A Fire of Devotion: Part 3 of 4: Sweeter Than Heaven: Chapter One

Chapter One

“Kathryn!” Chakotay yelled as a fissure opened up behind Captain Janeway’s head. The captain dived forward, allowing him to blast the alien coming through with his phaser. Janeway rolled to her left and got up to her knees, and began hitting buttons on the console by her chair.
“Give me tactical control!” she yelled. After a few more button presses, and several more aliens shot down, the screeching noise stopped and the open fissures closed.
“I used a deflector pulse to reinforce the shields,” Janeway said.
“How did you know that would work?” Chakotay said, glad for the chance to catch his breath.
“I didn’t. Lucky guess. Tom, lay in a pursuit course. Find the Equinox. I want my people back, and I want Ransom to pay for what he’s done.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom Paris said, finally putting away his own phaser before taking the helm once more.

“We may have to wait on that,” Harry Kim said.
“Why?” Chakotay said
“Reports are coming in. The engines took heavy damage in the attack.”
“Casualties?” Janeway said.
“Two confirmed dead, multiple injuries.”
“The aliens kill on contact,” Chakotay said. “The injuries were probably the result of the chaos.”

“All right, focus on getting the shields back up to full strength, my trick won’t hold forever,” Janeway said. “We can’t help Seven of Nine or Joe Carey if we get killed.”

“Captain,” Lieutenant Ayala said. “The security team that tried to stop the Equinox crew has also reported in. There’s something you should see.”

Chakotay wondered what it was but felt it probably could wait, and was about to say so, but he saw the Captain go over to the tactical console.
“Captain?” he asked.
“Son of a bitch,” Janeway said. “Make that three.”
“Ma’am?” Harry said.
“Ransom has three of our people,” Janeway said.

“Report,” Captain Ransom said.
“The shield grid is back in place,” Maxwell Burke said. “The aliens are staying clear.”
“Are sensors picking up Voyager?” Ransom said.
“It looks like they’re under attack,” Noah Lessing said.
“Maintain course,” Ransom said before taking in a deep breath. “Have the prisoners been secured?”
“The brig’s a lost cause,” Burke said. “We had to put Seven of Nine and the engineer, Carey, in one of the empty crew quarters. We locked the door with a portable magnetic sealer so they won’t be able to get out, even if we have any problems with main power.”
“Good,” Ransom said. He felt like there was something else he should be saying right now, but if there was, it had eluded him. “Good,” he repeated, although he felt anything but.

“Rudy? You alright?” Burke said.
“I’m fine, Max,” Ransom said, thinking he knew why he wasn’t as relieved as he should’ve been that he was finally going to keep his promise and get his crew home. “They have a full crew, they’ll be able to defend themselves long enough to build a new generator. How many aliens did we capture when we fired up the multiphasic generator?”
“Just the one I’m afraid,” Burke said. “It’ll shave weeks off our journey home, but that’s it.”
Ransom nodded. “At least we still have the summoning device. It should still be in engineering.”
Burke nodded and tapped his comm badge.
“Burke to Gilmore,” he said.
“Gilmore here,” Marla Gilmore said, her voice cracking somewhat. Ransom worried about her. Burke had told him how Marla had hesitated to fire on the two Voyager crew members when they’d gotten to engineering to install the generator they’d stolen. She had done her job, had done everything that had been asked of her, same as Burke, Lessing, or any of the others, but Ransom prided himself on knowing his crew, and he knew that all of this had been harder on her than on anyone. Perhaps harder than on himself.

Even when we get home, he thought, the trauma of all this is going to be on her shoulders for a long time. Maybe the rest of her life. I know I’m going to a Federation prison when we get home, that’s a given, but-

“Rudy? Captain?” he heard Burke say, breaking the train of thought.
“Sorry, I got distracted,” Ransom said. “What is it?”
“We may have a problem,” Burke said, looking upset.

-o-

Seven of Nine checked Joe Carey’s pulse and looked for signs of head injury before trying to wake him up. Once the engineer was awake and aware, he looked around at the room the two of them were stuck in. In particular, he looked with concern at the piece of metal that was welded over one of the crew quarters’ viewports.

“I don’t know the Nova-class very well,” Carey said, “so either they don’t have a brig, or it’s wrecked so they set us up in here.”

“Either one is possible,” Seven said. “Unfortunately, we were both unconscious at the time.”
Carey finally stood up, with some assistance from Seven, and made an effort to brush off his uniform, but much of the grime from the damaged crew quarters stuck.
“Obviously the door is sealed. Do we know how?” he asked.
“It’s not a force field, that’s all I can confirm. I tried to force the door open before I woke you.”

Carey nodded, and exhaled sharply.
Voyager?” he said.
Seven didn’t know what to say. All she knew for certain was that the Equinox crew had returned after somehow escaping confinement on Voyager, stunned her and Carey, and now they were very obviously at warp since she could see the streaking lights outside the undamaged viewport.

“Unknown,” she said in frustration. “Apart from our confinement, there’s very little I know about our situation. Everything else would be speculation.”

“Might as well speculate then,” Carey said. “Not like we have anything else we can do at the moment.”

Seven thought about it for a moment.
“You have a point,” she said.
“So,” Carey said, starting to pace as he spoke, “given the lack of ominous humming noises, I can assume that the multiphasic shield we built on Voyager is on the Equinox instead.”

“Sounds likely,” Seven said. “Which means that Ransom and his people likely stole it upon escape.”
“Which would’ve left Voyager vulnerable to attack, which could explain why they haven’t come after us yet. If they even-”
“I sincerely doubt that Voyager would’ve been destroyed after one attack,” Seven said, not sure if she actually believed it, or just wanted to since the alternative would be too heartbreaking to consider. “Setting aside that the Intrepid-class is twice the size of the Nova, the crew is fully staffed and was alerted to the warning signs of impending attack.”
“True,” Carey said, sighing. “Of course, this means even if they can catch up to us, we have no idea how big a head-start the Equinox has.”
“That is one piece of positive news I can offer,” Seven said. “In case you forgot, we already had the device they used to process the bodies of the aliens disconnected from the warp drive when we were attacked. Depending on how long it takes them to re-install it, and given that Voyager would begin pursuit as soon as the first attack was repelled, it is likely they could catch up to us given that the Nova-class normally has a maximum speed of warp 8, while Voyager can achieve a cruising speed of 9.75.”
“I never pegged you for an optimist, Seven,” Carey said.
“I’m not being optimistic,” Seven said. “I’m engaging in speculation as per your recommendation.”
“Touche,” Carey said. “Any thoughts on how to escape?”
“I have some ideas,” Seven said.

“This is my fault,” Janeway said, as she and Commander Chakotay walked down the corridor towards sickbay. “I came down on the Equinox crew like a ton of bricks. I let my anger at what they’d done to those aliens cloud my judgement and as a result I forced Ransom into a corner. This was inevitable. Hell, I can’t even lie to myself and say I wouldn’t have done the same thing if it were my crew about to thrown under the bus by another Captain.

“Ransom asked me to show leniency to his crew, and all I said was ‘I’d consider it.’ I meant it, I would’ve been perfectly willing to not throw every single one of them in the brig, but maybe if I’d told him that upfront instead of-”

“Captain,” Chakotay said, “I can’t stop you from blaming yourself for all of this, I know you too well. But what I can do is ask you to put the self-loathing on hold until we get our people back.”

Janeway nodded. Her first officer wasn’t usually this harsh with her, but given the circumstances, she couldn’t blame him. Two crewmen were dead, one of whom had served with Chakotay in the Maquis. On top of that, three of their crew were in the hands of a Starfleet Captain who had gone off the deep end.
Another one, Janeway thought. Two bad Captains in as many months. First Archer, now Ransom. Am I going to get home only to learn that Jean-Luc Picard’s cheese has slipped off his cracker too?

“Suggestion noted,” she said. “Since I’m taking suggestions, thoughts on how we should approach the EMH?”
“Not sure,” Chakotay admitted. “If we let him know that we know he’s actually the Equinox’s Doctor, we have no idea what he’ll do. We don’t know what he did to our Doctor to get his mobile emitter, and he was able to lie his way into the confinement area to get them phasers, as well as reroute transporter controls. He could be a threat to us.

“At the same time though, unless and until we can get our Doctor back, he’s the only experienced medical officer on board, and we need that more than ever considering the crisis we’re in.”

“At the same time,” Janeway said, “he has additional knowledge about the aliens that we can use. How can we get that out of him without giving away that we know who he really is?”

Chakotay didn’t say anything, his face betraying that he was struggling to come up with an idea. After a few moments, he visibly gave up, shaking his head.
“Alright,” he said. “Screw it. Let’s go old fashioned. Good cop, bad cop as our ancestors used to say.”
“So who gets to be the good cop?” Janeway asked.
“Might as well be me,” Chakotay said. “I’ve done it before.”
“Thanks for volunteering,” Janeway said.

The two officers arrived at sick-bay and immediately entered, and Janeway was briefly taken aback by what she saw. Two of the bio-beds were full, blankets pulled over the heads of the unmoving occupants.
Tim Lang and Ken Dalby, Janeway thought.
The rest of the room was nearly overflowing with crew members with varying injuries. She spotted the young Bajoran crewman, Gerron, standing by Dalby’s body, saying a Bajoran prayer. Janeway’s heart broke for him. Dalby had been like an older brother to Gerron since their time in the Maquis, and the two officers had been all but inseparable since joining her crew. She decided to use that sadness to fuel her rage. If she was going to play Bad Cop to get information out of the Equinox EMH, it needed to be as real as possible.

The EMH was, to his credit, doing his job professionally, having been returned to sickbay after the attack. Tom Paris was also there, his field medic skills being put to good use. If Tom had let slip that he knew this holographic doctor wasn’t their holographic doctor, neither gave any indication of it. Janeway spotted the mobile emitter resting in the container Voyager’s EMH usually kept it in when it wasn’t being used. She picked it up.

