“Admiral Paris,” she said a little too softly, since his eyes didn’t open. “Admiral Paris.” She spoke more clearly, and touched his shoulder gently for good measure.
The admiral looked back this time, raising his head off of the arm on which it had rested. “Yes, Yeoman.”
Gods he looked exhausted, she thought. “I’m sorry to wake you, sir, but you requested to be notified the second we got any news on Voyager.”
That was the key word; Owen Paris was wide awake, and standing up from his desk to reach out for the PADD in Yeoman Dawson’s hands. Of course, that was why he was sleeping in his office. They had received the last datastream and knew that Janeway was going to attempt their plan. If it worked, Voyager should be back in the Alpha Quadrant in just a few hours.
“Yes, what is it?” She decided to let him read the message for himself. Dawson suspected, had she spoken the words, he would have stopped hearing her after the first few. She stood silently as he learned the news.
Owen had to blink the sleep from his eyes to focus on the message. Were they intentionally making this type smaller and smaller? “The deep space scout ship USS Resnick has picked up an automated distress call with a Starfleet signature fourteen light years inside the Beta Quadrant. Sensors indicate it is an Intrepid class cruiser with the designation USS Voyager. Heavy damage has been reported. With the permission of the Klingon government to pass through their space, two rescue ships have been dispatched, however all attempts to hail Voyager have failed. No other information is available at this time.”
The Admiral was famous for his composure in a crisis, and this time was no different. “Thank you, Dawson. Notify my ship to prepare for departure in four hours; I’ll be heading for the Neutral Zone to rendezvous with any survivors.” He began to gather up his PADDs–reports on the Voyager recovery project, mostly–and placed them in a travel case as he prepared to leave.
As he reached for one, his hand brushed the clear frame of the only picture on his desk. He stopped for a moment and let himself look once more at the face of his only son, a young man he hadn’t seen or spoken with in over ten years. In a quick move, he added the picture, frame and all, to his case and latched it. As he stood up he said softly to his yeoman, “I’ll be at my home for the next several hours.”
As he left Headquarters, he realized the sun was starting to rise. It looked to be another beautiful spring day in San Francisco. In a way, that made it harder. How was he going to tell his wife such grim news on such a lovely morning?
As the commander of the USS Resnick, a Dresden-class scout ship on tactical patrol near the neutral zone, Captain Wheaton was used to living at a high state of alert. Every move held the potential for diplomatic incident, every unusual sensor reading could be the coming of a war. He wondered occasionally at the run of bad luck that put two of the Federation’s oldest adversaries, the Klingons and Romulans, so close together and so near Federation space. Even in times of truce, Wheaton always suspected a full-blown battle was just one mistake away.
So, when the call came, he couldn’t believe it. It must be a trick.
A civilian Federation science vessel, on deep exploration at the other side of Klingon space, had picked up an automated distress call from a ship that seemed to appear out of nowhere. A ship with the Starfleet signature of the long-missing USS Voyager.
Wheaton had served on the USS Onizuko with Commander Cavit, Voyager’s first officer, and he remembered the day he heard about his friend’s ship disappearing into nothingness in the Badlands. Starfleet had immediately classified all information relating to Voyager’s disappearance, but rumors were flying. The most popular was that Janeway’s ship and crew had been captured by the Maquis using some unknown technology. Everyone knew she had taken Thomas Paris, an ex-Maquis traitor, on the mission as an observer. His capture had probably been some kind of set-up–he had probably tricked Janeway into taking Voyager right into the hands of the Maquis.
Of course, that rumor was shot to hell over three years later when Voyager’s EMH–a Mark One, of all things–suddenly appeared in the Alpha Quadrant with some tall story about Voyager being pulled into the Delta Quadrant by some kind of entity. The details were still hush-hush, but Wheaton got news that Cavit had died in the initial incident. Starfleet was also careful to spread the word that the Maquis rumors had been false. Not only had the ex-traitor been given a Starfleet field commission (he was apparently serving as Voyager’s helmsman), all of the surviving Maquis were serving as provisional Starfleet officers.
Wheaton supposed he was relieved to hear that Paris had been cleared, if only for the sake of the young man’s father. Admiral Paris had been one of his favorite instructors at the Academy–almost like a second father to him–and Wheaton knew his son’s transgressions were an embarrassment to the whole Paris family. He was less thrilled to hear the rumor that a Maquis was now serving as Voyager’s first officer. What an insult to Cavit’s memory, he thought.
Now, deep in the Beta Quadrant, Voyager had appeared out of nowhere. Wheaton was suspicious, and contacted Starfleet Command on a secure channel. He was surprised when the word came: proceed immediately to the ship’s last known coordinates and render all necessary aid and assistance. The mission had already been cleared with Klingon High Command, and Admiral Paris was on his way from Earth to rendezvous with them. It had to be true, he supposed.
And it was. They came upon Voyager’s wrecked hulk within eighteen hours. Wheaton was amazed when his sensors showed lifesigns aboard. He was even more surprised when he saw the damage first-hand.
He beamed to Voyager’s bridge with a full security team in environmental suits. It had been hard to find a safe place to materialize; luckily, the area near the main viewscreen was mostly intact. Amazingly, life support was still online, though artificial gravity was down throughout the ship. The bridge was almost unrecognizable, and the bodies of the crew–in outdated uniforms, he noted–were alternately pinned under massive wreckage or floating at odd angles above the deck.
Considering the devastation around him, Wheaton was amazed to find his first survivor wedged between a huge piece of debris and the conn, unconscious but with strong vital signs and without so much as a scratch. ‘This guy must lead a charmed life,’ he thought to himself. He had the young man beamed directly to the Resnick’s sickbay.
He didn’t need to reach the starboard engineering station to see that the crewman stationed there hadn’t been so fortunate. The young Bajoran had been struck by a support column and was clearly dead, a horrible volume of his blood now floating in the air around his lifeless body.
He moved toward the bridge’s command deck and motioned his team to check the science and tactical stations. Pulling away a large chunk of what had once been the illuminated ceiling, he found his primary target: a red-haired woman he recognized from the database as Kathryn Janeway. She had what looked like a massive head injury, and her lifesigns were very weak. Again, he summoned his transporter chief.
He could see Phillips, his chief medic, scanning the floating body of a young brunette woman at the port science station, her dark hair drifting oddly around her burned and lifeless face. “She’s dead, Captain,” Phillips called, though Wheaton had suspected as much.
