DISCLAIMER: I own neither the characters nor the concepts of Star Trek: Voyager. I am receiving all of the fun and none of the profit.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I am taking T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" and adapting it to my own purposes. Thanks to Eliot, Shakespeare, Coleridge, Yeats, Browning, and Arnold for the wonderful verse.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Wasted Land
By Jillo


I. The Barge of the Dead

Crewman Carl Snodgrass dropped wearily into his usual chair at his usual table at Sandrine's, his usual drink in front of him. Once again, it had been a hellish day aboard Voyager. Shifts were working round the clock as the ship limped away from its most recent encounter with the Borg a few days ago. Warp engines were off-line, so maximum impulse was all she could muster, and the only hope for the ship and crew was that they had given as good as they'd got. That way they might hope to outrun the crippled Borg cube, get the warp engines back to nominal and get the hell out of this god-forsaken sector of the Delta Quadrant, their home away from home these seven years. This sector was crawling with cubes. Snodgrass wondered, and not for the first time, if Seven of Nine had anything to do with the fact that they couldn't shake the Borg. Every goddamned time they thought they'd reached a quiet sector through which they could pass without incident, let their hair down, take a few deep breaths, get some shut-eye, maybe even get laid, another transwarp conduit would open up right next to them and the game would be on again.

Speaking of Seven, in she walked—or strode, rather—she never simply walked. Snodgrass furtively watched her, covering his observation of her by partially obscuring his face with his beer mug. He didn't even know why he bothered with all the subterfuge. A lowly redshirt, that's all he was and all he'd ever be. The one good thing about being a nobody was that nobody noticed him. Of course, that had its downside, as well, he thought. After all, who wanted to lay a nobody? Nobody. Ha ha. No body. That's for sure. He'd had no body beneath him for months. Rosy Palm, he thought. He looked at his right hand. Nice to meet you, Rosy. Need a drink? He thought about pouring some beer onto his hand in the hopes that someone would ask him what the hell he was doing so he could say, "I'm just getting my date drunk." What a moldy old joke. Well, it suited this ship. Nothing about it was fresh. The air was recycled so many times it smelled permanently like bad breath. How long had it been since they'd made planetfall? To smell fresh air, flowers, grass. . . . "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, / And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made: / nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee, / And live alone in the bee-loud glade. / And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow . . . ." As if. No, not much chance of that dream coming true for a while—a long while. He'd be spending his life in the constant stink of human sweat that seemed to linger in the halls and decks of this old crate. And the holodecks! No matter how thoroughly they were vented after each use, they still smelled like old gym socks. Too many people using them for velocity and other strenuous activities. Beneath the ever-present body odor he thought he could sometimes detect a hint of sex on the air. More than a few assignations had been arranged in the holodecks. He'd done it, himself.

Snodgrass started as he realized he'd been drifting. This was disturbing. It had been happening to him lately—just sitting in Sandrine's, staring off into nothing. He shook his head. Had to quit that. It wouldn't do to space out during a shift. Bad enough he was doing it here, on his offtime, with Seven of Nine in the vicinity, for cripes' sake.

But Jesus, she was beautiful. He watched as Seven looked imperiously around the bar. Although her mere presence no longer stopped traffic as it had for the first year she had been aboard, the charge in the atmosphere since her arrival in Sandrine's was noticeable. Conversations didn't so much stop as they became more muted, maybe because the crew was afraid that her vaunted Borg hearing would pick up what they were saying, and that they felt somewhat exposed even if they were speaking of innocuous subjects. Snodgrass wondered if she was aware of the effect of her presence. He waited for it. The Borg-enhanced eyebrow shot up. Yep, she knew. He thought for a moment that she would turn on her heel and light out of there, but instead she moved purposefully toward a small empty table and sat down. Out of nowhere—literally--that irritating bastard of an Irish tenor bartender, Sullivan, appeared with a drink for her, setting it down with a flourish.

"And what would a beautiful thing such as yourself be doin' all alone on such a romantic evenin', darlin'? Ye would na be waitin' on anyone special now, would ye?"

Gawd. Snodgrass was afraid that Sullivan was on the verge of breaking into a sappy rendition of "When Irish Eyes Are Smilin'" when Seven neatly dispatched him.

"Begone," she spat.

Instantly the holographic bartender dissolved in a flurry of photons. The woman had a way about her; you had to give her that. Snodgrass knew that many of the men were terrified of even approaching her, but he often entertained himself with the notion that the ex-Borg was hell in bed. Not that he'd ever find out. But what was she doing here? Obviously she was waiting for someone. Was she on a date? She sure looked uncomfortable—not that she appeared much different from her usual stony self. But she looked as if it were by sheer will alone that she wasn't bolting up out of her chair and making a bee-line for the exit. Snodgrass had observed her often enough now over the course of three years to be able to notice fine distinctions in the woman's facial expressions. At this moment, she was looking around her as if she expected cockroaches to begin shimmying up her legs.

