A pause, then, “I’m not very comfortable with using her like that.”
“Get over it, then. Inspections mean we have to get this stuff out of the way.”
“I know…but she’s so young. It’s not fair.”
“You mean you don’t think it’s fair to have a four-year old girl help us? Tuvok will never suspect her.”
“I appreciate the help, Neelix, really,” Samantha Wildman held out the Flotter doll. “She’ll be done with her bath in a few minutes, and then she’ll want to play. You don’t mind?”
“She asked me, Sam. She said she found a new place to play hide and seek yesterday.”
“She spent the afternoon in the cargo bays. I’m concerned…”
“Nothing to worry about. You know those cargo containers are locked down, nothing is going to fall down on her. We’ll play for a while and I’ll tuck her into bed.”
“She’ll be filthy again.”
“Not to worry. I’m her godfather. I can listen to her taking a sonic shower as well as I could give her a bath four years ago.”
Samantha sighed with relief. “Thanks, Neelix. I don’t know why B’Elanna needs me tonight of all nights… I just got back with those benamite samples and I just got cleared by Doc three days ago. I’ve barely had any time with Naomi at all.”
“You’ve never talked about this project B’Elanna recruited you for,” Neelix said, holding out Samantha’s jacket for her to slip it on.
“So far, it’s not been much. Just some theoretical late-night musings.’
“Anything in particular?”
“You’re digging, Neelix. I told you before, she’s asked me not to talk about it.”
“It’s just odd, you’re a science officer, specializing in…”
“Neelix, stop it.”
“And she runs engineering, which normally doesn’t need science officers…”
“Ok, ok,” Neelix put up his hands in surrender. “Does Chakotay know you’re pulling these extra shifts?”
“He knows that B’Elanna asked for me to go on that last away mission.” Sam checked her hair in the mirror. “I don’t know that Torres has told him, or what he thinks he knows.”
“Big secret then.”
Samantha grimaced. “I have to go, Neelix. Give Naomi a big hug for me before she goes to bed.”
Engineering had four stations manned. That was unusual for a beta shift – normally, Chief Engineer Torres scheduled routine maintenance and diagnostics during the ship’s second daily shift. Using that information, she could then assign the next day’s work to her staff. But only Torres, Bristow, Herron, and Carey were in the room, and not even paying much attention to the readouts. They stood together outside the door to the chief engineer’s office, as if trying to shield what they were doing.
Sam tried to spot the rest of the crew that should be scheduled for this shift, but other than the four the room was empty. As a science officer, Sam didn’t know much about how B’Elanna scheduled the shifts other than the standard Starfleet program of beta shift diagnostics and gamma shift routine maintenance. Keeping three shifts manned constantly in territory that might become hostile without notice wasn’t part of Starfleet regs, but it was a fact of life for Voyager in the Delta Quadrant.
“Good, you’re here.” Lieutenant Torres nodded at Sam as she came into the office. “I’ve been working on this project for several months in the theoretical stage. We are moving it into the practical stage now. You four are the team leaders. Herron, you’re working alone, of course. Wildman, here’s your list. If you need more science officers, recruit them privately, but let me know who they are and I’ll get them assigned so they’re not pulling double shifts. Here’s the information. Above everything else – keep this away from Janeway and Seven.”
Sam swallowed as she looked at the PADD, and then she gasped. “Keep this away? From Janeway and Seven? Are you crazy?”
“Crazy enough to kill whoever lets Janeway find out.” Torres said dryly.
“Crazy enough to kill Seven if she finds out,” Herron said.
Sam would worry that the proud Klingon might react to her comment, but all of the others were saying the same and more. Herron was laughing, Bristow and Carey stood with their mouths open and Torres had her arms crossed, a threatening pose for those who knew her. The smile on her face was filled with sheer spite and unholy glee.
“You think you might be able to produce a slipstream technology yourself?” Bristow asked. “That’s… that’s…”
“Possible.” Carey finished for him. “Possible. Insane…but possible.”
“The trick will be to hide the working components. If Janeway or Seven see it, it’s all over. They’ll know what it is in a heartbeat.” Bristow glared at Carey. “We’ll need someplace to work. Not here.”
“No,” Lieutenant Torres said, “You’re right. We’ll need a place. I’ll work on that. Keep this quiet. If you need to talk, use my office. And so you know, Harry and Tom are not in on this. Don’t ask them for help.”
“What about Chakotay?” Joe asked.
“No. Chakotay will run to the captain instantly with this. We’re talking a major breakthrough in engineering, if we can get this slipstream project to work. All he knows is that I’ve got an idea and I’ve asked for a few science officers to help me work it out. He knows how I work. He’s not going to ask any questions – but don’t make it hard on him. He needs culpable deniability.”
Sam looked at the configuration on the PADD. “We won’t need much space. Ten cubic meters, maybe a bit more. Herron?”
“That will be plenty.” Herron tapped the PADD on his other palm. “We’ll need someplace out of the way. I’ve got an empty crew quarters next to mine.”
