Hurt & Comfort

Book 4: The Well of Hurt

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Chapter 18: An Empty Glass in the Ocean

"It's almost twelve hundred hours. We'd better get out of bed and get dressed." Alan said in a dreamy tone.

"It's so great to have the kids around. I can't believe what was missing from my life before they came along. If we get back to the mansion, we've got to spend more time with the kids, story time was just the tip of the iceberg." Andrew said honestly.

"I know love, I feel the same way... but if we get back to the mansion, I don't want to leave these kids here..." Alan trailed off.

"I know what your saying, and I'm thinking the same thing. If no one objects, I want to adopt them all." Andrew said with a smile.

"Chakotay could tell us what we need to do." Alan said informatively.

"Okay. You go set up an appointment to talk with Chakotay while I go to the bathroom." Andrew said and hefted himself off the bed.

"I love you." Alan said with tenderness.

"I love you too. Now go call Chakotay while I pee." Andrew said and walked into the bathroom.

Alan pulled on a robe and walked to the workstation in the main room.

"Crewman Summers to Commander Chakotay." Alan said to the computer.

::ON BRIDGE:: flashed on his computer screen.

"Oh, um... Computer. Text message for Commander Chakotay, reads as follows: Would like to discuss children when you have time. Please contact me when you are available to meet. Thank you. Alan. End of text." he said brokenly into the computer.

::Message Sent:: appeared on the screen.

Then Alan thought of something and quickly said, "Computer. Text message for Crewman Three, reads as follows: The children will be meeting in our cabin today after 12:00. You are invited to join us if you like. Hope you had a good first day at work. Alan. End of text."

::Message Sent:: appeared a second time on the screen.

Alan got up from the computer when he heard a beep and looked down to see a message for him.

>I'll stop by your cabin between 12:30 and 13:30 during my lunch break.
>Tom will be with me.

"Did you get ahold of him?" Andrew asked as he walked into the main room, also wearing a robe.

"Yeah, he and Tom will be here sometime between 12:30 and 1:30 while they're on lunch. And I sent a message to Three, inviting him over today." Alan said and moved in for a kiss.

After a long passionate kiss Andrew finally broke loose and said, "We'd better get dressed before the kids get here."

"I know. Love you." Alan said and moved back in for another kiss.

The door chime interrupted their kiss and they looked at each other in question.

"If we're thinking about adopting them, we'd better get used to that." Alan said with a smile and made sure his robe was closed before saying, "Come in."

* * * * *

Three of Seven walked from his post in engineering feeling good about his first day at work. After an explanation of his duties from Lieutenant Torres he had begun working his way through the ship inspecting and, if need be, replacing bioneural gelpacks. The shift had seemed to end too soon.

He made his way down the hallway and noticed people staring at him then looking away. It had been the same all morning. Whenever he had encountered a crewmember, they would avoid eye contact and hurridly move away.

He noticed a blur standing in the hallway and adjusted his ocular implant to scan for phase variances. Within a minute it had locked on and resolved the image of Crewman Winger standing, looking lost.

Three remembered how this man had insulted the children and threatened Alan, and was filled with disgust. [This man is unworthy of his children.] he thought to himself. Then a flash of inspiration came upon him.

* * * * *

"Come on in." Alan said and stepped aside to allow the children to enter.

"Did we interrupt your intercourse?" Icheb asked with concern.

Andrew ran into the bedroom while Alan stood there blushing trying to think of what to say. Finally he said, "No Icheb. We were just getting ready to get dressed when you arrived. Remind me when I get back to discuss something called tact."

Icheb nodded and Alan said to the group. "I'll be back in a minute, make yourselves comfortable."

Then Alan hurridly left the room. When the bedroom door opened, gales of laughter could be heard coming from Andrew.

* * * * *

Three walked into his cabin and walked to the workstation in the main room. He saw a text message waiting for him inviting him to join the other children in Andrew and Alan's quarters after Twelve hundred hours today. He thought about that and pressed some buttons on the personal data node on his chest.