As if on cue, the Doctor walked in. Now there was a sad sack. Not satisfied with his collection of unfeeling photons, he had to become more "human." Who'd choose to be a human in this bucket of bolts? And what was being more human going to get him but more of this sitting around Sandrine's drinking away his feelings? The sap. And why would anyone want to feel what he was feeling for Seven of Nine? Oh, he thought that they couldn't see it written all over his face, how much he wanted her. But didn't they all? Snodgrass had noticed more than one long, slavering look follow the ex-Borg's comely frame from behind the protection of a boozy scrim curtain. The irony was that the synthehol made people's defenses drop, allowing the desire to be plainly written on their faces for anyone with an ounce of perception to read. And Snodgrass had done his share of perceiving. It was his raison detre. Men. Women. Didn't matter. They all ogled Seven. Snodgrass wondered if the women he'd seen drooling over her were lesbo, bi, or just bored. Maybe they'd been through all the men they were going to get through and were now casting lustful eyes upon members of their own sex. Great. As if there wasn't enough competition from the other men. But Seven? Come on. Snodgrass knew from his own bitter experience not to aim that high. More than once he'd been slapped down by some snooty ensign. No fraternizing with the enlisted personnel, no sirree! Oh well, let 'em try. "Man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" he snickered. Or in this case "woman's."

Snodgrass watched as the Doctor zeroed in on Seven and asked her for a dance. Oh, this would be good. Go for it, Doc! He watched as Seven, who looked as if she was having serious thoughts of declining, hesitated a moment, looked down, and, as if she were being led to her own execution, allowed the Doctor to help her to her feet and escort her to the dance floor. Snodgrass snorted into his beer to see the Doc turn his puppy dog eyes to her, seemingly unable to yak up a shred of language, apparently hoping that Seven would initiate the conversation. Fat chance. Seven didn't waste words. More than once he'd overheard her dismiss such matters as "irrelevant." She had probably long ago decided that she had been right in abandoning the idea of mastering the fine art of small talk. She most likely realized that this strategy discouraged would-be lotharios. Snodgrass could envision it:

"Hey there, Seven."

"Good evening, Crewman."

"Um, come here often?"

"Apparently once too often."

And that would be that. He could tell from her stiff movements that she was literally going through the motions, counting down the seconds until the song was over.

"Thank you, Doctor," she said as she disentangled herself from the Doc's sweaty grasp. She turned on a dime and left him as if she were walking away from a pile of dog shit she had barely avoided stepping in. Ha! Welcome to the club, Doc. How did that feel? Bet you can't wait to get back to Sickbay and write in your diary about that little go-round, can you? The Doctor, seeming to come back to himself, looked around the bar as if to gauge the extent of his public humiliation and stalked out, but probably not in pursuit of Seven. Only so much a man could take, even if that man were a holograph.

The show over, Snodgrass sat back and ruminated. Dog shit? Did Seven know from dog shit? Did Seven know from dogs? Did the Borg have dogs? Assimilate dogs? There was a thought. "We are the Borg. You will be assimilated—and your little dog, too!" Snodgrass imagined dogs sprouting implants, assimilation tubules. Would they assimilate people or just other dogs? How much is that doggie with the implants? The one with titanium teeth? He had not thought death had dogged so many.

Snodgrass's attention was abruptly caught by the entrance of Captain Janeway into the bar. If Seven's appearance made hearts beat faster, Janeway's made sphincters pucker. Janeway paused upon entering and scanned the room. Snodgrass got the distinct impression that this wasn't a chance visit. She was looking for someone. Three guesses whom. Sorry, Capt'n, you just missed her. Snodgrass watched as Janeway's furrowed brow smoothed as if she had suddenly realized that she was drawing the attention of her crew. Visibly she relaxed and then smiled, her eyes losing their glint. She cast her smile in all directions and slowly worked the room, moving from table to table for a little chit chat. Hail, fellow, and well met. That sort of thing. She probably thought it was good for morale.

Uh-oh. Here she came. Snodgrass got to his feet.

"Ah, good evening, Crewman—." He could tell that she was searching for his name.

"Snodgrass, ma'am."

"Of course. Crewman Snodgrass. Please, sit down. Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, ma'am. Thank you, ma'am."

"Good," she said absently, her attention already on the next table.

Snodgrass slumped back down into his chair. Damn the woman. This was all her fault. If she hadn't been such a goody-goody, by-the-book idealist they would never have found themselves 70,000 light years from the Alpha Quadrant. Sure, the Caretaker might have snagged a few more hapless souls before they could shut it down from the Alpha, but couldn't she have taken that chance? Why did they all have to be sacrificed on the altar of Starfleet do-goodism? Well, she'd never make flag rank now. If they ever made it home they'd be in their dotage. Hell, some of them might be dead of old age! Snodgrass chuckled grimly at the thought of the U. S. S. Voyager doing the thorazine shuffle into space dock with Naomi Wildman at the conn, the rest of the bridge crew playing mahjong in Sandrine's Rest Home for the Old and Decrepit.

Red Alert! All hands to battle stations! All hands to battle stations!

The Klaxon alarm made him jump, spilling his beer.

Here we go again, Snodgrass thought as he joined the Captain and the others as they hustled out of the holodeck, the cozy comfort of the bar dissolving around them as they fled.

Dog shit.


II. A Game of Chance

Sandrine's was packed. Well, it would be, given the events of the past week, Snodgrass thought as he shouldered his way to the bar. They had no sooner got the warp engines back on line after days of 16-hour shifts when the Hirogen decided to pay a little social call. Beaming aboard. Infiltrating the ship. Capturing the entire crew and making them do their bidding again as their prey. Kept the Doc working for 96 hours straight patching them up and sending them out again. Now that this crisis was past, it seemed as if the crew was on a week-long bender. If they were anything like he was, they were afraid to go to sleep. What's worse, he wondered, thrashing around all night in the grip of nightmares or being blasted out of bed by that fucking red alert alarm? Either way the adrenaline shooting through his body made his heart pound painfully, and sometimes he couldn't get it under control. One of these times he was afraid it would beat so hard it would simply crap out. Well, he'd be out of his misery then. It was a toss-up, he realized, between dying of a heart attack or of a pickled liver. He'd thought about starting a pool among the other redshirts. It's time to play Organ Bingo! Which of Snodgrass's organs will fail first? It's even money on the heart and liver, but the best bet's the brain! Come on, folks, get your bet down before one of 'em kaks out! It could happen at any moment! Trouble was, he wouldn't be around to see who'd won. He imagined the ship's log: Crewman Carl Snodgrass was given full Starfleet honors at his funeral today at 09:00 hours. He served aboard Voyager faithfully from the ship's commissioning. But his greatest contribution was to the pockets of Captain Janeway, who'd won the Organ Bingo pool.

