Part 4 added on 28 September 2000
Disclaimers are in part 1.
Neelix stood by the counter in the mess-hall trying to help Ensign Janick with his choice of vegetable, or rather trying to dissuade the man from replicating a helping of mashed potato when there was perfectly good paroo root already sitting in the pot before him. The ensign was proving less than willing to try the alternate food, saying something about not eating anything fluorescent green. Neelix just didn't understand these people when it came to food, here he was trying his best to vary their diet and add a little spice to their very dull food, and for the most part they turned their noses up at it and preferred, when able, to eat from the replicators.
"Neelix come on," said an impatient Tom Paris pulling at the Talaxian's colourful sleeve, "you're not on kitchen duty now."
"But I just wanted to help," Neelix brought up a big spoonful of paroo root and tried to get it close to Ensign Janick's plate, but the man seeing it coming made a dash for the other end of the counter where cold foods had been laid out, "Glen, Glen you forgot your vegetables."
"Neelix, you're a pilot now remember." Saying this Tom turned and headed for the table already occupied by Harry Kim and Claire Mortimer, left alone Neelix turned back to the other ensign in hopes of filling his plate, but the man had taken the opportunity Paris had provided to make an escape of his own. Believing the man had simply forgotten his vegetable Neelix made him up a separate plate with a large helping of the fluorescent delicacy and took it over to him.
Tom watched Neelix chase after the poor ensign with a chuckle, he thought all this fuss over food was silly. "I don't know why he bothers, people can just use the replicators until the emergency is over." He stated to the two other occupants of the table, who had, until he joined them, been trying to have a private conversation, not something they had been able to do recently due to all the extra work they were both putting in during the current crisis.
"Yeah." Said Harry trying to hide his displeasure at being interrupted, after all Tom was his best friend and he probably didn't realise they wanted to be alone.
"He worries about the welfare of the crew," added Claire, after having to put up with Paris all morning she was less willing to forgive the pushy ensign, besides she liked Neelix and understood his need to look after the crew, as a security officer she shared that need, "besides, if the situation is prolonged replicators might have to be more severely rationed, so by getting people to choose freshly cooked food now he's saving resources."
"We won't need more rationing," Tom scoffed, "as soon as they get the cloak up we'll be out of here, as long as one of my fine pupils can handle Voyager while I'm drawing fire in the Delta Flyer that is." Tom smiled at Claire, one of the four pilot trainees he had selected.
Claire tried hard to smile back, but Paris's condescension was starting to really annoy her. Since the early hours of the morning he had been standing over her and the other three pupils, as he liked to call them, and correcting every move they made. While the correcting of her piloting skills she expected, and welcomed in the hopes of improvement, it was the other corrections and advice that had grated on her. Being told to relax her posture she thought was a tip for diverting back ache, but Paris's only reason had been that it made them look better and not like a 'green first year cadet, too scared to breath without a direct command', Claire always prided herself on good posture, her grandmother had insisted, and even if she didn't quite match Seven's standards, she was close. Then there had been the smile, according to Paris when doing a certain manoeuvre you must accompany it with a smile, and if the manoeuvre was particularly daring a little murmur of 'yeah' or something equally as childish had to be given. For dodging a Borg cube Claire suspected you would have to jump on the console and hoot and holler to the tune of 'We are the Champions', while banging your feet and smiling a 1,000 watt smile at the captain or if possible the Borg Queen herself.
"So how's it going?" Harry interrupted Claire's musings, he had such a happy look on his face and she knew it was important to him that she and Tom get on, "the training I mean." Harry qualified when an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming.
"Fine." Said Claire.
"Fantastic." Said Tom, "don't worry Claire you'll be nearly as good as me before you know it." Giving her what she remembered was a 'just evaded a small asteroid, no big deal' smile, he turned to greet the new arrivals to the table.
The doctor knowing the work ethic of the two women in engineering had made it his business to keep tabs on their rest and nutritional needs, with the authority of the captain to back him up, he had ordered the two to go on a meal break of no less than thirty minutes. They had already been working for more than six hours without a break, but that wasn't anything new for either of them, so when they agreed without too much fuss the doctor was amazed if a little unsettled.
B'Elanna and Seven had picked up their meals along with a fussing Neelix and made to join the trio at the table.