The captain worked his way to the upper deck. He found another lifeless body just outside the turbolift doors, a tall, muscular man–either security or engineer–practically impaled on a damaged section of railing. ‘This man is Maquis,’ he thought, noticing the provisional rank insignia. Was Maquis. Another fatality.
The port ops console itself was intact, but its operator seemed to have been thrown forward somehow, over the station, and was now pinned on top of the aft railing. His body was twisted at an unnatural angle facing the ceiling, and partially buried by a tangled mass of conduit. Oddly, the man wore the red colors of command; ops was usually manned by an engineer. When he moved his tricorder to scan the crewman, Wheaton noticed the tattoo on the man’s left temple. He checked for bioreadings, and was surprised to find a faint pulse. “Get this man to sickbay,” he called to Phillips.
“Captain, give me a hand!” Burton, his chief engineer was motioning to the tactical station, or what was left of it. He could see their target, trapped under a pile of debris that had once been his console. A Vulcan. Wheaton knew from the crew logs that this would be Lieutenant–no Lt. Commander–Tuvok. “Don’t bother,” he ordered. “He’s dead.”
Everyone always joked that working security detail was the worst. ‘First to fly, first to die,’ was the joke and he knew all the clichés about the ‘gold shirts’ being expendable. But Russ was proud of his work. He kept the rest of them safe, he thought to himself. Sure, he was on the front lines much of the time, but at least it never got boring. He couldn’t imagine those poor suckers locked up in some lab during a crisis on board, with no clue what was going on and no power to impact it. Tactical work meant you were always in on the news, and might even be able to participate in your own rescue. Of course today he might have preferred to be babysitting a console. This wasn’t his favorite kind of security assignment.
His gravity boots sucked his feet down to the deck, making his progress slow, but he wasn’t in any great hurry to get anywhere. They had long since transported the survivors off this floating scrap heap. Search and Recovery duty meant surrendering hope before you even left your ship. He hated having drawn Deck 8–it was among the most badly damaged–but he knew he would want someone to come looking for him if the time ever came.
Finally he was at his target. He engaged the suction handle and pushed the doors apart. He steeled himself for whatever he would find, but the level of destruction was still a bit of a shock. If he hadn’t read the designation on the door, he never would have recognized the room’s function. This mess had been Astrometrics. He activated his tricorder and followed the beacon of the damaged combadge. The ping was coming from a semi-circular junk pile that looked like it had once been the main console. Splintered and jagged, it would have been almost impossible for him to lift alone if the artificial gravity were online. Without it, he could almost raise it with one finger. Russ half pulled, half floated the mess out of his way.
He could see it now. The combadge was still firmly in place on the uniform of a young man whose legs were twisted grotesquely and wedged into a fissure in the deck plating. Asian decent. It looked like the bulkhead had erupted right underneath the man’s feet. He didn’t stand a chance. The single pip surprised Russ; this fellow looked a little old to still be an ensign.
Gods, what a tragedy. He attached a transponder to the dead man’s sleeve and signaled to his ship. “Russ to Resnick. I found another one. Ready to beam him over.” The lieutenant wasn’t a particularly religious man, but he found himself saying a silent prayer for the ensign, before pulling out his tricorder and moving to the next room. It was a ritual he would perform too often today.
“Does that mean you’re in the mood for some mushy stuff?”
Somehow she became aware that she was sleeping, but it was one of her favorite recurring dreams so she didn’t try to wake herself too quickly. “It usually requires a proposal….” That was her cue. She moved her hand to her right side, but felt only the hard edge of the bed. Not their bed. ‘Think, B’Elanna. Where are you?’ Her eyes peered open, barely. They were crusty, like she hadn’t opened them in a long, long, time. The lights in the room had been dimmed, but they still stung her eyes enough to make them water. A few blinks and she was starting to focus. The bioreadings scrolling above her head told her she was in sickbay. A sickbay–not Voyager’s. She started to pull herself up on her elbows, but couldn’t find the strength. The sigh her exertion forced out of her was loud enough to wake the man sleeping in the chair by her bed, however, and he was up and at her side instantly.
“B’Elanna, are you awake?” His voice was soft and tired, but hopeful. “Can you open your eyes for me?”
“Tom,” she croaked as she looked up at him. Yikes, it sounded like she hadn’t spoken in a while, either. “What’s going on? Where are we?”
He watched her struggling to rise and grabbed the pillow he had been resting on to elevate her, just enough to give her a glimpse of her surroundings. “Don’t try to sit up yet,” he said softly. “You’ve had a rough time.”
Absentmindedly, in what had become a habit for the past few months, she ran her hand across her belly, only to have her mind make ten instantaneous connections. Still fat, was the first thought, leading quickly to ‘oh gods, the baby,’ to ‘we were in the transwarp conduit,’ to ‘something went wrong,’ and on and on. Her husband struggled to anticipate the places her mind was wandering and began to answer her unspoken questions.
“The baby’s fine, B’Elanna. So are you.” She breathed a little easier. “Engineering was protected from most of the structural collapse, but you had a pretty bad concussion. You’ll be okay, though.” He paused long enough to change his tone to kid her gently. “Looks like I’m not the only one in this family with a hard head,” he gently joked, getting the smile he had been wanting to see for so long. He let himself enjoy her grin for a moment before he continued. After what he was about to say, it might be a while before he saw it again. “We made it most of the way home before the plasma relays blew and the singularity collapsed.” He swallowed hard before going on. “The ship was practically torn apart.”
Tom was trying to figure out how much he should tell her. He wouldn’t lie, he had promised himself. But how much to offer? He decided on a small diversion. “We were detected by the crew of a Federation vessel on a deep space scientific exploration. They called for help, and we were rescued by this Starfleet scout ship a few days later. We’re in the Beta Quadrant, on our way to Starbase 32, with Voyager–or what’s left of her–in tow.”
“Where is everyone else? What….”
He gently put his finger over her lips. “I’ll answer all of your questions. I promise. Just as soon as I have the doctor look you over.”
B’Elanna knew Tom wanted her to hold off on her questions, but there was one more thing she needed to know. “How long have I been out?” she asked. “Five days,” he said softly. “The five longest days of my life.” He leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead, then went to find the doctor. ‘Okay, Paris’ he told himself. ‘Now you can start breathing again.’