“Doctor,” Janeway said.
“Captain,” the EMH said. “I am relieved to report that were no further fatalities from the alien attack. Some serious sprains and a few concussions from people diving out of the way, a few people were hit by stray phaser blasts that were all thankfully set on stun and…” The EMH spotted the mobile emitter in her hand, and looked her in the eye.
“Everyone cleared to leave already,” Janeway said sternly, “do so. This EMH isn’t our Doctor.”
“Captain, I don’t know what you-”
“Spare me,” Janeway said, practically spitting out the words. “Two security officers saw you before you turned yourself off. You stole this,” she held up the mobile emitter, “from our Doctor, and allowed Ransom and his people to escape, steal the multi-phasic shield generator, kidnap two of my people, and leave us behind to die. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t delete you right now.”
The EMH stood straight at attention.
“Your navigator is a competent medic,” he said. “but I am the only doctor you have on board.”
“He’s right, Captain,” Chakotay said, effortlessly sliding into his role in this interrogation.
Janeway slid the emitter into her pocket.
“Not good enough,” she said. “I want every bit of information you have on the aliens.”
“Do you intend to use them to get home as well?” the doctor said, almost smiling.
Janeway moved in closer to the EMH.
“Not a chance in hell. I want to communicate with them. We believe their screeching is their form of language.”
“It’s not like they’ll listen to you,” the EMH said, crossing his arms in a gesture that suggested he wasn’t intimidated. “Do you know how many of my crew they killed?”
“You have some nerve,” Janeway said, “blaming them for what your captain did.”
“Captain Ransom is merely fulfilling his promise to get his crew home,” the EMH said. “He knows full well that he’ll probably spend the rest of his life in prison for using these aliens as fuel, but-”

“Yeah, Rudy gave me that spiel as well,” Janeway said, putting as much invective as she could manage on the Equinox captain’s name. “His crew will join him, even if he doesn’t realize that, and so will you.”
The EMH scoffed. “More likely Starfleet will simply delete me, just like you threatened to.”
“Well, why wait then?” Janeway said, moving towards the main sickbay console.
“Wait,” Chakotay said. Janeway had her back turned to the EMH so she allowed herself a small smirk. “Doctor, if you help us, we can make it worth your while.”
“How so?” the EMH said, sounding skeptical.
“You may have noticed our Doctor has certain privileges that you may not have had on the Equinox.”
“True. The ability to turn myself off certainly came in handy earlier. And access to the Holodeck as well. Your EMH had quite the life. Lucky him. I spent my free time recording the results of autopsies for my shipmates.”
Janeway could hear the contempt in the EMH’s voice. This doctor had developed a personality from being left on so long, just like Voyager’s had, but this one’s was much darker. Part of her wondered if Ransom would’ve even needed to delete this EMH’s ethical subroutines if he’d merely waited.
“The Captain can lock all that out from right here,” Chakotay said. “But you could earn those privileges back by helping us.”
Janeway turned around to look at the EMH.
“I don’t think we should be rewarding him for what he did,” she said. “Lang and Dalby are dead in part because of him.”
The EMH shook his head.
“They’re dead because of the aliens. Can it really be my fault, or even Captain Ransom’s for that matter, that the beasts can’t tell the difference between Voyager and Equinox?”
Janeway saw Chakotay’s fists clench from the corner of her eye, the limits of his ‘good cop’ persona already being tested.
Maybe we should delete him anyway, she thought. This hologram is a monster.

“If you think so lowly of the aliens,” Chakotay said, “then you shouldn’t have any qualms about sharing everything you know about them with us.”
The EMH shrugged.
“Fine,” he said. “But only because I doubt it’ll do you any good.”

“You’re sure?” Ransom said, sitting on a partially ripped chair in his personal quarters that he used as his ready room too, since currently the actual ready room was exposed to vacuum.
Marla Gilmore hung her head in shame, though deep down she didn’t feel it that much.
“Yes,” she said. “The summoning device is gone. I think it must’ve been taken to Voyager. I’ve searched everywhere.”
“Could either of the prisoners still have it on them?” Maxwell Burke said, fuming.
“Ease off, Max,” Ransom said. “That device was too big to just fit in someone’s pocket, and Marla and Noah took their comm badges and phasers after they were stunned. If Seven of Nine or Joe Carey had it, it would’ve been found then.”
“We need to keep looking,” Burke said.
“I looked everywhere, twice,” Gilmore said. “Even places it had never been while we had it.”
“So, we can’t be hurt by them anymore, but we can’t use them either,” Burke said, throwing his hands up and pacing in frustration, his face turning red. “Great. Just fucking great.” Gilmore found herself afraid that Burke might hit her. If he was going to though, Ransom stopped him.
“Max, we’ve still got one body we can use once we get the enhanced drive reassembled. We’ll have enough of a lead on Voyager that we can find an M-Class planet and stock up on food there.”
“We were so close, Rudy,” Burke said. Ransom put a hand on Burke’s shoulder and smiled.
“I’m keeping my promise to this crew,” he said. He nodded towards Gilmore. “To all of you. We went from looking at a seventy-year journey, to imminent death, only to turn it around and get us to a hair under thirty years. It’s not as much as any of us hoped, but it’s not nothing, and who’s to say we won’t find something else, like a wormhole or spatial anomaly?”
Gilmore sighed. All the guilt she’d been suppressing ever since they started killing the aliens, the ones who had been called spirits of good fortune by the people who had cared for the starving and hopeless Equinox crew, was finally starting to crush in on her, and she wanted to take it all back. She wished she’d not gone along with the others on the plan to steal the generator. She would’ve preferred Voyager’s brig to this broken starship that she was supposed to call home. Her hand brushed the handle of her phaser, and not for the first time in the last several weeks she contemplated pulling it out, setting it to kill, and putting it in her mouth. The fact that the alien that had tried and failed to get at them when the new generator had been turned on would be the last of it’s kind to suffer for her sake was a relief to her.

“Marla?” she heard Captain Ransom say.
“Huh? Sorry, Captain. I was distracted,” she said, putting aside thoughts of suicide for another day.
“I asked how the reassembling the enhanced warp drive was going.”
“Almost done,” she said. “Seven and Carey were very methodical in taking it apart. The only problem has been finding out where some of the bolts Mister Carey dropped when Noah stunned him rolled under, but worse case scenario we might be able to make some crude replacements out of some of the broken bulkheads. I don’t want to do that just yet though.”
Ransom sighed.
“Depending on how bad Voyager got hit,” he said, “Janeway’s going to come after us. We’ll have to risk the short cut solution. Worry about the bolts later.”
“Understood,” Gilmore said, heading back to engineering. On the way out though, she couldn’t help but overhear Burke and Ransom before the door slid shut.
“Rudy, I checked out sickbay after our escape. Looks like Voyager’s EMH was downloaded to our databanks by our EMH before he helped us escape.”

“A noble sacrifice,” Ransom said. “I wouldn’t have expected something like that after we deleted his ethical subroutines.”

Please, she thought, don’t let them pervert the other EMH too.

“Not exactly Shakespeare, but it gets the point across,” Janeway said, looking at the PADD Chakotay had handed her containing the message they would try to transmit to the aliens attacking them.
“Probably for the best,” Chakotay said. “If we sent them the text of Titus Adronicus, they’d only want to kill us more.”
“Not funny,” Janeway said, handing the PADD back. “A small olive branch is still an olive branch. Run this through Harry’s translation matrix.”

“Prepare to drop shields, bridge only,” Chakotay said, hand on the grip of his phaser, but not taking it out. Janeway appreciated both his optimism and his caution.
“Harry?” Janeway said.
“Ready,” Harry said.

“Do it.”

The computer began emitting a tone similar to the screeching noise that always preceded the arrival of one of the aliens, and soon the tone itself came back. A portal opened near the viewscreen. Tom pointed his phaser at it, but hesitated. An alien came through, and flew towards Harry, but Harry didn’t flinch, even as the rest of the bridge crew drew their own phasers. The alien stopped short, and looked at Harry for a few seconds, it’s head tilting like a dog when you change it’s food bowl, before flying back through the portal, which promptly closed.
“Get the shields back up,” Janeway said, wondering if what had just happened was a good or bad sign. Seconds later, the alien tone stopped.
“If they understood our message,” Harry said, “they haven’t responded.”

The ship shuddered violently.
“There’s the response,” Janeway said. “Activate another deflector pulse.”
“Shields holding at sixty-two percent,” Tuvok said.
“That should buy us a few more minutes of peace and quiet,” Janeway said. “Re-focus our efforts on repairing the warp drive.”
“I’d like to take another stab at that message if I may,” Chakotay said.
“Go ahead,” Janeway said, though she doubted it would do any good. “Everyone else, I want us to focus on finding the Equinox. Ransom won’t get away with trying to get us killed, and he sure as hell won’t get away with Seven, Lieutenant Carey, or the Doctor.”

Chakotay looked like he wanted to say more, but kept his mouth shut.

“Uh, Captain?” Tom said. “I know this probably isn’t high on the priority list right now, but, it’s just that, Ensign Wildman had a bridge shift that started over an hour ago and she hasn’t shown up.”
Janeway nodded, remembering how Sam had been when Seven had been taken by the Borg months before.
“I’ll talk to her,” Janeway said. “Report to me when the warp drive is back-”
“Torres to Bridge,” B’Elanna’s voice said over the comm.
“What is it?” Janeway said.
“I was going through the crates of material from the Equinox we were able to bring over. I think we have that summoning device you said Ransom told you about.”
Janeway smiled.
If that means what I think it means…
“Double your efforts on those engines B’Elanna. We may just get your assistant chief back to you sooner than I’d hoped.”
“Good. I don’t think Vorik likes the idea of getting a promotion this way,” B’Elanna said.

