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

Chapter Four

Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay sat across from each other in the Captain’s quarters over lunch, like they did most days, but today’s lunch was quieter than usual.
“It’s been over a week, Kathryn,” Chakotay said, finally breaking the awkward silence. “If either the Vaadwaur or the Turei were going to come after us they’d have done so by now.”
“You’re probably right,” Janeway said, taking a sip of her coffee. “Let’s talk about other things.”
“What are your thoughts on how the Equinox survivors are doing?”
Chakotay picked up a PADD he had put on the table when lunch started.
“It so happens,” he said, “I was planning to bring that up later myself. The engineering staff seems to think pretty highly of Marla Gilmore, though she largely keeps to herself. James Morrow has been getting by in the labs, also stays pretty quiet. Brian Sofin does his job equally as well as the first two, but is a bit more sociable. Word has it he’s got a friendship budding with Neelix.”

“Wow,” Janeway said. “Making friends already? I’d hoped it would happen, but I also didn’t think it would happen this quickly.”
“Well,” Chakotay said with a wry grin, “remember how much you used to worry about the Starfleet and Maquis crews getting along?”
Janeway chuckled. “Good point. How long has it been since that was an issue for anybody?”

“I don’t even remember, I’d have to look it up.”

“Okay, so that covers three out of five. The other two?”
“Lessing is a little hard to get a bead on. He shows up on time, does his duties, then leaves. He doesn’t talk to anyone, not even the other Equinox crew near as anyone can tell. He’s not incompetent, but his department heads agree that he seems to be putting in the minimum amount of effort. He’s not being lazy, he gets things done when and how he’s told, but there’s a general sense that he could be doing better. It’s almost as if he doesn’t want to earn back any of the crew’s trust.”
“That could probably be guilt,” Janeway said. “Maybe he doesn’t feel like he deserves the second chance we’re giving him.”
“Seems likely,” Chakotay said. He sighed, then handed the PADD across to Janeway. “That just leaves Angelo Tassoni.”
“I’ve heard rumors. The word ‘asshole’ was used.”
“Sounds about right,” Chakotay said. “He hasn’t done anything we can actually throw him in the brig over, at least not yet. And he does show up for every single shift on time and does what he’s told, and does it well in all fairness. It’s his attitude everyone has a problem with. He comes across as smug, and several reports say that he still will try to defend Captain Ransom’s actions to anyone who tries to engage him in conversation. Even the other Equinox survivors don’t seem to want anything to do with him. I think we should consider reassigning him.”
“To where?” Janeway said. “The few things his file says he’s good at are things that would require more security access than I’ve allowed any of the Equinox crew to have so far. Short of just confining him to quarters, which I’d really rather not do when we’re still decades away from-”

Janeway stopped as she noticed the lights in the room dimmed suddenly. She was about to ask why, when the ship suddenly began shuddering. The com chirped and Harry Kim’s voice filled the room.
“Senior staff,” he said, “report to the bridge.”
Janeway tapped her com badge. “On our way.”

Chakotay wondered if maybe he’d been wrong about the Vaadwaur not coming after them, but if it were an attack, Harry would’ve given the order to go to battle stations first. He followed Janeway out of her quarters, and the two quickly made their way to the bridge, where Harry gave up the center chair as soon as they arrived. Both Tom Paris and Tuvok were already at their stations.

“Report,” Janeway said.
“We’ve got level nine gravimetric distortions closing on our position,” Harry said.

“They appear to be emanating from subspace,” Tuvok said.

“On screen,” Janeway said. The viewscreen showed space distorting behind Voyager, close enough that the ship’s own nacelles were in frame of the visual sensors. “Shields.”
“Already done,” Harry said.
The distortion on the viewscreen soon changed as the distortion completed its exit from subspace. Glowing bright orange and roughly oval shaped, it seemed to emit both flames and electrical sparks. It appeared to be following Voyager, but for some reason all Chakotay could think was that the distortion looked familiar somehow. Not in the sense that he had seen it personally, but perhaps in a textbook or an archive video.

“I can’t outrun this thing at impulse,” Tom said. “It’s catching up.”
“Go to warp,” Janeway said.

“It’s disrupting our warp field,” Tom said.

“Seven of Nine to the bridge,” Chakotay heard over the com. “I’m observing the situation from astrometrics. I recognize this anomaly from my time as a drone. We called it Spatial Anomaly 521. It’s attracted to objects that emit electromagnetic energy. I strongly advise we cut power and reverse our shield polarity.”
“Do it,” Janeway said without hesitation. The ship’s shuddering briefly got worse, then tapered off as the viewscreen showed the anomaly glide right past them.

“That was close,” Tom said. “If it had caught up to us the gravimetric forces would’ve ripped our hull right off.”

Chakotay began tapping away on the console by his arm, pulling up images from Starfleet records regarding gravimetric anomalies. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for.
“I was right,” he said.
“Commander?” Janeway said.
“I’ve seen this before too. In history books. It’s called a graviton ellipse. It travels through subspace. The Federation database confirms it. Look.” He shifted his monitor so the captain could see it.
“I’ll be damned,” she said. “It’s only been observed a handful of times. Looks like we get to add another encounter to the record.”

