A Fire of Devotion: Part 2 of 4: Louder Than Bells: Chapters Two & Three

Chapter Two

“Hey Seven,” B’Elanna Torres said.
“May I ask why you invited me to your quarters?” Seven said, hands behind her back and standing at attention.
“At ease Seven, this isn’t a formal meeting. I actually had an idea last night. Care to sit down?”
Seven looked at the chair B’Elanna motioned to, then quietly sat down.
“I’ll cut to the chase, Seven. Except for Sam and Harry, you’ve hardly been talking to anyone since Edwin died. I understand, I pretty much isolated myself for awhile after I heard about what happened to my Maquis friends back home.”
“I remember,” Seven said. “While I appreciate the attempt at empathy, Lieutenant, I do not believe our situations are the same.”
“No, they’re not. And I wouldn’t insult you by suggesting they are. We’ve both suffered loss, but comparing the types of loss is a pointless exercise. I’m just offering you a chance for some cathartic release.”
“If you are proposing what I believe you are, I should inform you that Samantha has been already been helping me in that regard, and I-”

“Oh, no!” B’Elanna said, shaking her head “God no, I’m not, oh why did you have to put that mental image in my head? No, I was just going to ask you to join me in one of my combat simulations on the holodeck.”

“Ah,” Seven said, her cheeks reddening slightly. “In hindsight perhaps I should’ve realized that is what you meant, as you have never shown any signs of a physical attraction to me. I apologize for my error.”

Apologize to the dreams I’m gonna have tonight, B’Elanna thought.

“Well, that little bit of awkward out of the way, the invitation still stands. I already have the interior of a Borg cube as a setting. We could-”
“Actually, Lieutenant,” Seven said. “I believe seeing Borg drones again so soon might cause the very discomfort you are hoping to alleviate. I believe we have some data on the Jem’Hadar, the race responsible for the deaths of your friends?”
“One of them, along with the Cardassians. We don’t really have much data beyond the tiny bit Commander Sisko was able to get about them. Starfleet only had one encounter with them before Voyager got yanked into the Delta Quadrant.”
“It will have to do then. I will meet you on holodeck one at the appropriate time. Thank you for your offer.”
“Okay. See ya then,” B’Elanna said.

On her way to the holodeck, Seven almost literally bumped into Naomi Wildman as she walked down the hall, by herself.
“Hi Seven,” Naomi said.
“Hello, Naomi. Might I ask why you are wandering the corridors by yourself again?” Seven said, kneeling down so she could look the child in the eye while they talked.
“No reason. Just out for a walk. Mom’s on the bridge today, and I already finished my lessons for the day.”
Seven knew that Naomi was exceptionally bright, but that she also would often procrastinate when it came to her schoolwork. The lack of an actual school on board probably didn’t help, since it meant that Naomi had to do her lessons in her quarters, where all her toys and books were.

“Are you sure,” Seven said, mimicking the tone that Samantha would take when she would ask that question. Naomi frowned.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said.

Seven wasn’t entirely sure she believed her, but smiled anyway. “Okay, good. I’m going to be on the holodeck with Lieutenant Torres for awhile, but when I’m done, how about we meet up in astrometrics and I can show you how some of the stellar phenomena we’ve passed lately?”

Naomi smiled at that. Much like a Borg she constantly showed a desire to learn to new things, but unlike a Borg she approached it with an enthusiasm that Seven admired.

“That’s sound awesome. Thanks, Seven,” Naomi said, throwing herself into a hug. Seven hugged back, and tousled Naomi’s hair, again copying Sam.
“Very good. Meet me in the lab at 1230 hours. Have fun.”

“Ready?” B’Elanna said as Seven entered the holodeck. Seven looked around, taking in her surroundings.

“This looks like a standard deep space Federation colony,” she said.
“This is Soltok IV. It’s the colony Chakotay and I took off from our last mission before getting caught in the Badlands and taken by the Caretaker. Given its location, it was probably one of the first places to get hit when the Dominion attacked.”

Seven nodded, then said, “What types of weapons shall we be using?”
“Well,” B’Elanna said, pointing to a nearby wall where two weapons were leaned against it. “I didn’t know how much hand-to-hand training you’ve had, if any, so I’ve got a standard issue Starfleet phaser rifle for you, and a Bat’leth for myself. I’ve left the safety protocols on, so I figure between us we can handle about ten or twelve Jem’Hadar.”
Seven picked up the phaser rifle, looked at it, then looked up.
“Computer, increase safety protocols, then increase the number of enemy combatants by 500%.”
B’Elanna’s face must’ve betrayed her shock, because when Seven looked back at her she shrugged, and said “You said this was about catharsis, not about combat training. Wouldn’t an overwhelming victory serve better in that regard than a realistic one?”
“I guess, though if you ask me it’s not much fun if you can’t get hurt.”
“That is a matter of personal preference,” Seven said.
She’s got me there, B’Elanna thought. “Fair enough. Computer, start program.”

On the one hand, Sam was glad that Seven and B’Elanna were getting along better. They hadn’t really been metaphorically at each other’s throats since around the time Sam and Seven started dating, and had even been literally so once, but the two seemed to be forming a bond that Samantha didn’t want to discourage, anymore than she wanted to discourage her daughter’s recent interest in medicine.

On the other, it bothered her somewhat that what time Seven and B’Elanna spent together, with the exception of the time spent building the new Delta Flyer, was spent engaging in various battles on the holodeck; some created, some historical. Sam knew full well that it was all holograms, and that if anything Seven’s temperament when she left the holodeck was actually more mellow than when she went in. She just wished that her Borg girlfriend could’ve found a way to deal with the loss of her “son” Edwin and built a rapport with B’Elanna Torres without resorting to violence, even fake violence.

Finally, after several days of internal debate, Sam decided to finally discuss her concerns with Seven, which they did as they sat on the edge of Sam’s bed.
“Very well,” Seven said in a neutral tone. “I will discontinue the combat simulations with Lieutenant Torres.”