"Do you mind if we join you?" Asked Seven, in a formal tone straight out of one of the doctors lessons, but her politeness was received by genuine smiles from Claire, Harry and B'Elanna, who had at one point thought politeness beyond the former drone.
"Sure Seven." Answered Harry for the group.
"I see you've managed to corral another of my trainees to join us." Said Tom pointing his fork at Neelix, then noticing the plate of paroo root Seven had laid down pulled a face. "Seven you don't have to eat that stuff you know, you should go replicate yourself something tasty." Seeing the slightly hurt look on the Talaxian's face, Tom nodded to the man, "no offence."
"None taken." Replied Neelix, but with a little less than his customary cheer.
"I find the dish acceptable." Seven told the Talaxian, earning herself a smile.
"That's high praise indeed coming from Seven, maybe I should try some." Added B'Elanna giving the fluorescent green concoction a scrutinising look. Before she could change her mind B'Elanna found a fork with a small portion of the vegetable heading for her mouth, she was too surprised at being hand fed by Seven to even think about refusing the odd looking dish. "Hmmm, that's good." She concluded, then looking up into Seven's eyes she saw something that made her stomach roll, and for once it couldn't be blamed entirely on Neelix's cooking.
"Well I don't care who feeds it to me I'm not eating it." Tom cut in with a chuckle, no-one bothered to point out he hadn't been offered any.
"How's work on the cloak progressing?" Harry asked after a few minutes of silence while everyone tucked into their food.
"Its not." Growled B'Elanna, she had hoped to get away from the damn cloaking device for a while, even Seven seemed reluctant to talk about it, preferring to question the half klingon about her shoes, of all things, on the walk to the mess-hall.
"We are experiencing difficulty adapting the device to general use." Clarified Seven.
"Oh, well if I... " Harry began to offer.
"How long will it take?" Cut in Tom, "I mean you were preparing to test it yesterday, why the delay now?" Not waiting for an answer he rushed on, "My pilots and I will be ready in 4 or 5 hours." Neelix and Claire looked rather shocked at this, they had both thought they had only just begun training, so far Paris hadn't taught them much more than they already knew.
B'Elanna was livid, her whole department had been working double shifts to try and get the cloak on-line, she and Seven had personally studied every inch of the device and the readings from the sensors on the three mystery ships, and yet they were still no further along than when they started. The problem was that the device they had come up with was to fool a totally different system, the complexity of the borg sensors had made for a very complex cloak, too complex to change easily and still work. It would, she thought, have been easier just to start again from scratch and build a normal cloak, with Seven's and her combined knowledge it probably wouldn't have been that difficult, but they just didn't have the time to build something that big from scratch. Now here was flyboy demanding that they work faster because he was ready.
"I'm so pleased you're ready Tom," B'Elanna began, her voice rising in volume as she spoke, "but building a cloak is a bit more difficult than left, right, up and down."
"Piloting is a lot more involved than that." Tom said hotly.
"Oh give me a break." B'Elanna laughed, "how hard can it be, you manage it."
All noise in the mess-hall had stopped as everyone turned to try and listen to the arguing couple, while those at the table were caught between wanting to interrupt and stop the fight and diving for cover, that is all except Seven who was looking at B'Elanna with fascination and hope.
"I... " Tom was lost for words, he couldn't believe anyone would question his skills as a pilot, then he smiled, 'of course this isn't about me, Lanna is just upset over failing to get the cloak to work.' Once again feeling confident in his abilities he made the mistake of trying to sweet talk an angered and frustrated half klingon. "Lanna don't worry about the cloak, I'm sure you'll get it working in plenty of time."
"Oh you're sure are you?" Demanded the fired up woman. "That's all right then, we can just pack up the double shifts and wait for it to magically fix itself."
"That's not what I mean." Continued Tom, Harry meanwhile was praying his friend would get a clue and drop it, "I just meant that you're the best at what you do, and no silly cloak is going to get the better of you."
The screeching of B'Elanna's chair as she stood up and prepared to launch herself at Tom, again drew all eyes to the table, not that many had ever turned away. But before she could make a leap for the helmsman's throat B'Elanna felt a warm arm grip her around the waist, then another arm wound itself across her upper chest, stopping her arms from reaching towards Tom.