"Computer: Interface with personal data node of Three of Seven, use program 'Seven of Nine Borg to Starfleet interpreter' to locate and translate ocular image file 43986. Save image under name 'Awaken' in my personal file." Three said and felt the computer interact with his personal processor. When the interaction was complete, he walked into his room.

"Image found and translated. One file created." The computer responded.

"Computer: When is the next available time on the holodeck?" Three asked and began to take off his Starfleet uniform.

"Next available holodeck time is at thirteen hundred hours on holodeck two." the computer responded.

Three began putting on his Borg clothing and said, "Reserve holodeck two from thirteen hundred to thirteen thirty hours for Crewman Three.

"Reservation Complete: Thirteen Hundred to Thirteen Thirty Hours for Crewman Three." the computer said emotionlessly.

"Create a holodeck simulation based on static image "Awaken". Three said and activated his sub-vocal modulator.

"Holodeck Simulation created, what filename would you like to save it under." the computer asked.

Three thought for just a second, then said in his modulated Borg whisper voice, "Save file under name 'Awaken Winger'."

"One File created." Was the computer's response.

"At thirteen hundred hours run simulation 'Awaken Winger' on holodeck two, adjust environmental controls to mimic the conditions on a Borg cube." Three said as he adjusted his subvocal modulator to the proper frequency to be heard in the phase varient state that Winger was in.

Three took a moment to look in his mirror, then left his cabin to find Winger again.

* * * * *

Andrew and Alan both walked out of the bedroom to find the twins sitting at the workstation and Icheb sitting on the couch talking to Seven.

Jimmy was sitting on the other end of the couch, immersed in a data padd.

"Okay, we're back." Alan said, still feeling the blush in his face.

"You wanted to discuss tact." Icheb said to Alan then said to Seven, "She was not invited. It would be wrong to ask."

"What are you talking about Icheb?" Alan asked and sat on the loveseat.

"Seven... Janine, wants to invite Naomi Wildman, and I was telling her it would be impolite to invite someone to visit another person's cabin without permission." Icheb said to both Alan and Janine.

"Icheb is correct, that would be impolite and wrong. So to fix that, I give my permission for you to invite Naomi Wildman over to visit." Alan said and relaxed back on the couch.

"Thank you Alan." Janine said as she jumped up on the couch to give him a kiss.

"You're very welcome Janine." Alan said with a smile as he watched her jump back down and run to the workstation.

"Icheb, before we have our discussion about tact, I'd like to ask your opinion on something." Alan began.

* * * * *

The ship still seemed to be tipping and Winger couldn't keep his balance. He walked up and down the hallway, unseen by all. [Am I dead?] he wondered, horrified at the prospect of being a ghost, forced to walk the hallways of Voyager for eternity.

"Crewman Winger." he heard in a familiar voice that came from his worst nightmares. It was the computerized modulated whisper-voice of the Borg.

Winger turned to see a single Borg drone.

"Are you going to assimilate me?" he asked in a frightened voice.

"You are unworthy of assimilation." the Borg said with a note of disgust.

"What do you want?" Winger asked, barely able to force out the words.

"Follow." the Borg said and slowly began to walk.

Winger watched as the Borg took a step away, then turned back to him and said, "Comply."

Winger forced himself to move and followed the Borg into a turbolift. After pressing a few buttons the Borg became still, his gaze fixed on the doors.

When they left the turbolift, they walked to a crew cabin.

"Enter." the drone said and stood aside.

Winger looked with fear at the door and tried to force himself to go through.

"Comply." the Borg said with icy venom and Winger pushed his way through the spider-web sensation and into the unknown.

* * * * *

"Icheb, Andrew and I were thinking about seeing if we could adopt all of you. What do you think of that?" Alan asked with hesitation.

"I do not understand." Icheb said with confusion.

