The Eight Ball
DISCLAIMERS: This is a story attempting to explore Janeway’s wavering atheism. If this it likely to offend or distress, please read no further.
Three rounds of thanks from me for this one. Firstly to Ellen M, for ‘Waxy Candles’ which although not directly related to this story, did have a certain degree of influence on it. Secondly to m.c. moose in all her glory, because she first got me thinking about religion, Janeway and Trek . . . and because she tells such a damn good tale. And, of course, to Roses. Just because.
Can we all spell V-I-A-C-O-M?? They own it, we just peer group pressure it into doing strange things . . .
Feel free to archive, or distribute. Just let me know where it’s going.
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I must have looked absurd to anyone walking by. Five times now my hand had reached for the chime, and five times now I had pulled away at the last moment. I know that if I had rung, Chakotay would have had no qualms about entertaining me -- even at three in the morning. He’s done it before, when my insomnia came banging on my door.
I let my hand linger over the chime for one more second. My fingerprint had been programmed in months ago to open on command. I drew it away.
I’ve never slept well. It’s more than just a command thing, although that certainly contributed to the situation in my later years. When I was a child I was called hyperactive, and assured that it would settle down with time. By the time I had reached the Academy, I would crawl the walls to all hours of the morning, much to the dismay of my various roomies. I was hauled into the campus doctors, but eventually found a compromise by rooming with a Katarian, who required sleep only once a week and when asleep could not be roused by an sun going nova.
In my final year, I was moved down the hallway from the holodeck. I was giving additional holodeck privileges to be used at night-time.
It seemed like an answer tonight.
I left Chakotay’s door, and went wandering down the corridor. Minutes later I found myself standing outside the holodeck. The first was occupied, but the second was open. I didn’t recognise the name of the programme running, so I stepped inside.
The last thing I expected to see was a church. It had been literally years since I had been in one, and the simultaneous intimidation and splendor of the programme took my breath away. Nevertheless, it was not how I envisaged killing some time, and I was about to step out and try another deck when something caught my eye.
I saw Tom Paris, sitting in one of the pews. I stood quietly and watched him. He sat for a few moments, head down. He’d shift and gaze at the cross on the wall, and then sit forward almost staring at the floor. It was almost comical in it’s repetition, and devastating in it’s display.
And as I watched him, trapped in the cycle of wavering uncertainty, I was reminded of his father so many years ago. We were in a space dock, in between where we were going and where we had been. It was in a time when relations with Cardassia were fragile, when we took their space and they took ours, but both our diplomats shook hands and smiled for the holo-reels.
Our ship, the Icarus, had been captured -- flying too close to the sun, Owen used to joke years later. We had all been taken to interrogation camps, so that when we found ourselves in a Federation space-dock weeks later, it was with the knowledge that we have never again expected to be there. We had never expected to survive.
And I had watched Owen Paris from the safety of my shell, as he paced the length of a window. He walked it slowly, almost as if he were afraid that the ground would give way. And when he reached the end he always looked surprised. Everytime. As if he hadn’t expected it to be there. He lingered, then turned and started again.
Looking at Tom now, I am reminded of that afternoon. Of the helplessness that people trap in their gestures. It seems strange to think of that ship all these years, light and otherwise, away. It was almost like Voyager had given me a redemption, of sorts. That I hadn’t thought about the Icarus or Justin or all of those things that dogged me in the Alpha Quadrant.
It made me smile to think that a kind of second chance came from a mistake. And that-
“Captain?” He interrupted my thoughts, and I stepped forward.
“Am I disturbing, Tom?”
“No.” He looked around the church. “But I didn’t think this would be your regular haunt.”
I smiled. “Not regular, but it’s a step up from the beach resort.
Tom smiled, and turned back to face the alter. I wondered towards the front.
“Do you believe in redemption, Tom?”
“Redemption? No.” He didn’t seem surprised when I sat next to him, or at the seriousness of my question. He sat back in the pew. “I don’t believe that anyone really falls far enough that they should be relieved of that fall. At least, not me.”
“After the Icarus . . .” I began, and then stopped, not sure how much he really knew.
“I know. About the Icarus, that is.”
I nodded. “After the Icarus, I went AWOL for a brief time.”
“I know. You’re the prodigal daughter, didn’t you know?” He laughed, and I didn’t understand his reference. But I’d known him long enough to understand the tone, and the eyes. I decided to tell him the story.
“After I got back from the camps, I left Starfleet. I didn’t resign, I just went AWOL. It’s not uncommon for prisoners-of-war, I’m told.”
“What did you do?”
“I drank a lot. Visited a lot of space-docks.” I smiled at the euphemism. “I was never a very wild Cadet, you see. So I went kind of crazy. Alienated a lot of the people I loved, including my fiancee.”
“So what happened?”
“Starfleet, I guess. You get tired of craziness, after a while. You would have found that out eventually. And it offered me stability, a reason for waking up and remembering what had happened. It offered me redemption, of sorts.”
“But . . .?”
“But out here, that becomes harder. The longer I spend with the crew . . . Chakotay . . . the more I see that most of it -- not all, but most of it . . . was a lie. It was an . . . easy option.”
“A bit like all of this.” He said quietly, looking around the church.
“Maybe.” I said softly.
“Do you believe in this?”
