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"It just makes sense for us to get out and do this!" Nicoletti said forcefully.
"Our goal is to get off this station and try to find a way to catch up with Voyager. Staying here and administering a junkyard ties us to this place." Janeway said reasonably.
"We're not going to get off this rock by sitting here and wishing for it. If we take control of the salvage operation of the ship graveyard, we can earn enough of the local currency to eventually buy a ship." Nicoletti said in a pleading tone.
"Paris, what do you think?" Janeway asked desperately.
"I think that her suggestion has it's merits. Our resources aren't unlimited. Even though we can probably survive for a few more months before we have to worry, eventually we will have to face the reality of diminishing supplies and do something to replace them." Paris said seriously.
"Thank you Nicoletti. I have to admit that I never considered running a salvage operation. Would it be possible for you to draw up an organizational plan to give me a better idea of how we might be able to pull it off?" Janeway asked consideringly.
"We'll get right to work on it." Nicoletti said with a note of triumph in her voice.
Janeway nodded, then looked around the group meeting and asked, "Does anyone have any further comments or concerns before we conclude our business?"
Dalby stood and took a deep breath for courage.
"Yes Dalby?" Janeway asked cautiously at Dalby's timid look.
"I was thinking that... well, Cap is about to have a baby and hasn't come up with a name yet. I just thought it might be, I dunno, kinda fun if we was to have a baby naming competition or something." Dalby said shyly.
A murmur spread through the room as Paris buried his head in his hands.
"Who knocked you up Cap? Do I need to get my shotgun?" Gerry asked firmly.
Paris spread his fingers and looked at Gerry with one eye, hoping that when he did, this would all be revealed to be a bad dream.
"Cap?" Gerry asked more insistently.
Paris reluctantly stood and cast a reproachful look at Dalby before saying, "Dalby is right, I have a small maturation tank in my room where my child is growing. I don't plan on giving up my right to name her, but if you want to make suggestions for a name. I'll accept your help."
"Whose baby is it?" Gerry asked again, this time with anger in his voice.
Paris took in a deep breath for courage and said as firmly as he was able, "My daughter is mine and Bey's."
"How'd you manage that?" Carey asked in a confused voice.
"We're on a genetic research station. It wasn't that hard." Paris said with difficulty, having a hard time saying something that was so close to a complete lie.
Janeway stood and said, "If there is no other business, this meeting is adjourned."
Voices started to rise as people gathered in twos and threes to discuss the events of the day.
"Dalby!" Paris said darkly.
"Cap?" Dalby said as she walked to stand before Paris with Gerry at her side.
"Because of our friendship, I'm giving you one chance to explain why you did that." Paris said as he looked Dalby in the eyes.
"Cap, look at these people. The 'new' has worn off and they're starting to get restless. All this thinking about running a junkyard and worrying about running out of supplies is making 'em antsy." Dalby said in thought.
"I've seen it too. If we don't do something soon to improve morale, they're going to start turning on each other and turning on you... they're going stir crazy in here." Gerry said as he casually put an arm around Dalby's shoulders.
Paris thought about the words, then reluctantly admitted, "I've seen it too. But what made you think that making an announcement about my baby would help anything?"
"Because babies are hope. Little Geraldine is going to be our future, no matter if we become junk dealers or actually do find a way off this rock." Dalby said in an imploring voice.
Paris nodded and said, "I agree with you about the future... but not about Geraldine."
"I think we'll keep that one for when we have our own anyway." Gerry said as he snuggled Dalby to his side.
"You two are really serious about each other then?" Paris asked with a smile.
"Dalby is great. Not only is she good company and interesting to talk to, but she also knows how to field strip a generator." Gerry said with a fond glance at Dalby.
"And Gerry is strong enough of a person that he isn't threatened by my own strength. And besides, just look at him... he's fucking gorgeous." Dalby said with undisguised admiration for Gerry.
Paris was assaulted by inspiration and said, "If you really want to give these people something to lift their spirits and give them hope for the future. Why don't you two get married?"
Gerry and Dalby looked at each other with question.
"A big ceremony which includes everyone on the station. Get them involved and let them see just how much you love each other. Maybe before it's done, we can get a few of the other couples hitched." Paris said with a smile.
"What'cha say babe? Wanna do it?" Gerry asked Dalby seriously.
Paris laughed and said, "I'll need to write that down in case I ever have to propose."
"Blow me Paris." Gerry said dryly, then took one of Dalby's hands and got down on one knee.
"Dalby Telfer, would you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?" Gerry asked hopefully.
A hush spread over the mess hall as one by one, all the people in attendance realized what was going on.
"Yes, I would be proud to become your wife." Dalby said and tugged on Gerry's hand to bring him to standing.
A cheer rose up from everyone gathered at Dalby's acceptance of the proposal.
"Janeway, will you perform the ceremony?" Dalby asked quickly.
"It would be my honor and privilege." Janeway said with a peaceful smile.
"Paris, will you be my best man?" Gerry asked hopefully.
