Imagine an atom of hydrogen, Cente. The most basic atom: a nucleus with a single electron revolving around it. Then imagine that you have enlarged the nucleus by five million million, bringing it up to about the size of a one peso coin. To scale, the electron would now be nearly one kilometre away.
A kilometre between nucleus and electron, if the nucleus was the size of a one-peso coin. In an atom, almost nothing to see, even if you could see it. Mainly a void. So much room to move around.
(Alex Garland, The Tesseract)
Today there is a nebula. You order Tom to divert course to observe it, because you know it is expected. You continue to collect these spatial anomalies, a little like holiday souvenirs. When (if) you reach home (this word does not carry the same longing it once did) you will enter some holosuite, revel in these images of your adventures, mingling and sipping champagne. Or something. You will walk through memories, and try so hard not to remember. You will laugh. Today you watch this cloud of space dust, the colours, the stars shining through the mantle; it would be a beautiful, celestial piece of clothing. You can imagine her wearing it, not that she ever would have.
Nebulae are some of the best, and you observe the expressions of wonder on your crew. You notice the occasional surreptitious glances thrown your way, concerned, trying to gauge your emotional response. You arrange your face into appropriately impressed features. You hope your eyes do not appear too dead.
After all, it is five months now. Long enough for you to stop seeing her face behind every nebula, planet, star; long enough for you to believe that they too can be stunning and not to compare them to a glint in her hair.
Her eyes are quiet; they gleam at you through the stardust.
You feel the pips with your fingers, skin across metal. They too could be implants, metal attached to you and changing you, running through your nerves. The four small circles control you and dictate your actions, strengthen and harden you, and maybe silver does flow through your veins. Or possibly lead. Perhaps this is why you find it difficult to move. Without these pips you have no life. How things could have been different; if you were not the wearer of these, you would not have sent Seven on the shuttle. In fact, you would never have taken her from the Hive; never seen her. Can you wish not to have known her? Some days you can, desperately. Not that it matters.
Either way, when you feel the cool of the metal beneath your hand, and you close your eyes and empty your mind, you can almost imagine you are stroking a cybernetic implant. Almost.
You only did this once, when the metal was implanted in the woman. You watched her sleep, which sounds so much more romantic than 'regenerate'; how much accuracy can be sacrificed for romanticism. She was so very peaceful, the lids of the eyes smooth and fragile, and green flames dancing above ö like candlelight. Your hand reached out, and touched the silver star; it was strangely warm, fluid, and you felt this touch imprinted on your fingers, like a tattoo drawn indelibly, with delicate ink. Touch like stroking someone's hair. You felt her skin, and without breath brought your fingers to her lips; and blood pulsed beneath you, and you were overcome.
The sight and touch, this memory, could not be described as beautiful. Sunsets are beautiful, and nebulae. There are no words for this feeling.
Metal is a common material on a starship, and your hands often have reason to touch it. You are transported; for some infinitesimally small moment of time you smell her almost undetectable scent and feel her almost imperceptible breath, the patterns of the Borg remnants on your skin. For the next moment of time, something soars up inside you so high you know you will explode, or die. Then you know you won't die, because things don't work that easily. You take the next step, breathe in pain.
2am, philosophical discussion. Time never meant the same to her.
"Seven, it's two in the morning... what are you doing?" Your face was a little weary, a little amused. Hers was serious, troubled, of course.
"Captain, I am having trouble." She did not elaborate.
"Yes, Seven?" you asked gently.
"It is regarding Quarren," she said, and once again you remembered what you were trying so hard to forget (so much of your life has been taken up with trying to forget): a planet with a life for you, a man who was a great love, and a certainty that you belonged. You sighed, a little exhalation, and she stood with shadows on her face.
"You miss it." She inclined her head.
"It is... unsettling. I know I was only there for a short period of time, yet I remember a great deal more. I do not like these false memories being part of me."
"I know, Seven." It worried you too. She looked very young and breakable, eyes not icy.
"You lived with a man there."
"Yes." Short answers because this hurt you, and you would have liked her to back away from the subject, but she would never have done that.
"Were you... in love with him?" she asked, raising her eyes and looking directly into yours. You did not want to answer this, but her eyes were unflinching.
"Yes, I was." She looked away, down, with something like anger or resentment crossing her face. Then she spoke in a quiet tone.
"I would like to know what it is like ö to be 'in love'." You started a little, and felt heat rush to your skin, and did not look at her in case you betrayed yourself.
"I think that is something you should discuss with the Doctor," you evaded, turning away. She did not.
"The Doctor cannot tell me what I wish to know." Unambiguously, directly. You were reluctant.
"What do you want to know? Why?"
"I wish to determine whether I am in love." It was shock, rendering you unable to speak, and impossible to think. Explosions of misfiring neurones. Who? How? You stared at her and she was still calm.
"You?" and it was the only thing you could say.
