Homecoming | Chapter 28 of 32

Author: Christie Golden | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2320 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 17

JANEWAY WAS EXHAUSTED when she returned to her small apartment. Things had happened so fast. First the Doctor had been arrested, and now Seven and Icheb were in prison. Seven looked tense and strained when Janeway and Tuvok finally got permission to see her, but everything she said was clearly meant to put their minds at ease. It was Tuvok who noticed that there was no regeneration chamber available for either former Borg, and went to speak with one of the guards.

Janeway wasn’t too concerned about Seven. She’d demonstrated that she could go for several days without regenerating. Icheb was a different matter. Janeway was worried about more than the lack of a regeneration chamber for the young man. Icheb was quite silent and seemed troubled. Once she learned what had happened [207] to the youth, Janeway shared Seven’s outrage. She had bent the ears, or perhaps a better word would be “blistered,” of several important personages in the Federation already and had messages in to several more.

She’d also arranged for Chakotay to meet with Seven at some point. He had told her that Seven had called off their relationship so that she might better learn who she was here on Earth. Apparently, who she was here on Earth was a mistreated prisoner. She might welcome a visit from a friend who was once something more.

A soft sound from her computer almost as soon as she entered the room made her groan aloud. Who could it be now? It was almost three in the morning. Sighing, she eased into her chair. “On screen,” she said.

Carla Johnson’s tear-streaked, large-eyed face filled the screen. Before Janeway could speak, she cried, “What did you do to him?”

“Carla? What’s going on? What’s happened?”

“Kevin,” Carla said, sobbing now. “Kathryn, what did you do to him? Oh, my God, my God. ...”

She turned away from the screen as Mark stuck his face in. He too looked dreadfully upset, but was trying to be calm.

“Mark, what’s going on? Is Kevin all right?”

“No, he’s not. He’s ... we assumed that because of Voyager ... ?” Mark cleared his throat. “We’ve contacted the authorities and they’re on their way, but we wanted to talk to you first, to see if you knew what—We know you wouldn’t do anything deliberately to hurt him, but. ...” Mark’s voice trailed off.

“Mark,” said Janeway calmly, though her heart was [208] racing, “take a deep breath and tell me clearly. What is going on? Is Kevin ill?”

“Look at him!” Carla cried, thrusting Kevin toward the screen.

Janeway gasped, the hair on her arms standing on end in horror. Kevin was strangely silent for such a young child, and he stared at Janeway blankly. His skin was an ashen shade of gray, and strange veins crawled over his small body like insects. One eye didn’t seem quite right to her and—

Her hand went to her mouth. “I’ll be right—”

The screen went dark.

 

To his credit and to Janeway’s enormous relief, Chakotay didn’t bat an eye at being asked to bring his little Alpha Flyer out for a jaunt at three in the morning. They arrived at the Johnsons’ house in Colorado shortly after he picked her up, and Janeway barely waited for the shuttlecraft to fully settle before opening the door and jumping out. She raced to the front stoop of the Johnsons’ pleasant little home and knocked frantically. There was no answer, not even Molly’s loud barking.

“Looks like nobody’s home,” Chakotay said, stepping beside her.

“That’s just not possible,” Janeway said, more to herself than to Chakotay. She hadn’t told him what she’d seen, only that her friends needed her immediately because their child was desperately ill.

“They said Kevin was sick,” Chakotay continued. “Maybe they took him to a doctor. He could have that flu that’s been going around.”

[209] Janeway went cold inside. “Xakarian flu,” she repeated. “Symptoms are cold skin, paleness, delusions ... oh my God.”

“Kathryn, what is it?”

She wanted to tell him, but she couldn’t, not until she knew for sure. “Take me home,” she said, and though he looked at her quizzically, he obliged.

 

“What the hell have you done with the Johnsons?” she cried as soon as Montgomery’s face appeared on her computer screen.

He stared at her. He had thrown on a robe and his fair hair stuck up at odd angles. He obviously wanted to be deeply angry but couldn’t seem to summon the energy.