“That will work. Can you get some shielding up tonight without it looking suspicious?”
Herron shrugged. “Let me check the Jeffries tubes connections. If I can get there, no one will even know I’ve been there.”
“What’s that smell?” Sam asked, diverted from her assignment. “Is something burning?”
Carey and Torres ran to stations to run diagnostics. Herron sniffed with Samantha as they tried to track the odor.
“All clear, Chief,” Carey reported.
“Here, too,” Torres said, but the smell was strong, acrid enough to make all of them wrinkle their faces. “Wait. I know that smell.”
Captain Kathryn Janeway and Commander Chakotay had left the mess hall together after dinner, and now, with any luck, Chakotay would be able to accomplish the one task he’d tried to finish all day. It wasn’t often that an entire day passed without the captain visiting Main Engineering, but she’d been tucked into her ready room with crew evaluation reports and an indexed report from Seven regarding improvements for a variety of departments all over Voyager. Chakotay needed Janeway in Main Engineering.
The fumes hit her like an invisible baseball bat. Chakotay could see her shoulders heave as she gained control over her body’s natural reaction to the stench. She straightened up, and sucked in a slow breath through her mouth before stepping off the turbo-lift.
“It’s Bolian chimbay.” He didn’t think he needed to remind her of the name, but it wouldn’t hurt to jog her memory of years past. Every year past, to be accurate: chimbay was the customary food eaten at the Bolian New Year. To everyone else on board, it was the single most revolting smell they had ever experienced in the Delta Quadrant or elsewhere. To the nine Bolians, it was a taste of home.
She nodded, but swallowed noticeably before turning into Main Engineering.
Twelve engineers stood around B’Elanna Torres, who barked out orders with furious disgust. “We put up with this every year. This year, we don’t. You find a way to get this smell out of here and you do it tonight. Nothing other than a red alert pulls anyone from this assignment. Dismissed.”
Captain Janeway tried to smile at the engineer, but the contortions of her face made it into a distorted smirk. “Thank you, B’Elanna.”
“When is this holiday, anyway?”
“Three days,” Chakotay answered, looking at the crew who had broken up into small groups. Two engineers were donning gas masks and accessing a Jeffries tube. Another group stood around, exchanging vehement denials as they headed out to the life-support and environmental controls lab.
“We’ll deal with it,” Janeway’s
voice was absolute. “We’ve done so for the past five years.”
Torres shuddered. “Yes, ma’am, we have. This year, however, we will not endure it.”
“Good luck,” Chakotay said under his breath.
“Foul…” Torres muttered, but looked up at the captain. “What can I do for you, Captain?”
“Nothing, nothing. Just checking in.” She glared at Chakotay. “He suggested that we stop by.”
His blank stare answered their questioning looks. “Good night, B’Elanna.”
He steered his captain back into the obnoxious fumes. “You know you have to do it.”
Janeway stepped quickly into the unpolluted turbo lift and motioned him in with her. “I don’t want to.”
“You have to. If we don’t schedule an inspection for the day after the Bolian New Year, Chell and the others will keep brewing that chimbay.”
“It is a holiday tradition. We let Neelix celebrate Prixin –“
“Which at its worst makes the ship smell like cinnamon for about five hours.”
She nodded as she exited the turbo lift and headed for her quarters. “It’s only a matter of time before it gets up here, Captain.”
At her door, she turned and looked at him. “You did that on purpose.”
Chakotay tilted his head, an exact copy of her own. “I’ll announce the inspection for four days from now.”
“Will that be enough time?” she asked.
“I think so.”
|To: All Crew
From: Commander Chakotay
Re: Annual Crew Quarters Inspections
All crew quarters will be inspected beginning stardate 54000 at 08:00.
Tom sat at the table in the mess hall, his hands running through his hair. “I’ve got three cases of contraband whiskey from our last shore leave shoved under my bed. I have ten boxes of Rullarin chocolate in my closet.”
Neelix nodded. “I’ve got a few unmentionables myself.”
“We need a place to hide them, Neelix. We can’t use the crew quarters on Deck 13 – they’ll be checking all quarters, like they did last year.”
“You just managed to get all your contraband out in the nick of time last year, didn’t you?”
“Barely. I think Janeway may have heard the transporter beam when she opened the door.”
Neelix tapped on the table with his fingers. “I might have an answer for you. For us.”
“What’s that?” Tom looked up, hope in his eyes.
“Naomi and I were playing last night on Deck Fourteen, near the storage bays.” Tom grimaced. “Why down there?”
“Lots of places to play hide and seek.”
“Hide and seek? I love that game… I taught it to Naomi… yes, hide and seek. You say there’s space down there? How much?”
“Lots. It’s not a big, open space, but we’re looking for a small area, aren’t we?”
“Just big enough to put some boxes.”
Tom jumped up. “Let’s go take a look.”
“Inspections.” B’Elanna wanted to throw her PADD across her office, but the slipstream components were too fragile for her to randomly toss it without concern about the PADD denting a part and causing ultimate disaster.
