A Fire of Devotion: Part 4 of 4: Hotter Than Hell: Chapter Two

Chapter Two

Almost as soon as it became clear that the Class-4 cube, while not destroyed as they had hoped, was not pursuing them, Tom Paris got to work on building a second Delta Flyer. As is usually the case, the second Starfleet/Borg hybrid shuttle was finished considerably faster than the prototype. In Tom’s opinion, this one was even better than the first, though some of the improvements were ones he had planned on making to the original before it had been sacrificed to get Captain Janeway and her team onto the cube.

“The asteroid field is densest over here,” Tom said, pointing to a display.
“You want to take a test run through that mess?” Harry Kim said.
“You doubt my skills?” Tom said.
“Not really,” Harry said. “I’m just not sure we should taxing her so much so soon. This is the Flyer II’s first time out.”
“As good a time as any to see if she can handle tight spaces,” Tom said.
“Okay, if you say so.”

After a few circling runs around the larger rocks of the field, Tom levelled the Flyer out, and was prepared to call it a day, when the proximity alert noise sounded.
“There’s a vessel coming up fast off our starboard bow,” Harry said.
“Shields,” Tom said.
“Range, 50 kilometers.” Harry said. “10. It’s pulling along side.”
Tom glanced out the viewport to see the vessel pulling up. It was slightly smaller than the Flyer, sleek, with a clashing color scheme that Tom would never have thought of for the Flyer, with good reason, but wasn’t offensive to his eyes.
“Nice ship,” he said with some sincerity.

“It’s scanning us,” Harry said.
Tom opened a hailing channel to the ship. “This is Lieutenant Tom Paris of the Delta Flyer II. Please identify yourself.”

A feminine sounding voice replied, though Tom knew better than to make assumptions.
“Vectored exhaust ports,” the other ship’s pilot said, “accelerated driver coils… Your vessel must be fast.” Whoever it was sounded impressed, and Tom couldn’t stop himself from gloating a little.

“Well, I certainly like to think so,” he said.

“Check your scanners,” the other pilot said. “You’ll see a comet on the other side of the asteroid field. I wonder which of our ships could get there first.”
“Sounds like a challenge,” Tom said, smiling.

“Are you going to accept?”

“Tom, no,” Harry said

“Tom, yes,” Tom said. “This is a test flight, right? What better way to test the new ship than to see how it stands up to a little competition.”
“Oh Jesus tap-dancing Christ,” Harry muttered.

Tom chuckled. “Okay, that’s a new one. Where did you pick that line up from?”

“So?” the other pilot said impatiently.
“You’re on. Are we going to count to three or-”
The other ship took off at maximum impulse, cutting off Tom’s question.

“Oh, so that’s how you wanna play it huh?” Tom said, before pushing the throttle forward. It didn’t take long for them to catch up to the other ship, but right away Tom noticed something about it that could give them an edge of over the new Flyer.

“She’s a lot more maneuverable than we are,” he said.
“Well,” Harry said. “If we’re going to go through with this, I might as well point out we can even the odds. The new impulse thrusters.”
“Now that’s the spirit Harry,” Tom said. “Let’s do this.”

The ship lurched slightly from the sudden burst of speed that came once Harry activated the new thrusters. Within seconds they had closed the gap with the other vessel to just fifty meters.

“Bring the backup generators on-line,” Tom said, “and reroute power to the thrusters.”

The Delta Flyer II surged forward, easily passing the other vessel. Tom felt the huge grin on his face and glanced back to see that Harry was smiling now too. He was about to suggest to Harry that he shouldn’t worry so much about the new Flyer, when he saw out the port side viewport that the other vessel’s starboard nacelle was on fire. As the ship was flying through a vacuum at the moment, that was naturally a point of concern.

“Uh oh,” Tom said. Harry looked down at his console and hit a few buttons.
“The other ship’s cabin is filling with nyocene gas,” he said.
“Stand by for emergency transport,” Tom said.

The sound of a transporter beam filled the cabin, and Harry, emergency medkit already in hand, was there when the pilot, an alien woman, materialized. She leaned against the nearest bulkhead, coughing while Harry ran a medical tricorder over her.
“You okay?” Harry said.
“I’m fine,” the pilot said between coughs. “I guess this rules out a rematch.”
Tom and Harry shared a look, the latter looking surprised, but Tom wasn’t. He was a pilot at heart, and he knew one of his own when he saw one.

“What happened?” he said.
“My power transformer overloaded,” the pilot said.
“We could probably find you a spare back on Voyager,” Harry said. “That’s our primary ship.”
“We were about to head back there anyway,” Tom said. “This was just supposed to be a test flight.”
As Tom expected the pilot looked more hurt hearing that than she had over nearly being poisoned with nyocene.
“You’re telling me I lost a race to a prototype?” she said. “Ugh, I am never going to hear the end of it back home.”
“We won’t tell,” Tom said as he manipulated the controls to turn the Flyer around. I can’t wait to tell B’Elanna how well the new impulse thrusters worked, he thought. “I’m Tom Paris, by the way. My co-pilot and good friend here is Harry Kim. What’s your name?”
“Irina,” the pilot said.

“I’ve been looking forward to my holodeck time all week,” The Doctor said, trying to walk away from B’Elanna Torres, wishing he hadn’t decided to leave his mobile emitter on the desk for this shift. “Why can’t you borrow three hours from someone else?”

“Yours are the last piece to the puzzle,” B’Elanna said. “Tom and I have finally managed to get a weekend off together. I’ve been trading favors with members of the crew so that we could get the holodeck to ourselves. Even Sam, Seven, and Naomi gave up theirs for the week.”
“Ah, a romantic getaway,” The Doctor said.
“Exactly,” B’Elanna said.
“Well, unfortunately for you I’ve chosen this week to indulge myself in a new hobby. Something human doctors have been enjoying for centuries.”

“Oh for the love of…”

“It’s called golf,” The Doctor said, picking up a ball and club he’d replicated for himself. “I’ve already booked a tee time.”
“Well,” B’Elanna said, sounding dejected. “If your tee time is more important than our happiness, our first chance to be alone in months…”

The Doctor knew a guilt trip when he saw one. Unfortunately, unlike viruses, energy weapons, or weather, B’Elanna’s sad face was not something he was immune to. He put down the ball and club.
“Fine,” he said, “you can have my three hours.”

“Thank you,” B’Elanna said.

The next window of communication with Starfleet was still over a week away, but Seven of Nine couldn’t help but notice that Samantha was nervous. Since the window would be relatively short, and there were many crewmembers with loved ones back home, a lottery of sorts was held, and Samantha had drawn a low number, meaning she would be among the first to contact someone during said window.

