Endless IIB: Hitting Home
by Judy jlf@door.net and Etal

Part 3

Day 29, Hour 1230, Alpha Quadrant

"Are they going to be a problem?" Admiral Paris asked curtly, "this is what I need to know at the end of this meeting." He looked at the three officers in the conference room, hating that he had to rely on them for feedback. Owen Paris usually trusted his gut and made decisions alone, but there were too many distractions, too many variables. He wouldn't let them make his decision, but couldn't ignore the resources around him this time.

"A memorial service is planned for tomorrow," he continued. "I need to make my final recommendations about their degree of involvement in the ceremony, and their degree of freedom during leave. This is a brainstorming session, so don't hold back any information; sometimes the small details are the most critical." Sensing their understanding, he continued, "Dr. Z'Pel, what does medical have?"

"Both Kim and Torres are in adequate health, no major illnesses or disabilities. Frankly, we have no clue what is the source of some of the viruses or bacteria they've been exposed to. We know that both were genetically altered by someone or something; for Torres, she said it was the Phage and for Kim, he said it was Tauresians. Neither of these species is listed in our records and these events still might not account for everything we found. I don't know if this is important, but Kim has had neurosurgery. He claims to have no memory of the surgery, but Torres said it was conducted by the emergency medical hologram. It's a procedure that wasn't in its initial program and immediately afterwards, they had to shut down the EMH and restart the program, wiping its memory clean."

Paris interrupted, "We all have an opinion about the EMH, but stay on target. Anything else, about Kim and Torres, doctor?"

"To the best of our knowledge, they are not active carriers of any diseases that would pose a threat to others, so their physical presence at a ceremony is not problematic." Uncomfortably, the doctor continued, "This might not be the right time for this, but as long as we're being candid, my staff would like to submit a request for lengthier study. There are so many more tests that we could run."

"Yes, I'm sure there are," Owen Paris interrupted. Looking around the table, he continued, "I expect every department would want to put in a similar request, but all such requests are denied for the present time. These are two young adults who, against all odds, found their way home. I want them to perceive that they are being treated like normal officers as soon as possible. Is that understood?"

Paris noticed that they were too professional to show any disappointment. Moving forward, he said, "Dr. Quaice, what is the bottom line on their psychological status?"

"Torres is responding to the initial shock better than Kim. Her PTSD symptoms appear to be less severe and less frequent than Kim's, although this is expected given that he accepts more responsibility for the failure to save the rest of the crew. Her sense of responsibility is focused on Kim; if they are separated long-term, then her own condition might be exacerbated. They have strong ties of platonic friendship and loyalty; they will rely on each other if they attend the ceremony."

Paris liked Quaice; he was direct and didn't get too touchy-feely in his reports, but he still didn't get if the counselor was answering his question. "If we put them on stage, will they have a meltdown?"

Evan Quaice respected the admiral, but hated when he used terms like meltdown. Still Paris was the kind of man that never seemed comfortable with psychologists. Trying to work with his superior, he replied, "I can't make any guarantees, but neither appears high risk. Of the two, Kim has less control over his emotional expressions, but he knows this memorial is happening, and he wants to be there. I would add that this could be beneficial for them, help them accept what has happened, and move on."

"Thank you, doctor," Paris replied neutrally. "Captain Kaczinski, what's the evaluation from Security?"

"Their stories are basically consistent. With minor variation, they provided the same description of events through several interviews conducted here. I reviewed the transcripts from Odo and Sisko, and they are telling a similar story. I have no means to verify their version of events, so there's a degree of suspicion that cannot be abated."

"Are any of the minor variations important?" Paris asked.

Kaczinski's face showed no expression as she replied, "Not on the surface. In general, honest people tell slightly different versions over multiple sessions. They're not as careful with their words or sequence of events because they're not focused on protecting a lie. I'd be more worried if they repeated themselves with 100% consistency."

"Anything unusual from their time at home?"

"Wait a minute," Quaice interrupted, "Are you saying that you're spying on them when they leave here each day?"

Kaczinski didn't like Quaice's type. She always figured that psychologists were too easily fooled and too sensitive for the real work that needed to be done. Leaning back, crossing her arms, Kaczinski answered, "My staff observe, Doctor, they do not spy."