The slipstream team had done remarkable work in less than twenty hours. Hidden in her office because of all the other activity in the Jeffries tubes, the pile of components didn’t look significant- unless you were a Borg or a starship captain with an itch to get home and an over-active interest in advanced engineering. Carey and Bristow had already put together the major housing for the slipstream management system. It looked just like what it was: an energy conduit. Even Tom would be able to identify it on sight.
Not that what they were doing was wrong, or illegal, or against orders. It just wasn’t ready yet for another set of eyes. B’Elanna knew that once Janeway and Seven saw it, the project would be taken over in a matter of microseconds and for now, B’Elanna wanted to do this herself. If her theories and engineering were correct, then this might be the ticket home. If she was wrong, then it was just another attempt that the captain didn’t need to know about.
“Lieutenant Torres?” Samantha Wildman stuck her head through the open doorway. “May I come in?”
“Sure, sure,” the chief said.
“I think I’ve found a hiding spot.”
Torres’s eyes flashed. “Yes! Where?”
“Deck Fourteen. Neelix and Naomi were playing down there last night.”
“Behind the storage bays?”
“Yes. There’s one area behind bay three that would be plenty big enough for us. It’s not quite as large as a crewman’s quarters, but it should be big enough for us to work. Besides, the smaller area might help us. Herron’s determined where the equipment should be installed - in theory. It’s a tight squeeze. We either have to pull out some containment field generators – or build it smaller by at least twenty percent.”
Torres nodded. “Good. I’ll be letting Harry in on this. We’ll have to get him to work out the transport with Ops to make sure that Tuvok or Janeway don’t notice it.”
Wildman smiled. “Harry can probably do it tonight during gamma shift. I’ll take duty here then, and ask Neelix to stay with Naomi tonight.”
“Harry, Harry, Harry!” Tom’s urgency had swallowed up his usual drawl. “Don’t tell me you still have some –“
“Quiet!” Harry Kim hushed his friend loudly, and looked around the bar in the holodeck carefully to see if anyone noticed. “Shut up!”
Tom sat back, the scent of victory giving him a triumphant smile. “I knew it.”
“You and half the crew have been asking for unauthorized transports all day. At least half of them don’t even have a place to put this stuff. And the Ashmores –“
“What did they do with it last year?”
“I don’t know. But they didn’t get caught. This year, everyone’s asking me. Do I have a sign on my back that says 'Harry Kim, conspirator for hire'?”
“I didn’t think so,” his face was glum as he gulped down the last of his coffee. “No one’s offering to pay.”
Tom pushed another bowl of peanuts over in front of his friend. “I have a place. There’s enough space for your – er – stuff, too.”
Harry took a peanut and looked at it. “Peanuts. That’s all I’m going to get.”
“Janeway, Chakotay, and Tuvok are all off duty tonight. Neelix is having a planning session for the Bolian New Year celebration.”
“Are they going to tell Chell to quit brewing that chimbay yet?”
“I don’t think so.”
“That stuff is awful. Everything smells like it.”
“You can do the transports then.”
“And the transporter logs?”
“Would Tuvok look?”
“Gee, I don’t know. We have crew quarters inspections in two days…why would Tuvok think to look?”
“Such sarcasm, Harry.”
Neelix leaned over the table. “I know a spot, Ashmore. There’s plenty of space. Not very clean, but you could go down there now and take care of it. You’re the transporter engineer, you can say you’re running a series of diagnostics.”
Lieutenant Ashmore sat back and looked at his wife. “You wanted a certificate for your records, didn’t you?”
She looked at him with disdain. “A transporter certificate? Are you joking? I’m an engineer, not a photon jockey.”
Kofi Ashmore didn’t care for the epithet. “You want to keep that anti-grav bed, you become a photon jockey. I’ll process your request for a certification test now, and you’ll be beaming stuff all over the ship in twenty minutes. If our bed happens to be one of the items, Tuvok’s not going to notice. And if he does, we’ll tell him it’s part of your test.”
Maria Ashmore closed her eyes for a full five seconds. “I will never live this down in Engineering.”
“You will if you pass, Baby.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Kathryn.” Chakotay looked at her over a cup of coffee and a bagel covered with peanut butter. “If we don’t inspect the quarters, what will happen?”
“The universe as we know it will not end, Chakotay.”
He sipped his cup of coffee and replaced it carefully in the saucer. “What would Starfleet say? What would Tuvok say? Captain Kathryn Janeway, the Starfleet Stickler, refusing to comply with Starfleet regulations for annual CQI.”
“You’re overdoing it.” She snorted and put her empty cup into the recycler. “Starfleet Stickler? Isn’t that Tuvok’s title?”
Chakotay tut-tutted. “Now, Kathryn. Must I remind you of the last infestation?”
She growled under her breath. “No, you must not.”
“They had sixteen legs, Kathryn. They left pink and purple fluff everywhere. Neelix was allergic to it.”
“They drank all of the coffee substitute that you liked from Partacula.”
