Series: Star Trek: Voyager
B'Elanna trades in her bat'leth for a spatula, driving Tom into a fateful investigation of his former crewmates' post-Endgame behavior.
This parody is protected by the copyright laws of the United States of America. By the way, it's all Seema's fault.
"It's what Jeri Taylor would want, Tom."
Was that another Klingon demigod? Tom Paris, former helmsman of the starship Voyager, was reasonably certain that he didn't want to know. "I'm as much a fan of cookies as the next politely cashiered Starfleet officer, B'Elanna," he said, "but you're an engineer, not a pastry chef."
His wife, busy slamming a star-shaped cookie cutter onto a dough-covered pastry board, ignored his protests. She hummed a snatch of Klingon opera. Tom thought he smelled almonds toasting nearby.
At the start of this unexpected bake-off, B'Elanna's way with a spatula had reminded him of nothing so much as Kathryn Janeway's way with a replicator. Though he had to admit that his wife was improving with every batch, he felt obliged to point out that it just wasn't the mid-twentieth century anymore. "Why don't you replicate the cookies, just this once?" He knew he was asking for another tirade on seven years of replicated food, but all he got was:
"You can't replicate love."
"Miral's not even old enough for solid food yet."
B'Elanna stuffed a cookie in his mouth to shut him up.
He made up a flimsy excuse and took the next shuttle out to Jupiter Station to see the Doctor, whom he found working on his third holonovel with coauthor Reg Barclay. Tom feigned interest in the trailer Reg had put together as long as he could, then drew the Doctor aside.
"It's about B'Elanna, Doc."
"Has she decided to write her memoirs, as I recommended?" he asked.
"No, she's devoted her life to baking the perfect macaroon." Taking the EMH's silence for surprise, Tom elaborated. "She put together an antique gas stove out of industrial scrap. The only engineering project she's interested in is recreating a convection oven, whatever that was."
"Well, give her my best wishes," the Doctor said. "I'm sorry I can't appreciate the art of baking personally, but perhaps I can convince Dr. Zimmerman to push the holo-envelope, as it were, and develop--"
Tom interrupted rudely, "She claims she'll never touch another engine as long as she lives, Doc. Can't you talk to her? I think she needs psychiatric help."
It was amazing how supercilious light and force fields could look, when they had a mind to. "It's perfectly reasonable for B'Elanna to want to retire after seven years of hard labor."
"But can you talk to her, Doc?"
"No, I cannot." After a dramatic pause, the EMH added, "I've given up medicine."
Tom forgot B'Elanna's baking problem for the moment. "Why?"
"It was interfering with my literary career. As you know, doctor's hours are terrible."
"But you're a hologram!"
"If I didn't know you so well, Mr. Paris, I'd have you sent up for holo-sensitivity training."
Tom blushed at his faux-pas. The Federation had become a political minefield while he'd been away, and he always managed to say exactly the wrong thing. The Doc seemed to have picked up on the new mores without any difficulty. Maybe he'd downloaded them from a fellow hologram, Tom thought.
"I meant," he backpedaled, "that you could easily be both a doctor and an author."
"Of course I could, but medicine doesn't inspire me anymore. Once you've seen the Phage, you can't go back to treating minor cases of Andorian flu." The Doctor studied his hands in a studied way. "I had to move on."
"What am I going to do about B'Elanna?"
"I don't think the former Lieutenant is the problem here." He gave Tom a meaningful, photonic glance. "Maybe you should get out more - go talk to Captain Kim."
"I retired from Starfleet." Harry's frown deterred any friendly commentary on his decision. "I bought a controlling share in a Ferengi Nagus-class long-haul freighter with my back pay. I'm glad you stopped by, Tom - the Insider will be here for our rendezvous in a few days."
"Ferengi..." Tom managed to choke out.
"They said they needed a captain with a face even a Cardassian could trust."
"Please tell me you're not in it for the Ferengi women."
Harry blushed. "The truth is, I got tired of dying for Starfleet. If I'm going to sell my soul, I want something more than a lieutenant's pay in return for it. I may be a lying, cheating, stealing Ferengi merchant marine now, but at least I'm not like Chakotay."
"What's wrong with Chakotay?"
Judging from Harry's reluctant hints (for which he seemed to expect a gratuity), Tom had expected some difficulty tracking down Chakotay - but not the series of cryptic messages, secret handshakes and full-body scans that had led him to this seedy nightclub in what passed for a bad sector of San Francisco.
