A Fire of Devotion: Part 2 of 4: Louder Than Bells: Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight

“You’ve been working on this thing for nearly a month Annie,” Samantha Wildman said as she gently massaged Seven’s neck. “Are you ever going to tell me what it is?”

Seven leaned back into Sam.
“I suppose I have enough of a working hypothesis now,” she said. “Remember what I said about a month ago, about how I realized that the Borg weren’t what I thought they were?”
“You’ve mentioned it a few times,” Sam said. “I recall you using the words ‘increasingly incompetent.’”

“Well, I have been going over my own memories from when I was a drone, the new data I collected from the Unicomplex before the Captain and her team rescued me, as well as Starfleet’s own records. I’ve even added some information we’ve picked up from other species along the way to the Alpha Quadrant.”
“And?” Sam said, curious where this was going.
“And I think I can confirm my theory that the Borg are degrading. And not just in terms of intelligence. Their ships have shown a reduction in the amount of time it takes to adapt and regenerate. It’s gradual enough that no one would put it together unless they looked at the data collected over the course of seven years from multiple sources.”
“Seven years?” Sam said, surprised. That seemed like an awfully short amount of time for a force as massive as the Borg to suddenly start faceplanting.
“Yes,” Seven said. “I have narrowed down the date when the degradation starts to just after Stardate 45635.2.”
“So, why are you still working on your theory then?”
“I have a what and a when, but not a why, how, or who” Seven said. “That’s what is so strange about this. I have gone over my own Borg memories of that date, as well as Starfleet archives, and I can find nothing that would explain this.

“What I do have however are holes,” Seven said, rubbing her eyes, “and to make it worse, whenever it seems like I’m getting close to a clue my mind starts to wander, and I end up taking in a game of velocity with the Captain, or Kadis-Kot with Naomi instead until something else reminds me to keep looking.”

Sam picked up one of the multiple PADDs that Seven had been working on and glanced at the information on the screen.
“Honey,” she said, “why do you have information on the Deltan homeworld called up?”
“I do?” Seven said. This had Sam concerned. Seven of Nine was not a generally forgetful person. She could lose track of time while focusing on a task certainly, but this was different.

“Yeah,” Sam said, handing the PADD to Seven.
Seven took it and started scrolling the information she’d called up.
“Interesting,” she said. “around that same stardate, there were reports of unexplained deaths on the Deltan homeworld, as well as signs of debris from wrecked Borg ships and destroyed drones. Yet, no one seems to remember there actually being a Borg attack there. For that matter, I don’t either, and I can still remember every encounter the Borg had during my time as a drone.”
“Okay,” Sam said, ‘this is getting spooky, because I don’t remember anything about this either. Something that big would’ve left an impression. I certainly remember Wolf 359, and that wasn’t over a major Federation member race’s home planet.”
“So,” Seven said, “there was a Borg attack in the Alpha Quadrant, against the Federation, that no one on either side remembers or can confirm happened. This is even bigger than I’d realized.”

“Bigger,” Sam agreed, “and scarier. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with you pursuing this anymore Annie.”
Seven of Nine put down the PADD, and actually shivered, the first time Sam had ever seen her do that.
“Yeah,” she said, “neither am I. On the bright side however, at least if the rate of degradation in the Borg I discovered continues, they won’t be a threat to anyone before long. The past two years alone suggest an exponential increase. They may well become a non-issue to the galaxy before Voyager even returns to the Alpha Quadrant.”

“That’s something I guess,” Sam said, resting her head on Seven’s back. “though hopefully whatever’s doing this to the Borg doesn’t come for us next.”

Seven groaned.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” she said. “that’s going to give me nightmares in my next few regeneration cycles.”

“I understand there was an altercation with the Doctor,” Tuvok said.
“Yeah,” B’Elanna Torres admitted. She didn’t want to be here, but Chakotay had ordered her to, in the hopes that the Vulcan could teach her some meditation techniques to help her control her temper. She didn’t think she needed it, her temper had been held in check quite well these past few years, as far as she was concerned. There had been lapses sure; the odd shouting match with Seven of Nine, for instance. This incident where she managed to break the EMH’s holo-camera was just one of them, and it was not likely to happen again.

Tuvok turned around, holding a Vulcan oil lamp.
“This flame,” he said, “like emotion, is a primitive force.”
“I see we’re getting straight to it then,” B’Elanna said. “Good.”
“Flame and emotion, left unchecked, are chaotic and destructive. Controlled, however, they are powerful tools. This lamp controls flame, much as you must learn to control your emotions.”
“It would shock you to learn, Tuvok, that I am in better control of my emotions than you think. I did politely ask the Doctor to leave engineering several times, but he ignored my request. I shouldn’t have broken his camera, I’ll accept that, but my anger was not unjustified. Simply, misapplied.”

Tuvok nodded.
“An understatement,” he said. “but accurate, Lieutenant. It is also good that you apologized and replicated him a new camera. However, this incident is far from your first. You have shown considerable improvement since you first joined this crew, no one disputes that. The Commander and I merely agree that you can do even better.”
“Well,” B’Elanna said, looking at the flickering flame of the lamp more than Tuvok. “I suppose it could be worse then.”

“Indeed,” Tuvok said. “The point of this exercise, however, is not to atone for past transgressions. It is to prevent future ones.”
B’Elanna sighed. “I sincerely doubt you’d be able to purge all emotion from me, even if you tried,” she said.
“I would not attempt to do so,” Tuvok said. “A common misconception about Vulcans is that we do not have emotions. That is not the case. We simply must control them or-”
“I know,” B’Elanna said. “my mother told me about the Romulans. I know all too well what happens to Vulcans who can’t or won’t control their emotions.”
“A simplification of history, but also accurate. Now, may we begin?”
B’Elanna sighed again.
“Are my eyes supposed to be open or closed for this part?”

“Whichever allows you to focus your mind,” Tuvok said.
B’Elanna nodded. She didn’t want to go along with this, still, but she wasn’t going to take it out on Tuvok. She took in a deep calming breath, and closed her eyes.
“Envision the flame burning within you,” Tuvok said. “The flame grows hotter. A point of white light. Follow it backward, through the years, to a time when you were a child. Try to remember a time when you experienced uncontrollable anger.”

B’Elanna thought about it for a moment, and a memory came back to her so vividly it shocked her into opening her eyes and just blurting out a name.
“Daniel Byrd,” she said. “There’s a name I haven’t thought of in a long time.”