"You've got it Ger." Paris said warmly.
"Wildman? Where are you girl? I want you to be my maid of honor." Dalby called out over the crowd.
Wildman gave a squeak of delight and ran to Dalby's side to hug her joyfully.
Paris watched with amusement at the sight of everyone gathered around Dalby and Gerry, sharing in their happiness.
* * * * *
"You wanted to see me?" Paris asked as he walked into the Command and Control center of the station.
"Yes, have a seat. I just wanted to thank you for the way you handled the situation with Nicoletti. You didn't shoot her down, but you didn't give an outright endorsement. I'll make a diplomat out of you yet." Janeway said with a smile.
"First a politician and now a diplomat. Before you're done with me, I won't even be able to say 'Good Morning' without a formal disclaimer." Paris said with a smile.
"You're catching on." Janeway said and raised her coffee cup in a toast.
"What's our status?" Paris asked as he looked at the main view screen.
"The same as yesterday and the day before..." Janeway trailed off with a distant look in her eyes.
"What are we going to do?" Paris asked quietly.
"I don't know. We may very well end up being Delta-Quadrant junk dealers if we can't find a way to get home." Janeway said in a defeated tone.
"Maybe this *is* our home." Paris said quietly.
Janeway shook her head and said, "This is where we were created, but this isn't our home. I can't accept that."
"I know. I'm not ready to give up yet. It's just..." Paris trailed off.
"Losing him hurt you. I understand." Janeway said softly.
"I wish I did. Maybe then it would stop hurting." Paris said with anguish in his eyes.
"Someday it will, I promise." Janeway said softly.
"There is an incoming message." Kim said firmly from the communications board.
Janeway and Paris looked at each other in shock, then ran to the console.
"It's a coded message... An older Maquis code." Kim said in thought as she tried to focus on the signal.
"It's a fixed beam signal directed at us. Text only. Can you decode the message?" Paris asked quickly.
"It's repeating... just a moment." Kim said carefully as she worked out the conversion algorithm to decode the message.
"Request... permission... to come... aboard... We come... in peace." Kim said in a distant voice.
"What is the source of that transmission?" Janeway asked firmly.
"Unknown." Kim said and began to adjust the scanning array.
"It's got to be Bey." Paris said with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.
"Or someone whose met him." Janeway said darkly.
Paris looked at her curiously, then realized what she meant. If Bey were captured, they might have been able to extract information from him, including an old Maquis code.
"I cannot determine the source of the signal." Kim finally said.
"Why not? With a fixed beam transmission you should be able to follow it back to it's origin." Janeway said as she turned her attention to the scanner controls.
"Be that as it may. I cannot determine the source of the transmission. There is nothing there." Kim said in a toneless voice.
"Whoever sent this obviously knows where we are. Why don't we just respond to the message?" Paris asked in thought.
Janeway considered the question and finally came to a decision.
"Kim, prepare to transmit. Paris, compose a reply." Janeway said firmly.
"We are aligned to transmit a fixed beam on the same trajectory and frequency." Kim said seriously.
Paris keyed in one of the more recent Maquis encryption codes, then typed, "Please identify. Do you have video capability?"
Janeway looked at the message and nodded her approval.
Paris pressed the button to transmit.
The silence seemed to be deafening in the Command and Control center as the three stood and waited for the response to their message.
Finally a signal beeped on the console.
"We're being hailed." Kim said seriously.
"Put it on the main viewer." Janeway said and stood away from the communications console with Paris at her side.
"Hello Paris." Bey said as his image barely resolved into being.
"Kim, can you clean that up?" Janeway asked seriously.
"Yes, I'm locking onto his frequency." Kim said as she worked the controls.
Paris looked at the image on the screen and noticed that Bey looked like he had lost some weight and not gotten enough sleep, but overall he looked good.
After a long moment of silence, Paris hesitantly said, "Hello Bey. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Paris, Janeway, Kim, I'd like for you to meet someone. This is Kel." Bey said and beckoned someone off screen to come to his side.
Paris' eyes went wide when he saw the thirteen or fourteen year old boy walk to Bey's side.
"Paris, I'm sorry I left like I did, but I didn't really have a choice..." Bey began to say.
"You always have a choice." Paris said in a wounded tone.
Bey nodded and said, "You're right. I could have chosen to stay on the station. But that wouldn't get us any closer to home. I've got us a ship."
Paris, Janeway and Kim looked at each other with surprise.
"A ship?" Janeway asked in confirmation.
"Yes. A long range, fully functional, heavily armed ship." Bey said seriously.
"I still cannot determine the origin of the transmission." Kim said in warning.
"Fix your sensors where you think I should be and I'll reveal myself for a few seconds." Bey said seriously and started pushing buttons on the console before him.
"Three... Two... One..." He counted down, then pressed a final button on his console.
"It is a Kazon long-range light cruiser, bearing 220, mark 4, traveling at 0.32 impulse on a direct course toward us." Kim said firmly.
Bey pushed another button on his console and the lights behind him seemed to dim.