Tom walked quickly to the adjacent bay, and found Dr. Ryan at Samantha Wildman’s bedside. Sam had deep tissue burns across most of her back where she had bent over to shield Naomi from an exploding sickbay panel, and Dr. Ryan, the Resnick’s short, blond CMO was tending her gently. Sam’s skin and muscles were regenerated, but she would require monitoring for at least four more days to make sure her nerve pathways were reconnecting.
When Voyager had entered the singularity, Naomi had been under the Doc’s care for a mild case of the flu. The captain had assigned Ensign Wildman to sickbay duty both to assist the Doctor in Tom’s absence and to be near her daughter in case the worst were to happen. It was good, Tom thought, that Sam had been there. As the ship’s systems began to fail and before she lost consciousness, Samantha had the presence of mind to download the Doc’s program into his mobile emitter and had shoved it into her uniform. He was beamed to the Resnick along with her when she was rescued. Tom was particularly grateful for that now.
“Dr. Ryan,” he interrupted. “My wife is awake.”
“That’s good news, Lieutenant.” She turned to smile at him as she entered the last notes in Sam’s chart. “I’ll be right there to examine her.”
“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like our Doc to take a look at her first. With B’Elanna’s unique physiology and his experience with her pregnancy, I’d just feel better….”
“Of course,” she offered. “I think you know where to find him.” Her voice trailed off, and they exchanged a knowing look.
“Thanks,” Tom replied. “I’m sure I do.”
Tom wasn’t the only Voyager crewmember keeping vigil in the Resnick’s medical bays. Seven couldn’t be pried from Icheb’s side, even after she knew he would recover fully from his serious injuries. When they transferred the boy to quarters, Seven went with him. Tom hadn’t seen her since, nor did he expect to.
Neelix had taken custody of Naomi as soon as they were rescued, and was helping the child deal with the trauma she had witnessed too close up. Naomi was a smart girl, Tom knew, and she would get through this with enough love and some counseling. Too often with the rest of the crew, however, there was no one left to hover over, expectantly praying for a recovery. They had lost so many. The names started flooding his mind…. ‘Stop it, Tom.’ He forced himself to focus.
As expected, the Doctor was standing his own kind of vigil next to those in the intensive care bay. He spent most of his time hovering over the unconscious woman in the first bed. The monitors above her head hadn’t changed in days, yet the Doctor checked them meticulously every few seconds. Tom took some comfort in knowing that the captain would probably survive, a comfort that didn’t seem to come so easily to his holographic friend. Her coma was induced, Tom knew from his medical training, to help heal her synaptic pathways as quickly as possible.
Janeway was one of several survivors with catastrophic injuries. Chakotay was in even worse shape. He had suffered a crushing spinal injury, and was on the verge of systemic organ failure when he was found and rescued by the Resnick’s captain. Key body systems had been deprived of blood and oxygen for long enough that the tissue damage was severe. The doctor had repaired the physical injuries, but there was some question about the commander’s long-term prognosis. All they could do was provide life-support and wait.
Still, the Doc never tired of standing by, waiting to come to the rescue. Perhaps because there was so little he had been able to do to save the others. Tom knocked on the doorframe so as not to startle him.
“Doc, I’ve got some great news.” Could a hologram look exhausted? This one did. “I could use some great news, Mr. Paris, though I’m a little surprised to see you here. What can I do for you?”
“B’Elanna’s awake.” Ah-ha, the Doctor thought. That explains it. “She’s asking me a lot of questions that I’m afraid to answer until you’ve checked her over.”
Impressed that his medic hadn’t tried to evaluate his wife himself, the doctor placed the captain’s chart down on the tray and indicated for the Resnick’s nurse to take over. “Fine. Let’s go check out my favorite patient.”
Tom quirked, “So now she’s your favorite patient, Doc? That’s a switch.”
Characteristically the Doctor retorted, “Not Lieutenant Torres, the little warrior she’s carrying around with her.”
Tom smiled. Of course, Doc would be particularly protective of this little patient–though his choice of descriptives brought back some memories that Tom could have done without right now. They walked together back to the ward where the pilot’s wife now slept again–this time slightly less peacefully.
Admiral Paris received the news thirty-nine hours after leaving Earth. There had been survivors, though the ship had taken heavy casualties. Half the bridge crew was dead before help arrived. Total losses had been almost fifty–a third of the complement–and there were many serious injuries, including Captain Janeway, who was in emergency surgery. The Maquis first officer had been gravely injured and was not expected to survive. Lt. Commander Tuvok was confirmed to be among the deceased. Names of survivors were being compiled as their status was determined and injuries triaged.
Owen didn’t ask–he knew he didn’t have to. For reasons he’d rather forget, everyone in Starfleet was well aware that the Admiral’s son was on that ship. They would tell him as soon as they knew. Still, he was sure Tom would have been on the bridge at the helm for this maneuver. Janeway would have needed her best pilot, and Owen understood too well that it had to be Tom.
It had now been almost four days without an update. “Paris to the Bridge.” The young officer on duty looked a little fearful; he couldn’t pass along news he didn’t have, and the Admiral was known for being less than patient when things weren’t going his way. “I’d like to speak with Voyager’s senior surviving officer as soon as we’re in communications range.”
The young man nodded. “Yes, Admiral. I estimate achieving communications at 1930 hours.”
Owen switched off the display, after checking the time. 0916. The last ten years had gone by so quickly. He feared the next ten hours would last forever. He tried to keep focused as he turned back to his console. He wouldn’t write her now. After all, there wasn’t anything to say. Not yet.
Tom was almost glad to see that his wife had drifted back to sleep. He hadn’t liked leaving her alone, even for the few seconds it had taken him to get the Doctor. He was equally glad to see those dark eyes pop open as he took her hand. “B’Elanna, are you still with me?”
She squinted her eyes in the ‘what a dumb question’ look he knew so well. “I’m afraid you may be stuck with me for a while longer,” she sighed. She must be feeling better if she was teasing him, he thought, and she was. Seeing Tom’s face the moment she awoke had spared her the anxious tension many of her crewmates had experienced, waiting to learn the status of their loved ones. Hers was walking and talking and–other than the dark circles under his eyes and the uncombed hair, he seemed unhurt. And he had already told her that their baby was fine. Part of her mind deliberately stopped her from thinking beyond these victories. There was bad news on its way, she could see it in Tom’s eyes. For a moment, she was content to let him tell her in his own way, enjoying what she knew might be the last chance to imagine that the rest of her friends were alright.
