by JoAnna Walsvik
Lereb entered B‘Elanna‘s cell the next morning carrying her breakfast in a covered tray, and tiptoeing as to not disturb her rest. The internal sensors installed on the cell ceiling had indicated that she was still asleep, even though it had been early evening when she had gone to bed.
He quietly placed the tray on the floor across from her, where she would see it the moment she awakened. It was nothing much, just some toasted bread and butter, but it would alleviate her hunger until it was time for the evening meal. Xaladians only needed to eat twice a day, and he hoped that B‘Elanna was receiving the amount of nutrition that she required. No one knew what her species was like.
It had been his intent to leave as soon as he had dropped of her tray, but curiosity got the better of him. As a member of the Isolationist Faction, Lereb rarely had the chance to closely examine an offworlder, and when he was attending the queen he couldn‘t stare at guests without being reprimanded for rudeness. Now was his opportunity.
Taking care to be as quiet as possible, he knelt next to her and cautiously drew the covers away from her face. He sat back on his heels and gazed at her still form with avid interest.
He‘d never seen a being like her. Such dark hair and smooth skin! Though the ridges on her forehead were not unlike his own, they were far more delicate and feminine. The forehead ridges of a Xaladian female were more prominent then those of a male, but hers were smaller then he‘d ever seen before. And her cheeks were so red...
Frowning, Lereb leaned in closer. B‘Elanna‘s pale cheeks of yesterday were a hectically brilliant crimson this morning, and her breathing seemed a bit labored. Could she be ill? "B‘Elanna," he said aloud, gently shaking her shoulder. "B‘Elanna, wake up."
She mumbled something incoherently, but failed to open her eyes.
"B‘Elanna!" he said again, louder this time. He shook her shoulder with more force. "Wake up, please!"
"Tom..." she murmured, opening and closing her eyes.
Lereb knew delirium when he saw it. He reached into the folds of his tunic and drew out a small communicator. "This is Lereb Olber," he said into the device, fear gripping his heart as he called for help. "I need a physician in cell five immediately."
Only a few minutes passed until an elderly Xaladian, carrying a bag of medical supplies, entered the cell. "Lereb, what‘s wrong?"
"Doctor Penh, thank the gods you‘re here. It‘s B‘El ..I mean, this prisoner. I believe she‘s seriously ill."
"The offworlder?" The doctor knelt next to the fevered woman and placed the back of his hand against her cheek, his eyes widening slightly once he felt the heat radiating from her skin. Reaching into his medical bag, he drew out a tricorder-like device and passed it over B‘Elanna‘s body.
"Well?" Lereb asked, twisting his hands together. "Is it serious?"
Doctor Penh frowned at the screen of his medical scanner. "If I‘m interpreting these results correctly, she‘s having a delayed allergic reaction to the sedative administered to her during her abduction."
"The sedative? But...but it was given to her several days ago! Shouldn‘t it have passed from her system by now?"
"Yes, it should have, but it hasn‘t. As I said, she‘s having a delayed allergic reaction. For some reason, the sedative has stayed within her body."
"Can you cure her?"
Dr. Penh shook his head and rose to his feet, putting his scanner back into his bag. "Her physiology is very unfamiliar. I don‘t want to give her anything for fear it might do further harm. We had no idea the sedative would affect her this way, after all, and any other drugs might worsen her condition...possibly even kill her."
Lereb followed the doctor as he started for the doorway. "There isn‘t anything you can do? Any way to help her?"
The doctor glanced at him dispassionately. "The only person who can help her is her own doctor."
"Perhaps we can contact the Voyager and request their assistance. Their doctor could examine her."
Dr. Penh halted in his tracks and stared at the younger Xaladian, clearly appalled. "Lereb, are you mad? She‘s our hostage. If we let any of the Voyagers down here, you know they‘ll try to rescue her. They‘ve already attempted that once and it came dangerously close to succeeding."
"We can‘t just let her die!" Lereb protested.
The doctor‘s wrinkled face darkened with suspicion.
His beady black eyes raked Lereb from head to foot. "If I didn‘t know any better, I‘d say that you care for this offworlder."
Lereb‘s face turned a bright red. "I don‘t like seeing innocent people harmed," he said defensively.
"Innocent? Might I remind you that it was an offworlder that killed your Kerilynn?"
"I know it was," Lereb snapped, his gray eyes flashing. "But it wasn‘t this offworlder. She had nothing to do with it, or our conflict, and I don‘t see why she should be punished for it."
