Hurt & Comfort

Book 4: The Well of Hurt

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Chapter 11: The Mouth of the Beast

"What can I do for you?" Andrew asked as he looked at the vortex on the huge viewscreen.

"We have been trying to find a way to expand the wormhole so Voyager can travel to the other side." B'Elana said.

"I noticed that the wormhole shares certain properties with the spatial disruptions that you cause and was curious to know if you could effect it." Seven said in question.

Andrew looked again at the screen, then turned away looking toward an empty wall and slightly downward.

"What is he looking at?" B'Elana asked.

"He is looking at the wormhole, not the projection on the screen." Seven speculated.

There was a long minute of silence which was interrupted by a beeping from the workstation.

"The entry point of the wormhole has increased by eight percent." Seven said to the group in an informative tone.

Andrew closed his eyes then turned back to the group.

"That's about as much as I can do... it's just too far away for me to be able to push anymore power into it." Andrew said in apology.

"If we were closer, do you think you could effect it more?" B'Elana asked.

"Yeah, probably." Andrew said.

"I think we should take you out in a shuttlecraft to get up close and personal with the wormhole." B'Elana said in speculation.

"It would seem the most reasonable next step." Seven of Nine interjected.

"What do you think guys?" Andrew asked Two and Six who had been watching silently.

"I agree with Seven." Two said immediately.

"Can I come?" Six asked with hope.

"What do you say Seven? Can Six come with me?" Andrew asked.

"I will ask permission from the Captain to take a shuttlecraft for the purpose of testing our hypothesis. I will include your request in my query." Seven said to the group.

"Thank you Seven. I think we should get back to the others." Andrew said.

Seven nodded as Andrew, Two and Six left the room.

"Can we travel to Sickbay by spatial disruption?" Six asked with hope once they entered the hallway.

"Which way would you prefer to travel to Sickbay, Two?" Andrew asked as the group stopped outside Astrometrics.

"I do not understand why you are asking me. You will do what you think best." Two asked in confusion.

"Yes, I will do what I think best. To determine what I think is best, I need to know the opinions of those around me. If you have the desire to see more of the ship and would prefer to walk to our destination, then I will consider that before deciding what to do... if you would rather return immediately to Sickbay, then I will consider that." Andrew said and waited.

"I would like to see more of the ship." Two said reasonably.

"Six, what would you like to do?" Andrew asked.

"I would like to return to Sickbay by spatial disruption." Six said honestly.

"Then here you are." Andrew said and opened a portal.

"You go on ahead and we'll join you in a few minutes. Please tell Alan what's going on." Andrew said.

Six walked through the portal and it closed immediately behind him.

"Good. I was hoping to get a chance to talk with you privately, Two." Andrew said as he began walking.

Two followed, determining that the statement did not require a response.

"Since you are the oldest of the children, you are going to be their leader." Andrew began.

"Seven of Nine has assumed that role." Two said without emotion.

"Seven of Nine is an adult. She will most likely be in charge of the children and be your... interface... with the command structure of the ship." Andrew said, trying to find words that Two would understand.

"I think it will be most efficient if you take on the role of interface between Seven of Nine and the rest of the children." Andrew said hesitantly.

"To what purpose?" Two asked with genuine interest.

"By taking responsibility for the children, you will be making it easier for Seven of Nine to do her job and help you most effectively. If she can tell you that something needs to be done, and knows that you will see to it, then she won't have to go to each child and repeat her instructions." Andrew said, more easily.

"I understand. It will optimize efficiency by instituting a hierarchy of command." Two said plainly.

"Yes, but it goes beyond that. Certain decisions can be made by you so that Seven of Nine isn't forced to make every decision concerning every child. There may be needs that you can provide so she won't have to take time from her duties to provide them." Andrew said in speculation.

"In what way?" Two asked in genuine curiosity.

"Let's say you're with the children and Seven of Seven has... gastric discomfort. What would you do? Call Seven of Nine to receive instructions or take her to Sickbay?" Andrew asked, relieved that he found a technical term for 'tummy ache'.

"I would call Seven of Nine for instructions." Two answered immediately.

"And can you speculate what she would do?" Andrew led.

"After assessing the situation, she would take Seven of Seven to the Sickbay for treatment." Two said without emotion.

"And to do that, she would have to leave her duty station to assess the situation and then accompany Seven of Seven to Sickbay." Andrew said.

"What would you propose I do?" Two asked as they walked into the turbolift.

