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Well, here it is.  My first attempt at fan-fiction.  I have the dreadfull feeling that it may be rather boring, but I haven't gotten to the good part yet anyway.  Living in the age of instant gratification, it's hard not to jump straight to it...but I restrained myself.  Hopefully I will find time to do some more work on it soon.  If you have any comments or suggestions, or can help at all with the ranks (I know Birch's is akward, but I don't know what else to call her), I'd love to hear from you!  Send e-mail to your heart's content.

 Lieutenant, JG Birch shifted her weight and continued to study the wall across from her.  She resisted the urge to sigh, but Ensign Donson, beside her, picked up on her mood anyway.
 "Bored, Anna?" he asked.
 She gave him a quick look, reminding him that Lieutenant Tuvok had instructed them not to chit-chat on the job.
 "Sorry, Leu-"He caught himself.
 After a moment, Lieutenant Birch whispered, "Bored stiff."  From the corner of her eye, she saw him holding back a smile.
 Tuvok can order us not to talk, but he can't keep our thoughts from flying wherever they please.  Lieutenant Birch went over the recent events in her mind.
 Two weeks ago they  had stopped at the Thali home world, and the Captain had ordered shore leave for the crew.  Birch had been on the last group to leave the ship.  Most of the senior officers had already left by that time, but the Captain and her first officer were on the shuttle.  She guessed that it had taken Commander Chacotay that long to persuade Captain Janeway to join her crew on the planet. God knows she, of all people, needs a break, Birch remembered thinking to herself.  She's just as tired as father always was.  Birch's father had been a Starfleet captain, and she knew how heavily the burden of responsibility had weighed on him, even in the Alpha Quadrant, with Starfleet Headquarters relatively close by.  The Lieutenant did not envy Janeway's position.
 The crew had enjoyed their one week vacation of sorts at this friendly planet.  The Captain had even managed to get in some good relaxation time between the necessary trading for valuable supplies.  When the time came to leave, everyone was refreshed and, though they had enjoyed their stay, ready to leave.  Perhaps the time on a planet had made them long even more for their homes, on Betazoid, Earth, or even Vulcan.
 Birch's thoughts went to the letter she had received from home three months ago.  Her little brother -- married!  It was almost too much to believe.  And to her good friend, Solvia.  The thought made her smile, but she quickly hid her feelings before Donson noticed.  Her sister, too, had had a happy event -- her first child, a darling little girl.
 Named after me -- Joanna Leigh!  This time she had a harder time hiding her smile.  Her next thought, however, wiped away any trace of it.
 Even after three months, she had to blink back tears at the thought of his death.
 Killed in a battle against the ... Domination?  No ... the Dominion, that's it.  The battle to take back that deep space station by the Gamma Quadrant wormhole, whatever number it is.  I just wish they'd find a stable wormhole to the Delta Quadrant.
 Even without her fiancee waiting for her, she had so much to get home for, so much she was missing.
 Lieutenant Birch snapped herself out of her private little  pity party, and again focused on her important, if monotonous task.  She dared not glance at her chronometer, but guessed that there were at least two hours left until the morning shift came on to relieve them.
 And our guest is probably sleeping, she speculated. What a waste of time.  Well, "theirs was not to question why, theirs was just to do and die."  The charge of the Light Brigade was a lot more interesting, though, she thought to herself.  The only way I'll die on an assignment like this is if it's from boredom.
 She thought again about their visit to the Tahli planet.  Their leader had been so helpful that the Captain had agreed to transport him to a colony about eight days away.  It was on their way, anyway....
 The leader -- Axolam was his name -- was rather paranoid about this part of space, however, and had requested round-the-clock security for three days of the journey.  Birch knew only what Lieutenant Tuvok had told them:  Axolam feared the outlaws who had once hidden out in the area.  The group had pretty much died out in past years, but the Tahli remained wary of this part of space.  Apparently the Captain had been in a good mood -- perhaps it was out of thankfulness for his hospitality on the planet -- in any case, she had chosen to humor Axolam rather than to argue the point.  She'd asked Tuvok to assign a two person guard, and Birch had been one of the lucky winners of the eight hour shifts.  So far, nothing of note had occurred, and now that they were within a day of their destination the gaurd would end.
 In fact, Birch reminded herself, there is no morning shift replacing us.  We're the last ones.
 She would still not need to check her chronometer for a while, however.  Having spent much of her life on starships, she could place the changing of the shifts within two minutes by simply observing traffic.
 As the early risers began to stir from their quarters, the Lieutenant silently ticked down the minutes in her head.  Neelix was the first, on his way to prepare breakfast.  She nodded to him as he passed, and knew that she had been right in her two hour guess; Neelix was one of the most reliable, always making his way to the mess hall precisely one hour and 55 minutes before the shift change.  Slowly the passageways of the ship grew more busy, and finally she decided to check the time.  As she raised the chronometer, Lieutenant Tuvok arrived.
 "Anything unusual to report, Lieutenant?" he asked as usual.
 "No, sir."
