Fifth in the Galaxies Series: **Note to readers: for the complete history of Tom and B’Elanna’s relationship dilemma refer back to first story of Galaxies, the bottom of Chapter 2.
We can embrace love; it’s not too late.
Why do we sleep, instead, with hate?
(Dean Koontz-The Book of Counted Sorrows)
"Entering the planet’s atmosphere," Tom Paris announced rather unnecessarily as the shuttle jostled about.
Seven glanced over at Lieutenant Torres, the leader of the away team, and resisted the urge to sigh in irritation. This was the third trip to Ikonia to obtain dilithium crystals for their damaged vessel. Each time the atmosphere on board the Stingray was tense between Paris and Torres yet the chief engineer insisted on accompanying them.
"Thanks for the tip," B’Elanna said sarcastically. "Just see if you can set the shuttle down without crashing it."
The back of the helmsman’s neck reddened, but he refrained from comment. Since Nemo’s crash on Safe Haven was technically the results of Seven’s actions the former drone thought Lieutenant Torres was being unfair.
"B’Elanna, if Lieutenant Paris’ presence on the away mission troubles you why did you not stay on Safe Haven? I am sure your expertise in repairing the engines would be appreciated," Seven said in a low voice so only they could hear.
"Doctor Brahms can handle the engines; they are her area of expertise. Besides, she’s a civilian."
"As am I," Seven pointed out.
"That’s different. You have experience. There’s no way the captain would send Doctor Brahms to a planet that’s technically at war."
"Another engineer could have taken your place. Lieutenant Jameson, perhaps?"
"Nope," B’Elanna said, checking her navigational board. "Jameson’s good but I want to make sure we don’t end up with another bad batch of crystals."
Seven struggled through her friend’s illogical statement. The only ‘bad batch’ of dilithium crystals were those originally onboard the Nautilus at the start of the mission. It was a leap to think that could happen again without another saboteur onboard and finally she decided B’Elanna merely enjoyed the opportunity to harass Lieutenant Paris.
It was true Doctor Brahms wouldn’t be allowed on the away team and even Kathryn had made the responsible decision to stay on Safe Haven. Instead the captain sent an away team fortified with useful information provided by the Ikonians. Their leader, First Flyer Shoya, had even forwarded information on the species they were in conflict with. The species was known as the Chthonians. The race was almost xenophobic in their hatred of the Ikonians, seeing them as an aberration due to their ability to fly and attacking them regularly.
They were technologically inferior to the Ikonians, not even possessing warp drive. With only impulse speed it took over a year for the war-like race to travel from their home world to wage hostilities on Ikonia. Currently, two of their war vessels had been detected on long-range sensors in route to Ikonia. Because of mineral interference with all of the planets and moons in the system, the enemy vessel hadn’t been spotted on sensors until they passed Ikonia’s twelfth moon. They were due to reach the planet in hours and the away team’s mission was to get in and out as quickly as possible without encountering the hostile aliens. If they didn’t require the dilithium crystals so badly Captain Janeway would not have approved the away mission at all. Fortunately there had been no problems so far.
First Flyer Shoya had refused compensation for the dilithium, professing it to be a gift from their Gods and freely available to all requiring it. She then went so far as to provide them with maps to the most isolated areas heavy with the precious crystals that were not likely to be in the path of the Chthonians.
Paris interrupted Seven’s train of thought when he parked the Stingray on a remote mountaintop. As soon as they had landed safely she unbuckled her harness and walked into the cargo hold to prepare the mining equipment. The two security officers assigned to accompany them, Lieutenant Buell and Ensign Rosenfeld, joined her in the rear essentially leaving Torres and Paris alone in the cockpit. Seven listened shamelessly with her Borg enhanced hearing as the helmsman tried to reason with the chief engineer.
"B’Elanna, can we talk?"
"I doubt it."
"Look, if we’re going to work together we need to come to an agreement."
"We agree you’re a lying, cheating pig. What more is there to discuss?"
"Fine. If you don’t want to talk then just listen," Paris grated, finally losing patience. "I cheated on you. I won’t deny it. But you’re not exactly a victim in all this as much as you’d like to pretend you are."
"What do you mean?" B’Elanna asked in a dangerous tone.
"Oh, come on, B’Elanna! You never loved me, not really. Do you think I couldn’t tell?"
"Don’t try to put this on me. I never would have done anything to jeopardize our marriage!"
"I know, and that’s not what I’m saying." Tom’s voice softened as he said, "You’re brave and honorable and all those things that are why I fell in love with you to begin with. I still feel that way. And even though you never loved me the same way, I know our marriage would have been enough for you."
For the first time Seven could hear pain and betrayal in her friend’s voice.
"Because it wasn’t enough for me! I want to be with someone who truly loves me, to see who I am with all my faults and still want only me. I know what I did was selfish but you deserve something better, too. You’re entitled to have someone you really love, not someone you had to mate with because of a hormonal imbalance."
After a stunned silence Torres asked, "You knew about that?"
"What? That Vorik’s attempt to mate with you during his pon farr threw your hormones out of whack? That once you tasted my blood you’d be compelled to mate with me? Yeah, I knew."
"If you knew I had no choice then why did you let me go through with it?" B’Elanna asked sharply, enraged once again by the man’s insensitivity.
"Because I loved you! I still love you. I thought it didn’t matter that you didn’t feel the same way. I thought I would be happy with whatever you could give me. I thought once we got married you would grow to love me. I was wrong."
If Paris thought his humble approach would redeem him in the Klingon’s eyes Seven thought he would be disappointed. In a way she felt sympathy for him, he only wanted someone to love him the way he did B’Elanna. Still, his feelings weren’t justified by his actions.
"You vain, selfish bastard! First you take advantage of my Klingon hormones and then once we’re married you throw it all away because I don’t love you enough? It’s always about you, isn’t it?"
"B’Elanna, please. I just wanted you to understand why I did it."
"Oh, don’t worry. I understand perfectly and I’m glad you told me," Torres said furiously. "You’re nothing to me now but I still have one final question for you, Paris. Did you ever, even once, think about our daughter?"
Apparently the Klingon didn’t expect or want an answer. Seven heard her heavy footsteps approaching as the former drone slipped the pack onto her shoulders. She had just picked up a hand phaser when B’Elanna stomped into the cargo bay.
"All right, people, listen up! This is our last load. Let’s get those crystals and get off this planet before all hell breaks loose."
B’Elanna was being more boisterous than usual, but Seven thought it was an act. Although justifiably angry Seven sensed a bit of relief on the Klingon’s part as well. If nothing else Paris’ confession had released B’Elanna from her matrimonial bond and she would no longer argue with him. Seven wondered if B’Elanna would now allow the relationship with Karri Jameson to develop.
"Ready?" B’Elanna asked loudly, looking at each member of the away team in an almost threatening manner.
"Yes," Seven returned calmly.
They set off to collect the last load of dilithium crystals, each of them confident that they would soon be on their way back to the alpha quadrant. While they had been ferrying dilithium from Ikonia to Safe Haven the engines on board Nemo were being refitted. Brahms and the engineering team were now finishing the last repairs to the power feeds, but estimates had the ship capable of sustained flight within the next twenty-four hours. Since the journey back to Safe Haven would take two days Nemo would be ready to lift off as soon as the away team returned.
Seven was only disappointed that the slipstream engines were no longer viable for the small craft. Nemo was really too small for faster than warp propulsion which was why there had been so many problems trying to use the modified engines. But with the destruction of the quantum fusion matrix it was no longer an option at all. Still, Kathryn’s positive outlook was contagious to her crew. They were only twenty thousand light years from home and the ship was almost fully repaired. This final load of crystals was being gathered as a precautionary stockpile.
"Readings are strongest this way," Rosenfeld said, checking her tricorder.
"Right behind you, Ensign," Torres responded crisply.
With the approach of the Chthonians the away team had moved to a more isolated location than on the previous trips. The aggressiveness of this species made even the Hirogen look reasonable and sedate, and the away team had no desire to run into them.
The trek to the new source of dilithium was quick and uneventful. An overhang protected the away team from Ikonia’s twin suns and they were astonished to find a small cavern fairly overflowing with shards of dilithium.
"We’re not even going to need mining equipment," Paris breathed in awe.
"It is fortuitous," Seven agreed. "We should finish quickly."
"Then let’s get to it. Standing around here gawking isn’t going to get it done."
A few hours later all their packs were filled with pristine dilithium crystals. They were on their way back to the Stingray when a muffled roar filled the air.
"What is that?" Rosenfeld asked glancing around.
All eyes lifted toward the sky as a cumbersome vessel lumbered into view. It came out of the suns and was hard to see at first through the glare. When the clunky metal craft finally came into full view it was clear that it was not Ikonian. Where Ikonian vessels were sleek and almost a work of art this ship was misshapen and bulky. Black scorches and smudges covered the majority of the exterior lending it a neglected and battered appearance.
"The Chthonians!" Tom shouted.
The craft was high overhead and Seven doubted the away team could be seen from inside the ship. If not for the shuttle drawing the invaders’ attention there would have been no need for them to scan the area.
"Move!" Lieutenant Buell ordered.
They ran the last twenty meters to the Stingray, diving inside just as the Chthonians opened fire.
"Shields, Paris!" Torres shouted.
Paris lurched into the pilot’s seat and raised the shields as dirt and grass tore up all around them. "What the hell are they firing?"
"Some type of crude projectiles," Seven answered from the science station. Scanning the vessel she was surprised it could even fly. "I am reading several different types of weapons on board the vessel. Most of them are crude and no match for our shields."
"Most of them?" B’Elanna asked.
"Engines coming online. Preparing to launch," Paris reported.
"Rosenfeld, help me get these packs secured in the back," B’Elanna ordered. "We won’t be coming back here with the Chiclets around and we need every shard."
Seven tracked an explosive being dropped from the alien vessel. Although unsophisticated the megaton yield could cause damage to the shuttle if it managed a direct hit.
"B’Elanna, you must strap in!"
Rosenfeld and Buell were already in the cargo hold. Following emergency protocol they would belt in as soon as the crystals were secured.
"In a minute!"
The torpedo hit the shuttle and bounced off the shields before it exploded. Shrapnel and debris were thrown over the Stingray and the vessel rocked from the concussive force.
"Shields down to eighty-nine percent!" screamed Paris.
"Paris, get us off the ground," Torres yelled, ducking into the cargo hold with a full pack in each hand.
"Acknowledged. Firing thrusters!"
The Stingray lifted obediently and changed course abruptly.
"They’re pursuing," Paris said as the engineer strode back from the cargo hold.
She put a hand on top of the helmsman’s seat and leaned over his shoulder to check the readings. "Can we get any altitude?"
"It’ll be hard, I can’t get full power to one of the nacelles! We must have taken damage before we got the shields up. That thing may be ugly, but it’s fairly fast!"
"I concur," Seven interrupted. "Scans of their propulsion systems indicate speeds comparable to our atmospheric thrusters."
"Great. I guess they figured chasing people down on the surface of a planet is more important than warp drive," Torres commented.
"Yes. Lieutenant Paris, I recommend sudden changes of heading to create confusion and a rapid acceleration for the outer atmosphere. B’Elanna, you must secure yourself into a seat restraint."
Paris banked sharply to port almost throwing B’Elanna off her feet. The Klingon grabbed hold of his seat, steadied herself and shot Seven a rueful look.
"Seven, you might be right."
Torres started aft, clasping stationary objects on her way to a seat as Paris threw them into a series of evasive maneuvers. She finally reached the seat next to Seven and reached for the harness straps.
"Heading for the outer thermosphere," Paris announced.
He changed direction radically, turning the nose of the shuttle toward space. G-forces, normally kept at bay by inertial dampers, pressed them against the backs of their seats as he accelerated and Seven noticed Lieutenant Torres still had not secured her harness. A blip on sensors drew Seven’s attention back to her console.
"Two incoming torpedoes. Impact in five, four, three…"
Beside her Torres struggled to pull the straps over her head. One of the missiles struck and the shuttle bucked harshly under the impact before continuing on its path.