In a smoky corner he found Chakotay decked out in black leather, with a similarly-clad female it took him a moment to recognize.
"Special Agent Crusher, Plague and Pestilence Division, at your service."
Tom let that riddle stand and turned to Chakotay. "Where's Seven?" he blurted out.
The look on Chakotay's face made Tom wish, not only that he hadn't mentioned Seven, but that he'd never heard of her.
"We don't discuss the Borg," Beverly said quietly.
He'd gathered as much. "So...nice leather duds you've got there. Is this a Seventies revival, or have you rejoined the Maquis?"
"I work for Section 31 now," Chakotay replied.
"There's no such thing as..." Tom's voice trailed off. He decided he wasn't going to touch this one.
Chakotay had other ideas. "We hear you're at loose ends, Tom. We wanted you to know, there's a place for you in the Section."
Cannon fodder? Tom wondered. "That's very kind of you, Chakotay, but with B'Elanna and the baby--"
"B'Elanna's got her cookies. What do you have, Tom?"
"My soul." He thought for a moment. "You're not responsible for this whole cookie business, are you?" he asked. "And the EMH giving up medicine, and Harry turning Ferengi..."
Special Agent Crusher answered, "It's a nice piece of spore-work, but it's not mine."
"So, what exactly is it?"
"If you joined us, Beverly here might be able to tell you without having to kill you afterwards," Chakotay offered.
Soul or no soul, Tom wasn't about to make the mistake of signing up for another one of Chakotay's leather-clad crusades. He knew where that led.
Beverly took mercy on him. "I'll tell you this much - you brought it back with you from the Delta Quadrant."
Tom would have asked her more about it if he hadn't been distracted by a familiar voice over the nightclub's amplification system. He looked past Beverly at the small stage.
"That's not who I think it is..."
"We don't get the best comedy acts down here," Beverly apologized, "but he's not half bad."
"For a Vulcan," Chakotay added.
Tom excused himself as quickly and carefully as he could. Alien spores were the one curse of Starfleet he thought he'd avoided by spending his accidental tour of duty in the DQ.
He was going to have to talk to the Captain about this.
"B'Elanna, I'm home," Tom announced as he walked in the door.
She met him in the foyer with a kiss. "I made blood pie."
"Mmm," Tom said, with less enthusiasm than the chef had shown.
"Get it while it's hot."
He found the place-mats and the napkin rings set up in the dining room, for that authentic twentieth-century feel. "Where do you get the blood," he asked, "now that you've sworn off the replicator?"
"Don't ask questions you don't want to hear the answer to, dear," B'Elanna replied, as she ground up Miral's slice of pie in the antique Cuisinart. "You wouldn't want me asking you why someone with no actual business goes on so many business trips, now would you?"
"Aren't you supposed to take an interest in my career, give me advice and all that?" Tom asked.
"I figure you've fallen in with Chakotay and his black leather crowd, and you'd just lie to me, or kill me." She spooned a load of blood pie puree into Miral's mouth. "My advice, if you want it, is to keep away from Typhoid Beverly."
"I'm not in Section 31," Tom protested.
"There's no such thing as Section 31."
Janeway, it turned out, was in France visiting a friend. Tom appeared on the doorstep unannounced, and she took it with her usual captainly grace. After a token amount of small talk, he asked her when she'd be taking Voyager back out.
"You really can't top a triumphant return to the Alpha Quadrant in the belly of an exploding Borg sphere," Janeway replied.
"But captains don't retire."
"I haven't retired. I'm painting." She uncovered her latest work, a rather gruesome still-life of a dead Vidiian with the phage. "I can pull in enough credits to run the vineyard for a year just by slapping some black paint on a canvas and calling it 'The Void'."
Tom couldn't argue with a scam like that, so he changed the subject. "I was talking to--" Perhaps it was better not to mention that. "Well, I heard we brought something back from the Delta Quadrant - spores of some sort."
"You can't sign up with Starfleet and then complain about a few alien spores, Tom."
He hadn't signed up, technically. "But they've changed people - B'Elanna, Harry, the EMH, even Tuvok..."
"People change. Did you expect us all to beam back aboard Voyager and get ourselves lost again?" Janeway laughed at the idea.
"Do you know anything about these alien spores?" Tom asked doggedly.
"I seem to recall something from one of my interminable debriefings." Janeway paused to think, then shook her head. "There were so many of them. Sorry I can't be of more help, Tom. You should ask Seven about it - she knows everything."