"I believe the allotted time for our break has passed Lieutenant." Whispered Seven into B'Elanna's ear, and with those few words, or maybe just the warmth of her breath caressing the angered woman's neck, B'Elanna relaxed. She turned slightly and making eye contact with the beautiful blonde she smiled, "I will be with you in a moment Seven." Hearing the calm that had entered her voice Seven relaxed her hold, although still allowing her hands to lightly rest on the other woman's side and shoulder.
"Tom, I'm sorry." B'Elanna began, and seeing Paris about to speak held up her hand to stop him. "I shouldn't have taken my anger out on you, and I shouldn't have degraded your flying."
"I understand." Cut in Tom, he could do magnanimous he thought, "you're under a lot of pressure."
"No Tom, I'm always under pressure, it had nothing to do with that, or very little." B'Elanna looked round the mess-hall and decided that here probably wasn't the best place to have this conversation, but she knew she had to do it now. "Look lets go over to that other table and talk, okay?"
"We can talk here." Tom didn't want his friends to miss out on what he thought would be a grovelling apology from his girlfriend, after all she had been neglecting him lately and maybe doing this in front of everyone would stop her from doing it again. "I have no secrets from our friends, do you?"
Of course I do you idiot, she wanted to shout, everyone had secrets, but if Tom was going to force her to do this here then she would,
"Okay then Tom, I want to break up." Just saying the words felt freeing to the now single engineer, but it was the slow stroking of a thumb along her shoulder blade that made B'Elanna's twin hearts race.
"What!" Tom spluttered.
"We haven't been getting along and I think its for the best." B'Elanna just wanted to get out of there and back to engineering.
"The best for who?" Tom questioned. "I thought we were getting on fine."
"We weren't." B'Elanna looked towards Seven and then nodded to the door, signalling her desire to leave, "I have to get back to work, I am sorry Tom." With that B'Elanna, followed closely by a stunned and secretly very happy Seven of Nine, left the mess-hall.
Tom slumped in his seat not quite sure of what had just happened, surely she couldn't mean it, the man looked to his friends hoping to see reassuring expressions on their faces, but what he saw was pity. Clapping Harry on the back Tom said in the most jovial voice he could muster, "She knows how to win an argument doesn't she?" Seeing Harry attempt a smile he patted the man's back again, "Don't worry Harry, by tonight she'll have cooled down and be begging me to take her back."
"Yeah." Harry said, but 'I don't think so' was what he believed.
"Come on you two slow pokes, get a move on, I want to start the next part of your training." Tom called to Claire and Neelix as he got up from the table, trying desperately to convinced himself that B'Elanna would be back and apologising by nightfall. He almost believed it.
In the Captain's Ready Room the three most senior officers were going over preparations for a possible attack by the mystery vessels. Reports had been arriving from engineering throughout the day detailing their progress, or in this case lack of it.
"Its unlike B'Elanna to sound so negative about a project." Chakotay commented after reviewing the latest report. "Usually she's so determined to fix a problem she doesn't even contemplate the idea of failure."
"I was thinking the same about Seven," agreed Janeway, "its just so unlike her to not think she can solve everything with that borg knowledge of hers."
"I believe they have made their conclusions based on the suitability of resources and the task they have been assigned." Corrected Tuvok, "neither of them advanced the idea of adapting the cloaking device, and one can assume from that, that they did not see it as a worthwhile project."
"Then why agree to do it?" Asked Chakotay.
"It was an order," Tuvok responded.
"That's never stopped either of them from arguing against doing something before." Said Janeway, her earliest run ins with both women had been concerning their disregard or bending of given orders.
Perhaps, she thought, her lectures on the chain of command had worked too well, and now both women were following their orders too closely.
"In the past both have argued against actions they thought were wrong or possessed only a small probability of success, especially when they had possible alternatives of their own." Tuvok continued, for a Vulcan he seemed to spend a lot of time analysing the behaviour of the crew, but being surrounded by species ruled by their emotions he found it beneficial, and in some instances vital, to try and chart how they would react to any given situation. "In this case I believe neither Lieutenant Torres or Seven of Nine had contemplated having to use the cloak for anything other than what it was designed, and so when the order was given both accepted it as a challenge to their engineering capabilities and duty towards the ship. Now that they have had time to research the problem they have come to the conclusion that the idea is unfeasible given the present time constraints."
"But they're still trying." Added Chakotay.
"Neither give up that easily." Janeway smiled as she made the comment, it was one of the things she valued in both women.
"That is correct Captain, but I believe in this instance our needs would be better served by allowing them to explore other possibilities."