“Let’s dispense with the most important information first, shall we,” said the Doctor, running the scanner over B’Elanna’s belly. “Fetal heart tones are strong and regular. Normal gestational development. Lieutenants, I’d say we should be welcoming my goddaughter in just a few weeks.” He smiled the classic Doctor smile. He wished he felt as chipper as he had made himself sound. “Now, to the mother…. There is still some mild intracranial swelling. Nothing that won’t resolve itself with some bed rest and excellent nursing care. Luckily, I know a skilled medic I can recommend.” He glanced in Tom’s direction. “I can release you in a few hours, assuming you agree to stay in bed and avoid excessive stress.”
“I don’t seem to have anywhere to go,” B’Elanna almost whispered. Gods, this was going to be hard. Keeping busy was how she coped with things. “But I need to know what happened….”
“Doc,” Tom asked, “maybe you could stick around for a minute while I try to answer some of her questions?”
“Of course,” the EMH replied softly, taking just a few steps back to give the couple some measure of privacy. He moved to get a better view of the biomonitor, and began to check her readings. He’d want to sedate her if the answers she received made her condition worsen.
“How many?” she asked.
Tom knew and answered. “Forty-seven died in the accident. We lost three more during treatment. Almost everyone else had some kind of injury. Sixty were seriously wounded, including Captain Janeway. The Doc has been treating them here on the Resnick, and thinks they’re going to pull through with time.”
He thought he’d tell her the good news next. “Almost everyone who was in engineering made it through just fine. Joe Carey, Sue, Seven.” That was pretty much the extent of the good news. “Icheb was pretty bad off, but he’s doing a lot better. Seven won’t let him out of her sight, now.” He took a breath and glanced at the Doctor. “Neelix is taking care of Naomi…. Sam was burned pretty badly, but she’s in the next room and she’s gonna be alright. She even rescued the Doc.” He forced himself to smile. There was only so long he could put this off.
“Chakotay…?” she whispered.
Tom’s eyes darted away, but he forced himself to look back to her. “When we were thrown out of the conduit, our structural integrity field destabilized and the bridge was crushed. It collapsed around us. I guess I was protected by a piece of the superstructure, but the conduits above it snapped and crashed onto the upper decks. The captain was pinned under a piece of the ceiling. The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Chakotay diving over the railing, trying to get to her.” He paused to let his wife take it in. “He’s hurt pretty badly. We’re not sure if he’ll make it.”
B’Elanna’s eyes had started to tear halfway through Tom’s story. She knew it was bad news by the gentle way he was telling it. When she heard the words, though, she breathed a small sigh of relief. He was alive. Chakotay had been her friend, her mentor, her surrogate brother. He had stood with her on her wedding day, a little shocked from the sudden climax to what had been a four year mating dance, but still happy for her and Tom. He had saved her life once, many years ago, just before he recruited her into the Maquis–and had handed her a new one when he agreed to join Janeway’s crew and demanded she be made chief engineer. Almost every good thing in her life had started with Chakotay. He would have to recover. She’d will him back to health. She looked back at Tom, who was squeezing her hands, only to realize there was more.
Tom glanced up at the bioreadings then over to the doctor. The EMH nodded silently, giving him permission to go on. Better get this over with right away, Tom thought, so she could begin to work through it. He wiped a tear from B’Elanna’s face before he began, and took a deep breath.
“We lost a lot of friends, B’Elanna.” His voice drifted off. Was he doing the right thing?
“Tell, me,” she insisted.
There were almost too many to name. “Tabor. Mike Ayala. Megan and Jenny…” He forced himself to keep going. “Tuvok….” She closed her eyes. Tom’s hesitated. Yet she knew he wasn’t done.
Suddenly, though she didn’t know why, she knew what was coming before he said it–maybe from the tortured expression that was forming on her husband’s face, maybe by process of elimination. She sucked in her breath. “Oh, gods, Tom–Harry?”
Her husband’s eyes closed tightly, and when they opened they were wet with tears. “Yeah,” he forced out in a whisper. It was all he could say. He pulled her up into his arms, and they cried together over their losses.
The Doctor glanced at the readings, and decided to let the couple mourn in private. While B’Elanna’s adrenaline level was higher than he would have liked, neither she nor the baby were in any physical danger, and he knew that Tom wanted to avoid sedating his wife unless it became medically necessary. She had faced a similar loss only a few years ago, and had fallen into a severe depression at that time. Both Tom and the Doctor felt that shielding her from this pain might only trigger a similar reaction. She would have to feel and face up to it. It was a small measure of comfort that–this time–they wouldn’t let her go through it alone.
Scattered throughout the Resnick, what was left of Voyager’s crew practiced their own private grieving rituals.
Seven of Nine was exhausted and feeling more than a little queasy. Her regeneration chamber was likely one more piece of broken equipment on Voyager’s devastated Deck 8, and the Resnick’s captain had been dismissive of her request to salvage it from the damaged ship. Normally, she would have been more forceful and pressed the issue, but her priority now was tending to Icheb. Regeneration would have to wait.
Since the very first day she had been stranded on Voyager and separated from the collective, Seven had experienced an enormous range of emotions. Her early days were lonely. She became combative, fighting Captain Janeway at every turn. She and Lieutenant Torres couldn’t be in the same room for more than a minute without open warfare. She had even attacked Harry Kim in an attempt to contact and rejoin the collective.
Over time, however, she found herself surprised at the compassion she was shown by most of the crew. Commander Chakotay had helped her adjust by giving her a regular duty shift and demanding the crew treat her with respect. Lieutenant Paris had gone out of his way to tell her he didn’t hold her Borg past against her. She had the opportunity to work closely with Ensign Kim, and their relationship had progressed from awkward to intellectually stimulating to collegial. He had been her partner in constructing the astrometrics lab, and–in the process–helped her find a unique way to contribute her expertise to her new captain and crew. Commander Tuvok, perhaps the most like her in temperament, had become a role model for her, and as good a friend as Seven allowed herself aboard Voyager. Even her battles with Lieutenant Torres had cooled to a kind of friendly rivalry and mutual respect.
And she couldn’t even find the words to describe her debt to Captain Janeway. To say the captain saved her life several times over was true even if clichéd. Everything Seven had or might become she owed to this woman, who had been her mentor, surrogate mother, and friend.