Enough of that. He didn't want to think about funerals. There'd been too many of them recently. A few of the crew had been too severely injured and couldn't be patched up with baling wire and chewing gum or whatever it was that was holding his shoulder together.

Turning away from the bar with his beer, he scanned the room. In the corner, surrounding the piano, a group of redshirts from the lower decks was singing a favorite drinking song, "100,000 Light Years from Home." A parody of an old Terran ditty, it broke out after many a trying episode and was usually sung with a hilarity that bordered on the hysterical. "100,000 light years from home! 100,000 from home! Take a shot. What have you got? 99,999 light years from home!" After every verse, shots of raw synthehol were consumed. Of course, it didn't take long for the singing to degrade into raucous, derisive laughter as the drunken singers stumbled over the ridiculous numbers. And therein, of course, lay the point. The futility of their circumstances was expressed perfectly by the absurdity of counting down from 100,000. They'd better not let Janeway hear them, though. She'd forbidden the song on the grounds that it was cynical and childish. Bad for morale. Snodgrass thought about joining them, but his attention was captured by the fivesome engaged in a friendly little game of poker on the other side of the bar.

He drifted in that direction and unobtrusively propped himself up against one of the faux wooden columns holding up the faux tin ceiling. Ensigns Harry Kim, Tal Celes, Tom Paris, and Lieutenants Susan Nicoletti and B'Elanna Torres were squeezed around a table behind piles of poker chips, staring at their cards. Nothing untoward about that. Members of the bridge crew often met in Sandrine's for a little light gambling. Snodgrass had even spotted Tuvok in here with a fistful of cards once or twice. The phrase "poker face" didn't even begin to describe him! Playing with Tuvok was so unnerving that he'd been banished from their circle. Guess he'd have to content himself with Three-Dimensional Meditative Monopoly or whatever he called that game he played with himself. Vulcans. They gave him the creeps. You never knew what they were thinking. In any event, he'd been banished, but not before he'd cleaned them all out a few times.

Snodgrass's attention was drawn back to the table by a Klingon curse. Nothing unusual about that, either, but what should have been a relaxing game felt oddly tense. Kim, Tal, and Nicoletti looked uncomfortable, Pretty Boy Paris was frowning, and the Chief simply looked pissed.

"Tom, why don't we talk about this later in our quarters? I'm in," said Torres, looking as if she wanted to talk about anything but this—whatever this was.

"I'm in, too." Harry Kim tossed in his chips.

"Me, too," said Nicoletti.

Tal Celes simply threw her chips on the pile in the middle of the table, not looking up from her hand.

"Look, B'Elanna," ventured Tom as he, too, met the wager, "Since you never seem to want to discuss this at anytime, I just thought—."

"You just thought that you'd pressure me into it by bringing it up publicly!" Torres looked like she could eat fire. Snodgrass leaned forward slightly and looked askance, as if his attention were engaged elsewhere. "You just thought you'd bring up our personal matters, what, so you could enlist everyone's input? Their support?" B'Elanna threw her cards face up on the table. This game was over.

Oooh, smooth move, Pretty Boy, thought Snodgrass. Yeah, women just love to be maneuvered like that, their hands so rudely forced by such clumsy attempts at finesse. Like a smart cookie like the Chief wouldn't be pissed off by a stunt like that.

B'Elanna Torres—grrrrowwwlll. What the hell she was doing with that milktoast, candy-assed Starfleet nepotism case, he'd never know. She was too much woman for him. Snodgrass had made observing her another hobby. He'd had plenty of opportunities to do just that, too. He'd pulled enough duty shifts in Engineering to get to know her quite well—as well as an untouchable like him could possibly get to know one of the Brahmans, that is. Jacks of all trades, redshirts like him had managed to serve a shift or two in damn near every department on board. That had a tendency to happen given the attrition on this ghost ship. Sometimes he wondered if, when Voyager finally made it home, they'd be down to a skeleton crew—that or a crew of skeletons. "Alone, alone, all, all alone, / Alone on a wide wide sea! / And never a saint took pity on / My soul in agony."

Snodgrass shook himself. Torres and Pretty Boy were continuing their fight.

"No, dammit," said Tom, his face turning red. "I just want to know what you have against children!"

Kim, Tal, and Nicoletti looked as if they wished that they could disappear. Snodgrass abandoned any pretence at not eavesdropping and stared openly at the dramatic tableau before him.

"I have nothing against children, you thick-headed p'taQ! I simply do not think we should consider bringing a child into this situation! In case you've been sleeping through these last few years, we haven't exactly been living in a child-friendly environment! Do you think I'd risk exposing a child of mine to the tender mercies of the Hirogen? The Borg? How the hell could I focus on Engineering if I was worrying about a baby during a crisis?"

"Well, why do you want to get married if we're not going to have kids?" Tom asked.

"Who says I do?"

Tom and B'Elanna stared at one another in hurt and anger. Kim, Tal, and Nicoletti gaped at B'Elanna.