“Unless there’s more than one of these, Captain,” Chakotay said, “we just found the ellipse that took the Ares Four. It was a ship from one of the early Mars missions. Its command module and pilot, Lieutenant John Kelly, were engulfed by a phenomenon that looked just like that one, according to the records we have available from 2032.”

“I remember reading about that,” Tom said. “The two other astronauts were stranded there for weeks before a rescue ship arrived. I didn’t know you read about the Mars missions too, Commander.”

“I’ve spent some of my spare time reading up on pre-Federation Earth history,” Chakotay said. “I guess I can blame you for that, Tom. You’re history buff ways have rubbed off on me.”

“You’re welcome,” Tom said, smirking.

“Captain,” Chakotay continued, “no one has ever gotten this close to a graviton ellipse and lived to talk about it. This could be a remarkable opportunity.”
Janeway smiled and nodded. “Take us down to Yellow Alert. Keep our power output at minimal levels. Match the ellipse’s course and speed but keep a safe distance.”
“Yes, Captain,” Tom said.

“I suggest we launch a probe,” Chakotay said. “and maybe see what makes this thing tick.”
“Better make it quick,” Janeway said. “There’s no telling when our friend here is going to burrow back into subspace.”

Seven of Nine could not remember a time when she had seen Commander Chakotay quite so enthusiastic about something, especially not something relating to old Earth history. That had always seemed to be Ensign Paris’ field of interest. The Commander stood next to her now in astrometrics, waiting for the telemetry from the probe they’d sent into Anomaly 521.

“Ah, there we are,” Chakotay said, and Seven turned her gaze away from the screen to look at him and his console. “It appears to have entered a stable state, obviously temporary based on what we already know. Gravimetric forces appear to be negligible while in this state.”
“The eye of the storm?” Seven said.
“Good metaphor,” Chakotay said. “Computer, run a multispectral analysis of the anomaly’s core.”
“Analysis in progress,” the computer voice said.
“The Borg developed shields to get through the gravimetric currents,” Seven said. “But they intended to use them to dissipate the anomaly from within. I would need to modify the designs if we intend to explore the anomaly rather than destroy it.”
“I don’t know if we’ll be doing either,” Chakotay said. “Might be too risky. Though I won’t lie, if I had the chance to fly through that thing, just once, I’d probably take it. I’m a bit surprised the Borg were so interested in destroying it rather than learning how it operated. Seems to contradict their stated goals.”
Seven sighed. “Don’t even get me started,” she said quietly.
“Core analysis complete,” the computer said.
Seven and Chakotay both began going over the collected data as it appeared on both their monitors.
“There are more than 2.8 Billion compounds in the core,” Seven said, openly showing surprise. “Fascinating.”
“The computer’s isolated several synthetic alloys native to my home sector,” Chakotay said.
“It could be this Ares Four you mentioned earlier,” Seven said. She saw Chakotay looking up at the graphic representation of the graviton ellipse, smiling slightly.
“Could be,” he said. “An amazing discovery, don’t you think, Seven?”
Seven of Nine was not as interested in Earth history as Chakotay or Mister Paris were, and as such could not bring herself to share her shipmate’s enthusiasm. Luckily, she knew better than to say so out loud.
“Quite,” she said.

Later that day, in the briefing room, after the senior staff along with Seven had been filled in on the details of the Ares Four, Chakotay asked Seven about what she’d said to him in astrometrics about the Borg seeking a way inside the graviton ellipse.
“Do you think you could apply those shield enhancements to the Delta Flyer?” he said.
“I believe I could, yes,” Seven said. “Though I should note for the records the risks involved in going in there after the Ares Four commend module, as its value would be purely historical.”

“Your concerns are noted, Seven,” Janeway said.

“By my calculations,” Tuvok said, “we have less than sixteen hours before the anomaly returns to subspace.”
“We’ll have to work quickly then,” Janeway said. Chakotay was sure he heard a hint of excitement creeping into her voice. He couldn’t help but smile. The Captain had seemed to have been going through the motions the past several months. Her funk was not quite as severe as what she’d went through during their time in dark space last year, but she still seemed to be feeling emotional after effects of everything that had happened with the Equinox.
“An engineering team could help me modify the Flyer’s shields more quickly, Captain,” Seven said, bringing Chakotay’s attention back to the matter at hand.
“Agreed. B’Elanna, I want you and Vorik to help Seven,” Janeway said.
“Aye, Captain,” B’Elanna said.
“Tom,” Janeway said, “review the database from the Ares Four mission. It might tell us something about this anomaly we’ve missed.” Janeway smiled as she glanced knowingly at Chakotay. “Now, we’re going to need a mission leader,” she said.
“I volunteer,” Chakotay said, not needing any further prompting.
“I thought you might,” Janeway said. “Let’s do it.”

