by E. L. Zimmerman


Irritated, B'Elanna Torres yanked down the black sleeves around her wrists. For whatever reason, they always seemed to gather slowly up her forearm, and she found it terribly annoying. Increasingly annoying. After satisfied that her sleeves had been dealt with, then she turned her attention to tugging at the elastic collar of these damned, uncomfortable Starfleet uniform undershirts. To be honest, she much preferred the Class III maintenance-utility wear ... the overalls that Chakotay constantly reminded her weren't 'acceptable ship's attire' outside Engineering.

"Frankly, I've never seen everyone so ... edgy," she quipped. "I can appreciate the Captain's decision, but I don't have to like it."

"Agreed," Harry Kim said.

"Agreed," Garfield Meyers said.

My idea of relaxation," B'Elanna continued, "is spending quality time with a tricorder while curled up inside a Jefferies Tube. I could be double-checking the power distribution scans or replacing those silly gel packs littering the entire ship."

Alongside Meyers and Kim, she marched toward the main shuttle bay, the trio assigned to remain onboard until tomorrow's wave of crewmembers would be granted shore leave on the Rintellan surface. In the meantime, they had graciously volunteered, as a favor to Captain Janeway, to coordinate the shuttlecraft departures of their fellow shipmates.

"Are we absolutely sure this planet is safe, Starfleet?" she asked Harry. "I would think the inability to beam through the planet's satellite network might be a cause for alarm. I mean, what is there is some kind of planetary emergency? How are we to get our people out safely in time?"

His eyes focused forward, Harry kept walking in stride with the others. "From the scans, I've been able to identify that the satellites emit some sort of high energy dampening field. We've never stumbled across anything like it before in the Delta Quadrant. The net inhibits the radiation leaking from those nearby decimated planets we passed to spread across open space and drift down to the Rintellan surface. According to Brall'tor ... well, that is, if I understood him correctly ... before the net was launched into orbit, thousands of Rintellans died slowly from radiation poisoning."

"Those poor people," Garfield reflected, "dying from a war that they didn't even wage."

Quickly, B'Elanna corrected, "We don't know that."

Harry shrugged, uncertain whether or not any explanation would appease the agitated B'Elanna Torres at this point. "Granted, the field is projected at a fairly high amplitude. Their emitters are focused out into hundreds of directions, meaning that some of the energy dispersed is inadvertently being shot into deep space. Their entire set-up isn't exactly what I'd call efficient. As a matter of fact, I picked up residual traces of the field five light years away. As a matter of fact, it was only when I backtracked the pulse that I found the planet. Otherwise, due to the high dispersal of energy, Rintella might not have even appeared on our long-range sensors as a planet, instead of a sort of gaseous anomaly."

Dismissive, Harry concluded, "I don't know much, but I can tell that the field would inhibit our transporters. So, to answer your original question, the Rintellan frequency would literally shatter cause transporter signatures like glass. The signals would lose recoverable cohesion."

"Hmmm," B'Elanna smirked. "Sounds more like permanent shore leave to me."

"Shuttling is the safest alternative," the ensign concluded.

Nodding, the half-Klingon, half-human woman walked on. "You sure have done your homework, Starfleet. Look. I know we're stressed. We're all stressed! Close quarters can drive even the best of us a little crazy ... but I think the attitude on this ship is ridiculous. I'm even using all of my energy reserves to keep it together!" She inclined her head toward them. "Between the three of us, if Tom Paris doesn't mind his own business, stay on the bridge, steer clear of engineering, and stop belittling my efficiency ratings, he's bound to end up with more than his ego bruised, compliments of yours truly."

"Like Commander Chakotay says, B'Elanna, we can all use some good old-fashioned R&R," Harry reasoned, "regardless of the circumstances."

"Harry!" they all heard shouted from behind them, down the corridor.

The trio stopped as Ensign Ishanti came running up the corridor. "Harry, do you have a minute?"


Her name flowed like a lyric through Harry Kim's mind. He found her stunningly beautiful, with waist-length, curling, brunette hair. Her brown eyes were deep, penetrating, and magnetic. Like all Zell, Ishanti had three tiny ridges of raised cartilage cheek-lines on each side of her face. Those lines started at her ears and stretched down, like advertising, to Ishanti's broad red, glistening lips. She smiled at him, and his heart leapt. Smiling back, Harry waved off B'Elanna and Garfield. This was a conversation he would rather have alone.

"I'll catch up in the shuttle bay."

"Don't be late, Starfleet," B'Elanna teased, grinning. "We can use the extra hands."