"That one hurt us, shields are down to twenty-seven percent! Transporters are offline! Another hit and we’re in trouble."
"Another torpedo on sensors," Seven reported. "B’Elanna, you must strap in!"
"I’m trying! My harness is twisted!"
"Impact in four, three, two…"
When the missile struck this time it easily penetrated the weakened shields. Torres recoiled instinctively, raising her arms to protect her face. Gases vented from the shuttle as a huge hole was blown in the side. Shields prevented shrapnel from flying into the craft, but anything not tied down was pulled outward through the breach. Instead of being incinerated by the explosion Torres was sucked toward the opening.
Desperately she held on to the seat straps even as her feet were pulled upward. The uncontrolled motion of the Stingray caused her grip on the harness to loosen.
"B’Elanna!" Seven shouted.
Torres looked over at Seven’s outstretched hand. If she could only reach it she would be safe. Seven’s Borg enhanced strength would allow the former drone to hang on to B’Elanna no matter what. Struggling against the wind drag B’Elanna could barely reach Seven’s fingertips. She almost made it when she heard a tearing sound. The harness safety straps ripped abruptly and B’Elanna was yanked through the rupture. Her back slammed against the duranium before she was pulled out completely and if not for her sturdy Klingon spine she would have been paralyzed instantly. The blow drove the wind out of her and then she was tumbling helplessly toward the surface.
In the planet’s upper atmosphere oxygen was virtually nonexistent. B’Elanna’s vision swam from the lack of oxygen and she lost sight of the shuttle. All she knew for sure was that it was going down even more rapidly than she was. With the cold and lack of breathable air B’Elanna thought at least she would be dead before she hit the ground.
A loud rushing sound filled her ears before something suddenly seized her under the arms.
"I’ve got you!"
B’Elanna heard the voice distantly, eyes fluttering as she struggled to hold on to consciousness.
With difficulty she raised her head to look up. She thought she was dreaming before she remembered the Ikonians inherent ability to fly but the redhead that carried Torres was no apparition. The woman’s massive wings caused the rushing sound B’Elanna had heard and the stranger’s biceps tensed as she held the Klingon’s weight although she didn’t really seem to be struggling.
"My friends," Torres mumbled with difficulty before she passed out.
With the engine repairs almost complete Captain Kathryn Janeway and the bridge personnel covered normal duty stations while the balance of the crew concentrated on finalizing minor repairs to Nemo. The away team was due back with the last load of dilithium crystals in the next forty-eight hours and Janeway felt it important for the crew to get back into the normal routine of activity aboard a starship. Nemo would be fully ready for flight before the team returned. Part of that routine, although tedious, was personnel reports and the daily communications packet to Starfleet Command. Janeway was sitting in her ready room going over those dull reports when the call came.
"Captain Janeway to the bridge."
Wondering what would cause the slight tension in Tuvok’s normally placid voice while they were essentially at station-keeping Janeway set her padd aside and walked out onto the command center.
"What is it, Commander?" she asked settling into her chair.
"We have received a distress call from the away team. Communications were terminated abruptly and they have dropped off our sensors."
The captain never blinked even as she felt her blood freeze. "Mister Kim, get them back. Raise the Ikonian government on a separate channel."
"Aye, Captain." An instant later Harry reported, "Still nothing from the away team but First Flyer Shoya is responding."
Breathe, Janeway reminded herself. Her command mask was perfectly in place but inside she was in turmoil. Why did Seven have to insist on going on that away mission? Kathryn should have known better than to give in to the younger woman’s request. Seven had been so recently healed from life threatening injuries and Ikonia was at war. Damn! If anything happened to her Janeway would never forgive herself.
The view screen flickered and came to life. First Flyer Shoya looked a little distracted and the captain didn’t know if the unexpected hail surprised the woman or if she already knew what was happening to the away team.
"Sorry, I don’t have time to be polite, First Flyer. We’ve just received a distress call from our away team. Do you have any idea what the trouble is?"
Understanding the seriousness of the situation the leader said, "Only moments ago our sentries reported weapons fire over the Eastern Mountains."
Double damn! The captain had never felt more helpless. She had an away team in trouble and there was nothing she could do to assist. They hadn’t really needed that last load of crystals…why had she been so insistent on a reserve?
"Stand by, Captain. I am receiving an update now."
Janeway held her breath and strained to overhear any part of the quiet communication. It took only a few seconds before the winged leader filled her in though it felt like an eternity.
"Captain Janeway, I regret to inform you that your shuttle did take fire from a Chthonian vessel. The shuttle went down somewhere in the Eastern Mountains though one of your crewmembers was rescued when she was pulled through a hole in the side of the craft."
Words tumbled through her mind while Kathryn tried to piece things together. She…rescued…hole in the craft…
"What is her condition?" the captain asked, outwardly calm.
"I do not have all the information yet. She appears to be uninjured, merely unconscious from cold and lack of oxygen in the upper atmosphere. One of our Flyers was patrolling the area and managed to catch her before she fell to her death."
"I’m grateful," Kathryn said, feeling a little light headed. "First Flyer, if it’s not asking too much I’d like to ask for your help in finding my missing crewmen."
"A rescue team has already been dispatched. What is the condition of your ship?"
When the initial proposal to trade for dilithium had been made Captain Janeway had felt it necessary to explain why they needed the crystals. First Flyer Shoya knew that repairs to Nemo’s engines were why the shuttle had been sent to Ikonia.
"Engines should be online in the next fifteen hours. We’ll be underway as soon as they’re finished. At maximum warp it will take an additional six hours to reach you."
It had taken the Stingray two days to make the trip to Ikonia, but the shuttle’s maximum sustained speed was only warp four. At warp 9.975 Nemo would be there in a fraction of that time.
"I look forward to meeting you in person. I only wish it were under more pleasant circumstances," Shoya said. "I will contact you as soon as I have any additional information."
The view screen went dark and Janeway tapped her combadge. "Janeway to engineering."
"Lieutenant Jameson here, Captain."
"Lieutenant, we have an away team in trouble. I need those engines online as fast as possible."
"Understood. Jameson out."
Considering the urgency of the situation Janeway didn’t mind the lack of protocol the engineer showed by terminating the link. There weren’t many in the crew that would essentially hang up on the captain but in this case protocol would have caused more delays. Janeway could almost imagine the flurry of activity in engineering, and Jameson and Doctor Brahms were perfectly capable of getting the last of the power feeds locked down. All Janeway could do now was wait.
Approximately forty-five minutes later Lieutenant Kim broke the silence. "Captain, I have an incoming transmission from Ikonia. It’s the First Flyer."
B’Elanna Torres returned to consciousness very quickly and adrenaline surged through her veins. She would have leapt to her feet if the angel standing over her hadn’t easily held her down with one hand on her shoulder.
"It’s all right. You’re all right," a gentle voice assured her. "You’re in our medical facility."
Torres realized that the stranger was no angel, but an Ikonian citizen. In her groggy state the wings had confused her for a moment, but now fully awake the woman still resembled an angel. White-blonde shoulder-length hair, soft blue eyes, and a pale complexion reinforced that impression, but it was the wings that made the comparison to a heavenly creature almost eerie. With the woman facing her B’Elanna could only see the top half-meter of the wings where they arced above her shoulders, but they looked amazing.
Like the woman who had rescued her this one’s wings matched the color of her hair, making her seem light, ethereal. The sleeveless unitard the Ikonian wore was glacier blue and her upper body was well defined and very muscular. She was all pale blue and white. Even her lips were tinged with blue.
"Are you well?" the stranger asked, apparently worried since all B’Elanna could do was stare at her wordlessly.
"I’m fine," Torres assured her quickly and sat up. "Who are you? Did you find my friends?"
The pale woman smiled compassionately and tried to answer the rapid-fire questions. "I am Borea, chief healer of Ikonia. To my knowledge we haven’t found your friends yet, but a search team has been dispatched to recover them."
"There was a ship… Chiclets I think. It started firing on us while we were still on the surface. We didn’t do anything to them! Why did they start shooting?"
As her mind cleared B’Elanna was becoming angrier by the second and wanted some explanations. She had to force herself to calm down knowing this could be considered first contact and Janeway would want her to make a good impression, but it was difficult.
For a moment the woman looked confused, then said, "You mean the Chthonians. Yes, it was the Chthonians," Borea confirmed sadly.
"Unfortunately they sent two warships and our people were too busy defending the city to come to your aid. You were on Ikonia and they need no other provocation to attack. They are filled with hatred for our kind and anyone we would deal with."
"If you all were so busy defending the city then who rescued me?"
"We have patrol stations located throughout the region. When the station nearest your position saw where the second enemy vessel was headed they sent out a flyer. Hermera was present when you were ejected from your vessel. She brought you here immediately for treatment. It is fortunate that she was there."
"I’ll say." B’Elanna suppressed the shudder she felt when she considered what would have happened if the sentry hadn’t been there. "I need to contact my captain and let her know what’s happened."
Borea nodded and said, "Come with me. I’ll take you to Shoya."
B’Elanna climbed off the padded table, ignoring the sting in her lower back where it had struck the shuttle, and followed the healer. Curious in spite of the situation she asked, "You don’t call you’re leader by her title?"
"Only when we’re engaged in diplomatic negotiations," Borea answered with a slight smile. "All Ikonians are considered family and there is little use for formality when dealing with family."
Borea turned away and B’Elanna got her first full view of the woman’s wings. They were breathtaking. There were openings in Borea’s suit to allow for the appendages where they sprouted from her back. They arced up gracefully above her shoulders before sweeping down to within a few centimeters of her ankles. They looked soft and thick and immensely powerful. When extended they would span more than three and a half meters. The Klingon had to resist the urge to touch them as she followed Borea through winding corridors.
They passed many Ikonians on the short journey to see Shoya and B’Elanna noticed that in every case the individual’s hair and wing color matched. That seemed to be the only thing they had in common other than being humanoid. Some had fur, some had scales, and their colors spanned the spectrum of the rainbow.
Like kittens, B’Elanna thought. They’re all the same species, but each had different markings. Prejudice was probably unheard of on this planet. Everyone they passed nodded politely and smiled at her and by the time they reached a large, circular chamber B’Elanna believed what her instincts were telling her. She trusted the Ikonians without question.
Upon entering the massive chamber she saw the Ikonian leader standing in front of a large viewer. First Flyer Shoya looked at B’Elanna and the corners of her eyes crinkled from the huge smile that suddenly curved her lips. Torres vaguely remembered this woman standing over her while she drifted in and out of consciousness in the Ikonian medical bay.
"I am pleased to see that you have fully recovered. I was just about to contact your captain. Would you care to speak with her?"
"I would, First Flyer. Thank you."
"Captain, I have an incoming transmission from Ikonia. It’s the First Flyer."
"Let’s see it, Lieutenant."
The smiling visage of the black-haired leader winked into view. Janeway dared to hope all of the away team had been found, but the news wasn’t quite that good.
"Captain, I have someone here who wishes to speak with you."
B’Elanna Torres stepped into view next to the Ikonian. Janeway noted absently that the Klingon hybrid barely came up to the other woman’s shoulder.
"Captain," Torres greeted her seriously.
"Lieutenant, are you all right?"
"Yes, Captain, though I’d just be a memory now if Flyer Hermera hadn’t caught me."
"What happened?" Janeway asked, confident that Lieutenant Torres wouldn’t reveal any tactical information if she didn’t trust the Ikonians. So far the First Flyer had been nothing but accommodating and friendly, but appearances could be deceptive. Now that she had met them B’Elanna would have a much better feel for the winged species.
"We were just on our way back to the Stingray when the Chthonians showed up," Torres replied without hesitation, finally getting the name right. "They started firing on us before we could get the shields up and we took some hits. We finally got off the ground before one of their torpedoes punched through the shields."
"How did you manage to get pulled out of the shuttle?"
"I didn’t have time to get strapped in."
The captain thought there was more to it than that, but now was not the time. "And the shuttle?"
"Well, as I said there was a hole in the port side, but they should have been able to activate the emergency forcefields. Other than that I don’t think they took any major damage… at least not then. They’d have to set down if they couldn’t get the forcefield up because they couldn’t maintain altitude with that breach in the side."
