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23 hours, 7 minutes
Seven of Nine opened her eyes. Her regeneration was incomplete. Someone had interrupted her. She scanned the darkened cargo bay, her senses on alert. It took her only a moment to spot B'Elanna Torres standing near the alcove's controls.
"Sorry to wake you," Torres said. Like the others on board, she did not properly refer to Seven's regeneration cycle.
Seven did not "sleep" as they did, so the term "waking up" did not actually apply to her. Instead, during her regeneration cycle, repairs were made to her cortical subprocessor, and her day-to-day functions were improved.
Of course, she knew better than to correct Lieutenant Torres. That would lead to an argument -- the same argument they had had before, in fact -- and that would be inefficient.
"I trust you had a reason for disturbing me," Seven said.
"The captain is intrigued by those two suns that we found. The collision will happen soon, and she wants to divert course so that we can record it." Torres shrugged. "She said -- "
"'How many other starships would get an opportunity like this one?'"
Torres raised an eyebrow. "She spoke to you about this?"
"No." Seven sounded as weary as she felt. "She has said similar things about astronomical events before."
Torres crossed her arms. "You don't agree with her on this one?"
"I believe watching two suns collide will be interesting, but it will also be dangerous. If we are too close..." Seven let her voice trail off. Torres knew what would happen. They all did.
"That's why the captain had me wake you," Torres said.
Seven resisted the urge to correct her.
"She wants us to calculate the exact moment when those stars will hit each other."
"I believe you are capable of doing that on your own."
Torres gave her a small smile. "I'll take that for the backward compliment it was."
"You already told the captain that."
"Of course. But she wants more than one set of eyes on this. She trusts yours, for some reason."
The edge was still there. Seven stepped out of her alcove. She and Torres had reached a kind of peace over the years that Seven had been on Voyager, but it was an uneasy peace. They respected each other, but actual friendship between them might never be possible. They could barely have a conversation without irritating each other.
"I shall meet you in astrometrics," Seven said.
"I'll walk with you," Torres said. "I have some figures on this padd, and I'd like to go over them with you."
Seven sighed inwardly. She had hoped for a moment alone. Of course that would not happen. When Captain Janeway wanted something, she wanted it immediately.
She took the padd from Torres's hand and started toward the door of the cargo bay. It had only been two hours since she had entered her alcove. She did not feel as fresh as she should have. She had just entered the most important part of her regenerative phase when Torres had interrupted her. Seven would have to reprogram the alcove next time to compensate.
Torres kept pace with her as they left the control area. "The gravitational fluctuations are severe." She was at Seven's right, leaning in toward the padd. "We'll have to -- "
Seven felt the explosion before she heard it. A wave of energy and debris sent her flying across the bay. Then the sound followed, so loud that it felt as if her ears had imploded. Her system registered light and heat and power as she tumbled like a weed in the wind.
The instant stretched into forever, and then to her surprise, she found herself on her back against one of the barrels, her feet twisted beneath her. She did not remember landing.
Her body ached and her ears rang, but she did a quick systems check. Except for scrapes and bruises, she was undamaged.
She used her elbows to prop herself up.
Her section of the bay was ruined. Metal shards and still pulsating chunks of electronics were scattered all over the section. A fire burned where her alcove used to be, and the main control panel looked as if it had melted.
She did not see Lieutenant Torres, but she did see the padd. It had been flat, and now it was L-shaped, as if someone had folded it down the middle.
"Lieutenant?" Seven's voice sounded faint to her own ears. The ringing was irritating. She would have to consult the Doctor about it. "B'Elanna?"
Still no answer. Or if Torres had tried to answer, the ringing in Seven's ears prevented her from hearing it. She pushed herself to her feet, felt new aches in her back and thighs and saw that she was bleeding from a cut along her forearm.
The bay was filling with acrid smoke. Her eyes were starting to water.
She had to think clearly. She had been standing next to Lieutenant Torres when the explosion occurred. Seven had ended up near a barrel, and the padd had landed several feet away. If the explosive force had hit them equally, then compensating for weight and direction, Lieutenant Torres should have landed equidistant from Seven's right.
