It was still thirty minutes to midnight in San Francisco but in Greece the New Year had already dawned.
At half past nine in the morning, the day after the revelry, the streets that Lieutenant Miguel Ayala walked, were deserted. He wanted it that way; he needed to be alone with his thoughts. On Voyager when they were off the ship on shore leave, they were never alone. For safety reasons, protocol dictated that they travel with a companion; consequently, shore leave frequently meant a party with large groups of boisterous crew.
So once back on earth, he had taken to walking for kilometers by himself, just because he could.
They’d been back an entire year and he was all alone. He still hadn’t found any trace of Mina and his nephews. The last he had heard, they were on Tevlik's moon with the Maquis but had managed to leave a couple of weeks before the massacre.
He wondered about the timing but was not ready to question the fates too much. He was just glad that they had survived and were possibly still alive somewhere in the quadrant.
As soon as he was able to leave Voyager, he had searched the throngs of family and friends that were waiting to greet them, hoping they were amongst the many, but there had been no sign of them then or in the ensuing days. It was only later that he’d heard that after leaving the hideout on Tevlik, they had effectively vanished.
Most of the Voyagers had been able to reunite with their families, even those in the Maquis. All had lost friends or family during the war, but there were others: uncles, cousins and siblings who came to welcome them back. He was one of the few who had no one left.
The Voyager crew had become his family and he supposed he could have spent the evening with any of them. He never had a problem making friends and he was widely known on Voyager as being the life of the party, but he wasn’t in the mood for revelry, he would have rather spent time with his closest companions.
He sighed; that was not to be either. Chakotay was in Panama with his sister and B’Elanna on the Klingon homeworld with Tom and Miral. Chell was wrapped up with his restaurant and New Year’s Eve was an especially busy time for him. Dalby was there helping. Freddy Bristow, his roommate on Voyager, was partying with his cousins somewhere in England and Marla; well he didn’t know where she was.
Marla. Now she was someone he hadn’t expected to become friends with.
He’d been just as angry as the rest of the crew about what the Equinox captain had done and the danger in which he had embroiled Voyager.
But he had never been one to leap to conclusions about a group based on the actions of an individual. So when Chakotay had approached him to take her off his hands, he had agreed.
She had been following Chakotay around the ship possibly because he had been one of the few people who had been remotely civil to her. But as his old captain had explained, he was concerned she was starting to develop feelings for him and that was a complication that he did not need.
So, as always, when Chakotay asked him, he stepped in.
He had crawled with her through endless Jeffries tubes to avoid the turbo lifts, seen more the inner workings of the ship that he would have known possible, he had drawn her into his circle of friends, and found she was genuine and very funny. Little by little, she opened up and then slowly started to let go off her fear that the alien creatures would come after them.
They celebrated with a bottle of synthehol bubbly when she first stepped back onto a turbolift and with a mug of Chell’s secret stash after her first away mission.
He told her about his nephews back in the Alpha Quadrant and she told him about hers on earth. Being part of Starfleet was always her father’s dream for her and she had wondered what he went through when she vanished on her very first mission.
“He was happy to hear from me. He asked me what happened to Captain Ransom, and I couldn’t bring myself to talk about it”
He’d reached over and squeezed her hand. They were sitting in the quiet mess hall at the end of gamma shift talking about their first real-time communication with Earth. The alpha shift was just getting going and the mess was deserted. She had looked up gratefully at his show of support.
“What did you say?”
“I was vague, just said something about the Equinox being destroyed and Max and Rudy going down with the ship. I think it scared him, he wanted to talk to Janeway, wanted to know what she was doing to bring us back”
He threw his head back and laughed “I would have loved to have seen that. So did you?”
Marla grinned “No, of course not. I almost died when he said that, you should have seen the look on Seven’s face when he started on his rant.”