Janeway felt slightly relieved. No one was better prepared to stay hidden until help arrived than Seven of Nine and Tom Paris. It was entirely possible that communications on the shuttle had been disrupted due to interference with minerals in the mountains. In any case she refused to think the worst until the away team was found or there was definitive proof to the contrary.
"B’Elanna, assist the rescue teams in any way possible. We’ll be there as soon as we can."
Janeway turned toward her second in command as the screen darkened. She hoped that the Ikonians would locate the away team quickly, but they had to be prepared in case they weren’t. It was time to plan a rescue mission.
"We’re losing altitude! I can’t get the emergency forcefields up and we’re not going anywhere with that rip in our side. Sending a distress signal to Nemo!" As soon as Tom finished speaking sparks showered from the console in front of him.
"They’re still firing!"
"Rerouting emergency power to the shields," Seven said. "Lieutenant, sensors show large mineral deposits in the mountain range that will prevent us from being scanned."
"Understood. I’m bringing us down. If they want to find us they’ll have to do it on foot! I think our message got out, but communications are down now. Launch the homing beacon."
"I recommend against that, Lieutenant. Nemo would locate us but so might the Chthonians." They didn’t really know the extent of Chthonian technology, but it wasn’t worth the risk.
"Right. Hold on."
Suddenly the Stingray was weaving through the trees along the mountainside. The Chthonian craft would not be able to maneuver as quickly and the shuttle would have the advantage.
"I’ve got some large caverns directly ahead. Prepare for emergency stop!"
Seven dug the fingers of her Borg enhanced hand into the duranium alloy of her console. The metal creaked under her grip and the safety harness tightened painfully as Paris abruptly brought the Stingray to a halt. It was only by a supreme effort of will and Borg enhanced musculature that Seven kept from cracking her skull on the console in front of her. When she looked forward the rock face of the mountainside was within centimeters of the transparent aluminum view screen.
"Well, that did it; shields and weapons are down." Tom looked over his shoulder and asked, "You all right?"
"I am undamaged."
Lieutenant Paris unbuckled his restraint and climbed shakily to his feet. He glanced toward the rent in the port side and his face paled considerably as he thought of B’Elanna. "I’ll check on the others," he said quietly.
Seven nodded. She wanted to attempt to contact Torres but knew it was futile. A combadge signal would not get past the interference and B’Elanna would not have survived a fall from such a height. She ignored the voices she heard coming from the cargo hold until she heard Paris raise his voice.
"I’m not leaving you! I’ve made enough mistakes in my life recently and I’m not adding this to the list. Seven! I need your help."
Seven laid the emergency kits on her console and walked into the cargo hold. Lieutenant Buell was pinned under some debris. A large shelving unit had sheared off during the Chthonian attack and Buell was now pinned under the heavy duranium. Paris and Ensign Rosenfeld tugged and pushed at the unit with little effect.
"Help us out with this, will you?"
Rosenfeld and Paris backed away while Seven braced her feet. She placed her Borg hand against the topmost shelf and shoved with all her strength. The unit fairly flew across the cargo hold and impacted with the side of the shuttle, leaving a respectable dent.
"Hey, take it easy!" Paris said. "The ship is damaged enough!"
"My apologies. Lieutenant Buell, can you stand?"
Buell stood carefully with a grimace of pain on his face. "Yeah, I don’t think anything’s broken. I’m just sore."
"Everyone grab a survival pack," Paris ordered. "We may be here a while. Seven, don’t forget the med kits."
With B’Elanna gone Paris was now in command. Having become accustomed to the Starfleet way of doing things she had no problem following his orders as long as they continued to be logical. Conversely, she had no compunction about disobeying those same directives if she did not agree with them.
"What about the dilithium?" Ensign Rosenfeld asked.
The crystals were the reason for the away team being on Ikonia and were important enough for Captain Janeway to send them to a planet in dispute. It seemed a shame to leave the dilithium behind after all they had lost to obtain it. But carrying the crystals would not bring Lieutenant Torres back and would only slow them down.
"We leave them," Buell answered, hefting a survival pack. "Nemo will be coming, but it may take a few days to get here. We can always mine more crystals later if we have to. Right now we have more immediate concerns."
They quickly gathered up the survival packs and med kits. Paris, Buell and Rosenfeld also hefted phaser rifles before they left the shuttle. Seven’s hands were full so she settled for a hand phaser that she could easily carry at her waist. There was no telling when or if the Chthonians would be coming and they couldn’t stay in the Stingray without shields. They needed the minerals in the rocks to prevent the enemy from finding them.
"I’m setting the self destruct if anyone but us tries to enter the shuttle."
Seven stepped out of the damaged vessel and into the heat generated from two suns. She blinked for a moment, adjusting her optical array to the unaccustomed brightness before checking the horizon. Even with her Borg sensors she could detect nothing out of the ordinary. Birds sang and there was a light breeze, but she couldn’t see or hear the craft that had attacked them only moments ago.
Her eidetic memory chose that moment to send her a flash-image of B’Elanna as she was wrenched out of the Stingray and Seven’s throat tightened. She swallowed with difficulty as she thought about her friend’s fate before she took a deep breath and led the way toward the caverns.
Paris supported Buell on one side, one eye on the sky while carrying his phaser rifle in the other hand. Rosenfeld scanned continuously with a tricorder and a moment later reported, "I’m not picking up that ship, or anything else for that matter. In fact the only things showing up are bugs and lower animal life." Once they passed the rock barrier the barely functioning tricorder would become completely useless for scanning purposes.
The team walked along the outer perimeter of the rock face looking for a cave that would suit their needs. Travel through the dense underbrush was slow and it wasn’t long before the Starfleet officers were perspiring. Bugs darted around them drawn to the moisture and adding to their misery. Seven’s nanoprobes still regulated her temperature and prevented her from perspiring, but the insects were just as annoying to her as they were to the others. Fortunately, it wasn’t long before she found a cave structure that was acceptable.
The cave mouth was low and mostly concealed by brush, but opened into a large, semi-circular cavern. The ceiling was high overhead, the air inside was much cooler and a small opening in the ceiling allowed air to circulate.
"It’ll do," Paris panted, letting go of Buell. "Make camp."
Seven raised her optical implant and inquired, "Do you anticipate lengthy occupation of this chamber?"
"I certainly hope not, but you never know. Set the lights up over in that corner."
Seven weighed their options briefly before considering his suggestion and decided Lieutenant Paris was being premature. First they should ascertain the safety of the chamber. The shadows were deepest in the rear of the cave and without the tricorders to determine aggressive animal species occupying the recesses it would have to be done visually.
"First I will ascertain that we are alone in this structure. I recommend everyone stay near the entrance until I am certain it is safe. Then I will set up the lights."
Tom frowned and opened his mouth to argue with her before he realized it would be futile. Besides, she was right. It would do them little good to set up a semi-permanent camp only to find out they had made themselves at home in a lion’s den.
"Fine, but take Rosenfeld with you."
"That is unnecessary. I am fully capable of performing this task."
"That’s beside the point. Starfleet protocol dictates that no one shall go into a hazardous area without proper support. I’m not relenting on this one, Seven. Take Rosenfeld or we find another cave."
Since any structure they chose would still require clearing Seven could see no reason to search for another dwelling. The suns were already beginning to set and it would only waste time.
Rosenfeld wordlessly dropped her pack before walking over to Seven.
Seven sent a mental signal to her cranial implant to adjust her night vision before stepping deeper into the cavern. Ensign Rosenfeld was close behind her and Seven could see the muzzle of the phaser rifle on her left side with her peripheral vision. The young security officer’s breath was quiet but rapid and Seven could almost feel the ensign’s apprehension.
Boulders were strewn across the floor of the chamber where they had fallen over time causing the women to frequently detour around them. The air grew stale toward the back and the rock walls became more of a tunnel, but Seven still didn’t detect any threats. The tactical lamp attached to Rosenfeld’s phaser swept the area back and forth rapidly, no doubt it was reassuring to the ensign but it made Seven’s Borg eye water.
There was a large fissure toward the rear of the cave that ran from ceiling to floor. Although jagged and irregularly shaped the opening was not large enough for a beast of any significant size. The two could have squeezed sideways through the tear, but the faint scent of ammonia that wafted from the breach made Seven reluctant to do so. Still, she had learned from Kathryn Janeway that a threat didn’t necessarily have to be large to be deadly.
"Ensign, your tricorder."
"It doesn’t work," Rosenfeld reminded her, but handed the device over with a curious look on her face.
Seven tapped several buttons in an effort to augment the device with Borg algorithms before she aimed it toward the fissure. After a few moments carefully checking the readings Seven wordlessly handed the tricorder back to the security officer.
"Well?" Rosenfeld prompted.
"Nothing significant. I detected several smaller life forms, but I do not believe they represent a danger."
The young woman didn’t seem reassured. She aimed her light directly into the rift, sweeping it back and forth for several moments before she finally had to concede that not even her tactical lamp could penetrate the extreme darkness.
"I guess we’d better get back," she finally said and turned toward the cave entrance.
Seven had taken only a step to follow when she heard something. At first the sound was faint like water flowing over rock, but it grew louder quickly. It became a rushing sound and even Rosenfeld with her weaker human hearing turned toward the noise with a shocked expression on her face. Seven also turned around and was staring directly at the break in the rock face when the creatures burst from the opening. Thousands of black, winged beasts flew shrieking into the air all around them.
Seven instinctively ducked low and the creatures flew over her head, but Rosenfeld’s reaction was quite different. The security officer shouted and raised her phaser rifle toward the animals.
"No!" Seven shouted.
Lunging to her feet and into the midst of the melee Seven tried to knock the rifle out of the other woman’s hands. Just as Seven reached her Rosenfeld fired the weapon. The beam of weapon’s fire completely missed the flying pests and struck the ceiling directly overhead. Seven reacted even as she felt the vibrations in the rock all around them. She grabbed Rosenfeld and pulled her back against the wall, toward the opening, as small pebbles began to fall followed by larger boulders. Seven covered her head with both arms while curling into a ball to make a smaller target of her body as the structure caved in around them. It was several moments before she felt it was safe enough to lift her head.
Their avenue of escape had been completely cut off.
Rosenfeld stirred next to her and sat up. She looked around taking stock of their newest situation before she asked, "Are you all right, Seven?"
Frustrated beyond the point of words by this latest turn of events Seven could only respond, "You will be pleased to know that all of the bats escaped. We are alone."
Muffled shouts suddenly came from the other side and Seven heard Lieutenant Paris.
"Seven! Rosenfeld! Answer me!"
"We are unharmed, Lieutenant," Seven shouted back.
"We’ll start trying to dig you out! Can you help from that side?"
"There is very little room to maneuver, but we will attempt to assist you."
Seven was perfectly willing to tackle the mass of rubble that kept them trapped, but unless there was an opening to the surface somewhere behind the fissure it was a moot point. They would run out of usable oxygen long before they could dig their way out.
Kathryn would not be pleased.
After the communications link was terminated B’Elanna got her first full look at the impressive Ikonian leader. Shoya was tall by human standards and sported ebony hair and wings. Her eyes were a verdant green and she was just as muscular as all of the other Ikonians B’Elanna had seen, but it was her uniform that made Shoya stand out. Everyone else seemed to wear clothes that blended somehow with their appearance. The First Flyer wore a snow-white unitard that gave Seven’s cat suits a run for their money. It was form fitting and showed off her assets quite nicely in B’Elanna’s estimation. Even the heavily soled boots were white and only the gold belt around her tiny waist broke up the whole vision. A small canvas pouch hung from the belt and B’Elanna could only guess as to its function. Looking around she noticed that all other Ikonians present also wore a similar pouch.
"Is there any way I can assist you?" Torres asked politely. "I don’t want to seem forward and I know your people can probably fly in a lot easier if they don’t have to deal with me, but I’d really like to help."
"I appreciate your diplomacy, but I assure you there is no need for it. We thought you might wish to assist in the recovery effort and we would be happy for your help. I have a rescue team already searching for your friends and another team ready to be dispatched. I’ll take you to the transport center. From there we will travel to the staging area."