Silence had descended upon the table. Snodgrass leaned back against the column and folded his arms across his chest. Well, that's that, he thought. No way to come back from that one. He supposed that Lieutenant Torres would be on the market again. Good. Pretty Boy obviously couldn't handle a tiger like her.

"B'Elanna," Tom began in a lowered voice. "Maybe we should talk about this in our quarters."

B'Elanna gave Tom a look of pure venom. Her right hand jerked convulsively. Snodgrass braced himself for what had the makings of a beauty of a haymaker. He wondered if Pretty Boy would even see it coming.

"Last call!" rang out from the bartender. "Last call! The bar's closing!"


"Since when?"

The outrage from the crew was universal.

"Captain's orders! Sandrine's now officially shuts down at 01:00 hours. Everybody out."

Groans erupted from disgruntled crewmembers as they began to file out. Tom Paris came jauntily to his feet, looking relieved. "Come on, B'Elanna. Let's go home," he said as he tried to pull her up by her arm. Torres was having none of it. She pulled her arm angrily from his grasp.

"That's something we're going to have to talk about," she said ominously.

"What do you mean?" asked Tom as they headed out of the holodeck.

Ah, so she's gonna land that haymaker, after all, Snodgrass thought, shaking his head and chuckling. Immensely cheered, Snodgrass ambled out the exit, wondering if he had enough replicator rations to put the finishing touches on the buzz he'd begun in Sandrine's.


III. The Chakotay Chat

The problem with this trip, Snodgrass thought once again as he downed his third beer and stared balefully around the bar, was that when they weren't living in sheer terror for their lives, they were bored out of their minds. They'd been lucky. The sector that they were passing through was relatively calm, the natives benign. But the wild swinging from one extreme to the other was wearing him slick. He didn't know which was worse, fearing for his life or wishing someone would just shoot him. And it didn't do any good to gaze out the viewports. One star system looked very much like the next, and the next, and the next. It was as if they weren't moving at all. "Day after day, day after day, / We stuck, nor breath nor motion; / As idle as a painted ship / Upon a painted ocean." That ancient mariner would have nothing on him if he ever got off this boat. And he wouldn't be grabbing any wedding guests, that's for sure. He'd be going straight for the bridesmaids. "Yeah, that's right," he'd say. "I was on that ship. I was on Voyager." That is, if he could still stand upright by the time they got home. If they got home.

Another problem with this trip, he thought as he ordered another one. No new blood. The women he had access to had been treating him like leftovers for years now. Sometimes they looked at him as they would at week-old gagh, congealed and reeking in the bottom of a disposal chute. His lip curled in derision as he contemplated that image. Well, he had news for them. They weren't exactly getting any better looking with age and familiarity, themselves.

"Hey, Snarl!" He was being paged. Carl the Snarl. They'd started calling him that at Starfleet Academy when he was a cadet because he always seemed to be sneering—at coursework, at instructors behind their backs, at everything. The name had fit him and it had stuck. He'd never been of a mechanical or scientific bent, communications being more his forte, and this was his way of keeping his ironic distance. Unfortunately, irony was rarely appreciated by Starfleet types. He hadn't exactly endeared himself to the more serious students of engineering by insisting upon referring to duranium as "realhardium." His ego still smarted from the time in Engineering when he had slipped and used that term to the Chief. All the air seemed to have been sucked from the Engine Room as the crew stood frozen in place at his faux pas, their eyes rounded in shock. Jeez. It wasn't as if he'd ripped an obnoxious fart or anything. But after the dressing-down he'd got from Lieutenant Torres, he realized that it might have been better if he had. But it wasn't all bad, he reflected. Although he'd been embarrassed, he'd reveled in the fire in the Lieutenant's brown eyes as they bored into his own. She'd turned her head slowly toward him, rested a hand on her hip, and told him that if he needed a refresher course in proper engineering terminology, the Borg children would be more than equipped to take him on as a special project. He'd thought better of the impulse he'd had to offer that the Borg children could teach him anything they'd wanted if it meant he could spend more time in Cargo Bay 2 with Seven of Nine. Hey, he was a smart-ass, not a dumb-shit.

"Snarl! Come on. We're going to play some pool." This from Crewman Nichols, an affable redshirt from Maintenance.

He was about to accept when he noticed the Chief of Engineering enter the bar. "Catch you later," he told them, keeping an eye on the half-Klingon. He'd noticed her drinking alone in Sandrine's several times lately, ever since her public break-up with Pretty Boy a few months ago. He'd seen Pretty Boy in here, too, but never alone. Nope, he seemed to have landed on his feet, leaving with a different woman seemingly every night. But occasionally, Snodgrass noted, Pretty Boy would gaze with a hang-dog expression at Torres sitting alone before catching himself and turning, smiling beatifically, to whomever it was he was entertaining that night. Snodgrass pondered the break-up of Pretty Boy and Torres, wondering at the loss of the everyday intimacy that they must have shared. For a painful moment, his heart yearned after the thought of the companionship that married life aboard Voyager offered. "Hi, honey, I'm home! How was your day in the Delta Quadrant?" "Fine, dear. How was your day in the Delta Quadrant?" "Peachy."


He shook himself and returned to his observation. Torres took a seat at a small table and began nursing a beer. No bloodwine tonight? He guessed that she wasn't in the mood to get plastered. He'd seen her in Sandrine's in everything from velocity clothes to Klingon battle gear. Yowsa. Leather pants, leather and metal breastplate, bare upper arms with greaves on her forearms, half-fingered gloves with spikes at the knuckles. Tonight she wore tight-fitting workout pants and a Starfleet-issue tank top, the white a startling contrast to her café-au-lait colored skin. Just a solitary workout, tonight, then. She must be working off a lot of tension, he mused. Need any help with that, Lieutenant? He shivered with delight at the thought.

