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

“A party?” Brian Sofin asked.
“Well, yes,” Neelix said. “I’ve been shirking my duties lately as morale officer, and things may seem normal, but I think you know as well as I do, Brian, that morale hasn’t recovered any in the past two months.”

“Can you blame them?”
“Of course not,” Neelix said. “But I knew Commander Chakotay pretty well, and he would not want us to use his death as an excuse to stop living.”
“Neither would I, but… A party?”
“It’s the best way I know to boost moral for the majority of the crew,” Neelix said. “And it’s not like it’s completely random, I have a justification.”

“Which is?”
“We’re a few days away from the the 315th anniversary of Vulcan-Human First Contact. Without that event, the Federation you know and love probably wouldn’t exist today.”
Sofin winced. “Right, I forgot this week was First Contact Day. My parents always liked to watch old recording of Zefram Cochrane speeches on FC day. I would watch with them when I could, unless I was on assignment, before, well…”

“Exactly!” Neelix said. “I’ve already thrown one FC day party before; five years ago for the 310th. I think I even still have the decorations that Kes helped me make in storage.”
Brian looked like he was considering Neelix’s idea carefully. He smiled, and Neelix knew he had a helper to put this thing together for the crew. He knew from experience that nothing would be 100% exactly as it was before the Commander’s death, just as things changed to one degree or another after the loss of any crewmember, but at least the ship would start to feel like a home again.

“Enter,” Joe Carey said, staring at his unfinished ship-in-a-bottle. The tiny Voyager inside only had one nacelle left to go. It had had only one nacelle left to go for months. Work on the project, despite it being his favorite hobby, came to a screeching halt when Commander Chakotay died.
“I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” B’Elanna said as she entered Carey’s quarters.

“No,” Carey said. “How can I help you?”

“I’ll get straight to the point. You know I’m starting my maternity leave next week. The Doctor thinks I should start it sooner but, screw him. The point is, I need you to take over as chief engineer while I’m on bed rest, and for at least the first few weeks with Miral.”

“Mir- Oh, I didn’t know you and Tom had picked a name,” Carey said.
“I said it in engineering the other day, Joe. Which you’d know if you’d shown up on time.”
“Sorry, about that,” Joe said. “I just-”
“I know why,” B’Elanna said. “I know what survivor’s guilt looks like, Joe. I let it slide for a good while, made everyone else keep quiet and not report it to the captain, but you’ve been slacking. Showing up late, doing the bare minimum…”
“Then why are you asking me to take charge?” Joe said.
“Vorik’s not ready for a leadership role, Mulcahey’s a floater between engineering and transporter control, and Gilmore hasn’t earned back all her clearances yet. That leaves you. I know you took it hard and that you blame yourself, but two months is too long. Especially when it’s not like we can just pop over to a Starbase or colony and give you extended shore leave.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Joe said. “Fact is I’ve been feeling guilty about my survivor’s guilt. Don’t tell me how silly that sounds, I know. I’ve been thinking for awhile I need to just get back to work. I guess I just needed a kick in the pants to do it.”
B’Elanna smiled and gave Joe a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Well, that went easier than I expected. I was worried I’d have to shout at you.”
Joe laughed. “Better that than breaking my nose.”
B’Elanna shook her head. “Seven years later and you still won’t let that go huh?”
“Hey, I forgave you a long time ago, you know that. But forgiveness doesn’t automatically mean I stop ribbing you about it.” Joe laughed. He was pretty sure it was the first time he’d laughed in awhile.
“There’s the Joe Carey I know and tolerate,” B’Elanna said with a wink. “Now get your ass to engineering so I can give my last set of orders to the team.”

Captain Janeway sat in her chair as the current bridge shift started, coffee in hand. Tuvok, still looking like he felt out of place in command red, sat in the first officer’s chair, looking at his monitor. Sue Brooks was at the helm today. Harry was at ops, and Lieutenant Ayala at tactical. Seven of Nine and Samantha Wildman were on the bridge for this shift as well. All was normal, or at least the new normal.

A beeping from the ops console broke Janeway’s train of thought.
“I’m picking up a signal from an emergency beacon. It’s degraded considerably, the beacon looks to be decades old, at least.”
“Can you decipher the signal?” Janeway said.
Harry tapped a few buttons, and Janeway saw his eyes go wide.
“I recognize this,” he said.
“The signal. It’s a distress beacon, I can tell that much. Text, no audio, or at least none I’ve registered yet. References to a ‘generation ship,‘ I think. Captain, the message is in an old dialect of Talaxian.”
“Well, that’s certainly unexpected,” Samantha Wildman said from the main science station.
“To put it mildly,” Seven said.
“Shall I have Mister Neelix summoned to the bridge?” Commander Tuvok said.
“Absolutely,” Janeway said. “He’ll want to see this. And maybe have some idea how a Talaxian signal got out this far.”
“If Mister Kim’s translation is correct,” Seven said, “I believe the phrase ‘generation ship’ may be the answer.”
“I don’t recall him saying anything his people having sent out generation ships before,” Harry said, “but then again based on how old the sensor data tells us that beacon is it’s older than he is. It’s possible it just never occurred to him to mention it.”

Neelix watched the viewscreen, pacing because he was too excited to sit down. Upon being informed of the situation he had to give it considerable thought, but a quick skim of his old ship’s historical database confirmed what he suspected; this was from a ship that his ancestors had launched in the early days of their exploration into space.
Its name was in a dialect that hadn’t been used on his homeworld since before he was born, but it’s name translated roughly as The Future. It had left Talax with 7 female and 5 male crew members, plus 1300 Talaxians from all walks of life in cryogenic sleep. His people had gone looking for it once they’d developed faster-than-light drives, and made contact with other species, but no sign of The Future had ever been found, and it was presumed lost. Neelix wondered how it had gotten this far out. Even back then, according to Seven of Nine, the Borg were active in the Delta Quadrant, along the most likely path the ship would’ve had to take to get from Talax to where the beacon had been found.
“Perhaps the Talaxians found a wormhole that we missed,” Harry said.
“Possible,” Seven said, “though the timeframe, based on our estimations of when the emergency beacon was deployed, would place the generation ship’s passage through Borg space at the height of our conflict with the El Aurians.”
“How long did that last?” Neelix said.
“Hundreds of years. Prior to Species 8472, the El Aurians proved the most difficult species to assimilate,” Seven said.
“I’d always wondered about that,” Janeway said, “but El Aurians in the Alpha Quadrant are notoriously reluctant to talk about it. I hope they got a few good kicks in before they went down.”
“While only a few hundred survived to make it to the Alpha Quadrant as refugees,” Seven said, “before the end they managed to destroy nearly a dozen cubes, more than half of them in the final year of the conflict.”
“I apologize for interrupting,” Harry Kim said, “but I finished the translation of the message. The translation program Neelix gave me was a big help.”
“So what happened?” Neelix asked.
“Apparently there was an engine failure caused by their main computer. Apparently it was a very crude A.I. and, for want of a better phrase, lost its mind.”
“I didn’t even know my people had ever tried to create artificial intelligences,” Neelix said, surprised.
“When did this happen?” Janeway asked.
“Only about fifty years ago, surprisingly,” Harry said. “The crew was able to get control back, but the computer shut down several dozen of the cryo pods, killing the occupants. The next paragraph is corrupted, I can’t tell what it says, but after that it says they sent the last of their probes out to find a suitable place to land.”
“A lot of habitable planets between here and Rinax,” Tom said. “Wonder why they didn’t pick any of those.”
Neelix shrugged. “Maybe they didn’t want to settle any place that already had sentient life? That’s just a guess, don’t quote me.”
“We won’t know until we find any of the crew’s descendants,” Janeway said. “If this was only fifty years ago, there’s a good chance we may find some. Seven, do a full long range scan. See where the most likely place the Talaxians would’ve ended up and give the data to Tom. Mister Paris, once you have a location, plot a course.”
“Aye, Captain,” Tom said, while Seven simply nodded and manipulated the controls at her console.