"So we just give up on the cloak?" Chakotay was incredulous, all their plans so far had hinged on the thought of having the cloak up and working.
"Maybe not," Janeway said, thinking this could be the ideal time to separate the two suddenly close women, without compromising Voyagers safety. "I could leave Seven to work on the cloak, freeing up B'Elanna to work on other ideas."
"It would perhaps be more beneficial to leave the assigning of tasks to Lieutenant Torres," Tuvok suggested, "she is in a better position to evaluate her teams capabilities."
Janeway thought about disagreeing with her friend, as captain she was accustomed to the assigning of crew members, but B'Elanna was chief of engineering and as such she would know better than Kathryn the ideal people for different tasks. Her desire to put distance between Seven and the half klingon not enough to over ride her duty to her ship and crew.
"Fine, I'll give them until the end of duty shift today to come up with something concrete on the cloak, then if nothing promising has developed they can start to look into other possibilities."
That decided the conversation moved on to other aspects of the situation. Looking less than happy Chakotay brought up the subject of Tom Paris's training program. "It seems to be going well."
"The selection of participants has been logically decided," praised Tuvok in his traditionally emotionless tone, if the man had been accustomed to expressing emotion it would at that time have been one of slight wonder and disbelief, Tom Paris was not someone Tuvok associated with logical or well thought out ideas, "but the tactical scenarios involving the Delta Flyer are however less than ideal." His tone now hinting at impatience.
"What seems to be the problem?" Asked Janeway.
"Mr Paris's scenarios seem to revolve around high risk manoeuvres, with little or no room for error." Explained Tuvok.
"If it looks too easy Tom thinks he's doing something wrong." Contributed Chakotay.
"I'm sure Mr Paris can develop a suitable plan," Kathryn defended, her closeness to Admiral Paris having extended a shield of protection around his son, but even she was not blind to the man's devil may care attitude, "I think it would also be a good idea for you to submit an alternative plan of action." She addressed to Tuvok.
Seven looked up at the sound of muttered curses coming from inside the access port, even with her borg assisted hearing she couldn't make out all of what was being said through the thick hull plating, but enough to know that the chief engineer questioned the parentage of the relay circuits. But before she could begin to analyse the human, and now it appeared half human, need to assign sentient behavioural patterns and relationships to inanimate objects, her thoughts were interrupted by the bang of the access hatch being kicked open, followed closely by an emerging B'Elanna Torres. The sight of the engineer crawling out backward from the hatch had an unsettling effect on Seven, she found her eyes drawn to the emerging form, while having to make a concerted effort not to reach out and grasp B'Elanna's hips with the intention of providing assistance, assistance that she knew was not required.
"Is there a problem Lieutenant?" Seven asked once B'Elanna had fully emerged from the hatch.
"Oh no why would there be a problem?" Stormed the now irate engineer, "we only have to redesign and implement a total system change in days, while working with defective equipment." At this she threw a small torch like object onto the cart at her side, the banging noise causing a few heads to turn.
"I see." And Seven did, the obvious failure of the isometric ratchet, which had been the third such failure in the last hour, was annoying, added to that was a day of computer simulations that didn't work and hardware that was too inflexible for their ideas. Seven herself had considered throwing something at one stage, but on analysing her impulse was unsure why, as all it would have accomplished was a dented and possibly broken data pad. "I believe this would be a good time to end your duty shift Lieutenant." Seeing B'Elanna about to protest and loudly she added, "I too require a period of regeneration if I am to perform adequately tomorrow, and the doctor has already ordered us off duty."
"Yes, twice." Seven agreed giving B'Elanna a conspiratorial smile.
"You're right." The tired engineer conceded, "and we'll need our wits intact for tomorrow's brain storming session."
After passing over their current assignments the two women left engineering together. Seven had been waiting until they were off duty to voice a question that had been bothering her since the incident in the mess-hall. "Lieutenant, is your relationship with Mr Paris terminated?" On her research into human mating rituals she had noted that the participants often made what seemed statements of finality, only to rescind them when tempers had cooled.
"Yes." The bluntness of the question producing an answer in a similar vain from B'Elanna.
"Good." Was Seven's only reply.
B'Elanna watched Seven as unobtrusively as she could as they made their way down the corridor, after her last word a smile had briefly lit up Seven's face, a smile which the half klingon would very much like to see repeated.