“Who was he?” Tuvok said.
“He was one of my classmates in grammar school.”
“A friend?”
“No. He was always terrorizing me. He used to point at my cranial ridges and tease me about being half-Klingon. He called me Miss Turtlehead.”
“That angered you,” Tuvok said. It was not a question.
“Yes,” B’Elanna said. “So I attacked him once, during recess, on the gyro-swing. I disengaged the centrifugal governor. He was spinning so fast he almost flew apart.” B’Elanna felt the grin on her face. She knew it probably didn’t look good that she was smiling at a child’s misfortune but the way Daniel had treated her…
“I yanked him off the swing,” she continued, “and started punching him over and over. If Miss Melvin hadn’t shown up, I probably would’ve-”
“Describe the anger you felt at that moment,” Tuvok said.
B’Elanna found the interruption rude, but didn’t say anything.

“I wanted to hurt him. To take revenge for the humiliation he’d caused me.”
“Your anger was a source of strength,” Tuvok said. “It protected you, gave you courage.”

“I suppose it did,” B’Elanna said, surprised by the statement. It almost sounded like Tuvok was saying that anger was a good thing, which would contradict why she was here in the first place. There’s got to be more to this, she thought.

“When the Doctor tried to take a holo-photograph of you?” he said.
“I was annoyed,” B’Elanna said, feeling tense and uncomfortable now. “Like I said. He kept getting in the way.”
“The rage within you runs deep,” Tuvok said. “It’s been with you for many years. You are easily provoked, and must learn to master your emotions. Was what the Doctor was doing really worse than attempting to humiliate a child?”
Damn, she thought, he’s right.
“So what you’re telling me is I need perspective,” she said aloud. “Yeah, you’re right.”
The familiar beep of a communications channel opening interrupted the quiet moment.
“Bridge to Tuvok,” Captain Janeway’s voice said. “We’ve received a distress call. We’re on our way to help, but we don’t know who the distress beacon belongs to or the state of the emergency. I need all hands on deck.”
“I’m on my way, Captain,” Tuvok said. “I’m afraid our session is over for the time being, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah. I’ll get down to engineering. If we’ve got a rescue mission on our hands we’ll need all available personnel.”

The viewscreen looked at first as if it was filled with debris, but when Harry Kim magnified the image, she could see that there was no debris to speak of, but a lot of small craft.
“Escape pods?” she said.
“Correct,” Tuvok said. “Thirty-seven to be precise.”
“Captain,” Harry said from his console, “the pods all appear to be contaminated with heavy amounts of theta radiation.”
“Theta?” Janeway said. That much theta radiation, out here in the Delta Quadrant, meant these pods most likely belonged to the Malon.

“Malon?” Tom said. “Seriously? Just how far spread out are these people? Shouldn’t they be like, seventeen years behind us at this point?”

Janeway agreed with the sentiment, but while past encounters with the Malon had always ended in hostility, she wasn’t just going to leave these pods out here all alone.
“Lifesigns?” she said.
“Two,” Harry said, “but they’re erratic.”
“Only two, out of thirty-seven?” Chakotay said.
“I’m afraid so,” Harry said.
“Beam them to sickbay,” Janeway said. “Initiate biohazard containment procedures.”

“Theta radiation has affected a radius of six hundred million kilometers,” Tuvok said.
“Source?” Janeway said, though she already had an idea.
“A Malon freighter travelling at high impulse,” Tuvok said. “It appears to be abandoned.”
Janeway nodded, and stood up.
“All right,” she said. “Tuvok, come with me. We’re going to meet our guests in sick bay. Chakotay, the bridge is yours.”
“Aye, Captain,” Chakotay said.
Janeway and Tuvok got in one of the turbolifts quickly made their way to sickbay, where the Doctor was already scanning two unconscious Malon lying in bio-beds.
“Do we know what happened to their ship?” the Doctor asked when he saw Janeway and Tuvok enter. “Were they attacked?”
“We’re just as curious as you are,” Janeway said. “Can you revive either of them?” The Doctor nodded, and walked over to the one on Janeway’s right, putting a hypospray against his neck. The Malon’s eyes opened, and he looked around without trying to get up.
“I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway,” she said.
“Fesek,” the Malon said, coughing. “Controller Fesek. Where am I?”
“You’re on my vessel,” Janeway said. “We responded to your distress call.”
“My ship?”
“It’s heavily damaged.”
“Where?”
“Three million kilometers from here,” Tuvok said.
“That’s too close,” Fesek said, starting to sound panicky. “We need to get further away,” He tried to sit up, his breathing strained.
“Calm down,” Janeway said, grabbing his arm, and forcing him back down onto the bio-bed. Despite the clear size advantage he had over her, he was too weak to resist. “Tell me what happened to your ship. Why did you abandon it?”
“We were on a waste export mission,” Fesek said, trying to sit up again, more slowly this time. “Two of the theta tanks ruptured. Systems malfunctioned one by one. Communications, navigation, propulsion; we had no choice. Radiation was venting from every port. Over sixty crewmen died within minutes. It was chaos. We stumbled through the gas to get to the escape pods. Only a few of us made it.”
Fesek glanced over, and saw the other Malon in the other bed. He looked around, frowning.
“Where are the others?” he said.
Janeway sighed. She hated giving this kind of news. “The two of you were the only ones we found alive,” she said.
Fesek slowly got up out of his bio-bed, and walked around to the other side of the other bed to stand by his crewmate.
“Listen to me very carefully,” he said. “The fact that we’re still here means the ship hasn’t exploded. Yet. When it does, over four trillion iso-tons of antimatter waste is going to ignite. Everything within three light years will be destroyed.”
Janeway slapped her combadge so hard it nearly fell off.

“Janeway to the Bridge,” she said. “put at least five light years between us and the Malon freighter, quickly.”
“Understood,” Chakotay’s voice replied.

“Send out a sector-wide alert,” Janeway continued. “Warn any other ships in the vicinity to evacuate immediately.”
As soon as she got out the last syllable, the ship lurched violently.

“Bridge, what happened?”
“Our warp field just collapsed Captain,” Tom’s voice said.
“All this theta radiation is disrupting subspace,” Harry’s voice said.
The ship shook again.
“Without warp drive,” Janeway said, “there’s no chance we’ll clear the blast radius.”
“Agreed,” Tuvok said.
“Ensign Paris, set a course for the Malon freighter, full impulse.”
“Aye, Captain,” Tom said.
“What?” Fesek said, sounding angry as well as surprised.
“If we can’t outrun your ship maybe we can disable it,” Janeway said.
“Every deck is contaminated,” Fesek said. “Anyone who boards that ship will liquefy in minutes.”