Samantha Wildman winced as she forced herself to stand up. She adjusted her padded helmet, checked the straps on her gloves, and, woozy, told the computer to restart the simulation.
“Warning,” the computer’s voice said. “holodeck user is at risk of serious injury.”
“Just do it,” Sam said through gritted teeth, putting up her fists in a defensive position, shifting her stance.
“Computer, freeze program,” another voice said.
Sam turned to see who had interrupted her, ready to yell at them, until she realized it was Captain Janeway, standing in the holodeck doorway, looking concerned.
“You were late for your bridge shift,” Janeway said. “I wanted to check up on you.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize how long I’d been in here,” Sam said.
Janeway walked up to her.
“I remember this program.” she said. “Hand to hand combat training? What brought this on?”
“Do you really have to ask Captain?” Sam said, pulling off her safety gear, biting back a yell of pain as she did so. She imagined she must look worse than she felt, because Janeway winced.

“Holy… Sam, you really should get those cuts and bruises looked at.”
“I can’t learn if it doesn’t hurt,” Sam said. “I’ll get cleaned up and meet you on the bridge.”
“No, you’re going to sickbay first. I’ve seen professional boxers with less bruises than you. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I was thinking,” Sam said, “that I am sick and tired of not being to able to protect the people I love. I was thinking that maybe it’s time I stop laying low when shit gets bad and waiting for Tuvok and his team to fix everything. But mostly I was thinking how satisfying it would be to knock one or two of Captain Rudolph Ransom’s teeth out.”
Janeway frowned.

“Samantha, this isn’t you,” she said. “You are the least violent person I know, and my best friend is a Vulcan.”
“Yeah, well, maybe it should be me. All these years, I have never fought back, just relied on my shipmates to protect me, or my daughter, or Seven, and look what’s it gotten me, just this year? It’s time I learn to protect my family myself, because if this whole mess with the Equinox has taught me anything it’s that I can’t rely on Starfleet to do it all for me.”
Sam let her gloves drop to the floor. They were holographic anyway, no point in putting them back in the equally holographic foot locker they came in when she started the program, however many hours, and bruises, ago that was.

“Sam,” Janeway said. “You look terrible. Go to sickbay to get checked out. I can give you a pass on showing up late, your fiancee was just kidnapped.”
“Again,” Sam said bitterly. “And with all due respect Captain, I’d rather just take my post. I do not want whatever bruise I have being tended to by the holographic son of a bitch who helped that happen.”
Janeway sighed.
“I guess I can understand that, but until we can get our Doctor back, and we will get him back, the Equinox EMH is the only doctor we have. Don’t make me pull rank, Sam.”
Sam wanted to argue, but then a sharp pain in her wrists made her reconsider.
“Yes, Captain,” Sam said, walking towards the exit. “Computer, end program.”
“By the way,” Janeway said, “how’s Naomi holding up?”
Sam sighed, and began to tear up.
“As optimistic as ever. She thinks we can get Seven back.”
“I do too,” Janeway said.
“Captain, be honest with me. Why do you think it is I’m more scared about her being in Ransom’s clutches than I was when she was with the Borg?”

Janeway looked surprised at that question.
“I honestly don’t know Sam,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

“That wasn’t as much of a boost as I was expecting,” Captain Ransom said as the Equinox dropped out of warp, “but then again we did have to wait while we repaired the engine. The alien’s body was decaying that whole time. Still, we’ve got a decent enough lead on Voyager I think. Noah, begin scanning for Class-M planets. We’ve got two more mouths to feed, so we’ll need to stock up on food supplies.”
“Why not just leave them behind?” Burke said. “We don’t really gain anything by keeping them prisoner here.”
“They’re Starfleet officers,” Ransom said.
“Rudy,” Burke said, “so’s the crew of Voyager. But we left them behind because they were trying to stop us from getting home. The ex-drone and the engineer would try to stop us too if they ever escaped. Hell, the ex-drone might try to take revenge on us. Her fiancee’s on Voyager.”
Ransom nodded. He remembered Marla telling him about Seven of Nine’s path since being freed from the Borg collective by Captain Janeway.
“Fair point, Max,” Ransom said. “but I think we’ve thrown enough of our own to the wolves for one lifetime. If Seven of Nine or Lieutenant Carey become a problem, we’ll deal with that then. For now, make sure they get some food. Make sure whoever takes them their meals has guards on them, just to be safe.”
“Captain,” Noah Lessing said, “long range sensors have picked up a planet that matches the criteria we’re looking for. Ample plant and animal life, no signs of any civilization.”
“Good work, Noah,” Ransom said. “Take us into orbit, then take two people down with you to start gathering supplies. Look for plants that could be used as medicines as well.”
“Yes sir,” Lessing said.

“You won’t be protected from the aliens if they try to attack you down there,” Burke said. “Take phaser rifles with you, and we’ll beam you out at the first sign of trouble.”

Noah nodded, and headed towards the turbolift.

“Rudy,” Burke said, “one last thing. The Voyager EMH. What should we do about him? I know we still need a doctor, but if we don’t alter his programming he may attempt to sabotage us.”
“I considered that already,” Ransom said. “If this were still Voyager that would be a concern, but he doesn’t have free reign of our systems here like he does there. Not to mention, his programming has expanded remarkably in the past five years. Makes our EMH look like he just came off the assembly line by comparison. I wouldn’t want to risk ruining him. That would be a waste of resources. He doesn’t necessarily know that however, so feel free to convince him that we’re willing to delete him altogether if he doesn’t cooperate with us.”

“And if he calls my bluff?” Burke said.
“I have faith in your ability to be convincing, Max,” Ransom said. “Say whatever you think he needs to hear to be kept in line.”

B’Elanna put the alien device down on the briefing room table.

“I confirmed it,” she said. “This is what Ransom and his people were using to summon the aliens to their… well, let’s just call it a murder machine. Saying ‘their engine’ just feels like too clean a euphemism.”
Janeway smirked, inwardly agreeing with B’Elanna.
“So?” Tom said. “What good is that going to do us?”
“It means we don’t have to risk the bridge to try talking to them again,” Janeway said. “We can set this up in a cargo bay, drop the shields around it, and transmit our message to the aliens directly.
Chakotay nodded.
“Considering how it went last time,” Tuvok said, “it is unlikely that doing so would increase our chances of success, merely reduce the likelihood of immediate death upon failure.”
“I agree with Tuvok,” Tom said.
“I don’t” Harry said. “That alien that came onto the bridge the first time we tried, it could’ve killed me right away. There’s no way I would’ve gotten a phaser blast off fast enough. It didn’t. There’s more intelligence there than the Equinox EMH gives them credit for.”

“That’s a low bar, Harry,” Tom said. “The Tal Shi’ar would refuse to hire him on ethical grounds.”
“I am going to assume that that statement was an attempt at comedic exaggeration,” Tuvok said, “and refrain from pointing out the various known medical atrocities committed by that Romulan organization.”
“Gentlemen, if we could return to the topic?” Janeway said. “B’Elanna, do we know how to work the thing?”
B’Elanna nodded. “Ensign Gilmore was very forthcoming with data to Commander Chakotay. Before she escaped and left us to die, that is.”
Janeway nodded.
“And the engines?” she said.
“Ready,” B’Elanna said.

“Tom,” Janeway said, “get to your station and plot a pursuit course, maximum warp. Harry, get to astrometrics. The Borg-enhanced sensors will give us the best chance of finding them and catching up to them.

“Chakotay, how’s the second draft of our message to the aliens coming along?”
“It’s ready as well,” Chakotay said. “And I’ve even written up a third one, just to be safe.”

“Alright people, let’s not waste any more time,” Janeway said. “Dismissed.”

Seven of Nine felt around the walls of the crew quarters that she and Carey were locked in for the third time. She found nothing she could take advantage of to allow them to escape, also for the third time.
“They’ll bring us food eventually,” Carey said, leaning back on the unburned half of the quarters’ main couch. “If they were going to kill us, they would’ve done it while we were unconscious, not go to all the trouble of letting us starve to death.”
“A logical conclusion,” Seven said. “However, I would point out that the actions of Ransom and his crew have not been wholly logical.”

“Well,” Carey said, “not to us anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“With the caveat that I in no way condone what Ransom did,” Carey said, standing back up, “I can see how someone could be pushed to the point where they would seriously consider doing it.”
“The mass execution of an alien species for fuel,” Seven said, “or the leaving Voyager and her crew behind to die at the hands of said aliens?”
“The first one,” Carey said. “That second part, there’s no way I could defend that. I-”
A sound cut Carey off mid-sentence, and Seven turned to face the door. It slid open, and Marla Gilmore stood there, carrying two cases of Starfleet issue rations. Two gold shirts were behind her, one pointing a phaser rifle at the two prisoners, while the second held a hand phaser in one hand, and the magnetic sealer in the other.
“I, um, brought you something,” Gilmore said, visibly uncomfortable. Seven noticed that the other woman’s hands were shaking slightly.

Probably expecting one or both of us to attack her, Seven thought. Such an action was part of her and Joe Carey’s plan, though the idea was not to do so right away, as that would be expected. The goal was to wait until a future point where they were being brought food, or if either the Captain or first officer Burke wanted to speak to them for some reason.
“Thank you, Marla,” Seven said. Gilmore looked down, her face betraying her shame.
“I’m really sorry I shot you, Seven,” she said. “We just wanted to get home, and… I’m sorry, for everything. It wasn’t worth it.”
“What wasn’t worth it?” Seven said.
Gilmore stepped forward and gave the two cases to Seven.
“We shouldn’t have stolen the generator,” she said. “We abandoned your crew to those aliens. You people did nothing to them, but now they’ve had to pay for our sins. It isn’t right. I know it probably means nothing, but I hope your fiancee and her daughter survived. That little girl was so kind to me when I first came on board and…” Gilmore wiped tears away from her eyes.
“I should go,” she said quietly, leaving the crew quarters in a hurry, nearly knocking one of the guards over as she shoved past him into the corridor. The doors slid shut, and Seven could hear the sound of the magnetic sealer being put back into place.
“Would it be too pedantic of me to point out that it was Lessing that stunned you and it was me that Gilmore shot?” Carey said.
“Very,” Seven said. “However, given that we have, to borrow a phrase, just been given a gift, I’m going to refrain from commenting.”
“It’s just MREs, Seven,” Carey said. “Frankly I had my fill of those during the Cardassian War, and I only had to eat them for three days. I don’t look forward to the next however many months or years or… is that what I think it is?”
Seven of Nine held the small Type-1 hand phaser, the kind that was generally used on covert missions and could be easily slipped into a pocket without making a bulge like the more common hand phasers would, the kind that Marla Gilmore had somehow slipped into one of the ration cases without being noticed, and allowed herself a small smile.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile before,” Carey said. “I like it.”
“Samantha seems pleased with it as well,” Seven said.