"Sickbay." Andrew said to the ceiling of the lift. Then turned to Two and said, "Since it is most likely that Seven of Nine would take Seven of Seven to Sickbay anyway, you could take her there yourself, then inform Seven of Nine of Seven of Seven's condition and the action you took. It has the benefit of dealing with the problem while keeping Seven of Nine informed and not taking her away from her duty." Andrew said as the turbolift came to a stop.

"I see the increase in efficiency in your proposal, but I will not know what Seven of Nine's wishes would be in every circumstance." Two said as he walked with Andrew out of the turbolift.

"You can speculate what Seven of Nine's probable reaction will be, and consider options. If you are not sure which is the best option, then contact her with the list of options rather than just calling her with the problem." Andrew said as they turned the corner to Sickbay.

"That is most efficient. I will endeavor to be the leader." Two said confidently.

"I think that will be a great help to Seven of Nine and to the children. If you have any doubt about what is the right thing to do in a given situation, you can call on me at any time to help you." Andrew said seriously as they walked through the Sickbay door.

* * * * *

"Mr. Wells, Six of Seven was just telling us that the two of you are going to go out in a shuttlecraft to try and expand the wormhole." the Doctor said dubiously.

"With the Captain's permission, yes." Andrew said.

"What would Six of Seven's purpose be?" Three of Seven asked.

"Observation." Andrew said seriously.

"That is not sufficient purpose." Seven of Seven said.

"In my home world it is a profession called 'journalism'. The journalist finds something he believes will be of interest to others and observes it. Afterward, he summarizes his experience and relays it to others so they can share in it without having to actually participate in it." Alan said, hoping that was close to Andrew's reasoning for taking Six along.

Andrew gave a fond smile toward Alan, then said, "As a side effect of his profession, the reporter gets to experience many things that others don't and learns a great deal about a variety of things rather than specializing in one discipline."

After a long moment of silence Seven of Seven said, "That is sufficient purpose."

::Mr. Wells, Six of Seven, report to shuttlebay one for away mission:: came over the comm system.

"We've got to go. Two, why don't you tell the children about what we talked about... I mean about leadership." Andrew asked as he walked toward the door.

"I will Andrew." Two said.

Andrew was taken aback for a moment by Two using his name, but pulled himself together and, making sure Six was following, left for the Shuttlebay.

* * * * *

"B'Elana, do you have an extra padd around here anywhere?" Andrew asked after they cleared the shuttlebay doors.

"In that compartment to your left." B'Elana said, only glancing in his general direction.

"Six, this is a data padd. It is for storing information." Andrew began.

"I am capable of storing information quite efficiently." Six said with certainty.

"I'm sure you are... in fact, let's test your memory. Close your eyes and tell me about the clothes you're wearing.

"The shirt is blue, it is 124..." Six began to say when Andrew interrupted.

"Why is it blue?" Andrew asked.

"It *is* blue." Six said in a slightly insulting tone.

"Why did you choose a blue shirt rather than a green or yellow one?"

"It was the preferable selection of those available." Six said with frustration creeping into his voice.

"What made it preferable? If your memory is so efficient, then why can't you tell me what it was about this shirt that made it better than another?" Andrew insisted.

"It is like the night sky of my world. I remember looking outside at night and it was this color of blue." Six said with an almost desperate tone to his voice.

"That is what people want when they read your experiences. You can show them a picture and the technical data about this wormhole and they will come away knowing some facts, but not understand what it was like to stand at the mouth of this giant beast and look down it's throat." Andrew said plainly.

"I believe I understand. By relating the experience to things from my past I can invoke an emotional response to simulate the experience I have had for those who are reading my report." Six said with difficulty.

"Exactly. And with practice, it becomes easier to relate your present experience with your past experiences because you get used to expressing yourself that way." Andrew said happily.

"I believe I understand. We are approaching the wormhole. I will begin recording my observations." Six said and turned on the padd.

* * * * *

Andrew got up from beside Six and moved between Seven and B'Elana in the pilot's chairs.

"I fail to see the purpose of including Six of Seven on this voyage." Seven of Nine said.

"He is a representative of the children. He is their eyes and ears on this voyage. He will observe and report back to the children what he has experienced." Andrew said.

"I do not see any benefit to this action." Seven said flatly.

"I noticed that Six is inquisitive. He asks questions and takes risks... more than any of the other children. I thought this would serve the purpose of satisfying his curiosity and give him a unique purpose among the children. If he can be included in activities that the others can't or won't be a part of, he can relate his thoughts and feelings back to the rest. Six gains the benefit of having a unique purpose and the rest of the children can gain experience vicariously from reading his accounts." Andrew said, hoping Seven would understand.

"But the children are Borg, they are the same." Seven said defensively.