“Well,” Sam said, “I don’t want you to feel pressure-”
“To be honest Sam,” Seven said, cutting Sam off by putting a hand on her thigh. “while early on the simulations were a helpful cathartic aide in dealing with my grief, lately it has become more simply just something I do with the Lieutenant every week, much like my games of velocity with the Captain, or the Flotter holonovels with Naomi. Discontinuing the war games would not be a hardship, and I have no desire to make you uncomfortable.” Seven smiled, and Sam sighed.
“Someday,” Sam said. “I’ll remember that I don’t have to sugarcoat things with you. I was worried you’d be upset.”
Seven frowned. “Why would you think that?”
“Humans sometimes, not always but sometimes, can get a little defensive when you challenge their hobbies.”

“I see. Well, I am not wholly human. A fact I am certain you are reminded of everytime you get a hair caught in one of my remaining Borg implants.”
“You don’t need to keep apologizing for that Annie, it happens. Besides, at least it was just my head hair. It would’ve hurt way worse if-”
“Paris to Seven of Nine,” Tom’s voice said, coming out of Seven’s comm badge. “We need you in the shuttle bay. We’re about to do a test run on the Delta Flyer and I want you there for the weapons test since you helped design them.”

“On my way,” Seven said. “Would you like join us, Sam?”
“Thanks, but no,” Sam said. “Maybe some other time.”
Chapter Three

Samantha Wildman looked over her shoulder as she heard the turbolift doors open. As she’d suspected might be the case, both Tom Paris and Harry Kim exited still dressed in the outfits they wore when taking part in Tom’s holodeck program, Captain Proton, based on early 20th century science fiction stories.
“Sorry Captain, we didn’t have time to change,” Tom said.
“Understood,” Janeway said. “Long range sensors have picked up something interesting.”
“Concentrated mass of oxygen and hydrogen,” Samantha said. “Lots of animal and plant life.”
“So, a planet?” Tom said sarcastically.
“No,” Janeway said, smiling. “That’s the interesting part. We’re almost in visual range, let’s fire up the viewscreen.”
Everyone on the bridge not already looking in the direction of the main viewscreen did so. A planet-sized globe made entirely of water, no visible land at all.
“Wow,” Tom said. “What’s holding all that water together?”
“I’m detecting a force field,” Harry said from his console. “That’s what’s keeping it from dissipating.”
“Get us in closer,” Janeway said. “I want a good look at this thing.”

As Tom did so, the viewscreen showed three ships coming out of the water, passing through the containment field, and heading towards Voyager.
“Are those starships or submarines?” Tom said.
“I’m going to say, yes,” Samantha said.

“Open a channel Tuvok,” Janeway said. Tuvok nodded, and Janeway began her standard greeting. “This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the starship Voyager. Please identify yourselves.”

“They are powering weapons,” Tuvok said.
“Shields up, red alert,” Janeway said. The ship shuddered slightly as the first volley hit, but Voyager had been shaken up worse by random nebulas.

“Shields holding, no damage,” Tuvok said.
Samantha actually felt some degree of concern, but not about the battle, but rather about the fact that she didn’t have any concerns about the battle.
Am I getting numb to this stuff? she thought. Normally I’d be nervous as hell right now.

“Should we return fire?” Tuvok said.
“Not yet. Janeway to approaching vessels, we have no hostile intentions.”
There was no response. Janeway shook her head.
“Target the lead ship’s weapons systems,” she said. After a few seconds…
“Direct hit,” Tuvok said.
“And now they’re hailing us,” Harry said. “What a shock.”

“On-screen,” Janeway said.

On the viewscreen appeared an alien wearing a jacket and a hooded undercoat.

“I’m Deputy Consul Burkus of the Monean Maritime Sovereignty. You have violated our space. Withdraw or we’ll resume firing.”
“Consul,” Janeway said “we could’ve destroyed your ship but didn’t. We have no interest in a fight.”
“Then why are you here?”
“My people are explorers. Your ocean planet is frankly one of the most interesting things we’ve come across in some time.”
That hasn’t tried to kill us, Samantha mentally addended to Janeway’s statement.

“We’d like to learn more about it. And your people as well, if you’d be willing.”
“And if we are not?”
“Then we’ll have to leave you alone, as disappointing as that would be.” Janeway was smiling now. She was sure that this was going to go her way and there wouldn’t be a fight. Samantha had a good feeling she was right, but hoped that Tuvok was ready with the phasers just in case.

The Consul looked apprehensive, assuming his facial expressions were as readable as a human’s.
“Your ship is certainly impressive, Captain,” he said.
“We’d be happy to give you a tour,” Janeway said.

“I think that would be most interesting, I’ll give the other ships the order to power down. Please accept my apologies for the misunderstanding.”
Janeway chuckled.
“Consul,” she said “you’ll be shocked to learn that we’ve actually had worse greetings in our travels.”

Seven of Nine stood by Sam’s console on the bridge, going over the readings from the ocean planet.
“The Captain and Tuvok went to greet our guests,” Samantha said. “They should be reaching the bridge fairly soon.”
“I imagine the Moneans will have very interesting data on this phenomenon,” Seven said. “I look forward to the chance to observe it more closely.”
“Get in line,” Tom Paris said, still looking at the globe of water on the main viewscreen with some degree of awe. Seven couldn’t entirely blame him. It was certainly as aesthetically pleasing to look at it as it was scientifically fascinating. Had she still been a Borg drone when she’d encountered this, she wouldn’t have been able to truly appreciate it.
“So you never saw anything like this when you were still in the collective?” Sam said.
“No,” Seven said. She thought for a moment then turned to lean against the console so she could look Sam in the face without having to turn her neck at an odd angle. “Would you care to join us if the Captain approves a survey mission.”
Sam shrugged.
“I don’t know. Maybe. There must be some very unique aquatic life down there.”
“And you haven’t taken a ride in the Delta Flyer yet,” Tom said, still eavesdropping on the conversation.
“Mister Paris’ rude interruption aside, he is correct,” Seven said. “Given how likely it is that the Flyer will be used for a variety of missions, it would be ideal for as many crew members to be familiarized with it as possible.”
“Well,” Sam said, “you did help build it. I wouldn’t be a very supportive girlfriend if I didn’t give it a little spin.”
“I am flattered,” Seven said. “but the majority of my contribution was to the weapons systems, which you are unlikely to use.”
Sam opened her mouth to reply to that statement, but the sound of the turbolift doors distracted her. Captain Janeway, followed by one of the Moneans, Tuvok, Neelix, and two other Moneans, one apparently female, exited onto the bridge,
“And this is Voyager’s command center,” she said. “Feel free to have a look around.”
“I’m curious, Consul,” Neelix said, “have your people always lived here?”
“Our ancestors were nomadic,” one of the aliens said, denoting him as the Consul who Neelix was speaking to. “They discovered the waters roughly 300 years ago.”

