Chapter 6 – Conversations

Ayala stopped in mid-sentence and froze, his memories suddenly returning to him. His family, the Maquis, Voyager. His thoughts and beliefs from before contrasted against his thoughts and beliefs from just a moment ago. Before him was Jenny Delaney, and she sat open-mouthed, undoubtedly going through the same adjustment. They had just been in a deep conversation about suffering and the nature of existence when their memories had returned suddenly.

Chakotay was the first to recover, realizing the Hirogen neural interface must have been deactivated. "We need to get Edwards and Gallagher to sickbay and treat their wounds," he said. He had been leaning over them, trying to assess what he could do for them. Several others around him snapped out of their own thoughts and started preparing makeshift stretchers. Chakotay stood up. "Computer, end holodeck program." The controls didn't respond or were possibly locked out of voice control, so he then touched his comm badge. "Chakotay to Seven. See if you can cut all but emergency power to Cargo Bay One. It's been converted into a holodeck and we found the remaining crewmen here."

"Acknowledged," Seven replied. "We just successfully terminated the Santa Lucia simulation in the two holodecks. What's your status?"

"Two injured crew needing immediate medical attention," he replied. As he spoke, the simulated post-apocalyptic ruins of World War Three Newer York vanished. Around them, in the dim emergency lighting, he could just make out the makeshift holomatrix covering the walls of the cargo bay. He glanced over to where the survivors had told him they had buried their dead. Three Federation coffins were lined up in a row. The holoprogram must have created them after they were buried under the holographic debris. It was likely a similar situation in the holodecks where they had buried Joe Carey in the Santa Lucia graveyard weeks before. Four dead. What a waste. The tally of casualties continued to increase with each year they spent in the delta quadrant with no end in sight.

"Are you okay Chakotay?" Seven asked, some concern in her voice.

He was not okay. In addition to the dead, there were now dozens on the verge of death and laying in stasis chambers that were slowly losing power. He watched as Cathal and some others moved over to the coffins, their heads down. "I'm okay," Chakotay finally replied. He felt desperate to hold her and both comfort and be comforted by her. He marveled at just how much he had changed over the past month. Santa Lucia might have been a simulation, and their memories might have been suppressed, but that didn't mean the feelings he had developed for Seven were any less real.

"The Captain has asked me to go to Astrometrics and use what power we have to survey the surrounding space. See if there is a nearby system with refinable dilithium. I will find you after I start that."

Chakotay nodded. "Acknowledged," he said, terminating the connection. Several were moving to the cargo bay doors with Edwards and Gallagher in stretchers made from the non-holographic fabric they had on hand while others were starting to lift the coffins. Most of the survivors were standing and looking in Chakotay's direction, waiting for direction. "Some of us will take the bodies to the morgue. Everyone else, go to your quarters. Reduce power consumption as much as possible and await further orders. Get some rest if you can. Miguel, you stay with me."

Everyone but Ayala nodded without a word and turned to the door. Ayala moved up to Chakotay. "What now?" he asked.

Chakotay gestured to the PADD in Ayala's hand. "Once we get everyone cleared out of here, let's go back to sickbay and report to the Captain what we've found," he replied.

They turned and moved over to where Cathal and the others were carrying the coffins, helping them get out of the cargo bay. The corridors were still on minimal lighting, but now filled with the Santa Lucia and post-apocalyptic Newer York survivors. They continued first to the morgue and dropped off the coffins, and then moved on to sickbay. When Chakotay and Ayala entered sickbay, it was chaotic. Both Edwards and Gallagher were on biobeds. The Doctor was already tending to one while Paris was tending to the other. Captain Janeway moved up to them with a purpose. "Report. How's the rest of the crew?"

"All accounted for," he replied. Chakotay lowered his head. "A total of four dead. Carey from the Santa Lucia simulation, as you know, and also Wilson, Singh, and Holloway. Forty-seven total in the stasis pods. Some of them more stable than others. It will become a problem if our power declines further."

Janeway frowned and glanced back to the biobeds. "We need more power," she reflected. "The Doctor is operating with his mobile emitter, but with the stasis chambers and other systems online and drawing power, there's simply not enough to initialize the sickbay holographic system. If we could do that, there would be two Doctors able to work on the rest of the crew."

"Perhaps when Seven completes her Astrometrics scans, we could divert the power to sickbay," Chakotay suggested.

Janeway nodded. "The Astrometric scans are a priority, but we'll shut down the lab when the scans are completed. In addition, I ordered those from the Santa Lucia simulation to return to their quarters and reduce power to a minimum."

"I did the same with those in the cargo bay one simulation."

Janeway nodded again. "Why don't you two go to your quarters as well and do what you can. Then return here and triage the stasis chambers. Determine a priority order. I don't want any more casualties. I'm going to go to my own quarters soon enough to do the same and get some rest."

