Part 25

The word had finally gotten out that the kitchen was in working order and there was the choice of eating something other than the inedible rations. The crew started flocking to the Mess Hall. Despite the fact that there were very few intact chairs or tables remaining, Neelix suddenly found himself as busy as he ever was during the dinner hour rush, back before the Mess Hall had served as a battlefield.

The lack of furniture didn't seem to bother the crew. The first arrivals claimed the remaining intact tables and chairs, and the rest got their meals and then camped out in clusters on the floor.

If one looked at the groups and ignored the scattered pieces of broken furniture pushed to the side, it almost looked normal.

Neelix barely had time to look though, so busy was he with keeping an eye on the stoves, making sure Naomi didn't touch anything hot, and then with dishing out the food to the very long line of hungry crew.

The normalcy he felt in serving up the meal was in strong contrast to the people he was serving it to.

There was stress in the faces of everyone in the serving line. Some more than others, but everyone looked afflicted. Most looked drawn and tired. More than a few seemed to have recently emerged from a fist fight, many with a few ugly bruises and others with still fresh scabs.

These were the mutiny victims who hadn't had severe enough injuries to stick around Sickbay or even go there in the first place. Neelix found the regenerator he kept in kitchen for when he inevitably burned himself and stuck it along side the Leola Root Stew on the tray of a customer who looked like he might have trouble chewing due to the massive fist-shaped bruise on the lower part of his face. He was pleased to later see it being passed around the room.

From further back in the kitchen where she'd been playing quietly on the floor, Naomi got to her feet and walked up to him.

"They have bruises," she said, eyebrows knitted. "Did they fall down?"

"They might have," Neelix replied carefully.

"The Maquis hurt them," Naomi said solemnly.

She turned around and returned to her seat on the floor.

Neelix sighed, thinking that Sam's instructions to wait for her before telling Naomi anything wasn't the best idea.

From what he could hear of the conversations drifting in the air, a few had to do with the injuries sustained from the mutiny, or what injuries they had managed to inflict during it. But more people were talking about things that had nothing to do with violent event. He heard some relishing their meal, which considering the quality of the rations was not a surprise but pleasing anyway.

After an hour, the rate of new arrivals finally dwindled and people started returning their empty dishes.

As another one came to turn in his tray, the Mess Hall doors parted and Sam Wildman entered, walking quickly. She approached the counter.

"Hi, Neelix. Where's Naomi?" she asked urgently.

He didn't have to answer for Naomi heard her mother and came running.


Naomi clambered into Sam's arms, wrapping her arms around her mother's neck.

Sam adjusted the child into a more comfortable position. She took one arm off Naomi and reached out to Neelix. She grasped his hand and held it tightly.

"Goodbye, Neelix." She squeezed his hand. "Thanks for everything."

She let go and withdrew her arm, wrapping it around Naomi.

Neelix watched her leave, a little confused about the finality in her farewell.

Maybe forty-five minutes after Sam left with Naomi, the crew really started to clear out. In the midst of the all the exits, there was one new arrival.

He made his way up to the serving line.

"I'm supposed to be on duty," the crewman confided to O'Donnell, who was returning his tray. "I'm supposed to be monitoring Paris' quarters. Ensign Kim is covering for me."

"I took off from Brig duty," replied O'Donnell.

Neelix handed a plate to the crewman.

"Paris was destroying his quarters looking for all the little toys Tuvok removed when we searched them," he told O'Donnell. "The Maquis causing trouble?"

"Well, they keep requiring medical attention," O'Donnell sneered.

Then he froze.

"Oh, hell," he swore. "I forgot."

O'Donnell tapped his comm badge.

"O'Donnell to Sickbay."

"Sickbay," answered an irritated male voice. The EMH.

"Doctor, is B'Elanna Torres in Sickbay?" There was worry creeping into O'Donnell's voice.

"No. She's not," the Doctor replied. "While I have you on the line, Crewman, I'd like to know-"

O'Donnell cut him off, reaching for his comm badge again.

"O'Donnell to Brig." There was more worry in his voice now.


"Has Torres been returned?"

"Not yet."

O'Donnell closed the comm line and opened a new one.

"O'Donnell to Tuvok." That was panic.

"Tuvok here."

"Sir, we have a Security Alert." O'Donnell sighed loudly. "B'Elanna Torres is loose."

Part 26 | Index page