DISCLAIMER: All characters in Star Trek: Voyager belong to Paramount. I‘m merely borrowing them to entertain people.

NOTE: Here it is, Chapter 2! Boy, it came out quite fast actually, compared to my previous post which took me 2 months. ;) I‘m trying a different approach with this new instalment. You will notice more sections written in the first person perspective - this is a prelude for more to come, for I plan to write the next chapter entirely from Tom‘s perspective. A challenge, but a *creative challenge*. Hope you like it, and if you want to give me some feedback do post them to my new e-mail address at lanfear@pd.jaring.my

Chapter 2...The Past, the Pain
By Lanna

Darkness. Empty space. Abandoned planets. Dead ones. Empty space again.
More darkness. Janeway bit her lower lip, gazing into the inky darkness. "I pray that this is not another desolate area of space. I‘m getting tired of those," she whispered to herself. Again she found herself losing control, not only of herself, but of her determination that they will return, that it was going to be alright.Voyager needed civilisations. Repairs. Energy sources.

Most of all, they needed to know that there was life out there.That they are not alone.
Not again.

Janeway sighed, shaking her head. Her actions earlier in sickbay was worse than illogical, they were a disaster - losing control like that, letting her frustrations overwhelm her and thus making her lash out at fellow officers. It was unheard of. Unacceptable. After that episode, she had been so ashamed of herself that she locked herself away from everyone. To mull. To sulk.

<Am I losing hold of hope? she thought to herself. She looked at the deep, empty darkness before her. <Are we to travel this space forever? Are our children to continue our journey for us? Are we not meant to see Earth again? How many times had she asked herself these questions? Most of the time she had met the questions with unwavering confidence, but now, they was met with despair. It was then the ship shook.

Caught off guard, Janeway found herself clutching her table for support.
The second jolt was more violent, toppling the pictures she had of Molly and Mark from her table. She watched them hit the ground with a thud before she had sense to call her officers.

"Tuvok?" she demanded sharply, exiting her room to the bridge. "What‘s going on?"

"There appears to be a spatial disturbance ahead. It appears to be..." a pause. "A wormhole."

Janeway turned to the viewscreen, in time to see the gates of Heaven open up.

Like a hidden doorway to Paradise, a circular gate, perhaps half a mile in diameter shimmered to existence. And for a moment it stood there like a disembodied ring - before a bright flash hid it once more.

Janeway covered her eyes with her arm, squinting against the glare to see anything.

"Something is coming out from the wormhole, captain." Tuvok reported. "I detect two ships-" his voice trailed off. "They are hailing us."

There they were - two ships, their elaborate shapes a shilloute against the light. "State your purpose and destination," came a deep, female voice.

Somehow, Janeway found her voice. "This is the Federation Starship USS Voyager. We mean you no harm," she said, her confidence back. She straightened, squinting against the rapidly fading brightness. "We are in need of supplies," and repairs, she added mentally, but it was not smart to let the other side know how weak they were. "Perhaps you could direct us to the nearest spaceport?" They did not answer.

Her heart hammered, as she gazed at the ships, now revealed in their full glory. Almost dolphin in shape, they were white in colour and decorated with glowing red runes. She found herself wary of and fascinated with the ship at the same time.
"USS Starship Voyager."

The viewscreen was suddenly replaced with the face of a humanoid female.
Her skin was a faint blue, her lips grey. Bright yellow hair trailed down her shoulders in an elaborate braid decorated with bright stones and leaves. Her expression gave no hint of what she was feeling - her black gaze bored into Janeway‘s blue one for a moment before she continued.

"This is the Merana Collaborate Starship Illirinatara. I am Sub-Juvanal Taramanelaras. I bid you welcome to Merana Space. Our nearest port is at your disposal."

For a moment, Janeway didn‘t know what to say, and she could feel the anticipation in her crew. There was a faint tension in the air, like electricity. With a glad smile and a sigh, Janeway said, "Thank you, Sub-Juvanal Taramanelaras, we accept your invitation."
<Finally. Civilisation.