“The Doctor had to isolate fifteen crewmen who couldn’t stop sneezing.”
“Stop.” She put up her hand. “Can’t we just tell the crew not to store food in their quarters?”
“Did that ever work with you?”
She didn’t answer.
“You make my point for me. All CQI does is get people to clean up their cabins. It gets the food out of the rooms and into a proper storage so that varmints can’t find anything to eat or anyplace to have their babies.”
“I’m quoting you. Sixteen legs, Kathryn.”
“Pink fluff. I remember.” Kathryn pulled the red afghan around her like a coat of armor and sat down on the couch beside him. “Nasty vermin. But I hate doing this. I’m poking around in the crew’s privacy. We agreed, right from the beginning, that this was no normal deep space duty. The crew was going to have to be allowed great leeway in what they collect and keep in their quarters.”
“How much have we ever confiscated?” He rubbed the afghan’s fine weave on her shoulder. “Very little. A few trinkets that were radioactive. A few plants that had pollen problems. Ok, we collected all of Suder’s weapons, but that was necessary.”
Kathryn looked up at the name of their lost crewman. “I don’t wanna.”
“I’ll make Tuvok do it with me.”
She sighed and put her head back against the back of her couch. “All right, all right, you win. I’ve ordered Tom to find us a nice M-class planet to exchange all the air from the ship. I don’t think I can take that chimbay smell much longer.”
“Shore leave, too?”
“Why not? We force them to clean up their rooms and they’ll have plenty of space for lots of new toys for themselves, won’t they?”
“Are you ready for Neelix and Tuvok? They’re supposed to meet us in my quarters in ten minutes.”
“Bolian New Year festivities. Why did I say I wanted to be in on this conversation?”
“Three words. Chell, ceiling, explosion.”
“Right. Let’s go.”
Right after the beginning of gamma shift, Samantha Wildman stood beside Harry at the Ops station. “So don’t look. I’ll be right here; you sit down in the big chair. You’ve got the con.”
“Are you qualified for intraship transports?”
Samantha blinked. “No…”
“Then you’ll end up beaming your work into space.” He pushed a few buttons, and watched the readouts. “See this? That’s the current speed, you need to put that in as the relativity factor here…”
Harry watched the screens.
“Ayala, take the con. I’ll be a few minutes here.”
Seven of Nine walked off the turbo lift and headed straight for Harry. “Ensign Kim. I have to arrange a transport of several containers from Cargo Bay Two to another location.”
Neelix and Tom looked at the wall. Containers of personal goods were stacked up along both sides of the room and even into the corridor.
“Who did you tell about this space, Neelix?” Tom asked, rubbing his forehead.
“Just you!” Neelix put down his box. “But Naomi was telling her mother about playing down here.”
A wide space behind Tank Three was filled with containers with the Engineering logo on them. PADDs rested on top of each, looking organized and precisely prepared.
“B’Elanna’s been here, hasn’t she?” Neelix said, and hiked his box back up onto his shoulder. “Come on, there was some space down this way, toward the turbolift.”
Tom glanced around a bulkhead and saw a crude sign. “Reserved for Ashmores.”
Maria Ashmore stood in front of the transporter station and her face told its story clearly.
“I have been eating leola root, without complaining, for four years now. Four years so you could have this anti-grav bed.”
Kofi Ashmore gritted his teeth. “You always say that you like sleeping in zero-g.”
“I do like it – but look at this thing! Is it worth it? The last time you and I had a date – “
“You demanded a date,” he said, unheard.
“We had to turn it off for a week, just to get enough rations to get time on the holodeck. And then, all we could do was walk – we couldn’t eat, we couldn’t dance. We walked.”
“You said you wanted to go someplace quiet.”
“Quiet? You took me to a desert. Do I look like someone who would enjoy a desert?” Maria flapped her arms. “A desert, Kofi?”
Kofi, wisely, did not answer this.
“We never eat except what Neelix prepares. We never have a party. The only time I’ve been on the holodeck in the last year was for the Captain’s Christmas party.”
Kofi came to stand at the station with his wife. “I know. And if you say that it’s time for us to go back to a Starfleet issue mattress-“
She glared at him.
“- With the Starfleet issue sheets-“
She looked away from him.
“- And a Starfleet issue pillow –“
She started to laugh, and he laughed with her. “We do this every year,” she complained.
“Yeah, we do. And then we remember why –“ his eyes raised just enough for her to notice “-you love the anti-grav bed.”
Maria reached around her husband’s back and laid a warm hand low on his hip, rubbing it. “You have such a bad hip, love, that I know that without the bed, you’d be in pretty bad shape.
“Yeah,” Kofi said, his voice dropping an octave. “Bad shape.”
He stepped closer to her. “You know, my hip’s feeling pretty good these days.”
He demonstrated how good it felt.
Maria wrapped her other arm around his shoulders, her fingers in his black hair. “I guess it is feeling good.”
“Baby,” Kofi said as his wife kissed him under his chin. “You’re supposed to be taking the transporter test.”