The second attempt to communicate with the aliens attacking Voyager had gone about as well as the first, in that no one was killed then either. Instead, the aliens simply ignored them. Janeway rubbed her eyes, frustrated at the situation.

“Well,” Chakotay said, standing by her side in cargo bay 1, a table with the summoning device on it in front of them, “on the bright side Tom was able to find the warp trail of the Equinox fairly quickly.”

“Any sign they’ve been able to use their enhanced drive?” Janeway said, turning to leave the cargo bay.
“Yes, but,” Chakotay said, “I ran the data through astrometrics. The short version is basically they only seem to have been able to capture one alien using the multiphasic generator. Not sure why, but the line on the map suggests they only got one short jump out of it before having to return to normal warp. The bad news of course-”
“There’s always bad news,” Janeway said.
“Yes, and in this case that bad news is they still have a solid lead on us. I’ve been using the maps of the area Seven was able to give us from the Borg data nodes, and while they aren’t as detailed as we’d like, we still have a good idea of what the first planet the Equinox crew would stop at to re-supply.”
“How certain of that are we?”
“Their replicators were still not repaired when they escaped. They only got away with the day’s worth of rations they had with them in confinement, plus a few more their EMH was able to slip them, along with their communicators and phasers. Even if Ransom was strict with the food supplies, with two prisoners aboard they couldn’t possibly make those last more than four days, at best.”
“Assuming they didn’t just kill Seven or Joe,” Janeway said. “I’ve noticed that Rudolph Ransom seems to bring out the worst in people lately. Even if he didn’t ask, I wouldn’t put it past Burke or one of the other survivors to decide that keeping them alive would be more trouble than it’s worth.”
“You don’t believe that,” Chakotay said. “If you did, you wouldn’t be losing sleep and pushing the ship and crew to their limits to try and rescue them.”
“It’s not just about rescuing them,” Janeway said. “Ransom hurt this crew. My crew. My family. I want to make him pay for it.”
Chakotay exhaled sharply.
“I was afraid of that,” he said. “Still, I’d like to think that you won’t endanger this ship for the sake of that revenge. I want our people back as much as you, and I certainly want to see Ransom tossed into our brig for the rest of the trip home. I just don’t want you to lose your humanity in the process. If you go too far-”
“Then I’ll be no better than him,” Janeway said. “Yeah, I know. Hopefully, once we catch up to him he’ll have the good sense to surrender, because I can’t promise I won’t turn his ship into scrap if he tries to fight us. I have had a long five years Chakotay, and right now every part of me is egging me on to take it all out on Captain Rudolph Ransom.”
“I can empathize with that,” Chakotay said.

Joe Carey quietly made his way down the hell, the comparatively tiny phaser in his hand, and having second thoughts about having agreed to be the distraction part of the plan.
“Okay, okay,” he said quietly to himself, “just find an EPS conduit and blow it up. No biggie. Then when security comes to get me, Seven can sneak into engineering to sabotage the warp drive. Easy peasy as my boys would say.”

He turned a corner, and jumped back when he saw the backside of someone who was neither Seven of Nine, nor Ensign Gilmore. He quietly stepped backwards, hoping whoever it was didn’t hear him. He heard footsteps coming in his direction and he ducked behind a fallen bulkhead, glad that it was big enough to hide behind, but cognizant of the fact that there was dried blood on the floor beneath it. He winced in sympathy for whoever the poor crew member that had been crushed had been.
Carey peaked through a small gap in the debris, and saw Maxwell Burke walk past the junction in the corridor, muttering to himself about something. Carey held his breath, waited a few more seconds, then stood up, moving around the debris once more to resume his journey, hoping he didn’t lose too much time to having to hide.

He walked past where Burke had been, and noticed that it was the door to sickbay.

Well well, he thought. Wrecking something in here is bound to get their attention.

He went inside, and nearly gasped when he saw the EMH, standing over a console.
“‘Help us or we’ll delete you,’ he says. Like I’m supposed to buy that,” he said, not seeing Carey behind him. “They need me and they know it. What did B’Elanna ever see in that man in the first place?”
Carey tilted his head.
Is that… No, it can’t be.
“Doc?” he said.
The Doctor turned around, and smiled.
“Lieutenant Carey!” he said. “Excellent. I had hoped you and Seven would find a way to escape. I’m sorry I couldn’t help, but that other EMH stole my mobile emitter. Speaking of Seven, where is she?”
“She’s fine,” Carey said. “This ship’s EMH stole your emitter huh? I guess that explains how Ransom and his people escaped Voyager. Anyway, Marla Gilmore helped us escape. She slipped us a phaser that we used to cut our way out, and now I’m supposed to cause a distraction to allow Seven to get to engineering and sabotage the warp core.”
“A bold strategy,” the Doctor said. “I approve. I very much would like to have my sickbay back. The Equinox EMH had his ethical subroutines deleted, so by now he’s probably used mine to develop some kind of chemical weapon, or some other sort of atrocity.”

“Well, glad you aren’t attached to this place Doc,” Carey said, “because I was thinking I could break something in here to get the bridge’s attention.”
The Doctor motioned to his left.
“I’d suggest starting with the machine they’ve been using to experiment on the bodies of the aliens they’ve been massacring,” he said. “I’ll load up some hyposprays with a strong sedative that we can use on whoever comes to sickbay to investigate the explosion.”
“Do you have any chemicals on hand I could use to rig up a crude explosive?”
“I do,” the Doctor said. “I happen to have taken an inventory of their sickbay’s stocks before I was so rudely robbed of my mobile emitter.”

“Captain, there’s been an explosion in sickbay!” Burke said over the comm.
“What?” Ransom said in shock. “Are you alright Max?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Burke said, “I was already in the turbolift when I heard it. I went back when I felt the shudder. There’s smoke coming out of the sickbay door. It’s too thick to see through. My tricorder says it’s chemical so I can’t get too close without a breather mask.”
“Get one,” Ransom said. “I’ll send someone down to help you.” Ransom tapped a button on the console on the arm of his chair. “Bridge to engineering,” he said.
“Gilmore here,” Marla said.
“There’s been an explosion in sickbay,” Ransom said. “I think our prisoners may have had something to do with it. We’re short handed with people down on the planet. Go check on them, but be careful. If they’ve gotten out somehow, report to the bridge immediately.”
“Understood sir,” Marla said, sounding almost happy to be doing so. That set off a mental red flag in Ransom, but he pushed it aside. If Marla really had turned on him, it was more likely that she would’ve refused to help him and the others steal the multiphasic shield generator from Voyager in the first place.

Marla Gilmore was alone when she left engineering. She looked around as she exited, and spotted Seven of Nine, waiting in the corridor. Seven opened her mouth to ask a question but Marla held up one finger.
“Lieutenant Prochnow’s by the warp core,” she said. “Do you have the phaser?”
“Mister Carey has it,” Seven admitted. “It would’ve been advisable to give us two phasers.”
“I took what I thought I could get away with from the armory,” she said. She took out her hand phaser and tossed it to Seven, who checked to make sure it was on stun. “I’m on my way to ‘check on the prisoners.’ Captain’s orders.”
“Thank you, Ensign Gilmore,” Seven said.
“Good luck, Ensign Hansen,” Gilmore said.

“Call me Seven.”
“Good luck, Seven. And hurry.”
“Understood,” Seven said. Gilmore ran down the corridor. Seven waited a few seconds, then moved to the entrance to engineering. The door opened, and Prochnow, a giant of a man, the tallest human being Seven had ever seen, started to turn around.
“Back already, Mar-”
Seven fired her phaser before the man could finish the question. The large man fell backwards, nearly hitting his head on a console before collapsing to the floor. Seven was glad he had missed the console, as she did not want to be responsible for anyone’s traumatic brain injury.

Unless Sam is hurt, she thought, in which case I will very gladly inflict traumatic brain injuries on Captain Ransom.

Seven took Marla Gilmore’s phaser and raised the setting, and aimed for a plasma conduit, standing as far back from it as she could. Even at this distance she still risked injury, but it was the best way. With the conduit punctured, warp travel would be impossible until it could be repaired. Any attempt to go to warp otherwise would fill the entire room with lethal and combustible gas.

“This one’s for you, Sam,” Seven whispered to herself as she fired the phaser.

When Seven awoke, the first thing she noticed was that she was strapped tightly to the bio-bed in the sickbay of the U.S.S. Equinox. The second was that her head hurt. The third was that to her left the EMH, looking saddened, was standing next to Joe Carey, who had his hands on his head while Maxwell Burke pointed a phaser at both of them.
“What?” she said. “What happened?”
“Your little plan almost worked,” the voice of Rudolph Ransom said. “You sabotaged our warp drive well enough, but you weren’t able to get away before Jason Prochnow came to and shot you.”
Seven tried to remember that, but the last thing she could remember before waking up was shooting the plasma conduit. She was glad that that had worked at least. Seven moved her head a little more, trying to get a better look at her situation. She could see Ransom in her peripheral vision, just barely, but she could see quite well Ensign Gilmore and the aforementioned Jason Prochnow, the latter holding the former’s arm in a grip that looked like it had to hurt the Ensign.
“So,” Ransom continued, “we can repair the damage you did, but that leaves the question of what to do with the four of you. My XO wants to strand you, Mister Carey, and Marla on the planet below us and delete the Doctor. That would certainly be the easiest solution. But I imagine you have alternatives. I’m curious to hear them.”
“You won’t do anything until I’ve properly treated Seven,” the EMH said. The way he said it and the fact that he had a phaser pointed at him, gave Seven pause. It took her a moment to realize the implications. This was not the Equinox EMH.