“I bet they were as stunned as we were,” Tom said.

“Yes,” the Consul said, nodding and smiling. “Mister…?”
“Paris. Tom Paris. I’m the ship’s pilot.”
Janeway began introducing the Consul to the rest of the bridge crew, including Seven and Samantha. Once introductions were out of the way, Consul Burkus, as he’d introduced himself, continued speaking about his ancestors who’d discovered the ocean planet.
“My ancestors realized they could farm sea vegetation, extract oxygen from the ocean for their ships, make a permanent home.”
“What’s your population?” Tom said. Seven raised an eyebrow as that was the exact question she was about to ask.
“More than eighty thousand.”
“And you all live underwater? That’s amazing,” Tom said. Seven was sure this was the most excited she’d seen him since the Delta Flyer had been completed.
“Mister Paris,” Tuvok said. “We do have other business to attend to.”

“Tuvok, escort our guests to the briefing room,” Captain Janeway said. “Care to join us Lieutenant?” she added, having turned to face Tom.
“How could you tell?” Tom said, smiling as headed for the briefing room door behind ahead of the captain who merely chuckled as she shook her head.
“You know,” Sam said in a deadpan tone, “I get the feeling Tom might be intrigued by the water planet.” Seven had learned enough about human humor that she felt she knew how to reply.
“Are you sure?” Seven said, equally deadpan.

“Do you still live aboard your ships?” Neelix asked the Consul once the group was in the briefing room. Paris was curious himself, so he listened closely to the answer as he took a seat.
“We’ve built an industrial infrastructure and undersea dwellings but yes,” the Consul said. “Most of our people still choose to live as our ancestors did.”
“Any idea how the ocean came into existence?” Captain Janeway said, leaning against the table as opposed to sitting down. “In my experience, it’s a unique phenomenon.”

The Consul motioned to the other male Monean, this one wearing a red hood as opposed to Burkus’ blue.
“Riga?” Consul Burkus said.
“There are several theories,” the one called Riga said. “Our clerics teach that the ocean was a divine gift from the creators to protect and sustain us. But in my opinion, the most plausible explanation is that the ocean formed naturally, much the same way that a gas giant does.”
Tom noticed that Riga was starting to look slightly nervous, and kept looking at Burkus, as if afraid of what the Consul would think about what he said next.
“Unfortunately, our limited knowledge of the phenomenon has created a few problems.”
“What do you mean?” Janeway asked.
“I’m not sure this is an appropriate topic,” Burkus said. The way he said it raised a red flag for Tom, though what it meant he wasn’t sure yet.
“But, they might be able to help us,” Riga said.
“We’d be willing to help in any way we can,” Janeway said.

“The ocean’s losing containment,” Riga continued. “Hydro-volume has decreased more than seven percent in the last year alone.”
“Any idea what’s causing it?” Tom asked.
“No,” Riga said. ”To make a thorough study we would need to explore the ocean’s center where I believe the gravitational currents are fluctuating.”

“That’s more than six-hundred kilometers deep,” Tom said.

Riga nodded. “Our best research vessel can only go one hundred kilometers deep. beyond that the pressure is just too great.”

“Well we could take you there,” Tom said. He saw the captain giving him a look. “I mean, if the captain gives a go-ahead that is.”

Once the Moneans had left, Janeway brought Tom with her to her ready room to discuss the matter.
“I never had you pegged for a sailor Tom,” she said, smirking.
“Well, in a way aren’t we all? What is space but an ocean of stars?” Tom said.
Janeway rolled her eyes.
“Save the poetics for your girlfriend, Tom,” she said, though not with any real annoyance. She did think Tom had a point, even if he presented it in a pretentious fashion.
“When I saw that ocean today, Captain,” Tom said. “I was reminded of the first time I read Jules Verne as a kid.”
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea?” Janeway said.
“You’ve read it?”
“Once, but it left an impression. Shame nobody really writes stories like that anymore. I guess once humanity actually was traveling the stars, meeting aliens, walking on distant worlds, that kind of tale lost its luster.”
“Not for me, though you probably already knew that since I’m sure you’ve heard of my Captain Proton program.”
“Indeed,” Janeway said. “Coffee?” she added, now standing by the replicator.
“No thanks,” Tom said. He sat down on the long couch up against the viewports. “I was obsessed with stories about the ocean for a while,” he continued. “read all sorts of stories about it.”
Moby Dick?” Janeway said, now sipping her own cup of coffee.
“Well, yes, though I found that one a little boring to be honest.”
Janeway nodded, but said nothing.
Tom took a deep breath.

And here comes the mission pitch, Janeway thought.
“Captain, I believe that with a few simple thruster modifications to the Delta Flyer, I could make her seaworthy in no time.”

“Good,” Janeway said, sitting down behind her desk. “Because it would take a week to make the necessary modifications to Voyager.”
“So it’s my mission?” Tom said, looking excited.

“Bon voyage,” Janeway said with a nod.

“I don’t need you per se,” Tom Paris said to Samantha Wildman as he sat across the table from her and Seven of Nine on the mess hall. “I just thought you might like to come down and see all the new sea life no human has ever seen before.”

