Neelix bustled around the nearly deserted mess hall. The busiest meal times of the day had passed, and he might have a few late shift stragglers, but nothing to keep the food out for. His one remaining customer wasn't eating; he was hunched over a cold bowl of soup, staring into it like there was something of great interest in the broth. But the young man's face indicated he'd like to drown in it, and his posture was barely holding him above it. Neelix finished wiping down the last down sticky table, and dropped his damp cloth on it. As casually as possible, he sidled over to the one occupied table. He smiled down at the bent head.
"You're up late," Neelix ventured, with the inquiring tone that usually elicited a response, whether a harsh command to leave, or the immediate sharing of thoughts and troubles.
"Oh, hi Neelix," Harry Kim raised his head. "I'm sorry, am I in your way?"
"No," Neelix quickly reassured, unobtrusively planting himself in the chair opposite Harry. "I was just concerned. You didn't eat your soup, and you looked, if I'm not mistaken, a bit troubled."
Harry smiled just a little. "I didn't eat the soup because I know Tom had a hand in making it."
Guilt flashed across Neelix's face. Harry's smile grew a bit more, as Neelix struggled to deny any wrongdoing on Tom's part.
"It's okay, Neelix. I'm not going to tell on him. You should have seen him when he told me. He was absolutely giddy."
Neelix relaxed. "It would be nice to see Tom happy," he mused. At that, Neelix noticed the brief smile on Harry's face drop completely. "Are you troubled over Tom?"
Harry looked back up from the soup bowl, which had attracted his gaze yet again.
"Tom? No. Which is a good thing, actually. I like it when I don't have to worry that someone's going to kill him."
Neelix nodded in agreement, disturbed that Harry meant the word kill literally. Harry seemed inclined to continue speaking, without anymore prodding.
"Maybe you can help me, Neelix."
"I'll do my best, Harry," Neelix offered instantly. A moment later, "With what?"
Harry sighed, distractedly stirring the cold soup. "My troubles. But they aren't just mine; they belong to the whole ship. I know you know nearly everything that happens on the ship."
"Well, I am the Morale Officer," Neelix paused for a moment. "What little morale there is."
"You've done a fine job with morale, Neelix, considering what you have to work with." Harry met Neelix's eyes. "Do you think you could tell if part of the crew were up to something?"
"Up to what?"
"Something harmful to the ship. What, I don't know!"
Neelix leaned closer to Harry. "What makes you think that something's up?"
"When Voyager started her journey, the Maquis and the Federation couldn't look at each other without starting a brawl. Now? There hasn't been so much as a fistfight in a few months. The Maquis don't forgive and they never forget, so why would they stop? Unless they have something else on their minds."
"Maybe they got tired of Captain Janeway putting them in the brig," Neelix offered weakly. "Or maybe they realized that fighting wasn't going to bring them home any faster. I think you might be seeing something where there's nothing," Neelix finished gently.
"I hope your right, Neelix. One of the Academy instructors told me once, that as dangerous a person is when they're fighting, they're twice as dangerous when they're not fighting: Because they're plotting what they're going to do the next time they're fighting. I can't get that saying or this feeling out of my head."
"What are you going to do?" asked Neelix.
"For now, hope that I'm wrong," Harry said. "I'm just keeping a close eye on anything out of the ordinary. Tom keeps the closest watch over the Maquis, for his own safety. He'll know if I'm just being paranoid. I'll ask him tomorrow."
Harry rose. He placed a hand on Neelix's shoulder. "Thanks for listening, Neelix. Even if you don't believe me, I think I've sorted out some things in my own head. Goodnight."
"Goodnight," Neelix called belatedly to the back of Harry's head. Neelix picked up the tray and carried it back to the kitchen. Kim's worrying words had ruined what had been a decent day. As he disposed of Tom's special stew, he found himself getting lost in disturbing thoughts provoked by Harry's possibilities.
Neelix wasn't any delusions that certain people on Voyager liked certain other people on the ship. The mess hall had certainly been home to more than a few of the Maquis-Starfleet conflicts. Those had ceased a while ago, but the mess hall was still ground zero for Maquis-Starfleet interaction. He'd been privy to some of the nastiest looks he'd ever seen, tossed across the room or passed slowly and purposefully while standing in line. At crowded times, there was a bit more jostling that required. He more than occasionally heard muttered complaints about Starfleet protocol. But he could not see what Harry saw so clearly. Maquis and Starfleet crewmembers eventually sat together during meal times. Although he wasn't always within hearing range, the conversations didn't look like an exchange of death threats. Just last week, the Commander and Captain had dinner together. It looked enjoyable: The Captain doing most of the talking, the Commander occasionally interjecting.
They'd stayed for an hour or more, the Commander smiling, sitting back in the chair, his elbow on the armrest and his fingers rhythmically rubbing his temple the entire time.
Part 4 | Index page