"Adopt. To make you legally part of our family. Andrew and I would become your parents and all of you would become our children in the eyes of the law and everyone on Voyager. You wouldn't just visit us, you would live with us and be our own children." Alan said, trying to keep his emotions under control.

"We would no longer be the responsibility of Seven of Nine?" Icheb asked cautiously.

"No, legally we would be responsible for you. But I'm sure that we would be asking Seven of Nine for her help all the time." Alan said carefully.

"We are individuals now, so I cannot speak for the others." Icheb said slowly.

"Right now, I just want to know what you think. Icheb, will you be our son?"

* * * * *

Winger looked around and saw the children from the night before.

The twins were sitting in chairs at the computer with Andrew standing behind them, pointing at something on the screen.

The little girl was sitting and playing a game with Naomi Wildman on the floor.

There was a young boy writing on a padd, sitting at one end of the couch and an older boy sitting at the other end talking to Alan who was sitting in the love seat.

He noticed when everyone turned their attention to the three at the computer workstation.

Andrew was laughing and the twins were pointing at each other, obviously trying to assign blame for something.

Winger looked around again to see everyone laughing, then Andrew hugged both the twins at once.

The door opened behind him and he saw the drone step inside.

"Follow." the drone said and stepped back out the door.

Winger turned and walked back into the hallway.

* * * * *

Everyone in the room looked up as Three walked into the cabin and said in a Borg modulated-whisper voice, "Follow." then turned and left.

Andrew called on his inner sight and could see Three and Winger walking down the hallway and toward the turbolift.

"Three was talking to Crewman Winger. Give me a minute to find out what's going on." Andrew said and maintained his focus on the two.

* * * * *

Three led Winger through the ship and into a holodeck, holodeck two.

When they walked in he could tell that they were in a Borg cube. It was deadly still and there were Borg bodies laying everywhere, not one of them moving.

"The girl." the Borg drone said and pointed to a Borg drone that was female and not more than five years old.

"The twins." He said and motioned to the two boys who had been trying to cast blame then laughing with Andrew, laying motionless... dead in the floor.

"The others." the Borg said and pointed to an older and a younger boy laying side by side... not moving... not breathing.

"Does this bring you pleasure? Is this the reality you prefer?" the Borg said and left Winger standing alone in the dim silent holodeck.

* * * * *

Andrew had been sitting quietly for minutes, his eyes unfocused.

Without warning he began to laugh.

"Don't worry about Winger. Three's taking care of him... I think I'll give him a little help to drive his point home." Andrew said with a chuckle.

"Be careful love." Alan said with a smile.

"I will, I promise. Love you." Andrew said and ported out of the room.

* * * * *

When the holodeck door closed, Three heard a voice from beside him.

"I never pegged you as a fan of Dickens, Three." Andrew said with a smile.

"Oh, you read that too?" Three said with a helpless smile.

"I would watch the movie every year at Christmas." Andrew said fondly.

"I thought if a man as dispicable as Ebineezer Scrooge could be rehabilitated, there might be a chance for Crewman Winger." Three said in his modulated voice with a timid look.

"Don't worry Three, I'm not upset. In fact, I'm here to help you... by the way... where did you get an image of everyone dead?" Andrew asked curiously.

"They were not dead. I was the first to awaken when the maturation chambers ejected us. They were unconscious." Three said and looked back toward the holodeck doors.

"I see it, he's crying. I think you've given him enough of a glimpse of Christmas present and past. I'm going to show him his future if he ever threatens my partner or my kids again." Andrew said with steel.

"May I watch?" Three asked in what would have been a timid voice if not for the sub-vocal modulator.

"Yes. I'll need to phase us like him for this to work. I'm going to take us someplace where we would be killed instantly if we weren't phased." Andrew said and they both felt the ship seem to tip and go faded and fuzzy.

"Say nothing." Andrew said and moved a portal over them both.