“We’ll find a way,” Janeway said.
“We?” Fesek said. “I’m not going anywhere near that vessel.”
“You can either stay and help us or I’ll send you back to your escape pod,” Janeway said. It was harsh, perhaps even unfair, and she expected that both Tuvok and Chakotay would want to have words with her about it in private, but Fesek was the commander of that ship, he would know it better than anyone and they would need his help to avert this disaster. “Your choice.”
Fesek grunted, but didn’t protest any further.
“Clean them up Doctor,” Janeway said, turning around to head for the exit. “I need them on the bridge.”

“Right away, Captain,” the Doctor said to her as she left, Tuvok right behind her.

B’Elanna stood at the auxiliary tactical station where Seven of Nine usually stood when an extra hand was needed on the bridge because it afforded her a better view of the viewscreen than her auxiliary engineering console. Luckily, Seven was in a regeneration cycle and wouldn’t mind.

“How long until those tanks explode?” Janeway asked her.
“Approximately six hours,” B’Elanna said.
“Can we get an away team on board? Janeway asked Tuvok.
“The freighter’s hull is intact,” Tuvok said, “and life support appears to be operational. However, thirty-three of forty-two decks are flooded with high levels of theta radiation.”
Fesek walked past B’Elanna, nearly bumping into her in the process.
The meditations with Tuvok must be working already, she thought. I don’t feel like punching him at all.

“The control room,” he said “where we would have to go to reestablish containment is one of those thirty-three decks. As I told you-”
“We could beam onto one of the lower levels,” B’Elanna said, doing the Captain a favor as she had doubtless heard this guy’s routine more than once since this mission became official. “where there’s less radiation and vent the contaminated sections one by one.”
“That would easily clear a path to the control room,” Chakotay said to Fesek.
Fesek looked at both of them, then turned to face Janeway,
“I appreciate what you are trying to do, Captain,” he said. “But if what you’re considering were possible we’d have tried it before abandoning ship. We have years of experience aboard freighters of this class.”

B’Elanna rolled her eyes. The Melon’s theta radiation dumping practices were what caused this mess in the first place after all.
And just how the hell are we even running into Malon this far away from where we last encountered them? she thought. We’ve been through slipstream and transwarp conduits since then, are they using wormholes to dump their garbage again? Shame that if there is one here it’d be going back the opposite direction we came from.

“Maybe there’s another way,” the other Malon, Pelk, said.
“I’m listening,” Janeway said.
“Four hours from here there’s a nebula that could protect us from the blast,” Pelk said.
“An excellent suggestion,” Fesek said.
Janeway shook her head.
“There are at least three other ships in the sector,” she said. “What about them?”

“I don’t see what we can do,” Fesek said.
“So hundreds of people become contaminated because you’re not willing to clean up your garbage,” B’Elanna said through clenched teeth.
“Lieutenant,” Janeway said sternly.
B’Elanna took a small step back, and tried to calm down, but she felt her anger here was righteous. She wasn’t going to hit this Malon, or his companion. She was going to do as Tuvok suggested. She would direct that anger into the task at hand. She was going to stop that freighter from exploding. All she needed was a way on.
“Assemble an away team,” Janeway said to Chakotay. “we’re going over there.”
“Wait,” Pelk said, sounding suddenly worried. Pelk turned to face Fesek. “Tell them about the Vihaar.”
“What’s he talking about?” Janeway said.
“Nothing,” Fesek said. “It’s a myth.”
“What kind of myth?” Chakotay said.
Of course Chakotay wants to know about the myth, B’Elanna thought.
“It’s an old story shared among freighter crews,” Fesek said. “Some of them say they’ve seen creatures in the theta storage tanks.”
B’Elanna glanced at Janeway, and could tell from the look on the Captain’s face the two of them were thinking the same thing.
“Creatures?” Chakotay said.
“Created by radiogenic waste,” Fesek said, giving Pelk a dismissive look, like a parent would give to a child telling them about their imaginary friend. “According to the legend, they are venomous monsters that wreak havoc aboard Malon ships. It’s a common belief among our more superstitious recruits.”
I don’t even like Pelk and I’m annoyed by the way Fesek talks down to him, B’Elanna thought.
“I never believed it myself,” Pelk said, “but during the evacuation some of the crew people saw something, a form.”
“Hallucinations are one of the first symptoms of theta poisoning, you know that,” Fesek said.
“Maybe,” Pelk said, “but how do you explained what happened? We checked every system.”
Fesek had no response to that. Janeway still clearly didn’t believe it, and neither did B’Elanna deep down, but a little voice in the back of her mind scolded her.
We’ve seen stranger things out here haven’t we?

“This chamber seems to be least affected by radiation,” Chakotay said as he and Fesek worked on a monitor in engineering. “We can beam in there.”
“That’s fifteen decks below the control room,” Pelk said.
“We’ll have to work our way up,” Chakotay said. He didn’t like it either, but it seemed to be the best option. His main concern right now was B’Elanna. After only one session with Tuvok she already seemed to be doing better, not directly antagonizing the Malon, but she did still throw a quick jibe in their direction during the briefing. He couldn’t afford not to have her on the away team, her skill as an engineer was too valuable, and Seven of Nine was still not fully charged.
“The pressurization systems are offline,” Fesek said. “How will we vent the gas?”

“There are two main airlocks on each deck,” Chakotay heard Neelix say. He turned, surprised. He hadn’t even known the Talaxian had come to engineering. “You could open them as you go. Perform a series of controlled decompressions.”
“Good thinking, Neelix,” B’Elanna said.
“What’s to stop us from being vented?” Pelk said.
“Force field,” Neelix responded immediately. “I spent six years aboard a garbage scow once after I fled Talax. I know a thing or two about waste management.”
“Even low levels of theta radiation can be lethal,” Pelk said. Chakotay wondered how much of this was genuine concern about the radiation, and how much was fear of this supposed creature in the theta tanks.
“Our Doctor’s developed an inoculation,” Chakotay said. “It’s based in large part on the work of a Doctor Ma’Bor Jetrel who developed an inoculation for metreon radiation several years ago. It’ll temporarily prevent our cells from absorbing the radiation.”
“How long will it last?” Fesek said.
“Two to three hours,” Chakotay said.
“Half of the doors are fused, the ascenders are offline,” Pelk said. “It could take us twice as long as that to reach the control room.”
“Then we’ll have to work quickly,” Chakotay said. “We’ll take phasers to cut through any obstacles. Neelix, since you’re here, and you have experience on such ships I’d like you to join the mission.”
“As a matter of fact Commander,” Neelix said, “I came down here so I could offer my services. Count me in.”
“I’ve ordered my men to do a lot of risky things,” Fesek said, “but nothing as foolish as this.”