She had found herself enjoying the company of her crewmates, and had just begun exploring concepts like friendship, humor, and cooperation. It had been a long and painful adjustment process, and she knew it wasn’t over. Yet she had come to appreciate and respect these individuals.
And she had only just begun exploring deeper connections. After spending so much time in scientific study of courtship and mating practices–almost earning a bloody nose from Lieutenant Torres in the process–Seven had come to believe she would never understand the complexities of romantic relationships. The odd mix of attraction, affection, combat, and chemistry was illogical and confounding. Yet she was surprised to find herself mimicking many of the behaviors she observed during her Paris/Torres study in her own relationship with the Doctor. They shared a deep friendship, mutual interests, a sly sense of humor, and an outsider’s view of the world. They knew the most and least attractive parts of the other’s personality, yet they appreciated and accepted the whole of the other’s character. They fought for and with each other in ways that caused them to examine their own beliefs and prejudices. And they found comfort and acceptance in each other’s company.
She had finally begun to feel some sense of stability, what anyone else might view as a normal life. Now Tuvok, Harry, and scores of others had been killed, Icheb and Lieutenant Torres had been seriously injured, and the captain and Commander Chakotay might not survive.
Seven found herself pacing the room. Whatever she had expected to find at the end of Voyager’s journey, she hadn’t prepared herself for a scenario that left her alive but many of those she cared about dead or dying. She wasn’t sure why, but she began to obsess about why she had come out of the accident almost untouched. The impact of these feelings was overwhelming.
Exhaustion was gaining on her, and she knew she should attempt conventional sleep. Her mind wouldn’t hear of it, though. Instead, she moved to watch Icheb as he rested–kept sedated by the Doctor to allow his injuries to heal, yet long ago out of any real danger. As she had every hour for the last five days, she opened the medical tricorder and scanned his lifesigns. His pulse was strong and steady, yet she couldn’t allow herself to relax.
She stood guard by her student as she had for so long. And the unending loop of memory and guilt began again.
Neelix was playing a similar game only–unlike Seven–he had the distraction of an alert and curious charge. In a roll he had played since her birth, godfather Neelix was tending to Naomi while her mother was away, in this case because she was recovering in sickbay.
Naomi was only six years old, but her Ktarian physiology gave her the appearance, intellect and mental discipline of a human child of nine or ten. She was a bright and caring child, and she had thrived on Voyager, in no small part due to Neelix’s love and attention.
They’d had only one difficult time in their relationship, two years earlier when Naomi’s mother was lost and feared dead after an accident in the Delta Flyer. Sam had been scheduled to check in with her daughter before the crash. When the call never came, Naomi began to suspect something was wrong. Remembering his own pain at learning of his parent’s death in the Talaxian war, Neelix had chosen to mislead her into thinking her mother was in no danger. Of course, Voyager was too small a ship to keep news of the missing shuttle quiet. Naomi learned the truth, and forgave Neelix only after securing his promise that he would never lie to her again. It was a promise the last few days had made difficult to keep.
When Voyager fell out of the conduit, Sam had been with her daughter in sickbay. She had been able to shield Naomi when the console above her biobed exploded, but Naomi was conscious long enough to know that her mother was badly injured. It was understandable that she would have questions about the mission, the accident, and what had happened to her mother and her friends. Neelix had to ride the difficult line of being truthful in his answers while protecting Naomi from the graphic details of her mother’s recovery and the magnitude of Voyager’s loss.
It was made harder by Naomi’s separation from the rest of her support structure. They had left Voyager, the only home the child had ever known, and the rest of her ‘family’ was occupied with matters of life and death in their own lives. Seven, probably Naomi’s closest friend on the crew, was keeping a constant vigil at Icheb’s bedside. Icheb himself had become almost a big-brother to Naomi, and she was without his comfort now, too.
Neelix knew Naomi well enough to understand that keeping her mind occupied was the key to her coping. He devised a challenge for her to solve: use the Resnick’s computer to track the ship’s position and calculate the approximate time of their arrival at Starbase 32 if traveling at various speeds. So far it had worked: Naomi had been engrossed in her calculations for most of the afternoon.
Now if only Neelix could find a way to keep his own mind occupied. The sense of uselessness he had begun to feel in their last weeks on Voyager was nothing compared to these days on the Resnick. As the ship’s morale officer and head chef, Neelix had grown accustomed to taking care of Voyager’s crew, providing for their physical and emotional needs wherever he could. Now, the crew was in desperate need of caretaking, and there was no appropriate outlet for his help. No celebration dinner or quiet conversation could fix what had gone so terribly wrong.
He couldn’t help thinking the same thoughts so many of Voyager’s survivors now wrestled with. As a group, they had prepared themselves to live or die together on this dangerous and ambitious mission. Few had prepared for an outcome that left them still far from Earth and at the whim of fates and duty assignments that had taken some lives while sparing others.
Still Neelix knew he had to put on a brave face for Naomi. He forced a smile onto his face and went to check on her assignment.
Tom had settled B’Elanna into bed in their temporary quarters and was watching her breathe in and out when the call came through. “Carey to Lieutenant Paris.” He moved quickly out of the sleeping area and over to the desk before replying. He didn’t want to wake up B’Elanna now that she had finally rocked herself to sleep. He tapped the panel to lower the volume. “Paris here, Joe. What’s up?”
“Tom, the captain has an incoming transmission from the USS Scobee. Starfleet command is requesting to speak with Voyager’s senior surviving officer in charge. With the captain and Commander Chakotay in sickbay, I’m guessing that would be you, sir, but Captain Wheaton didn’t seem to know you were on board.”
Tom had been too busy working the medical triage and looking after B’Elanna to check in after he regained consciousness. He guessed he actually had forgotten to report in to the captain. He wondered, with the chaos of the recovery and the urgent transfer of the injured, if some others of the crew had gone unaccounted for as well.
Tom also took a second to reflect on the irony facing him now. ‘I left on this mission a parolee/observer, and now I’m the senior surviving officer. Weird.’ “Sorry, Joe, it’s been a little crazy. You can pipe the call down here.”
“Thanks, Tom. And…I’m glad to hear B’Elanna is feeling better.”
Tom smiled. Her staff was almost as protective of his wife as he was. “I’ll tell her you asked about her, Joe. Thanks.” With that, Carey’s face was replaced by the blue and white Starfleet logo, and the announcement screen for an incoming encoded transmission. When the Admiral’s face appeared, it took Tom a split second to process what he was seeing.