And they were led through the gate.

0134 hours

Dr. Savek blinked. "I think it is too radical a procedure."

The Doctor sighed. He thought so, too. "But think about it, Dr. Savek, without this surgery, he will have to contend with a crippling condition that will eventually kill him," the Doctor pleaded.

"Have other avenues been explored?" the Vulcan brows furrowed, and the Doctor could almost sense the medical pathways of the hologram working furiously.

"I have explored every other option, Doctor Savek," the Doctor answered, knowing that although the hologram possessed Dr. Savek‘s vast experience in neurology, it did not have the Doctor‘s far superior diagnostic pathways. "The only other option is to remove the ‚paracortex‘, but I am afraid that will endanger Lieutenant Paris. The paracortex appears to have integrated itself into various parts of the brain. Removing the paracortex could possibly cause brain damage - a risk I‘m not willing to take."

Dr. Savek nodded sagely, studying Lieutenant Paris on the surgical bed for a long moment before continuing. "You are right, Doctor. There is no other option."
"Then we are agreed?" the Doctor said, readying his instruments.

"We shall proceed," Dr. Savek concluded, gazing at the holographic image on the Doctor‘s table. "However, it is prudent to consult his next-of-kin before we continue."

The Doctor sighed, then nodded again. He tapped his commbadge. "Doctor to Lieutenant Torres."

* * *

As the drama unfolded in Sickbay, another was taking place outside Voyager. Approximately two hours after their entrance through the Gate, there was an incredible burst of light, followed by the view of an alien spaceport.
"It‘s beautiful," Janeway said to herself.
Chakotay smiled at that, nodding. "Reminds me of..." he paused and cleared his throat. "Reminds me of Deep Space Nine,"
Janeway arched an eyebrow, still watching the station. "Indeed. An incredible resemblence -except for the fact that it‘s white, like the stations of Ipigma 7."
"Ipigma 7?"

"Salari Territory, at the edge of the Neutral Zone."

Chakotay nodded. He did not particularly know the Salari Territory well, but he did run a few deals with their weapon dealers there once. The viewscreen came alive.

"USS Voyager." It was Sub-Juvanal Taramanelaras. Still aloof, she regarded Janeway with imperial stiffness.
"We hear you, Sub-Juvanal." Janeway responded, still strangely unwary.

"I welcome you to space station Merana. Proceed to Docking Pylon 58 and you will be serviced immediately."

The viewscreen went dead.
"Friendly, isn‘t she?" Chakotay commented, a grin on his face. Janeway returned his look, grinning wryly. Before she could comment, another transmission came in.

"It‘s from Space station Merana, Captain, said Lieutenant Trane, from Ops.
"Onscreen," she gazed curiously at the screen.

This time the image was a male, but of a species unlike the Sub-Juvanal.
Violet eyes gazed out from a vaguely humanoid face. Bony ridges extended from it‘s skull like horns, only to end with long vines at the end. It looked almost like hair.

"Welcome, USS Voyager. My name is Shomira. Welcome to Space station Merana. Is there anything I could help you with?"

After weeks of hostile aliens and danger, the cordial welcome was almost too good to believe.

"Our ship is in need of supplies, particularly food, spare parts and equipment," she answered after a moment of hesitation.

"We can provide you with these," Shomira answered. "Our repair crews are standing at wait in Docking Pylon 58. Again, welcome to Space Station Merana, Captain."

Janeway smiled for the first time, at ease again with herself and her direction. "Thank you, Shomira. Janeway out."

* * *

2 hours later

"Like lambs to slaughter."
"What?" Harry blinked.

"We were led through the gate like lambs to slaughter," Delaine snapped.

Harry automatically frowned his disaproval - and quickly replaced it with a neutral one.

The passage they were travelling through was somewhat akin to the stable wormhole at Deep Space Nine, but when it took them mere seconds to skip a few thousand light years, this wormhole took much longer - two hours, according to their guide. Harry found himself fascinated by that little fact - were they travelling hundreds of light years a second? Were they going to cut down their journey home by a few years? Of course it was merely his naïve, hopeful side speaking again. The Gate could be a less sophisticated version of the Delta Quadrant wormhole. Despite almost six years on Voyager, he never could quench that spirit in him.
"The captain knows what she‘s doing," he answered calmly after a moment.