“Your concerns are noted,” Chakotay said. “Get yourself inoculated, and report to transporter room one.” The two Malon left, Neelix following close behind. B’Elanna started to follow them too, but Chakotay stopped her.
“B’Elanna,” he said, “I know you don’t like them. You’ve been giving them the side eye ever since they got here. But can you control your temper long enough to get this done without exploding yourself?”
“I can,” B’Elanna said, determination in her eyes. Chakotay nodded, and got out of her way, following her out of engineering and headed to sickbay for inoculation.

The transporter beam finished its work, and B’Elanna looked around the grim, dark corridor of the Malon freighter.
Charming place, she thought. She took a quick look to make sure everyone else on the team had arrived. Chakotay, Neelix, and the two Malon were all accounted for.
“Well,” Neelix said, looking around,“it’s nothing a fresh coat of paint wouldn’t brighten up.”

“This way,” Fesek said, heading down another corridor.
B’Elanna looked at her tricorder readings.
“Theta radiation density twenty million E.V. per cubic meter,” she said. “Structural integrity is holding.” She began coughing. The air in the freighter wasn’t poisonous, so long as the inoculation held, but it was very unpleasant.
“I wish I could say the same for my lungs,” Chakotay said, coughing himself.
As the away team made their way down the corridor, a small explosion came from seemingly nothing on a nearby wall.
“What was that?” Neelix said.
“This corridor is filled with methogenic particles,” Chakotay said, looking at his own tricorder. “It’s highly charged.”
His tricorder made a loud noise before another explosion went off, behind the team this time.

“Shit,” B’Elanna muttered, “Something’s causing an electrostatic cascade.” A third explosion. Once she realized what was happening she closed her tricorder quickly. “Our scanning signals are igniting the particles.”
Chakotay closed his tricorder quickly and returned it to his belt.
“All right, no tricorders then,” he said. “That’s going to make this a little harder, but we can still do this. Carry on.”
Fesek and Pelk led them the rest of the way to an airlock control panel. After a few button pushes, Fesek groaned.
“Control mechanisms are down,” he said. “We’re going to have to open the airlocks manually. Wait here, we’ll take care of this.”
“B’Elanna,” Chakotay said, “go with them.”
“We can do this ourselves,” Fesek said, sounding insulted.
“I’d prefer to keep an eye on your progress,” Chakotay said.
“You’re on my freighter, I’m in charge here,” Fesek said.
“Is this really the time for a dick measuring contest?” B’Elanna said.
“You abandoned ship remember?” Chakotay said, ignoring B’Elanna’s crude comment. “You take your orders from me. The Captain put me in charge of this mission. Understood?”

Fesek closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and continued speaking.
“We’ll have to crawl into an injector port,” he said, “It’s only big enough for two people.”
“Pelk will stay with us,” Chakotay said.

Fesek looked like he was going to protest, but B’Elanna cut him off.
“Shall we?” she said. Fesek shrugged in resignation, and headed down yet another corridor. B’Elanna followed him.
This mission can’t end soon enough, she thought. Once they got to the injector port, Fesek immediately climbed it on all fours. B’Elanna followed.
“How can you stand to work in these conditions?” she said.
“You think we’re animals don’t you?” Fesek said.
“I don’t like how you do things,” B’Elanna said. “Earlier this year we ran into another Malon freighter, our first one. We offered them technology that would make the process of dealing with theta radiation waste safer, but the captain threw it in our faces, said there was no profit in it, and tried to kill us.”

“I was not aware of that,” Fesek said. “I’ve never heard of Voyager until you rescued us.”
“Considering how spread out your people seem to be,” B’Elanna said, “that actually doesn’t surprise me.”
“I suppose I can understand your antagonism towards us then,” Fesek said, “though just one-”
“I said that was our first, not our only one,” B’Elanna said. “Second time, a Malon freighter tried to steal one of Voyager’s long range probes on its return trip to us. Damn near destroyed it and themselves chasing it into a gas giant.”
Fesek actually let out a short, sharp laugh at that.
“That crew deserved what they got if they risked their ship for one probe. I don’t care how advanced your technology is, that was just stupid.”
“On that,” B’Elanna said, “we agree.”

“You know,” Fesek continued speaking as he crawled, “I’m only a waste-controller half of the year. I’m a sculptor the rest of the time. I give up half of my time doing a job I love in order to expose myself to radiation that will likely cut my lifespan in half.”
“Hmm,” was all B’Elanna had in response to that, wondering where this was going.

“Have you ever been to Malon Prime?”
“Nope.”
“It’s a remarkable place. Our planet would choke with industrial waste if it weren’t for the sacrifices of people like me. When we return to Voyager, give me those schematics you say your first Malon Captain threw in your face. I am not so greedy that I would ignore such an opportunity.”
B’Elanna nodded.
“Okay,” she said. “But be careful Fesek.”
“About what?”
“Keep this up, and I might actually start liking you.”
Fesek laughed, as he reached towards something and pushed it down.
“Manual actuators,” he said, crawling forward to push down another. “I’ll release them, you monitor the pressure variance.”

“Got it,” B’Elanna said, taking a device out of her kit to do just that. Not as good as a tricorder would be, but less likely to trigger an explosion as it’s scanning beam was shorter and used less power.

“Ready,” Fesek said, as he pushed down the last two actuators.
“Torres to Chakotay,” B’Elanna said after tapping her combadge, “Stand by for the decompression sequence.”

“Acknowledged,” Chakotay said.

Fesek grunted as he lifted two levers on the bulkhead next to them. A loud clanking noise followed, but that was followed by nothing,
“It didn’t work,” B’Elanna said.
“There’s something jamming the airlock controls,” Fesek said.

“Torres to Chakotay,” B’Elanna said, reopening the channel. “We’ve got a problem. The actuators aren’t working. Somebody’s going to have to go up there and take a look.”
“That deck is still contaminated,” she heard Neelix say.
“I’ll go,” Pelk said. “I’ve been exposed to worse. It’s probably just the decouplers.”
“Here,” Neelix said, “let me double up your inoculation, maybe that will help.”
“The decouplers are always getting encrusted with oxides,” Pelk continued.
“Good luck,” Chakotay said.
“And now, the waiting game,” B’Elanna said, sighing.