“Let’s keep the bed one more night,” Maria whispered into his ear. “We’re both off duty right now…”
Chakotay’s face was completely blank when the Ashmores passed him in the corridor outside the transporter room, heading for the turbo lift he’d just vacated. He turned to look at Neelix. “And what’s for supper tonight, Mr. Neelix?”
“Leola patties fried in chreslyn oil, served with a new sauce. Those berries we found on the last planet are very tart, very tasty with the leola root. I think it will become one of the crew’s favorites.”
“You may be right,” Chakotay agreed politely, wishing there was some way to tactfully convince Neelix that leola root would be best appreciated by the crew by its absence from the menu.
“I also have a lovely salad from the …” Neelix scanned the hallway. “Commander?”
“Do you know where the captain will be starting the crew quarters inspections?”
“In general, she starts them at the top deck and works down.” Chakotay stopped to look at a an open Jeffries tube. “Why do you ask?”
“No reason, just curiosity. I asked Mr. Tuvok, but you know him. He just gave me that Mr. Vulcan look and didn’t answer.”
“I see. No, the captain and I will be starting on Deck Four.”
Neelix smirked. “Doesn’t the captain’s quarters, and yours, for that matter, don’t they get inspected too?
Chakotay looked impressed. “I don’t think anyone’s ever asked me that question before, Neelix. I’ll have to look into it.”
The smell of the chimbay receded as the Bolians consumed their delicacy, but it wasn’t enough for the crew. Astrometrics and navigation were constantly deluged with questions demanding to know where and when the ship would be landing for a complete atmospheric exchange.
Every attempt the Engineering crew made had been unsuccessful. Short of putting the chimbay into a box on the hull, there was no way to escape. B’Elanna ordered Chell to try it, but it was clear that the ripening process required constant oxygenation – and that wasn’t possible in the vacuum of space. Three engineers had been assigned the duty of creating a container for next year, however.
Kathryn reported to the bridge and noted more than a few pale faces at their duty stations. Bolian New Year was a popular holiday for those who did and those who did not eat chimbay. She knew from a quick stop in the mess hall that it would take Neelix and ship’s services hours before the room would be ready for serving the next meal.
“There’s one thing you can say for chimbay,” Janeway said to a sorry-looking Maria Ashmore at the science station. “It makes leola root taste good.”
“Ma’am,” Lt. Ashmore said, swallowing loudly, “Nothing, I mean, nothing will ever make leola root taste good. Or chimbay, for that matter.’
Kathryn laughed gently. “Did you pass your transporter certification yet, Lieutenant?”
“Not yet. If you wouldn’t mind, Captain,” Maria said as she rubbed the back of her neck. “I’d like to go get ready to take it now. Kofi said he was free for a while.”
“What are you working on here?”
“Diagnostic. Lieutenant Torres has me run them every day at this time. It will be done in a couple of minutes. I can get the data after the test.”
“Works for me,” the captain said. “The more people we have cross-trained, the better for Voyager.”
Maria raised a single eyebrow at her board. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you. I’ll get the results from engineering.”
“Good luck, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, Captain.”
Maria Ashmore entered the turbo lift as Chakotay exited it. Mumbled greetings from the subordinate were lost in the whoosh of the doors, but Chakotay had already seen enough of the crew to know it was going to be a slow day on Voyager.
“Let’s hope it’s a slow day outside Voyager, too,” Chakotay put a cup of coffee in his captain’s hands. “No fluff, you see. Checked it myself.”
“My ready room, if you please, Mr. Chakotay.”
The coffee was hot and fresh, and Kathryn Janeway enjoyed the sensations of it – the heat, the aroma, the taste… “Can’t I just stay in here today? Call it Sunday? Read the comics?”
“Comics?” Chakotay sat on the couch as she paced the room.
“Stories told by pictures? Little balloons showing what the characters are saying?”
“I take it they’re supposed to be funny.”
She eyed him, little warnings flashing. “Yes, they were. You didn’t do that as a kid? One morning a week, you lounged around in your jammies, eating donuts and getting the news with your parents?”
“I don’t think so.” Chakotay crossed his arms over his chest.
“Let’s decree it’s Sunday then. No one has to work, Maria Ashmore can take her test tomorrow, you and I can go play tennis in the holodeck….”
“As much as I like the idea, we do have plans for the day.”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Kathryn, three words.”
“You used three words last time and it made no difference. Did you see the mess hall?”
“I did. You will notice that the ceiling is still intact.”
“Yes, but there’s a wading pool in there that is filled with yellow rubber duckies that quack insults at you.”
“It’s nailed to the wall, Chakotay. A wall where six power conduits are supposed to be safe from puncture. A wall where four coolant pressure housings are kept. And you know how they attached the wading pool to the wall, Chakotay? With titanium self-sealing stem bolts. It’s going to take an act of God to be sure that we won’t blow ourselves to Kingdom Come when they take it down.”
“Are you feeling homesick today, Kathryn?”
She stopped her walking and looked at him. “Not that I know of. Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re talking about mornings with your parents and you’ve dropped into the Indiana vernacular twice in one sentence.”