“There is definitely an M-class planet on the other side of that asteroid field,” Samantha Wildman said, looking at her console while both Neelix and Captain Janeway looked over her shoulder. “And I’m pretty sure I’m getting lifesigns from it, but something in the field itself is interfering with the sensors.”
“It is awfully dense,” Neelix said. “I don’t think I’ve seen an asteroid field that densely packed before.”
“I have,” Janeway said, “but it’s not common, no argument here.”
“I could dodge those rocks easily enough with Voyager,” Tom said, “but given that interference Sam’s talking about I’d rather not risk it.”

“Captain,” Sam said, “now that we’re closer, I’m thinking this interference might not be naturally occurring.”
“Agreed,” Janeway said. “Which could mean the Talaxians set-up makeshift bases in the the larger asteroids. Or they could’ve settled that planet on the other side and are mining the asteroids. Either way, if there are survivors from The Future, we’ll find proof in that asteroid field. We’ll take Voyager around the field to go to the planet. A small team can take the Delta Flyer through the field itself. If nothing else, they can confirm if the interference is naturally occurring or not.”

“Captain,” Neelix said, “I’d like to be on the Flyer team.”
“Why?” Captain Janeway asked.
“Call it a gut feeling,” Neelix said. “If I’ve learned anything travelling with you Captain, it’s that it’s a good idea to listen to one’s instincts.”

As long as I don’t have to go, I’m happy, Samantha thought. Me, the Delta Flyer, and giant rocks? No thanks.

The Delta Flyer entered the asteroid field, and Neelix marvelled at how close together all the rocks were while not appearing to collide with each other.
“I wonder if maybe someone put this here,” Neelix said to Lieutenant Ayala, who sat at the tactical console, while Tom Paris piloted the craft.
“Just because it’s rare for asteroid fields to be this dense,” Ayala said, “doesn’t mean it’s not naturally occurring.”
“Could be the debris from an exploded planet,” Tom said. “Last dense field like this I ever saw in the Alpha Quadrant had been a planet a thousand years before the Federation existed. Well, I only saw it in pictures taken by the Enterprise, but still.”
“Sounds interesting,” Neelix said. “What happened?”
“Well, there was this war between two ancient-”
“Mister Paris,” Ayala said, “I’m picking up lifesigns at bearing 108, mark 26. They appear to be Talaxians. Hundreds of them, inside three of the larger rocks.”
“Well, that answers one question,” Neelix said. “Can we hail them?”

Ayala touched a button, and waited.
“No response. No sign they didn’t receive it, it looks like they’re ignoring us.”
“Maybe if we try greeting them in Tal-”
Neelix wasn’t able to finish his suggestion, as a loud noise, followed by the ship shuddering, cut him off.
“What was that?” he said.
“A thermalyte explosive,” Ayala said.
“How close was that?” Tom said.
“30.6 kilometers to port,” Ayala said. “If it was that close and shook us that little-”

A much more severe shudder passed through the ship.
“That one was closer,” Ayala said. “Are these mines or did we accidentally stumble on the Talaxians blasting these rocks to get the raw materials?”
A third shudder.
“That one took out our shields,” Ayala said. “It threw the impulse drive out of alignment too.”
“Switching to thrusters,” Tom said.

“The main Talaxian asteroid is close enough for us to make a landing,” Neelix said, looking at his own console.
“If they’re doing this on purpose that might be a bad idea,” Tom said. Before anyone could reply there was another explosion, and the Delta Flyer shook so violently everyone was thrown forward painfully into their consoles.
“Dammit, main propulsion is off-line,” Tom said. “I’m gonna have to put us down on that rock anyway before we crash into one without people who can help us fix the damage. Better get ready to do some fancy talking, Neelix.”
The Delta Flyer jerked forward. Neelix watched the main viewport as the asteroid, structures sticking out one side of it, got closer and closer; much too fast for his liking.

“This landing’s gonna be a bit rough,” Tom said, “but if it’s any consolation, the Flyer’s been through worse.”

Upon impact, Neelix was knocked out his chair. He winced as his head hit something, and everything went black.

Neelix groaned as his eyes fluttered open. He heard before he saw the sound of a medical device, or at least what he hoped was a medical device, hovering centimeters above his head. When his vision cleared he saw a sight he hadn’t expected to ever see outside of old family photos or the holodeck.

A Talaxian. A woman, who held the device, sitting on the edge of the bed Neelix was in.
“Stay still,” she said when neelix tried to sit up. “Don’t worry. It’s not serious.”
Her bedside manner is about as warm as The Doctor’s used to be, Neelix thought.

“I’m inside the asteroid,” he said.

“Yes,” the female Talaxian said.
“Where are my friends?” Neelix asked.
“If you mean the aliens who were on the ship with you,” the female Talaxian said, in a tone that suggested she wasn’t using the word alien in the nicest sense of the word, “they’re safe.”
Define safe.
“I’d like to see them,” Neelix said.

“You need your rest,” the female Talaxian said, standing up quickly. “What were you doing in the asteroid field?” she asked as she placed the device on the table by the side of Neelix’s bed.
“Looking for you, actually,” Neelix said. “We found the old beacon.”
“Really? It still works after all this time?”
“Yes,” Neelix said. “Our ship, Voyager, came across it, so we came to look for any survivors.”

“Well, here we are.”
“I see. My name’s Neelix, by the way.”
“Dexa,” the female Talaxian said. “It’s funny, I had an uncle named Neelix.”
“Really? I had no idea my name stretched back that far. Your generation ship left so long ago it took us awhile to translate the message on the beacon.”
Dexa looked puzzled. “Then how come I can understand you so plainly?”