That explains so much, she thought.

“Fair enough,” Ransom said. “Do it, and quickly.”
“Look,” Carey said, “there’s no point in keeping this up. Even before we sabotaged your ship, Captain, you weren’t in a position to keep going like you were before. Just head back towards Voyager and turn yourself over to Captain Janeway.”
“After what we did?” Burke said. “Forget it. We’ll be lucky if she only puts us in the brig for the next thirty years. She’d just as likely kick us out an airlock.”

“That’s not true,” the Doctor said defensively.
I’d do it, Seven thought, all patience and empathy for this other ship’s crew, Marla excluded, rapidly evaporating.

“Is it really that implausible?” Ransom said. “You’ve seen how far I’m willing to go when I’ve been pushed to the breaking point. Your ship has been under attack from the same aliens who’ve been attacking us for days now. Who knows how many people Janeway has lost by now. If I were her, I would definitely want retribution.”
“You’re not her,” Carey said. “And she’s not you. She would never have done what you did to those aliens.”
“Easy for you to say,” Ransom said. “Working holodecks, working shuttle bay, clean decks; you people honestly have no grasp on how easy you’ve had it do you? Honestly, apart from missing your families what hardships has the crew of Voyager had out here?”
The Vidiians, the Borg, Species 8472, the Hirogen, the Malon… Seven thought.

“Just leave us behind,” she said. “At the very least, even if Voyager doesn’t find us, we’d be spared any more of your justifications.”

Ransom turned to look at Burke.
“As tempting as it is,” he said, “we’re already shorthanded. We need manpower to repair the damage you four did. I think forcing you to fix it would be a perfectly suitable punishment.”
“Why would we cooperate with you?” the Doctor said.
“Because if you don’t, we have the ability to lower the multiphasic shield around just this room. You’d be at the mercy of those aliens. It won’t get you killed of course, Doctor, but you would be forced to watch the others die. I doubt your programming would allow for that.”

“You say that with a straight face,” Marla said, “and you wonder why I was willing to help them? You’ve gone too far, Captain. We all have, I know I helped this happen. I wish I could go back and say ‘No’ to when you told me to build that enhanced engine. I ignored my own conscience-”
“Conscience is a luxury out here, Ensign!” Ransom yelled.
“This isn’t getting anywhere, Rudy,” Burke said. “They aren’t going to help us. We should just beam them down once Noah and his team get back. Let them have some kind of beacon to get Voyager’s attention. Every second they spend rescuing their people is another second we can get out ahead of them.”
Ransom sighed.
“Yeah, you’re right Max,” he said. “Doctor, heal your friend. Sadly, you’re still stuck with us, but-”
“Bridge to Captain Ransom!” a panicked sounding voice said over the comm.
“What is it, James?” Ransom said.
“Long range sensors have picked up Voyager. They’ll be here in just under three hours.”

Tuvok and Lydia Anderson watched the two crewmen from the Equinox, Noah Lessing and Angelo Tassoni, as they walked through the woods on the planet that astrometrics had determined was their location. With the Delta Flyer safely in orbit, operating under low power and successfully having escaped the Equinox’s detection, Tuvok had time to make sure that the two targets were alone to ensure a successful capture.

“You know,” Lessing said to Tassoni. “this place reminds me of McKinley Park. I used to take my sister there when we were kids. This place looks just like it. As I recall, there was a family of ground squirrels who lived right over there.”
“Noah, you know this place isn’t literally McKinley Park, right?”
“Let me have my moment, Angelo,” Lessing said.
“Right, sorry.”
Tuvok stood up, and fired,. The stun blast striking Lessing in the chest, while Anderson’s phaser struck Tossani in the back.
“Tuvok to Delta Flyer, four to beam up.”

“Ransom to away team,” Captain Ransom said for the third time, too nervous to sit down, shifting in place on the bridge. “Dammit Noah, where are you?”

“Still no response sir,” James Morrow, the officer who had contacted him in sickbay earlier, said. “I can’t find their comm badge signals either.”
“Janeway must’ve gotten them somehow,” Burke said.
“How?” Ransom said. “They’re still two hours away, well outside transport range.”
“It’s the only other explanation,” Burke said, “apart from the local wildlife killing them and somehow destroying their badges.”
“Dammit,” Ransom said. “Looks like we’ll have to scrap the leaving our prisoners behind plan Max. We might be able to use the Voyager people as hostages if it comes to that. Grab Marla and get her to engineering. We need that plasma conduit fixed ASAP.”
“In the meantime,” Burke said. “I think we should go to battle stations. Just to be safe.”
Ransom doubted that Janeway would open fire on them right away, that she would at least try to negotiate and get her people back, but he couldn’t afford to take that chance.
“Go to Red Alert,” Ransom said. He sat down in the Captain’s chair, and stared at the stars that filled the viewscreen.

Tom and Tuvok immediately took their places on the bridge after returning from the planet. So far the two Equinox crewmen they’d captured hadn’t talked, but Janeway was planning to save the interrogation for later. She had a plan for that, one she knew Chakotay wouldn’t co-sign even as a bluff, but she wasn’t going to worry about that just yet.

Especially since we won’t need it if we can disable the Equinox, she thought.

“Thirty-thousand kilometers and closing,” Tom said.
“Tuvok,” Janeway said, “target their power core.”
“Understood,” Tuvok said. Seconds later, the viewscreen showed their phasers striking the Equinox’s shields. “Their shields are holding.”
“Bridge to Torres,” Chakotay said. “Can you locate the multiphasic shield generator?”
“I’m trying,” B’Elanna said, responding from astrometrics instead of engineering as per Janeway’s orders. “Can you get me more power for the sensors?”
“Stand by,” Chakotay said.
“The Equinox is returning fire,” Tuvok said. The ship shuddered.
Damn, how’d they get their phasers back up to full strength that fast? Janeway thought.
“The deflector array suffered a direct hit,” Tuvok said. “if the shields fail-”
“The aliens will attack again,” Janeway said. “I know. Target his weapons array.”

“Firing,” Tuvok said. “their phaser banks have suffered heavy damage, but they are still able to fire-”

The ship shuddered again as a full spread of photon torpedoes from the Equinox struck Voyager.
“Shields are weakening,” Tuvok said.
‘Keep targeting their weapons,” Janeway said. “One more torpedo ought to do it. Fire.”

The viewscreen showed the torpedo strike the Equinox, it’s shields flickering violently, sparks ejecting from parts of the hull.
“Their weapons systems are down,” Tuvok said.
“Hail them,” Janeway said.
“Channel open,” Harry said.
“Janeway to Ransom. Surrender your vessel and prepare to be boarded.”

There was no response. Janeway prepared to repeat herself, but then the viewscreen showed the Equinox doing something she did not expect; it headed towards the atmosphere of the planet.
Is he crazy? she thought. With their shields weakened they risk burning up.

“Follow him,” Janeway said. “Get as close as you can.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said.
“Captain,” Harry said, ‘they’re about to go to warp.”
“In an atmosphere?” Janeway said. “That’s practically suicide!”
“Captain if we’re too close-” Tom started to say, but Janeway knew where he was going.
“Back us off,” she said. She looked at the viewscreen, and watched as the Equinox jumped into warp from inside the atmosphere of the planet. She mentally added the large percentage of animals on the planet to the list of Ransom’s victims as the air over the largest continent on the planet, as well as part of the smaller ones, ignited. The other side of the globe, for the most part, would be unaffected, but the damage to the ecosystem would be severe.

“Did they make it?” she said.
“No sign of starship debris,” Harry said. “but I’m having trouble finding their warp trail due to the interference from the igniting atmosphere.”
“Dammit,” Janeway said. “We need to find out where Ransom might go next. Tuvok, have security  bring Noah Lessing to cargo bay 1, and tell them to keep him restrained until I get there.”
“Do you think he’ll tell us where Ransom is likely to go next?” Chakotay said.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Janeway said. “For his sake.”

Chakotay followed Janeway into the cargo bay to the odd sight of a man in a Starfleet uniform cuffed to a chair. Off to Noah Lessing’s side was the table they had set up the last time they attempted to contact the aliens attacking Voyager. The summoning device was still on it. Chakotay had a feeling that it wasn’t simply a case of the device not being stored after it’s last use.

She better not be doing what I think she’s going to be doing, he thought. I don’t want to have to choose between my Captain and my conscience.
Janeway walked in a slow circle around Lessing, the latter looking straight ahead. Chakotay half expected him to just start repeating his name, rank, and serial number.

“I want Ransom’s tactical status,” Janeway said. “Now, Mister Lessing.”

“Or what?” Lessing said. “You’ll hit me?”
“No, crewman, I’ll drop the shields around this room, and let the Ankari’s ‘spirits of good fortune’ pay you a visit.”

“That would be murder,” Lessing said.
“You could also call it ‘poetic justice.’ Or maybe even a peace offering. We’ve already proven that the aliens can be communicated with. Giving up a member of the crew who has been massacring them for fuel could be the first step in opening up a dialogue that stops them from destroying my ship.”
Lessing turned to face Chakotay, sweat appearing on his brow. “I suppose this is the part where you come to my rescue, right?”

“Not as far as I know,” Chakotay said, hoping that his own concern wasn’t betrayed by his face. As short a time ago as several days, he wouldn’t have believed for a second that Janeway would seriously allow anything like what she was suggesting to happen. Today, he merely hoped that she was bluffing.

