"Far From Here"
Disclaimer: None of it's mine. I'm just a sad little fangirl that spends her days writing fanfic and watching taped episodes of her favorite shows :(
Description: Making it back to Earth is not a homecoming for everyone.
Mrs. Wolack turned from the vidscreen panel, facing her class of rowdy fourteen-year-old students. It was Friday and they were anxious to get out of class, paying little to no attention to the class lecture. Technically, it probably wasn't the best time to introduce new material, but she was of the opinion that students wouldn't push themselves to excel until someone gave them a push first. She was out to educate the most motivated students she could... so today she would start her new lecture.
"All right, settle down, class... today, we're going to start a new section of our xenology studies... we're going to start alien species and cultures of the Delta Quadrant."
A number of heads snapped in her direction, some of the students coming to immediate attention at mention of the much mystifying Delta Quadrant races. Eight years ago when the fabled starship Voyager returned from the distant space the information banks were filled with comments on new races never seen before. Starfleet protocol kept most of the information under wraps until the proper research was made, then slowly it was released for public consumption, but there had yet to be a real extensive, all-encompasing novel on the many races of that far off corner of the galaxy. It was widely known that the best place to learn about the Delta Quadrant species were in school, and a number of eager students grew rapt upon the teacher.
Mrs. Wolack smiled, appraising her attentive half of the class... it was so easy for a teacher to pick out the real gems in a classroom. Like a sixth sense or body language or something.
Mrs. Wolack's eyes traveled a moment over her student body, falling to rest upon one of the greatest mysteries of her class this year... a somber young girl named Naomi Wildman. Half human, half-Ktarian, she was an enigma to her teacher.
Naomi was exactly where she should be developmentally for her age (taking into account her Ktarian blood), but there was something very separate and world-weary about her that her classmates did not share. She was always quiet, almost soberly pensive if the description worked. She was a very adept pupil... girl was smart as a tack. On the chapter of the Prime Directive, without even looking like she had been listening in class, she'd been the only one to get a prefect score on her test, listing all 40 suborders of the Prime Directive asked for and going on to nail every bonus question, reciting perfectly all 47 suborders of Starfleet's Prime Directive. She had a real knack for Starfleet, and there was little doubt that is where she would go when she was old enough.
But still... even aside all that, there was something kind of tragic about her... the look of someone who'd had their world ripped from them. At first, Mrs. Wolack had thought perhaps the girl's parents had died when she was a small child or that they were abusive... but then she met Samantha Wildman and Naomi's Ktarian father. They were loving, concerned parents who cared very much for their daughter, even though the father seemed a little uneasy or uncomfortable with his daughter, he still showed compassion aplenty for her.
Mrs. Wolack looked now at Naomi Wildman. As her other classmates perked up at the notion of learning about the almost mythical Delta Quadrant species, she had not jolted to attention. She did, however, stop her idle picking at her desk edge and lift her eyes up to look at the teacher.
Naomi was a pretty young girl... strawberry blonde hair that, despite being abandoned by most of her peers because they were trying to look older, was still partially pulled back into an almost childishly cute half braid. Her blue eyes looked past the ridge of triangular spines on her forehead, giving her what would be a menacing appearance if it weren't for the sedate nature of her personality as Mrs. Wolack had always known it.
Mrs. Wolack shook it off, turning back to the vidscreen and pressing a touchpad that would bring up the first image and species profile. A young woman appeared on the holoimage side... she was impish looking, like a wiry tree sprite. She had short blonde hair and pointed ears with extra dermal layers compared to a human's.
Mrs. Wolack began cheerily, "Occampan... this young woman is a representative of the species that first brought the heroic Starship Voyager into contact with Delta Quadrant life forms. The Occampan are a race of telekinetic simpletons in that they live spartan lives, content to keep a simpler and easier lifestyle than everything we have today in our technological society..."
As she lectured, Mrs. Wolack's eyes moved across the faces of her students, falling once again on silent Naomi Wildman. She had a strange look in her eyes, on her face, as she looked up at the vidscreen. Mrs. Wolack couldn't place it, but there was something there... something very longing almost.
Mrs. Wolack frowned to herself mentally, returning to her lecture. She depressed another command and a second picture came up. This was of a male creature with mottled skin, yellow eyes, and a semi-erect shock of orangish hair with apparent texture almost like a wild boar's. Despite his foreign appearance, in the vid he was smiling at the holoimager with a jolly grin, showing less than hygienic looking teeth.