“Sam,” Seven said, “Are you worried about introducing me to your parents?”
“Worried? No, well, yes, to Mom. Dad should be okay. If he’s there I mean, he re-enlisted when the Dominion War started and the last letter we got from home said he was still in command of the John Laurens. And, well, honey, there’s something I should’ve told you awhile ago and, um…”
“Sweetie, you’re babbling,” Seven said. “You told me to let you know when you were babbling.”
“Yes, well, you know me. My babbling capabilities are infinite,” Sam said with a nervous chuckle.
“If this is in reference to the death of her brother at Wolf 359,” Seven said, “you told me about that already. I don’t doubt that the situation may be uncomfortable initially, but once Linette Wildman understands that I have been free of the Collective for three years now-”
“There’s something I left out,” Samantha said, looking embarrassed, and slightly chewing on her lower lip the way she did where there was something she knew she should say, but was unsure how.

“What do you mean?” Seven asked.
“Uncle Doug wasn’t just my Mom’s brother. He was her twin brother,” Sam said.
“I don’t understand why that… Oh,” Seven said, taking several moments longer than she cared to admit to make the connection. She might not have made that connection at all, had she not spent the past three years sharing a vessel with a set of twins, the frequently rumor-plagued Delaney sisters. Jenny and Megan. The two often worked in astrometrics during Seven’s regeneration cycles, but despite their infrequent meetings she had come to respect them as officers and as scientists. She was also very aware of the deep bond between the two, and that was why she was suddenly nervous herself about speaking to Samantha’s mother.

“Oh dear,” Seven said, unable to think of anything else to say.
“I know it’s been years since Wolf 359, but Annie, she was still a mess when I left for Voyager, I don’t know if my having been MIA for three years with no idea if I was alive or dead made it worse or not, but it certainly didn’t help.”
“Did she say anything in the letters you got from the Alpha Quadrant?”
“No,” Sam said. “I know she’s alive, and at home, but she didn’t actually send me any messages herself, that was all from Dad.”

There was an uncomfortable silence that followed. Sam took Seven’s hands in hers and gently squeezed. Seven squeezed back.

Whatever happens, she thought, she’s Sam’s mother. Treat her with respect, no matter what she says to you. Remember that anything she might say is motivated by a type of loss I could never understand.

The Delta Flyer and Irina’s ship made it to Voyager’s shuttlebay safely, and as soon as Irina had been cleared by both The Doctor and Tuvok to move about the ship except for certain restricted areas, she and Harry immediately got to work on repairing her ship from the inside while Tom worked on the outside. The officers in charge of the shuttle bay made it clear that faster would be better, and Harry didn’t blame them. Between the regular shuttles, the Flyer, and Neelix’s old ship, the place was constantly more crowded than Federation safety standards allowed for. It had been that way for years, and this new vessel was only compounding the matter.

“Could you hand me the viridum injector?” Irina said to Harry.

“Sure thing,” Harry said. “Let’s see, where is… Ah, here we go.” He handed the device to Irina who took it and applied it to her console with a smooth, swift motion. Harry sat in the seat next to her’s.
“Comfy chairs,” he said.
“My co-pilot certainly thinks so,” Irina said, not taking her eyes off her work.

“Your co-pilot?” Harry said.

“I was on my way to meet him when I ran into you,” Irina replied.

Harry realized that Irina wasn’t giving him much to do in terms of help, but he also needed to stay since some of the equipment she was using was Starfleet equipment that he would need to take back once repairs were complete. Lacking an actual task, he decided to settle on some small talk. She might not reply but it was better than nothing.

“So, tell me about where you’re from,” he said.
“It’s a small trinary system, about half a parsec from here,” Irina said.

“Three suns,” Harry said. “Wow. We have systems like that where I’m from, but as far as I know, none of them are populated. Did your people originate there, or is it a colony?”

“Are you always this inquisitive?” Irina said, smiling.
Oh, she thinks I’m flirting, Harry thought. Better dial it back. “I’m a Starfleet officer. We’re all about questions. Knowing the unknown is what drives us.”
“That almost sounds like a recruiting speech.”
“Well, it’s part of the speech yeah,” Harry admitted. “But I wasn’t asking you to join us or anything.”

The sound of a ladder being ascended cut off any reply.
“Your new power transformer is installed and ready to go,” Tom Paris said as he climbed into the cockpit area.
“Thanks,” Irina said. Harry couldn’t help but notice her smile had widened when she spoke to Tom.
“Your impulse drive is a real beauty,” Tom said.

“I designed it myself,” Irina said, leaning back in her seat with an almost human like display of pride.

“I couldn’t help but noticing your warp system seems so rudimentary,” Tom said.
“Warp’s fine if you like going fast in a straight line,” Irina said. “But to me that’s just physics, not flying. Besides, for the kind of flying I’m here for warp is not a factor.”
“Pun intended?” Harry said.

Irina rolled her eyes, and moved on without acknowledging Harry’s comment.

“The race course is only two billion kilometers long,” she said.

“Race course?” Tom said, sharing a look with Harry.
I’m intrigued as well, Harry thought.

“You don’t know?” Irina said.
“We’re not from around here,” Harry said.

B’Elanna could tell when Tom was excited even without seeing his face. He walked in a certain way she could never really adequately put into words, but nonetheless, she knew it when she saw it and when he walked into the briefing room after having requested a gathering of the senior staff, she saw it.

Once he started explaining what he wanted to do, she understood why.

“It’s called the Antarian Trans-Stellar Rally,” he said, pointing to a map that he had called up on the monitor. “Three segments, covering 2.3 billion kilometers.”
Harry, standing next to Tom, spoke next.
“With obstacles ranging from dwarf star clusters to K-class anomalies.”
“Two-man crews, and most importantly, each ship is limited to sub-light speeds,” Tom said, his excitement threatening to get the better of him “It is the ultimate test of ship design and piloting skills.”
“Not to mention a serious drain on Voyager’s resources,” Tuvok said, looking down at the PADD Tom had handed him before the start of the meeting. “You’re suggesting we reassign 15 crewmen to modify the Delta Flyer?”
“The race has very specific guidelines,” Tom replied. “All of the ships have to use enriched deuterium fuel, which the Flyer’s not equipped to do, but Irina, she’s that pilot we rescued, she agreed to lend us a fuel converter.”
Chakotay’s face suggested he had the same concerns that Tuvok did, but the Captain gave no visible indication of what she would say. B’Elanna herself wasn’t sure if she wanted her to give Tom the okay or not. The timing was too close for her comfort; Tom could complete the race and still make it in time for their weekend on the holodeck, but if just one thing went wrong with the Flyer during the course…

“Captain,” Tom said, “this race is more than just a sporting event. Until recently this region was a war zone. Four different species fought for nearly a century to control it.”
“Now,” Harry said, “for the first time they’re competing peacefully. To commemorate the new treaty that ended the war.”
“This race embodies everything the Federation values,” Tom said, “a peaceful coexistence, a free exchange of ideas-”
“I think it’s a great idea,” Janeway said, much to B’Elanna’s surprise, and based on Chakotay’s face and Tuvok’s raised eyebrow to theirs as well. The Doctor, who had been there the whole time but didn’t seem to care, finally was paying attention, though he didn’t say anything.