* * * * *

Tom and Chakotay entered the cabin to find everyone talking at once.

"Alan, what's going on?" Chakotay asked as Janine ran up to him.

"First, I think Seven of Seven wants to know if you can officially change her name to Janine." Alan said.

"Of course. Janine is a beautiful name." Chakotay said and picked Janine up to hold her on his side.

"Thank you. Naomi's mother and Neelix said it was too." Janine said proudly.

Naomi ran to Tom and put her arms up, wanting to be held like Janine.

Tom immediately picked her up and gave her a gentle hug.

"So what else is going on... and where is Andrew?" Chakotay asked the group.

* * * * *

Winger jumped at the sudden appearance of Andrew, behind him stood the Borg drone.

Andrew held up his hand and pointed past Winger to a swirling vortex.

"You can't mean for me to go in there." Winger said fearfully.

A blaze of golden light erupted from Andrew's eyes and he pointed again.

"Okay, okay." Winger said and walked shakily into the portal.

Andrew and Three followed close behind, remaining silent.

They emerged in a hellish place. It was frozen and desolate... nothing lived there... nothing had ever lived there.

"What, are you saying you're going to leave me here?" Winger asked in panic.

Andrew and Three didn't move a muscle, they remained focused on Winger who was trembling visibly.

"You can't do that... I didn't hurt no one. I just got drunk and spouted off." Winger began to whine.

A look of fury came over Andrew's face. Winger felt the cold of their surroundings and noticed that Andrew and Three were fading out of existance.

"Okay. I know I hurt the kids feelings. And I'm sorry for that. I don't wish they were dead. I never really wished that. They were just words." Winger said desperately.

Andrew and Three became substantial again and looked silently at Winger, obviously waiting for more.

"I won't do it again. Alan was right. Kids are special and precious. I miss my own and was just sour because you got to be with yours and I don't get to be with mine." Winger explained.

Andrew remained silent and still.

"What do you want? You want me to promise I'll never talk to you again?" Winger asked desperately.

Andrew slowly shook his head keeping his gaze fixed on Winger.

"Just tell me what you want... whatever it is, you got it." Winger said as tears began to fall again.

Andrew raised his right hand and pointed at two open portals, side by side.

Through the first they could clearly see into the cabin where the children were talking and laughing with Alan. Tom and Chakotay were there too, each was holding a little girl and laughing.

Through the second portal was the unchanging image of the Borg cube. Dim light, silence, and the dead bodies of children littering the floor.

Andrew moved his hand again to point at the two portals.

"Yeah, I got to make a choice. I ain't stupid!" Winger said and walked through the portal into the cabin filled with laughing children.

* * * * *

Chakotay jumped when Crewman Winger, Andrew and Three walked into the room through a seemingly solid wall.

Winger looked around in surprise and asked quietly, "Am I alive?"

"Yes Winger. You're alive. Now sit down before you fall down." Andrew said in an almost hospitable tone.

"You can call me Dave." Winger said, looking ashamed.

"Okay Dave." Andrew said in a softer tone. "Why don't you sit down and enjoy some time with the family."

"Thanks." Winger said in a near whisper.

Chakotay led Tom and Andrew to the other side of the room and asked, "What did you do to him?"

"Three decided that he needed to see his words come to life. He showed Crewman Winger an image of all the children, still fully Borg and dead... I'm so proud of him. He could have done so many things, but he chose to give Winger a chance to make up for what he said last night." Andrew said and cast a look of pride at Three.

"Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?" Chakotay asked.

"No, actually Alan and I want to adopt the children... all of them. We wanted to know what we would have to do to make that happen." Andrew said in a serious tone.

"All of them?" Chakotay asked and looked around the room.

By the time he looked back to Andrew he had a tender smile on his face and said, "You've already adopted them in everything but name haven't you?"

"Yeah, it snuck up on us too. We love them all and Dave's words at the party last night was all it took to make us realize that we want them to be our children in every possible way." Andrew said with a look full of love.