Chakotay heard screaming, coming from the direction Pelk had just gone in. He and Neelix ran that way, both knowing they risked exposure that not even the inoculation could help but they weren’t just going to abandon their teammate.
It turned out, they did not need to. Pelk crawled, looking wounded through the door to the next level and collapsed in front of them.
“I saw it,” he kept saying, his voice hoarse.
“Saw what?” Chakotay said, although he had a suspicion he already knew.
“I saw it. The creature,” Pelk said, before falling unconscious.
“Give me twenty CCs of anesthizine,” Neelix said. Chakotay handed Neelix the hypospray, and tapped his combadge.
“Chakotay to Voyager, transporter status,” he said.
Harry Kim’s voice responded, garbled but understandable.
“Still too much interference,” he said. “I’m trying to compensate. Stand by.”
As Lieutenant Kim stopped speaking, he heard B’Elanna’s voice.
“What happened?” she said, as she and Fesek came around the corner.
“We don’t know,” Neelix said. “He was gone for about a minute when we heard screaming. We found him here.”
“These look like chemical burns,” Fesek said, looking at the injuries of Pelk’s face.
“Without tricorders it’s hard to make a diagnosis,” Neelix said.
Pelk’s eyes opened lazily.
“It’s here,” he said.
“What?” Fesek said.
“The creature.”
“You’re hallucinating. It’s the radiation. But you’re going to be all right.”
“No,” Pelk said, sounding like he was trying to shout. “It attacked me. It a-”
Pelk began gasping, his head jerked back.
“He’s going into shock,” Neelix said. “Get me a cortical stimulator.”
“Pelk, get up!” Fesek shouted. Pelk let out one last groan, then fell unconscious again as Neelix applied the cortical stimulator to his forehead.
“He’s not responding,” Neelix said.
Fesek frowned. He touched Pelk’s forehead with his middle finger, then his own, before standing up, looking around, as if trying to find someone to blame for what had happened. Chakotay took it as a good sign that he didn’t seem to blame them for it though.

“He said the creature attacked him,” Chakotay said.
“He imagined it,” Fesek said, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than the away team. “He was probably scalded when that conduit ruptured.”
Chakotay looked where Fesek was pointing, and shook his head.
“He was coming from the opposite direction when we found him,” he said.

“Kim to away team,” Harry’s still garbled voice came over their comm badges. It actually sounded worse now, but at least they could still hear him at all. “transporter interference is clear. We’re locked on to your coordinates. Stand by.”
“Harry,” Chakotay said, “Pelk is dead. Lock on to his signal and beam him to sickbay. Ask the Doctor to determine the cause of death.”
“Aye sir,” Harry said. Only a second later, Pelk’s body was enveloped in a transporter beam.

“Someone still needs to get up there and open the airlocks,” Chakotay said, not happy about losing a team member, but knowing he had to soldier on if they were going to pull this off.

“Me,” Fesek said, anger in his voice. He didn’t even wait for anyone to respond before he headed towards the level.
“Hang on,” Chakotay said, grabbing Fesek’s arm. “I’ll go with you. From now on, no one works alone.“

The image of the still moving, still leaking Malon freighter took up much of the viewscreen, the green glow of its theta radiation clouds combined with the low light of the bridge in red alert mode creating an ominous feeling that hit Janeway as soon as she exited her ready room.
“Progress?’ she said.
“They’ve vented five decks, ten to go,” Harry said.
“At this rate,” Tuvok said, “they’ll reach the control room in approximately three hours. However, the storage tanks will rupture in less than two.”

“Not to mention the inoculation might not hold out that long,” Janeway said. “That’s why I’ve been working on a contingency plan. There’s an O-type star nearby. If the freighter exploded within the corona, it might absorb the radiation.”
“The star is not in the freighter’s trajectory,” Tuvok said.
“But if we gave it a little nudge?”
“A series of carefully timed tractor pulses could alter the freighter’s course,” Tuvok said. “Given the vessel’s weakened state however, one miscalculation could set off the explosions.”
Janeway nodded.
“I’m still counting on the away team to succeed,” she said, “but I wanna be ready with Plan B if they don’t. Get Seven of Nine to help with the calculations. I know she’s still got some time left in her cycle but she should be charged enough. Send Sam to grab her.

Seven of Nine stepped out of her alcove, her regeneration cycle complete. This one had seemed shorter than usual, and the chronometer confirmed it; she had awoken two hours sooner than she was supposed to, She also noticed the red alert lights were on, but no alarm sounds. Apparently she had missed something rather important.

“Rise and shine sweetie,” she heard a familiar, welcome voice say.
“Good morning, Sam,” she said, smiling.
“Brought you breakfast,” Sam said. “Neelix added a new spice to the recipe for leola root soup. It’s actually good now, believe it or not.”
“I suppose I can risk it,” Seven said.
“You’ll have to make it quick, Commander Tuvok needs you in astrometrics as soon as you’ve eaten.”
“Ah, so that’s why I came out of the regeneration cycle early,” Seven said.
“Yeah, I’m afraid I was sent to fetch you. We’ve got a situation with a Malon freighter.”

“Malon?” Seven said, genuinely shocked. “This far from where we last encountered them?”
“You’re not the first person to point that out, believe me,” Sam said, handing Seven a bowl with a lid and a metal spoon atop it. “
Sam filled Seven in as quickly as she could on the situation while Seven ate. It bothered Seven somewhat that she had ‘slept’ through all of that, and also that no one had thought to bring her in to consult on the situation. She said as much to Sam.
“Maybe they figured they had it handled,” Sam said. “And so far it looks like they do, but the Captain’s decided to make a Plan B, just in case something goes sideways.”
“It would’ve been wise for her to do so from the beginning,” Seven said. Sam nodded.
“No argument here,” she said. “but not much point in dwelling on that now though. I’m headed to the bridge. I’ll see you when this is all over.” She gave Seven a quick kiss before heading out.
Seven smiled, then looked down at her now nearly empty bowl of soup.
“Interesting,” she said to herself. “It actually is good now.”

—    “I don’t know about the rest of you,” B’Elanna said as the away team made their way down another corridor on the Malon freighter, “but I am looking forward to a good sonic shower when this is all over.”
“I prefer water,” Neelix said. “I’d like to soak in a hot bath for a day or two after this mission that’s for sure.”
“Oh not me,” B’Elanna said. “I wanna feel those sonic pulses dissolving every last atom of this grime off my body.”
“We have a decontamination bay on board,” Fesek said. “It can purge over fifty workers at a time.”
B’Elanna snorted. “That sounds like fun,” she said, rolling her eyes. Suddenly, she started coughing violently, each cough making her stomach feel like it was being punched. She leaned against a nearby column.
“B’Elanna?” Neelix asked, concern in his voice.
“I’m fine,” B’Elanna said, “just a little light headed.”