The look on B’Elanna’s face actually made the First Flyer laugh out loud. "No, I won’t be carrying you. The transport center is only a few blocks from here. Our offspring’s wings are often not strong enough to carry them until they reach puberty so we have hover sleds for them and for any Ikonians that do not wish to fly."
"Lead the way." B’Elanna was slightly embarrassed, but covered it nicely by asking about the Chthonians and their motives for the unprovoked attacks.
"Borea, please join us. There may be need for a healer," Shoya said before she answered B’Elanna’s questions. "The Chthonians have been attacking us on and off for centuries, but with our advanced technology they rarely cause any significant damage."
They left what turned out to be a palace of sorts and walked out into a main courtyard. The suns were already low on the horizon and B’Elanna was worried by the lack of daylight remaining for a search, but she kept silent as she listened to a small piece of Ikonian history.
"As I’m sure you know, there are certain minerals in the planets and moons of our systems that prevent complete scans, but we can usually detect the invaders by the time they come around Ikonia’s twelfth moon. It’s enough of a warning for us to raise our defense nets."
"Let me get this straight, First Flyer," Torres said. "The Ikonians have warp capability and advanced defensive networks, right?"
"I assume that means you also have more advanced weapons than the Chthonians?"
"Of course. Are you wondering why we don’t destroy them?"
Shoya looked slightly amused and B’Elanna had to squash her rising irritation. How could a species as advanced as the Ikonians tolerate constant attacks from a species that were essentially a bunch of thugs?
"Yes!" she blurted. "No offense, First Flyer, but why would you allow them to keep waging war if you have the ability to stop all this?"
"No offense taken. The Chthonians present no danger to us. We have ample warning before they reach Ikonia and any damage they do cause is limited to outlying areas, usually a field or remote barn. There is no call for loss of life over so trivial an incursion."
"What about loss of life to the Ikonians? How can that be trivial?" As a Klingon, or even half Klingon, she was stunned that these people wouldn’t retaliate.
"Lieutenant, Ikonia has not lost a single citizen since the first Chthonian attack and that was a very long time ago."
Torres raised her eyebrows, but refrained from further comment. If a bunch of pacifists didn’t mind being attacked on a regular basis it was no skin off her nose, but as long as her crewmates were being threatened B’Elanna was going to fight back.
They arrived at the transport center and Shoya introduced her to the lead operator.
"Lieutenant Torres of the Nemo this is our main transport operator, Charun."
Charun was the first Ikonian B’Elanna met that wasn’t muscular or particularly beautiful. Although tall, he sported a rather large hump on his back and large, elongated ears. His skin had a leathery texture and only a few tufts of hair sprouted from his head. Instead of the chiseled frame Torres had almost become accustomed to Charun carried a rotund belly that strained at the front of his leather jerkin. But when he smiled it changed his appearance completely. Charun’s eyes were a pale brown, almost yellow, and danced with mirth.
"Welcome to Ikonia. We don’t get many visitors here."
The transport operator turned to Shoya to update her. "Rescue team one still hasn’t found anything, but it’s slow going with all of the Chthonian patrols and the interference to the scanners. Also, the battle with the alien shuttle took place over a large area so team one is searching in a grid pattern. Rhea, Jemm and Eos went into the jungle on foot, Oceanus is checking the rivers in the region and Alecto is flying patrol."
"And the second team?"
"Standing by at the staging area."
"Well, let’s not keep them waiting."
Shoya led the way onto a small hover sled followed closely by Torres and Charun. The sides of the craft were a meter high and the controls were set low on a small console. Charun stepped toward the front of the console and began to power up the systems. It was then that B’Elanna noticed Borea wasn’t with them. The blue-tinted woman was standing beside them but showed no intention of joining the group on the sled.
"Aren’t you coming?"
Borea smiled and said, "Yes, and sometimes taking a hover transport is nice if I want to rest, but today I think I prefer a more natural means of travel."
Torres expected Borea to launch herself into the air, but noticed there were no convenient drops nearby. For a creature the size of a humanoid considerable lift would be needed to allow for a take off. The easiest way for that to happen would be to step off a precipice, but the transport center was on flat ground. B’Elanna had learned about Bernoulli’s Theorem concerning bird flight many years ago and a lot of her knowledge was rusty, but it didn’t look like that was what Borea was doing. Instead it looked like the young woman was about to try and push a boulder up a hill.
Borea stood with both arms outstretched in front of her, palms extended. One foot was placed forward with the knee bent while the other was stretched into a rigid stance slightly behind as though she expected resistance. B’Elanna was about to ask the healer what she was doing when something happened that made her eyes bulge and her mouth drop open as she gasped in astonishment.
Jets of a white substance shot from the palms of Borea’s hands. The white substance formed a hard surface about eight centimeters thick and B’Elanna suddenly realized it was a sheet of ice. Borea skated easily on the ice with her smooth soled boots and rose steadily into the air. The healer was tucked forward in a speed skater’s stance and she was using her powerful wings to provide additional thrust. Torres realized that they were rising at the same time and the hover sled had left the ground without her realizing it, keeping pace with Borea as she traveled alongside them at what B’Elanna estimated to be around eighty kilometers per hour.
She watched the ‘Ice Queen’ for a few moments and noticed that the woman’s speed and the friction she generated caused the ice to melt approximately three feet behind her. As fast as Borea was laying the ice out in front of her, it was melting behind her and falling down as rain. That was nifty. At least the ice wouldn’t break apart in mid air and crush someone as it collapsed!
Turning astonished eyes toward the First Flyer, the Klingon could only stare dazedly and hope for an explanation that proved she hadn’t really hit her head somewhere along the way.
"I take it your people do not have individual abilities such as these?"
There was a hint of humor in the leader’s eyes and B’Elanna had the feeling they were enjoying her reaction.
"You could say that. How is this possible? I’ve never seen anything like it!"
Shoya laughed before she finally relented and tried to explain. "I guess you could call it an emergent property. When our people first settled on this world centuries ago they didn’t have these powers either. It was only when children started being born that the scientists learned the twin suns of Ikonia had an unexpected side-effect."
"A mutation?" B’Elanna gasped. She couldn’t even imagine how the ancient Ikonians must have felt. The alterations could just as easily have been negative as positive. Why had they stayed here?
"Not a mutation," Shoya corrected. "More like an enhancement of each child’s natural genetic abilities or inclinations. For example, if someone was naturally inclined to be a good swimmer they might have the ability to breathe underwater. If someone had a special link to the earth they might be able to communicate with animals; that sort of thing."
Torres let out her breath in a rush, trying desperately to wrap her mind around all this information. "Have you ever had anything bad develop? Are there any patterns?"
Shoya smiled, thrilled that her young alien visitor wasn’t repulsed by the Ikonian powers, but seemed fascinated instead. "No, nothing bad has ever developed. And yes there are patterns. Most of the Ikonian abilities seem tied in with the four elements; earth, water, wind and fire."
"Most? What are the exceptions?"
Shrugging an elegant shoulder the leader answered, "Oh, Jemm can manipulate the time stream and give us glimpses of the past and future. My mate, Erebus, has an extremely high IQ and a talent for futuristic sciences. He’s also quite good at blending into shadows."
"I see." B’Elanna looked over at Borea riding alongside them and another thought struck her. "Is that why her skin is so blue? When I first woke up I thought she must have been freezing."
"Yes, many times an individual’s features hint at their genetic talents."
B’Elanna had a lot to think about and realized there was much they still didn’t know about their hosts. Captain Janeway would be expecting a full report and on the heels of this latest information the engineer thought she should ask more questions.
"You said your people settled here centuries ago. What did they do before that?"
Shoya looked away from the console readout and said easily, "For many years they traveled on generational ships, exploring all corners of the known universe."
Wow! That could present possibilities. If the Ikonians had faster than warp travel…
"Did they use slipstream or transwarp propulsion or some kind of conduit system?"
"No, merely conventional warp drives. But they were explorers and wanted to see the universe, to meet new species and learn from them. For generations they traveled until they began to desire solid ground beneath their feet. They wanted to feel the wind in their wings again. The origin of the Ikonians has been lost in obscurity and we no longer wish to reach for the stars, even if we do still have the capability. We maintain warp capable vessels at the transport center although they are used infrequently."
Finally feeling overwhelmed B’Elanna grew silent for the rest of the trip, watching the wind whip through Borea’s hair and thinking. She listened absently to Shoya and Charun’s conversation, paying attention only when she heard the transport operator ask a question.
"Where’s Artemis? I haven’t seen her around lately."
"She’s with her father; studying at the hall of records. I sent word after the Chthonian attack, but I haven’t heard from her yet. I’m sure she’ll get here as soon as possible. You know Artemis; she won’t miss a chance to help if she can. Ah…we’re here!"
The hover sled drifted toward a small multi-colored group on the surface while Borea changed the angle of her ice projection into a slide. She was on the ground before the transport and saying hello to the others.
B’Elanna watched Borea pull a ration cube of some sort out of the pouch at her waist. She nibbled at the treat while speaking with the others and B’Elanna wondered how many calories the Ikonians managed to burn up when the utilized their abilities. Flying alone would require a tremendous amount of energy and with the other powers thrown in it was no wonder they were all so well muscled.
Torres considered the five individuals and their various colors with new eyes as Shoya introduced them.
"This is team two. You know Borea and the others are Latinus, Cloe, Hekate and Hermera."
B’Elanna locked eyes with a fiery redhead when she heard the name. She stepped forward and held out a hand, which Hermera took after a second of confusion. "So you’re the one who saved me? Thank you."
She took in the red hair and bright wings and couldn’t resist asking, "Red, huh? Does that mean you control fire?"
Hermera’s complexion took on a ruddy cast as she blushed shyly before replying, "I prefer the term manipulate."
"Impressive." Torres looked around and realized how quiet it was. Then she remembered the Chthonians and understood why. The Ikonians were being attacked by an alien race simply because they were viewed as aberrations. She had assumed it was because they could fly, but now it looked like there was a larger picture. All things considered it was a pretty good bet the Ikonians were waiting to see how she would react.
"I can’t even imagine having such wonderful abilities. I envy you."
Her heartfelt words were all that was needed to break the tension. The others smiled and stepped forward to speak with her.
"Don’t worry," the man introduced as Latinus said. "We’ll find your friends."
B’Elanna tried not to be too obvious as she studied his features. With elongated pupils and iridescent skin he reminded her of a reptile. Definitely an earth ability. Another young woman called Cloe didn’t have any particularly obvious markings. Her skin, hair and wings were a beautiful ebony, but she didn’t sport scales or fur.
Curious in spite of herself B’Elanna asked, "So, what can you do?"
Cloe smiled and winked. Suddenly she morphed and there was a huge leopard sitting on the ground in her place.
"You’re a shape-shifter!" B’Elanna exclaimed in delight; at least that was something she was familiar with. Cloe shifted back to her human form and shared a grin with the engineer.
Shoya allowed a few moments for the engineer to adjust before she decided it was time to get back to business. The Chthonians had patrols not far away and she intended to avoid them at all costs. This was extremely unusual since the enemy didn’t normally land on Ikonia or send atmospheric vessels into the Ikonian sky. They attacked from the air on large, space-worthy craft while the defensive network was in place and took off again. This was the only time in Ikonian history that the Chthonians had sent in ground troops. Shoya could only surmise that because the enemy had discovered an off-world craft and attacked it they were now trying to capture those aliens. It would be the first time in centuries someone was outside the defensive shields when the planet was attacked.
As an Ikonian Shoya would not take a life unless it was to protect another, but as a leader she understood that sometimes war necessitated these things. For centuries they had managed to avoid bloodshed, but this was the first time off-world visitors had been drawn into the fray. The rules had changed and she wasn’t quite sure how she would explain that to her peace-loving people if it should come to that.
Before she could speak movement at the edge of the clearing caught their attention and five strangers stepped into their midst. They were easily identified as Ikonian.
"Oceanus, anything?" Shoya asked briefly.