Snodgrass was interrupted in mid-fantasy by the entrance of Seven of Nine. Torres and Seven in Sandrine's? At the same time? He must be living right, he decided. All that celibacy. Well, it wasn't by choice, but still. Surely it counted for something on the eternal tally sheet.

To his utter amazement, Seven of Nine strode directly over to Torres's table and stood with her hands linked behind her back, waiting for the Chief to acknowledge her. Snodgrass could swear that there was a positive correlation between the occasions of her striking that pose and the increase in whiplash cases in Sickbay. The only person whose attention she hadn't garnered was B'Elanna's. Torres kept her eyes stubbornly on her beer. Snodgrass suspected that she was hoping that if she ignored Seven long enough, the ex-Borg would give up and leave.

But Seven wasn't giving in that easily.

"Lieutenant Torres," she began. "May I speak with you?"

Snodgrass was thunderstruck. "May I speak with you?"? When had Seven ever asked permission to speak to anyone? This was getting better by the second.

B'Elanna neither spoke nor acknowledged Seven's presence. Seven sighed. She seemed to be weighing her options. Seconds dragged on as she stood looking at the unresponsive Chief. Apparently arriving at a decision, Seven determinedly pulled out a chair and sat down next to B'Elanna, her ramrod straight back never touching the chairback.

Resigned to having an interaction with the ex-Borg, Torres asked in a weary voice, not looking up, "What do you want, Seven?"

"I have been trying to speak with you about an important matter. It is ship's business," said Seven. "You have not been in Engineering the last six times I have looked for you there. You have not responded to my hails. I have been hesitant to seek you out in your quarters, so I came here hoping to find you."

"Well, what's so important that you can't just talk to Carey about it? Why do you insist on tracking me down?" B'Elanna finally looked at Seven directly. Seven seemed taken aback by something she saw in Torres's face. She gazed at Torres for long moments before dropping her eyes to the padd she'd brought with her and had placed on the table in front of her.

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Snodgrass. Seven seemed . . . moved by what she'd seen in the Chief's eyes.

"You are the Chief of Engineering," Seven explained. "As such, it is your input that I need in order to make a final recommendation to the Captain vis-à-vis Voyager's options for restocking and refurbishing."

Torres had turned away from Seven, her eyes glazing over. Seven paused for some response from the Chief. When none was forthcoming, she forged on. "Long-range scans reveal two systems that most likely contain M-class planets. Neither is directly in our path. Thus, Voyager must alter her course and delay our progress toward the Alpha Quadrant by some weeks. Either that or continue on our present course and make the best of our situation, which is not an optimal course of action. I need your recommendations, as you would best be able to assess Voyager's space-worthiness."

And the bad news just keeps on coming, thought Snodgrass dejectedly. Typical. This ship was cursed from the moment she left space dock. Snodgrass recalled the incident during her commissioning ceremony in which the bottle of champagne, traditionally broken upon the bow of any ship before her maiden voyage, failed to shatter—an ancient ill omen. He should have turned around right then and run, pleading space-sickness, a condition incompatible with service upon long-range vessels. A proven case was an automatic medical discharge from Starfleet. Of course, women on board ship was a time-honored, once universally recognized symbol of bad luck. So what had he done? Signed up for duty aboard a ship captained by a woman! He'd asked for it.

Snodgrass's musings were interrupted by a heavy sigh from the Chief. She still had not responded to Seven's request. Then Seven nearly floored him.

"Lieutenant, I know that you have been—not yourself—since . . . recently," Seven said hesitantly. She seemed to be choosing her words carefully. Snodgrass didn't blame her. She was walking through a minefield here with the prickly half-Klingon. "If there is anything I can do to—any way I can be of help to you--."

Torres whipped her head around and cut Seven off. "What the hell do you know about it, Seven? No—don't answer that. I'm not going to discuss my personal life with you. Is that clear? And as for which course to follow, just go talk to Carey about it, okay? Or just take your best shot. You never seem to want anyone's input any other time." Now that she had begun, Torres couldn't seem to stop the harsh words from spilling out. "Or better yet, fly her into a supernova or back to Borg space and end this lousy, rotten trip for all of us, okay? Or just—oh, just leave me alone!" With that, Torres turned away from Seven and began slugging her beer.

Snodgrass was rigid with shock. This was more drama than he could ever have imagined. He told himself to breathe, his eyes riveted upon the scene before him.

Seven stared silently at the back of the Chief's head for several moments. Snodgrass studied her, watching her face slowly close down. She had been staring intently into Torres's eyes, seemingly beseeching her to accept the gesture she was offering. Now, various emotions flitted across her face. He watched, fascinated, as her face reflected dismay, then anger, then, finally, sadness. After a long moment, she stood, taking up her padd, turned, and left.

Snodgrass sat back, astounded. Who'd a thunk it, he pondered, Seven holding out, first, the olive branch, then a life raft? Snodgrass sat up straight in his chair as he suddenly but unerringly connected the dots. Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One, had a boner for B'Elanna Torres! Well, who could blame her? But holy cats! Snodgrass felt as if he'd just stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone, unraveled the mystery of the Grand Unification Theory, discovered the Missing Link. Hey, it was a small ship, and this was big.