“Kathryn, it’s nearly four in the morning.”

“I’m well aware of what time it is. I have to tell you that I am getting tired of people I care about disappearing with no explanations. Let me ask you again: What happened to the Johnsons?”

“Who are you talking about, and what makes you think I know anything about these people?”

She narrowed her eyes. “Two words: Xakarian flu.”

“If they were suspected of having contracted it, they have to be quarantined. If you have a problem with that, you’ll need to take that up with Starfleet Medical. That’s not my field.” He extended a hand as if to terminate the conversation.

“You’re conducting a cover-up,” Janeway said.

That stopped him. “Of what?”

“I saw Kevin. I saw the implants. How convenient [210] that Xakarian flu has all the symptoms of the early stages of Borg infection.”

Montgomery stiffened visibly, and was suddenly very wide awake. “I’m sorry you saw that. We wanted to do this quietly, to avoid panic, but your sniffing around has forced my hand. I’m going to have to call everyone who served aboard Voyager in for questioning. Starting with her captain.”

 

Gray Bear looked at the strained face of James Red Feather. James had been the medicine man who had instructed Gray Bear, but now he was on the receiving end of the healing medicine he had once given of so freely. His face was haggard and drawn, the wrinkles looking as if they were physically cut into his aged face. The sickness had come upon him suddenly, a mere two days ago, and Gray Bear had had to make haste to gather people and materials for the sweat lodge. He feared to wait another day. Federation medicine was available for the asking, of course, and immediately after the sweat lodge he would take James to the doctor. But the lodge always came first. Healing took place on many levels.

It was a full lodge today. James was well loved and many had been more than happy to attend, to lend their voices to the singing and chanting that would help heal their fellow tribe member and respected elder. The Sioux believed that facing up to the intense heat and darkness of the lodge would purge all those who attended, especially the sick one in whose name the sweat lodge had been called.

There was a hissing sound as Gray Bear poured [211] another dipperful of water on the stones. The steam rose, twining about them, ready to begin purifying both body and spirit. The women were on one side, clad in pure cotton clothing, their arms and legs modestly covered. The men sat on the other side, their bodies bare to the waist. There was no jewelry on anyone present—the spirits disliked jewelry, and besides, metal would become hot enough to burn mere human skin in the lodge.

Gray Bear’s apprentice poked his head into the circular opening. Gray Bear nodded. The apprentice closed the deerskin flap and proceeded to seal it tight. There were a few pinpricks of light, but those were quickly covered up. Utter blackness descended. Blackness, and moisture, and healing, almost unbearable, heat.

During the nearly four hours of the ritual, no one would be permitted to leave. It would weaken the medicine. There would be four “doors” in today’s ceremony, four times when the flap would be lifted and cool air and bright light would waft in to revive those who huddled in the darkness. But all were expected to remain inside the lodge for the duration of the ceremony.

Gray Bear began to chant, a call-and-response chant in his native tongue. The answers were firm and clear. Then there was silence for a time. He sat erect and tall in the darkness, feeling the sweat pour off his body like rainwater sluicing down his skin. Now and then, he would reach for the dipper and pour more water on the hot coals. Their red, pulsating glow was the only thing visible in the entire lodge.

He heard the sounds of people shifting, moving their bodies and faces down toward the cool earth. Some [212] pressed their noses to the place where tent met soil, breathing the cool air. There was no shame in this. One participated as much as one could, and some could withstand the excruciating, stifling heat better than others.

Time passed in that timeless place. Deep silence descended.

And then there was the scream.

It took Gray Bear a few precious seconds to realize that the sound came from the throat of James Red Feather, and by then other screams had joined it. The tent remained closed; the apprentice knew that sometimes participants had visions, and would not open the flap unless explicitly told to do so.

“Be calm!” Gray Bear called out. “The spirits are with us!” Even as he spoke, he knew it was a lie. There had never been a spirit visitation that had afflicted so many, and Gray Bear’s sharp ears detected the subtle differences between the cries of ecstatic delight and fear and those of pain and real, present terror.