"This is a Talaxian..." Mrs. Wolack continued, "Here we see the male of the species. This race's numbers have been decimated by interplanetary war with another race on their home planets... the few that do remain band together in groups much like packs. Generally described as a friendly race, this particular Talaxian was a member of Voyager's crew for a number of years, as also was the female Occampan I showed you before..."
Mrs. Wolack's eyes darted appreciatively over her class again, each student fervently inputting the new data into their study padds with gusto... all, that is, except for Naomi Wildman.
She sat as unmoving as ever, eyes locked on the image of the strange alien male on the screen... and she looked sad.
Mrs. Wolack got through only a third of the friendly races of the Delta Quadrant when class was coming to an end. When the class had only five minutes left, she closed her teachervid and addressed the class, "Now, for a project assignment, I want each of you to choose a race of Delta Quadrant aliens to do a class report on. You'll have to find information on them wherever you can, some can be from the notes here in class, other sources could be the school library. When you decide which alien species you wish to report on, come clear it with me, then you can start gathering information for your report."
The class stood, students moving quickly toward the door. Slowly, Naomi Wildman gathered up her things and headed for the front desk.
Mrs. Wolack watched Naomi curiously, smiling helpfully as the girl stopped in front of the teacher's desk, "Hello, Naomi... do you need something?"
Naomi looked up at the blank vidscreen, "I know what species I want to do my report on."
Mrs. Wolack blinked, "We haven't even finished profiling half the species yet, are you sure you want to pick one so early?"
Mrs. Wolack shrugged, "All right, then... which one do you want to do?"
Mrs. Wolack took a moment to think, "Oh yes... the spotted one, right?"
Naomi nodded, turning to look at the screen as the teacher activated the screen and started to flip randomly through the lecture images looking for the picture.
Almost under her breath, barely enough for Mrs. Wolack to hear it, Naomi muttered, "After Kes."
Mrs. Wolack blinked, confused, then asked, "Sorry, dear? I couldn't quite hear you."
Naomi nodded at the screen, "I said, he's after the Occampan."
Mrs. Wolack snapped her fingers, "Yes, you're right... that's some memory you have, Ms. Wildman."
Mrs. Wolack brought up the image, asked Naomi, "That's the one you want, right?" and when Naomi nodded, she added the assignment into her PADD and allowed Naomi to continue on her way.
Mrs. Wolack met with the other teachers in the lounge at lunch. Biology instructor Mister Vitok (actually, for a Vulcan instructor he was more accurately just 'Vitok', but to allow the students to show proper respect he allowed the 'mister'), nodded faintly at Mrs. Wolack as she entered, asking, "If I am not mistaken, today you began instruction on the Delta Quadrant xenological specimens?"
Mrs. Wolack smiled wearily, "You are not mistaken, as usual," and she sat down heavily on the couch by the wall.
Vitok rose one brow at her, approaching as he commented, "You look troubled, Mrs. Wolack."
Mrs. Wolack waved it off, "Oh... nothing, just Naomi Wildman."
Vitok almost sighed, instead commented, "You persist in being concerned about her."
Mrs. Wolack sat up, "I can't help it, Vitok... there's something about her that worries me. She looks... troubled, all the time. Haven't you noticed that?"
Vitok's face was impassive, "She is introspective... I see no cause for concern in that."
Mrs. Wolack huffed, "Well, no, you wouldn't... you're a Vulcan. But don't you think it's a little atypical for a fourteen year old human girl?"
Vitok added helpfully, "I remind you she is not completely human..."
Mrs. Wolack cut him off, "Yes, I know, but Ktarians aren't known for being any more mediative than humans... don't you think it's a little out of character for that girl's species profile?"
Vitok hesitated, then answered, "It's improper to discuss another's personal meditative practices... but, yes... it is unlike her genetic species' makeups."
Mrs. Wolack threw up her hands, "Thank you... that's all I'm saying, Vitok... she's not like the other children. I just worry, that's all."
Vitok nodded, "Your concern for your students' well-being is admirable... I cannot fault it."
Mrs. Wolack smiled kindly at Vitok, not expecting it to be returned, then sat up from her slouch and said, "You know, today, I was going through the images of the Delta Quadrant allied species and she came up to me after class to discuss one of them... the Talaxian. I started looking through my lecture rooster for the picture and I could swear I heard her say his picture was 'after Kes', whatever that means. When I asked her what she'd said, she said that the Talaxian picture was after the Occampan."
Vitok's brow quirked, "She implied that this 'Kes' and the Occampan were synonymous?"
Mrs. Wolack nodded.
