ship in a bottle
To the Valkyries,
From time immemorial sailors have built ships in a bottle.
I like that phrase, 'time immemorial'. It means nobody knows how long. Somehow that bit of data escaped the all-consuming Federation databases; the Vulcans must have been home for Pon Farr that day. I'll bet not even you three know who built the first ship in a bottle, you with your engineering wizardry and scientific curiosity and Borg omniscience.
They say the sailors used to do it because they were bored. It's hard to imagine your crew bored, isn't it? You probably think we're all too busy chasing your Borg friends around the Delta Quadrant, fighting hostile aliens and getting sucked into deadly anomalies to get bored. Well, the Borg and the belligerent may seem exciting to you but it's the same old grind to us rank-and-file crewmen, and my model ship was built to a crewman's scale: small and hopelessly lost in the vastness of the Delta Quadrant.
Do you know what ship I was making in that bottle? 'Voyager' is hand-painted across the hull, but it's really the Ship of the Valkyries: Captain Kathryn Janeway, Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres and Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct to Unimatrix Zero One. But I'm no misogynist. I know it was only luck that you three, who robbed me of every reason to live and then sent me to my death, were women - just my own dumb luck that got me stuck on this ship in the first place. You Valkyries are merely symbols to me, like my ship in a bottle.
The Valkyries of Norse mythology visited battlefields to choose which soldiers to pack off to Valhalla. Their supernatural powers could be used to save their chosen heroes, or to slay warriors who had lost their favor. But there's more to you than just sending me to my death:
Seven of Nine, you represent all the useful work I could have done in Engineering, had your nanoprobes not done it first. Is it any surprise that I had so much free time to play with model ships? There's an entire engineering staff down there put out of work by nanoprobes - think of them now and again, will you?
Lieutenant Torres, you represent the job I should have had - chief engineer of a starship. You see, I was an engineer once upon a time, back in the Alpha Quadrant. Then you broke my nose in a Klingon rage and I became just another oarsman on the Ship of the Valkyries. No hard feelings, though - it all seems so petty now that I'm dead.
Captain Janeway, you symbolize the Delta Quadrant, where you stranded us, violating the Prime Directive in the process. Of course, if Tom Paris tries to help some unfortunate aliens, he gets brig time for transgressing the Prime Directive. I guess that's the difference between being a Valkyrie and being an oarsman.
And the ship in a bottle? That's the easiest symbol of them all, yet I can picture you gathered around it now - Janeway the immovable looking moved, Seven calling it irrelevant, and Torres distracted by the tiny duranium plates of the outer hull, each riveted in place by hand. So I'll explain:
Out on the open sea, the ship was a bottle, holding in the crew, holding out the salt water. By some ancient, warmer logic, sailors trapped their model ships in bottles, as they themselves were trapped, floating for years on the unforgiving sea. Here in space it's the same way - we're all trapped in this bottle of air, under a thin duranium hull that the Borg could crush with a communal thought.
When you build the little bottle yourself, bit by tiny bit, it's an expression of faith in the craftsmanship of the larger bottle around you. You know the hull, once you've driven thousands of tiny rivets into it. You know the ship's weak points, but you know its inner strength, the beauty of its lines, and the economy of its design. You believe it will last out the voyage, though savages delay you in the South Seas or the Borg harass you in Borg Space. Or at least you figure that the Fates will allow you to finish your model before crushing the original around you like a paper boat.
I never guessed I'd die on solid ground. Then the word came down that Torres was too heavy with the Klingon messiah child to join the landing party. It was a bad sign. You would never have died down there on the planet, Chief, but what would happen to me without the hulls of Voyager to protect me? I had a family, children, and they were expecting to hear from me in a few days. They would be disappointed.
The planet looked bad, very bad. Seven, you said the planet was uninhabited, but it wasn't. The locals blamed us for their own stupidity. Captain, I'm sure you'll take the incident as a Prime Directive morality tale, but if you ask me, they were just a bad apple on the evolutionary tree. Of course you won't ask me, because I'm dead.
You wanted one of your crewmen back, Captain - you insisted on it. I knew before I was gunned down for your impatience that I was doomed to die, but I wasn't afraid. After all, the entire male population of Voyager was annihilated once before by a suicidal Q. Few know where they are headed when they embark on that last journey in a torpedo casing, but I knew. Death, the final frontier...
No, I'm not going to tell you what it's like. As your fellow drones say, Seven, it's irrelevant, because Valkyries never die.
Lieutenant Joseph Carey, late of the USS Voyager
d e a d l e t t e r s h o m e