Seven turned in that direction, feeling slightly dizzy. The explosion had affected her balance. Perhaps she was not as undamaged as she had initially thought.
The smoke was getting thicker, and part of the ringing she had attributed to her own ears was actually the sound of a klaxon. The rest of the ship would know that something had happened. Help would arrive soon.
But not soon enough. That smoke was making her lungs burn. She had to find Lieutenant Torres and get her out of here.
A pile of crates had toppled onto each other. They had held herbs, spices, and dried ingredients for Neelix's recipes. Now the foodstuffs were spread all over the floor, along with the blinking electronics equipment and bits of superheated metal.
Seven picked her way across the debris. "Lieutenant Torres?"
Still no response. She pushed aside one of the crates, accidentally sprinkling herself with some pungent Talaxian spice, and then she saw Lieutenant Torres, sprawled facedown, her uniform ripped, bleeding from several wounds on her back. A piece of hot metal leaned against her right arm, and as Seven bent down, she could smell the seared flesh.
"B'Elanna?" she said softly.
The smoke had grown so thick that Seven could barely see. Lieutenant Torres wasn't moving. Seven hit her combadge. She couldn't hear if it made its small chirrup or not.
"Seven of Nine to bridge, medical emergency," she said. "Lock on to this signal. Two to beam directly to sickbay."
She was about to give up and pick up B'Elanna in a fireman's carry when the transporter took them.
23 hours, 5 minutes
Lyspa stood in the public viewport, arm around her daughter, Andra. Andra was ten, and had the honor of being the first child born on Traveler, although certainly not the last. Population was tightly controlled so that the balance was carefully maintained. Once a death was announced, the next petitioner in line received permission to conceive a new life. Lyspa hadn't tried to have a second child. She had been pregnant with Andra when she boarded the ship, leaving Andra's father behind.
He was dead now.
All those left behind were dead now.
Before her, the blackness of space extended as far as she could see. Pinpoints of light marked the cold unblinking stars that held Traveler's future. The future of eight hundred million Rhawns, all bound together in their civilization's greatest achievement -- a colony ship. If, indeed, this fragile, cobbled creation they traveled in could be called a single ship.
Behind her, voices murmured as other Rhawns relaxed in the lounge. Vendors sang their wares in harmony and Lyspa knew it would only be a matter of time before Andra asked for a treat.
"How come we can't see it?" Andra asked.
Lyspa looked down at her daughter, at her lavender hair (the color of her father's), her slightly golden skin. She wore a deep purple jumpsuit to accent her unusual coloring -- she had learned early that appearances meant everything in their section of the giant ship.
"See what?" Lyspa asked.
"The suns," Andra said. "My teacher says they're going to hit each other really soon now. Shouldn't we be able to see them?"
It was a lesson to her, a bit of history, a cosmic anomaly. Lyspa had kept from her daughter her deepest fears, that Traveler hadn't made it far enough outside of the solar system to escape the effects of the collision, that when the suns hit, the energy released would destroy Traveler too.
"We haven't been able to see them for a long time," Lyspa said. "Surely your teacher has placed them on the viewer."
Andra nodded. "But it's not the same. How come we can't see them here?"
She had never asked this before. She had never been interested before. Lyspa didn't know if the new curiosity was a good thing or not.
"From this window we're looking toward the future." Lyspa said, amazed that her voice sounded so calm. Inside, her heart had twisted. Memories of a world she had loved were so close she could touch them, of a solar system she had seen both from gray grass of her home and from the cold blackness of space. A solar system and a world long gone. "Out there, we will find a new home."
Andra grunted in disgust. "Traveler is my home. I don't need any place else."
Because she hadn't known anything else. She knew the plants of her homeworld because she worked in the gardens, as all of the children did.
She had even experienced weather. The sphere had replicated the land as best it could, with streams, and small mountains, and farmland.
But it wasn't the same as having a summer sun against your back, feeling a breeze that brought with it hints of a distant continent, a bit of the ocean. It seemed artificial to Lyspa, and yet it was all Andra knew.
"I want to see the suns," Andra said into her mother's silence.
"I'll pay for some view time later tonight if you'd like," Lyspa said.