"I would like to understand the nature of love, and the symptoms."
How do you describe the symptoms of love to an ex-drone who stands before you, illuminated, lips parted and glistening? How do you describe its nature when you have been gripped and paralysed by ice?
"It's not something you can describe, Seven, it's just a feeling, you know when you have it." You were sharp.
"Very well. I believe I am in love, Captain, with you."
Drowning, soaring, hit by waves of relief-joy-pain. Her eyes looked on as if daring you to disagree. An endless pause.
"Look, Seven, you aren't... you can't be in love with me."
"You just told me I would know if I was." Her voice was tinged with anger and determination.
"Sometimes people imagine... mistake one feeling for another..."
"Are you in love with me?" she asked abruptly. Oh, how to answer this question. There is no way to answer this. You closed your eyes and watched grey.
"Seven..." and your wish was ferocious.
"You have always cared for me; you have risked your life to save mine on several occasions; your pupils often dilate when you look at me."
You ripped your pupils from her curves, where they strayed so often, and hoped the shock on your face did not betray you. She was so hoping, so uncertain and fallible in this moment. Her mouth was so near. You imagined reaching to the back of her head and removing the pin, letting the waves fall around her face.
"Seven, I don't... feel that way (the lie exploding in your throat)... and even if I did, there is no way anything could happen between us. I'm the Captain, and it would be entirely inappropriate."
The look of sudden pain on her young, perfect face. Her throat was pale in the not-moonlight.
"I think it would be best if you left now. And, Seven ö in future I'd appreciate it if you left non-emergency discussions to the daytime; I'd quite like a bit of rest at nights (there is only one thing you want at night and you have just devastated her)." You were businesslike, cold. She only stood there, bewildered.
"Goodnight," you stated, and forced yourself into the impossible task of staring straight at her. She slowly turned around and walked out, your eyes followed the vision and you knew you had killed something. The door made its despicable bleep. You were left alone, and you stood that way till morning, ice piling up in you in shards.
Regret is not the word. Blind, fierce desolation.
It will take you 50 years to get halfway across the galaxy. There are 150 billion galaxies in the universe. This universe began in an impossible explosion of lightcolourswhitehotsound from nothing twenty billion years ago. A star and a woman are made up of atoms, and atoms are empty space with specks. The universe is made of nothing. Why, then?
None of this matters.
You lie awake for a long time, as you always do. It is not dreams you fear but blankness and forgetting; or rather, remembering after you have forgotten. You awaken to warmth (a split second) and then an agony of bleakness. For that moment then you are cocooned by your Starfleet sheets (she never lay between these sheets, or any sheets) and it hurts so you are lost in terror and cannot move.
On a starship you are always surrounded by night. Pass any airlock, look out and you fall into blackness. There is no fading, and the sun does not rise.
Of course there are stars, scattered thickly over the inky cloth, and they are like fireflies suspended in a deep pool. As if you could reach out and spread then round, disturb them with a wave of the hand. You cannot touch the stars. You cannot disturb the fabric of things that are.
In a minute, just a minute, you will get out of bed. You will put one foot in front of the other until you reach the sonic shower, and you will stand under needles of heat which almost burn. The uniform will be put on, and the small, hard pips attached; you will become Captain. You will pause before the doors, consider dying, stopping breathing, returning to your bed, ejecting yourself into space, screaming until the end of the world, and you will pull all of this into your shell. You will stalk the corridors and issue orders; "Open a channel," you will say, "Report". You will pretend you do not hear every star screaming her name.
She did not die gloriously. She was not assimilated by the Borg, she did not sacrifice her life to save yours or Voyager's. (Would she have done? Voyager is my collective, she said, sweetly and you were filled with a glow.) An away mission finished, rare minerals collected, natural beauties appreciated (or not) and stored in memories. Lieutenant Paris, Commander Chakotay and Seven of Nine, formerly Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix Zero One.
You do not want to be remembering this.
Weapons fire gone unnoticed by you, and then.
"We're receiving a distress call from the away team," Harry said, and you heard Chakotay's voice, distorted.
"Captain, we've suffered heavy weapons damage. Seven's seriously wounded..." and you do not know the rest because your world stopped there and your mind began to swirl.
A little later:
"They're within transporter range."
"Beam directly to sickbay," you ordered, heading for the turbolift.
You arrived and there was only hell to enter. The Doctor's raised head of grief, the body still. You understood the tableau, this picture frozen in time and you would be in it for ever, could not accept it and appealed to him.
"No, no, she's not dead... you can still do something... do something!"
"It's too late," he said, and then there was nothing but a great hole, dark upon black upon black upon hopeless death.
"Go," you ordered, and he hesitated.
"GO!" with a glare of fire and he went.
You undid the dishevelled hair, arranged it so it cushioned her head and framed her perfect, scarred face. There was blood, it didn't look real, and you took down the suit which clung so insensitively to her. She was a sculpture, spiderings of metal and pools of drying blood built and pained onto the smooth marble. Eyes were blue and blank. Seven does not live here any more, this soul has left the building. What is the meaning of a soul?