Vitok thought a moment, then casually stated, "There is nothing incongruous about that. The name of the Occampan woman that traveled aboard the Starship Voyager was Kes."
Mrs. Wolack's eyes grew wide, staring at Vitok, "You're not joking, are you?"
Vitok's incredulous brow rose higher.
Mrs. Wolack averted her eyes, thinking as she muttered, "How did she know...?"
Vitok took a short breath and started to open his mouth, as though to speak, then chose not to and left. He had always been such a stickler for not getting into other people's affairs. That left one very confused Mrs. Wolack trying to figure out how one of her students could know a detail as specific as that.
The rest of the Delta Quadrant species reviews took two weeks to complete, and finally came the day when they began to present their reports to the class on the species they had picked.
Mrs. Wolack was preparing class when the door to her classroom opened. Smiling, Mrs. Wolack commented, "A little early, aren't we, Peter?" and turned to see not one of her most punctual students, but a Starfleet officer.
Mrs. Wolack blinked, staring, then studied the woman that had walked it. She was average height, blue eyes and hair that was brown with a hint of red to it... suggesting a bit of Irish heritage. Her uniform collar wore captain's pips, but Mrs. Wolack didn't need to look at the woman's collar to know her rank... her face had been famous only eight years ago.
The woman smiled at Mrs. Wolack, stepping closer and asking, "Is this Mrs. Wolack's class?"
Mrs. Wolack stammered, "Yeah... um... yes, I'm Irene Wolack... to what do I owe this honor, Captain?"
Janeway shook Mrs. Wolack's hand firmly, looking around the empty classroom, "I'd caught hearsay that there were going to be some student reports on the Delta Quadrant species today... I don't suppose I could convince you to let me listen in?"
Mrs. Wolack sputtered, "Of course you may, Captain Janeway. This is a real honor, the students are going to be so thrilled! I don't envy them how nervous having you here is going to make giving their reports, though," and she smiled at Janeway.
The captain smiled back, genuinely congenial, and adding, "No need for them to worry... I remember how scary school reports could be, I understand."
Mrs. Wolack smiled, head light and heart hammering in a form of being star struck when the door opened and one of her students came in... not Peter McKay like she'd been expecting to show up early, but quiet little Naomi Wildman.
Naomi walked in, head down, then looked up and stopped short when she saw THE Captain Kathryn Janeway standing in her teacher's classroom.
Naomi's eyes widened a bit, looking in surprise at the captain, and she asked with a voice blending curiosity and a tinge of happiness, "Captain?"
Mrs. Wolack thought that was strange... not 'Ms. Janeway' or 'Captain Janeway'... just 'Captain'... almost familiar.
Janeway smiled warmly, "Hello, Naomi."
Naomi smiled, stepping to the captain and asking, "What are you doing here, ma'am?"
Janeway smiled again, chuckling as she reached for Naomi and pulled her into a hug. Not having to be told twice, Naomi wrapped her arms around the Starfleet officer, holding tightly and burying her face in Captain Janeway's uniform.
Janeway hugged her back, "Came to see your report... is that permissible?"
Naomi stepped back, smiling, "Of course, Captain... did you know I'm doing mine over Neelix?"
"No, I hadn't, but I can't say I'm surprised. I'm sure you'll do great."
Mrs. Wolack was blinking, stunned. She couldn't even think of a question to start with, she had so many in her head after the exchange before her.
Naomi was talking to the captain, in what was OBVIOUSLY a familiar air... then Mrs. Wolack remembered that Naomi's mother was in Starfleet... her mother must have brought the senior officer home before for this little girl to know the famous captain personally as she did.
The room began to fill up and student after student got that dumbfounded, star struck look to find that THE Voyager commander Captain Janeway was in their classroom.
Mrs. Wolack herself was a little flustered as she called the class back to order and, after introducing her ecstatic students to the one and only Captain Janeway, she addressed the class, "As you know, today we're starting out reports on the Delta Quadrant species. Don't spare your groans for our guest, so am I going to have to draw numbers or does anyone want to volunteer?"
The class laughed, and one hand popped up. Naomi Wildman's.
Mrs. Wolack was surprised, "All right, Naomi... come on up."
Mrs. Wolack took a seat at her desk, looking back at the back of the class where Captain Janeway had appropriated a desk, then turned to watch Naomi as she stood before the class, a fair-sized memory chunk on her PADD indicated in her hands. She glanced over it once, quickly, then dropped the PADD behind her back and launched into her report.