"I see," Quaice challenged. "And were your staff observing them during my sessions? I don't know how the medical department is run, but the confidentiality in my department is inviolate. If your staff...."

Paris cut him off, "Doctor, there were some necessary precautions until certain questions were resolved. The degree of observation which has or will occur is not open for debate."

Quaice started to speak again, but Z'Pel subtly shook her head as a suggestion of silence.

"Look," Kaczinski said, "the bottom line is that there are no indications that they pose a threat. They come here, they go home. They communicate with each other at least once a night, but it's really a vague review of their day; they never mention anything new about Voyager or its crew." Looking carefully at the admiral, the security officer continued, "Both have been visited by Mrs. Paris, but my staff did not consider it necessary to monitor those interactions."

Kaczinski saw no reaction from Paris, so she swiftly continued, "Torres' mother hasn't told the woman about her father, and Torres has made no attempt to contact any member of the Maquis. Kim and his parents went to the spot where they had spread the grandmother's ashes; other than that, he never leaves the house; he accessed some medical materials, but already admitted that to Quaice. We'll keep observing as long as necessary, but other than the fact that they claim to have fallen out of the Delta Quadrant, there is nothing unusual about either of them."

Quaice held his tongue while the admiral asked more questions and then reviewed the ceremony itself. Thirty minutes later, he waited as Paris summarily dismissed the others.

Waiting until they were alone, the admiral said, "Doctor, I'm sure you have a long list of incisive points that you would like to make about the way operations are conducted. I am not interested in them. Your area of expertise is psychological services and the value of your opinion is limited to this topic. Do not jeopardize a promising career with commentary about operations in other departments."

Hearing the warning that was being offered, Quaice said, "Sir, my comment is limited to my area of expertise."

Cautiously, Paris replied, "Continue."

"If Torres and Kim, and their families, are under constant observation, then it is possible that they might be perceiving this surveillance in some minimal way. I'm not accusing the security officers of being invasive, just we all pick up on the world around us."

Sensing he was losing Paris' attention, he hurried on, "This is relevant because if they experience a sense of intrusiveness, it could retraumatize Kim and Torres. They might believe that Starfleet is against them. Both are already concerned that the search has ended."

"The search is beyond your area of expertise," the admiral commented. His tone was professional, but Quaice saw this was a painful topic for him somehow.

"Yes, sir. I'm simply saying that this could set up a vicious cycle where they feel paranoid, become secretive, and then confirm any suspicions about them which leads to more observation, and more paranoia. I ask you to consider the possible impact."

Quaice tried not to look as if he was observing Paris' reaction too closely. The counselor knew the admiral could shut him out professionally if he was ever personally uncomfortable in the counselor's presence. After a moment, Paris asked, "Do you think Kim and Torres trust you?"

"Yes, I do."

"Then you will have an opportunity to show me the value of your department. I have decided that Kim and Torres will attend the ceremony tomorrow. Torres will make a speech; Kim will not. Between meeting dignitaries, family members, and the media, they will be highly visible all day. You can assume responsibility for their appropriate behavior; your task is to handle any problems before they disrupt the ceremony. If all goes well, then I will speak to Kaczinski about changing the intensity of scrutiny."


Day 30, Hour 0510, Alpha Quadrant

Seeing her mother enter the room, B'Elanna got up from the kitchen table. "Did I wake you?"

"No, I've been awake for an hour, tossing and turning, trying to convince myself that I was going back to sleep. I finally gave up and decided to start my day early. Have you been up all night?" Miral asked.


"Are you all right?"

Not exactly answering the question, B'Elanna looked down at the PADD in her hand. "I'm trying to learn the speech they wrote for me."

Miral had read it a few times earlier in the evening, but she took the PADD and looked at it again, as if it was the first time. Peering at her daughter, she asked, "What do you think of it? Do you want to say these words?"

She saw so many thoughts cross B'Elanna's face. "I don't know what I want. It's a good speech; I don't want to think about how many people worked on it or how many drafts they wrote. But the words are wrong for me, this isn't how I talk. And the descriptions of my friends is so weak; maybe it's who they were before they left the Alpha Quadrant, but it's not how I know them. It's like they're describing characters, not real people."

"So do you want to change it?"

"If I had more time, I could do this right. But I have to give this in five hours. I can't risk messing with it and then not doing a good speech. They decided Harry won't get to talk." The two women shared a guilty smile. "They know they should worry that he'll run amok about how Starfleet failed us."