“Tempting, Tom, very tempting,” Sam admitted. “But this mission has a specific purpose that’s not really my field. If you were just going down there to look at the sea life, you’d have to have Tuvok drag me out of the Flyer, I haven’t really had the chance to ply my trade since Naomi was born. But I would love to have a look at whatever you pick up on your sensor logs on your way to the core.”
“Okay,” Tom said, “but I think you’re missing out. How about you boatswain?” he added, looking at Seven.
“What?” Seven said.
“Are we ready to shove off?”
“It’s sailor talk sweetie,” Sam said, guiltily feeling amused at Seven’s look of confusion at Tom’s outdated Earth slang. “You’ll probably get used to it.”
“I imagine not,” Seven said. Tom just laughed.
“Well, anyway Seven, meet me, Harry, and the Monean named Riga down in the shuttle bay in an hour. Enjoy your lunch in the meantime. And remember to call me Skipper once we’re seaborne.”

Sam rolled her eyes. “Tom, If I promise to go along on the next Delta Flyer mission will you stop with the nautical lingo?”
“I’ll consider it,” Tom said as he got up and left.
“Should I research this nautical lingo you speak of before I go?” Seven said. “Or can I safely ignore him during the mission?”
“Just have Harry translate it for you,” Sam said. “At least he’s not going to make you dress like a cabin boy.“

Seven frowned slightly.
“I’m not even going to bother asking you to explain that one, as I’m fairly sure I do not wish to know.”

Sam thought about it for a moment.
“Hmm, probably not,” she said. “Though I can certainly think of some period appropriate garb I wouldn’t mind seeing you in.”
Seven smiled. “We can discuss that when I get back from the mission,” she said.

Seven of Nine didn’t allow it to show on her face, but she completely empathized with Tom Paris’s awe at the site of the underwater structures the Moneans had built as the Delta Flyer made its way towards the core of the ocean planet.
Sadly they had not seen much in the way of marine life, at least not yet, but Riga had promised that there were species of fish that had been here when their people first arrived centuries ago. Seven kept a lookout, hoping to gather some data for Sam.

“What are those structures?” Tom said to Riga.
“It’s our main oxygen refinery,” Riga said. “and desalination plant.”
Seven ran a quick scan.
“Corrosion resistant alloys, variable-density ballast, an efficient design,” she said, openly impressed.
“We’re very proud of what we’ve built here,” Riga said.
“I can see why,” Tom said.

The Delta Flyer continued deeper and deeper, eventually passing all the Monean structures, but still a ways to go to the core.
“Excuse me, Seven is it?” Riga said.
“That is correct,” Seven said.
“I wonder why it is you’re so interested in sea life. Is that your field of study, or is it more of a hobby? If you don’t mind my asking, that is.”
“I do not,” Seven said, not looking up from her scans. “And the answer is neither. While I am well versed in many branches of science my expertise does not lie in marine biology or xenobiology.”
“Oh. So why the interest in fish?” Riga said, sounding genuinely curious.
“I am in a relationship with Voyager’s chief xenobiologist,” Seven said. “I am hoping to collect data for her, as she prefers not to leave the ship unless absolutely necessary. I convinced her to join me on an away mission once, and I was injured. It was minor, but the last time she was off ship prior to that incident her daughter became gravely ill.”

“Oh dear,” Riga said. “I hope the child survived.”
“She did,” Seven said.

“Good to hear. And I guess I can see where your mate is coming from. I imagine I’d feel the same way. It’s also interesting to learn that humans apparently can procreate with a person of either gender. We’ve never encountered that before.”
“It doesn’t exactly work like that,” Tom said. “But let’s not get into that here. Human sexuality is complicated, to put it mildly.”
“An understandable error,” Seven of Nine said to Riga. It wasn’t an appropriate conversation to have, as Tom said, but she felt no need to make him feel guilty about bringing it up. He was merely curious, as any scientist would be.

“We’re at a depth of five hundred and sixty kilometers,” Tom said. A few seconds later, the hull made a squeaking noise.
“What was that?” Riga said.
“The hull contracting,” Seven said.
“Rerouting additional power to structural integrity,” Harry said. “We’re good.”
“I am detecting multi-phasic energy discharges,” Seven said. “bearing zero-two-one Mark 6 and a range of twelve kilometers. It’s a structure of some sort.”
“At this depth?” Riga said.
“Adjusting course,” Tom said. “Increase forward illumination.”

Seven turned to look. The structure in front of them was old, she could tell that much even without an additional scan. Hexagonal patterns covered it, whatever it was, as did many aquatic plants. Whoever had built this either did not have any automated cleaning systems installed, or they had failed long ago.

“What is it?” Riga said, moving from his seat to stand next to Tom.
“It’s generating massive amounts of artificial gravity,” Harry said. “Looks like it’s some kind of field reactor.”

“If it’s malfunctioning that could explain the loss in hydro-volume,” Riga said.
“Perhaps it can be repaired,” Seven suggested.
“It looks ancient,” Tom said, moving the Delta Flyer closer to the structure.

“If these readings are right,” Harry said, “it’s over a hundred-thousand years old.”
“We’ve no records of any previous inhabitants,” Riga said. “Who were they? Where did they go? Why did they build this?”
“Looks like the reactor is controlled by a core computer,” Harry said. “I’ll try to upload the database, see if that gives us any answers.”
“Do so carefully Mister Kim,” Seven said. “A computer that old, its hardware may not hold up well under the strain of a large scale upload.”
“Initiating the interface,” Tom said, “upload in progress.”
The Flyer suddenly began shaking.
“What’s happening?” Riga said.
“We’ve got a visitor,” Tom said, as the shadow of a massive, black, eel-like creature passed in front of the main viewport.
“What was that?” Riga yelled.
“You live here, you tell us,” Harry said.

“My people have never been this far down before. Whatever this is doesn’t get up to where our structures are, thank goodness.”
Seven turned and saw out the side viewport the creature heading straight towards them, its maw wide open, showing rows of large sharp teeth.
“It would be advisable for us to leave,” Seven said.
“I believe that’s Borg for ‘get us the hell out of here,’” Tom said, “and I couldn’t agree more.” Tom began to turn the ship, in time to avoid going straight into the creature’s mouth, but not enough to avoid getting sideswiped by it. The shuttle shuddered violently.
“The creature is emitting biothermic discharges,” Seven said. The ship shook again, and a console near the rear exploded. “That last charge exceed five hundred thousand volts.”