At that moment, Commander Chakotay sat down at B'Elanna's table in the chair that Seven had just vacated. When had Tonto slipped into the bar, Snodgrass wondered, surprised at himself for not noticing him before now. His discerning of Seven's torch for Lieutenant Torres must have rendered him more dumbfounded than he'd realized. He covered his observation of the two by ordering another beer.

Torres seemed to feel the presence of another at her table and turned to face whoever it was, ready to take his head off.

"Can't a woman have a moment's peace?" she snapped.

"B'Elanna," Chakotay began gently, "you need to listen to me--."

"No, you need to listen to me, Chakotay. I don't want to hear it."

"Well, you're going to hear it, Lieutenant." Chakotay was pulling rank. Figures. You could always count on that happening, thought Snodgrass. "You've been given far too much leeway these past few weeks. You've been missing in action in Engineering, late for staff meetings, short with the crew. The Captain's been wanting to keel haul you, but I persuaded her to cut you some slack, let you work through this on your own."

"Chakotay, you know that I--."

"I'm not finished, Lieutenant. I stuck my neck out for you, but I'm not going to get my head chopped off for my trouble. It's time you got out of this funk you've been in and act like a Starfleet officer."

Snodgrass couldn't believe this. It was as if he'd been granted entry into the inner sanctum, the sanctum sanctorum, given a glimpse into the lives of the priestly caste. First he had read Seven's desire for Torres like a book, now this! How often was it that a lowly redshirt witnessed an officer get an ass-chewing? He knew his little hobby would pay off one day.

Almost as an added bonus, Torres's façade crumbled. Her shoulders slumped, she dropped her eyes, and, even more remarkably, she began to cry.

"I know I've been a mess, Chakotay," Torres confessed, wiping her eyes surreptitiously. "But I've—I'm—I just feel so hopeless."

"How so?" Chakotay prodded gently.

"I know the whole ship probably thinks that I'm mourning my break-up with Tom, but it's—it's so much more than that."

Snodgrass could tell that Torres was struggling mightily to retain control over her emotions. He knew how jealously the officers guarded their images.

"What is it, B'Elanna?" Chakotay seemed to have switched roles. Gone was the by-the-book second-in-command, replaced by the erstwhile Maquis comrade-in-arms.

"I've been thinking since my break-up with Tom about, oh, many things. I think it all began when Tom started pressuring me to get married and start having kids."

"I thought that's what you wanted," said Chakotay.

"I thought it's what I wanted, too. But I realized that the Delta Quadrant is no place to try to raise a family, and that if I would ever choose to do that, it wouldn't be with Tom."

Snodgrass felt vindicated. Good for her, he thought. Pretty Boy could never appreciate her.

"And then," Torres continued, "it hit me—this is it. I mean, this is IT. This is my life. These are the people I'm going to spend probably the rest of my life with. And we're going to go from one life-threatening crisis to another. And unless some miracle occurs, we'll be flying in this ship for the next sixty or so years. And it all suddenly seemed so hopeless, so endless, so fucking pointless. I felt like I was a rower on the Barge of the Dead—rowing, rowing, rowing. Rowing to nowhere."

Snodgrass was stunned. He couldn't believe it. He couldn't believe that he was hearing his own sentiments voiced so succinctly, and with such pain. He stared at Lieutenant Torres, wanting to reach out to her, to let her know somehow that there was someone aboard who knew, who understood.

"B'Elanna," said Chakotay, taking her hands in his. "There's a story among my people," he began.

Here we go, thought Snodgrass. Another hokey parable from his tribe or his clan or whatever they called it. He rolled his eyes and took a swig of beer. Yeah, he thought, this oughta be a big help.

"Once there was an armadillo," Chakotay began, "a lonely armadillo that lived all by himself in the desert. He was sad because he was alone, so he prayed one night to the Great Spirit to end his loneliness. The next day the armadillo was sitting by himself, feeling sad because he was so lonely. Then a scorpion came up to him and he was afraid of scorpions, so he killed it. That night he prayed again to the Great Spirit to end his loneliness. The next day he was sitting by himself feeling sad because he was so lonely, and a jackrabbit came hopping up to him. But he didn't like jackrabbits, so he told it to go away. That night he prayed again to the Great Spirit to end his loneliness. The next day, the armadillo was again feeling sad because he was so lonely, when a tortoise crawled up to him. But he thought tortoises were stupid so he moved away from it. That night he prayed again to the Great Spirit to end his loneliness when the Great Spirit appeared before him. Oh, Great Spirit, the armadillo said, why have you not answered my prayers? Every night for three nights I have prayed to you to end my loneliness. Armadillo, the Great Spirit answered, I've sent you a scorpion, a jackrabbit, and a tortoise. Why have you rejected my gifts?"

What a load of crap, thought Snodgrass. If that was an ancient parable from "his people," then he was Albert Einstein—or maybe Albert Schweitzer—or maybe Norman Vincent Peale—or maybe--.

"Chakotay," Torres looked pained, "I'm sorry, but what are you trying to say?"

"You said it, yourself, B'Elanna," Chakotay replied. "This is going to be a long voyage. Maybe you're right. Maybe we'll spend our whole lives on Voyager. Maybe we'll die out here. But you can't just remove yourself from the crew. You can't simply withdraw into yourself. And you can't throw away offers of kindness that are made in all sincerity." Here Chakotay paused and cast a meaningful glance toward the exit. "Be open to love, B'Elanna. Be open to kindness and friendship, no matter where they might come from. When it comes right down to it, we're all we've got."

Chakotay got up and left the bar, leaving Torres sitting with a speculative look on her face. Snodgrass watched her for several minutes as she sat there. Then she, too, got up and left. He sat for a moment before reaching into his pocket, pulling out a padd, and entering something into it.