“Oh, your hand,” Neelix said, sounding shocked. B’Elanna looked at it, and right there on the top of her hand, somehow having escaped her notice until Neelix had seen it, her skin looked like it has bubbled up in patches, around those bubbles the skin was red. Fesek moved her sweat-soaked hair away from one cheek.
“There too,” he said. “Freighter blight. From the prolonged exposure.”

“Lovely,” B’Elanna said.
“In my business,” Fesek said, “It’s an occupational hazard.”
“We better try inoculating you again,” Neelix said.

“If she’s blistering,” Fesek said, “she’s already received a fatal dose of radiation. She needs treatment.”
“I’ll live,” B’Elanna said. She had no intention of giving up now, especially not when they needed her engineering prowess to finish the mission. Filling in Carey, or Vorik, or anyone else on her team on what they needed to know to finish the job would take too long. “Let’s keep moving.”

“We have medicines in the infirmary,” Fesek said, sounding insistent. “It’s only two sections from here.”
“We don’t have time for a detour,” B’Elanna said.
“B’Elanna, go with him,” Chakotay said. “We’ll meet you outside the control room.”
B’Elanna started to protest, but Chakotay cut her off.

“Go,” he said, in that tone that made it clear that arguing with him wasn’t going to accomplish anything. Fesek started heading towards the infirmary, and reluctantly, she followed him, leaving Chakotay and Neelix behind. Fesek’s claim that it was close proved to be accurate as it took barely a few minutes to get there. Fesek opened the creaky hatch and B’Elanna stepped in, sweeping over the place with the flashlight on her wrist.
“This is the infirmary?” she said. “Looks more like a morgue.”
Fesek ignored the comment, and began looking for something. B’Elanna saw a dead Malon on a medical bed in the center of the room. He looked like he had similar blisters to her own, but much worse and covering his whole face.
“What happened to him?”
“He was being treated for long-term exposure,” Fesek said. “He was a core laborer. They work closest to the tanks. Only three out of ten core laborers ever survive their first mission, but they also make the most money of any of us. More than I’ll probably ever see in a lifetime. Or their families will, in cases such as him. The medical staff obviously chose to leave him behind when they evacuated. Either out of panic, or believing there was nothing more they could do for him, I don’t know.”

“You really mean it about taking those waste treatment schematics I told you about?”
“Yes,” Fesek said, holding up a nasty looking device with two long, sharp protrusions coming out of it in her direction.
“Whoa, what the hell is that?” she said.
“It’s a subdermal injector,” Fesek said after a small pause, seeming surprised that B’Elanna didn’t instantly recognize it. “It contains analeptic compounds to reverse the cell damage.”

“Okay, I don’t like the idea of something that long and that sharp going anywhere near me,” B’Elanna said.
“I won’t hurt you. It will sting of course, but I’ve done this a hundred times. Once it starts working you will feel a slight burning sensation.”

“Okay, fine, let’s just get it over worth,” B’Elanna said, closing her eyes as she felt the needles on the Malon device pierce the skin on the back of her neck.

Seven of Nine, working in the astrometrics lab, completed her work fairly quickly on the Plan B that the Captain had proposed. She put the information on a PADD and handed it to Tuvok to take to Captain Janeway.
“I’ve calculated the inertial force required to divert the freighter,” she said.
“I will bring this to the Captain immediately,” Tuvok said.
“Also,” Seven said, finishing up work on another PADD. “take her this. A Plan C. Shield modifications that should reduce the structural damage to Voyager, as well as protecting the crew against theta radiation poisoning if we fail.”
“A wise precaution,” Tuvok said, looking over the data on the Plan C PADD. “With any luck we will not be needing it.”
“I didn’t think Vulcans believed in luck,” Seven said.
“As a rule we don’t,” Tuvok said. “But serving with Captain Janeway has taught me otherwise.
“She does seem to succeed more often than random chance would allow,” Seven said. “I’ll factor that into my calculations.”
“Is there a Plan D?” Tuvok said.
“No,” Seven said. Tuvok nodded and left astrometrics. “Unless you count curling up next to my loved ones and waiting for death,” she added as soon as the door slid shut.

“Initiation decompression sequences, deck four!” Fesek yelled. The away team was running now, barely taking time to catch their breath between ventings. B’Elanna knew they were running out of time, but she wasn’t ready to give up just yet. It had barely taken a few minutes to start feeling better after the treatment she’d received in the infirmary. The Malon had some solid radiation poisoning treatment techniques, she had to give them that much.

“Deck clear!” Fesek said after several seconds.
“Twelve down, three to go,” Neelix said, already running towards the next destination, Chakotay at his side, Fesek and B’Elanna following close behind.
An alarm started going off, and everyone stopped in their tracks. B’Elanna ran back to the console Fesek had just used.
“Dammit, the air locks are opening on this deck!” she said.
“What?” Fesek said, shocked. B’Elanna couldn’t blame him, she wouldn’t be too happy with herself if this had been her blunder. A loud whooshing noise filled the deck as air began escaping from where they were.
“The force fields,” Neelix yelled over the combined noise of whooshing air and alarm klaxons, “where are they!?”
“Off-line!” B’Elanna said.
“We’ve got to get off this deck. Move, go!” Chakotay yelled.
“This way,” Fesek said, heading towards a wall with a ladder going up bolted to it. Everyone followed him up, as the air got thinner and thinner. Fesek stopped running once they were safely on the next deck. Neelix stopped as well to catch his breath, while B’Elanna started coughing. She turned around, and saw that Chakotay wasn’t with them.
“Chakotay?!” she called out. No response.
“He was right behind me,” Neelix said.
B’Elanna slapped her comm badge and called for the Commander, but no response. She started to head back but Fesek grabbed her.
“That deck is vacuum by now,” he said.

“Torres to Voyager,” B’Elanna said. “Lock on to Chakotay’s signal and beam him to sickbay. Now.”

Silence followed for a few seconds, then she heard Harry’s voice.

“We got him. He’s okay.”

B’Elanna was relieved that he was alive, but more than that she was angry, and she turned that anger on Fesek.

“I thought you said that deck was secure!” B’Elanna said, shoving Fesek.

“It was,” Fesek said defensively.

“Then why were we just almost killed?”
“I don’t know,” Fesek said.

“You screwed up and the commander almost got killed!” B’Elanna said, her fist clenched, her rage boiling inside her.

“I didn’t do anything at that console I hadn’t done the eleven times before it,” Fesek said, his own raising now.
“Calm down, both of you!” Neelix shouted. “We do not have time to argue about what happened. We’ve got to keep moving.”
Fesek didn’t say anything, he simply walked past B’Elanna towards the next corridor they need to go to, all but shoving her aside as he did so. She nearly attacked him right then and there, but remember what Tuvok had said to her earlier that day, and tried to calm herself as she walked. Unfortunately, she imagined that would be difficult even if she hadn’t already nearly met her end by way of radiation poisoning today.

