And after the commanded journey, what?
Nothing magnificent, nothing unknown.
A gazing our from far way, alone.
And it is not particular at all,
Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round.
Part Three of "Rivers of the Soul"
There's good news and bad news. Actually, I suppose the truth is that the bad news is the good news.
I'm not making any sense, am I? Anika says the problem with being a teenage genius is that people expect you to have emotional maturity equal to your mental abilities, when the truth is that the opposite is almost invariably true. Despite having an IQ that's off the human scale and the undoubted benefits of my Borg nanites, despite even the fact that I am a father and husband now, when disaster strikes I find myself no better able to deal with the emotional backlash than any other member of this crew.
I'm trying to make sense of the last few days, put it in some kind of logical order, but I defy even Captain Tuvok to explain the events any better than I can. This isn't about facts, it's about emotions, relationships and the peculiarity of the human psyche. Since the week started with me almost murdering my Dad in the holodec, I guess it's not surprising that I have found myself floundering somewhat in the subsequent events.
So, let's take the bad news first and put it out of the way.
Dad blew up the warp core.
That's a slight exaggeration, I guess, since it didn't actually explode. He jettisoned it before it did too much damage and it only took us three days to limp back at quarter impulse and collect it. We're towing it behind us now on a tractor beam while Dad is still trying to work out how to repair the fused relays on the inertial dampers.
Even that isn't strictly true. The tractor beam, I mean. It gives the impression that we're moving at some reasonable speed and pulling the core in our wake. The truth is that we are moving so slowly that we're letting the core move by its own natural inertia and the tractor beam is only ensuring that it doesn't veer off course. Which is just as well since we hardly have enough energy for life-support, let alone towing an object that large. Particularly when it may be of no use to us whatsoever.
Without the inertial dampers, even the act of accelerating to full impulse would kill us all, so there's little point restoring the core until we know whether we can use it again.
I used to think that Warp Two was slow. Now I realise it's a matter of perspective. Quite apart from the vulnerability of being so crippled, at quarter impulse we're now nearly fifty years from Earth.
The grief of that realisation crippled the crew as surely as the loss of the core has crippled Voyager. Even the members who have never seen Earth, except on a vid, are in mourning. Only Anika seems untouched by the tragedy. She, like our mother, has a natural air of icy calmness. Her carriage and dignity belie her age and shame the older crew out of their self-indulgent moaning. Of course, they don't know that when the doors of her quarters close behind her she is as lost and afraid as the rest of us.
Now I think about it, perhaps it is less our mother's influence than Dad's. He also has the ability to completely hide his emotions behind a mask of indifference. His personal distress is usually typified by an expression that can only be described as a cold smirk. For those of us who love him, that mocking smile tells us that he is suffering such anguish that he is closing himself off behind a wall of self-protecting pretence.
For those who do not understand him, the expression is infuriating. It's easy to misunderstand Dad if you don't take the trouble to look behind his surface impression.
Captain Tuvok made a ship-wide announcement commending Dad on his quick thinking in jettisoning the core, pointing out that we would all have been killed if Dad had made any other decision. But, despite Tuvok's attempt at damage limitation, there were still a lot of people pissed off with Dad. Their obvious reasoning was that since it was Engineering that blew up, it must be the Engineer's fault.
It wasn't fair.
Father says it's natural for people to want to blame someone when disaster strikes and their anger isn't really aimed at Dad, but at the situation. It doesn't help *me* feel any better though, since the person everyone *should* be angry at is me.
It was my fault.
I *knew* Dad was trying out a new configuration of the engineering relays. He'd specifically come and told me what he was planning to do, although I admit that I thought it was just an excuse to visit Anika and I in the brig.
He obviously knew the Captain had decided to let us out and had somehow instinctively known that, without his own forgiveness, we would be as unhappy to have our punishment cut short as we would be to be freed. So he came and spoke to us en route to Engineering (despite the obvious fact that the brig was *not* on his route.)
Dad didn't say a lot. He just managed to convey the fact that he was still on board, had spent the night with Father, was planning to stick around and we were going to be let out of the brig; simply by asking me, as the pilot, to keep Voyager at impulse while he worked on the warp core.
So it *was* my fault, despite the fact that when I later tried to admit that I'd known we couldn't go to warp, he looked both the Captain and Father straight in the eye and called me a liar.
I don't know what to do for the best. I'm so angry I want to punch someone myself. I have Charis wandering around looking like his puppy has died, and Tom nursing a black eye courtesy of Lieutenant Dalby.
'Ex'-Lieutenant Dalby, if I have anything to say about it.
Tom says that if Dalby had felt the need to hit someone, he'd rather it was himself than our son. The truth is, though, that Dalby wouldn't have hit Charis. This wasn't really about the probe. It was about old wounds still too thinly scabbed over.