"Why is it good Seven?" B'Elanna questioned in a soft voice.
The conversation was interrupted by their arrival at the turbolift, the subsequent journey being made with two officers from the Delta shift. On once again finding themselves alone B'Elanna reached out a hand to stop Seven's progress, her hand remaining in its now favourite position, wrapped around Seven's upper arm, even though she had stop.
"I asked why is it good that Tom and I broke up?"
"I... " Seven found herself caught in B'Elanna's gaze, that and the feel of the warm hand around her arm, and the body so close to her was making it difficult for Seven to think. "I did not believe him to be a suitable mate for you."
B'Elanna took a tiny step closer to Seven. "Who do you think would be a suitable mate?" She purred, allowing her hand to slowly caress Seven's upper arm.
"I do not," Seven began, her face becoming flushed, and her heart rate increasing dramatically, "I have not considered all the variables, it.."
Seeing the normally cool Seven flustered in this way would have once made B'Elanna's day, but now she noticed the near panic in the other woman's eyes as she tried to explain herself, and she knew that now was not the time to push the other woman about her feelings.
Reluctantly stepping back from the now blushing ex-Borg, and releasing her grip from her arm B'Elanna smiled, "its okay Seven, you don't have to answer that now." Seeing the relief flood Seven's face she couldn't help but add, "but I would like to have an answer someday." Seven nodded her reply.
They continued walking towards their quarters in silence, but on reaching the junction that would separate them, B'Elanna found that she didn't want to part from the other woman.
"Would you like to come back to my quarters for a drink, or something?" The request sounding lame even to herself, but B'Elanna wasn't used to trying to entice beautiful former borg females back to her quarters. In truth all she wanted was the opportunity to talk with Seven and possibly try to understand the other woman. She knew from her recent attempt at flirting that Seven wasn't ready for anything more serious at the moment, but she also now knew, or hoped she did, that the younger woman was interested in her, an interest that was definitely mutual.
"You need your rest Lieutenant, as do I." Was Seven's cool answer, but in a tentative voice she added, "perhaps on another occasion?"
"Yes, another time." This was a statement from the engineer, not merely a polite response, and Seven couldn't help but look forward to the day it finally happened.
"Good night Lieutenant."
"Good night Seven."
B'Elanna made her way to her quarters in a more positive mood than she had managed all day, even the problems of the cloaking device and the three enemy ships waiting to pounce couldn't lessen her feelings of joy. Suddenly possibilities she had never before considered were opening up before her, and she intended to make the most of them. As the doors to her home opened all B'Elanna wanted was a quick shower and to jump into bed, what she got was a dishevelled Tom Paris sitting on her couch, snoring.
"Wha.." Blinking rapidly Tom tried to make out the figure in the still darkened room, "Lanna? Lights." The sudden illumination caused Paris to groan as his recently awakened eyes tried to handle the blinding glare. "Lights half."
"What are you doing here?" B'Elanna asked, her tone so far remaining calm.
"I thought we needed to talk about what happened this afternoon." Tom moved over to stand next to B'Elanna and prepared to lay what he thought of as a forgiving hand on her shoulder.
Side stepping his lunge B'Elanna pointed towards the door. "We've nothing to discuss Tom, it's over."
"Over? What do you mean? Come on Lanna, you know you don't mean that." With this the ensign's voice went into whine mode.
"I do mean it Tom, I'm sorry but its over." Pointing again towards the door, and this time prepared to use force if he didn't get the hint B'Elanna asked as politely as she could, "now if you don't mind Tom I'm tired and would like to get some rest, if you want to talk about it tomorrow we can do it then, but I won't change my mind."
"You can't mean that."
All patience now evaporated B'Elanna gave Tom a shove towards the door, "I said out!" And once the man was safely on the other side she set about changing her doors security pass word.
Tom stood outside B'Elanna's door rubbing his arm, a vacant expression on his face, 'this can't be happening' he thought, 'she loved him, he knew she did.' Tom's feet started taking him in the direction of his own quarters, his mind still too shocked to offer an alternative destination. 'Didn't she know what a catch he was?' 'Plenty more fish in the sea.' 'I'll show her.' 'This must be a mistake.' Were all thoughts that jumped for attention in his mind, all coming together to form a plan, not only to get B'Elanna begging him to take her back, but to show the rest of the crew just how much of a catch he really was.