"The captain could have led us into a trap," Delaine muttered, sipping her raktajino.

Seven, raised an eyebrow, looking at the Ensign in what he took to be puzzlement. "You do not concur with the Captain‘s decision, Ensign Delaine?"
Harry interrupted Delaine‘s reply - which would probably be unpleasant.
"Why the sudden Maquis theatrics, Delaine?" As soon as it was out of his mouth, he winced, regretting it. "Delaine-I‘m-"
"Sorry? Don‘t be." Delaine countered sharply.

Harry sighed. Delaine was, and always would be, a mystery to him. Her remaining disdain and bitterness towards Starfleet had persisted even at a time when the former Maquis crewmembers considered themselves a part of the ship, a family.

"Look, Delaine." It was time to set his foot down. "We‘re in a beautiful alien space port. We‘ve got plenty of supplies, lots of alien culture to explore. It‘s a beautiful day. Today is not the time nor the place to dwell on ancient history."
"It may be ancient history to you, Harry-" Delaine growled.

"Ensign Delaine. Ensign Kim is right. The past is irrelevant," Seven interrupted.

Delaine turned red. "Not to me." Abruptly, she got to her feet. In her haste, her chair toppled to the floor with a thud. Before Harry could stop her, she had disappeared past the doors.

Neelix appeared from his kitchen then, gazing curiously at the departing ensign.
"Everything alright?" he said as he approached their table.

Harry only managed a shrug. "Beats me." Why bother dragging another person into this mess? He decided to leave the mystery of Ensign Delaine aside.

For the time being.

Neelix looked around a little as if afraid someone would overhear, then whispered to Harry, "I heard you visited Tom. How is he?"

"He‘s still weak, but he‘s awake, coherent," he paused. "And he loves your flowers." Harry couldn‘t help but smirk at that.

"Well, wait till he tastes the Bajoran pudding I made for him," Neelix smiled. "I‘ll make a beeline for Sickbay after my shift. I know he can‘t stomach anything exotic right now, but perhaps some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches..." he said enthusiastically.
Harry smiled at that. Everything was finally going to be normal again.
* * *

Space Station Merana
Stardate 53098.3

"Captain‘s Log, Stardate 53098.3. We finally found civilisation in the form of Space Station Merana, the trade centre of the Merana Collaborate, a loose conglomeration of systems and planets, alike to the Federation in make-up, but different in principles. Two hours after our encounter with Sub-Juvanal Taramenelaras, we were greeted with an envoy who merely introduced himself as ‚Shomira‘ who directed us to Docking Pylon 58 where our repairs were promptly seen to without complaint.

Busy with docking and diplomatic procedures, I did not have the time, nor did the Doctor think I did - to check up on Lieutenant Paris‘ condition which had taken turn for the worse.

Apparently, a severe neurological attack had rendered the Lieutenant comatose, and the Doctor had to perform radical surgery in order to correct the problem. I was informed that B‘Elanna gave permission to proceed with the surgery, being ‚the next of kin‘."

* * *

1245 hours

When he opened his eyes, the light sheared into his brain like a laser blast. Groaning, he closed his eyes, bringing his hands automatically to cover them, breathing heavily.
"Doctor, he‘s awake." A familiar voice. B‘Elanna?

He struggled to open his eyes again, this time seeing a blurred shape. He fought to focus on the image, and it gradually sharpened into B‘Elanna‘s face. His mouth opened to say her name, but he couldn‘t say it.

"Take it easy, Mr. Paris." A strange noise. The tricorder. He looked to his left. It was the Doctor, looking at the readings on the medical tricorder while scanning him. The Doctor nodded to himself, pleased.

His tongue felt dry and his head buzzed. He blinked a few times to clear his eyes, but his vision still swam and his head felt as if it was covered by several layers of wool.