While Janeway was doing some additional work on her Plan B at the auxiliary engineering station on the bridge, she heard Tuvok walk up behind her.
“Chakotay?” she said.
“Unconscious,” Tuvok said, “but stable. We’ll be able to talk to him in less than an hour according to the Doctor.”

“I’ll want a full report.”
“Shall I beam to the freighter and take command of the away team?” Tuvok asked.
“I just spoke with B’Elanna,” Janeway said. “She’s got everything under control. Help me remodulate the tractor beam, we’ve still got work to do here.”
“Very well, Captain,” Tuvok said.
“I take it this is about her outburst with the Doctor yesterday?” Janeway said.
“Lieutenant Torres is still often emotional and unpredictable Captain,” Tuvok said.
“True,” Janeway said, “but even you admit she’s come a long way in the past five years. Hell, she even gets along with Seven of Nine. Sometimes anyway. I have total faith in her ability to complete the mission.”
Tuvok simply nodded, and began working on the console next to the Captain’s.

B’Elanna managed to find a relatively quiet spot to regain her composure. She was still mad at Fesek, whose mistake could’ve gotten her friend and superior officer killed, but she had to suppress every urge to hurt the Malon captain. Doing so wouldn’t do them any good. Any brief satisfaction she could get out of it would be undone quickly if the mission failed because of it.

Neelix came around the corner, asking her if she was alright.
“I’m fine,” she said. “Report,”
“We vented the last deck. We have a clear path to the control room,” he said.
“Finally,” B’Elanna said, grabbing her kit and rubbing her hands on her uniform, trying to get some of the grime off of them. “Let’s finish this. I hate this place.”
“I know what you mean,” Neelix said. “If I ever volunteer to go on a Malon freighter again, check me into sickbay to have my head examined.”
B’Elanna chuckled.
“I feel like I’m going to explode,” she said.
“We’ll get through this together, Lieutenant,” he said. The two of them moved on to catch up with Fesek. Once there, B’Elanna tapped her comm badge.
“Torres to astrometrics,” she said.
“Go ahead,” Seven of Nine’s voice replied.

“We’re outside the control room, but without tricorders we can’t tell if it’s safe to go in there.”
“The room is too heavily shielded, our sensors can’t penetrate it. You must stand by.”

“The theta dampening field is still active,” Fesek said. “It should be safe.”
“After you,” B’Elanna said. Fesek didn’t hesitate and walked straight to the control room door, which opened automatically to let him in. The air reeked, and it made all three of them cough once it hit them, but otherwise they felt no ill effects, or at least no iller than they already were after several hours aboard this ship. She quickly followed Fesek, with Neelix close behind her. Fesek went to the console at the center of the room, and began pushing buttons. The noise they made was oddly very similar to the ones Voyager’s consoles would make when you tried to activate something that wasn’t working.

“This is worse than I expected,” Fesek said. “Theta gas has leaked into the warp manifold.”
“We’ve got less than ten minutes before this vessel explodes,” Neelix said, standing at another console, while B’Elanna began taking equipment out of her kit.

“Emergency systems are down,” Fesek said.
B’Elanna found what she was looking for.

“This should feed enough energy to your power matrix to initialize them,” she said. Soon, more lights in the control room came on. B’Elanna could see everything better, which would make their jobs a bit easier. “Try it now.”
Fesek began manipulating the controls again. If the noises the console was making was any indication, he was having more luck now.

“They’re coming back online,” he said. “but only one containment grid is still operational. We have two unstable tanks. One grid can’t handle them both.”

“We’ll seal them one at a time,” B’Elanna said.
“That should work,” Fesek said, immediately getting to work. The efficiency at which he went about the work in the control room gave B’Elanna second thoughts about her assumption that Fesek’s screw up had been what nearly killed them several decks below.
A technical malfunction maybe? she thought as she went about helping getting the first tank sealed. It took a few minutes, but finallyFesek announced that the first tank had been sealed.
“Reroute the containment grid to tank two,” she said. They were cutting it way too close for comfort, but if the second sealed at exactly the same speed the first had, they would be getting out of this alive.

Suddenly, there was a small explosion near the back of the room, not close enough to hurt anyone, but even so an explosion was never a good sign. B’Elanna went over to the main console to try and find out what happened.
“What happened?” Neelix said.

“A power surge,” Fesek said. “We’re losing the grid!”
“It was triggered from a workstation on this deck,” she said.
“How is that-”
“Janeway to away team,” the Captain’s voice said, coming in over her and Neelix’s comm badges. “we’ve detected an alien life form aboard the freighter. We believe it killed Pelk.”

“Captain,” B’Elanna said, “we just lost power.”
“We’re diverting the freighter into a nearby star,” Janeway continued, “Leave the control room so we can get a lock on you.”
“Acknowledged,” B’Elanna said. “Alright, everybody out.”
She headed for the exit, Fesek at her side, Neelix already almost there as the console he’d been manning was right near it. The doors slid closed before they could get to it though.
“What’s going on?” Neelix said.
“It’s jammed,” B’Elanna yelled as she tried to force the doors open. “Dammit!”
“I’m starting to think Pelk was right,” Fesek muttered.
“Seven of Nine to away team.”
“Oh now what?” B’Elanna said, her frustration growing.

“I’ve detected the alien life form,” Seven said. “It’s moving toward your position.”
“Crap,” B’Elanna said. “Alright, everyone, stay close.”

As soon as she said it, the control room began filling with gas. B’Elanna began cursing in Klingon.

Neelix checked the console by the door.
“The gas is being routed through the environmental system,” he said. “Is there any other way out?”
“No,” Fesek said.
“I’ll try to shut it down,” B’Elanna said, walking into the growing gas cloud, her hand covering her mouth.

“The life form has entered the control room,” Seven’s voice said, the communication line still open. B’Elanna considered closing it, finding the constant updates from the Captain and Seven annoying, but also knowing that with her vision obscured by the gas, and a dangerous alien in the room with them, annoyance was the least of her worries.

“I’m trying to vent the gas but the release valves are jammed,” B’Elanna said.
“Away team, can you see the alien?” Seven said.
“No,” Neelix said, coughing his reply. “Too much gas. Can hardly see anything.”