"I'll be there shortly, lieutenant."

As soon as B'Elanna and Meyers were gone, Ishanti leaned forward. "Well, is this it?

"Is this what?"

"Silly!" she joked, tapping him on the jaw. "Is this it? Is Rintella our new home?"

Harry frowned. "Ishanti, what I have told you?" He reached out and took her hands in his. They had grown closer over the last few weeks, but Harry had realized that their friendship had left him wanting more. He and Ishanti had met in the mess hall, and, regularly, they dined with a group of other ensigns. But ... she had yet to accept a dinner invitation solo.

Still, Ishanti was a Zell. A lone Zell. As of late, she had developed a tendency to ... touch ... those within her close circle of friends. Not in any way offensive or intrusive. Graciously, she would grasp a dangling hand. Sympathetically, she would lay her hand across an available forearm on the dinner table. From his Xenobiology classes at the Academy, Harry remembered that the Zell were psychologically 'stabilized' or 'centered' when traveling in pairs ... a luxury Ishanti didn't have here in the Delta Quadrant. Consequently, he had deduced that Ishanti's predilection for touching as a means to psychologically compensate for lacking another Zell's mind to 'sense.'

'Alone psychically,' he thought, 'but she doesn't have to be alone emotionally ... or physically.'

"The Voyager isn't searching for a new home," he reminded her yet again. "We're on course back to Earth. I told you. Don't get your hopes up. You're only in for a disappointment."

"But, Harry," she tried, "we've talked about this over dinner. I thought we all agreed!"

Disappointed, he shook his head. "I haven't agreed to anything."

"Harry?" Ishanti asked, leaning even close, closer than she had ever been to him. Easily, she reached up and laid a flat hand on his chest. Slowly, she curled her fingers. Harry sensed her closeness, smelled her intoxicating perfume, studied her cheek-lines stretching to her lips ... her inviting red lips ... only inches away.

"Come on, Harry!" she whispered emphatically. "You were there! We all sat around and agreed. Captain Janeway made the wrong decision. We should be colonizing the Delta Quadrant, not abandoning it! Where's the sense in pursuing a mission that'll never end?"

Nervous, Harry looked around, ensuring that their conversation wasn't being overheard. "Ishanti, I'm sorry, but I never agreed with any of you. I simply agreed that the trip home was probably going to take a toll on us."

"Yeah," Ishanti piped bitterly, "it's going to take seventy years of our lives away from us."

"We still have our lives," Harry countered. "We can still get on with them."

"If you can call this living," she snapped, disgusted. "I, for one, don't want to waste what time I may have left in my life cramped away aboard a lonely and cold starship," she said, softening her tone, draping her hand slowly across his chest. "I say, and you know the others will agree, that if Rintella looks like the kind of place to hang our uniforms up, then we do it. We quit Voyager. It's time for us to start making a future, instead of running at warp speed for the Alpha Quadrant ... with our tail between our legs."

The nearest turbolift opened.

Quickly, Ishanti pulled away from Harry Kim as Lieutenant Tuvok stepped off the lift, Starfleet-issue satchel firmly in tow over his shoulder.

"Ensign Kim," the Vulcan offered politely, approaching the two. "And good afternoon, Ensign Ishanti."

Quickly focusing in on a new subject, Harry asked, "Heading down to the planet, Tuvok?"

"Not before congratulating the two of you on the superior work you performed in completing the maintenance of main deflector dish," Tuvok offered. "Your extravehicular activity lasted longer than expected, but sensors and defensive shields are fully functional once more thanks to your good work." He considered the two of them briefly. "Are the two of you are heading down to the planet?"

"Not today," Harry replied. "Actually, we're part of tomorrow's rotation. I was on my way to the shuttle bay, to assist in the departures, when I bumped into Ishanti. We were just ... catching up."

"About shore leave?" Tuvok asked, trying hard, despite his Vulcan ways, to make what humans and other species so wantonly referred to as 'small talk.'

"Lieutenant," Ishanti began, "I, for one, cannot wait to be on a planet again."

Tuvok nodded. "Indeed. There is something reassuring about the sensation of solid ground under one's feet." Gesturing in the direction of the shuttle bay, he concluded, "Shall we, ensign?"

Politely, Kim nodded at Ishanti.

She, as well, dismissed himself with a polite nod. "We'll finish our talk later, Harry," she tried. Smiling coyly at him, she added, "Why don't you stop by my quarters."

Elated at the invitation, Ensign Harry Kim couldn't hide his enthusiasm, even in front of a superior officer.

"You bet I will!"

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