It was easy enough to see his abilities, B’Elanna thought. The sea-foam green of his scales was a dead giveaway and she remembered Charun telling Shoya that the man had been checking the rivers in the area. Although he was giving the report B’Elanna’s eyes were drawn to a silent female standing near the back of the group. This was the only Ikonian whose wing and hair color did not match. Her hair was white-blonde, but her wings were midnight black. The woman’s eyes and flesh were almost the same color and if not for the very narrow band of blue around the irises her eyes would have seemed solid white. Torres forced her curious gaze from the stranger and back on to Oceanus as he gave his report.
"Nothing so far," he answered in a melodious voice. "We started searching here where Hermera caught the ali…uh, visitor and moved out where both craft were last seen, but it’s a big area. We barely finished grid one."
Shoya nodded. "Understood. I’m sure avoiding the Chthonian patrols isn’t helping matters. Team two will take over. Get some rest."
Oceanus dipped his head briefly. "We’ll take up the search again in twelve hours."
His group left quietly while Shoya turned to the fresh team. "Lieutenant Torres, please accompany Hekate. She will be taking a hover sled and scanning the area. Perhaps you will spot something familiar. Everyone else fan out in a standard search pattern. We’ll start on grid two and be relieved by another team in six hours. Is everyone clear?"
Shoya took to the air along with Hermera and Latinus. Borea set off on another sheet of ice and B’Elanna was left alone with a small brunette. The woman’s skin tones were neutral despite her dark hair and tiny wings, but there didn’t seem to be anything significant about her.
"Come on," Hekate said softly and led the way to a small hover sled.
B’Elanna joined the other woman on the transport and waited while they lifted off. Immediately her eyes started scanning the jungle around them even though she knew Seven and the others weren’t nearby.
"Oceanus? Said this was where Hermera caught me, right?"
Torres remembered the bouncy ride in the Stingray before she had been sucked through the rent in the side and tried to think which way they had been traveling.
"I think that way," she said pointing to a more easterly direction.
Hekate silently changed course and they flew slowly so they wouldn’t miss anything. They were very close to the tree line and the Klingon thought it was so the Chthonians wouldn’t spot them.
"You don’t fly?" B’Elanna asked, more to fill the silence than any real need for information.
"My wings are too small to carry me."
If the Ikonian was upset about her lot in life B’Elanna couldn’t hear it in her voice. "Doesn’t seem to bother you much."
"My other gifts make up for it."
"Like what?" she couldn’t resist asking.
Dark eyes considered B’Elanna briefly before Hekate made a small hand gesture. At first the Klingon didn’t understand, but then fat raindrops began to fall slowly on her head. B’Elanna glanced up and blinked in surprise. A small storm cloud hung directly over her head and in seconds began to pour rain.
"Sorry I asked!" she said trying to duck out from under the small storm. "Make it stop!"
Hekate laughed and made another gesture to stop the tiny squall.
"You don’t look like a water person. Oops! Sorry, I don’t mean to be rude."
"It’s no problem," Hekate said, making a few minor course corrections and scanning the area intently. Although her gaze was on the canopy below she said, "And if you mean my coloring it’s because I can manipulate all four elements. Oh, not as much as someone born to one element but enough to get by."
B’Elanna was already drying off from the wind and residual heat of the setting suns. She had been hot before that little shower and would have to remember to keep her mouth shut about the heat around these people. Borea might turn her into an ice crystal!
They spent the next six hours searching in vain for the missing away team. Ikonian scanners were sophisticated even by Starfleet standards, but they still weren’t good enough to cut through all the interference from the mineral Hekate called nemolite. It didn’t help that they were also trying to avoid Chthonian patrols while searching in the dark.
The enemy patrol ships were too small to be called shuttles, but they seemed to be everywhere. Each time Hekate spotted one of the adversarial teams on sensors she would drop the hover sled to just above the trees and cut the lights. A few minutes later either a foot patrol would go by below or an enemy vessel would fly right across their path, the Chthonian scanners also proving quite useless. It was a tactic of sheer avoidance and had B’Elanna chafing at the loss of time. Turning the lights off and on was also playing havoc with her night vision and she spent most of the time simply trying to adjust. Considering how dense and dark the forest was B’Elanna thought they would have to run smack into the Stingray to find them.
Even the planetary alignment seemed to be working against them. Ikonia had twelve moons, but on this night only one was visible and it couldn’t shed enough light to cut through the heavy forest below. B’Elanna castigated herself thinking she should have been on the first search team while it was still light.
She refused to remember that would have been quite impossible since she was unconscious at the time.
When the allotted period for the second team’s search ended the headstrong Klingon refused to stop. "My friends could be in trouble; I can’t stop now! Seconds could make the difference."
"Lieutenant Torres, we will not stop searching," Hekate assured her. "The third team is already in place."
"Then let me go with them."
"I’m sorry, but you must eat and rest. You will do anyone little good if you collapse from exhaustion."
B’Elanna suppressed a hot response to the very idea of collapsing and realized her new friend had a point. She felt like she hadn’t eaten in days and there was someone she still needed to speak with.
"Fine. You win. But do you think it would be possible for me to contact my commanding officer?"
"Of course. You could use the communications link on the hover sled, but I think you’d be more comfortable calling your vessel from my quarters."
"We’re going to your place?" Not that B’Elanna minded, but her baser self couldn’t help wonder if she was being propositioned.
"Was there somewhere else you wished to stay?" Hekate asked innocently. "I’m sure Latinus would let you stay with him, but his home is in the ground."
"That’s okay. Your place is fine."
Latinus seemed like a nice enough guy, but the last thing Torres wanted was a night underground. All of this darkness was starting to give her the creeps and a little light would be a welcome relief.
Hekate used the same hover sled to transport them to her quarters in the main city. B’Elanna was relieved that it was a normal apartment with a living room, kitchen, two bedrooms and best of all a bathroom.
"Make yourself comfortable while I make dinner," Hekate told her. "When you’re ready the comm unit is in the corner."
After she finished relieving her bladder B’Elanna sat down at the communications terminal and quickly figured out the controls.
"Crewman Jarok to Captain Janeway."
Kathryn Janeway set her book aside and responded to the beta shift comm officer. She wasn’t really reading, but finally had to leave the bridge to avoid driving her staff insane. Testy didn’t even come close to describing her mood the last few hours. She was still in her uniform, but had removed the red-shouldered jacket.
"Go ahead, Crewman."
"Incoming transmission from the planet, Captain. It’s Lieutenant Torres."
"Route it to my quarters."
Her terminal beeped and Janeway quickly activated the link, hoping that Seven and the others had been found.
"Report," she ordered as soon as she saw the familiar features.
"We haven’t found anything yet, Captain, but judging from the Chthonian patrols in the area I think that’s a good thing."
"How so?" the captain asked; unsure whether she should be relieved or terrified at this point.
"Well, from what I understand these Chthonians usually attack in strafing runs and then withdraw. The Ikonians are never outside the defensive networks in the main cities when they attack so there’s no reason to send in ground units."
"And you think the fact that they’ve done so now is significant?"
"Absolutely. Why send in a ground team if there’s nothing to look for?"
"All right, I’ll concede the invaders are looking for them, too. Do you have anything that leads you to believe the away team is alive?"
Janeway carefully squashed any hint of desperation in her voice. Now was the time for the captain and not the woman to be in charge; even if it felt like her heart was shattering without Seven beside her. Kathryn had been given this glimpse of agony before when Seven was so badly injured, but in a way it was worse not knowing anything.
"Sure, we haven’t found any wreckage. In fact we haven’t found anything that might be from the Stingray and that makes me think they’re holed up somewhere." B’Elanna glanced quickly over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening before she asked, "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
"By all means, Lieutenant."
"These people, the Ikonians, are terrific, Captain. They remind me of those superheroes in one of Paris’ old cartoons, but they will not fight the Chthonians directly if they don’t have to. They spend more time avoiding enemy patrols than searching and it’s really slowing things down."
"So the only real chance the away team might have is Nemo."
"Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes."
B’Elanna spent a few minutes filling Janeway in on everything she had learned about the Ikonian people and their history and finished by saying, "I’ve been spending a lot of time with Hekate…"
"Hekate?" Janeway asked, startled by the familiarity of the name.
"Yes," Torres continued, missing the tone in her captain’s voice. "She says they’re not exactly pacifists, they just don’t like to fight unless there’s no other recourse. In fact a lot of them are trained extensively in what we would call martial arts. If we have to fight it out with the Chthonians Hekate says the Ikonians will help, but I’m just not sure we can count on that given their attitude toward violence."
"Understood. Lieutenant Jameson assures me the engine repairs are on schedule and should be completed in the next six hours. We’ll be underway as soon as she gives me the go ahead."
"That’s good news. We’re going to grab some shut-eye and head back out at first light. Maybe we’ll have better luck in the daylight."
"I hope so, B’Elanna. I truly hope so."
For the first time during the conversation Janeway let her command mask slip and show all the worry she was feeling for the away team, but more specifically for her beloved Seven.
"We’ll find them, Captain. On my honor we will and they’ll be fine. All of them."
"Thank you, B’Elanna."
The engineer started to reply, but Janeway caught movement behind her on the view screen. The sight of a lovely young brunette with small ebony wings took Janeway’s breath away. This must be Hekate. The woman wore what looked like a surfer’s body suit without leggings and Kathryn was astonished by the chiseled musculature of her thighs.
"Gotta go, Captain. It’s time for dinner. I’ll call you as soon as I know anything further."
"Understood. Janeway out."
"What’s that smell?"
It had been nine hours since the cave in and Seven was astonished that Ensign Rosenfeld was just noticing the offensive odor.
"Guano. The bat cave is undoubtedly quite full of it." Apparently the entire colony had been disturbed by the ensign’s tactical light and chosen to flee. From the sheer number of bats that had exited the cavern prior to the rock fall Seven was convinced the only reason the air wasn’t already deadly was the high cavern ceiling. "The air will eventually become toxic."
They had been digging strenuously since Rosenfeld blasted the rocks loose overhead and an hour ago the young security officer had been forced to stop. Both of her hands were shredded by the sharp stones and without one of the medkits to repair her injuries she simply couldn’t continue.
"It smells like ammonia."
Seven nodded and continued to dig with her left hand. Her right was extensively damaged, but the Borg mesh protected the left and she couldn’t afford to stop. It was only Seven’s audacious strain of self-reliance that kept her going. At least they weren’t alone and with Paris and Buell shifting stones from the other side she hoped they would be free soon. Already the tactical lamp attached to Rosenfeld’s phaser rifle was beginning to run low and Seven didn’t relish being trapped in the inky darkness slowly suffocating to death.
"Bat caves typically contain high levels of methane, ammonia and carbon dioxide. You would not survive long contained inside such a cavern without a breathing apparatus."
"I’m sorry I freaked out. I guess they just surprised me."
Rosenfeld’s tone was conciliatory, but Seven was far from feeling benevolent. "Your actions were reckless. Once we are back on board Nemo I will notify Commander A’zal that you require further training."
The security officer’s stomach chose that moment to announce its presence, but Rosenfeld wisely refrained from further comment. There was nothing they could do about it anyway. All of the supplies had been left at the mouth of the cave and commenting on it would not improve the situation.
Seven ignored the other woman while she continued to work, but felt remorse for her outburst. It was true that Rosenfeld had made a mistake, but she had already expressed regret. It was unlikely that the officer would make a similar error in the future. Seven recalled the mistakes she had made on her path back to regaining her individuality, still made on occasion, and how forgiving Kathryn had been. Janeway had always been Seven’s example, her guide to humanity, and the former drone discovered she felt guilty for snapping at the security officer. Perhaps Ensign Rosenfeld was not the only one who had made a mistake.
Seven stopped shifting rock and turned around. Taking a deep breath she said, "I apologize, Ensign. I am…frustrated."
"It’s okay, Seven," Rosenfeld said, clearly surprised that Seven would apologize to her. "You’re right. My actions were reckless and I can promise that you won’t have to tell Commander A’zal. I’ll tell her myself."