"The Talaxian home world a century ago had begun a war fought against planetary neighbors, the Haakon. A hundred years ago, Talax beat off the attack of its neighbors and were able to keep their home from hostile occupation. There was tension, but the Talaxians were able to live in relative peace and happiness. A hundred years after that initial confrontation, a century after the original assaults took place, the Haakonian mounted another attack against their peaceful neighbors. Talax was forced to defend itself again from aggressors who sought their land and people. The Haakonians had no shame or respect for the culture they were trying to overtake... they brought down one attack mere days after Prixin, one of the Talaxian holidays of family celebrating those close to one's heart. Talaxians are a gentle species, diplomats first and peaceful, aggressive only when they are forced to be. They are a spiritual, wise species of creatures that value being close to nature and the land, ones that did not deserve the brutal attacks waged upon their home. The largest attack came against the moon of Talax, Rinax, with a large population of the Talaxian people inhabiting it. The Haakonians set off a catastrophic bomb called the Metreon Cascade that destroyed the entire moon, incinerating millions of Talaxians and bringing the limping Talax people and government to its knees. The suppression was easy after that... the slaughter of so many innocent people weakening the spirit of even the most valiant Talaxians. The Talaxian afterlife believes in a Great Forest, where all the friends and family one loved in life are waiting at the Great Tree of Eternity to be reunited and spend forever together. Prayers be with all those innocent murdered Talaxians that they found their way to the Great Forest and every day for all eternity celebrate Prixin with those they loved and died with. Some of the refugee Talaxians, those on the home world and others who'd been taken off Rinax before the attack was launched, left to try and make a living for themselves in space away from Haakonian rule. The species have a flare for food and spices, some are very excellent cooks. Merchant-like, often, though not dishonest and devious like the Ferengis of the Alpha Quadrant, remaining free Talaxians had to find ways to live on their own, living with the nightmare of what happened to their loved ones on their home system. Even after the horrors experienced in their past, Talaxians are a gentle, loving species. Kind hearts and souls, all of them, and I hope... I hope they're all right now. I hope they've found new ways to celebrate Prixin once again."
The room fell silent as Naomi ended her report, no one daring to move. Mrs. Wolack was stunned speechless... none of the sketchy reports of the species she had ever read even came close to being as detailed as the half-Ktarian girl's report. How could she know so much? Did she ask Captain Janeway? but no... Naomi had seemed surprised to see her.
Mrs. Wolack cleared her throat, "That was an excellent report, Naomi... how did you learn so much about the Talaxian people?"
Naomi looked up, eyes meeting across the room with Captain Janeway's. Janeway held one hand over her mouth, eyes watery in sympathy as the young girl sought her gaze. Naomi's eyes, too, watered as she neared crying.
Naomi answered plainly, "Neelix told me," then moved back to her seat, setting her carefully prepared but unread report on her desktop.
Mrs. Wolack blinked again, confused and touched by the moving story Naomi Wildman told. She glanced back at Captain Janeway, who'd focused her eyes on the desktop, looking as pained as Naomi Wildman was. Of course, Janeway had personally known the Talaxians... no wonder she felt for them and ached for their loss.
Mrs. Wolack continued slowly, "All right... um... who's next?"
After class, the students hovered around, then swooped in on Captain Janeway... disregarding whatever class they had next and bombarding the captain with questions. She answered all that she could, being polite and friendly to the students and their curiosity. On the other end of the room, watching in silence, sat Naomi Wildman.
Finally, Mrs. Wolack interceded into the crowd of kids around the captain, "All right, give Captain Janeway some room to breathe... don't you all have a class to be at?"
Finally shamed into facing their other duties, the students reluctantly gathered their things and left in a slow trickle.
Mrs. Wolack smiled at Captain Janeway, "Well, it seems you came on a good day... those were some of the best reports I've gotten from this bunch yet."
Janeway smiled, "You have good class, Mrs. Wolack..." then she looked over at Naomi Wildman, who still sat in her spot from before. Janeway smiled gently at the girl, beckoning her.
Naomi slid out of her desk, moving to the captain and looking up at her, a friendly and faint smile on her face.
Mrs. Wolack looked down at Naomi, speaking bluntly, "And this one is one of the best in the group."
Captain Janeway smiled, "I'd believe that."
Mrs. Wolack continued proudly, "She got a perfect score on the Prime Directive test," to which Janeway gave the girl another smile, "and she did better on the subchapter 'Species Borg Designation Codes' than anyone I've ever seen."