"No, they might have started the same but they are becoming individuals. Two is becoming a leader and will be a great help to you in taking care of the children. Three is defiant, not willing to accept anything at face value. Four is quiet and brooding, Five is happy, sad... actually he's all over the place emotionally, but definitely a feeling child. And Seven is a typical little girl full of playfulness and mischief." Andrew said.

"How did you figure them out so quickly?" B'Elana asked in wonder.

"Because I've been living at a school for gifted children for nearly two months, I guess. I'm used to seeing something in a child and encouraging it. Like with Six, this experience may or may not make a major formative contribution to his life, but since I recognized the possibility, I wanted him to have the opportunity." Andrew said and looked at the wormhole filling the sky before them.

"Are you ready to attempt to adjust the opening of the wormhole?" Seven asked quietly.

"I will be as soon as Six comes up here. I don't want to do this without him." Andrew said steadily.

"Six of Seven, come forward so we may begin." Seven of Nine called.

Six promptly came forward and looked with wide eyes at the swirling vortex of energy.

"I'm going to start expanding the opening... you'll have to tell me how close I am to having it opened wide enough." Andrew said with concentration.

"The opening is expanding." B'Elana said in a professional tone.

There was a moment of silence as Andrew concentrated and the opening continued to expand.

"The opening has increased by fifty percent, it is nearly large enough for the ship to enter." Seven said.

"But it's just the opening, the wormhole itself isn't expanding." B'Elana said with disappointment.

"How close am I now?" Andrew asked with a little strain in his voice.

"Almost... almost... you got it. The ship could enter the wormhole right now." B'Elana said with triumph.

"But couldn't go through the wormhole." Seven interjected flatly.

"Six, tell me what you think." Andrew asked, sounding less strained.

"When a sheleiszar... I don't know the word. Reptile, has no legs..." Six said in frustration.

"Snake?" Andrew asked.

"Yes, when a snake eats an egg, the snake expands only where the egg is in his body. Can we make an egg around the ship and put it into the mouth of this giant beast?" Six asked and looked to each adult.

"We just might." B'Elana said and began to take readings.

For a moment B'Elana was working furiously then abruptly she said, "I think we can do it. Andrew, do you think that if I move the shuttlecraft, you can make the wormhole expand like an egg around us?"

"Let's try it." Andrew said and maintained his focus.

"Shuttle Aristotle calling Voyager." Seven of Nine called.

"Go ahead Aristotle, good work on expanding the opening." Janeway's voice said.

"We would like to attempt moving through the wormhole with the expansion around us." Seven of Nine said emotionlessly.

"Proceed." Janeway said with interest in her voice.

"Aristotle out." Seven of Nine said and closed the channel.

"Are you ready Andrew?" B'Elana asked.

"Yeah, let's get going... I can't hold this forever." Andrew said as sweat started beading on his face.

"Entering wormhole.... now. B'Elana said.

"How long is this going to take?" Andrew asked with effort.

"Two hours, twenty-two point four minutes at our current speed." Seven said.

"No way. There is no way I can hold this for that long, can we speed up?" Andrew asked hopefully.

"Yes, I'm going to begin increasing speed gradually. Let me know if I need to slow down or stop the increase." B'Elana said.

Long minutes passed until B'Elana said, "We are at point nine seven impulse. It's about as fast as we can go without going to warp."

"How long will it take at this speed?" Andrew asked, the sweat now flowing down his face.

"Three point two five minutes." Seven of Nine said with a note of concern.

"How long would the entire trip have taken if we started at this speed?" Andrew asked with difficulty.

"Eleven point four minutes." Seven of Nine answered.

"How long have we been traveling?" Andrew asked in a whisper.

"Thirteen point three minutes."

"Are we almost there?" Andrew spat out.

"Less than a minute." B'Elana said.

"Three... Two... One..."

And the shuttle emerged on the other side of the wormhole with the expanded bubble around them.

Andrew slumped and walked to the back of the shuttle.

Six followed and went to the replicator.

"Would you like a beverage?" Six asked in a small voice.

"Yes Six, a glass of water would be wonderful." Andrew said, panting on the cushioned chair.

"Let's turn around and get this data back to Voyager. I think Andrew just gave us a two year leap." B'Elana said with excitement.

* * * * *

Everyone on Voyager was buzzing with excitement about the possibility of taking two years off their voyage. Andrew had been back in his cabin for an hour, resting from the experience when the door chime rang.

"Come." Andrew said tiredly from the couch.

Six poked his head in the door, unsure of his welcome.

"Come in Six. Tell me how you're doing." Andrew said with a genuine smile.