Tom chuckled. “Beat me to the punch, Commander.”
“Don’t worry, Tom,” Chakotay said. “We’ll be taking the Flyer in. Can’t do that without her pilot now can we?”

“Two history buffs in one shuttle?” Tom said. “We’ll end up getting nerd all over the bulkheads.”
“Better nerd than testosterone,” B’Elanna said.
Janeway and Harry both started laughing, while Tuvok merely raised an eyebrow. Seven just smirked and shook her head while tapping out calculations on a PADD.
“Okay, enough small talk,” Janeway said. “Get to work. Dismissed.”

“Thanks for agreeing to this, Commander,” Samantha said as Naomi moved to get a better view of the screen in astrometrics. “She heard about the Ares Four and the mission to recover the command module, and now all of a sudden Earth history is her passion. This week, anyway.”
“Mom,” Naomi said defensively.
Chakotay simply laughed. “No problem,” he said, “though since this is a time sensitive mission, Tom and I will be picking up from where we left off in the records instead of starting over.”
“That’s okay,” Naomi said.
“You’re welcome to stay too of course, Sam,” Tom said.
“Sure,” Samantha said, shrugging, and moving to take a seat on the floor next to her daughter.

The video in the center of the screen, surprisingly clear given how old it was began playing and the man who Samantha had figured was John Kelly, began describing what he was seeing, a view that the recording device was not picking up.
“It’s not a solar flare,” Kelly said. “Wow.”

“John, can you describe it?” a female voice on the recording said.
“It’s… it’s at least one thousand meters wide. Bright.” The video started to fill with static. Another voice, this one male, chimed in.
“Your transmission is breaking up,“ that voice said.

“It’s generating an electromagnetic radiation,” Lieutenant Kelly said. “Interfering with primary systems. I can’t get away from it.”
The lights inside the command module dimmed, but for a moment the video cleared up. Kelly reached off-screen.
“Activating the transpectral imager,” he said. “I’ll record as much data as I can.” The image began shaking violently, and the static increased. Samantha looked over at Naomi, who simply stared in open awe at the historical footage, even though all it was was a human strapped into a chair, the way pilots were in the days before artificial gravity.

“It’s right on top of me!” Kelly said. “I’ll transmit as much I can-” the video filled with static, and all audio stopped.
“NASA,” Chakotay said, “that was the name of the organization Kelly worked for,” he added, looking at Naomi and Sam. “they received Kelly’s last telemetry at 0922 hours, October 19, 2032. The early Mars missions paved the way for humanity’s exploration of space.”

“And now the anomaly that he saw is here in the Delta Quadrant,” Naomi said. “Wow.”
“‘Wow is right,” Tom said.
“He was certainly dedicated,” Chakotay said. “His life was about to end, but he wouldn’t stop taking readings.”
“Like a real explorer,” Naomi said. Samantha put her hand on Naomi’s head.
“Don’t go getting any ideas,” she said. “Save the dangerous exploring for when you’re older.”

The hiss of the door to astrometrics opening distracted both of them before Naomi could respond.
“Am I interrupting?” Seven of Nine said as she entered, visibly surprised to see Sam and Naomi here, but not letting it throw her off.
“Not at all,” Chakotay said. “Are the shield modifications to the Delta Flyer complete?”
“They are,” Seven said, handing a PADD to the Commander. “We’re ready for launch.”
“We?” Chakotay said.
News to me too, Samantha thought.

“I asked the Captain to allow me to join the mission to ensure that the Borg shield modifications can be repaired quickly if any unforeseeable problems arise,” Seven said. “I do not believe it to be likely, but give the volatile nature of the anomaly, well, I believe the phrase is ‘better safe than sorry?’”
“Can I come too?” Naomi said.
“No,” Seven and Samantha said in unison, much to Tom and Chakotay’s apparent amusement.
“Please tell me B’Elanna and I don’t do that,” Tom said.
“Not that I’ve heard at least,” Chakotay said. “Back to the subject, I wish the Captain had informed me about this before hand. Tom and I were planning to go in ourselves.”
“It is still your mission, Commander,” Seven said. “I am simply going along as… added insurance.”

Chakotay looked at Tom, who simply shrugged. “Alright then, welcome to the team, Seven. We’ll just need to see the Doctor before we take off.”

“I’m preparing an inoculant to counter the effects of gravimetric radiation,” the Doctor said, holding up a yellow vial while scanning it with a medical device that Chakotay could swear he had never seen before.
I really should know what all this medical equipment is called, he thought. I might need to help the Doctor out in a pinch, or worse. After six years you’d think I’d know some of it already.
“We’re all finished here,” the Doctor said after having applied the inoculant to Chakotay, Tom, and Seven. “except for one thing.”
“And that is?” Chakotay said, anxious to get the mission started so he could see the Ares Four up close before it was too late. The Doctor went over to one of the bio-beds, and picked up his holo-camera off the end of it. He made a move to hand it to Chakotay.
“If you want pictures, Doc,” Tom said, “you could just come with us. You know as well as anyone that the Flyer can easily seat four comfortably.”
“I asked the Captain, but she wouldn’t let me,” the Doctor said, looking dejected.
“Just take the camera, Commander,” Seven of Nine said. “If you don’t we’ll never hear the end of it.”