"To tell you the truth, I don't know the Starfleet codes on adoption off the top of my head, so I'll have to do a little research to find out what we have to do. But just so you know, I'll back you all the way." Chakotay said with a smile.

"Me too." Tom said and looked around the room again at the happy children.

* * * * *

"Dave?" Icheb asked cautiously.

"Yes?" Winger responded.

"Do you not hate us anymore?" Icheb asked in a careful tone.

"No, I don't hate you. I just miss my own kids and seeing you with Andrew and Alan made me jealous. That made me say things I didn't mean." Winger said with appology.

"Good. I'm glad you don't hate us. We are new here and do not know many people." Icheb said honestly.

"Yeah, that's tough. It's always hard being in a new place. But you got good people looking out for you." Winger said with assurance.

"Yes. They love us." Icheb said simply.

"I know." Winger said and went silent.

* * * * *

"Three, I am so proud of you. What you did for Crewman Winger was wonderful." Andrew said quietly and pulled Three into a hug and kissed him on the top of his head.

"Thank you Andrew. My Borg enhancements improve my hearing... do you want to adopt me?" Three asked from the embrace, turning his head so his ocular implant wouldn't press into Andrew's chest.

"Yes. We want you to be our son. But only if you want to be. I know you have been ordered to comply with our instructions, but this is a decision you have to make for yourself. Decide what will make you happy and we'll do our best to make it happen." Andrew said honestly and gave one final squeeze before releasing Three.

"If I were your son, would I still be able to work in engineering?" Three asked carefully.

"As long as you're doing a good job and you still want to, yes." Andrew said and looked seriously into Three's visible eye.

"I must think about this." Three said hesitantly.

"Take all the time you need. If you have any questions you can ask me, Alan, Tom or Chakotay." Andrew said with assurance.

"Thank you." Three said with honest thanks in his voice.

* * * * *

"Jimmy, I have a job for you." Alan said abruptly.

Jimmy looked up from his data padd at Alan questioningly.

"Could you write a paragraph or two describing the location of our wedding, but write it for non-Borg crewmembers?" Alan asked from the loveseat.

"Explain." Jimmy said cautiously.

"I have read your writing and it is perfect for the audience that you have now. But I wondered if you could write something for a non-Borg audience. In one of your writings you described relief as the sensation of having your electrolytes replenished after days of inadequate regeneration. Naomi Wildman or her mother wouldn't know what that feels like and would not understand what you mean. You might convey the same feeling by saying... like taking a drink of cold water after a long dry day at work, or like the summer rain on your face after walking a long dusty trail. Those are things that other members of the crew can identify with." Alan said carefully.

"I could try." Jimmy said in a considering tone.

"Good. Let me see it when you're done." Alan said and turned his attention to Andrew and the twins back at the computer.

* * * * *

"Jimmy is a writer?" Dave asked in confirmation.

"Yes. Jimmy observes things and relays his experiences to the rest of us... just a moment." Icheb said and walked to Andrew.

Andrew handed Icheb a padd from beside the workstation.

"Here. This is one of the things he has written." Icheb said and handed the padd to Dave.

Dave was silent while he read. After long moments he looked up and said, "That little boy was in the shuttlecraft that expanded the wormhole?"

"Yes, Andrew believed that he would benefit from the experience and the rest of us would benefit by learning of his experience from his writing." Icheb said without emotion.

"I don't understand everything he says, but I get it. That must have been awfully scary. And it was his idea to expand the wormhole like an egg so we could take two years off our trip." Dave said as he shook his head in wonder.

"Yes. I believe it was scary. Jimmy is quite brave for one so young." Icheb said with admiration.

"If he does all that, what about the rest of you?" Dave asked and shifted to be more comfortable.

"Three works in engineering." Icheb said, then spoke to Three who was standing by the computer workstation, "Three, Dave and I are interested in knowing of your job."