“Dad.” He blurted it out, but quickly recovered. “Admiral Paris,” he was stammering a bit. “It’s…good to see you, sir.”
“Tom. I hadn’t expected….” This was one for the books: both Paris men at a loss for words. “Thank God, you’re alright, son.”
Wow. His father hadn’t known. ‘Stupid, Paris, you forgot to check in, remember.’ Nobody knew to tell his father he was alive. ‘And did he actually call me ‘Tom’?’
“I’m well, sir. Thank you.” God, what was the protocol for this situation? He’d take his cue from his father’s tone.
“Lieutenant Torres and the–?”
Tom wondered for a minute if the Admiral didn’t know how to pronounce her first name. “B’Elanna and our baby are fine. She was pretty badly injured, but I’ve just brought her back from sickbay, and she’s sleeping.”
He saw his father take in a deep breath, and exhale it slowly. “You must be so relieved, son.” Tom’s head was spinning. Who was this compassionate man, and what had they done with his father?
“Yes, sir. Very relieved.”
Owen composed himself slightly, but tried to keep the gentle tone in his voice as he went on. “I’m afraid I need to ask you some questions, Lieutenant, as Voyager’s senior officer.”
“Yes, sir,” Tom replied, knowing that this part of their conversation was necessarily part of the official Starfleet record. Tom answered the Admiral’s questions about the mission as best he could, describing what he knew about the transwarp conduit and how they had tried to collapse it after the EPS relays blew out. He reviewed the steps taken to prepare themselves, and what he had been told about the damage to the ship and her crew. The Admiral asked if Tom would oversee the preparation of a complete crew manifest and transmit it on a secure channel within twenty-four hours. Tom told him he would get on it right away. The Admiral then passed along an official message to Voyager’s survivors from Starfleet, commending them on their brave service and courage in making this attempt. Tom stiffened a bit when he heard the Admiral give the order to end the official record of their conversation. ‘Here we go,’ he thought.
His father’s eyes narrowed, and Tom would have sworn they were misting over. “Son, I can’t tell you how long I have waited to see you.” Tom swallowed hard; it took him forever to figure out how to respond. This was not the kind of talk he was used to from his father.
“Thank you, sir…” Time for him to speak out of character. He wished he’d been prepared for this conversation. “Dad, I want you to know…I’ve changed a lot since the last time we spoke.” Tom’s heart was in his stomach now, remembering the worst conversation of his life.
“I know, son.” Owen was equally contrite. “So have I.” There. It was said. The closest either would likely come to a full-fledged apology. ‘Don’t lose this moment,’ Owen thought to himself.
“You know, Kathryn sent me quite a long letter in one of the first datastreams from Voyager. Set me straight about a few things. She told me how wrong I was about my son. She thinks quite highly of you, you know. She went into great detail about why.”
Wow, Tom thought. He couldn’t say he was all that surprised considering the personal interest the captain had taken in his rehabilitation, but he was moved nonetheless. “The feeling is mutual, sir. She’s a remarkable woman, and I’ve been proud to serve with her.” He paused, “I consider her a close friend.” His mind drifted down two decks to the sickbay where his captain lay unconscious.
“Thomas, I hope you will give her my best when she wakes up,” his father said softly.
Their time was up soon enough, and Tom closed the channel after telling his father he would see him soon. He sat there for a minute processing what he had just experienced.
“He loves you.” B’Elanna’s voice brought him back to reality.
He got up and moved to the bed, noticing her wet eyes as she looked up at him. He climbed in beside her and pulled her into his arms. “I thought you were asleep,” he said softly into her shoulder.
“I’m glad I woke up for that,” she said. “He really loves you, you know.” She whispered again.
“Yeah,” Tom sighed, his own eyes welling up. “Looks like he really does.” He pulled her as tight as he could without hurting her or their daughter and held her until they both fell soundly asleep.
At 0800 hours, Tom checked in on his sleeping wife, then headed for the Resnick’s bridge. He had made a promise to his father last night, and he needed to keep it. As he moved through the ship, he felt a bit conspicuous in his red and black singlet–they had known for a while that Starfleet uniforms had been redesigned, but he and the rest of Voyager’s survivors didn’t care to be issued new ones. In some way, these outmoded colors were a badge of honor, a reminder of what they had been through together. Besides, donning the new uniforms might imply a more permanent affiliation with Starfleet, one that many of them weren’t guaranteed, himself included. No, they wouldn’t make the change until they had made it home and the future of the entire crew was secured.
Tom found Captain Wheaton in his ready room. “Captain, Lieutenant Tom Paris. It’s good to finally meet you.”
Wheaton took a long glance at the young officer before him. Not more than ten years his junior, and looking very little like a rebel Maquis traitor. Still, he knew a little too much about this man’s past. “At ease, Lieutenant. How is it that you’ve been aboard my ship for almost six days and this is the first time we’re meeting?”
Tom stiffened a little. It had been a long while since he had been treated with this much open suspicion by a senior Starfleet officer. It was familiar and awful all at once.
“I’m sorry about that, sir. I’m Voyager’s chief medic, and I was working the triage in sickbay the first three days. You probably also know that my wife…”
Wheaton cut him off. “Bee-El-ana Torres,” he interjected as if reading it from a dossier, totally garbling the pronunciation.
Tom took a breath before answering. He wasn’t looking for a fight. “B’Elanna,” Tom corrected him, “yes. She’s pregnant and was badly injured. I stayed with her in sickbay until she was released last night. I guess checking in just slipped my mind.”
“I’m not interested in your excuses, Lieutenant,” Wheaton challenged, coldly. “You’re Voyager’s senior officer in charge. You should have taken a moment to report in.”
It only took Tom an instant to remember the last time he was treated this way: it was the day he came aboard Voyager at Deep Space 9. First the ship’s doctor and then the first officer–what was his name?–Cavit, had spoken to Tom like he was beneath contempt, then took no time warning Harry to steer clear of him. He had shut up and taken it then. Pretended not to care. But he was out of practice; the infamous ‘Paris mask’ had been retired for a while now. He dug down deep to find it. Nothing. He’d have to fake it. What would Harry do? That thought only made it harder.
“Yes, sir. I’m sorry, sir.” There had been a reason for this visit, Tom remembered. “Captain, Starfleet Command has asked me to make a formal report on Voyager’s survivors and casualties. With your permission.”