Chakotay bit back a laugh and nodded, taking the camera.
“Our focus will be on recovering the module,” he said as he put the camera into the mission gear bag. “But if we can get a few glamour shots of the inside of the ellipse for you, I’ll take them.”
“That’s all I’m asking for, Commander,” the Doctor said with that big smile he would always get; the one that Chakotay would find either charming or annoying depending on the context.
“Team,” he said, “report to the shuttle bay.”
“Yes sir,” Tom said.
“Yes, Commander,” Seven said.

The three swiftly made their way to the shuttle bay to board the Delta Flyer. After one last check-up of the shield enhancements by Seven, they left Voyager and headed straight towards the graviton ellipse.
“We’re approaching the perimeter,” Tom said, “in five, four, three, two, one.”
The small craft shuddered slightly as it passed through the outer edge of the anomaly, yellow and orange gases resembling dancing flames moving across the viewport. The shuddering got worse, but that was to be expected.
“Shields are holding,” Seven said.
“Gravimetric shear is increasing,” Tom said.
“I’m reading a spot up ahead with minimal disturbance,” Chakotay said. “Tom, go to full thrusters and punch us through. We’ll be safer in there.”
“Got it,’ Tom said. Within seconds, the Flyer stopped shuddering. Chakotay looked forward, and along with the omnipresent orange glow and flashes of yellow lightning, he could see debris scattered throughout the inside of the ellipse, much of it too small to ever be identifiable.
“Chakotay to Voyager,” he said. “We’re in. I wish you could see this, Captain. It’s incredible.”

“We’re all ears,” Janeway’s voice said over the Flyer’s com system.

Chakotay needed a moment to collect himself. He had seen some spectacular things in the galaxy, even before getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but this was easily among the most amazing.

“It’s very calm,” he said. “No gravimetric distortions. The E.M. activity is creating a natural luminescence. Tom called it ‘mood lighting.’”
“Hey, B’Elanna,” Tom interrupted, “it’s the perfect romantic getaway.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” B’Elanna replied.

“We’ve detected asteroid fragments,” Chakotay continued, “pieces of vessels, matter from every quadrant of the galaxy. Next time I lose something I’ll know where to look. The chemical interactions here have even created a primitive atmosphere.”

“Nothing you’d want to breathe of course,” Tom said.
“Some of the matter appears to be extra-dimensional in origin,” Seven said.
“Amazing,” Chakotay said.
“Indeed,” Seven said.
“Any sign of the Ares’ command module?” Janeway said.

“We’re picking up traces of the hull,” Tom said, “but our sensor readings are being refracted by all the debris in here.”

Chakotay thought he heard a slight hissing sound on the other end of the com.
“That was a gravimetric surge,” Tuvok said, “caused by the anomaly altering its course by .006 degrees.”
“Did you catch that?” Janeway said.
“Affirmative,” Chakotay said, “but we didn’t feel anything.”
“Makes sense given how deep you are,” Janeway said. “By our estimate you have five hours and thirty-six minutes before the ellipse returns to subspace. You better hurry it up.”
“Understood,” Chakotay said.
“I’m having difficulty isolating the debris from the command module,” Seven said. Chakotay thought he picked up a hint of disappointment in her voice. He wondered if maybe some of the crew’s general excitement about the historical find had rubbed off on her after all.

“I’m laying in a search pattern,” Tom said from the helm. “It’ll probably take a few hours to cover an area this large.”
“Seven, you and I can take that time to get some samples,” Chakotay said. “We’ll get a better idea of where this anomaly been.”
“Is that the best use of our time, Commander?” Seven said.
“Our primary objective is to retrieve the module,” Chakotay said. “but until Tom can get a lock on its position…”
“Good point. Perhaps we can learn something valuable to benefit Voyager in the interim,” Seven said.

Seven ran a tricorder over several pieces of ephemera beamed aboard the Flyer from the inside of the graviton ellipse. Nothing collected so far had piqued her own interest, but the Commander’s excitement with each new discovery was palpable.
“The fossilized microbes in this ore,” she said, stopping to focus on one particular piece of debris on the table in the center of the Flyer’s back room, “appear to have had metallic membranes.”
“We’ve speculated about the possibility of metallic lifeforms,” Chakotay said, “but we’ve never discovered one.”
“We still may not have,” Seven said. “This is certainly strong evidence, but I would refrain from labelling it proof just yet.”
“Fair point,” Chakotay said. “Catalogue it anyway though.”
“Already done,” Seven said. “I have been doing so as I scan.”
“Efficient,” Chakotay said.
“Naturally,” Seven said, allowing herself a bit of pride, though careful as always not to be too much so.