Janeway looked almost sternly at Naomi, even though her eyes still sparkled kindly and her lips twitched in a smile. "You know Seven wouldn't approve of that."
Naomi smiled, almost conspiratorially, and commented, "She doesn't have to know."
Janeway laughed, resting her arm across Naomi's shoulders and pulling her into another quick, friendly hug. Naomi was beaming, more aglow and alive than she'd even been before.
Janeway spoke softly, "That was a wonderful report, Naomi... I know Neelix would have been proud."
Naomi's smile fell, but she nodded earnestly and her eyes sparkled in nostalgia.
Janeway cocked her head, "I was just going to drop in on Tom and B'Elanna to visit them and Miral... if you don't mind missing a little school, I'm sure they wouldn't mind you coming with me."
Naomi grinned, "For them, I'll even miss the entire day."
Janeway laughed again, looking up at the teacher and addressing her, "Thank you for letting me listen in, Mrs. Wolack... it's been a pleasure meeting you."
Mrs. Wolack shook her head, "The pleasure is all mine, Captain Janeway."
Naomi and Captain Janeway left together, leaving a very dumbstruck and stunned Irene Wolack in their wake watching after them.
She wasn't sure what made her think of it, but that night, at two in the morning, Irene Wolack shot out of bed and went to her computer console. Calling up her original files on the Delta Quadrant species, the information she'd taken her lesson plans from after weeding out the more irrelevant information, she searched for the heading 'Talaxian'. She was certain she was just imagining things... that she'd let her imagination run away with her, but until she checked she wouldn't be able to sleep.
Finally, the file with the holoimage attached of the jovial Talaxian male in Voyager's sickbay. His species' information scrolled out on the side. Mrs. Wolack read through it carefully, picking out the tidbits of personal information interspersed in the species data.
And then, she found it... just sitting there and staring at her as though mocking her for not making the connection earlier.
"Talaxian subject, name Neelix..."... just like that, plain as day.
Naomi had said that 'Neelix' had told her everything she'd reported on Talaxians... but that was impossible... this 'Neelix' never came back from the Delta Quadrant with Voyager so Naomi could never have spoken to him.
A rock that exploded into butterflies hit her stomach as Irene remembered something else... what Captain Janeway had mentioned in the classroom. Taking Naomi to see Tom and B'Elanna... those names, at least the exotic one, sounded familiar... somehow.
Accessing the public records Starfleet main page, Irene found her way to the information desk about the Starship Voyager, calling up a crew manifest. There they were... Chief Engineer Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres... Chief Pilot Lieutenant Thomas Paris. And Miral must have been their daughter... Irene Wolack had never known their names, but she did recall that two children had been born on Voyager.
A notion struck her like a thunderbolt... TWO children. One was Miral Paris... but the other... it couldn't be...
Shifting through names almost at lightening speed, it popped up on her screen, just like that... a revelation there in the dark that had just been waiting to be found.
A file for a young half-Ktarian girl who was born and raised aboard the Starship Voyager. The holoimage was of a much younger child, but still Irene recognized it... that was Naomi Wildman.
Irene Wolack sat back, almost unable to comprehend what that meant. That little girl, the quiet smart child in her xenology class, had been born on the other side of the galaxy on the most famous starship since Kirk's Enterprise. HER student, Naomi Wildman, had LIVED everything Mrs. Wolack taught with the regret of an explorer who never was. Everything they had been going over class, the information the others input into their study padds feverishly, she had LIVED. She grew up around Occampans and Talaxians and even Borg and Hirogen. YES! Janeway had mentioned 'Seven'... that must have been the common, familiar name for the freed Borg drone that returned with them called Seven of Nine.
No wonder Naomi was uncomfortable around other children... for the large chunk of her young life, she'd never been around them. She grew up among the cream of Starfleet's crop and the cornucopia of unexplored space and its species.
Irene turned off her console, sitting alone in the dark trying to assimilate all this new information. Trying to bring herself to understand that the quiet young girl in her classroom had seen stars 70,000 light years from earth... had touched lives and races that most could only dream about.
She was the explorer every scientist wanted to be and the child every stargazing boy or girl dreamed of having the luck to have been.
Who would have thought, that quiet little girl in her classroom had seen the suns of a hundred alien worlds... ones that no one in Starfleet who'd not been on Voyager could ever hope to see in real life... relying only on holoimages and scans.
Hers were the eyes that beheld a thousand wonders, and in that respect, it wasn't really hard to understand why young Naomi Wildman couldn't connect to her peers.
In comparison, she had lifetimes behind her while they were still trying to start their first.