Speaking of Seven... "I saw Chakotay."
"How is he?"
"He's looking a little sinister."
A thin, bald man appeared behind Janeway, placing his hand on her shoulder. "Beverly Crusher is a bad influence on him," the man said.
Janeway covered his hand with hers and looked up into his eyes of indeterminate hue. "Jealous, dear?"
"You know I'm over the seven-year unfulfilled longing for an inferior officer phase, Kathryn."
"It is the most trying time." She turned her attention back to Paris. "Jean-Luc and I have so much in common."
"Have you retired, too?" Tom asked him.
"I still save the universe on occasion."
"It's the least a Starfleet captain can do," Janeway added.
Tom had heard more than enough. He desperately wanted to stop by Marseilles for a drink on the way home, but he had one last question.
"Do you know where I can find Seven of Nine?"
Tom had never seen a spaceport in such bad shape. It looked like it had been bombed to rubble (which it had) and a few of the larger chunks dragged aside to allow freight shuttles to land again. With Harry's help, he'd hitchhiked in on a Ferengi shipment of replicator parts. No one here, he realized, was expecting any social calls for the rest of the century.
Tom made his way to the information desk, which had been assembled quite skillfully out of shattered chunks of concrete, and explained to the person behind it that he was looking for a human called Seven of Nine. The official made some show of checking her computer, perched anachronistically atop the rubble desk, and before Tom knew it, a detail of soldiers had surrounded him.
"Please escort Mr. Paris to the Provisional Governor's quarters."
"That's very kind of you," Tom protested, "but I don't need to meet your leader. I'm just looking for my friend." The official had already turned away, and the guards hustled Tom into a groundcar with military markings.
They passed quite a bit of rubble, and very few other cars. He was glad, after all, for the lift - there seemed to be no public transportation here, nor anywhere to go. He wondered, not for the first time, why Seven had come here, of all places.
The Quonset hut was standard Starfleet issue - part of the relief supplies, no doubt. Two guards, sitting in the rubble, jumped to attention and flanked the door. Tom supposed visitors didn't drop by often, if ever.
The soldiers piled out of the car and arranged themselves. A figure emerged from the hut, and everyone except Tom saluted.
"Mr. Paris?" he asked, coming closer. "Welcome to Cardassia Prime."
"Thank you, Governor..." Tom waited for a hint.
"Governor Garak. I'm not sure why I was brought here, Governor. I'm looking for--"
"Seven of Nine," Garak interrupted, introducing the figure who had emerged behind him with a sweep of his hand.
"Mr. Paris," Seven said by way of greeting, as she placed her hand in the crook of Garak's arm.
"Please, come inside," Garak said. "I'm afraid the landscapers left something to be desired." He smiled at Tom in an inscrutable way that reminded him of Seska in her Bajoran incarnation.
Tom's glanced at the rubble yard as he followed the pair in. The Quonset hut was quite cozy inside - the decor consisted of items salvaged from the ruined city around them. Tea appeared from somewhere; Tom occupied himself with sipping it.
"You've come a long way, Mr. Paris."
Tom finally placed the face. "I believe you were a tailor when I first met you, Governor."
"I hope the repairs were satisfactory...and that your shipmates eventually stopped ripping the uniform off your back."
"Eventually," Tom said. Seven just raised an eyebrow.
"I'm afraid I'm monopolizing the conversation, dear. I'll get us more tea." Garak headed deeper into the Quonset hut with the teapot.
"Dear?" Tom asked her rhetorically. "No wonder Chakotay was so upset."
Seven ignored the insinuation. "Beverly Crusher is a bad influence on him," she remarked.
"So I hear." He hadn't come to inquire into Seven's social life, but he couldn't help himself. "Not just any Cardassian - the military governor."
"Garak is the Provisional Governor. We lack the resources at present to hold democratic elections." She gave the last two words a familiar Borg sneer.
Tom didn't want to think about what that portended for democracy on Cardassia Prime. "How did you get involved with a Cardassian?" he asked, trusting her forthright nature to complement his own insatiable curiosity.
"Chakotay and I settled near Starfleet Headquarters after Voyager's return. I became involved in research and development, and Chakotay was teaching at Starfleet Academy, or so I believed at the time." She frowned slightly. "Garak came to San Francisco to speak to the Federation Council."
