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Terra Firma

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Think of the child, the news broadcasts are shrieking. Think of poor little Naomi Wildman, who has never been able to set foot on her native soil until today.

Poor little Naomi Wildman is having the time of her life. She hasn't done any studying in a week, and everybody wants to know what she has to say. She's been given new clothes, and games, and someone tried to send her a pet targ, but her mother made them take it away before she saw it.

They want to know about the bad things she's seen, so she tells them about the Borg, and the Hirogen, and the time that her mother went missing. But that's not enough for them, somehow. They want to know more, more details, more horrors. They want to know how terribly hard life must have been. She tells them that she liked her life on Voyager. Her mother tells them that they protected her, that her life wasn't that much different to any child growing up on any Federation starship.

After the first few, her mother stops letting her read the things they write about her, but it's too late. She knows they're not writing things the way she told them.

She saw some things about the rest of the crew too, and a most of that wasn't true either. Seven's face is in a lot of them, but the things they're saying don't sound like her. Naomi wishes she could see her, to ask if she really said them.

***

They make her start school. No more studying on her own, no more traipsing the corridors, looking for an appropriately-Starfleet-trained adult to help her with her assignments.

She doesn't know what to say to any of the other children. Most have never left Earth, and there isn't a one of them who can beat her at kadis-kot. She misses Mezoti and Azan and Rebi more than she ever did on the ship.

After class one day she isn't quite sure what makes her turn the wrong way out of the school gates. Her feet don't seem to be listening to her any more, and they sneak her onto the nearest transport heading for Starfleet Headquarters. She can't get in, of course, but when Security catch her, she tells them she wants to see Seven of Nine, and because she's just a little girl and she's all alone, it works.

She expects to cry when she sees Seven again, but she doesn't. She hands her a padd with her geometry homework on it. "My teacher told me this was wrong," she explains. "But I did it the way you showed me."

***

She kisses a boy and he tastes like chocolate, and Naomi Wildman remembers that until a few years ago, she had never eaten chocolate. She still doesn't like it, much.

They lie on their backs in a grassy meadow, this human boy and her, and look up at the moonlit sky. He takes her hand and tells her he wants to be a doctor one day, maybe in Starfleet, and go to some deep space station and treat Ferengi and Andorians.

"Doctors will be obsolete by then," she finds herself telling him. "It'll all be done by holograms."

He's quiet after that, so she stares at the stars. She knows that humans like to wish on stars (You're half human, her mother would tell her when she was small, but she never used to think it meant this), and she wonders which one of them she's supposed to use.

If she was human, she'd wish and wish that they had never made it back.

***

Seven is going away again, on a short-range mission, she says. She expects to be gone for exactly six months and four days, in Earth time. Naomi knows she couldn't stay put for too long, not even with whatever high-flying research position they'd found for her at Headquarters. It had held her attention these last few years, but Naomi has watched her look more and more unhappy, in that blank, controlled way of hers.

Naomi was upset at first, in case Seven was getting bored of spending time with her now that she's older, but really she understands, because she knows that if she could just step onto a ship again, it would all be ok. She'd feel the metal hum under her fingertips and things would go back to the way they were meant to be.

But Lieutenant Samantha Wildman, with her comfortable desk job, never seems to want to take her feet off solid ground again. She can't put Naomi at that kind of risk, she tells people. Not again. Not after what she went through during those years. It's as though she's seen too many of those awful news stories from when they first got back, that still occasionally trickle out even now, and has begun to trust them over her own memory.

Naomi wonders what Neelix is doing now.

***

At eighteen, Naomi Wildman thinks she knows exactly what she wants. She kisses Annika Hansen under the trees at the far end of the sweeping gardens behind Annika's aunt Irene's house. Annika's lips are full and soft and the hem of her summer dress tickles against Naomi's knees

Naomi realises she might have made a mistake when Seven of Nine steps back and looks at her speculatively, suddenly all poise and angles. Seven still smells like Voyager's corridors, all these years later.

Naomi won't cry. Even when she hears that Seven is leaving on some secret mission for Admiral Janeway in a few days time and can't tell her when she'll be back. She won't cry; she'll polish her Academy application instead.

***

Naomi is very good at her classes, with a special talent for astrophysics, but she has trouble with Starfleet protocol. She just doesn't understand why it's so important, and she's sure Captain Janeway didn't always follow it in a crisis.

When she gets in trouble for countermanding her superior officer's orders in a yet another training simulation, she remembers being Captain's Assistant on Voyager. She wonders what Seven's position was in the chain of command, and the thought makes her grin, but the other cadets think she's laughing at them and so they don't invite her to the bar after class.

She's used to that now. They think she's arrogant, because she often knows better than they do, and she doesn't see the point of not showing it. These days she has cultivated a haughty look and a certain stare down her nose to go with her reputation. She had the best possible role model to base it on.

***

"Come with me," she asks, a few days before her very first mission, with her ensign's pin shining and new at her neck. They're having lunch at a new Klingon restaurant in downtown San Francisco, and Naomi is trying to drink her raktajino without pulling faces. "I know it wouldn't be much fun for you, a basic democratic run like this, but you're not doing anything else for a few months, and you know the Captain would have you..."

Seven smiles in a way that's almost a laugh. "Captain Kim would not know what to do with me."

Naomi giggles into her cup. "Dear old Harry. I wonder if I'll remember to call him "Captain" all the time."

"You will be reprimanded if you don't." Seven looks at her in that way that makes Naomi think she can see right through her. "You will be all right, Naomi Wildman. You have wanted this all your life."

But what if it's not the same. She doesn't need to say it, because she knows that Seven understands. She's been on training flights as a cadet, of course, but not this. This is a real, working crew and now she has to be a part of it, and it's not Voyager. What if she gets out there, and it's so very different, and everything she's dreamed about since they soared triumphantly back to Earth turns out to be wrong?

***

As her ship breaks free of the wormhole, Captain Wildman breaks protocol, just for this one moment, reaching out to her right and taking her Number One's hand.

The first (planned) long range exploratory mission into the Delta Quadrant heads towards unfamiliar space, and Naomi Wildman can't help feeling that she's finally going home.

Commander Miral Paris smiles back at her and squeezes her fingers.