Chakotay and Ayala acknowledged her orders and left sickbay. "I'll meet you back here shortly," Chakotay said as they parted and moved in opposite directions down the corridor.

The doors to Chakotay's quarters were open when he approached. He noticed the panel was already powered down and offline, one of the things he had been planning to do. He entered the darkened quarters and immediately noticed someone sitting in his favorite chair facing the door. The light from the corridor was just enough for him to see who it was.

"You're finally home," Seven said with a smile. She stood and moved over to him, taking hold of his hands. "Are you okay?" she asked with concern. The same question she had asked him before. She obviously had sensed his mood, even over the comm.

Chakotay sighed. Instead of answering right away, he closed the gap between them and hugged her. A long, tender hug, as each drew strength from the other. It's exactly what he had needed. "Four dead," he finally said. "Forty-seven injured and in those stasis pods. Two more are currently being tended to by the Doctor and Tom. It's a lot to take in all at once."

Seven guided him over to the couch and they both sat down. She then looked about the darkened quarters. "When the Captain ordered everyone back to our quarters to power down what we can, I decided to come here."

Chakotay smiled. "I suppose they're your quarters now too," he replied. The thought of it lifted his mood.

She nodded, but then frowned. "I will have to go to Cargo Bay Two. Soon. It's been forty-one days since I last regenerated."

Chakotay sat up a little straighter. He had forgotten about the needs of her Borg components. He recalled past conversations about her regeneration schedule, before the Hirogen attack. "I didn't think you could go that long between regenerations."

"Neither did I," she confessed. "I do feel some stiffness, but I can't consult with the Doctor right now about it. I don't feel nearly as bad as I think I should."

"To be on the safe side, you should regenerate as soon as possible." He didn't want to take any chances, particularly when her health was concerned.

"I concur. With our power needs, however, I think I can only afford a few hours."

"You take the time you need," Chakotay insisted. "Do you need someone else to run the Astrometric scans?"

"Marina is powering up the lab right now and initializing the sensors," Seven replied. "She is efficient. I was worried about you, so came here first. You sounded out of sorts. I'll start the scans before I go to regenerate and evaluate the results after."

"I was a little out of sorts," Chakotay replied. He squeezed her hand. "Feeling much better now."

Seven smiled back. They were both gaining comfort and a sense of normality merely from the other's presence. Something Chakotay knew he needed. Seven then glanced out the quarter's window. A multitude of stars shown brightly against the spine of the Milky Way. She had spent most of her life in space. Her early years on Tendara and the time in Santa Lucia simulation were the only exceptions, although the latter technically not really on a planet's surface. "What draws you back to the alpha quadrant?" Seven asked suddenly.

Chakotay shrugged. "It was home," he offered.

"The only place I can call a true home and can clearly remember was in Santa Lucia," Seven reflected. "I don't know what would await me in the alpha quadrant. There might be no one there for me."

"You don't know that," Chakotay countered. "Star Fleet now knows we survived. That you survived. The messages we gave the Prometheus's EMH using the Hirogen sensor net. We might be able to contact Star Fleet again."

Seven glanced around the darkened cabin. "Chakotay, the point is, this is my home," she said. "You and I together. I don't need anything else. My feelings for you remain the same as they did in the Santa Lucia simulation. I know it is illogical, but I feel as if I've always felt this way. Our time together these past few weeks are the most vivid in my memory, even if it was only in a holodeck induced dream."

"I agree," Chakotay said and squeezed her hands again. "I will always be with you, no matter where we are. The alpha quadrant. The delta quadrant. Wherever." He then paused as he considered something else. "You know, if you had asked, I would have stayed behind with you in Santa Lucia even if everyone else had abandoned the town as we had planned. If you had said that is what you wanted, I would have stayed."

"I know," she said and then shook her head. "I don't know if I deserve it."

"Don't say that."

"You know, Marina wants to still think of us as sisters," Seven said and shook her head again.

"I always liked Marina," Chakotay replied. "So I suppose that makes her my sister-in-law."

Seven shrugged. "I guess."

"Things are going to get better," Chakotay said. He was saying it to both Seven and himself. "One thing at a time."

"I feel… I think," Seven began tentatively. "As long as we are together, that's all that matters."

Chakotay nodded. He reached up and moved one of Seven's stray hairs behind her ear. Seven leaned over and placed her head on his shoulder. It was clear that she had already taken care of powering down all the systems in Chakotay's quarters, but both seemed reluctant to move. Seven didn't want to leave just yet. Astrometric scans. Regeneration. None of it mattered more than the current moment. There was also something else on her mind. "The Captain wishes to locate the nearest source of dilithium. Her intent is to reconstitute Voyager's power and resume our path to the alpha quadrant. I'm not sure that's the best course of action."