Neelix pointed to his comm badge, which had been left on him. “It’s called a universal translator.”
“Interesting,” Dexa said. “I’d like to know more about this translator, but first, I’m curious, are there any other Talaxians aboard your ship?”
“No, just me,” Neelix said.

“Why are you living with aliens?” Dexa asked, her nose scrunched up as if she’d smelled something offensive.
“They’re my friends,” Neelix said. He’d considered telling Dexa the truth; that he just didn’t like what the bulk of his people had become in recent years, and that apart from a few good friends he largely did not miss his people at all. He realized though that if the other Talaxians on this and the other two asteroids were as xenophobic as Dexa appeared to be, that would probably be the worst thing to say. “We attempted to contact you from our shuttle,” he said instead. “Did you receive our hails?”
“Yes,” Dexa said.
“Why didn’t you respond?”
“We avoid contact with outsiders,” Dexa said.
“There were explosions,” Neelix said. “Did you-”
“No,” Dexa said. “Not deliberately, I mean. We were making holes in the surface of those particular rocks to start mining them for resources. They weren’t supposed to go off so soon though. Perhaps something from your shuttle triggered them early. My turn to ask a question now. Why were you and your.. Friends, carrying weapons?”
“Standard procedure for an away mission,” Neelix said. “On stun of course.”
“Stun? Non-lethal energy weapons? I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Neelix said. “We had weapons similar to phasers on Talax not too long after The Future left. We never got as good at mass producing them as Starfleet did though, so they fell out of favor after a while.”
“Oh, the organization our ship belongs to. Our ship is called Voyager by the way. The shuttle that crashed is called the Delta Flyer.”
“Is Starfleet a military organization?”
Neelix thought about that for a moment. “Sort of, but not really. It’s like a hybrid of a military organization, a scientific one, and a diplomatic corp. There’s no real analog to it in Talaxian history, so that’s the best way I can explain it.”
Neelix thought he saw someone moving behind Dexa, so he shifted. He smiled when he saw a child, holding some kind of toy, peeking around the corner of the entrance into the room.
“Hi there,” Neelix said. “What’s your name?”

Dexa looked confused, but then turned around when the child responded.
“Brax,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“I told you not to come in here,” Dexa said, bending down to look the child in the eyes as she took his hands.
“I wanted to see him,” Brax said.
“You’re supposed to be helping Oxilon,” Dexa said.
“He doesn’t look dangerous to me,” Brax said, an inquisitive look on his face not too dissimilar to the one Naomi Wildman would get when she was convinced that adults were not telling her the whole story about something.

I guess some things are just universal, Neelix thought.

“I think you might have the wrong idea about us,” Neelix said.
“I’m not supposed to be talking to you at all,” Dexa said.”

Neelix had a suspicion about the room he was in. He stood up. “I’m feeling better,” he said, which was mostly true. His head still hurt, but it was a dull pain. He’d been through much worse. This year, even. “I think I should go see my friends now.”
Dexa stepped back and touched something that was out of sight, and a force field visibly snapped into place.
Yep, I’m in a cell, Neelix thought. Not a terrible one though, I’ll give it that. The bed is comfy.
“I’ve been told not to let you leave,” Dexa said.
The look on her face was all too familiar to Neelix. He’d seen looks like that before, on those among his people who’d bought the propaganda about the Haakonians “hook, line and sinker,” as Tom would say.

They’re repeating the same mistakes their descendants made back on Talax, he thought sadly. I suppose I should be grateful there isn’t an alien race nearby for them to launch an unprovoked war against.

“Captain,” Harry said, “there’s a ship approaching from astern. We’re being hailed.”
“Good,” Janeway said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and they can explain why we lost contact with the Flyer. On screen.”

“Identify yourselves,” the captain of the other vessel said. He wasn’t Talaxian, that was for sure.

“I’m Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation starship Voyager,” Janeway said.

“Commander Nocona,” the other ship’s captain said, his tone immediately shifting to one more polite than the one he’d had when asking for identification.

Perhaps in his culture it’s acceptable to be rude to people if you don’t know their names, she thought.
“I request to know why you sent a vessel into the asteroid field,” Nocona continued.
Janeway gave the thumbnail version of how Voyager had ended up here, and how they’d hoped to make contact with the Talaxians.
“Ah, I see,” Nocona said. “Perhaps your friend, this Neelix, can convince the Talaxians to move on.”
“Assuming he’s alive,” Janeway said. “We registered multiple explosions in the field and lost contact with our shuttle.”

“Likely just mining charges,” Nocona said. “The Talaxians have never been violent. Smug and verbally abusive, but not violent. Your shuttle likely just got too close.”
“I take it you’ve had problems with them before,” Janeway said.
“Ever since they came to our world seeking shelter years ago,” Nocana said. “But for now, if you require our assistance, our ship is more heavily armored than yours. We have few weapons, this is a patrol ship, but if any charges go off we won’t be harmed.”
Janeway appreciated that the alien captain was being so direct with her. It was something she wished were more common in this quadrant.
“If I may ask, what exactly were the problems the Talaxians caused?”
“To be fair,” Nocona said, “it’s largely the younger generation, those born after their ship arrived, that are the issue; they settled in that asteroid field without permission and began mining resources that by rights belonged to us as the field is in our solar system. As it stands, we have no way to remove them without violence, and neither the government nor the public wants that.”

Oh great, Janeway thought. We stumbled into a political mess. I’d hoped we wouldn’t have another one of those for a good long time.

Neelix heard a noise, and turned to see Brax standing on the other side of the force field with a weapon that was clearly too big for him to be using. If it wasn’t a dangerous weapon, the site of him trying to look intimidating with it would be amusing.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be here,” Neelix said.
“This is my home,” Brax said. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
“No, I suppose I can’t,” Neelix said. “I just don’t want you to get in trouble.”

Brax moved the object in his arms and Neelix realized he’d made an error. It was a not a weapon at all, the child had just been handling whatever it was like one.
“What’s that?” Neelix said.
“A model ship,” Brax said.
“Really? A Talaxian one?”
“You don’t recognize it?”
“Our people’s ships haven’t looked like that for a long time,” Neelix said, trying to get a better look at the model. “I think I saw something like that in a museum once though, on Rinax.”
“People live on Rinax now?” Brax said.
Neelix winced. “Well, they did, but something bad happened. It’s complicated, and sad to say it was kind of our own fault. Maybe I can explain it to you later.”
“I overheard you tell my mother your ship was named Voyager,” Brax said. “Is it big?”
“Not as big as the ship your ancestors came to this asteroid field on, but she’s a decent sized ship,” Neelix said. “But she is fast. Nothing faster than her within a hundred light years, I bet.”
There was a clanging noise, and Brax gasped. “That’s my mother.”
“Well you better hide then,” Neelix said.
“You won’t tell her I’m here?”
“No, of course not,” Neelix said. Brax ran off. Another clanging noise followed by footsteps drew Neelix’s attention to his right, and he saw Dexa walk in with a male Talaxian, who had to duck slightly to get through the door. Neelix was pretty sure he’d never seen a Talaxian that tall before, and figured that it must’ve had something to do with having been born in lower gravity environments.