"I gave you psilosyne," the Doctor explained a moment later. "That is why you feel the way you are feeling now, light headed, possibly a little dizzy."
Tom nodded, but he still felt strange.

Eyes widening, he brought his hand up to his left temple. With a shaking hand, he traced a strange shape there. It was cool, like metal, and it was around two inches long, and it curved from his left temple to end near his ear.

"What?" he managed, looking at the doctor with questioning eyes. <What have you done to me? he had wanted to say. His pulse started to pick up.
"Calm down, Mr. Paris," the Doctor sighed and continued after a moment.
"I wanted to explain the implant to you when you were more rested-"

<Implant? He felt a surge of guilt from beneath the haze of drugs and looked at the source - B‘Elanna. She met his eyes bravely, knowing that he must have felt what she felt. He couldn‘t read her look, so he turned to the Doctor, demanding an answer now mutely.

And so the Doctor started to explain. The implant, the Doctor said, stabilises the neural energy in his brain - which had been fluctuating wildly for the past few weeks, but had worsened when he awoke. He nearly died, the Doctor stressed, and required immediate surgery. There wasn‘t any time to decide or to wait for his decision. B‘Elanna had made the move to agree on the surgery. The implant, a derivative of Borg technology was equipped nano-nodes which were imbedded in the frontal lobe and the ‚paracortex‘ of his brain. "The exact function of the nano-nodes of the implant is too complicated to explain but basically it draws out excessive neural energy from your brain and regulates the fluctuations to an acceptable level." A pause. "Unless I find another solution to your condition, you are dependent on the implant for an indefinite period of time."

Tom didn‘t know what to think of that. Infact, he remained still, staring at nothing. Eventually the Doctor left him, followed by B‘Elanna, who shot him unreadable looks before she walked away from his sight.

* * *

When the doors of Sickbay closed behind her, it took a moment for her to collect herself to leave the area. Stiffly, she walked down the corridor, trying to force her mind to work on the overheated warp conduits in Engineering, but the usual sense of purpose that usually followed eluded her.
A moment later, she noticed Harry running towards her from the turbolift.
His anxious look told her enough. He had heard.
"B‘Elanna, is he alright?"

"The operation was a success, if that‘s what you‘re wondering," she replied, still heading towards Engineering.
"Why didn‘t you tell me earlier?"

B‘Elanna stopped in her tracks to face him. "We didn‘t have the time," she answered simply. Which was the truth - she had been called to Sickbay right after the jump, and Harry was still on the bridge. She hadn‘t thought she could burden Harry with the news. <Then again, it wasn‘t my decision to make.
"I‘m sorry, Harry. I don‘t know why," she admitted feebly after a moment.

Harry nodded and sighed. "I‘ll catch you later - I‘ve got to see Tom."

"He..." she trailed off. "He doesn‘t want to see anyone right now. He made t quite obvious with his silence."

Harry hesitated, wondering whether he should go or not. Finally, he turned to face her. "What exactly was the surgery about? Why did the Doctor call you? B‘Elanna?"

"It was necessary, that‘s all," she said, her lips thinning. "Tom was fitted with an implant. The implant will save his life."

"If it will save his life, why do you feel guilty?" Harry frowned, puzzled.

The question took her by surprise. It was a moment before she could even answer. "I don‘t know."
Tom didn‘t want to see anyone for the next three days.
* * *

Tom watched the stars from his darkened private room in Sickbay. As the western side of the alien spaceport came into view, his eyes widened at the magnificent array of starships docked at what appeared to be a docking ring.

The spaceport was beautiful...and familiar. It‘s circular shape and talon-like docking bays reminded him of another space dock he had stepped onto years ago. The space station where everything began.

He snuggled deeper into the covers, gazing into the small oval window at his left side as more of the spaceport came into view with dreamlike pace. It was enough to see the alien ships docked there - they were an assurance that his life was starting to get back to normal. Perhaps.