"Yes, we could all make that speech," Miral added. Sensing something deeper in her daughter, she continued, "If Harry is silenced, then your speech has to speak for both of you. And for all your friends too."

"Exactly," B'Elanna nodded. "I just keep coming back to the sense that I have to do this right. I'll never get a second chance to honor what Voyager became. Tom, Chakotay, the Captain, they all deserve the best I can do."

Miral gently smoothed back a strand of hair that had fallen into B'Elanna's eyes. "You'll do well today. You will not fail. Frankly, most people won't remember what you say. But if they see this look on your face, the way you look right now, then they will know how much you loved and respected your crewmates. That is the gift you can give them all."

Surprised again by Miral's sensitivity, B'Elanna asked, "When did you become such a mom?"

Smiling sadly, she replied, "I don't know. Maybe it was always in me, but I didn't feel it until you were gone. I'm sorry that I couldn't be there for you before. I hope it helps that I am here now."

Feeling her way through the moment of unexpected intimacy, B'Elanna crinkled her face as she answered, "It does, really, but don't do it too much. With all the changes, I need some things to be the way they used to be. I mean, you're not going to put on an apron and start making cookies, are you?"

They both laughed at that image, but the moment faded as the weight of the day returned to them.


Day 30, Hour 0745, Alpha Quadrant

John Kim peered through the open doorframe and watched his son straighten his uniform in front of the mirror. He felt guilty about these moments, when he'd steal a glance and hope that Harry was unaware of his presence, but it was the only times when John thought he could sense how his son was doing. Harry was trying so hard to put on a brave face for them, something he appreciated for his wife's sake. But both parents worried about what was going on inside of him. Harry's pain was so obvious that they felt it too; it was like a fire that continuously burned all three of them.

Fearing detection, John entered Harry's room. Admiring his son, he said, "So this is a lieutenant's uniform? Very impressive."

Smiling a little, Harry replied. "Yes, I guess this is the new dress uniform. It's for special occasions. My regular uniform won't be this fancy."

"Well, you look fine, just fine." Both of them knew John was stalling. John felt it was important to be the one to do this, but he hated it. Wanting to help his father, Harry offered, "We don't have much time; it takes a few minutes for me to absorb it and then regain my balance. And we have to be at that breakfast meeting at 8."

"Harry, I could ask them if today could be different," John offered.

"No, that's okay. We both know it's a requirement for being there today. They won't let me go to the ceremony without it."

Harry turned his neck and John raised the hypospray. What had life come to that he was sedating his own child? The doctors told him it was a mild dose, but it always felt like a betrayal, as if nobody trusted Harry's sanity. And he was part of that mistrust now. Somehow it felt worse to watch strangers do it, so Owen Paris had made arrangements for a doctor to teach John how to give the twice-daily injections at home. It still seemed so wrong.

John never knew what to think when he could see it hitting Harry's brain, changing his eyes, his facial expression, his demeanor. Was this better or worse? Was it helping?

Harry sat down on his bed, and John sat next to him. Both were quiet for a moment. Harry's voice was just a little heavier when he said, "Dad, you have to do something for me today."

"Of course. Anything I can."

"You have to watch out for Mom and you. I'll have to talk to all these people and it's going to be a long day. I have be on stage from the Vulcan children's choir this morning, all the way to antimatter fireworks at sunset. I might not be able to be with you as much as I want. You have to be careful."

Unsure of what Harry was thinking, John asked, "Careful about what? You don't have to worry about us."

"No, you have to be careful. People might be different today. Even if they've been nice to you all these years. They could look at you and Mom, think you're the lucky ones to have me home. They might not expect it themselves, but they could vent their anger or frustration on you. Might say things or do things that will be vicious. You have to be prepared for it, shield yourselves from them so that they don't hurt you."

John pulled his son closer to him and let Harry's head rest on his shoulder. He was proud that they had raised such a young man. Facing one of the hardest days of his life and Harry was worried for *them*. It was in moments like this that he believed Harry's soul was still alive in him somewhere. Maybe he couldn't ease all the pains Harry carried, but he could ease this one. "I'll be careful, I promise. You don't need to worry. I'll take care of your mother, and I won't let anyone harm either of us. It'll be okay."