Three walked to the couch and Alan shifted over in the loveseat to give him a place to sit.

"Thank you." Three said to Alan as he took the offered seat, then said to Icheb, "I have been given responsibility for maintenance and repair of the bioneural gelpacks on Voyager. I go all over the ship checking to see that they are operating at optimum efficiency and that the gelpacks remain healthy."

"That's a big job." Winger said, impressed.

"Yes, but it is within my abilities. Once I have completed my initial examination of all the gelpacks, I will institute a maintenance schedule to begin a rotation of the packs to provide optimum efficiency." Three said, happy to talk about his new job.

"I didn't know a kid your age could work in engineering." Winger said in true astonishment.

"Due to my enhancements, I have the knowledge and understanding that allows me to perform the job as efficiently as an adult." Three said, making sure not to use the word 'superior'.

"It's still a big job for a kid. If you work in engineering, you must have a different schedule from the rest of the children... engineering mostly work Gamma shift don't they?" Dave asked with true interest.

"Yes, I am currently scheduled between Gamma and Alpha shift working half of each. My schedule is different, but I reside independently from the others." Three said with a bit of pride.

"He is currently sharing quarters with Harry Kim." Icheb said.

"So Ensign Kim is your guardian?" Dave asked in confusion.

"He is my roommate. Seven of Nine is technically my guardian, but is allowing me to live independently on a trial basis." Three said without emotion.

* * * * *

"Here it is." Jimmy said and handed his padd to Alan.

After reading the padd for a moment, he said, "Very good Jimmy. This is just what I wanted."

"Icheb, could you come here for a moment?" Alan asked as he stood.

"How may I be of assistance?" Icheb asked as he also stood.

"Come over here by the bedroom door and read this outloud to the group of people in this room." Alan said and handed Icheb the padd.

Icheb took the padd and moved to the indicated position.

"The sky was gray but without menace. The smell of moisture was in the air and the wind could be heard in the tops of the trees. Gentle rain began to fall against the tent canvas like little toes running across a bare floor. As the rain fell harder, the smell of nourished earth rose up and reminded us of the purpose of the day... growth and renewal. The rain stopped and the sun shown. The light glistened on the grass like crystal shards shattered as far as the eye could see. And the sky filled with all the hues of color known to be." Icheb said, enthralled by the description.

"Thank you Icheb. What did everyone think?" Alan asked as the group were stunned.

"It was beautiful." Dave said in wonder.

"I couldn't say it better." Andrew said with a smile.

"Icheb, the reason I asked you to read this is because I may have found a job for you and Jimmy." Alan said with pride.

"What would we be doing?" Icheb asked curiously.

"Neelix has a weekly news broadcast. I've talked to him about allowing you to do one story each week. Jimmy is an excellent writer, and I think you would be the perfect one to read his writing to the crew." Alan said honestly.

"Why would he not read it himself?" Icheb asked in confusion.

Everyone in the room looked to Alan, wanting the answer to that question.

"Because I am young." Jimmy said in acceptance, "Only very special people can listen to someone my age and hear what is said. Most would believe my thoughts to be unimportant or cute."

"Exactly right." Alan said sadly. "Icheb has a good speaking voice and will be able to catch the attention of the crew."

"It is good." Jimmy said and smiled.

"I thought you would like it. You get to write, your writing gets to be experienced by everyone on the ship. And you don't have to get in front of a camera once a week to deliver it." Alan said simply.

"You guys really are a family." Winger said with a smile.

"Yes Dave, and you're welcomed to share in our family if you want. How would you like to be the children's Uncle Dave?" Andrew asked.

Winger looked around the group of children, seeing the hope in all their eyes.

"Uncle Dave it is." Winger said with a smile.

"Good. It's settled then. Uncle Dave, come with me for a minute." Andrew said and walked toward the door.

Winger hesitantly got off the couch and followed.

To Be Continued...