He made his decision. “Open the flap!” he cried. “Open it, open it!”

The flap was opened. Daylight poured into the lodge and there was a mad scramble for the door. Gray Bear stared in horror at James Red Feather. He was writhing and screaming, tearing at his own flesh. The sunlight glinted on metal sprouting from his body as if it was growing there, and even as James tried to pull it out, his hands blistered as they touched it. He turned to look at Gray Bear, and his eyes were dead and cold.

[213] Suddenly James stiffened. He turned swiftly and, with two thin tubes that had erupted from his flesh, jabbed a woman frantically trying to escape.

“Resistance is futile,” said James in Sioux. He swiveled his head and impaled Gray Bear with his evil gaze, and then methodically approached, his arm with its awful tubes extended.

And then it was the medicine man’s turn to scream.

 

Tom Paris opened the door and sighed when he saw who was standing there.

“You know, you guys really ought to give a fellow warning,” he said, stepping back and grandly sweeping his arms to invite Starfleet Security inside. “I’d have replicated some tea and cookies for you. In the meantime, I do have a pot of hot coffee at the ready. It’s been a long night.”

Their faces were as impassive as Tuvok’s. No wonder the Vulcan had been such a great security chief; apparently a poker face was part of the uniform.

“We’re going to have to ask you to come with us, Lieutenant Commander,” one of them said.

“Not this again,” Paris said, his voice rising. Miral was having a bad bout of colic tonight, and he was irascible and exhausted from sitting up with her. “I’ve answered all your questions and you’ve got the Doc himself in custody.”

“This isn’t about the HoloStrike, sir,” the commanding officer said. They had sent out a new batch, Tom observed. He didn’t recognize any of the men standing in his apartment.

[214] “What is it about?”

“I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to discuss it, sir. Please, sir.”

He looked from one inscrutable face to the next, and he realized that they weren’t kidding. As if on cue, Miral began to squall in the back room.

“As you can hear, gentlemen, I’ve got a little one to take care of. I’m not about to—”

“Understood, sir. We’ll take the child with us. She’ll be well looked after while you are undergoing questioning.”

“No. Oh, no. I’m not about to hand my little girl over to some stranger from Starfleet Security.” Even as he spoke, he hurried to the nursery and picked up his crying daughter.

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice.” The three men had followed him into the nursery, where their formal stance and gray, mustard, and black uniforms were sharply at odds with the twirling mobile and soft pastel hues of the walls and ceiling. Their commanding officer moved his hand, ever so slightly, to the phaser on his hip. Tom didn’t miss the gesture.

He held Miral closer to him. “At least let me contact someone I know to take care of her while I’m gone,” he said, almost pleading. The leader seemed to consider it but didn’t answer right away.

“Oh, come on!” Tom said, exasperated and starting to get just a little bit frightened.

“Very well.”

Paris went to the computer. “Computer, contact Admiral Owen Paris. Message is urgent.”

[215] It seemed to take forever for his father’s face to appear. The elder Paris looked groggy, but he brightened at the sight of his son and granddaughter.

“Hi, Dad. Sorry to wake you at this hour.”

“Is everything all right?”

Tom glanced over at the emotionless face of the head of the little party that had shown up on his doorstep. “That remains to be seen,” he said. “Seems that I’m wanted for questioning about something and it apparently can’t wait until a decent hour.”

Admiral Paris looked grave, but not surprised. He nodded and sighed. “I was hoping you’d be kept out of it,” he said, “but I suppose they need to talk to everyone.”

“You know what this is all about?” Tom asked, startled.

“Not entirely, but I have an inkling. You’ll need to go with them, Tom.”

“Well, yeah, but I’ve got a cute little problem with going with them right now,” he said. “Can you—will you and Mom look after her?” His voice faltered. “I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

“Of course, son. You won’t be gone long.”