The implant felt strange on his forehead. Reluctantly, he traced its simple design with his hand, feeling its coldness and alienness.
<I must look like Seven now, he thought. A wave of bitterness flooded him. <I‘m a cripple. I cannot fly again. That thought sent icy rivulets of fear through his body. Not being able to touch the helm controls or pilot Voyager ever again, forever subjected to blackouts -

And it all started at Deep Space Nine, after he had accepted Janeway‘s assignment. If he had not accepted it...

He would be languishing in prison; oh probably released by now. He would have been in Marseilles, France, bumming around at Sandrines, basically leading a hedonistic but miserable existence.
But he would have been whole.

Tom cursed and looked away from the spaceport. The sound of his voice was still strange to him, and sometimes he had to pause a moment to wonder whether he had really heard it. Tom sighed and gazed once more through the window.

Somehow, he found himself opening his eyes again. His body was aching with the familiar sluggishness of sleep, and he shifted, feeling strangely tired. He must have fallen asleep. It troubled him that he could not remember how or when.

The view in his window had changed. It now revealed a huge ring, suspended in space. There was a bright flash, and a ship burst from the ring and passed gracefully from view.

Despite his fatigue, curiosity won out. Tom sat up ponderously, his muscles protesting as he managed a sitting position. For a moment, stars swam before his eyes, but faded after he closed his eyes for a moment. Gingerly, he placed his foot on the carpeted floor and stood up, but managed only a few steps before his knees betrayed him and started to buckle. He grabbed his bed for support, grunting from the exertion. Beads of sweat began to appear on his forehead.

He thought it was a good effort for a person who was abed for almost a month.
"Lieutenant! What are you doing up?!"

The Doctor‘s voice startled him, and for a moment, he nearly lost his balance. He turned slowly to face the Doctor, grasping a nearby console.

"Here, let me help you," the Doctor offered, stepping forward with an outsretched hand.

Instinctively, he jerked away. Months with the Binoms and on Rya had honed in him the instinct to avoid contact. Contact was usually lethal. He looked away, unable to meet the Doctor‘s eyes for a moment.

"Well, are you sure you can manage on your own?" the Doctor asked uncomfortably, placing his hands behind him as if he didn‘t know what to do with them.

"Yes." The word came out in a hiss. Control of his vocal chords still eluded him. He had to concentrate hard before he could even say the word.

Blinking, he tried to clear his vision. His head still felt muzzy and lights flickered behind his eyes. Strange shapes and sillhoutes merged with the shadows, and he heard strange whispers in his ears.
"That‘s it." The Doctor snapped.

His vision swam sharply back to focus and the shadows fled. In two big steps, the Doctor was at his side, guiding him back to bed. "Doing nothing while you sway like a twig about to break in two isn‘t my style," the Doctor berated.

Tom found himself sitting on the bed. He looked up at the Doctor after a while and signed. [Thank you. And thank you again for saving my life.] He did it gratefully, watching the Doctor solemnly.

The Doctor didn‘t seem to know how to react to that. "Well, you‘re welcome. You will have to remain in sickbay for the next few days - we can begin our theraphy then."
"Ther-" Tom drawled, unable to finish the word.

"To reffamiliarise your vocal chords." There was a pause, then the Doctor said queitly. "It is good to have you back, Lieutenant."
Tom paused, astonished. He looked at the Doctor mutely with serious eyes.

"You are not only my collegue or my assistant. You are my friend. And I have missed you." The Doctor cleared his throat self-conciously.

Tom felt a strange sense of peace suddenly. The bitterness and anger he felt for the past three days dissapeared, and he smiled tentatively.
"Thanks," he answered gratefully. It meant a lot. More than a lot.

"Well!" the Doctor exclaimed suddenly, busying himself with the nearby medical tray - trying to conceal his awkwardness. "The vocal therapy will take weeks-"

Tom shot the Doctor a look he was more than familiar with. Rolling his eyes, he corrected, "Maybe just one week," he said after some consideration. "I will begin with some simple excercises that will refammiliarise your motor systems. Right now, I will advise you to rest," the Doctor smiled and pushed the medical tray out.
Tom watched him leave and felt a deep resolve.