"I have written my account of the experience of traveling through the wormhole. I thought you might like to read it before I show the others." Six said bravely and held out the padd.

"Thanks Six." Andrew said as he looked over the writing.

He looked up from the padd with wide eyes and said, "Six, this is really good. May I have a copy of it for myself?"

A look of actual joy crossed Six's face and he pressed a few buttons on the padd.

"You may have this one. I have just uploaded a copy to the cargo bay where we will regenerate." Six said happily.

"Thank you Six. You did an excellent job." Andrew said with a smile.

Six bounced up and ran for the door. "I'm going to give it to the other children now." he said happily.

[I hope they can understand.] Andrew thought as a furrow of worry creased his brow.

* * * * *

::Two of Seven to Andrew:: sounded over the comm.

"Go ahead." Andrew said, sitting up straighter.

"You stated that you could give me advice when I was unsure of an appropriate action regarding the children. Six of Seven just submitted a report to me that is inadequate and asked that I distribute it to the rest of the children." Two said with uncertainty.

"Have you discussed this with Six?" Andrew asked, hoping he hadn't.

"No. I've just completed reading the report and am unsure of the proper response." Two replied.

"Could you come to my cabin. I think I may be able to help." Andrew said with relief.

"On my way. Two out."

"Andrew to Seven of Nine." Andrew said as he walked to his computer.

"Yes Mr. Wells, may I be of assistance?" Seven answered promptly.

"Yes Seven, could you please upload your report on our trip through the wormhole with all the technical data." Andrew asked hopefully.

"Of course... you should have it now." Seven said immediately.

"Thank you Seven, I have it. Andrew out."

A moment later there was a chime at the door.

"Come." Andrew said and walked back into the living area.

Two walked in with a look of concern.

"I'd like for you to read something before we discuss Six's report." Andrew said and motioned to the computer.

Two walked to the computer and read intently for a few minutes before saying, "This report is precise and complete."

"And how do you think Seven of Nine felt as we entered the wormhole?" Andrew asked.

"I do not understand." Two said in confusion.

"After reading her report, how do you think Seven of Nine felt as we took the shuttlecraft into the wormhole?" Andrew asked calmly.

"I do not know. There were no references to feelings, therefore I must conclude that they were extraneous and not worthy of note." Two answered efficiently.

"And how do you think Six felt as we entered the wormhole?" Andrew asked, hoping Two would get it right.

"He was afraid, and worried for you." Two said immediately.

"How do you know?" Andrew asked hopefully.

"His report spoke of his anxiety and feeling of concern." Two said with confusion.

"What I'm trying to get you to see is that Six's report is an accounting of his *experience* during the trip, not a collection of data compiled during the trip. The purpose of Six's report was not informative as much as inspirational. By reading his report, you should have a better understanding of what it was like to be there and actually fly through a wormhole." Andrew said with a note of desperation.

"So his report is not inadequate. His report fulfilled the purpose for which it was intended, not the purpose I intended." Two said in realization.

"Yes. This was the reason I wanted Six to be included on the mission. It would be impractical to take all six of you on that mission, but by taking Six, he could relay his observations and you could share the experience." Andrew said with relief.

"I believe I understand. I will return to the Sickbay and reread the report with this new information in mind." Two said seriously.

"I have a copy right here. I'd like to hear what you think as you read it... if you don't mind?" Andrew asked.

Two accepted the padd from Andrew and began to read.

"He was frightened because the shuttlecraft was so small, and when the wormhole began to expand... 'it was like a mouth opening in preparation of ingesting nourishment... us'." Two read in a voice of wonder.

"Go on." Andrew said with a happy smile.

"He speaks of a feeling 'like the vibration of a misaligned occipital implant', but in his stomach." Two said and nodded, then continued, "That is the fluttering of fear."

"Yes, he wasn't the only one feeling that." Andrew said, feeling that something wonderful was happening right before him.

"Upon successful completion of the mission, the feeling was like having the electrolytes replenished in his system after days of inadequate regeneration." Two said in wonder.

"Yeah, it was a relief to me too." Andrew said and laid his head back on the couch.

"I will distribute this to the others... after I explain its purpose to them." Two said decisively.

"Good. And make sure that you tell Six what you think of his writing. It is important for a journalist to receive feedback if he is to improve." Andrew said and sat back up in his seat.

"Yes, thank you Andrew. You have been most helpful." Two said and walked to the door.

"I'm glad to help Two." Andrew said with a smile.

"Oh yes... You were right about the need for looser clothing." Two said and quickly walked out the door.

Andrew sat stunned for a moment before breaking up into uncontrollable laughter.

To Be Continued...