“Use the environmental controls instead,” Fesek said.
“In the meantime,” B’Elanna said. “Fesek, see if you can get that hatch open. Neelix, where are you?”
“I’m-” Neelix’s reply was cut off by a loud thud, and a low growling noise. B’Elanna pulled out her phaser but Fesek grabbed her arm.
“You’ll ignite the gas,” he said.
“Fuck,” B’Elanna snarled. She would’ve been perfectly willing to go hand to hand with whatever was attacking them, but that would require her being able to see it first. She walked forward, heading towards where she last saw Neelix before the gas got too thick. She felt something grab her shoulder and she was ready to grab it and throw it off, when she heard a soft groan for help.
“Neelix,” she said, shocked at the sudden appearance of severe radiation burns on his face. “We have to get you back to Voyager. Fesek, hurry up on that hatch!”
“I’m trying!” Fesek yelled back.
A gap in the gas appeared briefly, but long enough for B’Elanna to see the figure approaching Fesek.
“Behind you!” she yelled, but too late as whoever or whatever it was struck Fesek across the head, sending him falling to the floor, grunting in pain. B’Elanna saw a loose pipe sticking out of the bulkhead, and yanked it the rest of the way out, holding it like a club. She moved forward. She could make out a figure in the gas, which was even thicker now. She hesitated to strike at first, afraid it might be Fesek, but then she saw it move to strike down, as if to attack something on the ground. She brought the pipe down as hard as she could and heard an exclamation of pain, and not in Fesek’s voice. She stepped backwards towards the console and, with one hand still holding the pipe, manipulated controls, only occasionally glancing back to make sure she was hitting the right buttons, waiting for whatever it was to come at her through the gas. She finally completed the task, and the sound of fans whirring to life filled the room as the gas began to leave it. She saw a Malon man standing in front of her, bearing the same kind of scarred and blistered face as the dead one she’d seen in the infirmary.
“You’re a core laborer,” she said.

“Not anymore,” the man said, walking towards her.
“Stay back,” she growled. Part of her hoped he wouldn’t. That much radiation poisoning, even if he had developed some kind of immunity to it over the years, still had to have taken a toll on the body, and she’d already hit him once. She could probably win, and let loose all of the tension and aggression built up over the course of this mission better than a holodeck simulation could let her do.

“Or what? You’ll kill me?” The core laborer chuckled through his mouth, unable to open all the way on one side because of radiation burn scars. “I’m already dead.”

“You’ve been sabotaging this ship,” B’Elanna said.
“There’s no other way to make them understand. They poisoned me.”
“And this is how you get even?” B’Elanna said. “Killing your whole crew? Contaminating other ships in the area who did nothing to you?”

The ship shuddered violently. B’Elanna figured it was whatever Voyager was doing to redirect the freighter’s course to send it into the star Janeway had mentioned.
“Away team,” Janeway’s voice said. “We’ve adjusted the freighter’s course to an O-type star. You have to get out of there, now.”
“No, no!” the core laborer said launching towards B’Elanna. She took a swing at him with the pipe but miscalculated and missed. He wasn’t going for her at all, but for the console behind her. He began manipulating the controls.

“Janeway to away team, get those maneuvering thrusters off line, then get out of the contaminated area, we can’t get a lock on you in the control room.”
“Get the hell away from there now!” B’Elanna yelled at the laborer.
“No! It’s too late!”
“Look,” B’Elanna said, “I know that you’re so angry you want to destroy everything in sight, I know that feeling. But there is another way to make them understand. I’m on your side, I hate how the Malon handle their industrial waste too.”

The core laborer looked at her, his look suggesting he wasn’t sure if he should believe her or not.

“Innocent people are going to die if you do this,” B’Elanna said, slowly lowering her makeshift weapon.
“No. It’s over,” the laborer said.
“Please, let me help you,” B’Elanna said.
“No,” the laborer said, going back to manipulating the controls.
B’Elanna moved forward and swung the pipe at him. She wasn’t getting through, and they were running out of time. The man brought up his arm to block, and grunted in pain as the pipe connected hard, possibly breaking a bone.

“Step away!” she yelled. He took a swing at her, and missed. She used the opportunity to strike him in the head. He went to his knees and she struck him again in the back, sending to the floor, face down, and barely moving.
Voyager, I’ve got the thrusters offline,” she said.

“B’Elanna, get out of there,” Seven said.
B’Elanna went over to Neelix first, and helped him up. He needed help standing up, but once he was on his feet he was able to walk, albeit slowly. She was worried Fesek would need more help than that, but she saw that he was standing up on his own now, visibly dazed from the attack he’d suffered, but able to move under his own power.
“Fesek,” she said, “come on, let’s go.”

The Malon freighter’s explosion had created a shockwave that shook Voyager as she fled, but otherwise, the plan had worked and the radiation hadn’t spread. Janeway went down to sickbay, where the Doctor was going over B’Elanna, Neelix, and Fesek.

“How are they, Doctor?” she said.
“The good news is I was able to repair most of the cell degradation in Mister Neelix and Lieutenant Torres,” he said.
“Am I clear to go?” B’Elanna said. “I just want to spend the next few days or so in the sonic shower.”
“Soon,” the Doctor said. “I have a few more tests I’d like to run to be safe but I won’t be keeping you overnight. You got very lucky B’Elanna. I wish I could say the same for you though Mister Fesek.”

The Doctor moved over to face the Malon captain, Janeway standing nearby, not wanting to interrupt.

“I’m afraid you’ve suffered long-term systemic damage,” the Doctor continued. “Your condition will deteriorate over time.”
Fesek simply nodded.
“It’s an occupational hazard,” he said.
“We’ve contacted a nearby Malon transport ship,” Janeway said. “we’ve altered course to rendezvous with them. They’ll take you home.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Fesek said. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain what happened.”
“Tell them the truth,” B’Elanna said.
“Lieutenant?” Janeway said.
“Tell them the Vihaar is no myth. Not really.”
Fesek nodded. Janeway wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but the Malon captain seemed to understand, and that was good enough for her she supposed. She handed Fesek a PADD.

“This has the information on those clean-up systems B’Elanna promised you. Hopefully someone back home will listen to you,” she said.
“I hope so too, Captain,” Fesek said. “The longer we do things the way we have been, the more likely it is something like this will happen again.

“Oh, and by the way, I happen to know this area of Malon territory fairly well. It’s at the edge of our known space. Within a few weeks, maybe even less, you’ll reach a point where my people will no longer be a problem for you.”

“It wasn’t a problem at all,” Janeway said. “We were glad to help.”

“I mean,” Fesek said, “your probes will be safe.”

“Ah,” Janeway said. “You heard about that.”

“For what it’s worth Captain, had I been the Controller of that freighter, we’d have just cut our losses and left. No probe could possibly be worth going into a gas giant for.”

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