IV. Death by Lager

Snodgrass sat alone in Sandrine's, staring unseeing at his beer. He felt as if his youth were slipping away, going to waste in this tin can. It was as if he were dying by degrees. No—he felt as if he were already dead, as dead as old Yorick, whose skull was unearthed by the gravedigger while making room for poor Ophelia. "Where be your gibes now, Snodgrass?" he thought. "Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?"

Gone. He just couldn't muster the energy lately to crack wise with his fellow redshirts. He'd even lost interest in his favorite pastime—sardonic observations of the higher ups. He sighed. To his horror, he felt the pinprick of tears behind his eyelids. Oh, no! Had it come to this? Blubbering into his beer like some toothless wino on a crying jag in a dark alley during a cold drizzle?

"I think we're in rats' alley / Where the dead men lost their bones."

He shook his head, trying to stifle his tears before he lost it entirely and began sobbing. It wouldn't do to have Voyager's resident wordslinger seen having a public breakdown.

The ship had been traveling through a particularly dull sector for several weeks now. The grinding sameness of his routine made him want to weep. Work to Sandrine's to his quarters. Work to Sandrine's to his quarters. He recalled Lieutenant Torres's hopelessness that evening several weeks ago. Rumor had it that she and the ex-Borg were now an item. No wonder he hadn't seen Torres in here lately. The thought depressed him further, which in turn made him feel even more wretched. If he'd been more like himself, he might have been able to be happy for them, to be satisfied that someone was able to find a bit of solace on this endless journey, or at least to be able to entertain himself with salacious images of the two together. He gave the thought a try. Nope. Nothing. If this were living, he'd rather be dead.

Oh, the irony, he thought. And not in a good way. When Voyager was first trapped out here in the Delta Quadrant, and often during those first few treacherous years as they struggled to get their bearings and fight off the various threats posed by the natives, he was afraid that they wouldn't survive. Now, after more than eight years, he was afraid they would. Lost in space. He'd always hated that scenario. His future—what was left of it—stretched out before him, barren and arid as any desert. "I grow old . . . I grow old . . . / I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

His gloom was interrupted by a crowd of redshirts bursting into Sandrine's in high spirits, laughing and punching each other playfully on the arms. Icheb was among them, looking happy and proud in his Starfleet uniform, his whole life in front of him. "Icheb," he thought, "O you who turn the wheel and look to windward / Consider Snodgrass, who was once handsome and tall as you."


V. What the Captain Said

Snodgrass hadn't thought that it was possible. Virtually the entire crew was packed into Sandrine's, present in all their spit and polish finery for a long-awaited and much-needed ceremony. The halls and decks of Voyager were practically thrumming with energy, the crew catching the sense of excitement and anticipation as the happy event approached. Morale had been dragging, and crewmembers had latched onto the wedding of Lieutenant Torres and Seven of Nine as a drowning man to a life raft. What was meant to be a small, private affair had mushroomed into a ship-wide celebration, the Captain apparently sensing that this wedding was just what the crew needed to feel alive again, to have a sense that life was worth living. Snodgrass had heard through the ship's grapevine that she had persuaded Torres and Seven to be married before the entire crew, and after Torres overcame her irritation and Seven her initial shyness, they'd agreed.

It had been a rough year. Things were getting a bit slack. Supplies were low, so replicator rations had been cut. Holodeck time was severely curtailed to save energy. Uniforms were shiny with wear, and attitudes reflected the lean times. Suddenly replicator rations were worth more than any amount of latinum. If a man had enough rations squirreled away, he'd never be lonely. There had even been rumors that the command staff was talking of closing down some of the crew quarters, forcing people already doubled-up to squeeze even more closely together. Snodgrass had already been paired with Crewman Cletus Jones, AKA "Stinky" because of his propensity for unrestrained flatulence. He figured that that was punishment enough for the sins of several lifetimes. Fortunately, they'd finally found a planet at which they could restock. That and the upcoming wedding had lifted the spirits of the bedraggled and beleaguered crew, to say nothing of their appearance.

And now the moment was upon them.

The Captain, resplendent in her dress uniform, stood next to Lieutenant Torres, also attired in her formal tunic. By God, Snodgrass thought, Janeway could cut a commanding figure in that long, red tunic. Still a good-looking woman in anyone's book. And Torres! She stood at attention next to Janeway, both women looking expectantly down the makeshift aisle created by the chairs set up for the crew. The gold braid at the half-Klingon's collar and running along her right shoulder almost matched her skin tones. Handsome. That was the most appropriate word to describe her, thought Snodgrass. She was downright handsome. He stirred in his chair, clearing his throat. But then the moment came. The music, previously a soft adagio, now swelled to signal the entrance of, well, one of the brides. The crew stood and craned their necks to see what Seven would be wearing.

She came down the aisle on the arm of Commander Chakotay, who looked as if he would burst, for all the world like a proud papa. Snodgrass had never seen him smile so broadly. But Seven—"O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" She wore a white gown, its tight bodice flaring out at the waist to fall in cascades of satin to the floor, her arms encased in lace sleeves that partially covered her hands, in which she carried a traditional bouquet. Through her veil, Snodgrass could see that she wore her hair swept back, his favorite look for her. It showed her classic cheekbones to their full advantage. The thought occurred to him that, perhaps more than anyone aboard, Seven deserved to wear white. Not because of virginity or any of that other old Terran nonsense, but because hers was the purest, most innocent spirit on Voyager. Torres, he thought, you lucky spacedog!