“You do?” Tom said, looking unsure if he should be glad the Captain accepted his pitch, or disappointed that he didn’t actually get to finish it.
“You do?” Tuvok said.
“Absolutely,” Janeway said, smiling in a way B’Elanna hadn’t seen since before the Unimatrix Zero mission. “This competition is just the sort of break we need. It’ll give us the chance to make some friends, which we could always use more of in this region, and give the crew a chance at some real R&R. Request granted.” She gently tossed the PADD Tom had given her back to him.
“Thank you, Captain,” he said.
“One thing, gentlemen,” she said. “Now that we’re in this race, we’re in it to win. After all, Starfleet’s honor is at stake.” She winked at Tom and Harry before heading for the door.
“Don’t worry,” Tom said. “It’s in good hands.”
“No pressure, right?” Harry said jovially. Tuvok simply followed the Captain while Chakotay started reading his own PADD, presumably to brush up on whatever information Tom hadn’t gotten to do to his premature victory.
“Obviously I will insist that you have a full stock of medical supplies on board,” The Doctor said. “I won’t even bother pointing out the potential dangers of this race course, since you doubtless already know and, to borrow a phrase, don’t give a rat’s extremities.”

Tom and Harry headed out, and B’Elanna followed, the three making their way first to the turbolift, then to the shuttlebay.
“So, I didn’t get the chance to meet Irina, or look at her ship,” she said. “She’s not going to give you too much trouble I hope.”
Tom chuckled. “Yeah, I’m not too worried. I’m just glad she’ll be on her own ship and not flying with me.”
“What do you mean?” B’Elanna said.
“Let’s just say our new friend is a bit of a flirt,” Harry said.
“Oh, really,” B’Elanna said.
“That’s putting it mildly,” Tom said. “I didn’t pick up on it at first because I thought she was just talking about her ship. I must be getting soft in my old age.”
“I don’t have to worry about her trying to poison me and merge with you, do I?” B’Elanna said.
Tom sighed. “One time that happened.”
“I can confirm that Irina is not some crazy A.I.,” Harry said. “Well, not an A.I. anyway,” he added with a smirk.
“I assume you let her down gently,” B’Elanna said.

“I tried to. I mentioned you, by name, when I said I was with someone. That only made her flirt more though. I eventually lied and said we were already married to try and get her to back off.”

“Didn’t work I take it?” B’Elanna said.
“Not even a little,” Tom said. “She’s one of those types I guess.”

“Not to be mean, Tom,” B’Elanna said, “but didn’t you hook up with a married woman or two before we got together?”
“I was kind of hoping you’d forgotten about that,” Tom said.
“There’s the silver lining for you, Tom,” Harry said. “Irina probably won’t try to frame you for murder.”
“Really? You’re going to bring that up?” Tom said.

“Look,” B’Elanna said, putting her arm around Tom’s waist, “just tell her I used to be a terrorist and that I know how to handle sharp objects. That should get her to back off.”

“One can only hope,” Tom said.
Before the three of them made it to the shuttlebay, B’Elanna realized something about the phrasing Tom had used earlier in the conversation.
“Hang on a sec,” she said, “what did you mean by ‘already married?’”

“And that’s why I’m not going to be Tom’s co-pilot for the race anymore,” Harry said, raising his drink at the table in the mess hall he was sharing with Seven, Samantha, Joe Carey, and Sue Brooks.”
“Leave it to Tom Paris to get engaged by accident,” Brooks said.

“Given the volatile nature of their relationship,” Seven said, “I would’ve predicted homicide before matrimony.”
Harry and Sue each stifled a laugh, while Samantha playfully punched Seven in the arm.
“Honey, that’s not fair,” she said.
“Am I wrong?” Seven said.
“Look,” Harry said, “let’s just be happy for my best friend, shall we? He’s going to win this thing, then as soon as they get back, wedding.”
“Will they be back in time for the window of communication with Starfleet?” Carey asked.
“No,” Harry said, “the window lines up with the post-race ceremonies. But they both drew high numbers in the lottery anyway, so it kind of doesn’t matter this time.”
Seven looked like she was about to say something, but her eyes shifted at the sound of one of the doors to the mess hall opening, and the Delaney sisters both walked in, talking about something.
“Excuse me,” Seven said. “I have a matter to discuss with the Delaneys. I will see you all at the Delta Flyer launch.”
“Okay sweetie,” Samantha said.

“Something about astrometrics?” Harry said.
Samantha looked back and forth, seeming unsure how to respond. “Well, I don’t know if I should say anything.”
“This about your Uncle?” Harry said.
“That obvious?”
“Seven didn’t know your Uncle and your Mom were twins before now?”

“It never came up,” Samantha said. “And honestly it didn’t seem all that relevant. If I’d known when we started dated that we’d be able to talk to home in just a few short years I would’ve told her then. I think Annie is really worried that my Mom’s not going to like her.”
“That’s normal I suppose,” Carey said. “I was nervous first time I met my in-laws.”
“Yeah,” Samantha said, narrowing her eyes. “Pretty sure your wife didn’t used to belong to a people who killed one of your relatives.”
Carey nodded. “Okay, fair point. Our situations really aren’t that similar at all.”
“Look,” Harry said, “I’m sure it’ll be fine. Your Mom will understand that Seven had no control over her actions when she was a drone, and regardless Seven wasn’t even at Wolf 359.”

“Knowing and accepting are two different things, Harry,” Samantha said. “But I hope you’re right.” She glanced over at Seven, speaking to the Delaney sisters. “And hopefully those two can give her the insight she’s looking for.”

Janeway listened as the coordinator of the race, Antarian Ambassador, O’Zaal, relayed his concerns regarding the race that her people had just entered. When the Ambassador had first requested this meeting she’d been concerned that he would request that her people bow out, leaving the competition to races from the formerly war torn region, but it didn’t take long for those concerns to be assuaged.

“One of the species in the race, the Aksani, want to host the post-race ceremony, and say they will break the peace if refused. But it had already been agreed upon that another species, the Chessu, would host it. This is quite the mess, Captain.”

“It sounds like it,” Commander Chakotay said.

“The peace is so fragile,” O’Zaal said, “every decision I make, no matter how trivial, is looked upon as symbolic.”

“Winning is easy,” Janeway said, “governing’s harder. It’s a story that happens all too often. Even in my world’s history. Maybe we can help you.”

“I was hoping you could,” O’Zaal said. “Your people are new to this region. With no ties to any of our races, you’re in the ideal position to be an arbitrator.”

“The easiest thing to do,” Janeway said, “is to provide neutral ground for the pre- and post-race activities. Our mess hall is designed to be adjusted in a hurry, we can have it ready to accommodate the launch party in under an hour.”
“I was hoping you would say something like that, Captain,” O’Zaal said. “I cannot be accused of showing favoritism to the Federation seeing as before yesterday I never even knew you existed.”
“I’ll tell Neelix to prepare for guests,” Chakotay said, smiling.