She sat down beside him, resting her head on the back of the couch. “It’s like my mother, checking to see if I’ve cleaned up my room enough for me to go play Paresis Squares. I’ve never given birth and I’ve still turned into my mother.”
Chakotay laughed out loud. “Come on, we’ve got almost a full hour before we have to start. I need to do some quick research in my office, and then we’ll meet on Deck Four.”
“There are one hundred and twenty rooms we have to inspect,” she moaned.
“At least. Did you remember to have B’Elanna power up Deck Nine?”
“Yes,” she shot at him, not angry. “I remembered this time.”
“I don’t wanna,” she said to his back as he headed for the door, but other than his quick wave, he was gone.
Deck Nine was the easiest to inspect. The entire deck had been shut down for three years, except for parts of engineering. All the rooms had been closed off, and even they smelled like chimbay.
“There’s no bed in here, Chakotay,” the captain said as she stuck her head into a room.
“No bed?” He looked up. “Someone took a bed?”
She rolled her eyes. The hiss of a transport had not been finished as she opened the door to the next room. “Interesting dust pattern on the floor in here,” she commented.
“Very geometric,” Chakotay agreed. “All about the size of a TC-12 storage container, don’t you think?”
“Were we storing anything in here? I must get pretty cold down here.”
“And pretty hot.” Chakotay studied the PADD. “We monitor some of the rooms for environmental purposes. The temperature range is staggering without environmental control.”
She stepped into the quiet room, devoid of all but dust and a lingering smell of chimbay. “How many left?”
“There are sixteen more on this deck, then twenty-two more, including the ones on Deck Fourteen that we’re not supposed to know about.”
“We’re looking into those?”
“Of course. Dalby’s still is down there.”
“I like Dalby’s brew.”
“We all like it, but it is against regulation for it to be in an uncontrolled, non-food environment.”
“It wouldn’t be half as fun if he’d put it up in the mess hall.” Kathryn sighed and stepped back into the hall.
“I heard that on the Constellation, they had a ship-wide contest for the best brew.”
“The Constellation is a galaxy-class generational ship.”
“True. And no one but Dalby is brewing here.”
“I wish we could find him a place to make a serious effort at brewing his beer. He’s quite good at it.”
“Our supplies are too inconsistent for him to brew up a regular… what’s this?” Chakotay pointed at a long scrape in the wall of another cabin.
“Ok, you successfully transported five small items around the ship,” Kofi Ashmore said to his wife. I will point out that it’s rather unorthodox to use a tractor beam to shove something into place when you’ve missed your transporter target.”
“It worked, didn’t it?” Her frustration level was growing, along with the volume of her voice. “There’s no reason it can’t be done. We do it in Engineering all the time. It’s just an inverse of the ratio in the… ”
“Yes, but if you tried to do it with living matter, they’d be splattered against the wall. Check the location, we’ll have to see what damage you did during that transport.”
“My head is killing me.”
“Too much of Dalby’s best, Baby.”
“That,” she agreed wearily, “and the chimbay, and the leola root. I’m so sick of leola root.”
“Next on the test. Locate an object according to preset configuration.” He grinned a bit. “Let’s look for … this.”
The configuration appeared on her screen, and she put the details into the computer manually. “I think this is all nuts, typing every thing in.”
“It’s practice in case the computer system fails to recognize voices. Or you have to do with silently.”
She banged on the keyboard, making enough noise for a passing security officer to stick his head into the room to check for problems. “If the computer system failed to recognize my voice, I would not be trusting it to transport anything.”
”Voice interface has nothing to do with the transporter circuits.” Kofi checked her work. “Do you know what you’ve identified as your transporter object?”
She nodded and a frightening look crossed her face. “What next?”
“It has to be transported to seven locations on the ship. You select five, I select two.”
“Was that so painful?” Captain Janeway asked as he let the last door close behind them. “I really do not understand your reluctance to do CQI.”
She stepped into the turbo lift and said “Bridge” before he was in the cabin.
“Belay that. Deck Fourteen.”
She looked wounded. “Deck Fourteen. Do we have to?”
“I don’t wanna.”
“Kathryn, we set up Naomi to tell everyone about the empty space on Deck Fourteen so we could check out the contraband.”
She sighed. “I know.”
“It was your idea to use her.”
“I know,” she said again.
“So, let’s get it over with.”
The turbo lift doors slid open on the dimly lit deck. “Where to?”
“Look around.” Chakotay took the lead and headed behind the closest tank. “I see Harry Kim’s got his stuff back here. Do you have your tricorder?”
She handed it to him. “They get more stuff every year, Chakotay.”
“Does that surprise you?”
“No, not really.” She watched him scan the containers. “Do you know about the Lewis and Clark Expedition?”
He looked up, interested. “Expedition to where?”
“Western North America. Several explorers followed the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, then crossed the Rockies and into the Pacific watershed. They sent back boatloads of things at one point – they couldn’t keep them all for the entire trip.”