“Neelix,” Dexa said, “this is Oxilon, our Council Regent.”

“I wish I could say it was nice to meet you,” Neelix said, “but this isn’t exactly the welcome I was expecting.”
“You’re free to go now,” Oxilon said, touching a button. The force field dropped and Neelix walked forward. He looked at Oxilon, expecting him to say something else, but he gave no indication he planned to.
“What about my friends?” Neelix said.
“We’ve determined they’re not hostile,” Oxilon said. “They’ve been treated for their injuries and asked to leave.”
“They’re aboard your shuttle, making repairs,” Dexa said. “I’ll take you to them.”
“Well,” Neelix said, “now that everything’s been cleared up, maybe we could talk? Get to know each other a little?”
“If you’d like,” Oxilon said, though he sounded to Neelix like he was just humoring him.
Probably figures the faster he gets me to talk the faster he can get me to leave, Neelix thought.

“My friends too?”
“No,” Oxilon said.
“May I ask why not?”
“We’ve learned to keep to ourselves,” Oxilon said.
“Oh. Well, if they’re not welcome, I’m not staying either,” Neelix said. “I had just hoped…”

“Hoped what?” Oxilon said.
“This may be my last chance to speak to any Talaxians before Voyager reaches the Alpha Quadrant,” Neelix said. “That’s where my friends are from. Long story. I may not have left Talaxian space under the best of terms, but-”
“Were you a criminal?” Dexa said. Oxilon glared at her, and she sheepishly looked at the floor.
“No,” Neelix said. “Well, my government certainly thinks I am, but I’d be lying if I said I cared.”
Oxilon looked confused at that comment.
“I’m going to go see my friends,” Neelix said, choosing not to elaborate. He felt put off in Oxilon’s presence, like the man only tolerated being the same room as him because they were both Talaxians. Neelix knew that kind of attitude all too well; had seen it in his own home in the run-up to the war with the Haakonians. He’d heard it in Dexa’s voice earlier that day, but had hoped that she was an outlier.
“Escort him,” Oxilon said to Dexa, then unceremoniously turned and left.
“I apologize,” Dexa said once the door closed. “I know he seems overly cautious, but we’re not used to having visitors. Brax is young enough to have never seen a non-Talaxian before.”
“I was curious about that,” Neelix said. “Our ship picked up what looked like, at least from where we were, a perfectly livable M-Class planet on the opposite side of the field from us.”
“That’s the homeworld of the Badoon,” Dexa said with a hint of contempt in her voice.

“Did they mistreat you?” Neelix said.
“Not directly, no,” Dexa said. “It was more subtle than that. But I’d rather not talk about them right now.”

“How many of you live here?” Neelix asked.
“Close to 500 here,” Dexa said, “about a hundred each on the other two asteroids.” She sighed. “And there are a dozen or so who chose to stay with the Badoon, but we don’t talk of them much.”

“From a ship that had 1300 people in stasis?” Neelix said. “The beacon said some of them were killed when the generation ship’s computer went bad, but-”
“Few of the survivors had children,” Dexa said. “Procreation has been placed on hold until we can hollow out another asteroid. None of the children you see running around were actually conceived here, though a few were born here.”

“It must’ve taken years to build all of this,” Neelix said.

“Almost five,” Dexa said, pride in her voice. “We had to completely scrap The Future, and, well, borrow some Badoon tools to get it done, but we did it. Mostly. There are some places that aren’t at a hundred percent yet. If you look over there you can see our medical bay. My husband designed that.”

“I’d like to meet him,” Neelix said.
Dexas sighed. “He’s dead.”
“Oh,” Neelix said. “I’m sorry. I… I suffered a loss recently myself, though yours is certainly-”
“I’m not… I don’t feel like talking about it, right now. Your friends are just this way,” Dexa said, leading Neelix down a neatly excavated cave.
Neelix saw the Delta Flyer. It looked pretty scraped up on the outside, but he imagined that Tom was going to save fixing the non-essential parts until they returned to Voyager. The priority would be engines and life support.
He stepped inside.
“Neelix,” Tom said. “Good to see you. They told me you were okay but wouldn’t let us check in on you.”
“Yeah, they seem to be really shy about aliens around here,” Neelix said. “Dexa, this is Tom Paris. And this is Ayala.”
“Given name or surname?” Dexa asked.

“I don’t really talk about that,” Ayala said.
Dexa looked confused for a moment but shrugged it off.
“Okay then,” she said. “It was nice to meet you.” She turned and exited the ship before anyone could reply.
“Guess that was as much politeness as she could muster for the day,” Tom said,.
“So, what can I do to help?” Neelix said.
“Well, you can help me with this plasma manifold,” Tom said. “How’d it go by the way?”
“I didn’t exactly get a welcoming committee,” Neelix said. “I was in a cell for most of the time I was recovering. I get the feeling their leader doesn’t like me very much.”
“You sound disappointed,” Ayala said.
“Yeah,” Neelix admitted. “I guess my expectations were a little high. I’d just assumed that since they were the descendants of people who left Talax before our society went bad they’d be more open minded. A shame really. This could be the last time I ever see another Talaxian, and they remind me so much of why I was so willing to leave them behind and travel with you in the first place.”
“We’ll probably be another night,” Tom said. “I’m sure you can meet a few more before we go. Here’s your phaser back by the way.”
“Thanks,” Neelix said. “And maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ll meet a Talaxian who’s not as stiff and xenophobic as Oxilon. That would be a nice way to remember my people.”
After another hour of work, the lights inside the Flyer flickered back to life, and the consoles were active again.
“There we go,” Tom said. “Now we just need to run a systems-”
“Intruder alert,” the computer said.
“Well, at least we know internal sensors are working,” Tom said, as Ayala pulled out his phaser and moved towards the rear compartment. Neelix followed him, hand near his own phaser.

The lights in the rear compartment were still out, so the two of them descended the steps slowly. Neelix took out his tricorder with his other hand and did a quick scan.
He chuckled when he saw the lifesigns he were picking up from behind a panel were Talaxian.
“I think I can guess who this is,” he said. “You can come out, Brax.”

The child climbed out of his hiding place, and touched a button on a panel that turned the lights back on. Ayala lowered his phaser.
“Friend of yours?” he said.
“Dexa’s son,” Neelix said.
“You said you’d take me to see Voyager,” Brax said.
“I said no such thing,” Neelix said. “I told you she was a good ship, not that I’d bring you aboard. Besides, your mother wouldn’t approve. Now come on, I’ll walk you home.”