"No. I can get that in school. I was just hoping things would change out there." She swept her hand toward the giant reinforced windows, open to the stars. "It never changes out there."
It always changed out there. Lyspa saw the differences every day. Her daughter's comment made her wonder what the school had been teaching.
Or what she herself had been failing to teach.
She had been silent on the subject of stars for too long. Perhaps, after the collision, she would be able to speak of them. Perhaps.
If Traveler survived.
22 hours, 35 minutes
"Stop squirming, Seven," the Doctor said, his hand clamped on Seven's shoulder. For a hologram, he had an annoyingly tight grip. "The inner ear is a delicate instrument. Yours has sustained slight damage. If you move in the wrong direction, I may make it worse."
"And then you will correct it," Seven said. "You do not scare me with these exaggerations."
The Doctor sighed. "Just hold still."
She did, although she didn't want to. The ringing in her ears had yet to completely abate, but being in sickbay was getting her nowhere. She wanted to investigate that explosion.
Tuvok was still interviewing Torres. Torres had suffered no inner ear damage, although she had received pieces of shrapnel in her back and legs. She also had taken a hard blow to the head, but, as the Doctor said, if anyone could survive a hard blow to the head, it was B'Elanna Torres.
Seven knew he had not meant it as a compliment. The Doctor hated having an impatient Klingon in his sickbay. And when B'Elanna Torres was sick, she became one hundred percent Klingon.
Tom Paris hovered over Torres, even though his limited medical skills were no longer needed. He seemed at a loss and somewhat disconcerted by Torres's injuries. It was as if he had never seen an injured person before.
"Seven," the Doctor said. "Hold still."
"I am holding still. You are the one who has been moving."
Tuvok was asking Torres the same ridiculous questions he had asked Seven, although he didn't need to use a padd to ask them as he had with Seven. The ringing in her ears had grown so severe that she had to ask Tom Paris if he knew how to stop it. That, in turn, got the Doctor to do more than a cursory examination of her, and he had found the damage in her inner ears.
At least the ringing was diminishing. Now she had to hear those inane questions all over again. Had she seen anyone in the cargo bay who did not belong? Had she noticed any equipment malfunction? Had there been any warning?
If there had been warning, Seven would have gotten them out of the bay. The explosion had happened -- as Tom Paris was wont to say -- out of the blue.
"There." The Doctor finally put his arm down. "All finished. Although I'm beginning to think I should do something for that neck wobble of yours."
Seven slid off the biobed. "I do not have a neck wobble."
"Yes, you do," the Doctor said. "I think it stems from insatiable curiosity. If I had known you were going to watch everything Commander Tuvok did, I would have faced you in his direction."
Seven raised her eyebrow, giving the Doctor her most intimidating stare. "Commander Tuvok is asking the wrong questions."
"Oh?" That response came from across the room. Apparently Tuvok heard her. "What questions do you believe I should be asking?"
"You should be consulting the equipment," Seven said. "We may have suffered something as simple as a systems malfunction."
"A limited systems malfunction that destroys only your alcove and the board that controls it?" Tuvok asked. "A malfunction that creates a contained explosion which does not damage anything outside of the cargo bay?"
"Do you believe someone deliberately set this explosion?" Seven asked.
"I do not believe anything," Tuvok said. "All I have are the facts in evidence. A check of normal systems before the explosion did not show anything out of the ordinary."
"Have you looked in the bay?" Seven asked, remembering the destruction.
"The environmental systems did not respond to the smoke or the fire," Tuvok said. "We had to isolate the bay, then take care of the problems manually before we could send a team inside."
Seven drew herself to her full length. "Have you assembled your team?"
"Yes." Tuvok's gaze measured her. "It is a security team."
He seemed to have anticipated her next question and was letting her know, in his gentle but firm way, that his answer was no.
Still, she had to ask. "I request permission to be on that team."
"Do you suspect me?"
"Then I see no reason to keep me off the team."
"Having you along does not follow protocol."
"I know more about that alcove than anyone else."
"Yes," Tuvok said. "And the attack may be perceived as a personal one. I would prefer to have more objective team members."
He nodded at the Doctor and Torres, and then he left. Seven stared at the closing sickbay door.