“Is there anything you ever just wing, Seven?” Chakotay asked in a jovial tone.
“Nothing I’m allowed to disclose,” Seven said. Chakotay snorted.
“Okay, I walked right into that one,” he said. He ran his own tricorder over the piece of ore that Seven had found the evidence for metallic life on.
“This piece of rock,” he said, “is billions of years older than Earth. From a time when the galaxy was still forming. We’re scanning a piece of history. Maybe even the beginnings of life itself.”
“Put that way,” Seven said, “perhaps I should show this a rock a bit more… reverence than I have.”
“You’re under no obligation to feel as excited about this as anyone else, Seven. I’m just hoping to convey why I’m excited. I get the feeling you don’t always ‘get’ human behavior, even after all you’ve experienced.”
“That is an accurate assessment, Commander,” Seven said. “I apologize if I’ve been ‘ruining your moment.’”
“Not at all,” Chakotay said, before going back to scanning some of the other items. “You know, I could easily spend the rest of my life studying the stuff we find in here.”
“And leave Voyager without its First Officer?” Seven asked.
“I think you’d manage without me,” he said, “but don’t worry, I’m not actually going to leave. Just saying that I could. Paleontology was an early love of mine. I wonder why I let it slide as much as I have. I don’t think I’ve ever even talked about it with anyone on the Voyager crew, not that I can remember anyway.”
“Not as many opportunities to take part in dig sites when one is constantly on the move,” Seven said. “Were the journey to the Alpha Quadrant not the ship’s priority, I imagine you would have had a number of opportunities.”
“Good point,” Chakotay said. “though even before then, it seemed like something would get in the way of pursuing it. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were younger, Seven? Before you were assimilated, I mean.”
“My memories of that time are sketchy,” Seven admitted, “but from what I can recall, I wanted to be a dancer. A ballerina to be specific. That is why on our early dates, Samantha would often take me to live performances on the holodeck.” Seven smiled as she remembered one performance in particular, the one where Sam had said “I love you” to her for the first time
“Have you pursued that interest in your spare time since then?” Chakotay asked.
“No,” Seven said. “I no longer have the desire to perform.” She sighed. “Just one more thing the Borg took from me I’m afraid.”

“Sorry,” Chakotay said. “Didn’t mean to trigger any bad memories.”

“No offense taken,” Seven said. “Samantha and I have had similar conversations before. I am at least grateful that Naomi will likely not face the kinds of impediments to her own desires that I did.”

“Amen to that,” Chakotay said.

The com chirped, and Tom’s voice filled the back room. “Head’s up folks,” he said. “I think we’re getting close.”

“On our way,” Chakotay said, heading for the door back to the cockpit. Seven put down her tricorder, and followed close behind.

Chakotay took his seat as Tom began filling him in on what the Delta Flyer’s sensors had found.
“I’ve isolated the module,” he said. “Bearing 39, Mark 1-5. There.”
Chakotay looked out the viewport, and almost gasped at what he saw. It wasn’t just the debris of the Ares Four, it was the command module itself, largely whole, with only a few pieces floating around it.

“It appears to be largely intact,” Seven said.
“I’m reading hull breaches and corrosion,” Chakotay said, now looking down at his console. “All things considered though, it is very well preserved. I can honestly say I did not expect this much of it to be in one piece.”
“Agreed,” Seven said. “There is no way we would be able to fit that in our cargo bay.”
“Not without breaking it up into smaller pieces,” Tom said, “which I’m assuming we don’t want to do.”
“You assume correctly, Ensign,” Chakotay said. “We can use a tractor beam to tow it back to Voyager.”
“We’d have to extend our shields around it to keep it from getting more damaged than it already is on the way out,” Tom said. “Can we do that, Seven?”
“With some minor modifications, yes,” Seven said.

Chakotay started to tell Seven to start working on that right away, but was cut off by the voice of Captain Janeway, hailing them from Voyager.
“Janeway to Delta Flyer. We’ve got a problem. The anamoly’s on a collision course with a dark matter asteroid.”
“Captain,” Chakotay said, “we’ve located the Mars orbiter. We’re adapting a tractor beam. Just give us a minute.”
“You don’t have it, get out of there. We have no idea how the ellipse will react when it collides with the asteroid.”
Chakotay felt his heart sink, and glancing at Tom he could tell the helmsman felt the same way.
“Is the tractor beam ready?” Chakotay said.
“About, sir,” Tom said, “but-”
“Lock on to it and take us out,” Chakotay said. It would be a risky maneuver, one that would probably get him chewed out by the captain later, but he wasn’t willing to let this chance go, not yet. The view outside the forward viewport shifted as Tom maneuvered the Flyer into position.
“Tractor beam engaged,” he said.
“Good work, Tom,” Chakotay said.
“Chakotay, you’ve got less than a minute,” Janeway’s voice said.
“Acknowledged,” Chakotay said.
“The module is slowing us down,” Tom said.
“Maintain tractor lock,” Chakotay said. “Seven, how long until we clear the anomaly?”