Brax didn’t argue, something Neelix was grateful for. He realized that child rearing was not really something he had that much experience in. He’d been spoiled in a sense, the only children he’d really been around as an adult were Naomi, who matured rapidly as a result of her mixed parentage, and Icheb, who had matured rapidly as a result of the Borg. He was ill equipped to deal with a tantrum if it were to come to that.
“Okay,” Brax said.
“I’ll be right back,” Neelix said to Ayala. The two walked back the way Dexa had brought Neelix before. Before he could reach Dexa’s home, however, he saw Oxilon arguing with an alien he didn’t recognize.
“They’re free to leave once their ship is repaired,” Oxilon said.
“I’d like to confirm that for myself,” the alien said. “I’m sure it is what their captain, Janeway, would do if she were here. Assuming you didn’t try to blow up her ship with mining charges of course.”
“How dare-”
“Excuse me,” Neelix said, waving. “Hi. I’m Neelix, the Talaxian member of Janeway’s crew. You’ve spoken with Voyager?”

The alien nodded. “Commander Nocona,” he said. “You must be Neelix. Are the other members of your team harmed?”
“You know this… thug?” Oxilon said.
“Calm down,” Neelix said. “Commander, may I ask why no one from my crew is here?”
“Our ship is better shielded against explosions from mining charges,” Nocana said. “And with good reason,” he added, glaring at Oxilon. “Captain Janeway agreed to let us come for you.”
“Right,” Oxilon said dismissively, “and I’m sure intimidating us with how thick your ship’s armor is had nothing to do with it. You’re trying to scare us into giving up the asteroids again.”
Nocona groaned.
“Believe what you want, Oxilon. My people own the rights to these minerals, and we will get them back. Without violence. You’ll see.”
“Well, Commander,” Neelix said, “our shuttle is almost repaired. We’ll be able to leave on our own in a few hours. Our communications array is still damaged, so perhaps you could tell Captain Janeway-”
“Yes, do so. Once you leave,” Oxilon said, sounding like he was trying to make a threat.
“Very well,” Nocona said. “Good day to you, Mister Neelix.”
“Thank you,” Neelix said.
Once Nocona was gone, Neelix was about to tell Brax to head on home when Oxilon rushed him with unexpected speed and shoved him against a wall.
“Why did that Badoon know who you were?!”

“You heard him,” Neelix said. “He spoke to my captain.”
“You expect me to believe that?” Oxilon said.
Neelix saw a crowd gathering. Some smiled, as if silently cheering on Oxilon or maybe hoping for a fight. Other just shook their heads, like disappointed parents.
“Yes, because it’s true,” Neelix said, finally shoving back. “He’s a Badoon then? Seems nice enough. Why do you really have a problem with them? I get the feeling there’s more going on than asteroid mining rights.”
“Get out,” Oxilon said. “Get back to your ship and leave us alone.”
“I know that look,” Neelix shouted at Oxilon’s back as he walked away. “It’s the look our leaders on Talax had on their faces when they argued for a war based on lies. Now, I don’t know what’s going on with you and the Badoon, but if I look into it, who’s really going to be the bad guys here?”
“Go home,” Oxilon said. “Go to your alien friends.” There were murmurs among the crowd as Oxilon walked away. Neelix got the feeling that most, but not all of the people here were completely on Oxilon’s side. He took a small amount of comfort in that.

“I think I can see why they’re so suspicious of outsiders,” Tom said when Neelix told him what had just happened. “Did the kid make it home safe at least?”
“Yeah,” Neelix said, looking frustrated.
“It’s good to know the Badoon were willing to help the Captain,” Ayala said, “but we don’t have the full context for what’s been going on between them and the Talaxians here.”
“I think we do, at least a little,” Neelix said.
Tom was about to ask what Neelix meant, but the latter continued as if anticipating that question.
“Oxilon never actually denied what Nocona said was true. I think that except for a few stragglers, the survivors from the generation ship and their children and grandchildren settled these asteroid without permission from the race that holds the mining rights to them. It would be like if someone just walked into your quarters, set up a tent, and threatened you if you tried to kick them out.”
“Plausible, sure,” Tom said, “but there’s decades worth of context we don’t have, like Ayala said.”

Neelix sighed.
“Yeah, you’re right,” he said.
Tom put a hand on Neelix’s shoulder. “I’m sorry this trip didn’t turn out like you hoped, Neelix. I really am.”
“Thanks, Tom,” Neelix said.

Tom was about to say it was time to go, when a noise from his console alerted him to someone standing just outside the entrance to the Delta Flyer. He checked his monitor, and saw Dexa, and a young boy, presumably Brax.
“Looks like you’ve got visitors, Neelix,” Tom said. Neelix came over and looked at the monitor. He shrugged.
“Go ahead and let them in,” he said.
“No problem,” Tom said, pushing a button to open the door remotely.
When the two Talaxians made their way to the cockpit, Neelix asked them why they were there.
“Brax told me about what happened,” Dexa said, “and I thought you deserved to hear our side of the story. Oxilon, he, can let his anger cloud his judgement sometimes, even though he’s been a good leader for us overall.”
“Okay,” Neelix said. “I’m willing to listen.”

“Actually,” Dexa said, “I’d like to talk to your Captain, if I could. If your ship is as powerful as I imagine it based on what I’ve gleamed from scanning your shuttle-”

“Wait, you were scanning us?” Tom said.
“Of course,” Dexa said. “Security precaution.”
“It’s what I would do,” Ayala said.
“My point is,” Dexa continued, “if your Captain is going to be working with the Badoon in any capacity, she deserves to know the truth.”
Neelix didn’t seem to like the idea very much, but rather than say no himself he turned to Tom.
Oh great, make the buck stop with me. Thanks, Neelix, he thought. Minus sarcasm he said aloud, “Well, okay, but I don’t think there’s going to be much need. I’m pretty sure that once she knows her team and the Flyer are okay we’ll just be moving on.”
“Or maybe, once she hears about what we’ve gone through, she’ll be willing to help us.”
I doubt that, Tom thought.
“Okay,” Tom said, “but I won’t promise anything more than asking her to speak with you.”

Captain Janeway looked up when Neelix and the Talaxian woman named Dexa walked into her ready room.
“Hello, Dexa,” Janeway said, standing up and offering her hand. “Neelix told me you’d be coming. Where’s your son?”
“He’s playing with… what was her name?” Dexa said.
“Naomi Wildman,” Neelix said. “With Samantha and Seven’s permission of course.”
“So strange,” Dexa said, “to see a cyborg so well adjusted. Granted, we never had any real cyborgs on Talax, only ones in stories, but they were always cautionary tales. This Seven of Nine though seems like a perfectly normal humanoid.”
“There still aren’t any cyborgs on Talax,” Neelix said, “but that’s mainly because we don’t really have that level of technology yet.”
“Neelix says you have something you wanted to discuss with me about the Badoon?” Janeway said. Of course, this was all a polite formality. Neelix had warned her ahead of time that he had concerns that the Talaxians in the asteroid field were unnecessarily mistrusting of the Badoon.