“I look ridiculous in this,” B’Elanna said, looking down at the white, gray, and black uniforms she and Tom would be wearing on the Delta Flyer for the race. “Any particular reason we couldn’t wear our regular uniforms? Or even our civilian clothes?”

“You look great, B’Elanna,” Tom said, looking around at the crowd of aliens and Starfleet personnel mingling in the mess hall for the pre-race ceremony. “Oh. There she is.”

“Who? Oh, Irina. She seems friendly.”
“Too friendly,” Tom said. “Remember, far as she’s concerned we’re already married.”
“You don’t really think she’d be so brazen as to flirt with you right in front-” B’Elanna stopped talking when she saw the look Irina was giving Tom as she approached them. “Okay, I guess she will be.”
“Like I said,” Tom whispered, “she’s not a bad pilot, but she’s not so good at taking a hint.”

“Tom,” Irina said, extending her hand, which Tom took and shook politely. “Good to see you before the race. And this must be B’Elanna Torres. Pleasure to meet you.” She offered the same hand to B’Elanna as well, smiling.
If she’s faking being nice to me, B’Elanna thought, she’s a damn good actor. Hell, with a smile like that I’d consider dating her.

“Nice to meet you,” B’Elanna said. “Looking forward to see what you can do in person.”
“That’s right,” Irina said, “I’d almost forgotten, you’re Tom’s co-pilot now. Any particular reason Harry Kim couldn’t make it?”
B’Elanna looked at Tom, who was laughing nervously.
“Oh, nothing major,” Tom said. “I just remembered that I hadn’t taken the missus out in the new Flyer yet, and this is as good an excuse as any.”
That was weak, Tom. “In a way, this ship is kind of like our baby,” B’Elanna said, putting an arm around Tom’s waist, and hoping she could save him from further embarrassing himself with bad excuses.
“Well,” Irina said, “I’ll try not to be too hard on your baby then. I do still intend to win, after all.”
“Yeah, well,” Tom said, confidence entering his voice, “we’ll see about that.” He smiled, and B’Elanna could tell that he was not faking it. He really expected to win. That didn’t worry her though. The Delta Flyer II was a great little ship, and while she hadn’t contributed as much to it as Tom or Seven of Nine or Harry had, she was still proud of it.

“Oh, speaking of things to look out for,” Irina said, her gaze falling on one of the other pilots, a blue-suited one staring out the viewport with his arms crossed, making a point of not talking to anyone. “His name’s Assan. He was a fighter pilot in the wars, one of the most ruthless. I doubt he’ll outright cheat, but he’s going to be as rough as he thinks he can get away with, I’m sure of it.

“Oh, hey, I see Joxom,” Irina said, changing the subject so quickly B’Elanna almost didn’t register it. Irina ran over to another alien, one the same species as her, and gave him a more than friendly hug. She and Tom shared a look.
“I wonder if he knows-”
“Tom, be fair. Her species could be polyamorous,” B’Elanna said.
“Maybe,” Tom said. “All the same, the more he’s around the more comfortable I’ll be.”

“It’s not like you to be this judgemental, Tom,” B’Elanna said.
Tom chuckled. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s focus on winning the race, then on getting married once we win.”

“Damn straight,” B’Elanna said. “Oh, before I forget, Seven has been helping with race preparation in astrometrics.”

“She told me about that, actually,” Tom said. “Said she’s analyzing the course to find ways to cut time. Already sent a few ideas to the Flyer’s computer. Too many ideas really. Is she nervous about something? This doesn’t seem quite like her.”
B’Elanna took in a deep breath. “Well, from what I hear, she’s going to be talking to the in-laws during the next communication window with the Alpha Quadrant.”
“Ah,” Tom said. “Wants to make a good impression on Sam’s parents?”
“You didn’t remember?”
“Remember what?”
“Sam lost an uncle at Wolf 359. Her mom’s brother. Twin brother, actually.”
“Oh, shit,” Tom said.
“Yeah,” B’Elanna said.

Under most circumstances, the sight of more than a dozen fully armed starships lined up facing each other would be a sign that something terrible was about to happen, but to the pilots of the smaller vessels lined up for the race it was an impressive send-off. Tom looked at the ships, a line on the port, and a line on the starboard. Voyager was at the far end of the port side line up, it’s clean white hull standing out amongst the various shades of dark grey and light brown vessels making up the rest.

“On the one hand,” Tom said, “it’s a shame Harry is going to miss this. On the other, this is going to be one hell of a story for us to tell the grandkids.”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Lieutenant,” B’Elanna said as she did a final pre-flight check. Tom couldn’t quite remember the last time he’d seen her this excited about something. Certainly it had been before her physical therapy after having a number of Borg implants removed. He still winced sometimes thinking about how that must’ve felt. She didn’t like talking about the experience, and he respected that choice, but he couldn’t help his curiosity.

“Ready to bring that impulse drive online?” Tom said.
“Been ready for a few minutes,” B’Elanna said. “I didn’t want to start them up too soon. We’ve still got a few stragglers coming in before the race starts, and I don’t want to waste an ounce of fuel. And before you say anything, yes I know we have more than enough to cover the race, but I don’t want to take any chances.”
Tom smiled. “Whoever thought we’d live to see the day when B’Elanna Torres was the cautious one.”
“Eight years ago I never imagined I’d be taking pride in a Starfleet designed engine,” B’Elanna said. “Things change.”

“Well, hopefully your hatred of losing hasn’t,” Tom said.
“Oh, we’re going to win,” B’Elanna said. “Don’t doubt that for a second.”
Once the pre-flight check was done, Tom waited for the signal. A few moments later, the sound of Ambassador O’Zaal, speaking from Voyager’s bridge on an open channel to all vessels involved in the race, filled the cabin.

“Welcome to the first running of the Antarian Trans-Stellar Rally. This moment marks a hopeful point in our shared history, a chance to put aside old animosities and come together in a spirit of peace and friendly competition. Good luck to all of you. Prepare for the starting signal.”

A few seconds later, Voyager fired a low-yield photon torpedo that detonated a few hundred meters in front of the starting point.
“And we’re off,” Tom said, pushing the throttle forward.

Seven of Nine found herself grateful for the distraction as she listened to Neelix excitedly announce updates on the Delta Flyer’s progress in the race over the ship’s comm systems from astrometrics. She operated the consoles, leaving the theatrics to the much more suited crewmember. She doubted she could muster up quite that much enthusiasm if she tried. It was much easier to be so emotionally free when it was just her and Samantha.

Much better to think about this than about what to say to my mother-in-law, Seven thought, as Neelix shouted gleefully about the Flyer taking a strong third place. That put them well ahead of the next nearest challenger, with relatively little distance separating it from the two in the lead; Irina and Assan.