“Shields are fried,” Harry said.
“I’ve got us turned around, let’s get back to-”
Another impact shook the Delta Flyer, as bad as the last one, but no panels exploded this time.
“Dammit!” Tom yelled. “Thrusters are off-line. Targeting forward phasers.”

“Wait, you can’t kill it!” Riga said.
“I don’t intend to if I can avoid it,” Tom said. “I’m lowering the power. Hopefully we’ll just stun it.”
Another impact.

“How is that upload coming Harry?” Tom said.
“Just a few minutes,” Harry said.
We may not have a few minutes, Seven thought.

“Firing phasers. Just a warning shot,” Tom said. The ship took another hit, and for a moment Seven was concerned that Tom’s actions had only angered the creature, but a glance at her sensors showed that that was not the case.
“The creature is retreating” she said. Tom and Harry breathed a sigh of relief, but before anyone could say anything, an alarm sounded.
“We’ve got a breach!” Harry yelled. The sound of running water soon confirmed that, and it was getting louder.
“I’m on it,” Tom said, heading to the back of the shuttle. Seven could now see the water leaking in through a panel in the Flyer’s ceiling.
Well, Seven thought. This is unfortunate.

“Hand me a laser welder,” Tom said. Seven looked under her console, but couldn’t find one. Harry apparently had the same thought as he handed one to her to pass to Tom, who quickly got to work sealing the leaks. He managed to do so, but not before his uniform got soaked through.
“Nothing like a cold shower to wake up the senses,” Tom said.
“You should warm yourself quickly, Lieutenant,” Seven said. “before hypothermia has a chance to set in.”
“Yeah, thanks Mom,” Tom said dismissively as he returned to the pilot’s seat.
“Structural integrity is weakening,” Harry said. “We’ve lost communications, shields, and the pièce de résistance, propulsion.”
“We can decrease our density by venting plasma,” Seven said. “and by transporting all non-essential equipment off the ship. It will take time, but we will eventually rise to the surface.”
“Not a bad idea Seven, but I think we should stay,” Tom said.
“Stay?” Riga said.
“I’m not about to be scared off by a few damaged systems,” Tom said.
“Were you perhaps struck on the head while repairing the leak, Mister Paris?” Seven said.
“Look,” Tom said, “it’s a pretty good bet that the reactor’s malfunctioning. We’re only gonna get one shot at fixing it. You wanna leave, fine. Give me an environmental suit and you can pick me up after you’ve repaired the Flyer.”
“That is such an idiotic thing to say I really have no comeback sarcastic enough to counter it,” Harry said.

“You have a better idea?” Tom said. Seven shook her head and went to work on her console. Hopefully she could find a solution to the situation while the two supposed friends bickered.

“Well, we’ve managed to interface with the reactor’s computer core,” Harry said. “Maybe we can make the repairs, maybe not. But I’m not leaving you down here alone.”
“I’m scared,” Riga said. “But I’m willing to stay.”

“Seven?” Tom said.
“It would seem I am already outvoted,” she said. “We may as well stay then.”

“Okay, let’s get to work th-”
The ship shuddered one more time.
“Oh come on!” Harry yelled.
“Is that creature back?” Riga said.

“It was a gravimetric discharge,” Seven said. “The reactor’s core is unstable.”
“You’d be unstable too if you were as old this thing,” Tom said.
“Age has nothing to do with it,” Harry said. “The reactor’s diverting massive amounts of power to its structural integrity field. Power normally reserved for oceanic containment. This could explain why the containment has been weakening.”
“Makes sense,” Tom said.
“Looks like the density of the water’s been increasing over the past few years,” Harry continued. “It seems the reactor is just trying to keep itself from being crushed.”
“A logical conclusion,” Seven said.
“Can we initiate a power transfer?” Tom said. “That might stabilize the core.”
“It would only be a temporary solution,” Seven said. “But it can be done.”
“Do it,” Tom said. “Then vent the plasma, jettison what we don’t need, and we can go home.”

“Have you found something?” Riga said, entering the lab on Voyager where Tom Paris was going over the data obtained on the mission to the ocean planet’s core.
“Yep,” Tom said. “I’ve been studying the generator’s database and you’re not gonna believe this, but apparently your ocean used to be part of a land mass.”
“Astonishing,” Riga said.
“I know right? As far as I can tell it used to be part of a planetary eco-system. One inhabited by a very advanced civilization.”
“What happened to them?” Riga said.
“Good question. All I’ve been able to find out is they launched this reactor,” he touched a button on a console and began playing a simulation for Riga. “into orbit, and used some kind of elaborate kinetic transfer system to draw the water and everything in it up to the reactor.”
Riga stared in wonder at the simulation as it showed a sped up version of what the process most likely looked like.
“Extraordinary,” Riga said. “Why would anyone want to move an entire ocean?”
Tom shrugged. “Some kind of disaster on their planet maybe? Or maybe it was just an experiment.”

“That must’ve been a massive undertaking,” Riga said.
“Took them almost two hundred years by my calculations,” Tom said.

“I wonder what they’d think if they knew we settled here and built another civilization,” Riga said.
“Actually,” Tom said, “I think they’d be pretty concerned. This field reactor they designed, it’s a pretty amazing and durable piece of technology. I don’t think it’s responsible for the loss of containment.” Tom walked over to a desk in the lab and picked up a PADD to hand to Riga.
“But, as soon as we made the recalibration the water stabilized,” Riga said. “I don’t see what else it could be.”
“Riga,” Tom said. “your people’s mining operations are destroying the ocean.”

“Oh,” Riga said, sounding more saddened than shocked, like deep down he’d always suspected this might be the case, but just didn’t want to admit it.
“There’s more you should know,” Tom said. “When I got back, the Captain filled me in on what we missed while we were down there. The rate of water loss is worse than we thought. We’re looking at total dissipation in in less than five years. You may have to consider evacuating if we can’t stop the hydro-volume loss.”