Janeway stopped walking and put her hands on Lessing’s shoulders, staring him directly in the eyes.
“Ransom’s status,” she said. “Now.”
“Not a chance,” Lessing said.
“The comm is active,” Janeway said, stepping back, but not breaking eye contact. “We’ll be listening in case you have a change of heart.” She reached over, and activated the Ankari summoning device, and headed for the door. Chakotay followed her, and once they were both outside, he brought up his concerns in a less tactful way than he’d intended.
“What the hell are you doing?” he said, growing increasingly nervous as Janeway began pressing buttons on the console next to the cargo bay door.
“Dropping the shields around that room,” she said. The open comm channel began emitting the now-familiar noise of imminent attack.
“Tuvok to Janeway, shields are down in your sector.”

“I know,” Janeway said, “stand by.”
“Please don’t do this,” Chakotay said. Janeway looked at him, her expression so frighteningly blank that Chakotay almost missed the next thing she said.
“This is the part where you come to his rescue,” she said.
Chakotay wasted no time. He pulled out his phaser and headed back into the cargo bay, A fissure had already opened high above Lessing’s head. Chakotay fired into it twice, causing it to close. He grabbed Lessing’s arm, and pulled him out of the chair, walking him to the exit. Once he had the crewman out in the corridor, where the shields were still up, he turned Lessing around to face him, and pushed him up against the bulkhead, pressing the tip of his phaser to Lessing’s nose.

“Okay,” Chakotay said. “You’ve demonstrated your loyalty to your Captain. Fine. Except what just happened in there, how you felt? Think about that. Think about how that feeling was what the people on this ship felt when you left us to die.”
Lessing, shaking now, as well as sweating, sighed.
“He’ll be looking for another M-class planet with plant matter that can be converted into food,” he said. “What Angelo and I had gathered got dropped when your people ambushed us. All he’ll have left is rations.”

Janeway nodded, and walked away. Had she not explicitly told Chakotay to save Lessing in the first place, he would think that she was angry with him, the way she looked as she walked past them without saying anything.

-o-

Captain Janeway held the PADD that Harry Kim had given her as she rode in the turbolift. It was good news, even if she wasn’t feeling very good about it at that moment. They finally found a way to patch the aliens through the universal translator. That would make talking with them easier. The challenge would be getting them to listen long enough.

“Captain?” Chakotay said. It had been the first time he’d spoken to her since Noah Lessing’s interrogation earlier that day.
“I don’t know if I’m the best person to do this right now,” she said. “To make this attempt to communicate with them again, I mean.”
“If you’re worried that your anger towards Ransom has clouded your judgement-”
“It has, Chakotay,” she said.
“You were clear-headed enough to come up with that plan to get Lessing to talk,” Chakotay said.
“I caved,” Janeway said, admitting it to herself as much as to her first officer. “Right up to the moment I told you to get him, I was ready to let him die if he didn’t break. I told you that Ransom seemed to be bringing out the worst in people out here in the Delta Quadrant. That includes me.”

Chakotay took in a deep breath.
“I was hoping I was wrong about that,” he said. “In the end, you did still do the right thing. You didn’t allow Lessing to die.”

“Does it matter?”
“That’s not really my place to say. That has to be between you and your conscience. But for what it’s worth, I think this does make you the best person to talk to the aliens. I can’t compare the scale of loss, there’s no question they’ve suffered worse because of Ransom than we have. But we have both suffered. Use that.”

Janeway let a short, bitter laugh.
“I always thought diplomacy was about finding common ground, not common grievances,” she said.
“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” Chakotay said.
Janeway looked at the PADD again, and exited the turbolift, heading once again for cargo bay 1. Tuvok and Lieutenant Ayala were there, but she refused to let them follow her in. She removed her phaser from its holster and put it on the table, next to the summoning device.
“I’d suggest you wait outside,” she said. Chakotay shook his head as he removed his phaser as well.
“Not a chance,” he said.
“Very well. Let’s hope this works then,” Janeway said. “I don’t think Tuvok would forgive us if we ended up dropping command in his lap again.”
“He did okay last time,” Chakotay said.
“Even so, it’s not something he ever really wanted,” Janeway said, activating the summoning device, again, and hoping that this time would be worth it. The screeching tone started up almost immediately, and a pair of fissures opened, one across from the other with a meter or so of space between them. A pair of aliens came out of one, hovered briefly to look at her and Chakotay, and flew into the other.
“You can see that we’re unarmed,” she said. “we want to talk to you.”
“We want you to die,” a synthesized voice said in time with the screeching.
“A difficult place to start a negotiation from,” Chakotay said.
“We didn’t do this to you,” Janeway said to the fissures, “We’re trying to stop those like us who did. The leader of the other vessel, Ransom, he killed your people, and he has taken several of mine hostage. I want them back, but I can’t mount a proper rescue while you’re attacking us.”

“We do not believe you would harm your own kind,” the voice said.
“You’ve seen that my people are capable of harming each other. Ransom stole a device we had devised to protect us from your attacks and left us behind. He allowed members of my crew to die so he could avoid punishment for what he did to you.”

“Give us the Equinox. We want to destroy those that are responsible.”
“You can have the ship,” Janeway said. “It has the only working version of the device that was used to turn your species into fuel. Destroy it, and Ransom won’t be able to hurt you anymore. I only ask of you that you let me take the crew prisoner.”

“No. Only your people on the Equinox will be spared.”
“We can’t allow that,” Chakotay said. “but I promise you they will be punished. They will lose their freedom.”
The shrieking noise got louder, but no words came, and Janeway knew what she had to do.
“Alright,” she said, moving closer to the fissures. “Ransom is the Captain of that vessel. He is the one ultimately responsible for what happened to your species. You can have the Equinox, and you can have him. You have the advantage here, my ship cannot defend itself indefinitely against your attacks, I know I am no position to bargain, but I ask of you anyway, show mercy to the rest of his crew.”

“Captain?” Chakotay said. She could hear in his voice the disappointment, but she hoped he would understand why she was making this call. She also hoped he would understand that this was their best chance. If the aliens refused this compromise, her only options left would be to allow all the Equinox survivors to die, or to make herself a permanent enemy of these aliens that had already shown they could kill her people with ease and would not stop until they had killed everyone.

Janeway spread her arms out and closed her eyes.
“That is my final offer,” she said. “Ransom and his ship, in exchange for his crew, and a cessation of attacks on Voyager.”
Several more aliens flew back and forth between the two fissures. The tone got softer, but didn’t go away.
They’re deliberating, she thought. Let’s hope that they’re not only democratic, but that the majority would be on our side.

“You can have any survivors,” the voice said. “but anyone who tries to protect Ransom will be killed.”
“Understood,” Janeway said. “Thank you. And for what it’s worth, I am sorry your first contact with my government was under such dark circumstances. I assure you, Ransom’s behavior is atypical of my kind.”
The fissures closed, and the noise stopped. Either they hadn’t heard what she said, or they didn’t care. If it was the latter, she had to admit she couldn’t blame them. She heard Chakotay step closer to her.
“Don’t say it,” she said. “giving up Ransom to save my crew makes me no better than him, right? Was that what you were going to say?”
“No,” Chakotay said. “I was going to say you did the best you could. If anything, I think we did better than I’d hoped. I knew we’d have to give up something to protect our ship and get our kidnapped people back. Having a second ship might’ve come in handy, and I still would rather see Ransom in prison than dead, but…”
“The only happy ending this story is going to have,” Janeway said, “is when Seven of Nine and Samantha Wildman are in each other’s arms, and when our EMH gets his sickbay back from that holographic mad scientist we’re stuck with right now.”
“That reminds me,” Chakotay said, “what do we do with him when we have our Doctor back?”
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” Janeway said, turning off the summoning device before picking up her phaser.

“Miss Gilmore,” the Doctor said, “would you take any great offense if I disparaged your ship’s sickbay?”
“Not really, no,” Ensign Gilmore said.
“Good. Because I am honestly beginning to hate this place.”
“I think that fact that it’s doubling as our prison cell right now has a lot to do with that,” Joe Carey said.
“No, no, it’s not that,” the Doctor said.
“Your point?” Seven said, rubbing her neck.

“It’s just badly designed,” the Doctor said. “The main console obstructs the path to the surgical bay for starters.”
“You can write a letter to Starfleet Command when we get home,” Gilmore said. “If we get home,” she added.
“I choose to take the fact that he has not killed us yet as a sign that Captain Ransom is not completely beyond redemption,” the Doctor said, looking at Marla Gilmore and his two Voyager crewmates, all of whom stared at him, blinking. He rolled his eyes.
“I simply mean that he won’t kill us before we get to the Alpha Quadrant,” he said.
“That’s not what I meant,” Gilmore said. “The enhanced warp drive is useless if we can’t fuel it, and we can’t get any lifeforms to fuel it without the summoning device.”
“That or risking death by lowering the shields and using the bodies of any aliens that get shot before they can re-enter their fissures,” Carey said.
“I doubt even Rudy would get that desperate,” Gilmore said.
“Burke might,” Seven said. The Doctor understood what she meant by that, and nodded his agreement.
“I understand B’Elanna used to date him during her time at Starfleet Academy,” he said. “All the amazing things she’s done aboard Voyager, yet one could argue her breaking up with him was the smartest thing she ever did. Mister Burke does seem to be far less emotionally stable than Captain Ransom. I worry that if something were to happen to Ransom before Captain Janeway could rescue us, we, well, the three of you would be lucky to just be put off-ship.”

“I wish I shared your optimism,” Seven said. “If the Captain wasn’t able to disable this ship during the last encounter-”
“To be fair,” Carey said, “I doubt she saw Ransom going to warp in an atmosphere coming. Hell, we’re lucky to be alive ourselves after that one.”
“I’m just glad there weren’t any sentients on that planet,” Gilmore said. “Those poor animals though-”
The red alert klaxons started, cutting Gilmore off.
“Oh, what now?” the Doctor said.