She was still warm, you traced the contours. Your fingers ran over every implant, which were no longer warm and liquid. They felt like your commbadge and you shuddered. Touched only the skin; your hands became bloodied. You stayed until she as cold, and the cold of her dead flesh seeped into yours, ran through your veins and stopped your heart.
You walked in this machine of ice to the bridge, much later, a timeless interval later. You were dangerous and you would avenge.
"Recover the sensor readings from the Delta Flyer. Find the ship." Nobody questioned. You were silent in stasis until the ship was found and your voice again came out of your mouth.
"Photon torpedoes, full spread."
"Captain?" someone began, and Tuvok said:
"Phaser fire would be sufficient, and the Prime..."
"Photon torpedoes, full spread." You looked straight ahead into nothing. "Fire."
Light speeding through darkness. An eruption into flame, pieces blown apart, scattering wide. Ashes.
This gave you no satisfaction.
Dinner with candlelight, and you have methodically prepared food ö pasta with black olives and artichoke hearts - and Risan wine. Red wine, which doesn't really look like blood, and light filters through it, ruby shadows on the table below. He smiles, you register the moving lips, and appreciates the flowers which you have gathered from the airponics bay and arranged to give the appearance of life where there is little. He makes some comments on the food, or perhaps the candles, you don't really notice.
"How are you, Kathryn?" he asks, with tender concern in his voice (she never called you Kathryn). You consider.
"I'm OK," you say, and it's not a lie exactly, because you do after all survive. He touches your hand, briefly comforting.
"I know how much she meant to you (but he doesn't admit what no doubt they all talk about when they go about their work). She was important to all of us, it hit everyone very hard." You wonder how it is that he knows what 'we' is, you know he is part of them and you are not, you know you drift light years away from the body of your crew. You don't particularly care.
"Thank you," you say, gazing into his eyes, which sicken you slightly. You try to forget that the hand which still lies near yours was the last to touch her alive.
He changes the subject, you talk about Earth and comets, Bajoran cuisine, alien religions, 21st century Spanish poetry. You do not hear very much. Flames flicker, wax drips and flows down the sides of the candle, forming new structures like a miniature geological process. You watch the light play across his face, see his lips move, and his tattoo dark lines. When the eating is finished you move the plates away, pour more wine and sit down on the couch. Both you and he sip the wine, you feel the glass cool against your lips and the warmth of the alcohol flowing down your throat. You drink more. You move closer to him, slowly and in imperceptible stages, and your leg, clad for once not in uniform, touches his and you feel the heat of his body. Turn closer and you kiss him, feel him responding, his mouth opening and eager. Your hands run over his body, he pulls away, murmurs,
"What? Isn't this what you want?" and of course it is, he will not forsake his chance after so long, you pull him back to you. Your hands get tangled in his clothes and he has difficulty undoing your dress. Clothes are finally scattered and he pushes you into the bedroom, throws you down on the bed which has seen no other occupant for seven years. Naked and slippery with sweat; his mouth is hot on yours and taking. You close your eyes and feel the start of tears piercing the inside of your eyelids, they squeeze out a little. You lie open, raw, he comes inside you and pushes into you over and over. Falling, down, down, you bite his lip or yours and taste desperation.
It does not hurt, not enough.
There is a hologram. Once it was used for various simulations, now you enter the programme and access the character. It is a recreation, the shining hair, the starburst by the ear, the pale throat. You dress it, clothing it in robes of gold and blue, like a doll; you open other programmes around it and watch her image surrounded by forests and lakes, by a sea which laps gently at soft sands. Moonlight falls on her face. You don't let her move, you freeze the character so only the dresses wave in the wind, and walk round and round the illusion which is so tangible.
You can't bring yourself to touch it.
He becomes something of an installation in your life, you are established as couple and you hear that the crew discuss your relationship, tell each other that they always suspected something between you. You have more romantic dinners, sometimes he brings you roses. You smile in radiance, kiss him and he is happy. You tell him you want to make love in many exotic places, and the holodeck is the next best thing; sometimes you manage to arrange it so there is rock underneath you, and it is difficult and painful, and this helps, a little. Bruises remain.
In a drawer in your quarters there is a star of metal. It is taken from the soft skin of an ex-Borg drone. Sometimes you take it out, you hold it in your hand and stroke it, remember dim lights and green fire and a sleeping vision you could never reach (or would never). The cold runs through you again and again, paralysis, you are held in its winter grip.
There are no words to describe what you feel.
You will put the star down in a moment, in a moment, and continue on with life (this word does not mean much). The ship sails on, returning home little by so very little, and along the way you see novae and nebulae. It doesn't really matter if you get home or not. There is a rich and thick tapestry of stars, and you try not to see her face in every one.
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