Speaking of the devil, Garak chose this moment to return with fresh tea. "To apologize to the Federation Council on behalf of Cardassia," he corrected her. "For the fourth time."
Seven ignored the interruption. "Chakotay was invited to attend--"
"It was only my second apology to the Maquis," Garak interrupted.
"--and I accompanied him." Seven's eyes grew distant with a remembered revelation. She'd looked the same way during that messy incident with the Omega Molecule, which was so highly classified that Tom could be erased by people like Chakotay just for thinking about it. He stopped thinking about it.
"The speeches were of no interest to me, but I observed the behavior of the delegates and non-governmental representatives, and, of course, Chakotay's." Seven paused as Garak handed her a fresh cup of tea. "Everyone in the council chambers was looking at the Cardassian delegates--"
"As if we were genocidal maniacs, temporarily disarmed but liable at any moment to pull a war fleet out of a hat and flatten Earth."
Seven nodded in assent to his rather poetical version of events, as though that explained everything. Tom waited for more, but even Garak was silent.
"And?" he finally prodded them.
Seven began to reply, but Garak stopped her. "That, my dear Mr. Paris, is exactly the way people looked at Seven of Nine on Earth. She didn't quite understand the sentiment until she saw it directed at me."
"By Chakotay," Tom inferred.
"Among others." Garak took a sip of tea. "You see, here on Cardassia, we have no one left to despise. To us, Seven is just another cog left over from another smashed genocidal machine." They gazed into one another's eyes - Tom wouldn't call it fondly, exactly. He decided not to think about it. "But surely you didn't come all this way to hear a love story."
Tom gulped his tea. "No. Something's been happening to the crew of Voyager, something I thought Seven might be able to explain."
"I'm afraid Seven of Nine has given up science. She's been much too busy helping me reorganize Cardassian society on a...cellular level, you might say."
Or he might not say. He filed that sentence away with the Omega Molecule and the nature of their relationship, never to be thought of again. He resolved to direct the rest of the conversation at Seven. "Rumor has it we picked up some alien spores back in the DQ, which have caused startling career changes since our return. Tuvok has become a stand-up comedian, Janeway is a painter, Harry's a Ferengi--"
"And your wife?" Garak inquired.
"A pastry chef," Tom snapped at him. "Do you know anything about it, Seven?"
"The spores have been endemic in the DQ since before the beginning of the Borg Collective. I believe the Talaxians call them 'alien burnout spores'. They cause the symptoms you have observed."
"Why didn't you mention them before?"
"At first you appeared to be immune. Afterwards, it was too late."
"Don't the Borg have a cure?"
"The Borg also suffer from burnout. Why did you think they kept giving up on Voyager, even though it would have been easy to assimilate you? Why do you think they haven't taken over the Alpha Quadrant yet?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," Tom admitted. Garak gave a quiet snort that said 'humans' in eloquent voicelessness.
"In the heat of battle, the Borg pursue their goals remorselessly. Once the battle is over, however, they lose interest and begin searching for a new species to conquer."
"So you infected us?"
"You were already infected when I came aboard Voyager. Neelix is the most likely vector - Talaxians are famous for having never gotten around to accomplishing anything."
"No wonder the DQ is such a disaster area. So we brought it back here," he added, making it half a question.
"Oh, no. Travellers brought it to the Alpha Quadrant centuries ago." Tom looked puzzled by this. "For example, the Borg Queen--"
"Temporal prime directive, dear," Garak reminded her.
Seven nodded. "The effects are magnified after long periods of stress, but in fact, most humanoids are susceptible to burnout."
"It's the human condition," Garak added, looking far too pleased with himself.
"Let me guess..."
"Cardassians have a natural immunity."
"B'Elanna, I'm home," Tom announced as he walked in the door.
She met him in the foyer with a kiss. "I made gagh."
"Mmm," Tom said, restraining himself from the obvious question.
"Get it while it's live."
He made his way to the dining room, where he noticed a new embroidered tea-cozy over the teapot. B'Elanna was branching out. He turned down her offer of tea, however.
"How was your trip?" she asked.
"Too successful - I'm thinking of becoming a bartender."
"Whatever you say, dear." She handed their daughter a few bits of gagh, which Miral chased around the tray of her high chair.
"In Marseilles. You could take some classes at a real French cooking school."
That piqued her interest. "I'd like that. When do we go?"
Didn't she think she had a choice in the matter? Damn. "I'm not in Section 31, B'Elanna."
"There's no such thing as Section 31."