"Wow," Torres said. "You really pushed him."
"Yeah," Paris said. "If I didn't know better, I would think you almost made him angry."
"My point was not to make him angry," Seven said. "I should be part of the investigation team."
"Well, you won't change his mind now," Torres said.
"That much is clear." Seven strode toward the door.
"Where do you think you're going?" the Doctor asked.
She gave him her most intimidating look again. It irked her that he did not seem affected by it. "Your repairs are satisfactory, Doctor. I am now going to astrometrics, where I have a stellar collision to observe."
"I'll join you shortly," Torres said.
"If you have dizziness troubles, balance problems, or more ringing in your ears, I want you back here immediately," the Doctor said.
Seven did not reply. The sickbay doors hissed open and she stepped through them into the corridor.
The ship smelled faintly of smoke, but she suspected that came more from her imagination than the environmental systems. The corridor was filled with crew members, going in various directions, doing their jobs as if nothing had happened. Normally, she liked this feature of Voyager, the way that no event, large or small, could get in the way of the ship's basic functions. But at the moment, it irritated her.
Perhaps Tuvok was right. Perhaps she had personalized the incident more than she realized. Perhaps she was reacting emotionally.
She dismissed that thought. Emotions were irritating. Nuisances. She envied Tuvok his calm and his control. She had to set emotions aside in order to work. Captain Janeway would probably tell her that an emotional response was normal; that she had to experience the emotion in order to master it.
But Seven did not have time to experience the emotion. She had more important things to do.
As she stepped through the doors into astrometrics, she felt her shoulders relax. This place, too, was home. At the moment, it was the only home she had left.
An image of the colliding stars was frozen on the viewscreen before her. She had left it there before she had returned to her alcove. The image was a preliminary trajectory, showing the stars' paths, and then the point at which they would collide. Naomi Wildman had excitedly expressed a desire to witness the event when it occurred.
In fact, the collision wouldn't be as dramatic as it sounded. The stars would sideswipe each other rather than truly collide. But the effect would be catastrophic, as it had already been to the worlds that had once orbited the stars. Gravitational and orbital disturbances had been going on for some time. Chunks of debris from smaller worlds and rapidly dispersing clouds of mostly hydrogen and methane drifted in space where entire solar systems had once been.
Although Captain Janeway wanted precise readings and accurate projections as to the exact nanosecond when the stars would collide, that would have to wait. Seven had other concerns demanding her attention.
She bent over her console and accessed information about the cargo bay. She looked for system anomalies, unusual energy spikes, and evidence of tampering. Then she examined the last readouts from her alcove.
She saw nothing out of the ordinary. But what she did see catalyzed yet another unexpected emotional response: fear.
If she had stepped off that platform only a few seconds later, she would have died. In fact, if Torres had not interrupted her, the explosion would have occurred in the deepest part of her regeneration cycle, when she would not have felt even a slight energy flux in the system.
Seven of Nine owed her life to B'Elanna Torres.
21 hours, 23 minutes
Emperor Aetayn left his throne and walked to the edge of the control room. He did not pilot this vast ship -- this floating world -- but he did command it. And with that command came a certain amount of helplessness.
Beneath him, before him, and above him was the blackness of space. Stars streamed past as the tube holding the command center rotated. Traveler held over eight hundred million souls, the survivors of a planet nearly eight years gone. The ship itself was a technological marvel. At the time it had pushed the boundaries of Rhawnian know-how.
The ship was over two hundred triviks long, made up of six large sections held together -- he sometimes thought -- by sheer force of will. Each section was composed of eleven tubelike habitat pods -- a center tube surrounded by ten others. Each tube spun slowly to create gravity for its inhabitants and to allow plants to grow. Each section was self-sufficient and each mirrored a part of a continent on Rhawn, their homeworld now gone.
Each section held millions of lives, each person going about his business as if he were still on Rhawn, as if this were a normal day.
Aetayn clasped his hands tightly behind his back. But it was not normal. Nothing had been normal since they left Rhawn's orbit ten years ago.
He glanced up. The streaming stars looked the same to him, but his pilots and navigators told him that each time they looked, they saw something different. Perhaps he lacked imagination. Perhaps he was unwilling to see what they saw.