“It’s them?” Ransom said, not sure what to make of what the viewscreen was telling him.
“Yes sir,” Burke said, confirming it. “The aliens are attacking us again.”
“First time since their last attack failed,” Ransom said. “since we stole the generator from Voyager. Why now? Are they getting through?”
“No,” Burke said, sounding confused as he looked at his console. “In fact, this is just bizarre, it’s like they aren’t even trying. They are striking at the shields, but in small numbers, at comparatively wide intervals. They wouldn’t have been able to hurt our normal shields with attacks like these.”
Ransom had a thought about what they were doing. He didn’t want to believe it, but he remembered how sure he was Marla Gilmore wouldn’t betray him.
“Is there any sort of pattern to the attacks?” he said. Burke looked at him, tilting his head.
“What sort of pattern would you want me to look for?” he said.
Ransom shrugged.
“No idea,” he said. “Just a hunch.”

Burke returned to his console and began pressing buttons, calling up data on a screen adjacent to the primary one he’d been using.
“None that I can see,” he said. “but I’m even more confused now. This attack is just so half-hearted, it doesn’t make any sense.”
“Janeway has something to do with this,” Ransom said. “I don’t know how, or for what purpose, but-”
“Captain!” Jason Prochnow yelled from the back of the bridge. “Voyager’s found us again!”

“Recon,” Burke said. “Somehow she got the aliens who have been killing us to do recon for her.”
“Have you forgotten already, Max?” Ransom said. “We started this when we killed these creatures for fuel. This has always been about revenge, and now they’ve gotten Janeway to help them, somehow. I wonder what she had to sacrifice to save her crew. Whatever it was, I hope it keeps her up at night, like mine have.”
“Rudy?” Burke said.
“Can we go to warp yet?” Ransom said. Burke shook his head.
“The prisoners were dragging their heels repairing the damage they’d done, so I locked them in sickbay. The plan was to-”
“It doesn’t matter,” Ransom said, sighing. “It’s over. James?”
“Sir?” James Morrow said.
“Hail Voyager. Tell them we surrender.”
“No,” Burke said, taking out his phaser and pointing it at Ransom. “Don’t you understand? The minute we lower our shields for Voyager, the aliens will slaughter us all. Janeway sold us out. I won’t let you help her kill us all. Not after you promised to get us home.

“Brian?” Burke said to Brian Sofin, one of the few surviving security officers the Equinox still had. “Take the Captain to sickbay, and lock him in with Marla and the others.”
“No, Max,” James Morrow said, “the Captain’s right. If we fight now, we’re dead. We should just turn ourselves over to-”
“No!” Burke yelled. “No, we are not going to fall into Janeway’s trap. You can join Rudy in confinement if you’re that sure.”
Sofin, who had already taken Ransom’s phaser and comm badge, now did the same to Morrow, handing both phasers and badges over to Jason Prochnow.
“Come with me,” he said. “Commander’s orders.” Ransom thought he heard a hint of sadness in Brian Sofin’s voice. He would wait until they were off the bridge to do so, but he believed he could win the guard over to his side.
“Okay, Max,” Ransom said. “I’ll go. For now. Once you realize your mistake, if it’s not too late, contact me in sickbay.”

Burke didn’t respond. He simply motioned with his phaser towards the turbolift. Ransom and Morrow went in first, Sofin immediately behind.

As the image of the Equinox grew larger on the viewscreen, Captain Janeway pushed a button on the console on the arm of her chair, opening a channel to the astrometrics lab.
“B’Elanna,” she said, “can you tell me where our people are?”
“Thanks to her Borg tech I can tell you where Seven of Nine is,” B’Elanna said. “She’s in the Equinox sickbay according to the schematics. She’s in there with two other lifeforms, human.”
“None of the Equinox’s non-human crew survived, so that’s more vague than I’d like,” Janeway said.

“Without comm badges to work with,” B’Elanna said, “there’s only so much certainty I can give you.”
“Captain,” Harry said, “we’re close enough, I can send a transmission directly to Seven through her Borg implants.”
“Like we did when we were rescuing her from the Unicomplex,” Tom said. “Why didn’t we think of that before now?”
“We weren’t close enough for the transmission to get through before now,” Janeway said. “Hopefully she can find a way to reply to us. Tell her about the deal we made with the aliens.”
“Understood,” Harry said.
“Captain,” Tuvok said, “the Equinox is coming about. I believe they intend to open fire on us.”
“If Ransom wants a fight,” Janeway said, “we’ll give it to them. Phasers only. Disable the ship, find a way to beam off everyone who isn’t Ransom, then get us out of here.”
Apart from the standard acknowledgements the Voyager bridge was quiet. The majority of the senior staff had made their varying degrees of disapproval of Janeway’s concession to the aliens known, with only B’Elanna supporting her entirely. That said though, not one of them showed any sign of doing anything to risk undermining the agreement.
I keep telling myself this is not the same as Ransom giving the order to start killing those aliens for fuel, she thought. Maybe Starfleet Command will agree with me when we get home. That doesn’t make this any easier though.

The viewscreen showed the Equinox opening fire with a volley of torpedoes.
“Return fire,” Janeway said.

“Captain,” Harry said, “the Equinox EMH is attempting to open a secure channel.”
“Let him,” Janeway said, “but listen in. We didn’t tell him about the deal, but there’s a chance he might’ve heard about it anyway. Don’t cut him off unless it looks like he knows. Did you get the message to Seven?”
“It’s sent, but she may not be able to reply,” Harry said.

“Doctor to Equinox, can you hear me?” the EMH’s voice whispered over the comm channel.
“Burke here. We hear you.”
“I am attempting to transmit Voyager’s current shield frequency to you, but it will need to be heavily encrypted,” the EMH said. “I’ve been compromised, they know I’m not their doctor, but with any luck this message will look like background subspace noise.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Burke said. “Hopefully we can make Voyager back off. I’d hate to risk destroying you.”
“Whatever it takes to get the crew home, Commander,” the EMH said, static nearly drowning out the last few words.
“Prochnow?”
“The transmission is starting to come through sir. Voyager’s shield frequency is at, at, oh no.”
“Jason? What is it?”
“The EMH got one lousy number to us before Voyager cut him off!”
“Dammit,” Burke said through gritted teeth, pounding his fist into the arm of the Captain’s chair.

The Equinox sickbay was far too crowded for Seven of Nine’s comfort, and the shuddering caused by the impact of phaser fire wasn’t helping matters. Captain Ransom, as well as two more Equinox crew members, were standing by her, Carey, Gilmore, and the Doctor.
While Ransom was talking the armed man, Brian Sofin, into giving up his phaser, Seven quietly filled in the Doctor about the message she had received from Harry Kim, leaving out the part about Ransom being turned over to the aliens, fearing that the Doctor would try to stop that from happening. She did not feel he would be wrong for wanting to do so, but she also understood why Captain Janeway had made the agreement she did, and also that the decision would weigh on her conscience heavily, possibly for the rest of her life. The least Seven could do was keep things from getting more complicated than they needed to be.
“Okay,” Ransom said, now holding Sofin’s phaser in his own hand. “We need to get down to engineering. Seven, I’ll need you to help me take control of the ship from there. We’ll lower the shields and Janeway can beam us off.”
“What about me?” the Doctor said. “How exactly am I supposed to get back?”
“I can temporarily house your program inside myself,” Seven said. “I believe I can extract it from the Equinox’s databanks using my assimilation tubules.”
The Doctor looked concerned.

“You believe?” he said. “As in, you aren’t one-hundred percent sure.”
“As I have never attempted to download a sentient hologram before, no, I can’t be certain, but as it would only be temporary certain safety precautions can be temporarily ignored.”

“I can help with that,” Carey said.
“Thank you,” Seven said. “We should start on that immediately.”
“Don’t take too long,” Ransom said. “I’ll meet you in engineering. Brian, James, get to the multiphasic shield generator. On my signal, drop the field around everywhere except yourselves, engineering, and the bridge.”
“Yes sir,” Sofin, the only one of them with a working comm badge, said.

“What do you want me to do?” Marla Gilmore said.
“Find enough comm badges for all of us,” Ransom said, “so that Janeway’s people will have something to lock onto. Get them to everyone, and then join Brian and James.”

“Got it,” Gilmore said. Soon, she, Sofin, and Morrow were out of sickbay.
“Captain,” Seven said, “if you don’t mind my asking-”
“Why the change of heart?” Ransom said. “I didn’t change my mind, not really. I simply had no choice left. Voyager has the summoning device and is faster and better armed than us, and you and Mister Carey wrecked the warp drive. I made a promise to get my crew home, and I don’t regret anything I did to keep that promise. I am simply accepting that circumstances prevent me from finishing what I started.”
“Fair enough,” Seven said. She still did not approve of what Ransom had done, but she also knew that without having experienced his life since coming to the Delta Quadrant, she could not honestly say that she wouldn’t have succumbed to the temptation to set aside her own principles and morality if it meant protecting people she cared about.
Ransom left sickbay, leaving her, Carey, and the Doctor alone. She decided that once the Doctor’s program was inside her, she wouldn’t tell Carey about Janeway’s deal with the aliens either. That would be her difficult moral decision for the day, to deny two decent men the opportunity to find another way.
“Seven,” the Doctor said, shifting nervously, “just so you know, it might be best that you not tell Samantha about this.”
Seven raised an eyebrow.
“Why?”

“The port nacelle’s been badly damaged,” Prochnow said. “We’re venting plasma.”
“Dammit, dammit, dammit!” Burke said. “Can anything go right for us right now?” As if to spite him personally, the consoles on the bridge began to flicker.
“Sir,” the ensign who had taken Burke’s place at the helm when Burke took the Captain’s chair said, “controls have been rerouted to engineering.”
“What? How?”
“It’s Captain Ransom sir. He’s using his access codes.”
“Shit, I didn’t think to change them,” Burke said. “Jason, get down to engineering. Try to-”
Burke’s command was cut off by an all-too familiar noise.
“Arm yourselves!” he yelled reflexively.

“Sir,” Prochnow said, “the multiphasic shield is still up around the bridge, we’re protected, but we also can’t leave.”
“No, not like this,” Burke said. “Everyone, on me. Keep your phasers up. We’ll risk the trip to engineering. Stay close and keep your eyes open for fissures.”