The sound of the door to astrometrics opening caught Seven’s attention. The Captain and Lieutenant Kim walked in but didn’t say anything, instead leaning against a pair of consoles and watching Neelix announcing the race. Seven wondered why they couldn’t just listen over the comm like everyone else, but decided that asking wasn’t worth the effort. The answer wasn’t that important. She looked at the screen, watching the icons representing each vessel, focusing on the gold icon representing the new Delta Flyer.

“You certainly have a knack for announcing, Neelix,” Captain Janeway said.
“It’s all in the delivery, Captain,” Neelix said. “Though I have to give your people much of the credit. Remember when Kes and I were monitoring all those Earth programs a few years ago when we found ourselves thrown back to your world in the 1990s?”
“Ah yes,” Janeway said, smirking. “The day my fascination with time travel started its sharp decline.”
“I picked up a few things from some of your sports programs,” Neelix said. “Oh, looks like the Flyer is coming up on the Möbius Inversion.”

“The Inversion’s supposed to have level 6 subspace distortions and gravimetric shear,” Tom said. “We’ll have to be careful around that.”

“It covers the last third of this leg of the course,” B’Elanna said, “so being careful inside the wormhole will be easier said than done.”

“You know,” Tom said, looking at the Möbius Inversion as it grew larger in the viewport, “it occurs to me that statistically speaking we have run into way too many wormholes here in the Delta Quadrant. Kinda makes the Bajoran one seem less special.”
“I haven’t really thought of it that way,” B’Elanna said. “Usually I just end up being disappointed that none of the ones we come across are a shortcut home.”
Tom shrugged, and was about to mention that on the positive side one of those wormholes did at least knock two years off their trip a while back, but the Flyer began vibrating slightly as it approached the event horizon of the Inversion.

“Hold on tight,” Tom said, gripping the controls tighter than he probably should’ve.
“The radiation of the Inversion is going to block Voyager’s sensors,” B’Elanna said. “They won’t be able to track our progress until we reach the other side.”
“That should only be about fifty meters away,” Tom said.

“Forty meters away,” B’Elanna said a few seconds later, “and the two lead ships right ahead of us.”
“I can see them,” Tom said. “A little too close for comfort seeing as I don’t need sensors to do that.”

“And close together too,” B’Elanna said, “but I think we can get through them. I’m reversing our deflector polarity. It’ll repel their shields. Why wait for an opening when you can make one?”

“Sounds too risky,” Tom said.
“Too risky? Who are you and what have you done with my fiancé?” B’Elanna said as she moved to another console and began manipulating controls.

“What’re you doing?” Tom said.

“Deploying auxiliary thrusters,” B’Elanna said. “We’ll need the extra maneuvering power to get through the gap.”
Tom opened his mouth to protest, but decided it wasn’t worth it and refocused himself on flying the ship. It shuddered violently but briefly as it sped in between the two lead ships, knocking them aside slightly but not enough to throw them completely off course. Tom was grateful for that. He would hate to win by having the competition exploding behind him.
“That was way too risky,” Tom said, turning to look back at B’Elanna. “I hate to sound rude, but I’m the pilot, I’m the one who should be making those calls.”

B’Elanna did look upset at first, like she was about to argue, but whatever counterpoint she was going to offer evaporated before she could say it.
“I saw a chance and I took it,” B’Elanna said, quietly. “You’re right though, you’re the one flying this thing, I should’ve asked.”
“Good,” Tom said. He smiled and added, “Great move by the way. We have a comfortable lead now.”

“Attention all racers,” Ambassador O’Zaal’s voice said over the Flyer’s comm. “There’s been an accident. Stay in order and shut down your engines.”
Tom did as instructed quickly, hoping that whatever happened wasn’t serious. He glanced back at B’Elanna and could tell by looking at her that she was worried that it had been her fault, and that whoever was wounded had been on either Irina or Assan’s ship when they blew past them in the Inversion.

With O’Zaal just a few steps behind her, Janeway entered sickbay where The Doctor ran a medical tricorder over a wounded Joxom, Irina’s co-pilot.

“Report,” Janeway said.
“His condition is stabilizing,” The Doctor said. “I should be able to start dermal regeneration in a few hours.”
“This was Assan’s fault,” Irina said, standing near the biobed where Joxom was being treated.
“Why do you say that?” O’Zaal said.

“He collided with me so many times my shield generator overloaded,” Irina said. “Joxom’s console exploded. He’s lucky he’s alive.”

“Janeway to Tuvok, have the pilot Assan brought to the briefing room, ASAP. Ambassador, I imagine you’ll want to be there as well.”

“Want, and need, Captain,” O’Zaal said. “We need to get as full a picture of what happened as possible.”
Janeway nodded. “We’ll want Tom and B’Elanna as well. They were ahead of both ships, their flight data might have picked up information we need for the investigation. Irina, come with me.”

“Of course,” Irina said, taking one last long look at her co-pilot before following.

“The only thing I’m guilty of,” Assan said, sounding smug to Tom, “is coming in second. A situation which will be remedied in the next leg.”
If he has any concern for Joxom at all, Tom thought, he’s hiding it well.

“You’re doing a poor job of defending yourself,” O’Zaal said, visibly nervous.
“We may have had something to do with this too,” B’Elanna said. “We grazed both of their shields in the Möbius Inversion.”

Tom felt as much as saw all eyes in the room turning on him and B’Elanna; Assan, Irina, Tuvok, the Captain, O’Zaal all looked at them, surprised at B’Elanna’s declaration of guilt. Tom doubted very much that she was to blame, but he had to admit that he was clearly too biased on the matter. He hoped as much as believed that this was not her fault.

“Intentionally?” Janeway said.
“It was a tight course,” Tom said, “everyone was flying very aggressively.”

“Your team is not responsible, Captain,” Irina said. “My generators were already overloading when they made contact.”

“Perhaps none of you is to blame,” Tuvok said, looking down at the PADD in his hands. “My security team found a device interfaced with her ship’s shield generator.” Tuvok touched a button on his PADD and a picture of the device in question appeared on the main briefing room monitor.

“What is it?” Janeway said.
“According to Lieutenant Anderson’s analysis,” Tuvok said, “it is a phase inverter, designed to cause a system overload.”

“It’s hard to believe someone would go this far just to knock a competitor out of the race,” Janeway said, though to Tom’s ears she didn’t sound confident of that.

“This may be more than a simple case of cheating, Captain,” O’Zaal said, sounding worried. “I think someone’s trying to end the peace.”

“Maybe I’m missing something here,” Janeway said, “but we’re talking about a single act of sabotage. How does that threaten your treaty?”

“By itself, it wouldn’t,” O’Zaal admitted, standing up and starting to pace with his hands behind his back. “But we’ve received threats of a more serious nature.”
“From whom?” Tuvok asked.