Dexa went on to explain in great detail about what had happened to The Future, though Janeway already knew some of that from the beacon.
“When the Badoon found our ship, they brought us here, to their world. They set aside some farmland for us, but wouldn’t interact with us for years. I was born under what they called ‘quarantine.’ But it was just an excuse, they didn’t want outsiders mixing with their people.”
“But,” Neelix said, “you told me that a few Talaxians still live on the Badoon homeworld. Are they still in quarantine?”
“Well, no…”
“Dexa,” Neelix continued, Janeway deciding it best not to interrupt. “You weren’t born yet. Is it at all possible that it really was a quarantine? I mean, there are procedures for first contact with new species aboard this ship too.”
Dexa looked hurt that Neelix would think that.
“My husband died on one of those farms,” she said.

“Did the Badoon kill him?” Janeway said.
“No,” Dexa said reflexively. Then paused. “I mean… it is their fault but…”
“Do you really think that,” Neelix said, taking Dexa’s hand in his, “or is that Oxilon talking?”
“Please,” Janeway said, “Dexa, tell the rest of your story.”
Dexa nodded. “It wasn’t long before we realized there wasn’t enough land to feed all of us, especially once babies started being born. Our leader at the time, Oxilon’s uncle, told us we would just have to conserve resources.”

“That doesn’t sound very unreasonable,” Janeway said. “Was any attempt made to negotiate with the Badoon for more land?”
Dexa looked down.
“In the past, whenever children asked me about our time there I’d say no, but what Neelix just said… I don’t know, truly. Many have said that we tried and failed, but some of the elders claim that we tried to take land from poorer Badoon citizens. I never believed it before, but why does it seem so plausible to me now?”
“I imagine meeting Neelix had something to do with it,” Janeway said. “He’s giving you a perspective you’d never considered before. Back on Earth we have a saying. ‘A fresh pair of eyes.’ It doesn’t literally mean replacing your eyes of course, it means that sometimes getting input from someone who hasn’t been directly involved with a thing long enough to form a bias can be very valuable.”
Dexa nodded.
“Tell me more,” Neelix said, “about what happened to your husband.”
“He didn’t like being told what to do by Badoon authorities, so he started farming outside the restricted zone. The owner of the land killed him.”
“What happened to the landowner?” Dexa wiped a tear away from her eye.
“He was arrested,” she said. “Oxilon liked to tell me that they only did it to save face, but now I wonder if that’s true. The Badoon imprisoned him on grounds of unnecessary use of lethal force. I remember now, they told me that the landowner killed my husband after only one warning, and there was no sign my husband had used violence. I never thought to find out but…” Dexa stopped for a moment and looked up at the ceiling, “Yes, I think it’s possible he’s still in prison.”

Neelix put a hand on Dexa’s shoulder. Janeway stood up and walked around to do the same on the other shoulder.
“Oxilon is going to get you killed,” Neelix said. “I’ve seen this happen before.”
“What do you mean?” Dexa said.
“Years ago, when I was a young man, the Talaxian people launched a war against a people called the Haakonians. They’d done nothing to us, but the government spent months convincing the people they were an imminent threat. A few people like me saw through the lies though, and fled the system before we could be drafted to fight. Our people were ruthless. Killed civilians without any concern or remorse. Eventually, as an act of desperation, the Haakonians used a weapon of mass destruction on our colony on Rinax. The moon had been terraformed nearly a century after The Future left, but our colony there is gone now. Including my family.”
“And you aren’t angry at the Haakonians?”
“I was, for a little while,” Neelix admitted, “but in the end, that weapon would never have even been built let alone used if our aggression hadn’t driven them to it.”
“And you see that kind of aggression in Oxilon,” Dexa said. It wasn’t a question.
“I do,” Neelix said.
Dexa cried, and Janeway felt for her. She had no idea what it felt like to grow up surrounded by xenophobia your whole life, but she had some experience with being lied to so she could empathize at least. She looked at Neelix.
“So, what now?”

“I don’t know, Captain,” Neelix said. “I’m really worried, like I said. But at the same time, what can I do? Oxilon seems so dead set on hating the Badoon for perceived injustices there’s no way we could get him to come to a negotiating table.”
“We can talk to him together,” Dexa said. “He listens to me, sometimes. He helped take care of me and Brax when we came to the asteroid.”

Neelix looked at Janeway.
“It’s worth a shot,” she said. She watched as Neelix and Dexa left her ready room together, and sighed. She wasn’t completely sure, but she had a nagging feeling that when Voyager left this region of space, they would be leaving without Neelix. And the possibility filled her with so many mixed emotions, she decided to forego her afternoon coffee and asked the replicator to give her tea instead.

“This is what Talaxian ships look like these days?” Dexa said as she and Brax climbed into Neelix’s ship.
“On, no,” Neelix said. “This one’s older and smaller than most. Still, we’ve been through alot together. Some of those superficial scratches on the hull you might’ve seen on the way in? Some of those the old crate got without even having to leave Voyager’s shuttlebay.”
Neelix continued his pre-flight check, glad he’d taken Tom’s advice to keep in practice despite the fact he rarely left Voyager with it, especially since they left the sector of the Delta Quadrant he’d known the best a mere three years into their journey.
“Why are we taking your ship to the asteroid?” Dexa asked.
“Lieutenant Ayala and Commander Tuvok convinced me that a ship with a Talaxian signature would be less likely to get mining charges blown up in it’s face. Deliberately anyway. Plus, Voyager’s too far away to use transporters if I need to leave in a hurry.”
“You think Oxilon will try to hurt you?” Brax said.
“It’s possible,” Neelix said. “Though I hope it won’t come to that.”

“Shuttle control to Neelix, you’re cleared for launch,” Harry Kim’s voice said over the ship’s comm.
“We’re just about ready, Harry,” Neelix said.
“Good luck,” Harry said.
“Thanks,” Neelix said. I’ll need it, he thought. He strapped in after helping Brax and Dexa do the same. The inertial dampeners were in excellent shape of course, but if there were any shockwaves or some other cause to do evasive maneuvers, best not to risk the child getting thrown around into walls.