Wheaton paused before answering. “Fine. You’d better make it quick; we’re about to release the remains of the deceased.”
Tom was shocked. “Release the remains? You plan to bury them in space?”
The captain practically rolled his eyes. “We don’t have enough stasis facilities to keep them on board until we reach Starbase 32. This isn’t a medical transport.”
Tom was livid, but he knew he needed to keep his composure. There was no way he was going to let this bureaucrat shoot the bodies of his friends into the Beta Quadrant when they were so close to making it home. Their families deserved the chance to say goodbye, and he was determined they would have it. “Sir, am I correct that most of Voyager is still intact and pressurized?”
Wheaton nodded, “All but decks 8 through 10. What’s your point?”
Tom pressed on, “We could convert one of Voyager’s shuttle bays into a temporary morgue. The room can be made cold enough to preserve the remains until we can get them home.”
Unable to think of a reason why this wouldn’t work, Wheaton nodded his approval. “Fine. You have three hours. Dismissed.”
Tom was more than happy to go. ‘Welcome home,’ he said softly to himself. ‘Welcome home.’
Tom had asked Seven, Joe Carey, and Sue Nicoletti to assist him with the preparations. They would beam over to Voyager and scope out the situation before assigning a crew to the detail. Seven was hesitant to leave Icheb, but B’Elanna agreed to stay with the boy. Of course, as chief engineer, she had wanted to come along, but even B’Elanna knew how impractical that was in her condition. She hated feeling like an invalid. At least staying with Icheb gave her something to do.
The four officers donned environmental suits and materialized moments later in Voyager’s engine room. Seven scanned with her tricorder. “Life support is still online,” she noted. They each moved to stations and began taking the pulse of their dying ship, only to find there was still a little life in her yet.
“The power grid has totally destabilized,” Carey called out. “But emergency generators are still functioning.”
Nicoletti was next, “The warp core is stable. Radiation levels are only slightly elivated on decks one though seven and eleven through fourteen. We have minimal life support in those areas as well.”
Tom was inventorying the key systems, “The com system is down, artificial gravity is offline, and I can’t check on propulsion until the power grid is repaired. Seven, how long do you think it will take to get…Seven?” He noticed his friend holding tightly to the railing of the warp core. She looked like she might faint.
“Seven, are you alright?” He took her arm and moved her toward the bulkhead. While sitting down would be pointless in zero gravity, at least she could steady herself against the wall.
“I am undamaged,” Seven answered less than convincingly. “I have not regenerated in six days; I believe that, and the lack of normal gravity are making me a little…” having rarely experienced this sensation before, she wasn’t sure how to describe it.
“Dizzy?” Tom asked?
“I suppose so,” she answered.
“Sue, are the internal sensors online?” Tom asked. They were, she confirmed. Tom moved to the closest panel and began to scan Deck 8. “Cargo Bay 2 looks like it’s in pretty good shape.” He turned to Seven. “Why didn’t they move your alcove to the Resnick?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “My request was denied.” Tom knew the answer to the next question before he asked it. “Denied by who?”
Seven confirmed his suspicions. “Captain Wheaton,” she answered.
Tom shook his head. “I’ll take care of this, Seven.” He was resolute. “Joe, get repair crews suited up and over here right away. Start by reestablishing artificial gravity. We’ll never get anything done like this. Then send a team to Cargo Bay 2. I want Seven and Icheb’s alcoves prepped and ready for transport to the Resnick by 1400 hours. Get another crew working on that shuttle bay. I want that morgue ready by tonight.”
Tom turned back to Seven. “Are you alright? Do you want to come back with me?”
She turned to face him. “I would like to continue. Where are you going?” she wondered.
“I have a few things I need to discuss with Captain Wheaton,” he answered sharply. “Joe, keep and eye on her.” He shrugged at Seven before hitting his combadge. “Paris to Resnick. One to beam over.”
He found the captain right where he’d last seen him. Did this man ever leave his office? “Mr. Paris, I thought you were trying to meet a deadline.” Wheaton wasn’t smirking, but he might as well have been.
“We’re not going to make that deadline, sir. You’re going to extend it.” Tom was polite, but forceful.
“And what makes you think that?” was all he got in reply.
Tom was doing his best to hold it together. It would take a lot more than this talking uniform to get him unnerved. “I’ve had to divert my crew to another project. They’re transferring the regeneration alcoves from our cargo bay to the Resnick.”
Wheaton was furious. “I will not have that Borg technology installed on this ship.”
Tom was trying to keep cool. “Sir, we have two crewman who need those chambers in order to survive.” Wheaton was unmoved.
“We are a tactical vessel. I will not risk the safety of this ship and crew by bringing untested alien technology onboard. Your passengers will just have to wait until we reach Starbase 32,” he spat.
Tom didn’t miss the subtle dig. “With all due respect, Captain, they’re not passengers, they are members of my crew, and this technology has been used safely on Voyager for four years. There’s no risk to the Resnick.”
Wheaton stood and walked around to the front of his desk. He was not a short man, but Tom still towered over him. If this move was meant to intimidate Paris, it was poorly chosen. “With all due respect,” he mocked back to Tom, “the status of the Borg, the Maquis, and Voyager’s other non-coms is undetermined. I’m willing to work with you because you’ve been given a field commission and because I have a lot of respect for your father, but–frankly–your status is just as tenuous. So I’d recommend you get back to work on that crew manifest and leave these decisions to me.”
Tom suddenly realized that Harry was the wrong role model in this situation. A serious dose of Kathryn Janeway was required here. “Captain, I understand your skepticism about me and the others. But, frankly, I can’t let your fear get in the way of the health and safety of my crew. We’ve come too far and survived too much.”
He slapped his combadge with some force, “Paris to Carey.” Joe responded right away. “Change of plans, Joe. Have those alcoves moved to Voyager’s sickbay, and make Deck 5 your top priority. I want every able-bodied crewman working on getting the environmental controls back on line.” Tom never moved his eyes off Wheaton as he spoke.
“Sir?” Carey asked, not needing to finish the question.
“We’ll be moving back to Voyager as soon as conditions are safe,” Tom explained.
“Yes, sir!” A ringing show of support from one of Starfleet’s finest.
“Paris out.” Wheaton started to speak, but Tom cut him off. “As you have been so careful to point out, I’m Voyager’s senior officer in charge. And I’m taking my people home. We might not make it back under our own steam, but we’ll do it on our own ship. Now if you’ll excuse me, sir.” Tom headed for the door.