“Groups opposed to the alliance,” O’Zaal said. “Arms dealers, isolationists, political extremists. Up until now I wasn’t sure how seriously to take them.”

“Clearly they post a security threat,” Tuvok said.
“Yes, yes,” O’Zaal said. “We’ve done everything we could to protect the racers, but that might not be enough. I don’t want to risk any more lives. We should cancel the race or at least postpone it until we can guarantee everyone’s safety.”

Tom didn’t like that idea one bit. Even setting aside that he and B’Elanna were in the lead, this race was of vital symbolic importance to the inhabitants of this region of space. Giving in to extremists, assuming that’s who was behind the sabotage instead of just some cheater, could only hurt the peace in the long run.

“No,” Irina said. “If we stop now we’ll be letting these extremists win.”

Exactly what I was thinking, Tom thought.

“She’s right,” Assan said, without a trace of the egotism in his voice he’d had in everything else Tom had heard him say.

O’Zaal didn’t look optimistic, but he nodded. “Very well then. If that’s the consensus we’ll resume tomorrow as scheduled.”

“There you are,” Harry Kim said as he saw Tom, B’Elanna, and Irina walking side by side in the corridor, clearly on their way to the shuttle bay. “Congrats on taking the lead, Tom. I was sorry to hear about Joxom though. Glad to hear he’s recovering.”

“Thank you, Harry,” Irina said.

“By the way, did you get my request?”
“What request?” Tom said.
“I was about to tell you,” Harry said. “I asked if I could be Irina’s new co-pilot while Joxom recovers.”

“Oh, that’s very nice, but you don’t need to-”

“Well, hey you still want to win, don’t you?” Harry said, smiling.
“This is payback for me replacing you with B’Elanna isn’t it?” Tom said.
“Only a little bit,” Harry admitted. “But also, Irina did us a solid with that converter, and I’d hate to see her have to drop out. I checked with the race officials, and they say it’s all good, so long as Irina herself signs off on it of course.”

“Um, sure,” Irina said. “Though my ship’s damaged, so it may end up being an empty gesture.”
“You don’t know our Harry,” Tom said. “Once he’s set his mind to something…”

“He’ll not only fix your ship,” B’Elanna said, “he’ll polish the bulkheads.”

“Well, okay then,” Irina said, smiling. “Welcome aboard Lieutenant Kim.”
“I’ll try not to gloat too much when we win,” Harry said to Tom.
Tom just shook his head.
“Humans,” B’Elanna said, rolling her eyes.
“Says the half-human,” Tom said, playfully poking B’Elanna in the arm. Harry laughed at them as he and Irina made their way to her ship while the others went to the Delta Flyer.

With the race back in full swing, Tom and B’Elanna held onto their lead, but Irina and Harry, as well as Assan, were doing an admirable job of catching up. At least they were until Harry suddenly noticed that Irina’s ship was gradually losing speed.

“We’re slipping,” Harry said. “Assan just pulled ahead of us.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Irina said. Something in her tone made Harry uneasy, but he got distracted by an alert noise from his console before he could think of reasons why that might be.

“I’m reading malfunctions in the EPS relays,” he said. “But we double checked all of them last night.”

“We must’ve missed something,” Irina said. “At this rate, we’re going to be out of the race in a couple of minutes.”
Harry wasn’t one hundred percent sure, but the way Irina said that suggested she wasn’t all that concerned about losing, a complete 180 degree turn from where she’d been last night while they’d worked on her ship together. Now he was certain something was wrong.

“I think I can reroute power through the impulse manifold,” Harry said.

“No,” Irina said suddenly, reaching out to stop him.
“Why not?” Harry said, fully suspicious now.
“It could damage the reactor coils,” Irina said.
“I was in engineering before I was an operations officer,” Harry said. “I know for a fact that reactor coils have nothing to do with impulse manifolds.”

“These systems are different than what you’re used to,” Irina said, looking out the viewport and continuing to operate the controls as normal.

“Why-” Harry’s question was cut off by another alarm sound.
“I think it’s the injector ports,” Irina said, bolting out of the pilot’s chair and heading for the back of the ship. Harry looked at his console.
“No, it’s an overload in my console,” he said, pushing himself back just in time to avoid the explosion. The same kind of explosion that had injured Joxom. Harry found himself wishing he had a phaser with him. “This wasn’t an accident,” he said, turning to look at Irina, who now held a weapon on him.

“I’m sorry Harry,” she said. “I really am.”
A hologram, a dead woman, a Borg, the wrong twin, now this, Harry thought. If I believed in a God I’d think he was punishing for thinking about other women than Libby.

“So this is one of those days then,” he said aloud. He wanted to be angrier than he was, but really he was just disappointed in himself for having fallen into a trap. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to tell me why you sabotaged your own ship twice.”

“I don’t mind at all, actually,” Irina said. “I don’t need to kill you to accomplish what I came to do. If I did, you’d already be dead.”
“Fair point,” Harry said, hoping that Irina didn’t catch his glance towards the pilot’s console. He wasn’t quite close enough to just reach for it, but if he was quick enough he could leap to it and turn the ship fast enough that the inertial dampeners wouldn’t compensate and Irina would hopefully lose her balance. It was a huge gamble, so he needed to do the math in his head to ensure the best chance of success. The longer Irina talked…

“If you’re hoping to call for help,” she said, gently motioning her gun at the communications panel which happened to be next to what Harry was actually looking at, “don’t bother. I disabled it before we launched. You won’t be able to fix it in time.”

“In time for what?” Harry said.
“For the Delta Flyer to reach the finish line,” Irina said. Then she sighed. “Okay, that was too cryptic. I said I’d tell you, so I will. When the Delta Flyer passes the finish line, it will be passing very close to more than a dozen ships full of people, all congregating for this ‘peace’ Ambassador O’Zaal keeps going on about.”
“You’re one the extremists,” Harry said.

“I prefer to think of myself as a purist,” Irina said. “Some of us were happier when all the other species were separate. We don’t want to be like you and your Federation.”
“The way you were flirting with my best friend, in front of his fiancee no less, you certainly could’ve fooled me,” Harry said, not caring that he’d revealed the truth about Tom’s marital status. He was pretty sure now Irina didn’t actually care.

“I needed someone to deliver the explosive,” Irina said. “Who better than a show-off pilot who wants to win a big race?”

“The fuel converter you gave us,” Harry said. “It’s a bomb. How the hell did we manage to miss that?”

“Your friend Tuvok might’ve caught it, but you never actually had security look at the device I gave you. Sloppy work, Lieutenant junior grade Kim,” Irina said, practically spitting every syllable of Harry’s name and rank.
“I’ll be sure to pass that information along to Commander Tuvok,” Harry said.
“Once your Captain guarantees my safety, I’m sure you will,” Irina said.