“At our current speed, forty seconds,” Seven said.

“We can do this,” Chakotay said, the ship beginning to shudder as it approached the barrier.
“Chakotay, status,” Janeway’s voice said. Even through the static Chakotay could pick up on the concern in her voice.

“We’re on our way,” he said, not even needing to ask Voyager to know that he was cutting it dangerously close.

“Almost-” Seven started to say, but was cut off when a shockwave hit the Flyer, sending it flying backwards into the anomaly, the inertial dampeners barely managing to compensate and keep the G forces from rendering them all unconscious.
“Tom?” Chakotay said.
“The tractor beam was disconnected by whatever hit us,” Tom said.
“The shockwave must’ve been the result of the dark matter asteroid colliding with the ellipse,” Seven said. “Had our shields not held we likely would’ve been destroyed.”
“The module?” Chakotay asked.
“Still there, looks like we took the worst of it.”
Delta Flyer to Voyager,” Chakotay said. No response.
“We’ve lost contact,” Seven said. “I can’t raise them. Propulsion is off-line as well.”
Chakotay sighed.
“Damn,” he said. “This is my fault. I put collecting a historical artifact ahead of the safety of my team.”
“I can’t say I might not have done the same thing, Chakotay,” Tom said. “Don’t beat yourself up over it. Unless we die, then yeah, beat yourself up over it.”
“Gentlemen,” Seven said, “I suggest we focus on repairs. The anomaly is showing signs of returning to subspace. We have less than two hours.”

“That might be enough time,” Chakotay said, taking his own look at the damage report. “The engines are in really bad shape.”

The ship shuddered, but not the shockwave this time.
“A gravimetric surge,” Seven said. “They will only increase the closer the anomaly gets to its return to subspace.”

The next twenty minutes were quiet and tense aboard the Delta Flyer, but Seven of Nine did not let it get to her. She still did not care for prolonged silence, but she also knew that the situation required everyone’s focus if they were to return to Voyager. There would be time to discuss how the mission could’ve gone differently later.

Voyager to Delta Flyer,” Janeway’s staticy voice said over the com system.

“Excellent,” Seven said. “I was concerned that repair might not work. Voyager, this is Seven of Nine. We read you.”
“Are you alright? What’s your status?”

“We’ve sustained heavy damage,” Chakotay said. “but we’re alive. It’s good to hear your voice.”
“Likewise,” Janeway said. “Give me a full report.”
Chakotay did so, not leaving out why the Delta Flyer had not exited the anomaly as quickly as it could’ve.
“Captain,” he said, “I take full responsibility for-”
“We’ll discuss that later,” Janeway said. “Right now, let’s focus on saving your lives.”
“We’re open to any ideas, Captain,” Tom said.
“We’re working on that. Stand by.”

Chakotay looked at the chronometer. Only eighty-two minutes left, and still no solution. Each passing minute only increased his self-loathing. If he’d been on this shuttle alone that would be one thing, but thanks to him not one but two of Voyager’s best crewmembers were about to lose someone they loved. Tragedy compounding upon tragedy. At least with the comm channel open again they’d all get a chance to say goodbye if the worst came to pass.
“It may be possible to modify a tractor beam to cut through the gravimetric interference,” Tuvok said.

“You’ll never be able to get it all the way through to the core,” Harry Kim said.
“Start working on it anyway,” Janeway said.

“You said all the energy conduits are fused?” B’Elanna said.
“Correct,” Seven said. “We can’t get any power to the engines.”
“If the replicators were working we could whip up a new plasma manifold and be on our way,” Tom said.

“Tom, this isn’t the time to be sarcastic,” B’Elanna said “we’re trying to… hang on, I’ve just been sent a message to my PADD. It’s anonymous for some reason, why would…”
There was a long enough silence that Chakotay was afraid they’d lost the connection to Voyager again.
“Well I’ll be damned,” B’Elanna said. “How does an old plasma manifold sound?”
“What?” Tom said.
“The message I got. It said the power distribution system on the Area Four module isn’t that different from the Flyer’s I ran a check on the schematics. It won’t be pretty, and the manifold would probably be burnt out by the time you got back, but it could be enough to get you out of there.”

“Where is it on the module?” Tom asked.
“In a control panel in the main cockpit,” B’Elanna said. “I’m send the relevant schematic to you now. It was called an ion distributor. With just a few tweaks it could be modified to channel warp plasma.”
“Do you have enough power to beam one of you to the module?” Janeway said.
“Yes, Captain,” Tom said. “I’ll go.”
“No,” Chakotay said. “I’ll do it. I got us into this mess, it’s my responsibility to get us out.”
“And besides,” Janeway said, “If another gravimetric surge hits we’ll need you at the helm.”