“Thank you, Dad.” Tom looked down at his daughter, felt his throat tighten, and hoped his father was right.

 

The ritual baths, chanting, meditation, and preparation were finally over. Torres was about to depart, finally, for the Challenge of Spirit. She knew she had a few minutes of privacy left before Logt was to come [216] and get her, so she quickly unfolded the note her mother had left her and read it one last time, trying to memorize it:

 

My dearest ’Lanna,

As I write this, they are waiting outside for me. They think I am embarking on the Challenge of Spirit in the usual manner, and that, if I survive the proper length of time, I will return. If I do not return, I will be assumed dead. Perhaps I may be, but I think not.

I am waiting for you. A few days ago I had a vision that was so powerfully vivid that I know that on some level, it was real. I was on the Barge of the Dead, and you came to lift my dishonor. In this vision, you took the first step toward making peace with the two parts of you that have always been at war. I believe that you were there, with me, in some way. Whether or not this is so, I hope to learn directly from your own lips.

I am taking the Challenge, but I will be at the place I have indicated on this map.

You found me in a dream once before. You will find me again. We have much to speak of. I will see you again, dearest ’Lanna.

Find me.

 

“I will, Mother,” said Torres aloud. She went over the map one final time, then held the piece of paper to the lamp flame. An orange tongue of fire licked the paper, blackening it. Torres dropped it into a small [217] bowl and watched it burn, curling in on itself until it was nothing but ashes.

She was so lost in thought watching the twisting paper that the loud knock on the door made her jump. Torres rose and composed herself as Logt entered. The older woman looked her up and down, eyeing the ritual garb B’Elanna had sewn herself. Part of the required preparation, sewing it had taken hours, and was spotted with magenta blood here and there, but she had completed the task and was rather proud of the end result.

“I suppose you’ll do,” Logt said.

“I’m not appearing on a stage,” Torres snapped.

“No. You’re appearing before Kahless, and that is much more important. You were granted special dispensation to even undertake the Challenge, B’Elanna Torres, half human as you are. It can be revoked at any time if you prove yourself unworthy. And that would be dishonor indeed. Come.”

Torres followed Logt as she led her down a stone stairway barely big enough for a single person to pass. Instead of the temperature dropping, as would have been normal for a descent into the ground, Torres noticed that it was growing hotter.

The lava caves. Of course, this would be where the final rite would be. These were Klingons, after all. One wouldn’t just say, “Okay, I’m off to the Challenge of Spirit. See you when I get back.” She smiled a little to herself; she was starting to think like Tom.

The heat grew more intense. Torres began to sweat profusely and it grew difficult to breathe. She tried hard not to pant but heard Logt’s chuckle.

[218] “I knew you were too soft for this,” the warrior said. “Miral was made of sterner stuff.”

“You’re going to eat those words when I return with—” B’Elanna had almost said “when I return with my mother.” She amended quickly, “With honor.”

Logt paused, turned, and gave B’Elanna a thoroughly appraising look. “Something is not right about this,” she said. “I feel ...”

“What?” B’Elanna challenged, worried that somehow Logt would guess her deception, but Logt did not answer. She scrutinized B’Elanna for a moment longer, then shrugged, something that wasn’t easy to do with all that leather armor.

“It is of no matter,” Logt said. “If you return, all honor debts are paid. If you don’t, then you’ve gotten what you deserve for your arrogance.”

They continued the descent in silence. B’Elanna wondered if the hot air” was scorching her lungs. She started to grow faint, and willed herself to stay conscious with all the ferocity that she knew was in her. She had been kept ignorant of the intricacies of the ritual; all she knew was that it would represent a severing of who she had been prior to this moment. When B’Elanna Torres returned from her Challenge of Spirit, she would no longer be the same woman who departed for it.

If she returned.

Angrily she told herself to stop it. She could not even entertain the thought of failure. Her mother was out there somewhere, dead or alive, and B’Elanna was going to find her.