“I can imagine her saying something about the frivolous nature of the request. Well, at least your father cares enough to be concerned. I don’t think mine noticed me the entire time we were growing up. Occasionally, on the good days and when he was flush with credits, he would come home with an armful of toys, but he would mostly be wrapped up in a drug induced haze.”
“I’m sorry, Miguel”
He shrugged “It’s all in the past and I swore that I would never do that to my kids. I’ve tried to be a stand-in parent to my nephews, although, it would help if I knew where they were”
“Starfleet hasn’t had any luck tracking them down?”
“No, but they’re trying. I asked Chakotay get a message to Sveta, his contact in the Maquis, hopefully she’ll have better luck, but I’m not holding my breath. I don’t think she can do much from New Zealand.”
“New Zealand? She’s in prison”
“Yes, which is probably where I would have ended up, if I was lucky enough to have dodged Cardassian justice.” He smiled ruefully.
This time she reached over and held his hand. “For what it’s worth, I’m glad that you ended up here.”
They’d had that conversation towards the end of the voyage and it was less than a year after that, that they were shown a way home by Admiral Janeway.
He didn’t see much of Marla once they arrived on Earth. As soon as the crew finished the debriefings the Equinox five were tried for their crimes. Captain Janeway, however, convinced Starfleet to keep it under wraps. She rightly suspected that a public trial would have been disastrous.
The Admiralty had agreed because even though the war was over, diplomats were still hard at work attempting to entice the planets that had withdrawn from the Federation during the heat of the conflict back into the fold, and they didn’t need the added complication of negative publicity.
Although, Marla and her fellow Equinox crewmembers were acquitted after the closed trial, it was difficult in an organization the size of Starfleet to keep things quiet. Secrets had a way of leaking out, and once they did, all hell broke loose.
The five were constantly derided on the news as being, at best - cowards, and at worst - murderers. They were harangued and harassed, and told that they should have done something to stop Ransom. They were described as too self-centered to try and their inaction enabled him to carry out his genocidal spree.
None of the five could risk stepping out of their homes without a Starfleet escort for fear of attack.
Marla had come by his place soon after, upset and bitterly disappointed at the way things had played out.
“I don’t know Miguel, maybe I deserve it. Noah and I were talking the other night about what we could have done to stop Rudy. We could have overpowered him - he couldn’t kill us all, but maybe it would have been better if he had.”
He’d drawn her close. “Your ship was not nearly as well equipped as Voyager and the crew was much smaller. I don’t agree with what Ransom did, but honestly, I’m not sure what you could have done to stop him and besides Marla, you have paid you dues time and time again. It’s not fair for others to judge you without having any concept of what it was like to be in your place. The isolation from everything that’s familiar and the dangers of the quadrant; it could drive any one insane. Ransom and Max were both mad men and you were trapped on the ship with them.”
She looked at him, her eyes and nose red and tear stained. They were almost the same height and he liked that she could look him in the eye.
“We should have, we should have done something and when Janeway looked around our ship, we could have been honest with her.”
“You were, remember you helped Seven get into the Equinox’s files.”
“I don’t know. I just wish…”
“What are you planning, Marla?” He pulled back to look at her closely, worried that she was considering something drastic.
She’d laughed harshly, “Nothing as dramatic as that. I turned in my resignation to Starfleet and I am going away to think. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to live with myself.”
“Don’t go. Let me talk to Janeway and Chakotay and see if they can do something to smooth this over.” He knew that both of his former Captains would be willing to help. They would have already if they had not been so absorbed battling their own demons.
She’d stepped away from him and turned to leave. “No. They have enough on their plate right now, to worry about us. They’ve done their bit and it’s time for me to find a way to deal with this on my own.”
“Marla!” She stopped at the door. “Let me know if there’s something I can do for you, okay?”
She turned back, her smile genuine and heartfelt. “You have already done more than I could have hoped for. You were my friend in some of the darkest moments that I have been through and for that I am grateful. Miguel you mean the world to me.”
And that was the last time he had seen her.