“We don’t have that option, do we?” he handed her the tricorder and opened a box. “I think Harry’s been collecting…yes, here it is.”
He pulled out a small box with glowing stones around it. “What is it with that boy and glowing stones? Didn’t we confiscate some radioactive rocks from him last year?”
Kathryn scanned the little container. “Not too bad, but too high for him to have in his quarters.”
“The radioactive storage container is right over there, Kathryn. I’ll put it away right now. He might not even notice it’s gone till we give it back to him on Earth.”
She liked the positive sound of that. Kathryn scanned the rest of Harry’s storage box. “Uh oh.”
She refused to surrender the tricorder back to him when he returned. “He’s got fruitcake in there. Longangory fruitcake.”
“I loved that fruitcake.”
“I wept when I ate the last of it.”
“We all know.”
“He’s got some.”
Her sad eyes looked up at his. “It’s fruitcake, Chakotay. Real fruitcake…the perfect dessert with coffee…and he’s got so much left.”
“There weren’t many of you who liked it.”
“I asked him if he had any more, and he told me he didn’t.”
“Can you blame him? You practically inhaled Ashmore’s.”
“He lied to me, Chakotay. He lied.”
“He did, yes.”
“I’ll never trust him again.”
Chakotay took her hands. “Kathryn, look at me.”
“You know that fruitcake gets better with age.”
“I know you think so. Kathryn, it’s Harry’s fruitcake. Leave it alone. If we take it, he’ll know we were here, looking at his things. The whole point of this is to find and remove only the dangerous or unacceptable items from the crew’s possession. Despite my opinion of fruitcake, it fits neither category. It’s properly contained. No vermin is going to get to it, or eat it, for that matter.”
She put up her chin and walked away from him, which was just as well.
Chakotay was no engineer, but he knew enough to know what he was looking at. B’Elanna Torres was up to something, and it had to do with energy and designs that he didn’t recognize from any report or requisition that Engineering had made in the last six months. Whatever she was cooking up, it was without authorization – and without Janeway’s knowledge. If it was down here, Torres didn’t want Janeway to see it. And if Janeway didn’t see it, it was a good bet that Seven didn’t know anything about it either.
The haphazardly placed PADD on top of the stack told him all he wanted to know in one brief scan. Slipstream technology. No wonder B’Elanna wasn’t telling him anything. About to whistle, he realized that Torres and her teams had hidden this for a reason: they weren’t ready to show it to the Captain yet. A whistle would summon her, no matter how put out with him she was.
He hurried away from the containers, moving to keep the Captain’s attention elsewhere.
“I see Tom’s supply hasn’t run out yet.” Chakotay kicked the wooden casket where half a dozen silvery glass bottles rested. “I thought he and B’Elanna were drinking this like water.”
Captain Janeway did not deign to reply.
“And here’s Neelix’s…what is this, anyway? We’ve let him keep it since he arrived…he must think it’s something we won’t approve of, but he doesn’t keep it on his ship…”
They walked down the hallway, Chakotay noting a few new oddities that the crew had acquired, but nothing else was found that he felt needed to be confiscated.
They ended the tour at the Ashmore’s anti-gravity bed, shoved against a wall and into an barely accessible corner.
By every standard in Starfleet, this piece of equipment was forbidden. It was a drain on energy reserves, it contradicted most science and medical prescriptions that long periods of time in low or no gravity led to weakened bones and cardiac disease, it wreaked havoc with the gravity devices in the floor directly above it. Everything on a starship was designed to work in gravity and endure zero gravity for only short periods of time.
And Captain Kathryn Janeway ignored the bed. She laughed the first time they’d found it on a CQI, but failed to record it for removal. She looked at the tall posts at the four corners, stroking them with an engineer’s regard for fine design. The silken drapes had been Starfleet grey the first year, but every year, Maria and Kofi changed them. Last year was a leopard print from Kofi’s native Ghana. This year, Maria’s Mediterranean heritage surely dictated the cool whites and deep blues.
“How did she get that down here?” Chakotay asked.
“He is a transporter engineer. I’m sure it didn’t take any…” Kathryn stopped. “I’ll bet that Maria transported this as part of her transporter cert test today.”
“I thought she took that days ago.”
Kathryn looked at the rumpled cover. “They must have postponed transporting it until the very last minute. I know I would.”
She stroked the deep blue cover, and after three years, gave into the temptation. She sat on the bed and laid back, her feet dangling. “Turn it on.”
Chakotay knew where the switch was, and took a quick look at the power supply. He had to climb over Kathryn to reach it, but the unit worked perfectly.
“Weightless. Man, this is the way…” Kathryn rolled over, and inertia let her continue until Chakotay stopped her with his mass. “I live in space…and I never get enough of this.”
“I didn’t think you liked it, Kathryn,” he said, smoothing her hair away from his face.
“I always liked it. One of my addictions.”
“Coffee. Yes, coffee and fruitcake…”
Kathryn looked down the corridor toward Harry’s containers, her indecision plain.