“Oh,” Riga said. It seemed like an underreaction, but he didn’t say anything, figuring that Riga was just in shock, and that the news he’d been given just hadn’t sunk in yet. After a few quiet moments, Riga spoke up again.
“We need to bring this information to Consul Burkus,” he said.
“Agreed,” Tom said. “I haven’t met a lot of them, but I know that good politicians do exist in this galaxy. If he isn’t one, maybe one of your other leaders will be willing to listen.”

Captain Janeway sat at the head of the table in the briefing room. She wanted to make it clear to Burkus that this was not the same casual type of meeting that they’d had when he first came aboard. Tom Paris and B’Elanna Torres were with her, while Burkus and Riga and a third Monean sat opposite them.

“The council is very grateful for your help Captain,” Burkus said, after Tom filled him in on the situation. “They’ve asked me to request the shield and thruster schematics for your Delta Flyer. We’re hoping to design a probe that will allow us to monitor the containment generator.”
If I wrote a holonovel with a politician this stereotypical, Janeway thought, he’d be dismissed as too cliched.

She put on a smile that she hope looked genuine.
“Lieutenant Torres will give you everything you need,” she said. She didn’t like Burkus all that much, but there was no point in screwing over his entire race over it.
“I’ve also drawn up some designs for an oxygen replication system,” B’Elanna said, reaching over the table to hand Burkus a PADD. “It’ll allow you to create free oxygen without extricating it from the water. It won’t solve your problems overnight, but it’s a start.” B’Elanna sat back down and smiled. She was proud of how quickly she came up with a solution to the Monean’s problem, and as far as Janeway was concerned B’Elanna had earned that pride. It was a good solution.
“I’m sure it’ll be very helpful,” Burkus said in a tone that made the hairs on the back of Janeway’s neck stand up.
There’s a ‘but’ coming, she thought, I can feel it.
“Our oxygen extraction levels are still dangerously high,” Riga said. If Janeway had been right about that ‘but,’ she would never know because the conversation took a different turn. “I’m going to recommend shutting down refineries four, five, and six.” Riga continued.

“We’ll take it under advisement,” Burkus said quickly, looking very uncomfortable. He stood up. “Well, Captain, I wish you a safe journey.”
“We have a few more suggestions if you’d like to hear them,” Janeway said, resisting the urge to add the word “asshole” at the end of the sentence.
“Please,” Burkus said. “Pass them along to Mister Riga, and he’ll include them in his report.” Riga looked concerned. Janeway glanced to her right and saw Tom Paris with a similar look on his face.
“I’m curious,” Tom said. “who’s going to read that report?”
“It will be given to the subcommittees on life support and agriculture,” Burkus said.
“Forgive me for my bluntness, Consul,” Riga said, “but I don’t think you understand the magnitude of the crisis. What you’re suggesting could take months.”

“Thank you, Mister Riga,” Burkus said, in a tone that suggested he was anything but thankful.
“You should listen to him,” Tom said, standing up. “If you don’t make some serious changes, and soon, that ocean won’t be here much longer.”
Janeway hoped that Burkus would listen, but also hoped that Tom would calm down. The last thing she needed on her hands was an interspecies incident.

“As I said, we understand his concerns,” Burkus said, trying to sound diplomatic.
“Do you?” Tom said.
“Tom?” Janeway said quietly, trying to get her navigator’s attention, hoping to calm him down.
“It seems to me like you’re trying to sidestep the issue and just send us on our way,” Tom continued. Janeway took some small relief in the fact that Tom at least wasn’t raising his voice.

“With all due respect,” Burkus said, letting his agitation show now. “who are you to tell us what to do with our ocean?”
“With all due respect, it’s not your ocean,” Tom said forcefully, moving around the table to stand face to face with Burkus, just what Janeway had hoped he wouldn’t do.
“Lieutenant?” she said forcefully, trying to get Tom to back off.
“It’s all right Captain,” Burkus said. “I’d like to respond. But not as a diplomat, as a Monean. You came here claiming you wanted to learn about our way of life, and now having spent three days here you’re suggesting we abandon it. My people have an expression. ‘Brine in the veins.’ Riga, tell him what that means.”
Riga sighed.
“It’s used to describe someone who has special connection to the waters,” he said.
“My family has lived her for ten generations,” Burkus continued. “We protected this ocean. Cultivated it. Lived in harmony with the animals that inhabit it. Can you say the same?”
Damn, he’s good, Janeway thought. If I didn’t already know he was full of shit, I could be convinced to vote for him.

Tom didn’t respond.
“I didn’t think so,” Burkus said. Good day, Captain.” Burkus turned and left, Riga and the other Monean following behind him, leaving Tom standing there. Janeway couldn’t see the look on his face since his back was turned to her, but she could guess.
“We can’t just let this go,” Tom said, turning around.
“What do you want me to do, Tom?” she said. “Just violate the Prime Directive because of one idiot?”

“Well, frankly yes,” Tom said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about the PD lately and it seems to me that what started as a good law has become intractable dogma. It’s not that I want us to just throw it out, that would be wrong and against everything the Federation stands for. But sometimes I think we use it as an excuse to avoid making a hard decision.”
“We?” Janeway said.
“The royal ‘we,’” Tom said. “As in Starfleet as a whole.”

Janeway stood up.
“I know you’re upset Lieutenant, but when you’re in a room with me you check that attitude at the door, understood?”
“Captain, I’m sorry, but-”
“We can’t expect an entire society to change because we think they should. Between you me and B’Elanna I’ve had my doubts about how the Prime Directive has been applied too. Hell, I wonder about how I’ve applied it myself in the past, though I will deny it if you tell anyone I said that.”
Tom looked down, seeming embarrassed.
“I didn’t mean to antagonize you, Captain,” he said.
“You didn’t,” Janeway said. “I’m just being honest with you in ways a Captain normally shouldn’t in the hope that it’ll keep you from doing something stupid.”

