type. She was half-tempted to replicate a new uniform while her security escort waited outside, but the process would take a few minutes, and for all she knew, something urgent might have come up. Why else would they be bugging her at this hour?

Lucy decided to put on some stretchable black leggings and a thigh-length, waist-belted, off-the-shoulder, charcoal-gray tunic instead. When she was dressed, she clicked on her holomirror and studied herself front and back. She was grateful for once that her makeup had already taken care of itself, so to speak, evidently responding to her subconscious whims to achieve a subtly dewy, I-just-woke-up-this-perfect look that she’d never quite been able to achieve with conventional cosmetics.

The door chime signaled yet again. Lucy raked her fingers through her hair a few times, relieved that her nap hadn’t left her with noticeable bed-head, and called, “Enter!”

The door opened, and in strode Owen Vance, wearing a yellow-gold sweater reminiscent of Starfleet duty uniforms from a hundred years ago. The fact he wore his combadge in its usual place over his left breast only contributed to the impression.

It wasn’t an actual Starfleet uniform, though, which meant Owen was off duty.

“What do you want?” said Lucy.

He stopped just inside the entrance, and the door closed behind him. Lucy wished she hadn’t blindly let him in.

Owen took a deep breath, looked Lucy up and down, and then looked down at his feet, as if he’d suddenly lost the nerve to speak.

“I said, what do you want?” said Lucy.

“You look nice,” said Owen, forcing himself to meet Lucy’s gaze.

She regarded him cooly for a moment, then said, “Get out.”

“Wait, I…” Owen sighed. “Sorry. I came here to say… I’m sorry.”

Lucy shook her head. “Why bother apologizing? I’m not even myself right now, right?”

“What?” said Owen, obviously confused.

“Well, you said it,” said Lucy. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I’m not myself. I don’t even know what I’m saying. So why should you take anything I say, think, or feel seriously, hm?”

“So you were eavesdropping?” asked Owen.

Lucy nodded. “Yup.”

“Well then, you must have heard what I said next, right?”

Lucy shook her head. “I could only stomach a few seconds of listening to you talk about what you knew nothing about.”

Owen sighed. “I said there’s no way we could understand what you were going through. I said we needed to trust and support you while you figured things out, and how I hated that you felt like no one was on your side.”

Now it was Lucy’s turn to look at her feet. It occurred to her that neither her coworkers from the BNG labs, nor her friends from other departments had been by to visit her since the incident. Only Owen and Kes, and Kes worked in sickbay, so she couldn’t have avoided Lucy even if she’d wanted to.

A few people had checked in with her over the ship’s comms while she was in sickbay, and everyone was busy while the ship was at Yellow Alert, and she was sure some people were just afraid to see her, unsure of what to say or how to act. She tried not to take it personally, but until this moment, Lucy hadn’t realized how lonely she’d felt.

It was hard to know how she felt when the emotions that typically accompanied those feelings were nowhere to be found. How could she be lonely without being sad? Even now, with tears suddenly threatening to spring up in her eyes, Lucy couldn’t honestly claim to be sad. She couldn’t say exactly what the feeling was that was threatening to make her cry.

She clamped down on those tears, unwilling to cry in front of someone she was still so angry at.

“You compared me to Kahn Singh,” said Lucy, making herself meet his gaze again.

Owen cringed. “I didn’t mean to,” he said. “The words came out all wrong. I…”

Owen stepped closer, reached for Lucy’s hand. She stepped back, keeping him outside of arm’s reach.

“I don’t want you to feel isolated,” said Owen. “I want people to see you the way that I do. Right now, though… everyone’s scared.”

“Scared of me,” said Lucy.

Owen shook his head. “Scared of losing you.”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “I’m not going anywhere! If they’re scared at all, it’s because they think I might be some kind of a monster!”

“You know it’s not that simple, Luce. When Kes was possessed by that… warlord ghost, or whatever we decided on calling it, how long did it take everyone to catch on? How quickly did you catch on?”

Lucy winced at the memory.

“No one wants to make the same mistake twice,” said Owen.

“I get your point,” said Lucy. “Honestly, I can’t even blame them. But you…” She stepped forward and jabbed an accusing finger at his chest, but then she came up short.

Why did Owen’s feelings matter more than the others’? Why would she expect anything different from him? They’d just hooked up a couple times; it wasn’t like they were in love

Owen just stood there, looking forlorn. Lucy cocked her head to the side and stepped closer, wanting a clearer look at him.

“Why do you keep coming around me?” she demanded.

His look of agony increased. “Lucy…”

“Why do you keep visiting me? Why were we both on that away mission? Why were you on my security detail? Was that a coincidence?”

Owen shook his head. A tear beaded up in his right eye, but he made no move to clear it. “No. It wasn’t a coincidence. I volunteered for both. I lobbied…” He sniffed, and suddenly, tears were running down his cheeks. “…Lieutenant Tuvok to put me on the away mission. Because I heard you were going, and I wanted…” His face spasmed briefly, and he wiped his hand over his face to clear the tears. His voice dropped off as he finished, “…to keep you safe.”

Lucy examined him closely for a long moment; the redness rimming his eyes, the line of his tightly-pressed lips, the misery etched in his features, and the slight tremble in his hands, which he kept pinned to his sides, as if he were afraid of what they might do if he let them loose. It occurred to her that she’d badly misread Owen Vance before now.

“I’m so sorry, Luce, I couldn’t save you. I was useless, I…”

Lucy stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his middle, resting her head against his broad chest. He was warm, and his sweater was soft, and her arms seemed to fit perfectly around him.

A moment later, Owen folded his arms around her, encircling her in a protective embrace. He bowed his head, resting his cheek lightly on the crown of her head, and they stood like that until Lucy felt his trembling hands on her back relax and become still. The rise and fall of his breathing became deep and regular. Lucy took a deep breath, laced with musk and aftershave, and it warmed her up inside.

Lucy loosened her grip, allowing a few centimeters to open up between them, and looked up at Owen. He seemed so calm now, his piercing blue eyes gazing back at her under heavy lids. Her gaze flickered down to his firm, full lips, and back to his eyes, and then he leaned in and locked those lips over hers.

It wasn’t their first kiss. In fact, in spite of all of the changes Lucy had been through, Owen’s kiss felt entirely familiar. His firm mouth fit against her soft, cupid’s bow lips just the same as before. His prominent nose brushed the curve of her cheek in the same way. Her smaller, flatter nose was tickled by the stubble on his cheek in the same way. As much as she’d been feeling like a stranger in her own skin, it was a comforting reminder that, cosmetic differences notwithstanding, her face was mostly unchanged.

Their kiss slowly built in urgency, and Lucy’s hands began roaming over the familiar lines and angles of his body as his hands began exploring her unfamiliar curves.

His fingers sought out a ticklish spot on the small of Lucy’s back, and she squirmed against him. That made her laugh, breaking their kiss. He was grinning like a fool, maybe pleased to see that her body still responded the same way as before. She took the hem of his sweater and pulled it up, over his head, baring his chest. He pulled at the belt that cinched her tunic around her waist, loosening it enough to pull the top up, over her head, and they came together again, skin on sweat-damp skin, lips on hungry lips, tongues dancing together. Then, kicking off their shoes and tugging clumsily at their pants and leggings, they stumbled their way blindly over to Lucy’s unmade bed, and they fell in together.

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