“Seven,” Chakotay said, standing up and moving towards the back of the Flyer. “help me into an EVA suit and beam me over to the module.”
“Understood,” Seven said, getting up follow him. Once they were in the back, Chakotay quickly began getting into the suit while Seven checked to make sure the oxygen tank was fully connected and fully stocked.
“Let me know when we are ready, Seven,” he said. He felt somewhat nervous. A part of him felt he didn’t deserve this chance to set foot on the Ares Four, a piece of Earth history, when he had so nearly gotten his shipmate’s killed trying to retrieve it. “Perhaps you should go instead,” he said, the guilt getting to him as he reached for the helmet.
“Commander,” Seven said, “don’t allow your desire for penance to cloud your judgement. Apart from Mister Paris, you are the one most qualified to complete this mission. Don’t use your guilt as an excuse to let me take away something that is rightfully yours.”
“You make that sound like an order, Ensign,” Chakotay said.
“Write me up for insubordination when we return to Voyager. The suit’s systems are all nominal. We can begin transport at any time.”

Chakotay affixed the helmet, turned on the suit’s wrist-mounted flashlight, and gave the order to energize. Within seconds, he was inside the Ares Four module, the first living human to have done so in over three hundred years.
“Well, here I am,” Chakotay said, as he took out a tricorder and began scanning for the ion distributor. He also looked for a data port of some kind. Perhaps, if there was time, and if the module’s computer had held up well enough over the centuries, he could download all sorts of data that would be great for the history books.

He almost gasped when his light shone on the center chair of the cockpit. There sat the body of Lieutenant John Kelly. It was remarkably well preserved, even considering the conditions on the module. He wondered if perhaps he could bring it back with him, so the astronaut could be given a proper funeral, but first things first. He attached a portable battery device to the ship’s computer, giving it the energy it would need to run. An active data file containing log entries from Kelly opened, but he muted the sound right away. He set his tricorder to begin a background downloading of the files while he continued to look for the distributor.
Perhaps, he thought, at the end of the day all of this, even the risk, will have been worth it.

It took Chakotay a moment to realize that he had seen the timestamp on the recording before he’d paused it.
“Tom,” he said, “did you hear that sound before I muted it?”

“Yeah,” Tom said over the suit’s com. “Was that a recording of Lieutenant Kelly?”
“Yes,” Chakotay said.
“Thought so.”
“Tom, that log entry was recorded inside the ellipse.”
“For real?”
“I’m surprised too,” Chakotay said. “Just like his crew on Mars, I’d assumed he’d been killed instantly. I’m downloading the files now while I’m still searching for that ion distributor.”

“Wow. Just, wow,” Tom said. Chakotay had to echo the sentiment.

B’Elanna Torres entered engineering. As was usually the case during a situation such a rescue op, all hands were on deck, including people for whom this was not their assigned shift. In some cases engineers were here on their day off, but not the one who she wanted to talk to. PADD in hand, she went over to a console where Ensign Vorik and Marla Gilmore were going over a simulation of tractor beam modifications.
“Marla,” B’Elanna said, “can I talk to you for a second?”
The former Equinox engineer looked nervous, and for a moment turned to Vorik, as if she expected him to protect her.
“Yes, ma’am,” Marla said. “I’m sorry if I shouldn’t be here, but Mister Carey told me this was an all hands-”
“It is,” B’Elanna said. “And stop looking like you’re expecting a punch in the face already, you’re making me sad.”
“Look, I just want you to know,” B’Elanna handed the PADD to Marla, whose eyes went wide when she realized what was on it, “I think I know why you felt like you couldn’t take credit for your idea regarding using the ion distributor on the Ares Four.”
Marla looked back on Vorik, who raised his hands.
“I did not inform her, as per your request,” he said.
“Then how did-”
“You did a shitty job of covering your tracks,” B’Elanna said. “I can see why you chose the Engineering Corp over Starfleet Intelligence. Took me all of two minutes to figure out who sent this.”
“I apologize, Lieutenant Torres,” Marla said, her face turning red.
“In the future, Gilmore, if you have an idea to bring to the table just bring it. I get that you feel guilt about what you did on the Equinox, but that’s a good thing. Bad people don’t feel guilty, they just make excuses. And as for your face, so long as you remain Marla Gilmore and don’t magically turn into Maxwell Burke, you don’t have to worry about me punching it.”
“Um, thank you?” Marla said.
“We’re in touch with the Delta Flyer,” B’Elanna said. “So far the plan seems to be working. Just thought you should know. Good work, Gilmore.”

Chakotay had finally found what he was looking for, along with some other smaller items that he stowed in pouches on the suit, including a picture of Lieutenant Kelly and his wife. That was the good news.
“Bad news,” he said. “I’ve found the distributor but it’s fused to the hull. I’m trying to remove it without damaging it.”
“Hate to rush you,” Tom said, “but we’ve only got fifteen minutes left.”
“Working on it,” Chakotay said. “In the meantime, I’ve found Kelly’s last log entry. I can play it over the com.”
“Go ahead,” Tom said. “Not much for Seven and me to do until you get back apart from keeping the Flyer level.”