"The ship is running unpowered and is nearly undetectable with this equipment." Kim said speculatively.
"That's the idea. The previous owners of this ship didn't just give it to me. I made quite a show of leaving, it would be best if I didn't advertise the fact that I'm still in this solar system." Bey said sheepishly.
"It sounds like you've had quite an adventure. You'll have to tell us all about it when you arrive." Janeway said in a speculative voice.
"Paris, I realize that I stole from the station and broke your trust. The ship is yours, no strings attached. I accept full responsibility for my actions and I'll accept whatever punishment you decide is appropriate." Bey said seriously.
Paris looked at Janeway with question and received a nod in response.
"Bey, I'm not leader anymore so any decision regarding punishment or guilt isn't mine to make. As far as the matter of trust... we can talk about it when you get here." Paris finished quietly.
"I'm sorry Paris. I didn't think you would lose your position because of me." Bey said with a stricken look.
"I'm the new leader." Janeway said forcefully.
Bey turned his attention to her and straightened his posture slightly.
"Is your offer of a ship, no strings attached still valid?" Janeway asked seriously.
"No Janeway." Bey said immediately.
Janeway looked at him with surprise.
"There is now one string attached." Bey said in thought as he looked at her seriously.
"Which is?" Janeway asked cautiously.
"Which is Kel. I want your guarantee that he won't be held responsible for anything that happened on this ship. I will accept full responsibility for everything that happened here. If you will grant Kel full immunity and amnesty, the ship is yours." Bey said firmly.
"No, you don't have to do that." Kel said in a small voice as he took hold of Bey's arm in a pleading gesture.
"Don't worry Kel, however this turns out. It's going to be fine." Bey said softly.
"I accept your terms." Janeway said forcefully, bringing Bey's attention back to the viewer.
"Thank you Janeway. When we arrive it would be best if you could send a crew over to man the ship. Once they've arrived, Kel and I will shuttle over to you in the Freedom." Bey said seriously.
"Estimated time of arrival?" Janeway asked over her shoulder to Kim.
"Four hours, twenty-two minutes." Kim responded immediately.
"We will have a crew ready to board when you arrive. Anything else?" Janeway asked cautiously.
"No. That's all." Bey said seriously to Janeway, then cast a regretful look at Paris.
"Bey out." Bey said and discontinued the transmission.
* * * * *
"At least he's alive." Janeway said quietly.
"But he's found someone else." Paris said in a devastated whisper as tears filled his eyes.
"That boy? I think you need to shift your thought processes back up to your brain for a few minutes and think about what you've just seen." Janeway said seriously.
"What's that?" Paris asked as he glanced at her hopefully.
"Bey trusts you. He was willing to put the fate of his little friend into your hands without question. The boy looks at Bey with love and admiration. But Bey's only actions toward the boy were of responsibility and devotion, like a parent or an older brother." Janeway said seriously.
"I don't know what to do." Paris said helplessly.
"Do nothing. At least not until you've had a chance to talk with Bey and are completely sure where you stand with each other. The worst thing you could do right now is make assumptions or decisions based on all the speculation and worry of the past few weeks."
Paris nodded in thought and said, "Thank you Janeway. I know that he's alive and on his way back to us. I'll just focus on that for right now."
"And the fact that he is bringing us a ship." Janeway said with a smile.
"Yeah. That too." Paris said happily.
After a moment to see that Paris was feeling better, Janeway walked to the communications console.
"All hands." Janeway said then waited for the command to be processed.
"Come to the mess hall for a group meeting immediately. Janeway out." Janeway said forcefully, then turned to look at Paris with question.
Paris nodded, straightened his posture and prepared himself emotionally for the meeting.
* * * * *
"Everyone, we have some news." Janeway said to the chattering group who were speculating on the purpose of the meeting.
Silence fell over the room in anticipation of the announcement.
"We just received a transmission from Bey. He's come into possession of a ship and will be arriving in four hours to deliver it to us." Janeway said with a note of excitement creeping into her voice.
"No shit?" Dalby squeaked, then put her hands over her mouth in embarrassment.
A chuckle traveled through the room at her statement.
"It appears that Paris' trust in Bey was well placed. I don't have all the details of his time away, but you can't argue with the results." Janeway said happily.
"So he's just... giving it to us?" Gerry asked cautiously from Dalby's side.
"Yes. He suggested that we send a crew over to take possession of the ship when he arrives. Gerry, Nicoletti, Carey and Kim, prepare whatever equipment you think you might need and load it on the Independence. Assess the status of weapons, atmospheric control, engineering and the overall condition of the ship. Kim will be in command of the mission." Janeway said firmly.
After a pause for the murmurs to subside, Janeway continued, "The rest of you need to evaluate your areas and make plans to evacuate the station. We need to use military efficiency in this operation."
"Oxymoron." Paris muttered from her side.
Janeway cast him a disapproving glance, then broke into a smile.
"That's it. You have four hours to prepare." Janeway said happily.
Everyone seemed to break into chatter at once as the meeting broke up.