“Mr. Paris,” Wheaton blurted out. “I’ll be making a full report on your actions to Starfleet.”
Wrong way to threaten me, Tom thought. He said instead, “I take my orders from Captain Janeway. You’re free to take it up with her as soon as she regains consciousness. Excuse me.” With that, Tom was gone.
Wheaton watched the doors close before moving back to his seat. He knew he had pushed Paris to disobey him, mostly to test this man he had reason to suspect. But he was surprised at Tom’s response: forceful, protective of his people, yet not irreverent or disrespectful. The reality of this man didn’t match his service record. Perhaps he was wrong about Tom Paris. Only time would tell.
Twelve hours later Voyager’s crew was home. Well, in what they had come to think of as home. Environmental controls and sickbay systems were restored first. Captain Janeway, Commander Chakotay, and two other critical-but-stable patients were transported over, along with the Doctor, as soon as Tom was assured it was safe. Still in some pain, but mostly recovered from her injuries, Samantha Wildman was now well enough to fill in as a medic.
Acting Commander Paris’s first executive order might have seemed a bit controversial: to make Seven of Nine his first officer. He, B’Elanna, and Seven were the only surviving senior officers not on life-support, and B’Elanna was still recovering from her injuries. She was also too valuable in her own job as chief engineer. Seven’s lack of even a provisional rank was immaterial. She had been Voyager’s defacto science officer for the past few years, and the crew had grown accustomed to taking her orders.
Tom was surprised when B’Elanna supported his decision. He figured she was just glad to be back on duty at all. Once they’d secured the ship, however, Tom never seriously considered relieving her. Not only did he know how therapeutic his wife found her work, there was no way they could make the ship habitable without her. With a strict agreement that she would supervise her crews while seated behind a console–a prenatal monitor firmly in place–Torres organized damage control parties and got to work on bringing the ship back from the dead.
Icheb was now almost fully recovered, and he and Seven–after several hours of regeneration in their relocated sickbay alcoves–began a full systems check. They identified critical areas in need of repair, and issued each project a priority level. B’Elanna would then assign crews according to those priorities. Critical projects drew the most skilled crews, since–for the foreseeable future–every able-bodied crewman was a deputized engineer.
Top priority was, of course, the power grid. The ship was operating on emergency power cells, but that was a stopgap measure at best. Equal weight was given to shoring up the emergency forcefields and reducing the radiation on the middle decks. The ship’s habitable areas were currently cut off by this dead-zone. They couldn’t keep wasting energy with site-to-site transports whenever they needed to cross that barrier.
Their next priority was the morgue. Tom put Vorik in charge of the transfer and identification project, hoping that his Vulcan reserve would protect him from the overwhelming emotions others might endure seeing the faces of so many dead friends. It seemed to be the logical choice, even though he knew how close Vorik had been to Tuvok. Tom’s guilt was relieved a bit when Vorik assured him this duty–an exercise in emotional control worthy of a Vulcan facing the deaths of friends and colleagues–would allow him to show his respect for his mentor. Soon, the deceased were all positively identified, and the young engineer joined the other repair teams.
The compilation of the crew roster had taken most of Tom’s time. The final tallies were gut wrenching: of the 148 who began the transwarp trip, 50 were dead, 56 had been seriously injured, and 42 were rescued with only minor injuries. Even with most of the wounded now treated and released, Voyager’s working crew complement was just ninety-two. Ninety-two people now counting on him to make the right decisions for them. He hoped he was up to the job.
She was sitting on a rocky beach looking out over a magnificent sunset. Behind her was a lush tropical forest. It was the place she felt most content, though she couldn’t remember where it was or when she had last been there. She drew her knees up to her chest, and took it all in.
From the corner of her eye, she caught a quick movement. A rustling from out of the trees and onto a felled log just behind her. She turned slowly–so as not to scare the creature off. She saw it–a small lizard, perhaps a chameleon, though she wasn’t sure, perched silently on the branch. It seemed to be calling to her, without words. “What are you trying to tell me, my little friend?” she asked softly. Before the creature could answer, the world around her began to spin. What was happening?
“Captain. Captain, can you hear me? Ensign, two cc’s of cordrazine and call Mr. Paris to sickbay.”
She knew the voice, but couldn’t place it. She felt a small tingle on her neck, and her body suddenly felt heavy, as if she were moving back into it after a long absence. She knew the person speaking wanted her to open her eyes. She wasn’t ready. She had been happy there on that beach. At peace with herself for what she sensed had been the first time in a long while. ‘Don’t make me come back,’ she thought. But the voice was persistent.
“Captain, this is the Doctor. Can you hear my voice? If you can hear me, squeeze my hand.” She found her fingers ignoring her will and tightening involuntarily. “She’s coming out of it,” she heard him say.
Suddenly there was another voice, also familiar, coming closer.
“Is she waking up?” she heard it say.
“Yes, according to her cortical monitor she should be conscious now, but I can’t get her to respond.”
She felt pressure on her arm, a hand she realized. “Captain. It’s Tom, can you hear me?”
The other voice was next, “Cortical stimulator.” The hand loosened its grip. She felt a buzzing at her temple. She was fighting the impulse to open her eyes. ‘Leave me alone,’ she thought.
The second voice spoke again, “Captain Janeway.” At the sound of her name, she came to consciousness, though everything around her was hazy, including her memory.
Her eyes were open now, and she could see the three people surrounding her. “Captain, how are you feeling?”
She tried to sit up, but was gently restrained by the two men on either side of her. “Not so fast,” she recognized the first voice.
“Doctor…what…?” She was startled at the sound of her own. Raspy didn’t begin to describe it.
It was the second voice this time, “Do you know where you are?”
She tried to swallow, tried to get her body to respond to her commands. “Voyager,” she eked out.
She saw the men above her exchange glances. “She needs more time to recover now that the coma has broken.”
They looked back down at her. “Captain, you need some sleep. I’ll come back when you’ve gotten some rest.”
She found herself grabbing his hand to stop him, “Tom.” She wasn’t about to let him go until she knew. “Where are we?”
Again, a look passed between the two men. She saw Paris take a deep breath before answering her. “Home, Captain. We’re almost home.”
That one word was enough to relax her. ‘Home.’ She let go of his arm and closed her eyes. Within seconds, she was asleep.