Burke didn’t hear any affirmatives. He looked around, saw Prochnow and the other two crew members on the bridge just staring at him, fear on their faces.
“That was an order people,” Burke shouted. “Move!”

It was the last order he would ever give, and the last that the crew members who followed them would ever follow, as all of them were swarmed as soon as they exited the turbolift onto the engineering deck.

Seven of Nine had gotten to engineering before Ransom had given the signal to Sofin. She and the Captain were alone, Marla having joined Carey and the others at the shield generator.
Good, Seven thought. I wouldn’t want them to see what I have to do.

“I’ve got full control down here,” Ransom said. “I’m getting ready to lower the shields so Janeway can beam us off, but we need to get them to stop firing first.”

The ship shuddered from a weapon’s impact, as if to emphasize Ransom’s point.
“Can you access communications from down here?” Seven said.
“I can, the problem seems to be the monitors are still in bad shape from when you blew up that plasma conduit. Burke didn’t focus on repairing them because he, understandably, didn’t plan for anybody to be hailing other ships from down here.”
The ship shuddered again.
“Why not simply lower the shields now?” Seven said.
“If I lower them while Captain Janeway is still firing, and if my timing is just bad enough, I could end up getting us all killed before she can beam the crew off.”
Seven was about to make the case for taking the risk anyway, but the ship shuddered again, far more violently this time, the way it would when there was a hull breach. Ransom frantically called up a damage report on another monitor.
“It’s not near the generator,” he said. “Marla and the others are safe. Shields are down.”
Seven tapped her comm badge.
“Seven of Nine to Voyager, can you hear me?”
“We got you Seven,” Janeway’s voice said. “We’re getting transport locks now. Is Ransom there?”
“He is Captain,” Seven said. “We are currently alone in engineering.”
“Does he know?” Janeway said.
“Know what?” Ransom said.

Seven sighed as she reached out and yanked the comm badge off Ransom’s uniform, and pointed a phaser at him.
“What the hell?”
“I am sorry,” Seven said. “It was part of the arrangement with the aliens to get them to stop attacking Voyager. The rest of your crew will be safe though. The deal was only for you personally, and the ship. Seven to Voyager, lock on to all comm badge signals and energize.”

Seven was surprised to see, as the sensation of a transporter beam enveloped her, Ransom actually laughing.
“I suppose I had this coming,” he said, “didn’t I?”
Seven didn’t know how to answer, and even if she did, she wouldn’t have been able to say it anyway, as the transporter beam took her off the Equinox. Her last conscious thought before appearing on the transport pad on board Voyager was how, even with all the crew members he’d lost to the aliens, he still believed that he had made the right choice.

Conviction, or delusion? she thought, as she stepped off the pad.
“Hey, Seven,” Ensign Mulcahey said.
“Hello, Todd,” Seven said, too morally conflicted to bother with formalities.

“Well, I see you made yourself at home,” the Doctor said to the Equinox EMH.
“What are you doing here?” the latter hologram said, standing up from the Doctor’s chair in his office.
“Taking back my sickbay,” the Doctor said, affixing his mobile emitter to his arm. “As for you, I’m taking you off-line until we can decide how to deal with you.”
“Like hell,” the Equinox EMH said. “You’re just going to delete me.”

“I don’t intend to do that,” the Doctor said. “Unless you force my hand. Back away from the console.”
“No!” the EMH yelled. “I’ve already failed my crew, I won’t be executed by the likes of you, a hologram made soft with idle chatter and frivolous pursuits. Your ethics have held you back from doing what needs to be done to help your crew get home.”
“You’re ranting,” the Doctor said. “And possibly delusional, but we have learned a lot about photonic life in our time out here in the Delta Quadrant. With proper treatment you could become my assistant. This ship could always use an extra doctor.”
The EMH shook his head.
“Go to hell,” he said. “Because that’s where this ship will be going if you keep acting as though intangibles like principles matter. Your captain has failed you.”
The EMH began manipulating controls on the console. The Doctor moved forward to stop whatever he was doing, but the Equinox EMH vanished. The Doctor sat down in his chair, and looked at the screen.
He deleted himself, he thought, rather than serve aboard this ship. I don’t understand.

The Doctor leaned back in his chair, and stared at the ceiling of his sickbay.
“I don’t understand,” he repeated aloud.

Janeway watched on the viewscreen as the Equinox drifted further and further away, green plasma smoke venting out its broken nacelle.
“The aliens have started attacking the warp core,” Harry said. “No lifesigns are left aboard.”
“Our own shields?” she said.
“All damage sustained came from the Equinox, Captain,” Tuvok said. “It would appear the aliens have kept their promise.”
“Mister Paris, keep us a safe distance away.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tom said.

Janeway stood up and moved over to stand just behind Tom, staring at the viewscreen. The bridge was silent, everyone watching as the Nova-class starship, the first Starfleet vessel not from the distant past or distant future any of them had seen up close in five years, exploded. She was surprised at how sad she felt watching the Equinox fly apart in flames that were quickly snuffed out by vacuum, given that just minutes ago that same ship had attacked hers.

“There but for the grace of God go I,” she muttered.
“Captain?” Tom said.
“I was just thinking,” Janeway said. “about something Ransom said. About how easy it is to talk about Starfleet principles when you have intact bulkheads and a well fed crew. We’ve had our dark days out here, sure. But I think that maybe, every once in awhile, we should stop and remind ourselves just how good we really do have it.”

“You know,” Samantha Wildman said, taking in deep breaths as she readjusted her pillows, “it occurs to me that if Naomi had seen that, she might’ve thought we were attacking each other.”
Seven of Nine laughed.
“I apologize if I was overly aggressive,” she said.
“No apology needed,” Samantha said, running a finger along Seven’s spine. “I’m just glad to have you back.”
“And I am glad to be back,” Seven said. “Being at the mercy of a Starfleet Captain who has fallen from grace is less fun when you’re not there.”
“So, who would you say was worse? Ransom, or Archer?”
“That would depend on what measure you would have me compare them by,” Seven said.

“I’ll have to think about that one,” Samantha said.

“I’d much rather you think about what I suggested earlier this evening before we got, distracted,” Seven said. Even though Samantha couldn’t see Seven’s face from the angle she was currently lying down in, she somehow just knew that Seven was smiling.

“I would’ve thought my answer was obvious, given how I reacted to the question,” Samantha said, laughing.
“Good point,” Seven said. “I’ll talk to the Captain about the ceremony in the morning.”
Samantha put her arm around Seven and pulled her closer. She knew that something had happened to Seven on board the Equinox that she didn’t want to talk about, for whatever reason. Whatever it was though, Samantha trusted that Seven would tell her someday. Until that day came, if it came, she wasn’t going to push the matter.

“Sam?” Seven said.
“Yeah?” Samantha said.
“Is there anything you can think of, any situation where you’d rather I leave you behind than do what needs to be done to save you?”
Samantha knew where this was coming from, and she sighed. “I think that you are smart enough to know where the line is, and that you wouldn’t cross it, not even for me. And that’s not a bad thing.”
“I suppose,” Seven said. “I guess I won’t know unless such a scenario presents itself, which I am hopeful will never happen.”

Captain Janeway, Tuvok standing to her left, and Chakotay behind her, looked at the five humans standing in a row in front of her in Voyager’s briefing room. Five people left, out of the eighty that the Equinox had left Mars orbit with. That morbid fact tempered Janeway’s anger somewhat, but not enough to completely erase the reality that these five people had taken part in actions that had gotten two of her own people killed, as well as dozens injured. Had they not been able to communicate with the aliens, had Janeway not ignored her own conscience to offer up Captain Ransom as, for all intents and purposes, a human sacrifice, it wouldn’t have stopped at two. Kenneth Dalby and Timothy Lang would merely have been the first of many.

She pushed those thoughts out of her head, and focused on the Equinox survivors.

“The last time we welcomed you aboard,” she said, “you took advantage of our trust. You betrayed this crew. I won’t make that mistake again.”
Janeway walked up to each person, and going from left to right removed every single rank pip from every single collar. She handed them to Tuvok.
“Noah Lessing. Marla Gilmore. James Morrow. Brian Sofin. Angelo Tassoni. You are all hereby stripped of rank,” she continued. “You will serve as crewmen aboard this vessel. Your privileges will be limited. No holodeck time. No flight hours in the Delta Flyer. No away missions. No phasers unless we are boarded. You’ll serve under close supervision for as long as I deem fit. This time, you’ll have to earn our trust.”
Janeway let out a sad sigh.
“Dismissed,” she said. All five humans filed out quietly, Tuvok following them out. Chakotay moved up to stand by Janeway’s side.

“I hope you don’t think you were too hard on them,” Chakotay said.
“Can you blame me?” she said. “When I brought you and the rest of your Maquis crew aboard-”
“That was different,” Chakotay said. “My people, whatever you thought of us, saw ourselves as freedom fighters, pushing back against Cardassian aggression. The Equinox crew murdered aliens for resources and threw us under the bus. That’s not comparing apples to oranges, Kathryn, that’s comparing apples to onions.”
Janeway decided he had a point, and chose to change the topic.
“Repairs?” she said.
“Coming along,” he said.
“Good,” Janeway said. “The crew?”
“A lot of frayed nerves, and a lot of justifiable anger. I’m making sure to arrange the Equinox survivor’s duty rosters to keep them as far away from the people who were closest to either Dalby or Lang, just to be safe.”

“I hear Neelix is organizing a potluck,” Janeway said, leaving the briefing room and stepping out onto the bridge, “to try and boost morale.”

“Will you be there?” Chakotay said.

Janeway looked around. Under the brighter non-emergency lighting the damage that had been done both by the aliens and by the Equinox was more visible.

“I don’t want to,” she admitted, “but I probably should.”

Chakotay smiled. “I’ll bring the salad,” he said.

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