Title: Interlude VIII Author: Jemima Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Series: VOY Part: 17/19 Rating: PG Codes: crew Summary: This is an interlude in "The Museum", a series of AU stories within one larger story. In this Interlude, Neelix pesters Chakotay again, Seven visits the EMH, and Tuvok visits Janeway again. Disclaimer: I took these characters from an alternate universe without copyright laws. Mwhahahaha!
Neelix stood behind the mess hall counter, serving dishes that had been replicated on the planet's surface, or that he'd made from replicated ingredients. The crew aboard Voyager needed to eat. About half the crew was down at the museum at any particular time, which made mealtimes aboard Voyager quiet, relaxed affairs. The cook had tried a variety of experimental dishes over the past few weeks.
Chakotay took a bit of each of the evening's experiments and sat down at the first empty table he came to. Neelix recognized the haunted look his volunteers bore for the first few hours after their instantaneous multi-year shore leaves. He approached the Commander carefully.
"How was it?" Neelix asked as he sat down at Chakotay's table, angling himself to keep an eye on the mess line. He was always ready to collect information for Tom's pool - being ship's gossip was a 24-hour-a-day job.
"It was the same old story - oaths and protocols from the other side of the galaxy making two people very unhappy."
Neelix, fascinated though he was, still had one eye on the nearby mess line. He saw the Captain, who had come in a moment before, freeze in her tracks and hover over the punch bowl. She must have heard them.
"But?" the Talaxian prompted his companion.
"But some things can't be helped - sometimes you have to do the right thing, even though it's the worst thing you could do," he said. "At least, *you* seemed to think so, there."
Neelix watched as the Captain roused herself and escaped the mess hall with a token piece of fruit. "That sounds like quite a story, Commander," he said, turning his attention back to him. "Tell me more."
A notorious ex-drone strode into Sickbay. "Doctor," she said.
"Seven," the Doctor replied with more than his usual enthusiasm, "how can I help you?"
"I wish to discuss a private matter with you." Seven eyed Tom, who was running a cortical scan on Ayala.
"Step into my office," the EMH urged her. Safe behind the glass walls, he asked, "It's about the Mobius band, isn't it?"
"In a manner of speaking," Seven replied.
The Doctor paled visibly and shook his head. "Do you still miss the Collective?"
"The Borg have no regrets," she said dismissively.
"I expect not," he replied. It disturbed the Doctor to see his once promising student applying her old social lessons with this new cold exactitude.
"I wish to inform you of my affiliation with Harry Kim," Seven declared.
"Shall I be more explicit?" she offered, with what the EMH tried to believe was her old subtle charm.
"No, that won't be necessary, Seven." On one point, though, he couldn't suppress his curiosity: "But tell me, how did you choose Harry?"
"I based my decision on data from Lieutenant Paris' betting pool."
"What?" The Doctor recovered immediately from his outburst, and rephrased his question, "Does Ensign Kim know?"
"I have explained my reasoning to Harry."
It was too late to turn back now. "Please, explain it to me," he said.
"Mr. Paris is compiling information on the various alternate universes which the crew have seen using the Mobius band."
The Doctor nodded. He had suspected as much when Tom questioned him about his own adventure, but he'd been too busy reintegrating his own subroutines to pay attention to shipboard follies like the betting pools.
"In 39 of the known universes, I was affiliated with Ensign Kim," Seven explained. "In eleven, you and I had an affiliation. In two, Lieutenant Chapman and I were involved briefly."
"Seven," the Doctor interrupted, "how did you get this information? I'm sure Tom is keeping it secret until the pool ends."
"The pool is irrelevant," Seven said curtly. "I required the information, so I obtained it from the main computer."
The EMH let that pass. "What happened in the other thirty universes?"
"I was Borg in most of them."
"You're not the only one." He'd seen quite a few post-Collective cases; none so hard as Seven herself, however.
Her method wasn't so surprising, when he thought about it. The opinions of eighty-odd Sevens of Nine held great weight with her - much more than the opinions of the same number of local crewmates. If the other Sevens chose Harry Kim, this Seven would too.
Thus the Doctor ceded the field to the majority.
Five days later, the security chief brought a proposal to Captain Janeway.
"Tuvok." He was getting to be a regular visitor to her ready-room. "What's on your mind?"
"I believe I should try the Mobius band again. I did not suffer any adverse reactions on my first attempt, and the Doctor confirms that my neural pathways were nearly unaffected by the experience."
"No, Tuvok. It's not worth the risk."
"Compared to the potential benefit, the risk is minor."
"I disagree. There is no potential benefit."
"Why is that, Captain?"
"A hundred and thirteen crewmen have tried the Mobius band - every volunteer has had a chance at it. They represented a myriad of ages, species, cultures and educational backgrounds. Not a single one of them came out of the experience with useful technical information. I must conclude that the outcome is not due to chance; rather, the object must have been designed to conceal exactly the information we want. There's no point to your trying again."
"I see. However, there is scientific knowledge to be gained in our own universe as well, such as what happens, exactly, when someone makes a second attempt."
Yes, they were all curious about that. Tuvok hadn't been the first to request a second try, but he was the first to do so for purely scientific reasons - if his purpose was indeed as dispassionate as he claimed. She would never have doubted his Vulcan impassivity if they hadn't stumbled across this planet. Now she found herself mistrusting him, and that was hardly the most disturbing of her rearranged emotions.
"Sorry, Tuvok. Thank you for volunteering, but I can't let you take the risk."
He took her decision with his usual good grace, or so she thought at the time.