Seven considered the ensign’s words and decided the matter was closed. She nodded once before she set to work again. By now even her Borg hand was becoming lacerated so Seven started using the blade of her hand to shift the rocks where possible. A few minutes later shale began trickling and bouncing down from the pile of rubble near the top and Seven reflexively glanced toward the ceiling. Several smaller rocks began to tumble and she realized they had moved enough stones that the mass had become unstable.
Seven was pleased the ensign didn’t waste time trying to respond, but scooted toward the bat cave as far as possible. Wishing for the pile of stones to dislodge enough for an escape without crushing them, Seven was disappointed when all movement ceased after only a few seconds. Then she realized something significant had happened. Seven could barely see through the gloom with her enhanced vision, but it was definitely there.
"We are getting fresh air from the outside now," Seven said in a relieved voice.
"Are you sure?"
"Seven," Paris shouted from the other side. "Are you two okay?"
"We are unharmed, Lieutenant."
"Is there any way to push a medkit and some water through the opening?" Ensign Rosenfeld asked. "Our hands are torn up pretty bad from moving rocks."
"No. I’m sorry, but it’s too unstable. The whole thing might come down," Paris said. "We can’t chance it."
Although resigned to their current situation Seven decided she would not ask to be assigned to further away missions. It simply wasn’t worth being away from Kathryn when anything could happen to either of them.
"We require rest, Lieutenant," Seven finally said. "My nanoprobes will regenerate the flesh of my hands in a few hours, but Ensign Rosenfeld cannot continue until she has received medical attention."
"All right. We’ll take a break and get back to it in four hours."
Seven sat down against the rock wall and sighed tiredly. She had never become comfortable sitting since being severed from the Collective, but since her recent injuries aboard Nemo she tired more quickly. If Kathryn had known about that she never would have relented and let Seven accompany the away team to Ikonia, but Seven knew this mission was vital and hadn’t said anything. In addition to the unaccustomed fatigue she was also experiencing hunger more frequently.
Deciding there was nothing they could do about any part of their situation Seven closed her eyes and let her mind drift to thoughts of Kathryn; the blue of her eyes when she was happiest and the trademark lopsided grin that made Seven’s heart catch when she saw it and that was so characteristic of her partner. Seven wondered if it was too soon to escalate their relationship to the next level and how Kathryn would respond to a marriage proposal.
Or should she wait for Kathryn to initiate the next step?
Seven had asked the other woman to share her quarters, but really she had maneuvered Kathryn into it; using the excuse of cramped crew quarters aboard Nemo. Seven’s arguments had been logical and well thought out, but Kathryn had still initially resisted the idea. Through her research on human mating customs Seven understood that if an individual felt pressured they might begin to withdraw. Kathryn was fiercely independent and might possibly choose that course of action if she felt cornered. Such a possibility frightened Seven; she loved Kathryn far too much to take that chance and wasn’t convinced she could survive alone if Janeway decided to withdraw or terminate the relationship for any reason.
Finally deciding it simply wasn’t worth the risk Seven thought it best to let things continue as they were until Kathryn chose to escalate their relationship. Having resolved her inner conflict for the moment Seven allowed her body to completely relax for the first time in nineteen hours.
After a six-hour break B’Elanna and Hekate were back on the search at first light. Torres was stuffed to the gills from the breakfast Hekate had prepared and still amazed by the amount of food the diminutive woman could put away. Both last night and this morning Hekate had eaten enough for two Klingon warriors and was even now nibbling on a nutrient cube. B’Elanna would kill for a metabolism like that!
"We’ll have to be more careful with the suns out," the Ikonian observed, chewing absently as they flew away from Sedulous, the main Ikonian city. "The Chthonians may not have very advanced sensors, but if they see us we may not be able to avoid a direct confrontation."
B’Elanna was not in the mood for more failure and concentrated on visually scanning the forest below them intent on finding her missing crewmates. Eventually her thoughts began to wander and she was surprised to find where they had taken her. Since the argument with Tom the day before Karri Jameson seemed to be ever present in her mind. Deep green eyes and auburn hair combined with a lyrical voice pervaded the Klingon’s thoughts. Karri knew the away team was missing, even if B’Elanna wasn’t with them, and she wondered if the other woman was worried about her.
After being assigned aboard the Nautilus together Karri had made a few friendly overtures toward her that B’Elanna had politely, but pointedly refuted. Now, with her marriage over, B’Elanna found that she was considering something more with the other woman. Was it too late?
She remembered running into Karri on deck three a few weeks ago and the charge of electricity she had felt when their eyes connected. Even now she felt a surge through her midsection and knew that her love for the engineer had never faded. If the expression on Karri’s face at that time was anything to go by she still loved B’Elanna, too.
Torres knew that if she was the one missing Jameson would never give up until she found her and B’Elanna wasn’t about to give up on Seven.
They had been flying for about two almost silent hours when Hekate commented on the Klingon’s obviously tense demeanor. "I know you must be very worried for your friends, Lieutenant. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you."
"Call me B’Elanna," the engineer said absently as she looked over the side of the hovercraft to the forest below. Maybe if she concentrated hard enough she could locate the missing Nemo crew through sheer force of will. Then again…
B’Elanna took a deep breath and said, "Yeah, it’s hard. My best friend and three of my crewmates are down there and I should be with them."
"You blame yourself?"
"Of course I do! If I had just fastened in to my seat none of this would have happened. The Chthonians wouldn’t be looking for them and we would be back on our ship by now!"
"You can’t know that," the Ikonian pointed out reasonably, unknowingly stoking the other woman’s ire.
"I know that if I were there they wouldn’t be defenseless against the Chthonians! I’m a warrior and I should be there to help protect them!"
"Are they really so helpless without you?" Hekate asked gently. "I find it hard to believe your captain would send defenseless crewmen away from her ship alone. And what of the friend you told me about? Is your friend also helpless?"
The question and resulting images that flashed through her head dissolved all of her anger in an instant. B’Elanna snorted at the thought of a helpless Seven of Nine.
"No. She’s the most capable person I know. She could probably wipe the floor with me, but don’t tell her I said so. I just wish I knew where they were, if they’re all right."
Hekate suddenly tensed and looked over the edge of the sled before she double-checked the scanners. "There’s something down there."
"What? Where? Are you sure?" Torres looked too, but didn’t see anything.
"I am sure that for a brief moment there was something on sensors."
"Is it a patrol?"
Hekate replayed the sensor logs and froze the image with the unusual readings. "No. It is not Chthonian. I have never seen readings like these before."
"It’s the shuttle," Torres said, leaning over the console. "I’d recognize the energy signature anywhere."
The other woman keyed the onboard communications unit and said, "Hekate to search team two. We’ve picked up readings from the Starfleet shuttle. It is in grid four, section thirty-two."
"Hey, is that wise? The Chthonians could have picked up that transmission, too! We should have checked it out ourselves first!"
The individuals on the search team each reported in on their headsets that they had received the transmission and would converge on the target location. If the Chthonians had missed the initial hail from the hover sled they would not have missed the five separate voices acknowledging Hekate’s call. Shaking her head in frustration B’Elanna could only clench her teeth and keep her eyes open for any Chthonian patrols.
"I am sorry, Lieutenant. I am not accustomed to thinking in a tactical manner."
There had been a time when B’Elanna would have ripped the young woman’s head off for such a stupid mistake without a second thought and although still aggravated by Hekate’s actions B’Elanna was no longer that person. It wasn’t Hekate’s fault that she wasn’t used to battling hostile aliens. That privilege seemed reserved for the Starfleet crew.
"It’s all right…and it’s B’Elanna, remember? Besides, we can’t do anything about it now. At least we’ve narrowed the search area."
"They would not have stayed with your shuttle?"
"No. The Stingray is just sitting there, which tells me they didn’t have any shields or forcefields. Otherwise they would have flown back into space. If they had stayed with the shuttle they would be easy targets for the Chthonians."
B’Elanna thought about Starfleet survival courses and considered how she would have responded had she been with the away team. They would have needed to get out of sight, but weren’t familiar with the Ikonian forest. With aggressive aliens on their tail and few alternatives she knew what she would do.
"Are there any caves in this area?"
"Yes, there are many caves, but scanners do not function well inside the earth."
"That’s my point. They’d try for somewhere protected on all sides where scanners wouldn’t work."
Hekate started to use her comm unit, but one look from B’Elanna was enough to stop her. "That way," she pointed.
She had just set the course for the cave when the communications channel activated loudly. Latinus reported excitedly, "I’ve found them! They’re in one of the Archon Caves."
B’Elanna cringed internally while Hekate acknowledged the communiqué. Then she asked, "Where is that? I need to contact Captain Janeway."
What does it matter now if the call is intercepted? The cat’s already out of the bag!
The other woman pulled up the coordinates on the navigational readout while Torres activated the con. "Torres to Captain Janeway."
Apparently the excitement in her voice transferred easily over the alien communications device. Captain Janeway’s face popped up instantly on the tiny view screen, her eyes wide in anticipation.
"What is it, Lieutenant?"
"We’ve found them, or at least Latinus has. We’re on our way to them now. I’m forwarding the coordinates to Nemo."
"I’ve got the coordinates, Captain," Ensign Kim stated from the rear of the bridge.
Janeway grinned and said, "Good work. We’ll rendezvous with you in approximately four point two hours."
The screen went blank and B’Elanna hung on as Hekate increased the speed of the hover sled toward the away team’s coordinates. After only a few moments Hekate reported, "There’s a Chthonian patrol directly ahead. They will be in visual range in thirty seconds. Dropping toward the tree line."
"How far is it to the caves?"
"Not far. Only two kilometers."
"Set us down. We’ll go in on foot and have a better chance to avoid the patrol than we would out in the open sky."
The Ikonian quickly maneuvered them through the dense foliage and toward the forest floor. The hover sled landed with a slight bump and Hekate grabbed a headset, which was really a small device that slipped into her ear, so she could stay in communications with the other team members. Torres stepped off with all of her senses on alert.
She set off through the trees in the direction they had picked up the energy readings with Hekate close beside her. Her Ikonian friend might not be used to thinking tactically, but she had enough common sense to stay quiet in case they ran into an enemy patrol. It was easy to get turned around walking through the brush and B’Elanna wished she still had her tricorder to make sure they were headed in the right direction. It was too bad she had lost it when she had been yanked out of the Stingray.
B’Elanna spotted the duranium hull of the shuttle through the trees and started off toward the vessel when she heard a twig snap from a few meters away. She quickly dropped down, grabbing Hekate’s arm and pulling the other woman down beside her. With a finger to her lips she signaled her to be quiet. A moment later three large aliens stomped into view and Torres got her first look, up close and personal, of the Chthonians.
Mouth dropping open in astonishment, she thought that if anything the Ikonians had downplayed their opponents. The Chthonians were easily a half head taller than the Ikonians; who made B’Elanna feel like a child next to them. The comparison to the Hirogen had not been an exaggeration, but the Chthonians didn’t wear gunmetal gray helmets to cover their thick, bald craniums. They had heavy dark hair that hung in unkempt clumps below their shoulders. Their hands were the size of dinner plates and they sported wicked-looking claws on the ends of their fingers. Even from ten meters away B’Elanna could smell their unwashed bodies and her nose wrinkled in disgust.
The Chthonians started off toward the east and Torres wondered if they had somehow, miraculously, missed the Stingray or if they just hadn’t been able to get it open. The hostile species strode toward the trees with the carelessness of a bully that knows he is safe in his own territory. They had just reached the edge of the clearing and in another moment would be gone. B’Elanna would access the Stingray and try to enhance its communications array to contact the away team. If they were lucky she might even be able to transport them from wherever they were.
Torres started abruptly and turned horrified eyes on Hekate when her headset squealed and Shoya asked, "Hekate, what is your location? We have found the Nemo crewmen, but need your assistance."
All three Chthonians turned in unison and looked directly at B’Elanna and Hekate.
"Arrr!" one of them yelled, but all three of them charged the duo.