"All offworlders are at fault—"
"No, they aren‘t! Dr. Penh, I‘ve talked with her. She wouldn‘t harm a kimian blossom, much less a Xaladian. I think we should let her go."
"Let her go! You‘re not serious. The Voyager would
"The Voyager would leave our planet and never return, and perhaps the Faction could negotiate with Queen Lemari and the Xaladian Council to end our hostilities."
"Negotiation is unacceptable. The only sufficient outcome is full compliance with our demands. Lereb, you know that. What‘s gotten into you?" Penh stood with his hands on his hips, and his gaze accusatory. "You‘ve never acted like this before."
Lereb stood silently for a long while, gazing at B‘Elanna‘s still form, before answering the doctor. "I—you‘re right, Dr. Penh. I‘m sorry. I don‘t know what came over me."
"It‘s all right," the doctor said kindly. "You‘ve been spending too much time in the prison, that‘s all. I‘ll speak to Bakek about changing your duties. Perhaps you‘d do better in the maintenance division."
"Yes, perhaps so. Thank you, Doctor. Good-bye." Lereb watched as the physician exited the cell. He slowly sank to the floor next to the unmoving form on the floor. Suddenly, it occurred to him that Kerilynn‘s eyes had been the same soft brown that B‘Elanna‘s were. The beautiful eyes of his wife had been one of the things he loved best about her. The day those eyes had closed forever was the day his world had slipped away. He‘d stopped caring about right and wrong and turned his mind to revenge.
Somehow, though, revenge had ceased to be the driving factor in his life. The offworlder who had so viciously destroyed his life would never be seen again. The rate of altercations involving offworlders had plummeted dramatically with the increased Xaladian security force, even though the Faction chose to ignore the most current statistics. Isolationism no longer seemed that important.
Lereb didn‘t know when these feelings had started stirring inside of him. They‘d always been there in the deepest, most shadowy corners of his mind, but B‘Elanna had forced him to bring those thoughts to the surface and face them.
And how did he repay her? She was lying on the hard floor of a prison cell, separated from her home and her loved ones, seriously ill and maybe dying. If she were to die, would Tom Paris feel the same way he had when Kerilynn had been killed? Nauseated with grief, unable to perform the simplest tasks because of paralyzing sorrow?
Judging from the expression of pure, unadulterated love that had gleamed in B‘Elanna‘s eyes when she‘d talked of her lover, Lereb was inclined to believe that he would.
He wouldn‘t wish that kind of grief on anyone, not even an offworlder. Kerilynn had been so gentle, and kind to others; he was certain she‘d disapprove of his lifestyle if she were still alive. She had been so excited when Queen Lemari had announced that Xalad was going to emerge into the universe and begin interacting with other species. "Think of it, Lereb," she‘d rapturously exclaimed the day after the proclamation. "New experiences, new cultures, new kinds of food and clothing and everything!" Kerilynn had been a teacher, and knowledge was something she had craved like a thirsty man craved water. Neither of them had ever thought that an offworlder would ultimately be her demise.
"We can‘t foretell the future, Lereb," he could almost hear her lecturing. "You can‘t live in the past and expect to live in the present, too. You have to let go of your hatred and begin living again." Dear Kerilynn. How much he missed her.
Just as much as Tom Paris missed his B‘Elanna, and she him.
Resolve ignited in his mind like a candle flame, and grew into a roaring bonfire. "I‘m going to get you out of here, B‘Elanna," he whispered fiercely, tightly clenching his fists together until thin crescents of blood appeared on his palm. "I give you my word; I‘m going to get you out of here."
Voices roused her from a previously soundless, dreamless sleep—soft, familiar voices that were soothing to her sensitive ears. The hard floor beneath her had become gentle, and a blessed warmth surrounded her aching body. She breathed a low, quiet sigh of contentment, and abruptly the voices came nearer.
"I think she‘s coming to," one of the voices said. A slight frown marred her features. That voice was so like Captain Janeway‘s, but it just wasn‘t possible. The captain was on far-away Voyager, and she was in a Xaladian prison. "B‘Elanna, sweetheart, can you hear me?" another voice, well-known and beloved, said from above. "Wake up, love." A tender hand brushed her cheek.
She‘d know that touch even if she was in the deepest, darkest dungeon at the very farthest corner of the galaxy. There was only one touch like it in the entire universe.