“We did what we could, Tom. We gave them the help they asked for. We told them what we know. Now it’s up to them to do what they think is appropriate.”
“You heard that Consul,” Tom said. “they aren’t going to a damn thing.”
“Maybe but that’s their prerogative, Tom. End of discussion. At 1400 hours we will resume a course for the Alpha Quadrant. Is that clear?”
“As a bell,” Tom said. B’Elanna got up from her seat and moved to Tom’s side, putting a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, Tom,” she said. “I’ll join you on the holodeck for a Captain Proton adventure. Maybe that’ll help take your mind off of this.”
Tom looked sadly out the viewport, where the edge of the ocean planet was visible. Janeway felt sorry for him, but the fact was that unlike some instances she’d run into since taking command of Voyager, the Prime Directive here was clear cut. The Monean leadership had made it clear they did not want any further help from her or her crew.

As Tom and B’Elanna exited the briefing room together, she hoped that the Monean that had gone to the core with Tom, Riga, would find the courage to stand up to his superiors.

It was almost 1400 hours, but Seven of Nine had decided to arrive on the bridge early. Normally she did her duties from the astrometrics lab, but Commander Chakotay had decided to add her to the bridge crew for this particular shift. She found his reasons for doing so inadequate, especially the claim of it ‘breaking the monotony’ on the grounds that she was quite comfortable having a fixed routine. In fact, except when she was spending time with Sam during the periods when their off-duty hours coincided, spontaneity held no appeal for her.

She sat down at the station that was normally Sam’s during her bridge rotations, and adjusted the settings on the console to her liking. While she was doing so, an alert noise from Tuvok’s console got her attention. Tuvok summoned Captain Janeway to the bridge. She arrived quickly, the front of her uniform jacket only partially zipped up.
“Captain, there has been an unauthorized launch from the shuttle bay,” Tuvok said.
Tom Paris, Seven thought ruefully.
“The Delta Flyer,” Tuvok continued. “Sensors show another lifeform aboard with Mister Paris. The lifesigns are Monean.”
“Hail them,” Janeway said,
“No response,” Tuvok said.
Seven looked at her console. She felt like she should be doing something during this situation, but wasn’t sure what, and that lack of certainty frustrated her.
“Try a tractor beam,” Chakotay said.
“We’re out of range,” Tuvok said.
We’re being hailed, Captain,” Harry Kim said. “It’s Consul Burkus.”

“Of course it is,” Janeway said as she took her seat. “On screen.”
“Your shuttlecraft has violated our borders. I demand an explanation,” Burkus said.
“Mister Paris is acting without authorization,” Janeway said with frustration punctuating every syllable.
“To what end?” Burkus said.
“Our scanners show that Mister Riga is with him,” Janeway said. “I’m assuming they intend to take some sort of radical action to protect the ocean.”
“Hmm,” Burkus said. “I’m certainly angry, Captain, but I must admit a part of me respects Riga for this. He’s always come across as a coward to me before. But they still must be stopped.”
Seven found Burkus’ description of his subordinate rather hypocritical in light of his own actions after Riga and Lieutenant Paris had presented him with the information regarded to side effects of their oxygen mining.
“I assume you plan to take radical action to stop them, Captain?” Burkus said.
“I do,” Janeway said. She silently signaled for the communication with Burkus to be ended. Once his face was off the screen, she began pushing buttons on the console by the captain’s chair.
“Janeway to Paris, return to Voyager immediately,” she said.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” Tom’s voice replied. “I can’t do that.”
“Lieutenant, you are disobeying a direct order. This goes beyond violating the Prime Directive, you and Riga are about to commit an act of terrorism.”
“I know,” Tom said, sounding sad. his short statement was followed by the noise of a com channel being closed.
“He cut us off,” Chakotay said.
“I noticed,” Janeway said. “What the hell are they up to?”
“They appear to be headed for somewhere underneath the industrial complex,” Seven said.
“Can we reach them with phasers?”
“Unadvisable,” Seven said.
“Seven is correct,” Tuvok said. “It would create a hydro-dynamic shockwave.”
“What about an old-fashioned depth charge?” Chakotay said.

“It should be possible to modify a photon torpedo,” Tuvok said.
“Do it,” Janeway said. “Quickly.”

It only took a few moments for Tuvok to complete the task, faster than Seven had anticipated.
“The torpedo is ready,” he said. “However, the Delta Flyer has submerged below our targeting range.”
“Consul Burkus is hailing us again,” Harry said.
Janeway sighed. “On screen,” she said.

“Our refinery workers have been given five minutes to clear the structure. Was this the kind of evacuation you had in mind, Captain?” Burkus said with an accusatory tone. Seven of Nine began to understand why neither the Captain nor Lieutenant Paris liked the man.

“Can you get them out in time? Janeway said.
“Yes, but-”
“Do it. I’ll find a way to protect your refinery. End transmission.”
“Captain, I-” the viewscreen returned to the view of the ocean planet.

“Mister Paris descended to avoid attack,” Tuvok said. “If my calculations are correct he will have to come back up to a depth of two thousand meters to strike his target.”
“Giving us a window of opportunity,” Janeway said.
“Captain,” Harry said. “This is Tom we’re talking about. We’re not going to open fire are we?”

Seven agreed. While she conceded that Mister Paris’ attack had to be stopped, destroying the Delta Flyer seemed like an extreme measure, in addition to being a waste of resources for Voyager as Tom was also the ship’s lone nurse in addition to its pilot.
“As far as I’m concerned,” Janeway said, now directing some of her anger at Lieutenant Kim. “he forfeited his status as a protected member of this crew the second he launched that shuttle.”

“He’s started his ascent,” Chakotay said. “He’ll reach the target in thirty-six seconds.”