Chakotay wasn't so sure anymore either. "One thing at a time," he repeated. "As you said. As long as we're together, that's all that matters." Someone passed by in the corridor and Chakotay turned to look. Whoever it was didn't stop and was already out of view. He turned back to Seven. "I could stay here all night, but I think you should go regenerate. I don't want anything bad to happen if you wait any longer. I also need to go meet with Ayala and triage the stasis pods. He's probably waiting for me."

Seven sat up and nodded crisply. They both had duties to perform. "I will find you when I've completed regenerating." They stood and hugged again. This time, however, including a kiss before parting. Simple, and yet infinitely meaningful.

When Chakotay arrived outside of sickbay, Ayala was already there. He was still holding the PADD they had used to track down all the crew members and seemed deep in thought. "What's the status?" he asked, bringing Ayala out of his reverie with a start.

Ayala stood up straighter and gathered his thoughts. "The stasis pods themselves appear to be doing the triage for us," he said. "The lights on each side indicate that status of the occupant. Blinking red indicators are worse than solid red. Then blinking amber, amber, and finally blinking green and green." He gestured to the two pods on either side of the door. "Fortunately, these are the only two with red indicators. They go in next."

Chakotay nodded. "Good work. How's it going in there?" He motioned to the closed sickbay door.

"The Doctor will be ready for the first patient in the next five minutes or so. We should then replace the pod with the next most urgent case. I've already identified it, but we should continue to monitor all of them for changes in their status."

"We probably don't have the power to use the transporters to dispose of the old pods," Chakotay mused. "We'll have to start storing them somewhere else."

"I thought about that," Ayala replied. "No sense using the time or power to move them to a different area on the ship. We should simply put them somewhere on this deck and power them down."

Chakotay nodded. "That's what we'll do then." He looked up and down the corridor, a dozen or more pods were visible from their vantage point. He returned his attention to Ayala. "You seemed a bit distracted when I arrived."

Ayala rubbed his chin. "You could say that," he said. "I think I'm still recovering a bit from this past month in the Santa Lucia simulation."

"How so?"

Ayala shrugged and then laughed. "As the town's preacher, I quickly realized I didn't really know the Bible as I should. The surface implanted memories were not enough to give a meaningful sermon each week and console people after all that had happened. I read the Bible straight through, a couple times in fact, to make better sense of it all. The Gospels even more times than that."

"I did notice your Sunday sermons did get better over the course of the month," Chakotay joked. "And you always kept them short, which was a plus."

Ayala smiled but then appeared to get lost in thought again. "It's got me thinking," he finally said. "What is our existence about anyway? The meaning of life? We fill our days with stuff. For years now we've been inching our way back to the alpha quadrant and home, but to what purpose? To fill our lives with more stuff, until we eventually die and are gone."

"Some of us believe there's more to it than that," Chakotay offered. In recent years, ever since their encounter with the aliens that revealed the origins of his tribe's beliefs, he had drifted away from his spirituality, but it was still a big part of his identity. If pressed, he still believed in an overarching deity, a Great Spirit.

This got Ayala excited. "Exactly," he replied. "Your Great Spirit. God. A spiritual existence after our physical death."

"There are many different beliefs," Chakotay said. "Amongst the various planets and species and even within a single planet and species."

"I'm not interested in all the various beliefs," Ayala retorted. "I want to know what's true. An objective truth. I don't want to waste my time on hopes and opinion."

Chakotay nodded. Ayala's retort had reminded him of something from the Santa Lucia simulation. "What was it that you said a couple weeks back. About the apostle Thomas? It was from a gospel reading, I think."

Ayala smiled as he recalled. "Right," he replied, thinking back. "John chapter twenty-one, verse twenty-nine. 'Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.' I think I said we can't always know the truth and must rely on faith." He laughed. "And yet now I'm like Thomas and won't accept that and must be shown."

"I think, all of us are a bit like Thomas," Chakotay said. "We want to see the proof, especially if it's easier on us not to believe."

Ayala digested this for a bit, but then perked up again. "There's another thing that's been bothering me," he said. "About Judas, free will, and predestination."

"Judas," Chakotay repeated. He tried to remember what he knew from childhood. His mother had been a Christian believer and had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. He, however, had more aligned himself with his father's traditions and beliefs. "The apostle who betrayed Jesus."

"Yes," Ayala said. "Was he predestined to be the betrayer? Did he really have free will? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus alludes to the fact that he had pre-knowledge that Judas was to betray him. At the Last Supper in all four gospels, he identifies Judas as his betrayer. Well before that, in John chapter six, he tells his apostles 'Did not I choose you the twelve, and one of you is a devil?' And in Romans eight verse twenty-eight, Paul says 'For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son'."