"Tom," she murmured, and winced at the cruel, unrelenting light that flooded her eyes when she attempted to open them. Gradually, her vision cleared, and three blurry figures above her came into focus. The doctor, the captain, and...Tom. So he really was here.
All three were smiling at her, and Tom reached to her side and tightly clasped her hand. His touch was wonderfully warm and solid; during the shadowy mists of her delirium she had reached out for him and found only empty space. Now, she gripped his hand like it was a lifeline and she a drowning woman.
"Welcome home, Lieutenant," the doctor said gently.
As her eyes moved over the room, over the biobeds and consoles surrounding her, she realized that it was true.
She was in sickbay, on Voyager. She was home. But how...?
A faint, hazy recollection stirred in the back of her mind. Lereb—carrying her. Shouts, the sizzle of weapons fire, then the shimmer of a transporter beam. "What...what happened?"
The captain and Tom exchanged a lengthy glance. "A Xaladian rescued you," Captain Janeway said at length. "He brought you to a transport chamber, dropped the prison compound shields, and sent us your coordinates. We were able to beam you out before their shields came back on-line."
B‘Elanna, though a bit light-headed, managed to put together what had happened. "It was Lereb, wasn‘t it." The captain nodded. "Yes. Queen Lemari says he used to one of her attendants."
"Where is he?" B‘Elanna asked, meaning to thank him personally. "Can I see him?"
There was a long, weighty pause before Tom finally answered her. "Sweetheart, he—he didn‘t make it."
"Didn‘t make it?" she repeated, looking from him to the captain and back again. "I don‘t understand."
"They killed him, B‘Elanna," Janeway said, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Right before we transported the two of you to Voyager, Lereb was shot by one of the members of the Faction trying to stop your escape. By the time we got him to sickbay, it was too late. I‘m sorry."
"So am I," B‘Elanna said, her chin trembling ever so slightly. "He was...very kind to me." She closed her eyes, hiding the tears that were forming behind her eyelids.
He helped me escape, she thought in wonder. *After all I said to him, after the way I acted towards him, Lereb died helping me get home.*
"After we got you out of there, Xaladian forces were able to storm to compound and rescue the rest of the hostages. The Faction‘s members have been apprehended. It appears that the isolationist movement on Xalad has been extinguished once and for all." Captain Janeway paused slightly, then continued. "Queen Lemari awarded Lereb a posthumous commendation. There was a memorial service for him yesterday."
"We wanted to postpone the service so you could attend, if you wanted to, but there was no telling when you were going to regain consciousness," Tom quickly explained. "You were in that prison for over five days, and you‘ve been pretty sick since you got here."
"Luckily," the doctor chimed in, "I was able to counteract and treat the allergic reaction you were suffering. You‘ll need about a week of bed rest, but you‘re going to make a complete recovery. If not for my medical expertise, however, you—"
"Captain," B‘Elanna interrupted, ignoring the doctor‘s egotism, "did you go to the service?" "Why, yes, I did. Why do you ask?"
"Can you tell me—where was Lereb buried?"
Janeway gave her a puzzled look. "In a Xaladian cemetery. Next to his deceased wife, I believe."
A slow, contented smile crossed her face. "Then it‘s all right," she said quietly. "He‘s at peace now."
The three officers standing beside her bed didn‘t know what to say. Finally, after a long pause, Tom leaned down and kissed her cheek. "Why don‘t you get some sleep," he suggested. "I‘ll be back to see you in the morning."
"Good idea. I think we all could do with a little rest," the captain agreed.
After Tom and the captain had left, and the doctor had dimmed the sickbay lights and turned himself off, B‘Elanna closed her eyes and breathed a long sigh. She couldn‘t help grieving a bit for Lereb, after all, he‘d given his life for her, but she was glad that he was finally reunited with his wife. Somewhere in the Xaladian afterlife, she believed, he was happy. And she was happy for him.
Most importantly, Xalad‘s people could continue their quest to learn about new worlds and cultures. The former members of the Faction might even discover that not all offworlders are dangerous and unsafe. Maybe they‘d even make a few alien friends. And, in the event that the catastrophes she had foretold to Lereb did come true one day, Xalad would be ready. They were no longer alone.
And neither was Lereb.
Copyright 1998 by JoAnna Walsvik, all rights reserved. Please contact the author email@example.com with permission to copy, archive, etc.
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Voyager and its characters, settings, etc. belong to Viacom, Paramount Television, UPN, etc. No infringement is intended, and no profit has been or ever will be derived.