If she walked down there to get that fruitcake, she’d regret it.
If she walked down there to get that fruitcake, she’d see B’Elanna’s hidden project.
Chakotay looked down at the face of this woman. He knew that he had one chance to stop her from doing something that would embarrass her for the rest of her life.
If he let her steal that fruitcake, she’d never forgive herself.
If Kathryn found that PADD with the slipstream project, B’Elanna would never forgive him.
So he kissed her.
Kissing in weightlessness takes a different kind of effort, and makes a different feeling. If one person presses too hard, the couple goes into an elaborate spin. If they pull apart too quickly, one will bounce away from the other. The only safe way to kiss is to hold tightly and move very, very slowly.
“Funny, how you remember how to kiss in zero g so quickly…” he murmured against her lips.
“That’s why it’s a proverb, ‘you never forget how to kiss in space, it’ll come right back to you’.” She kissed him again.
Sweetness - the pressure of their bodies against each other, without the pull of gravity to make it forceful. Bitter - the effort to kiss made the lack of opportunity to do more. Like coffee and fruitcake.
He reached up and shut off the anti-gravity unit, and they sank down into the mattress. “I have one more crew quarter inspection to do, Captain.”
Her hazy eyes came back to focus on his. “More?”
“Yes…according to Starfleet regs, I’m required to inspect all cabins, including senior officers.”
“And who inspects yours?” She shifted against his hips, and the next kiss drew all other thoughts from their minds.
Her hand reached between them and tapped her combadge. “Janeway to transporter room one.”
“Ashmore here, Captain.”
“Lock onto my combadge. Two to transport to Chakotay’s quarters for quarters inspection.”
“Stand-by.” A second’s delay, and then, “Ready.”
Kathryn looked into Chakotay’s brown eyes. “Ready.”
Chakotay wasn’t sure that
she was talking to Ashmore when she said that.
Kofi watched as Maria entered the data into the transporter computer and began the transport. Several alarms screamed, making her jump back and him to jump in.
“What is it? Did I kill the captain?”
Kofi reviewed all the settings. “No, you didn’t kill the captain. But that container of leola root that you were using for the transportation test? You just lost it outside the hull. You didn’t put in the correct relativity factor.”
He chewed on his lip, reviewing her work. “I’m afraid this means you won’t be passing the test.”
“I lost…all that leola root…outside the ship? We can’t get it back?” She threw her hands to her hair, pulling it into her fists.
He shook his head, and rubbed the back of his neck with his hand. “No. Irretrievable.”
A sweet smile spread across his wife’s face. “At least today wasn’t a total loss.”
Tuvok’s office was one of Kathryn’s favorite places on this ship. It was such a calm place, when in fact, other than the bridge and perhaps the mess hall, no place on board had more activities going at one time. An outer office that might serve as an emergency auxiliary bridge was usually as busy as Bridge with various ship’s services and security officers.
At the moment, the three senior officers were discussing the CQI over Vulcan tea. Kathryn’s throaty good morning to her first officer might have been caused by the early hour of the meeting.
“There were five new transporter certificates awarded yesterday, Captain.”
“Good news, indeed, Tuvok. I’ll be sure to put that in my ship’s log.”
“These tests did not account for all the transporter use for the last four days, however.”
“Yes?” Chakotay asked blandly.
“No. But most of the transports terminated on Deck Fourteen.”
Kathryn and Chakotay exchanged amused, if resigned, glances.
“I presume that the crew’s contraband was hidden there this year?
“It was,” Kathryn answered.
“For the ship’s records, Captain: were any confiscations made?”
Captain Janeway looked at Commander Chakotay. “One. A small box, rather like a jewelry box. We’ve put it in safe storage for the remainder of the trip home.”
Commander Tuvok noted it in the log, and closed his records.
“One more thing, Mr. Tuvok. I have some discretion regarding rations, do I not?” Janeway said.
Tuvok sat back in his chair and folded his hands. “You do.”
“Then give the Ashmores a ten percent increase.”
“For what reason?”
Kathryn Janeway looked around the room wildly. “Call it compassion. That anti-grav bed of theirs is sucking their lives away.”
“It also caused considerable damage to the deck above theirs.”
“Now that they’ve moved to Deck Four, there’s nothing above them but hull.” Chakotay pulled on his ear. “It’s a kind thought, Captain.”
“I will arrange it.” Tuvok sipped his tea again.
“Good. Anything else we need to deal with before we begin landing procedures?”
“No, Captain,” Chakotay said.
“There is one thing, Captain,” Tuvok said, setting his cup down. “I would suggest that next year you use Seven of Nine as the plant to suggest a new hiding spot for the crew’s contraband. Using Naomi was very successful, but Naomi will be too old for you to take down to Deck Fourteen to play ‘hide and seek’ next year. ”
“Do we have any secrets from you, Tuvok?” Kathryn asked, a wicked smile playing on her face.
Tuvok stood as the ship-wide
announcement of pre-landing checks was about to begin. His senior officers
rose with him. “None, Captain.”
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