<I will get better. And leave the Binoms and Rya behind for good.

5 days later

Personal Log. Stardate 53099.5. The Doctor said just yesterday that we must exorcise our personal demons. I guess you can say that I‘m trying that now with these logs. My voice has not returned, although the therapy has helped a little. I can now speak one or two words at one go without choking or looking like an idiot with my mouth open. Therefore, to compensate, I am typing my logs. Harry replicated a keyboard for me five days ago - the day I threw my temper tantrum and refused to look or speak to anyone, including B‘Elanna.

I guess he is what I call ‚a brave but foolish soul‘. He‘d risk anything for anyone. A matyr. The true hero. So he came to me on that very day, looking apprehensive but determined - we are talking about the new and improved Harry Kim here, not the green ensign that I first witnessed being conned by that Ferengi in Deep Space Nine.

I refused to look at him at first - I was quite determined to stare at the medical tray by my bedside. I have perfected that art to perfection since the day I woke up from surgery - that was around three days previously. That was when he did the unexpected.
"You‘re throwing a tantrum." He said.

The remark surprised me so much I had to look at him.

He had the decency not to look triumphant. Instead he went on talking.
Sound still startle me, and his words were unusually loud to my sensitve ears.

"We care for you Tom. We want to see you get better, but when you do this to yourself, I have to bring you out of it."
I frowned at him. It must have been ferocious, because he frowned himself a frown of worry.
"Scowling won‘t help." The next moment startled me more than it did Harry. My hand had instinctively reached out for the nearby medical tray and swiped it. It toppled to the floor in a furious clatter, tossing medical tricorders and other medical equipment on the floor.

I stared at the mess, not moving. Eventually Harry picked up the stuff and said to me quietly, "I will be back." And left me alone.

It disturbed me that my thoughts before toppling the medical tray were that I wanted to plunge an exoscalpel into Harry‘s throat.

That night, for the first time, I realised that we were in a space port. Not seeing one for months, I had to get up, and was caught in the act by the Doctor.

We talked for a while. And what he said to me startled me a little because he said he missed me. No...perhaps startled was not the right word. Warmed. I was warmed. Harry‘s words, combined with the Doctor‘s, snapped me out of it then. And I felt foolish at isolating them just because I now have an implant.

I don‘t know why I resented the cortical implant. Before, I had only memories. They were fine because they were intangible. But the cortical implant would always be there, staring at me from the mirror everyday, reminding me of the Binoms and what they did to me.
Even if I can‘t remember what exactly it was they ‚did to me‘.

Harry comes to see me everyday, describing to me the wonders of Space Station Merana in minute detail. His greatest joy was to divulge to me the details of their sophisticated computer systems - not exactly my favourite topic of the day, but listening to him talk somehow made me happy.

Harry told me that the station was gearing up for a festival. Called ‚Shorminas Se‘ in their language, it roughly meant ‚Empire Celebration Day‘ in Universal. It was to commemorate the establishment of the Merana Collaborate over four Earth centuries ago.
B‘Elanna did not come to visit.

I don‘t really blame her. My treatment of her wasn‘t what they call ‚gentlemanly‘. I remembered reading confusing feelings of guilt and anger in her; but I have put that aside. I miss her. And yet, I do not know what to feel about her.

For six months I pined for her, staring at the clear waters of the river near my cave, trying to picture her face. When I did so successfully, I tried to reach out to touch her face in the clear waters and it rippled away like an elusive dream.

I have all but forgotten our fight before I boarded Santiago. I have forgotten that we broke up. All I wanted was to have her back, to hold her again and say those words I‘ve always wanted to say - but was too much of a coward to say.

I don‘t know what I feel now. But I know I‘ll do anything for B‘Elanna Torres.
And that‘s enough for me.