 Instead of relieving them, however, he pressed the door chimes on the guest quarters.  Birch guessed he was going to inform Axolam that his guard was leaving.  After three rings, however, there was still no response from within, and Tuvok, looking almost annoyed, called the bridge over the comm lines.  He asked Ensign Kim to scan the quarters.
 "Is Mr. Axolam sleeping?" he queried.
 "No, sir," came the reply.  "He's...sir, I'm not picking him up on the scans!"
 The Lieutenant looked at Birch, and she quickly assured him that the visitor had not left, at least not through the door.  She felt a moment of panic.  Where could he be?  The last shift said he had just gone in for the night, and I know he hasn't left!  She felt Tuvok's disapproval at her lack of control, and she quickly quieted her fears and turned to face the doorway.  The Lieutenant overrode the lock and the door slid open to reveal the darkened quarters.  Soft Tahli music had been left playing by the occupant, and the strange sound gave the room an empyrean feeling.  The three made a quick visual scan of the room, which looked as empty as it felt.  Tuvok tensly nodded the ensign in the direction of the bathroom, leaving the Lieutenant to guard the door while he checked the bedroom.  After several long moments she could finally sense Axolam's presence and hear muted conversation.  Birch relaxed as she recognized the two voices.
 Tuvok returned and motioned them to follow him outside.
 "He has apparently been using a shielding mechanism to prevent himself from being targeted by weapons or transported while he slept.  It also kept our sensors from finding him when his alarm malfunctioned this morning.  You are dismissed."
 Tuvok turned back into the room, while the other two crewmen headed to breakfast.
 "What a way to end an assignment," commented Donson as soon as the turbolift doors closed.
 "No kidding.  He had me worried there for a moment," admitted Joanna.
 They walked in companionable silence to the mess hall, and after getting plates of whatever it was that Neelix was serving, they joined some of their friends at their usual table.
 "Where you guys been?" asked Jim West, a night-shift engineer.
 "Yes," echoed Ray Smith, a fellow night-shift security person.  "We thought you'd fallen out of an airlock or something."
 "No, they were looking for Axolam," Sarah Clark informed them knowingly.  She had the conn at night, and apparently Tom Paris had been late enough for his shift that she had still been on the bridge when Tuvok requested a scan.  "So, did you find him?"
 "You think they'd be here if they hadn't?"
 "Yeah, Tuvok would have personally booted us out of the nearest airlock if we'd lost him," Donson said.
 "So where was he?"
 "In his bedroom."
 "But--" Sarah protested.
 "Yeah, I know, the scans came up negative.  But ya see, at night he's been putting up a portable shielding device that makes him invisible to scans, transporter locks,..."
 "Telepaths?" interrupted Sarah, looking at Joanna.
 "Yes," the quarter Betazoid replied.  "It's not like I could tell from the hall, but when we entered it felt unnaturally empty...sort of like forest clearing after all the animals have been scared away."
 "So anyway," Donson said, taking back control of the story, "we hadn't noticed till now 'cause we usually have no need to check with him when changing shifts, and anyway he's usually up and about by the time we leave anyway, but Tuvok had to tell him we were the last shift, and apparently his alarm's on the fritz and he didn't hear the doorbell."
 He paused to take a breath, and Jim wagered, "I'll bet Tuvok wasn't too happy about that scare."
 "Tuvok?  He's never happy about anything!  He's a vulcan, silly," chided Sarah.
 "Vulcans," muttered Ray.  "Sheesh.  Their one redeeming quality is Pon Far."
 "Hey, I wonder when Tuvok's due?" mused Jim.
 "I wouldn't ask him," warned Donson, "unless you want your behind out the airlock."
 "Poor guy ... probably misses his family, however Vulcan he may be," murmured Joanna.
 "Hah.  If so, he's pretty good at hiding it," commented Neelix, stopping as he passed the table.  "You know, when I delivered his letter from home he never even looked up from his security sweep."
 "I'll bet he ignored it just to annoy you," grinned Joanna.  "Maybe to get back for that 'Vulcan surprise' you made."
 "Say, that reminds me, what is this stuff, anyway, Neelix?" asked Ray.
 "Scrambled Dorvarian eggs, with a special twist of my own," announced Neelix proudly.
 Ray made a face, but Joanna smiled.  "Oh, I remember those!  I thought the smell was familiar.  Try it, guys, it's good!"
 "Are you sure?" Jim looked doubtful.
 "Of course she is," beemed Neelix, patting Joanna on the back.  Both Sarah and Jim put their forks to the food and tentatively raised the content to their mouths while Ray watched skeptically.  Sarah reacted immediately, while it took Jim a moment to reach for his glass of juice.  When she had recovered, Sarah managed, "Interesting."
 "It was delicious, Neelix, but I think I'm full now.  See you guys later," Joanna said before they could do anything to take revenge.
 "Hey, are you going to work on your holoprogram?" asked Ray.
 "When's it going to be done?"
 "Patience, patience," scolded Joanna.
 "It would help if you'd at least tell us what it's about!" said Sarah.  "The suspense is killing us!"
 "You'll see," replied Joanna over her shoulder, then she slipped out the door.