Now’s as good a time as any, Harry thought. He opened his mouth as if to reply to what Irina had just said, but then lunged for the console. A blast from Irina’s weapon grazed over him close enough that he could feel the heat of it, but she had clearly missed. He then lunged at her as she tried to right herself after the sharp turn, and despite their equal height, he had Starfleet hand-to-hand combat training to fall back on. Granted, he had only barely passed that exam, but it was enough and within seconds he’d wrestled the weapon away from Irina. He stepped back, the weapon levelled at her while she was still on the floor, propping herself up with her elbows.
“You’d better shoot me,” Irina said. “Because if I get that gun back-”
“Give it a rest,” Harry said, turning the pilot’s chair with one hand so that he could see the console and keep her in his peripheral vision. “You may have disabled your comm system, but this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to get creative in contacting another ship.”

The Delta Flyer shuddered suddenly, which gave Tom pause, as they were nowhere near an obstacle that could do that.
“We’re being scanned by some kind of modulating pulse,” B’Elanna said. “It’s from Irina’s ship.”

“Maybe it has to do with why they slowed down all of a sudden,” Tom said. “They must need help. Their comm system may be down if this is how Harry’s trying to get in touch with us.”

Tom wanted to win the race, and Assan was mere meters behind him, but he knew that if it came down to it he’d choose rescuing his best friend over crossing that finish line first without hesitating. He already was prepared to turn around when B’Elanna continued.

“There’s something odd about the amplitude,” she said. Soon a sound filled the cabin, and Tom recognized it immediately.
“Morse code,” he said.
“What?”
“It’s an old style of communication they used on Earth back before even radios were in regular usage. Harry’s trying to send out an S.O.S.”
“I do know what S.O.S. means,” B’Elanna said. “They’re in trouble.”
“Preparing to bring us about,” Tom said, looking at the small monitor next to his console. “Put the modulation on my screen.” B’Elanna did so quickly and as Tom turned the controls he used his knowledge to parse out what Harry was sending. It wasn’t an S.O.S., he could tell that much, the pattern didn’t fit. “Fuel converter rigged?” he said in shock.
“Rigged? How?” B’Elanna said.
“I don’t know, that’s just Harry’s message. Fuel converter rigged.”

B’Elanna began rapidly tapping buttons on her console. “The converter is leaking veridium isotopes.”

“Why didn’t the computer warn us?” Tom said.
“The on-line sensors have been tampered with,” B’Elanna said, “but we have a bigger problem. I don’t think I can contain the leak. The veridium is already reacting with the warp plasma.”

“That’ll cause a warp core breach,” Tom said. “We’d better eject it.”
“Too late to eject the converter,” B’Elanna said. “We’ll have to eject the core.”
“Once we do we’ll have less than a minute to clear out of range,” B’Elanna said.
“I don’t think we’ll make it,” Tom said, feeling surprisingly calm given the circumstances. “Neither will anyone else within a million kilometers. There’s a nebula near by. I’m taking us towards it.”

“How will that help? Besides taking us out of range of all the ships at the finish line I mean,” B’Elanna said. She had obviously figured out as much as he had that the dignitaries there were the target of this explosion.

“It’s a J-class,” Tom said. “Filled with ionized gas. Should contain the explosion.”
“So much for our wedding plans,” B’Elanna said.
“Well, let’s just hope our heroic deaths earn us both a place in Sto’Vo’Kor,” Tom said.
“I’m not giving up just yet,” B’Elanna said. “I’m still trying to get the ejection subroutines on-line. Looks like Irina sabotaged that too. I’ll make sure to tell her she did a good job of hiding what she did before I wring her neck.”

“Warp core breach in twenty seconds,” the computer’s voice said.

“Just one more… got it!” B’Elanna said. “Warp core ejected!”
“Nine, eight…” the computer continued.
“It’s in the nebula,” Tom said, pulling the controls as hard as dared. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” he muttered to himself as the countdown reached zero. “I love you,” he said as the shockwave caught up to the Flyer.

Janeway graciously accepted the consolation from Ambassador O’Zaal as Assan’s ship flew past the finish line first. She was about to thank him for the opportunity when Voyager shuddered slightly.
“What was that?” Neelix said, his presence in the mess hall being why Janeway hadn’t known until now just how far behind the Delta Flyer had fallen.
“Janeway to the bridge, report,” she said after tapping her comm badge.
“That was the shockwave of an antimatter explosion,” Tuvok said. “Approximately 1.2 million light years from here.
“I’m on my way,” Janeway said, handing her glass of champagne to Neelix before heading for the door.

As soon as she reached the bridge, Tuvok informed her of the situation as best he knew it. That the Delta Flyer had changed course suddenly, that Irina’s ship with Harry Kim on board had inexplicably stopped before the end of the race, and that the Flyer’s position was currently unknown but that it was last spotted near the site of the explosion.

Janeway wasted no time in ordering that they go immediately to find them, fearing the worst.
“Captain,” Seven of Nine said “we’ll be passing by Irina’s vessel on our path. Shall we bring her and Lieutenant Kim aboard?”

“Good thinking,” Janeway said, “Do it.”

A few moments later, Harry’s voice came over the comm, calling for security to the shuttle bay. Janeway gave Tuvok a nod, and he left the bridge without a word.
“Well,” Janeway said, worry about Harry and why he needed security fighting with concern for Tom and B’Elanna for control of her focus. “This day took an odd turn.”

Seven of Nine found herself in the regretful position of wishing that Tom and B’Elanna had been more injured when they and the Delta Flyer had been recovered. She believed that she could use concern for her shipmates as an excuse to avoid what was coming, but she just couldn’t do that to Samantha. This moment was very important to her.

“So, I hear the post-race festivities are still on,” Samantha said, leaning against the bulkhead. She, Seven, and Naomi waited outside astrometrics for Ensign Brooks, who was in line ahead of them, to finish.
“Correct,” Seven said. “It would appear that Irina’s plans failed in more ways than one. Her homeworld’s government seems more willing than ever now to contribute to the peace.”

“That’s good,” Sam said.
“Mom,” Naomi said, “are you sure Icheb can’t join us?”
Sam smiled as she stroked her daughter’s hair. “Sweetie, your grandma’s already going to have a lot to take in. Seeing you for the first time, me getting married again… I think introducing her to an adopted grandson at the same time might be a bit much.”
Perhaps I should let the two of you speak to her alone, Seven thought of saying, but inwardly scolded herself for thinking it. She hated feeling this uncomfortable about something that should be a positive.

“Okay,” Naomi said, grudging acceptance in her voice, though Seven had already heard her say the same thing in the same way only a few hours ago. Naomi was not shy about sharing her disappointment.

“You okay, Annie?” Sam said. “You look a little nervous.”
“Because I am,” Seven said. “Though I suppose that is a fairly common human response to such situations.”