* * *
Doctor‘s Personal Log. Stardate 53099.6. A week has passed since Lieutenant Tom Paris regained conciousness. I would like to report that his condition is stable and he is now strong enough to leave sickbay. During the one week in sickbay, Lieutenant Paris has shown unusual cooperation in therapy, something I wouldn‘t have expected him to tolerate before...{a pause} before he was captured by the Mylkrie. He is to step out of the sickbay for the first time today, and Ensign Kim, Lieutenant Torres, Commander Chakotay and Captain Janeway are expected to ‚see him off‘, as Neelix put it, ‚to his freedom from the pit‘. {a snort}

I would like to add a footnote that Lieutenant Paris‘ cortical implant is working efficiently. Neural energy levels remain normal and controlled indeed, an incredible improvement from a few days ago.

I am sufficiently convinced that Lieutenant Paris will fully recover. Physically. Emotionally and mentally - I am confident that the crew of Voyager will help him through what I consider a tough period for him.

Although I have good news on Lieutenant Paris‘ condition, I am worried about Ensign Ebran, who is showing signs of mental instability. Judging from his history with mental illness, Ensign Ebran seems to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I have prescribed psiloysine for him, and his mood swings have improved somewhat, but he still remains unpredictable and often times, violent. Commander Chakotay is counseling him now, and I believe Lieutenant Tuvok is trying to ‚minister‘ to him telepathically, although I have voiced my disapproval vehemently, but since no one listens to me anyway, Lieutenant Tuvok naturally proceeds. Of course, before he could even touch Ebran for a mind meld, the Ensign punched him in the gut. Ever seen a surprised Vulcan? I have. Though I am sure he would not admit it.

* * *

"It‘s called the 4th Movement from Piano Trio in E Minor by
"What a riduculous name! Why can‘t they give it a name that makes sense?"

"Don‘t complain, Ebran, you‘re not the one who has to memorise the iece."

Delaine squinted in the darkness - a darkness that had some relief in the light emitted by the hologram in the middle of the room.

"Do you want the piece now, or what?" the hologram complained. And flickered.

"When you say one, Yvette," came another recorded voice in the background. Ebran‘s voice.

"I tell you, you‘ll like it-"

"I‘ll always like anything you play, Yvette." This time the voice was real. It echoed the one in the recording. Delaine turned to her left. Ebran was seated in a shadow beside the table, his head buried in his hands.
The hologram flickered a final time and disappeared.

"The recording was faulty. She never got to record it," Ebran explained, is head still in his hands.
Delaine watched him quietly. He didn‘t move for a long time.

"It‘s dark here," she finally said.

"Light hurts my eyes."

"It‘s time to join the living, Tonay," Delaine said, more forceful this time.

Ebran raised his head, staring at her with blood shot eyes. "I am dead, Delaine. It‘s a mistake I‘m here."
"You‘re alive, Tonay!" Delaine snapped.

"I‘M NOT!" Ebran yelled, on his feet so fast Delaine moved a step back instinctively. "I‘M SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!"
She watch him bury his hands in his hair, wringing them in anguish.

"What about the living, Tonay? Are you going to ignore them for the rest of the journey?! And let me remind you, that we have ONE HECK OF A JOURNEY BEFORE US!" Delaine tried to stop her voice from rising, but watching him like this - disintergrating into madness before her eyes; it was too much for her.

Ebran didn‘t answer. Instead he sank to his knees, his forehead on the ground, his hands shielding it from a phantom threat.

"Stop the voices, Sarah. Stop them," he sobbed, his shoulders heaving. "I can‘t control them. They keep telling me things," he looked at her with glistening eyes. "They won‘t let me sleep. I hear them everywhere...Prophets, Sarah. They won‘t let me sleep."

Delaine sank to her knees and took him gently into her arms. "Shh," she soothed, running her hands through his hair. "I won‘t let them get you."

"Where have you been all this time?" Ebran said after a moment, his eyes vague.

"Waiting for you. You might have fallen for Parr, but I still...‘care‘ for you, you know."
"I‘ve always loved you," Ebran protested.
Delaine nodded. She knew better. "Of course."
"I missed you so much. Don‘t leave me again, Yvette."

Delaine blinked away tears. "Of course not. I‘ll always be by your side."