The trip to the main asteroid was less dramatic than the Delta Flyer’s had been, much to Neelix’s relief, but it had taken informing the Talaxian that Oxilon had left in charge of communications that he was returning two of his people to convince him to allow a landing.
When the three stepped off the ship, Oxilon and two armed men waited for them.
“I was ready to fear the worst,” Oxilon said. “That you had kidnapped them. I am relieved to see I was wrong. Thank you for bringing them home. You can go now, Neelix.”
“Not yet,” Neelix said. “You and I need to have a conversation about your situation here in the asteroid field and the Badoon mining rights.”
“What is there to say about it?” Oxilon said. “They had no people and only a smattering of probes to take samples here. It was open territory based on every space law I know of.”
“I believe a peaceful solution can be found,” Neelix said, “but it needs to happen now, before you antagonize them too much. There’s no popular support on Badoon for just forcing you out right now, but I doubt that’ll hold forever.”
“We’ll be more than ready to defend ourselves,” Oxilon said. “We’ve got mining charges on rocks with low ore count, we can use them to force back any potential invasion.”
“You can’t be serious,” Dexa said. “If we damage or worse destroy their ships, they’ll bring a whole fleet to bear on us. Neelix was right, your ways are going to get us killed.”
“Have the aliens been poisoning your mind, Dexa?” Oxilon said.
“No, that would be you,” Dexa said. “Filling it with hate. The Badoon aren’t perfect, they’ve done things they shouldn’t, and I will never forgive the one who murdered my husband but we can’t keep living like this. We can co-exist with them if we make a real effort.”
“Nonsense,” Oxilon said. “They’re aliens. It’s what aliens always do in the end.”

“How would you know?” Neelix said. “How many other species besides the Badoon had you met before the Delta Flyer crashed here?”
Oxilon was moved to silence by that.
The guards looked even more furtive, one even lowering his weapon as he appeared to contemplate what was being said.
“The Badoon have traded with other worlds before,” Oxilon said. “My uncle told me he’d sometimes see other aliens at the spaceports on Badoon. And he said they always looked at Talaxians like we were less than them.”
“Maybe that’s just how he interpreted it,” Neelix said. “There’s a race in the Federation, the government that Voyager belongs to, called the Bolians. In their language, the word Frederick is a vulgarity. Among the most offensive words a native Bolian speaker could use. But to humans, the word Frederick is an uncommon but not rare name given to boys upon their birth. And yet, despite this, the humans and Bolians have gotten along for over a century. In fact, Bolians are one of the most common races to be found on Federation ships, apart from Humans, Vulcans, and Betazoids. How could your uncle, who had so little experience with aliens, automatically know what their facial expressions would mean, especially after only a few encounters?”
At some point during the conversation, a crowd had gathered. Quietly enough that Neelix had actually failed to notice while he was maintaining eye contact with Oxilon.

“Tell them about Rinax,” Dexa said.
“Rinax?” Brax said.
“It was one of our moons,” Dexa told Brax. “back from the system our ancestors came from before they ended up here.”
“What’s this about Rinax? What is she talking about?” Oxilon said.
Neelix told Oxilon, and the whole crowd, everything, including details he’d not shared with Dexa aboard Voyager. Some of the crowd looked shocked and horrified, though if it was at the war, or Neelix’s refusal to fight he couldn’t be certain. The angry ones though, them he was pretty sure resented Neelix for refusing to fight.
“That won’t happen here,” Oxilon said. “If the Badoon just let us keep this asteroid field, there need not be any bloodshed.”
Some of the gathered crowd shouted at him.
“You had us set up mines!” one Talaxian yelled.
“You’ve been telling us the Badoon are savages for years but we’ve never seen them actually do anything!” another shouted.
Some other Talaxians began shouting back at the shouters, defending Oxilon, but as best Neelix could tell from the din they were the minority.
Oxilon was losing the crowd, Neelix could tell. He dared not push his luck though.
I didn’t think it would be this easy, Neelix thought. I can’t afford to tempt fate.
“Get off my asteroid!” Oxilon shouted at him, taking a gun from one of the guards standing next to him, causing gasps to ripple through the crowd.

“Leave him alone!” a Talaxian woman Neelix couldn’t see yelled.
“Send him back to his alien friends!” a man shouted.
Brax tried to get in between Neelix and Oxilon, but Dexa grabbed him and struggled to hold him back. Neelix took a deep breath and walked forward.
He had not planned to say what he was about to say next, but the words came to him anyway. He hesitated to say them, knowing there was no walking back from it, and already feeling the guilt starting to well up at the thought of abandoning his crew of the past seven years, especially when they had not yet recovered from the loss of Commander Chakotay.
“No,” he said to Oxilon, quietly hoping that the angry Talaxian in front of him wouldn’t fire. “I’m staying. I’m staying, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to make sure that what happened to Rinax doesn’t happen here.”

Oxilon snarled at him, so angry that he appeared to forget what kind of weapon he was holding and swung it at Neelix instead of trying to shoot him.

Neelix did not have the best rating with a hand phaser on Voyager, even after having done some training with Tuvok, but he was good enough to pull it out and fire it at Oxilon, stunning him.
“He’s not dead,” Neelix shouted, holding up this phaser. “This weapon has a stun setting. He’ll wake up shortly.” The guards who had been flanking Oxilon seemed unsure what to do. Dexa walked up to them. Neelix had to admit to himself he found her confidence in that moment inspiring, and even a little attractive.
“Take him to his room,” she said, pointing at Oxilon. “He is not under arrest, but don’t let him have a weapon. I think we can still convince him to see reason, and if he does that will only make him a better leader.” That last part was directed more at the crowd than the guards.
Eventually, the crowd cleared, leaving Neelix alone on the landing bay with Dexa and Brax.
“So,” Dexa said, “now what?”
“Now,” Neelix said, sadness in his voice, “I go and say goodbye to my friends.”

There were times when Captain Janeway hated being right, and as she finished her personal log entry about her mixed emotions regarding Neelix’s impending departure, this was one of those times. She’d seen this coming the moment Neelix told Dexa about Rinax and the Metreon Cascade, but a part of her had thought, or maybe hoped, that Neelix would stick around.
It was unsurprising that Naomi had, according to Samantha, been the one to take the news the hardest. She’d grown up with Neelix. He was her godfather after all, and up until the time when the little girl was mature enough to walk around the ship unsupervised and until Seven of Nine entered her life, she’d spent more time with him than anyone apart from her mother.

That didn’t mean that anyone was happy to see him leave, though.
She heard the chime noise, and said “Enter.”

She looked up, surprised to see Brian Sofin enter her ready room.
“Mister Sofin,” she said, “I wasn’t aware we had a meeting today.”
“We didn’t, Captain,” he said. “In fact we haven’t really spoken much beyond the odd ‘good morning’ since the last time I was on this deck, two years ago.”
“When I stripped you of you rank, yes, I remember,” Janeway said. “You’ve done a good job since then. I know I’ve failed to make that clear, but I’m really proud of how well all of you from the Equinox, even Angelo Tassoni, have integrated into this crew.”