Day 30, Hour 1133, Alpha Quadrant

Harry James' Sleepy Lagoon. No, too slow, too much time to think between the notes.

"We come together today not to mourn, but to celebrate...."

S'Plin or maybe something older like Miles Davis. Both had taught him about the colors in music.

"So when you look at the night sky this evening, let your heart be light...."

Yes, the colors of the night sky. No, it was happening again. The speeches were creeping into his consciousness. Concentrate! Focus on the music before it seeps back in. Pick something else. Goodman. Yes, Goodman never failed him. Just settle and listen for the opening notes of Sing, Sing, Sing.

Harry closed his eyes for a second and felt himself taken away by the music. When he reopened them, he was still sitting on the stage at Starfleet Command, with Quaice on one side of him and B'Elanna on the other. He knew they were there to give him strength, but he also knew that they were strategically placed in case he lost his cool and needed to be removed quickly, probably with security in the wings. Well, he wouldn't give them the satisfaction of falling apart.

He watched Admiral Paris give his speech. It was already the fourth speech of the day, but they were all the same. 'Be happy that your loved ones are on their way home, blah, blah, blah.' Harry also heard the undertone, the other message that they never quite said but which he *heard* quite clearly. 'Don't blame us if your loved ones never come home. Blame Harry Kim. He made it home just fine and left everybody else behind. It's his fault, not our fault.'


Harry couldn't bear to hear it anymore, so he didn't. He watched the admiral's lips move, but had no clue what he was saying. It looked as if the admiral's speech was heartfelt. But it couldn't reach Harry's heart. It was closed for the day.

Part of his brain paid enough attention that he knew when to smile or look serious, when to stand or sit. But mostly, he drifted away and when he watched people talk, he heard music instead. In the silence that occurred when the music changed, he tried to listen to B'Elanna's speech, but it didn't sound right. It was her voice, yet somehow the words seemed off. It was too hard to follow. So he listened to S'Plin instead.

It was easy to make the voices go away, but he didn't know what to do about the faces. It was so hard to be sure. Harry's gaze was pulled this way and that, a familiar hair color or chinline or hand gesture catching his attention. He knew he'd met Dariben, Chakotay's cousin, this morning at the breakfast for family members of the crew. But was that man in the third row Dariben or Chakotay? The man looked pained, but still smiled at him. Chakotay would have looked at him like that. Was that woman Jenny Delaney's younger sister, or Jenny herself? And if his friends were here, why didn't they come forward? Did they believe the admiral? Did they blame him?

At least Harry knew not to bother looking for Tom because he knew his friend might be hiding. Just like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn, Tom Paris would have found attending his own funeral too much fun to interrupt the ceremony. No, if Tom was here, he'd wait until the end and then surprise everybody with a grand entrance. Harry almost laughed out loud when he imagined Tom's glee in disrupting the admiral's precious ceremony. So all Harry had to do was wait long enough for everyone to go away. And if music helped him stay in his skin, nobody had to be the wiser.

Myeong-Jai wanted to cry, but she wouldn't give into it. She knew that Harry was aware of the pain that he'd caused his parents at the space station, and he'd been trying so hard to protect them both since returning to Earth. She believed Harry was really feeling a little better, but Harry was still so closed, trying to keep his agonies to himself.

It was the first time that he'd ever shut them out so completely, and she and John just didn't know how to deal with it. The more they reached out to them, the more he withdrew. John kept telling her to give Harry time, he'd come around, but it was so hard to wait. Myeong-Jai used to make a daily deal with the universe that she would take her son back in any condition if he just came home, never really believing that he would come back with any wounds that she couldn't heal.

And now this. He had faded into his music and he wouldn't come back out until he was ready. She thought that nobody, not even John, could tell that it happened, yet she saw the slight signs that a mother would know. He'd done this once before when he was seven at his grandfather's funeral, but Harry had then let her into his world, let her comfort him. She sensed it wouldn't be as easy this time.

Myeong looked at the other parents around her, those whose children were still missing, and felt guilty and selfish. It should be enough to have Harry with her again, but it just wouldn't do. Myeong-Jai wanted him happy and healthy, and he wasn't there yet. She had to hold onto the belief that, on some level, part of him was still aware of her presence and would soon reach out for her. And she would be there, waiting.

End part 3