“Hail him,” Janeway said. Seven could pick up from the tone of the Captain’s voice that this was the last time she was planning to do this.
“Go ahead,” Harry said.
“Lieutenant Paris, this is your final warning,” Janeway said.
No response.
“Arm the torpedo,” Janeway said.
“Twenty seconds to weapon’s range,” Harry said.
“Stand down Mister Paris. Or I will open fire.”
Should I do something? Seven thought. This doesn’t seem right. Tom Paris is an individual, not a defective drone. She bit her lower lip to keep from speaking up. She wondered if Sam would’ve said something at this point, or would she have just followed orders.
Tuvok began counting down. When he reached “One,” Janeway gave the order to fire.
“The Flyer has been disabled,” Tuvok said a few moments later.
“Their missile?” Janeway said. In all the tension, somehow Seven of Nine had missed the detail that the Delta Flyer had fired a missile at the refinery. That was unacceptable to her. She made a note to speak with the Doctor about it later.

“Deflected,” Tuvok said.
Janeway didn’t say anything. Seven of Nine returned her focus to the console in front of her.

Captain Janeway stood facing Tom Paris, with her hands behind her back, her stern glare masking the seething anger she truly felt at what her navigator had done. Two armed guards stood behind him. If they had any feelings about what was happening, they didn’t show it.

“You are guilty of insubordination, unauthorized use of a spacecraft, reckless endangerment, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
“Riga needed my help,” Tom said.

“In doing so you disobeyed my direct orders.”
“Yes, Captain,” Tom said.
“You violated the protocols that govern this crew.”
“Yes, Captain.”

“You nearly caused an armed conflict with the Moneans.”Janeway heard her own voice getting louder with each sentence, but she didn’t care. Her anger was justified as far as she was concerned.

“Yes, Captain,” Tom said.
“Frankly, you’re lucky to be standing here right now. I would’ve destroyed your shuttle if necessary.”

If Tom was flustered by that, he didn’t show it. He kept as stoic as he had been throughout the proceedings leading up to this moment. In a twisted, ironic way Janeway was as proud of him right now as she was tempted to keep him in the brig for the rest of the journey home, all sixty-plus years of it.

“Yes, Captain. Permission to speak freely?”
“Granted.”
“Riga’s people weren’t going to listen. They were going to ignore our warnings.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Riga knew, and I was the only one who could help them.”
“I understand your passion,” Janeway said, and she hoped he knew she meant it. “But passion alone doesn’t give you the right to take matters into your own hands. Four years ago, I released you from prison and gave you a fresh start. Until now you’ve been a fine officer. Your service on this ship has been exemplary. I really believed you were past this kind of conduct.”

“Serving under your command has changed me, for the better. But at least this time I broke the rules for a reason, for something I believed in, instead of just trying to piss off my father, or because I was looking for a fight.”
“I admire your principles Tom, but I can’t ignore what you’ve done. Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris, I hereby reduce you to the rank of ensign. And I sentence you to thirty days solitary confinement.” Janeway stepped closer to Tom, and removed one of the pips on his collar. “Take Ensign Paris to the brig,” she said to one of the security guards, both of them moved to stand on each side of Tom.
“I know the way,” Tom said, turning and walking out of the captain’s ready room, the guards following behind him.

Once the door closed, she let out a long, sad sigh.

Seven of Nine wondered briefly why she’d allowed Harry Kim and B’Elanna Torres to talk her into doing what she was about to do, but after taking a calming breath, she walked up to the door to the captain’s ready room, and waited for permission to enter.
“Come in,” the captain said.

“Captain,” Seven said, standing at attention.
“So, how can I help you Seven?”

“I’m here in regards to Mister Paris’ incarceration,” Seven said, deciding it best to get this over with quickly, since she was more than ninety percent certain of this conversation’s outcome. Janeway sighed and put down her coffee and the PADD she was reading.
“Like I’ve already told Harry and B’Elanna I’m not letting him out of the brig. Not until his thirty days are up. So-”
“I am not asking you to do so Captain,” Seven said. Her reluctance to interrupt people was a fairly new trait, one she’d picked up from dating Samantha, but she also knew that if she didn’t get her point across quickly the captain would dismiss her before she even had a chance to start.

“Oh? Then why are you here?”
“I understand that what Lieu- sorry, Ensign Paris did requires some form of consequence. However, I question the value of a month of solitary confinement. Having him in the brig, the demotion, these are all reasonable given this ship’s circumstances. But I feel I should remind you that using solitary confinement as a form of punishment is listed as torture under the Articles of the Federation, and was banned on Earth even before said articles were signed. In fact most member races of the Federation-”
“You’ve made your point Ensign,” Janeway said harshly, her expression flat. It occurred to Seven just then how, even though she’d been given a rank and a uniform months ago, how rarely anyone ever called her by her rank. “I don’t think you understand the severity of what Tom did, Seven. This goes beyond disobeying orders. You’ve done that. Even Tuvok went behind my back once.”
Seven didn’t know what she was referring to, but refrained from asking. She had a feeling she had already pushed the captain’s patience too far already, despite having only been speaking to her for a minute at most.

“He had come so far these past three years,” Janeway continued. “He was acting like a real Starfleet officer. He had stable friendships, he did his job well, often exceeding expectations. Looking at him today you would never know that at one point he was an academy wash-out and a convict with a chip on his shoulder the size of Europa.

“And he risked it all on some foolish crusade that ultimately accomplished nothing. You could stand there and argue that he was just following his conscience. Harry and B’Elanna said the same thing, but it doesn’t matter. He accepted responsibility for his actions, and now he’s paying the price for them.”
“A point which I have never disputed, Captain,” Seven said.
Janeway sighed, and rubbed her face.
“Yeah, you haven’t. I’m arguing with you over a point you didn’t even try to make. Maybe I’m just trying to justify it to myself. Alright, I’ll start allowing some limited visitations on a schedule. Thank youm Seven.”
Seven was more than a little confused. Somehow, she’d gone from failing to make her case to the captain changing her mind without even getting the chance to expand her case. She nearly just flat out asked what had happened to make the captain change her mind so quickly, when Janeway said, “Dismissed.” Seven simply nodded, and left.

Heading towards the turbolift, Lieutenant Kim stopped her and asked how it went.

“It would appear I succeeded,” she told him.

“What does that mean?” Harry asked.

“It means that I convinced her to end the solitary confinement, but I am uncertain how.”

“That doesn’t make much sense.”

“No argument here. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must return to astrometrics.”

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