Chakotay reached over and flipped a switch on the console, and the video began playing.

“All systems go. Watch me, Dad. I’m flying,” Kelly said, just before making a noise imitating a crash landing. “Bad landing. Call a MedEvac team. John Kelly’s first flight, not exactly A-OK. Remember that, Dad? Jumped off the roof with a parachute made out of blankets. I guess I didn’t calculate the aerodynamics. Of course, I was only six. I guess this is John Kelly’s last flight. This time, I can’t blame it on pilot error. This time, no regrets. What I’ve seen proves we were right to come out here. We’re not alone, I know that now. The module’s losing power. I’m taking life support off-line. Re-routing whatever’s left to the imager. Keep it running as long as possible. Mission Control… Dad… Whoever finds this… Do me a favor. Take all the data I’ve collected. Put it to good use. I hope you don’t look at this as a failure. I don’t. Actually, I do have one regret. I never found out who won the World Series. I’m tired. And I can’t…“

“That’s it,” Chakotay said. “It goes blank after that. I- wait, hang on. Yes, I’ve got the distributor, and the download of Kelly’s database is almost complete.”

“Hurry, Commander,” Seven said. “We’re running out of time.”
“Good thing I had this running the whole time then. Just a few more seconds, and… Done! Beam me back. No, wait, hang on one second.” Chakotay fumbled in one of the suit’s pouches and found a spare comm badge. Most Starfleet suits had one, just in case. “Lock on to my comm badge as well as the suit’s back-up. We’re bringing Lieutenant Kelly home with us.”
“Aye, sir,” Tom said.

Janeway paced back and forth on Voyager’s bridge, waiting for an update from the crew members on the Delta Flyer.
“Paris to Voyager,” Tom’s voice came through with a bit of static, but understandable.
“Report,” Janeway said.

“We’re trying to integrate the distributor. Stand by, Captain.”

“How long do they have?” Janeway asked Tuvok.
“Four minutes,” he said.
After a silence that Janeway could swear she actually felt more than heard, Tom’s voice came through again.
“Paris to Voyager, open the shuttle bay doors, we’re coming home.
“Yes,” Harry said cheerfully.

“Acknowledged,” Janeway said, letting out a sigh of relief.
“Laying in an escape trajectory,” Tom said, “and away we-” The sound of sparking in the background made Janeway tense up again.
“The anomaly is beginning to return to subspace,” Tuvok said.
“The Flyer?” she said.
“Eighteen hundred meters from the perimeter,” Harry said. “They’re cutting it close but it looks like they’re going to make it.”

“Captain, the anomaly’s submerging faster than anticipated!” B’Elanna shouted from the auxiliary engineering console.
“Tuvok, are we in tractor range?”
“Not quite. We would need to get three hundred meters closer,” he said.
“Do it,” Janeway said.
“That’s dangerously close, ma’am,” Harry said.
“Full reverse thrusters once we have a lock on the Flyer,” she said. “We can do this.”

Voyager shuddered as they moved closer to the graviton ellipse, space around it looking as it had on the viewscreen when it was first appearing.
“I have them, Captain,” Tuvok said, several tense seconds later.
“Good work. Now get us out of here.”

“So in the end, we collected sixty teraquads of data on the anomaly,” Seven told Sam as they walked toward the turbolift side by side.
“Impressive work, Annie.”
“The entire team deserves credit for the effort,” Seven said.
“Well, still,” Sam said.
“Will you be joining us on the bridge for the ceremony?”
“I don’t think so,” Sam said. “I’ve never been good at funerals. Even if it was for someone I never met. It’s good that Lieutenant Kelly is going to get a proper one though. His poor family back on Earth, three hundred years ago, they probably had a memorial service, but without a body I imagine for some of them it made it hard to accept.”
“Well, since I am attending, I suppose this is where we part ways until lunch.” Seven gave Sam a kiss on the cheek. “I will see you later.”
“See ya,” Sam said, turning to head back the way they come, as Seven continued on to the turbolift to the bridge.

Once there, Seven moved to join the rest of the senior staff as they gathered around Kelly’s remains, which had been put into a photon torpedo casing draped in a Starfleet Command flag.

“Are we ready to begin?” Janeway said.
“The ceremony is being broadcast shipwide, Captain,” Harry said.
“Very well,” Janeway said, clearing her throat before continuing.

“Space. Literally it means ‘nothing.’ A vacuum between stars and planets, but by the same token it means “everything.” It’s what connects all our worlds; Vulcan, Qo’noS, Talax, Earth. Centuries ago mankind sent its first wave of explorers into that void, astronauts like Mister Kelly. They paved the way for the first colonies, the first starships for those of us who’ve made space our home. We commend the spirit and the bravery of Lieutenant John Mark Kelly as we commit his body to space. He will not be forgotten.

“Oh, and one last thing. I don’t know if Mister Kelly can hear us now, but on the off-chance he can…” Janeway smiled as she put her hand on the torpedo casing. “The Yankees, in Game Six.”


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