“Thank you, Captain, but that’s not why I’m here,” Sofin said. “It’s about Neelix.”
Janeway nodded. “I’d heard the two of you had become good friends,” she said. “But if you want me to try and talk him out of leaving…”
“No, Captain,” Sofin said. “I mean, I’m requesting permission to stay as well.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“He told me what the situation on those asteroids is like, Captain, and it seems to me that if this Oxilon has as many supporters as Neelix thinks he does, and if they’re angry enough…”
“You want to be Neelix’s bodyguard,” Janeway said, deducing where the young man was going with this. “I appreciate the thought, but what about your family in the Alpha Quadrant?”
Sofin looked down, the most ashamed he’d looked since after the Equinox had been destroyed.
“I can’t face them, Captain,” Sofin said. “With what I did, what I was party too. My parents are pacifists to the core. They didn’t even fight the Dominion. Not that they oppose self-defense mind you, just, well, I mean Mom’s a fifth generation member of the diplomatic corp. Her great-grandfather was the first Federation ambassador to set foot on the Gorn homeworld. And Dad, Dad’s a xenobiologist. He studied creatures like the ones we killed for fuel.”

“You think they won’t forgive you?”
“They already did,” Sofin said. “I got letters from them through the Midas array. They say they understand I was in a difficult situation, and that I never actually killed one of the Ankari Spirit of Good Fortune directly but…”
Janeway was tempted to just reject the request outright, but looking at the man standing at attention before her, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Mostly because she realized she couldn’t think of a good reason to.
“What do you want me to tell your parents?” she said.
“Tell them that I’m staying behind to help protect a friend,” Sofin said. “And that I hope one day that I can reach a point where I can forgive myself for letting them down by agreeing to help Captain Ransom kill those creatures. Tell them that I’m looking for a second chance to be someone that Paul and Elisa Sofin can be proud to call their son.”
Janeway smiled a sad smile.
“I think you already are, Brian,” she said. “The ceremony for Neelix’s departure is at 1300 hours tomorrow. It’ll be in the shuttlebay, by Neelix’s ship.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Brian Sofin said, smiling as he left.
Janeway sighed.
“Shit, might as well update the log entry.”

Seven of Nine, holding one of Naomi’s hands while Samantha held the other, thought back on some of her experiences with Neelix. She found that, even when she thought about some of the more annoying ones, like him trying to get her to try foods she wasn’t interested in, or his early attempts to convince her to go by her birth name, she was still going to miss him. Sam and Naomi seemed to be using all their strength to keep from crying. They’d known him longer than she had, so the reaction was not unexpected.

She looked at Icheb, who luckily seemed to be taking it better than most. He said he was going to miss hearing old Talaxian stories, but that he felt that what Neelix was doing was admirable enough to warrant celebration rather than sadness. Seven decided she’d explain it to him later.

The door to the shuttle bay opened, and Captain Janeway gave the order to stand at attention. Everyone did, even Naomi and Icheb. Not every crew member could fit in the shuttlebay of course, but as many as could fit were here for the send off. Janeway and Brian Sofin, whose announced departure had been as shocking to the crew as Neelix’s, stood by Neelix’s old ship. Neelix walked in, looking at everyone, saying goodbye to each crew member, a Starfleet issue duffel bag over his shoulders. Seven realized that without any warning, she was ready to cry too, and had to choke back a sob when, after shaking Marla Gilmore’s hand and giving a Live Long and Prosper salute to Tuvok and Vorik, he walked up to Seven, Sam, and the kids.
“Good luck, Neelix,” Sam said. Naomi grabbed Neelix in a big hug while Icheb shook his hand and offered him some tips on how to spot possible assassination attempts.
I’ll have to find out how he knows that, Seven thought.
“You know,” Neelix said, “I think the four of you are gonna be the ones I miss the most. It’s been a pleasure to watch you become a family.”

“Thank you,” Seven said. “It has been a pleasure knowing you. Even the times when you could be… vexing, proved valuable to my learning how to be more human.”

Sam, Naomi, and Neelix all laughed at that comment, and Seven smiled.
“Neelix,” Captain Janeway said. “Before you go, I have one last gift for you.” She motioned to Lieutenants Ayala and Anderson who lifted a crate and carried it onto Neelix’s ship.
“What is it?” Neelix said.
Seven stepped forward. “It is a small version of the technology that allows this ship two-way communication with Starfleet,” she said. “It is limited unfortunately. Much like our own communications prior to Project Watson, it’ll only be usable every 31 days. However, it will allow you to contact us as well. And if we make it to the Alpha Quadrant sooner than projected by any means, be it new technology, or wormhole, or some other phenomena, we’ll be able to let you know.”
“That’s amazing!” Neelix said. “Thank you so much, I don’t even know where to start with how much I appreciate this.”
Janeway stepped forward, and gave Neelix a hug. “Show your appreciation by saving this Talaxian colony from making the same mistakes your homeworld did. Show it by surviving. Show it by bringing the Talaxians and the Badoon together. That’s an order, Mister,” she added with a smile.
Neelix saluted the Captain. “I won’t let you down, Captain.”
Neelix turned around and looked at the gathered crew.
“Goodbye, my friends.”
He waved at everyone, and turned and climbed into his ship, Brian Sofin walking in with his own duffel bag on his shoulders. Ayala and Anderson exited and retook their places in the procession. Everyone stepped back as the ship’s engines powered up and began to move towards the open shuttle bay door. They all watched quietly as it passed through the force field out into the stars.
Seven leaned against Samantha, who kissed her on the the cheek.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine, Annie. They both will.”
“I agree,” Seven said.
“I’m surprised Jaffen wasn’t here,” Seven overheard Tom say.
“He didn’t know Neelix that well,” Janeway said, shrugging. “At least that was his excuse. I get the feeling he’s not a fan of farewell ceremonies. Which is fair. Plenty of people don’t like goodbyes.”
Seven tuned out the rest of the conversation and she and her family left the shuttlebay.
“Mom?” Naomi said.
“Yes, sweetie?” Sam said.
“Could you and Seven tuck me in and tell me a bedtime story tonight?”
“I thought you were too mature for those now,” Sam said, repeating words that Naomi had used over a year ago back to her.
“I know, but…” Naomi didn’t finish the sentence, looking embarrassed. Sam hugged her, and looked at Seven. “Neelix used to do that for her almost every night when she was real little, before you and I got together.”
“I see,” Seven said. “Well, in that case, I see no reason not to to do it tonight.” She looked at Icheb while Sam and Naomi headed towards their quarters. “Icheb, before we do any of that, we need to have a talk about how you know so much about assassination attempts.”
“Well, there’s this holonovel that Mister Paris invited me to play with him last week…”
Seven sighed. “Dare I hope this one was age appropriate?”
“Lieutenant Paris does still regret that previous incident,” Icheb said.


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