"What are you getting at?"

"If Judas was predestined to his fate, are we predestined to our own fate? If predestined, did Judas really have free will? And do we?" Ayala laughed again and shook his head. "Listen to me."

"You sound a bit like me when I used to speak about the Great Spirit when we first met," Chakotay replied.

"Long ago," Ayala reflected. "We're getting old." He turned his head, as if recalling something else. "Just one more thing about predestination. I've got to get it all out. Have you ever heard of Schrodinger's cat?"

That seemed to be a bit off topic, but Chakotay decided to play along. "A quantum physics thought experiment, I think. The cat is both dead and alive until it is observed and collapses down into a single quantum state."

"Precisely," Ayala replied. "We're like Schrodinger's cat. Instead of two fates, however, we have a multitude of possible futures branching out from each instance in time. A multitude of quantum states that finally collapse to a single state, our history, fixed in time once observed by us in the passage of time. But God is omnipotent and omnipresent. He observes all space and time in a single glance. He already knows our choices. He already knows our fates just as He knew Judas was to betray Him. Our quantum states have already been observed, by God, and collapsed to a single outcome, thus our destiny is already predetermined."

Chakotay smiled. It had been a long time since he had had a philosophical discussion with anyone. It was stimulating. He wondered what Seven would say to Ayala's questions. "I don't think our fate is predetermined. Even if the Great Spirit is omnipotent and omnipresent, that does not take away from our free will and ability to make decisions. Both can exist simultaneously. The Great Spirit is not simply another creature like ourselves, but more powerful and greater. The greatest among all creatures in the universe. The Great Spirit is something different entirely."

The door to sickbay suddenly swished opened, interrupting their discussion. The Doctor stood in the doorway. "I'm ready for the first patient," he said. Chakotay and Ayala reacted instantly and moved over to push one of the stasis pods through the sickbay doors and into the room. Tom was already standing near an empty biobed ready to assist. The Doctor motioned to the other biobeds where Edwards and Gallagher were. "These two have been stabilized and should be moved to their quarters to make room," the Doctor continued. "We're going to run out of room in here fast if we don't."

"Yes Doctor."

Over the next several hours, they settled into a routine. Ayala and Chakotay would monitor all the stasis pods and move into sickbay the next in line when the Doctor was ready, and then escort those able back to their quarters to recover. Some required more time in sickbay than others. The empty stasis pods were moved to a distant portion of the corridor and powered down. T'Vora relieved Tom Paris as the Doctor's assistant after a few hours and eventually Crewman O'Donnell and Ensign Wildman were called to relieve Chakotay and Ayala as well so the two could return to their own quarters to rest. Chakotay checked in with Seven in Cargo Bay Two first, but she was still regenerating, so he went to their quarters.

Ayala entered his darkened quarters and moved into his bedroom to retrieve a holoimage that was on a stand beside his bed. He didn't feel like he was going to be able to go to sleep just yet, so he moved back out into the main area where the light from the corridor would enable him to look at the image more closely. It was of his family. His wife, two sons, and himself when they were visiting relatives on Earth. A waterfall and evergreens in the background. All of them smiling and happy. The image was over ten years old, but one of the few he had of the four of them together. His two sons, aged eight and twelve in the image, were now young men and likely on their own. What did they remember of him after his five-year absence of being in the Maquis and then lost in the delta quadrant? And his wife. Five years dead and her death at the hands of the Cardassians the reason he joined the Maquis in the first place. Did her spirit live on in another way?

"Knock knock," someone said at his open door. Ayala looked up. It was Jenny Delaney. Ayala had rarely interacted with her in the past three years on Voyager. She was Star Fleet, and even though the two crews had successfully integrated, he found that he remained closer to the Maquis and was only acquainted with the original Voyager crew. He was uncertain why she would show up now.

"Is something wrong?" Ayala asked.

Jenny shook her head. "No," she said and hesitated, but then crossed the threshold into his room. "I've been trying to rest, but I'm finding sleep elusive. Too much on my mind. Too much has happened."

Ayala sighed. "I know what you mean."

"Before the Hirogen neural interface was terminated, in the simulation of post-apocalyptic Newer York, we were talking about why God allows suffering," Jenny continued. She laughed. "You had been some sort of minister in your simulation."

"I remember," Ayala replied. "Something still on my mind, I must admit."

Jenny moved further into Ayala's room, apparently having made a decision. "Miguel, I was wondering. Hoping. Could we continue our conversation? I think I'm even more confused now than I was before. I'm not sure what to believe any more. I keep holding on to something you said though."

"What was that?"

Jenny shrugged. "That maybe together, we can find some answers."


Author's note: Thank you lizzy74656, Alaster Boneman, scifiromance, Chris926, firebirdgirl, and Guest for your reviews of last chapter.