“You’ll do fine,” Sam said. “To be honest, and Naomi you are not to breathe a word of this to anyone, it’s my Mom I’m worried about. Like I said before, she was never quite the same after Uncle Doug died. I’d be lying if I wasn’t terrified about how she’ll react when she sees you.”
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Naomi said, trying to reassure Samantha in a manner Seven found endearing. “Grandma will see how nice Seven is. She won’t be mad once she knows that Seven isn’t a Borg drone anymore.”

“We’ll see,” Sam said, “we’ll see.”

The sound of the door to astrometrics opening caught Seven’s attention. A smiling Ensign Brooks stepped out, though she did appear to have been crying as well.
“You’re up,” she said.
“You okay, Sue?” Sam said.
“Oh absolutely,” Brooks said. “I just saw my nephew for the first time. He was born just a few weeks after we ended up in the Delta Quadrant. I was so happy to see him I cried. I know it’s silly-”

“Hey, hey,” Sam said, “it’s perfectly normal. Don’t do this to yourself. And don’t worry, you’ll see him in person someday soon, I know it. With as many years as we’ve been shaving off the trip home lately, I bet you’ll be there to see him off to the Academy.”
“You know what?” Brooks said. “I think you’re right. Have fun talking to your parents, Sam,” Brooks said.

“Thanks,” Sam said. After taking a deep breath, she added, “All right, let’s do this.”
Sam, Seven, and Naomi entered astrometrics. Megan Delaney was standing where Seven normally would at a console as far from the viewscreen as she could get. It was a good chance anyone on the other end of the communication could still see her though, but someone had to be there in order to handle the adjustments required to keep the communication link stable.
“I’m arranging the call as we speak,” Megan said. “I’ll have your parents home comm on the screen in under a minute.”
“Thanks, Megan,” Sam said.
Seven felt Sam squeeze her hand as the image on the astrometrics lab screen went from a black screen with the Federation logo, to brief static, to a woman’s face.

“Hi, Mom,” Samantha said, smiling.
“Samantha, it is so good to see you again sweetheart,” Linette Wildman said, smiling, but looking tired, like she’d just woken up from oversleeping. “I was hoping I’d hear from you soon once we found out you were alive from your EMH.”

“It’s great to see you too, Mom,” Sam said. “Where’s Dad?”
“James wasn’t able to make it back,” Linette said. “He wants me to send his love though.”
“Right, I’d heard he came out of retirement after the war started,” Sam said.
“That’s right. He decided to stay after the Dominion surrendered though, and I can see why. We lost a lot of experienced Captains during the war. How’s Nancy?”
“Your sister’s fine,” Linette said. “Anti-social as usual.”

So far so good, Seven thought.
“Mom, I’ve got a few people I’d like you to meet,” Sam said, gently nudging Naomi to stand in front of her. Naomi smiled nervously and waved at the screen.
“Hi, grandma,” she said.
“Well hello there, Naomi. You really have grown so fast haven’t you? And I can see you have your father’s horns. You are just so adorable.”
Seven allowed herself a small smile.

“Thank you,” Naomi said. Linette’s smile rapidly faded when her gaze shifted to what would be her left.
“You must be the new spouse, I suppose,” she said.

“Mom,” Samantha said, “This is Annika.”
“A pleasure to see you, Mrs. Wildman,” Seven said, trying not to sound as uncomfortable as she felt by the sudden shift in her mother-in-law’s tone.

“Uh-huh,” Linette said, not sounding convinced. “So, Sam, is there any reason the Borg has to be here? Can’t I just talk to my daughter and granddaughter?”
Seven glanced over and saw the expressions of happiness on Sam and Naomi’s faces fade almost simultaneously.
“Mom, Annie and I are married. She’s part of this family. She has every right to be here. If this is about Greskrendtregk-”

“A little bit, yeah,” Linette said. “Is three years all it takes for you to get over a man you have a child with?”
“It’s more complicated than that, Mom,” Sam said. “I know this is a complicated situation but-”
“It shouldn’t be,” Linette said. “You were already married. I can’t believe the Federation would let this thing you have going with this Borg stand.”

Seven saw Sam’s face starting to turn red, though whether it was from embarrassment or anger at how her mother was behaving, she couldn’t tell. She took a deep breath, and responded.
“Mom, would you want to be the ones to tell the Denobulans, or the Elerians, or the Sklorno that their relationships are invalid?” she said, referring to only three of the numerous polyamourous species that held membership in the Federation. “And besides, Greskrendtregk moved on too when he thought I was dead. Ktarians process emotional trauma faster than humans. He’s sent letters, we’re fine. You make it sound like I just left him for some random woman.”

“No, not random. A Borg. The people who killed your Uncle and his entire crew at Wolf 359,” Linette said.

And there it is, Seven thought. A part of her had hoped this wouldn’t come up, but deep down she knew it was inevitable. Seven heard a soft whimper, the sound that Naomi made when she was trying very hard not to cry.
“Maybe I should leave,” Seven whispered to Sam.

“What were you thinking, Sam, really?” Linette said before Sam could respond. “After what happened to Doug? After everything the Borg have done to the Federation all it takes for you to forget is one of them to come along and shove her tits in your face-”
“Mom!” Sam yelled, sounding angrier than Seven could ever remember her sounding in the several years she’d known her. “You have no right to talk to her that way. She wasn’t there, and even if she had been she was a drone. She had no control over what she did while she was a Borg. But she’s free now, and she is my wife. She is a part of this family. If you don’t like her, fine, but do not talk about her that way. Especially don’t talk about her like she’s not here.”
“Okay,” Linette said. “What do you have to say for yourself then, Seven of Nine?”
I have never been this uncomfortable in my entire life, Seven thought.
“Um, well,” she said, “I’m sorry for what happened to your twin. I can’t begin to imagine how-”

“No, you can’t,” Linette said. “You’ve only been human for, what, three years now?”
“Oh my god, Mom, please stop,” Sam said, her head in one hand, the other holding Naomi close. Naomi clung tight to Sam’s leg, looking as uncomfortable as Seven felt.

“I think I have the right to know what kind of woman she is, Samantha. She is my daughter-in-law now, like it or not.”
“It has been approximately three years since I was freed from the Collective, yes,” Seven said.
“Yet you still talk like one of them. How do I know one day you won’t try to jam one of your assimilation devices into my little girl’s neck?”
Seven never got the chance to respond, as Sam slammed her hand down on the console to cut off the channel. Seven winced at the sound of the impact. As loud as it was, Sam must’ve hurt her hand when she did so.
“Sam?” Seven said, reaching out to touch Samantha’s arm. Sam was taking in deep breaths, her eyes closed.

“Mom,” Naomi said softly, “why was grandma being so mean?”

“She’s a- she’s never been the same since her twin brother died, sweetie,” Sam said. “She wasn’t always like this, I swear,” she added, looking at Seven when she did so.

Seven pulled Sam in close for a hug.
“I’m so sorry that didn’t go as you’d hoped,” she said.
Sam didn’t say anything, she simply started crying.

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