B’Elanna jumped into a defensive crouch and cringed internally when they all headed for her. She could understand why they did even if she wasn’t happy with it; Hekate didn’t really look like much of a threat. An instant later the Ikonian surprised B’Elanna by holding both palms out toward one of the Chthonians and blasting him with a powerful whirlwind. The attacker flew across the clearing and slammed into a tree trunk, but B’Elanna lost sight of him when the other two reached her.
She delivered a sharp snap-kick to the first one’s knee, but he didn’t even grunt in reaction. Instead he threw a roundhouse that would have taken her head off if it had connected where intended. Instead Torres twisted to the right and the blow struck her left shoulder. She felt like she had been hit by a sledgehammer and was thrown several feet away.
The Klingon jumped back to her feet with all of her battle instincts on alert, but her left arm was numb and her fingers were tingling. B’Elanna heard Hekate shouting for assistance from the other members of the search team through her headset. It was help Torres knew would never arrive in time and readied herself for another attack. She saw the man Hekate had tossed into the tree shake himself like a bear waking up from hibernation and charge toward the smaller woman again.
The one who had struck Torres sprinted for her and she ducked the next swing. All three of the Chthonians had been armed, but seemed to prefer dealing with the women hands on. The Klingon could only conclude that they liked getting their hands bloody. B’Elanna had learned from her first mistake and kicked out for the man’s knee again, but instead of a straight on attack she delivered the blow sideways and heard the satisfying crunch of cracking bone. She was smiling when the second alien hit her from behind and for the second time in two days B’Elanna was knocked unconscious.
Hekate saw the Klingon drop like a stone, but she had been backed up by the other Chthonian too far to do anything to help her. The other one was coming for Hekate again and she took a deep breath preparing to do something she had never done before; use her powers to harm another living being. It would take a lot of her energy reserves, but if she channeled all of her powers she could fire one large burst of flame that would incinerate the attacker. She didn’t want to do this, but she would never be able to withstand an assault from three of them. There was no question that the Chthonians would kill them if this went on for much longer.
Hekate’s reluctance to take another life caused her to hesitate. That hesitation was all her nemesis needed to reach his own conclusions. The Chthonian raised his disrupter rifle and aimed it straight at her. Hekate’s eyes widened and all of her energy was channeled into survival mode. In a blink she altered her molecular cohesion and teleported a kilometer away from the altercation.
B’Elanna regained consciousness after a moment, but couldn’t keep her eyes open and her limbs wouldn’t cooperate. Every instinct was telling her to pull it together, but the Chthonian must have done some damage when he struck her at the base of her skull. On top of all that she was hallucinating. She could swear she saw Hekate disappear when the Chthonian raised his rifle toward her.
The three attackers stood over her, one of them keeping his weight off his broken knee, and looked down at her.
"She is not Ikonian; she does not have wings."
The voice was thick, gravelly. It sounded like it wasn’t used very often, but the disgust in the tone was clear.
"She is …repulsive. Look at her head."
"And she was with the Ikonians. She may know much of their technology," the third one, obviously the leader, said. "Overlord Hephaestus will want to interrogate this…thing."
Latinus investigated the various Archon Caves near where Hekate had located the alien shuttle. Gifted with powers of earth he could easily see the humanoid footprints of four people that would have been invisible to any other tracker save Cloe. Even a day after the tracks had been made they glowed red with the individual’s heat signatures and he readily followed their path. He had already notified the others via headset that the Starfleet personnel had been found and it would only be a matter of moments before the others of the search team began to arrive.
Not being familiar with combat or any type of direct warfare the Ikonian stepped boldly into the cave. His slit pupils instantly dilated in his native habitat and he could easily see that he startled two men. Both of them wore black uniforms with colored shoulder pads. The one with the red shoulders stood quickly and leveled a weapon of some sort toward him.
"I have come to assist you," the flyer said, raising his open hands to show that he was unarmed. "I am Latinus."
"Sorry about that. I guess we’re a little jumpy." The alien lowered his rifle and said, "I’m Lieutenant Tom Paris of the Federation vessel Nemo. This is Lieutenant Buell. How did you know we were here?"
"We have been in contact with your captain and we found one of your people, Lieutenant Torres. She told us about the rest of you and suggested the area where you might be found."
"B’Elanna’s alive?" the young man asked, swaying slightly. Lieutenant Buell reached out to steady him with one hand on his shoulder. "We thought she was killed when the Chthonians attacked the shuttle."
"She is well. Hermera caught her as she tumbled through the atmosphere. She was not injured."
"That’s good to know. Thank you."
Latinus nodded once. "We must hurry; there are enemy patrols in the area. It will not take them long to find you if they have discovered your craft."
"Well, there’s a problem with that."
Tom was interrupted when four other Ikonians suddenly entered the cave. He blinked at how tall all of them were, but didn’t have much time to react. It was easy to identify First Flyer Shoya as the Ikonian leader he had seen on Nemo’s view screen, but would have known her as the one in charge when she easily took in the situation, made necessary introductions and began asking questions.
"Where are the other two?"
"They’re in the back of the cave," Buell answered quickly. "There was a cave in and they’re trapped behind it."
Shoya turned toward the lizard-like man and said, "Latinus, please lead the way."
Although he hadn’t been in the cave when the rock fall occurred it was easy enough to figure out where the back was and his enhanced vision would prevent any more mishaps. Soon they were all standing before the stones, staring at the heap in silence.
"This could be a problem," Borea finally said.
A feminine voice suddenly spoke from behind the cave in. "Lieutenant Paris, have you acquired assistance?"
He heard the note of hope in her voice and knew Seven was asking if the Nemo had arrived. It was too bad he had to answer in the negative, but Ikonian help was better than none. "Yeah. First Flyer Shoya and some of her people are here. They’re going to help us get you out."
"What do you think?" Borea asked her leader.
"I think someone with telekinetic abilities could easily lift these stones out of the way."
"Telekinetic?" Tom asked in surprise. "What are you talking about?"
Instead of answering him Shoya keyed her headset and said, "Hekate, where are you? We have found the Nemo crewmen, but could use your assistance."
She waited a moment and when there was no response looked up at Hermera with a worried look.
"Maybe the minerals that block sensor scans are preventing a clear com signal," Lieutenant Buell suggested.
"Maybe," Shoya answered, but she didn’t sound like she thought that was the case. "In any event we can’t wait. We need to move these stones now before the Chthonians find us. How long did you say your friends have been back there?"
"Since yesterday," Tom answered, "with no food or water."
Shoya considered their options. Time was of the essence not just because of the enemy patrols, but because the crewmen had been so long without nourishment. For an Ikonian such a long time could mean the individual would begin to fall into a state of torpor, but she didn’t believe the alpha quadrant species had such a high metabolism. Still, being without food and water for so long could not be good for them.
One possible way to free the aliens was for Borea to freeze the stones and Hermera to blast them into rubble. The only problem was the two behind the rock pile would be killed by the resulting blast. It was hardly the solution they were looking for. Hekate could have telekinetically moved enough rocks for the women to escape, but she wasn’t here.
"You three will have to work together. Hermera can burn through the stones, but we will need a tube for the run-off."
After studying the stones for a moment Latinus said. "This is going to take a lot of energy."
"What can I do to help?" Borea asked.
Hermera responded, "I need you to keep the area cool while I melt the stones. Everyone else will need to stand back to avoid injury. I can melt the stones near the opening at the top; at least enough for them to escape, but the flow will be very damaging to organic tissue. Latinus, can you dig the tunnel?"
The man nodded, easily catching on to the plan, and stepped up in front of the rock fall. "I’ll redirect the magma to one of the rivers."
Borea moved to stand beside Latinus with her hands extended while Paris and Buell looked on in confusion. Tom didn’t understand how Hermera could melt the huge pile of debris when she wasn’t even carrying a weapon but they moved obediently to join the group when Shoya waved them over. As far as Paris could tell Hermera didn’t seem to be doing anything but staring intently at the fallen mass as though she was trying to look through it.
Latinus suddenly extended his wings and Tom instinctively stepped back from the impressive display. The man began to spin in place like an auger bit and abruptly disappeared into the ground.
Hermera’s eyes began to glow red. Tom gasped, but watched her in fascination. After a few seconds twin beams of red fire lanced from her eyes in a steady stream toward the top of the rock pile. Using her hands to distribute the fire would have resulted in a massive blast so she used her eyes in order to concentrate the beam. Melting the stones with a laser like effect would cause the rocks to melt without becoming unstable. For a moment nothing happened, but then the stones began to glow red and finally began to melt. The result was like a small lava flow and Tom suddenly understood what they had been telling him. What he couldn’t figure out was how they were doing it.
He and Buell exchanged astonished looks, but he was distracted when he heard Seven’s voice.
"What is happening, Lieutenant Paris? It is becoming quite warm in here."
"It’s a little…hard to explain, Seven, but we’ll have you out in a minute."
The stones grew hotter and began to melt in a steady stream. A new scent along with the smell of burnt earth began to fill the cave and Tom recognized the odor of animal excrement. More precisely he realized it was bat guano. Just before the cave in yesterday they had heard Rosenfeld shout and then the unmistakable discharge of a phaser rifle. Almost immediately a whole colony of bats had fled the cavern and it didn’t take a genius to figure out what had happened. If Seven and Rosenfeld had been trapped back there without fresh air from the rift they had made shifting stones both of them would have asphyxiated long before now.
Tom barely registered a small squelch of sound and saw Shoya flinch. The leader reached to her ear and removed a small device that she gave a disgusted look.
"Static," she explained when Borea looked at her. "Hekate must be trying to contact us. Stay here with the others while I go to the cave entrance and see if I can get a better signal."
Borea nodded and turned back to watch Hermera’s progress. After a few minutes the woman began to perspire, but she kept at it; focused intently on melting the huge mass before her. A few minutes after that she began to shake from the strain. When the flow of liquid stone drew closer to the cave floor Borea suddenly began to shoot snow from the palms of her hands to keep the ground around the tunnel cool. Fortunately, the bulk of the lava flow went into the tunnel Latinus was creating.
When the stone height had dropped by a good four meters Hermera drooped in exhaustion and blinked. The beams of fire disappeared and Tom and Buell were left gaping at the steaming rubble that had been considerably reduced in height.
"That’s enough," Borea pronounced and helped the woman over to the wall to sit.
"Do not let them try to climb out until the stones have cooled," Hermera said.
Borea extended her wings and launched into the air toward the top of the heap. Tom and Buell were now treated to the sight of an Ikonian in flight. Inside a confined area the woman couldn’t ride thermal currents so she had to beat her wings to remain aloft. Rock dust and soot flew into their faces and Tom could hardly see Borea as she cooled the top of the mass. It didn’t take long before she landed back in front of them. The Ikonian was panting hard from the expenditure of energy and waved Cloe over.
Paris couldn’t wait to see what the quiet woman would do. Would she fly? Create another tunnel? Would she teleport inside the chamber with Seven and Rosenfeld? What she chose to do instead left his mouth hanging open in disbelief and he could only gape at the creature that began to climb over the rock pile.
"What do you think they’re doing?" Rosenfeld asked, looking up at the red-hot rocks on the top of the massive pile.
Seven considered the question briefly before replying. "I assume they are utilizing a high energy weapon to burn the stones away. We will have considerable time to wait before the rock will be cool enough to climb. I suggest you rest until then."
Rosenfeld’s hands were bloody ribbons of flesh where the young woman had continued to move sharp stones long past the limits of common sense. Seven had eventually convinced the security officer to stop, but her hands had begun to swell from the damage she had inflicted.
Although unsure how Lieutenant Paris and the Ikonians planned to remove them from behind the stone wall Seven thought she could climb out on her own now. Enough of the rock had been melted away that she would fit comfortably through the aperture near the ceiling as long as the rest of the pile below didn’t give way.
Eventually the tool being used to liquefy the rock was turned off and the glow of heat dissipated slightly. Seven was surprised when cool air suddenly streamed into the pit and she felt something wet splash across her face. Adjusting her optical node Seven was able to focus more clearly on the top of the mound and determine that the Ikonians were using cold water or something very much like it to cool the rock more rapidly.
Efficient, she thought.
"S…Seven," she heard Tom Paris say from the other side. "One of the Ikonians is on her way to get you."