[219] The stairway widened to a small room as it ended. Logt stepped away from B’Elanna and suddenly brandished a knife. Before Torres could react, Logt was upon her, but B’Elanna felt no pain. Her clothing suddenly hung loosely upon her and she clutched it to her. Logt had cut B’Elanna’s gown, not her body. It took forever for me to make this! Torres thought. She was somehow more distressed that all her hard work had been to produce a garment that would get cut to pieces within seconds of the ritual’s start than she would have been if her body had been targeted.

A door was flung open and waves of heat rolled out. Logt shoved and B’Elanna stumbled forward, still clutching the last shreds of clothing and dignity.

Three Klingon women stood before her, as naked as she would be had she not literally held her clothes to her body. They were not, however, in the least bit vulnerable in their nudity. Rather, they were intimidating. One of them threw back her head and screamed a wordless cry. The other two dove forward and snatched the strips that were all that remained of B’Elanna’s gown and tossed them into the bubbling pit of lava in the center of the room.

Automatically B’Elanna covered herself, but the two women who had stripped her now clutched her hands and pulled them down to her sides.

“You are to be reborn, B’Elanna Torres,” the woman who was clearly the highest-ranking priestess said, walking to her slowly, proudly. In her hands, she held a pot of some vile-smelling ointment.

“You will go naked into the world, as you came [220] naked into it. You entered the world covered only with the blood and fluids from your mother’s womb. Fire births you here.”

She stepped forward and smeared B’Elanna’s face, hair, and body with the putrid goop. B’Elanna recognized the smell of blood among other scents that made her want to vomit. The heat and the stench were getting to her and the room began to spin. She held on to consciousness with grim determination. Now the woman was smearing soot all over her.

Her mind flashed back to her years as a child in the monastery. She’d never encountered anything like this. The rituals she’d participated in were flamboyant and showy, with lots of talk and pretty costumes. This was in dark, deadly earnest.

They threw her hard to the ground. B’Elanna grunted as her body slammed into the warm stone. Something was smeared over her hands.

“Now bathe your hands in the blood of the earth, in the fire that consumes and destroys.”

She stared up at the priestess in horror. The lava was nothing less than rock so hot it was liquid. To immerse her hands in it would be to char them right off. The priestess smirked.

“The mongrel hesitates.”

The derogatory term spurred B’Elanna on. Some part of her reasoned that they would not ask it of her unless she had some chance of succeeding. And if she burned her hands off, well, the Doctor would no doubt come up with something suitable to replace them.

She was too woozy to rise, so she crawled along the [221] stone floor to the pit. The heat blasting off it was almost unbearable. For you, Mother.

Uttering a cry, she shoved her hands into the lava.

And felt nothing.

Part of her screamed that it was a miracle, that she had passed the test. The other part of her calmly reasoned that whatever they had smeared on her hands was protecting her from the heat. Idly, she wondered what the stuff was.

But then strong hands were grabbing her and pulling her back from the pit, even as she realized that if she had lingered much longer, her face would have begun to blister.

Dazed, sick, every muscle quivering, she did not protest as they hauled her to her feet. The priestess held her face firmly between her strong hands. B’Elanna stared up into her fierce, sharp-toothed, painted face, and found her beautiful.

“You have been accepted. You may undertake the Challenge. Go forth, and wrest honor from the wilderness.”

B’Elanna was spun around and almost fell. There came a loud boom as a door was opened in front of her. Cool air rushed in and she gulped it deeply. So engrossed was she in simply breathing in the pure night air, so sweet after the sickly toxins of the lava, that it took a moment for the priestess’s words to register.

She was about to step into Boreth’s notorious wilderness clad only in blood and ashes, with no food, no water, and no weapons.

[222] B’Elanna Torres almost broke.

Then she summoned courage she never knew she possessed, and forced her head up. She straightened to her full height, and heard murmurs of approval behind her. Unsteadily, deliberately, B’Elanna Torres moved first one foot, then the other, walking into the unknown with her head held high.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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