“No.” I said, after a moment’s silence. The answer felt incomplete. “But I understand the . . . lure.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see him nod, almost imperceptibly. We sat in silence for a moment.
“You are the only person here who knows . . . about the Icarus.” I began, not really sure where I was going with the conversation.
“I often wondered why you didn’t tell the Maquis.” He said, hardly phased by my shift in conversation. “I think it would have won you some points.”
“And what was your conclusion?”
“The things in Cardassian prisons . . . they don’t lend to conversation.” He answered, carefully.
“My family used to come to church every Christmas.” He said, suddenly.
“Christmas.” I did a quick calculation in my mind. “That must be about now, on the Earth calendar.”
“Close.” Tom smiled. “It was two days ago.”
“Your parents were traditionalists, weren’t they?” I asked.
“My mother was. My dad was Fleet through and through -- to a certain degree the two are mutually exclusive, I think.”
“To a certain degree.” I agreed. “But then some of the staunchest Commodores I know can make that jump.”
“What about you?”
“Are you calling me a staunch Commodore, Tom?” I asked, grinning.
“In the nicest possibly way.” He answered, batting those baby blues. I grinned again -- if nothing else, he could always match me, my Tom.
“Missing home, Lieutenant?” I asked, taking a seat next to him on the pew. I guess the decision to stay had been made.
“Missing something.” He muttered under his breath, and it was easier to pretend I hadn’t heard. I found out a long time ago that the chip on Tom’s shoulder was bigger than I could lift, perhaps even fathom. It was something that only time, and maybe regret, could ease. But not me. Not tonight.
“There’s a figure in the bible . . .” Tom began, his eyes fixed once again on the crucifix that hung on the wall in front of us. “Noah. Do you know him?”
“Not really.” I admitted, my mind scrambling for information that was long beyond my reach.
“The story is that God became so frustrated with the decadence of the population, he told this guy to build an ark. And Noah had to populate it with two animals of each kind.” Tom leaned back in the pew, caught up in the memory. “And I always used to get in trouble for the questions I asked. Like whether or not Noah was allowed to transport the animals aboard. Or how he stopped the frogs from eating the insects, or the lions from eating the deer.” He stopped and looked straight at me. “Or why those two animals were so much better than the rest? What made them so special?”
And he was magnificent in his angry eloquence. But he was still looking for answers.
“Tom, it’s just a story.” I shrugged. “I know you want some brilliant answer from me . . . but it’s just a story. There is no reason those animals were better than the others. There is no reason for any of it. It just is. The same way a phaser kills, or a warp overload explodes. It just does.”
“I don’t miss it -- any of it.” He said suddenly.
“The Alpha Quadrant?” I asked.
“When we sent letters to our families, I didn’t . . . I didn’t send anything.” He shrugged. “And it’s not because I didn’t have anything to say, it’s because I didn’t want them to know I had made a life for myself here. I wanted them to be like those animals left behind . . . just wondering . . .” He looked at me and smiled hesitantly. “Is this making sense?”
“It doesn’t have to make sense to me, Tom.” The first rule of command counseling: don’t proffer an opinion, just lend your ears.
“I think I’m just tired.” He said, and I let it go. I was surprised he had let me as close as he did, but it was loose and fast with him. Pull the reins and he will strangle himself trying to get away.
“Tom, I don’t remember seeing this programme before. Is it on public access?” I asked as I stood up.
“This?” He turned to face me again. “No, this is mine.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude --”
“You’re not.” He smiled and looked down. “This is a programme my father sent me when I was in jail. The only thing -- the only communication he sent me while I was in jail. I didn’t really have time to pack before coming on Voyager . . . so it came with me.”
“What’s the significance?” I asked, looking around for maybe the first time. It was a small church, with an understated ornateness about it. There was a large bay window on one side, and colored glass filling it.
“I come here, sometimes. When I need to think. To understand. I thought if I . . . if I came here, sat here long enough, I might begin to see what they saw.” He stopped, and looked at me. “I don’t. At least, I never have.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I wonder if that is why he sent it to me. Because he knew that I would never understand.”
“Tom.” I began, once again speaking with deliberation. “Sometimes it’s also easier to believe. But believing doesn’t always lead to understanding. And vice versa.”
“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.” He drawled.
“Better the devil you know.” I countered, and we both laughed. No one would win a cliché competition -- I had the weight of command school behind me, Tom had an entire backlog of twentieth century movies.
“I believe in the warp drive.” He said suddenly, brightly. “I believe in B’Elanna.” He looked sideways at me. “Dammit, I believe in the eight ball in the side pocket, every time.”
I laughed aloud and put a hand on his shoulder. And that moment, that moment right there seemed to freeze for me. Just for a moment I could almost pretend that I understood it -- that it made sense to me. That I wasn’t wandering endlessly trying to make it all right.
“Computer, disengage current selection and activate the Sandrine programme.” I said, looking him straight into the eyes. The holodeck shimmered around us and in a matter of seconds we were surrounded by the smoky pub. I walked straight over to the rack and selected two cues.
“Eight ball in the side pocket, you say?” I leered, handing him a cue. “I have two days worth of rations that says otherwise.”
~ ~ * ~ ~
An hour later I walked along the corridors to my quarters, ready for sleep. I was already wondering how I was going to describe my night to Chakotay. No doubt it would be easier over a meal paid by Tom Paris’ rations.
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