Everything happened so slowly in space.
He turned around. The control room extended as far as his eye could see. His throne rose in the center of it, giving the illusion of power.
He had no real power here. If he did, he would force Traveler to move faster, to get it out of harm's way. The ship moved too slowly for his tastes. His scientists had warned him that the ship was still too close to the colliding stars, that the Traveler would not survive the collision.
They'd done everything they could. For over a century, his people had known about the coming collision. And for that hundred years, they had worked on finding a way off the planet, out of the solar system, to a future somewhere else, somewhere where they could survive. Traveler was the best solution they could devise. The entire ship was running on maximum power; every engine, every thruster, every steering jet working to the point of breakdown as they accelerated away from the suns.
But if the latest estimates were true, it would avail them nothing. The ship was still too far inside the danger zone. The blast wave, when it came, would overtake them and rip the ship apart before the remains were incinerated.
Around him, hundreds of Rhawns went about their jobs, monitoring various aspects of Traveler's business. Station commanders stood in front of the sixty-six control panels -- one for each tube -- and made sure that the information flowed correctly. His navigators made sure they were on the correct track; his pilots kept the various parts of the ship carefully balanced.
No one else seemed concerned. No one except his top-level scientists, who worked in isolation on their own private island in Unit 45.
"Blessed Sky Singers!" Erese, who monitored Unit 3, uttered an oath, breaking all protocol in the command center.
Aetayn glanced at Erese, a tall thin man with graying strawberry hair, and a narrow pinched face. He looked alarmed.
As he did, viewscreens dropped all over the command center. Aetayn hurried back to his throne, only to feel the entire command center shake.
The shake was like a wave fluttering through the ship, as if something had happened farther back, sending vibrations forward.
He glanced at the viewscreen in front of his throne and gasped in horror. An asteroid -- a rock no bigger than a boulder -- had collided with Unit 3.
The image showed itself on all the viewscreens, the asteroid colliding, disappearing, and then exiting on the other side of the tube.
A tube that held millions of people.
A tube that was now open to the vacuum of space.
21 hours, 18 minutes
Lyspa fell on her back so hard that the air left her body. She skittered across the clear floor, slamming into the trees that had been planted as decoration in the viewing area. The trees weren't upright. She didn't hit the trunk.
She hit the leaves.
The floor was shaking, undulating, feeling as if it were being ripped apart. Screams sounded around her, but they seemed far away. Her ears ached and she recognized the feeling although she hadn't experienced it for nearly ten years.
The pressure in the ship was changing -- something that didn't happen in deep space.
Unless there was a problem.
A serious problem.
She reached for Andra, but her daughter wasn't at her side. She couldn't hear her daughter's screams mixed in with the crowds' either. She twisted her head, but she was still sliding on the floor. Beneath her, she could see the stars and something else, something white, something coming from the tube, venting into space.
One of the trees skittered into her and she felt the branches scratch her face. She flattened her hands on the clear surface, trying to stop herself and only partially succeeding. There had been a rupture. Her pilot's training told her that. The atmosphere in this tube would last for quite a while -- the tube was huge -- but eventually it would disappear.
She had to find Andra.
Lyspa struggled to her knees, only to be rocked again. This time, she flattened, felt the explosion ripple through the tube. A vendor screamed as his cart fell on him, the electronic heaters flaring brightly. Children's treats -- sugar leaves, candy deles, and brightly colored Os -- bounced all over the viewpoints. She followed an orange O as it rose in the air and past it, through the clear view wall, she saw more white material venting into space.
"Andra!" she cried.
The shaking continued.
She felt a tug on her clothing, a compelling pull -- faint, but insistent. So she wasn't very far from the breach. As the nearby atmosphere vented, the rest would get tugged toward the vacuum, disappearing into the darkness beyond -- the darkness that she had grown to hate.
There was no answer. Other voices called other names. Some voices simply screamed in pain.
But it was her daughter's silence that frightened her.
"Andra!" she shouted again, trying to search every detail around her while praying for a response.
Her prayer was not answered.
Copyright © 2001 by Paramount Pictures