Seven and Chakotay reached the waiting women. He gently handed her to B'Elanna, who took both of her hands in hers. Then they turned to face the Captain.

"If I'd have known how much a wedding would cheer this crew up," she smiled, "I would have ordered more of them a long time ago!" This drew delighted laughter.

"But before we continue with these most welcome and joyous proceedings, I want to say a word or two." Janeway paused and looked around the room.

"I have never been more proud in my life. I have seen this crew on the brink of destruction, annihilation. We've weathered unspeakable horrors, suffered enormous losses. Yet in the nearly nine years we've been together, we've maintained our control. Sometimes that control was tested; sometimes it threatened to collapse. And I could hardly have blamed you if it had. Yet you've held on to yourselves, never giving yourselves over completely to the despair that I know at times has threatened to overwhelm us.

"Secondly, I want to praise the generosity of this crew. You have never failed to help, to lift one another up when the need arose—and it has arisen many times, as you well know. And finally, your compassion. Let me say that, in my dark moments—and I've had them, too—I have been inspired by the basic goodness and decency with which you have treated not only each other, but also strangers—even foes. Indeed, you've taken into your hearts one whom you could well have rejected as an enemy. Instead of suspicion, you've presented acceptance. Instead of fear, openness. Instead of hatred, love. And it's these qualities—control, generosity, and compassion—that will see us through to the end of our voyage, no matter what that end might be."

Here she paused and looked at the two women before her.

"And now, B'Elanna, I believe you have something to say to Seven."

Torres and Seven turned to one another.

"Seven," said B'Elanna, "A wise man once told me that I couldn't reject kindness when it was offered to me, that I had to be open to love. He was right. I opened myself to love—to you—and your love has restored my faith. Before these people—our friends—I pledge to you my faith." Then she slid a ring on Seven's finger. Seven looked down at her hand before raising her eyes to B'Elanna.

"B'Elanna Torres," she stated, "A wise woman once told me that I would never be completely human until I had experienced love." Here she glanced at Janeway and smiled. "I have found that love with you. You let me love you, and I have learned not only how to love, but in so doing how to be loved. Thus, before those gathered here, I promise to you my love." Seven then placed her ring upon B'Elanna's finger.

The Captain covered the joined hands of Seven and B'Elanna with her own and sealed their vows. "Now by the power vested in me by the United Federation of Planets, and with the consent of those here gathered, I pronounce you joined in faith and love. I wish you both Godspeed."

B'Elanna carefully lifted the veil from Seven's face. They stared into one another's eyes for a long moment. Then they leaned toward each other, their lips meeting in a slow, gentle kiss.

Snodgrass tried to swallow the lump in his throat. His vision blurred suddenly. Surely he wasn't going to –

"Snarl, are you crying?" whispered Stinky, elbowing him in the ribs.

"Go to hell!" Snodgrass snarled, trying to blink away the tears that stubbornly insisted upon coming.

To his relief the crew erupted in cheers and applause as the couple turned to accept their congratulations. In the ensuing rustling about as a receiving line formed, Snodgrass wiped his eyes and regained his composure.

The reception immediately followed, and the replicated champagne was flowing. The Captain had spared no expense for this event, even suspending her mandatory 01:00 hours closing time. B'Elanna and Seven spent much of the reception separately, greeting and visiting with members of the crew whom they didn't see very often in their day-to-day routines. Snodgrass spotted B'Elanna standing by herself, one of the few times she had been alone since the festivities began. He excused himself from the redshirts he'd been drinking champagne with. He had something he wanted to do.

"Lieutenant Torres?" he hesitantly approached her.

"Yes, Crewman?" answered B'Elanna, turning to him, smiling.

"Umm. I've been meaning to say something to you. That time here in Sandrine's when you—. That is, last year, when I saw you in here—." Oh, he was making a hash of this. "Here," he said finally, thrusting the gift toward her. It was a passage, hand-lettered on replicated parchment. He'd wanted to share these words with her since that time he'd seen her and heard her express the same despair he'd often felt.

She took it and looked down at it in her hands. It was from Hamlet, the words uttered by the ill-fated prince moments before his fatal sword-fight with the treacherous Laertes: " . . . we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all . . . ."

She continued to look down at the parchment for long moments. Snodgrass was afraid he'd overstepped his bounds, that she'd be angry at his presumption. But finally she looked up at him, her warm brown eyes glistening. "Thank you, Crewman Snodgrass," she said.

He suppressed his impulse to click his heels and bow, fearing that the gesture would be misinterpreted. Instead he snapped to attention and gave her his smartest salute. "You're welcome, ma'am," he said. She smiled at him for another moment. Then he watched her as she moved away from him, going up to her bride as she stood talking with Tuvok and Neelix and circling an arm around her waist.

It was well into the Gamma shift by the time the reception was finally winding down. The happy couple had long since retired, leaving the revelers to their merry-making. But finally, they, too, drifted singly—or in pairs—slowly away till only a few remained.

Snodgrass sat at his usual table, having switched from champagne to beer. "Ah, love," he recited mentally, "let us be true / To one another! for the world, which seems / To lie before us like a land of dreams, / So various, so beautiful, so new, / Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; / And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night."

Curiously, the existential angst expressed in the lines failed to reach him this time. He found himself focusing on the first few. "Ah love, let us be true to one another." Seven and the Chief had managed to carve a bit of happiness out of the bleakness. Faith and love. The words of the Captain came back to him. He swallowed the last of his beer, got up, and strolled out of the bar, looking forward to the coming day for the first time in a long while.

The End

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