I'm ashamed of myself, too. My first thought when I found out what Dalby had done, was a bitter regret that a worm like Dalby had survived the journey when so many fine crewmembers had not. It's not that I wished him dead, exactly. I just regretted that the lottery of life and death on Voyager had so often taken the best of us and left the dross untouched.
That being said, I understand Dalby's frustration too.
Just as I understand why Charis forgot his instructions to keep Voyager at no more than impulse.
And, more than anything, I feel such intense pride that Tom insisted on shouldering the blame.
The other bad news is the good news too. (I told you I wasn't making much sense)
After twenty-seven years, we finally crossed path with a probe from the Alpha Quadrant.
There we were, limping along, minding our own business, and a distant spatial disturbance registered on our sensors. At first we just ignored it. Necessity long ago forced us to give up on Captain Janeway's mission to use the journey as an opportunity for exploration. These days unless a phenomena actually opens fire on us, we barely even blink as we pass it.
So we were past it, and moving in the other direction when we registered a faint federation signature in its wake and we realised that it had been an Alpha Quadrant probe.
Had I waited for orders, or even taken thirty seconds to comm engineering and warn Dad that I needed more power, we'd currently be sitting recording our messages home. Instead, I simply swung Voyager around, gave chase, and as soon as I hit warp speed, our inertial dampers went off line.
The safety protocols hit in quickly enough to prevent us all becoming smashed puddles in our seats. Without the inertial dampers, the gravity created by the transition from impulse to warp speed would have crushed our bodies like a giant fly swat. So the systems all went off-line, leaving us with a fully powered warp-drive and nowhere to disperse the energy. The core overloaded, Dad ejected it and we were left dead in the water, staring at the viewscreen in horror as the probe disappeared out of sight.
A few people cried, others swore, and Dalby marched to the Engine Room and punched Dad in the face. He says Dad was smirking at him but, like I already explained, anyone who *knows* Dad would have understood that it was just his way of sharing our grief.
It's kind of frightening, isn't it, that twenty-seven years have passed in this tiny community and there are still people who carry old grudges? You'd think we would have all pulled together, finding that sense of family that Captain Janeway spoke of as we worked together to get home. The truth is that some of the crew have only stayed on board because they didn't have the courage to get off and make new lives for themselves.
Which, I suppose, begs the question of exactly what *is* the good news, doesn't it?
Well, as Captain Tuvok said, if there's one probe then the probability is high that there are more. Besides, the existence of even that one probe surely suggests that someone is still looking for us, that they haven't given up. Someone, somewhere, believes that we are alive and is trying to help us find our way home.
Capturing an intact probe would give us sufficient technology to send a sub-space message to let people know where we are. Even if we restore the core, at warp two it will take us twelve more years to get home. At warp nine point six, a rescue mission could reach us in little over a year. So all we need is some intrepid crew to agree to give up two years of their life and we could all be home by the time Harriet is walking.
Of course, they have to know we are here first but, after the initial distress and anger died down, a long-forgotten feeling of renewed hope has begun to permeate the crew. In a way, it is as though none of us truly believed we would ever really get back to the Alpha Quadrant yet the existence of the probe has proven that our twenty-seven year journey has not been in vain. The existence of the probe has reminded us of *why* we travel and despite the set-back with the warp core, an invigorating feeling of hope is beginning to grow within the crew.
There's other good news.
Father and Tuvok are both rallying around Dad. They both know the truth now, that it was *my* fault, but instead of flinging me to the wolves as an alternate scape goat, they are simply using this incident to drive home to people just how much has changed.
They are both making it abundantly clear that attacks, either physical or verbal, against Dad will not be tolerated. The timing of the situation has, in a strange way, helped people accept the fact that Dad and Father are back together again. Most of the crew, who were thankfully appalled at Dalby's attack, now assume that Father's "change of heart" came because of the assault.
People have been taking extra duty shifts in Engineering to try and help Dad restore power to the relays. They are finally experiencing first hand the crap Dad is trying to deal with. They are starting to appreciate the fact that it is a sheer miracle that we have been moving at all for the last few years.
A few hours crawling through the various alien wires that sprawl through the Jeffries Tubes like fungal growths could give anyone a new appreciation and respect for Dad's inventiveness. They are finally seeing him for what he really is; a man who, despite his own personal hell, has been working for years without thanks or appreciation to help the whole crew get home.
"Odd Tom" has become "good old Tom", the previously unsung hero of the Engineering Section who is finally being recognised as a necessary and key member of our 'family'. He seems bewildered by the general change of attitude, the familiar smirk plays constantly over his features and he meets verbal appreciation with caustic self-depreciating wit.
The difference is that people are starting to see his discomfort as humility rather than arrogance.
The last bit of good news is that I've confessed my own culpability anyway.
When power was finally restored to the secondary computer systems, I sent a personal apology to everyone's terminal pointing out the fact that it was my thoughtless over-eagerness that caused the problem.
Father says that maybe I'm finally growing up.