The former drone frowned. How could one Ikonian possibly hope to remove them from behind the pile of rubble? Then she saw who, or more specifically what, was coming over the boulders and turned quickly toward the security officer.
"Ensign Rosenfeld, you will not shoot the Ikonian coming toward us. Do you understand?"
"Sure, Seven," the ensign began in confusion. "Why would I want to do…?"
Rosenfeld spotted the Ikonian and suddenly seemed to understand. Her mouth dropped open and Seven finally understood the term ‘eyes popping out of her head’.
A simian-looking creature resembling the now extinct Mountain Gorilla of Earth clambered toward them over the stones. Prehensile hands and feet easily gained purchase on the rock structure and moved toward them at a steady pace. The biggest difference Seven could see between the creature moving toward them and the gorillas of Earth were the large ebony wings folded against the Ikonian’s back.
In seconds the being stood before them and said in a lyrical voice completely at odds with her appearance, "It’s all right, I won’t hurt you. My name is Cloe. Climb on my back and I’ll carry you out."
Rosenfeld was still opening and closing her mouth trying to say something, anything, but was not succeeding.
"Ensign Rosenfeld will require your assistance; her hands are damaged. I am capable of climbing on my own."
The security officer finally came to her senses and slung the strap of her phaser rifle over her shoulder. Cloe turned and knelt down slightly and Rosenfeld was able to climb onto the taller woman’s back by stepping on her knee. She wrapped her legs around Cloe’s waist and the Ikonian began to climb back over the stones.
Seven took a deep breath and prepared to follow. She wasn’t quite sure of the emotion she was experiencing just then, but one thing was certain. They had clearly not received all of the pertinent information about the Ikonians.
Borg enhanced strength and nanoprobes allowed Seven to make the egress easily behind the other women. If her exit wasn’t particularly graceful it was at least efficient and she soon stood in the main portion of the cave structure.
"Seven, Rosenfeld," Tom said. "It’s good to see you."
"I concur." Seven was grateful to be away from the foul ammonia smell inside the cave, but still uncertain about their rescuers. She frowned slightly and looked around at the Ikonians and watched in wonder as the gorilla-like creature morphed into a lovely young woman. Bewildered she turned to Lieutenant Paris for clarification.
"I can’t even begin to explain. Just go with it."
A commotion near the cave mouth provided the former drone with a distraction and she turned to see the Ikonian leader enter supporting another woman. The smaller Ikonian seemed battered and tears streamed down her pale, dirty face.
"What happened?" Borea asked, rushing over to assist.
"We were attacked by a Chthonian patrol," Hekate explained as the healer examined her. She shook her head and said, "I left her there! One of them aimed a rifle at me and I…I just teleported away! I didn’t even think about what I was doing!"
"It’s all right," Shoya said gently, trying to reassure the distraught woman. "You did the right thing. You don’t have the strength to fight a Chthonian in hand-to-hand combat."
"You don’t understand! They have her! I left her and when I teleported back she was gone!" Hekate almost shouted. "The Chthonians have B’Elanna!"
"B’Elanna is alive?" Seven asked tremulously after a stunned silence.
There was a light feeling in her midsection knowing that her friend still lived, but there was also a sudden worry that left the taste of ashes in her mouth at the thought of the Klingon being taken by the Chthonians. "We must contact Captain Janeway. Our ship has superior weapons systems and they may be able to retrieve Lieutenant Torres."
"B’Elanna contacted your captain from the hover sled right after you were located," Hekate said, pulling her composure together with obvious effort. "Captain Janeway said they would not reach Ikonia for another four hours."
First Flyer Shoya interrupted the exchange. "We must leave. The enemy patrols know that there are Ikonians in the forest. This is the first opportunity they have had to capture one of us and they will be coming."
"We can’t go yet," Paris objected. "Ensign Rosenfeld needs medical attention."
For the first time since their adventures on Ikonia began the young security officer said something that Seven approved of. "It’s just my hands. I’ll live. Let’s get out of here."
"I’ll treat you as soon as we reach Sedulous," Borea offered. Rosenfeld nodded in agreement and the group moved toward the mouth of the cave.
The Starfleet officers gathered up their equipment and started toward the exit when another Ikonian entered. Seven hadn’t met this individual, but thought she might have heard his voice while still trapped behind the rock barrier.
"Latinus, I was beginning to worry."
"Apologies, Shoya. It was a fair distance to the Green River, but we must hurry. I saw a ground patrol not far from here as I was flying back."
"We’ll have to fly out to avoid them. Everyone pair off."
"You’re going to carry us? Tom asked, clearly flabbergasted at the idea.
Seven understood although she wasn’t looking forward to being carried high over the surface. One mistake, an accidental slip, and they could be killed. But it was the only logical solution. Five of them could not fly, but the others could. The Ikonians were clearly very strong and could manage the weight, at least for a short time. By taking to the air they could avoid an ambush in the forest and achieve a more direct route to a place of safety. From there they could launch a rescue mission to retrieve B’Elanna.
"It is efficient," she said. "We must proceed."
Tom didn’t look very thrilled at the proposed idea, but realized he was wasting time. He definitely didn’t want to still be standing here when those Chthonians arrived. "Fine. Who’s carrying whom?"
They stepped outside the cave and everyone paired off. Initially Latinus tried to lift Seven, but found she was too heavy, even for him, with her Borg implants.
"I am sorry, Shoya," he said, looking slightly embarrassed. "You’ll have to carry her."
Seven wondered how the female Ikonian would transport her if Latinus could not. Although impressively muscular and of comparable height to the other Ikonian Shoya was thin and light in comparison. She did not believe it was possible.
That fact did not give the First Flyer pause in the slightest. She stepped up behind Seven and grasped her around the waist with both arms. Then she spread her powerful wings and pulled the former Borg tightly against her breast. It was the only time Seven had been held so closely by anyone other than Kathryn and she felt her cheeks burn.
I am being irrational, she thought. Shoya must hold me tightly in order to facilitate transport.
"It’s all right. I won’t drop you," Shoya said gently, mistaking Seven’s tensed embarrassment for fear. "Hold on."
The First Flyer abruptly bent her knees before she launched them into the air, easily managing Seven’s weight. Seven felt her stomach lurch unpleasantly and instinctively clutched the other woman’s arms. She adjusted quickly and decided that part of Shoya’s genetic abilities must be exceptional strength.
"This is incredible," Rosenfeld gasped not far away.
The ensign was carrying a survival pack and being held in a similar position by Hermera. Seven might have responded in agreement if her enhanced vision hadn’t detected movement below.
"A patrol," she informed the Ikonian leader, pointing toward the forest floor.
Wordlessly, Shoya set off for the main city with the others in loose formation behind her. They flew low, using the canopy of trees as camouflage, but far enough apart not to impede one another’s wing movement.
"Establish orbit over their capitol city, Haro," Captain Janeway ordered, her heart hammering in excitement and sending the blood thundering through her veins. Soon she would see Seven of Nine with her own eyes and not through a view screen. Until she did she wouldn’t be reassured that the other woman was truly uninjured. "Harry, continuous scans. We don’t want the Chthonians to surprise us."
"Aye, Captain," Lieutenant Kim responded.
Crewman Mitena Haro, the backup helmsman, gently eased Nemo into place, setting up a synchronous orbit over Ikonia and directly over Sedulous.
The view of Sedulous was awe-inspiring. Sunlight glinted off the main tower of the Palace as it appeared on the bridge view screen. With dual suns and a people vested in keeping their planet as pristine as possible everything held a fresh-scrubbed appearance. If Janeway didn’t know one of her crew had been taken captive by a war-like species randomly attacking the populace she would have found Ikonia a great place for shore leave. Unfortunately she did know better and after the last month on an uninhabited planet all the crew of Nemo wanted was to get back into space. They could not and would not do that until they got Lieutenant Torres back. After that the Chthonians were no longer Janeway’s problem.
At least Seven and the others were all right. The relief Kathryn had felt when she’d seen Seven on the view screen had left her light headed. It had been very hard to keep her eyes on Paris when he briefed her on the events that had occurred in the relatively short time between Torres’ last report and the away team’s rescue. Janeway heard every word and was appropriately outraged by B’Elanna’s abduction, but her heart was overjoyed to see Seven healthy and whole.
Tom finished his report by telling her they thought the Chthonians had left orbit with Lieutenant Torres, but the Ikonians had no way to track them past the twelfth moon. An asteroid belt around that moon was heavy in nemolite and obscured any traces of enemy vessels past that point.
Then he advised the captain that they were going to join the Ikonians for an early dinner and await Nemo’s arrival before they proceeded further. The Ikonian rescue team possessed high metabolisms and had expended a great deal of energy to secure them. Janeway got the impression that both he and Seven had gained the same high regard for the Ikonians as B’Elanna. That went a long way toward reassuring Janeway that she could count on their help in getting her engineer back. After they signed off Captain Janeway had ordered continuous scans of the Ikonian sector, but so far they had found nothing and Kathryn couldn’t help but blame herself.
Nemo had left Safe Haven traveling at warp 9.975, chewing up the distance between the two planets and threatening to overload the newly rebuilt engines. Then Lieutenant Torres hailed them and said the away team had been found. After that there seemed no reason to run the engines so hard and Janeway had ordered the helm to reduce speed to warp six. But now she thought it very likely that if they had kept moving at full speed they might have intercepted the enemy patrol before they got away with B’Elanna. As a captain Janeway couldn’t afford to second-guess her orders, but as a friend she had to wonder if she hadn’t inadvertently cost her chief engineer her life.
"I have the Stingray on sensors, Captain," Lieutenant Kim reported. "Sensors aren’t detecting any Chthonian life signs on the surface."
"Tractor it into the shuttle bay and get a repair right team on it. Keep scanning for enemy patrols. They might be hiding in one of the mountainous regions. Commander A’zal, assemble your team in the transporter room. Commander Tuvok, you have the bridge."
"Understood," he responded calmly.
Janeway met the rest of the away team in the transporter room. She had instructed A’zal to bring Lieutenant Jameson along, feeling that the young woman’s previously hidden talents might come in handy. Other than that the captain left the bulk of the team assignments to the Vulcan. She was a little surprised to see Tarinia standing on the transporter pad, but couldn’t fault the security officer’s forethought. Since Nemo’s crash-landing on Safe Haven the captain hadn’t seen much of the changeling, but a shape shifter’s abilities might prove useful in their current situation.
Along with Jameson and Tarinia were A’zal’s beta team Quist, Leyton and Spunkmeyer. But it was the last person Janeway saw that made her blink. Crewman Helen Mossler was standing patiently on the pad with a phaser rifle.
"You’re not on beta team, Crewman Mossler. Why are you here?"
"No offense, Captain, but until Commander Tuvok tells me otherwise I’m still your bodyguard."
Janeway couldn’t fault the young woman’s loyalty or her reluctance to face Commander Tuvok if she wasn’t properly relieved of duties that had been issued by Nemo’s first officer.
"I think you’re taking this bodyguard thing a little too seriously," the captain teased lightly, but she didn’t order the crewman to leave.
Janeway stepped onto the platform and turned toward the transport operator. "Energize, Ensign."
She felt the familiar tingles of the transport beam and rematerialized seconds later inside the Great Hall of the Ikonian palace. First Flyer Shoya, their rescued away team and several Ikonians that Janeway assumed to be some sort of entourage were there to greet them. When her gaze met Seven’s it smoldered and she had to force herself to look away; otherwise she was going to do something very un-captainly and take her lover into her arms.
‘First Flyer," Janeway greeted diplomatically as the security team unobtrusively took up strategic locations throughout the hall. Then in a voice husky with emotion the captain spoke to Paris’ team. "I’m glad to see you all in one piece."
"It’s good to see you too, Captain," Paris returned enthusiastically.
Janeway had always had a soft spot for the brash young man and an ability to see through his façade. She easily picked up on his relief that Nemo had arrived and his belief that with the aid of the Starfleet crew they would soon retrieve B’Elanna. Even if their relationship was at an end Tom still loved B’Elanna and worried for her safety.
"First Flyer Shoya and I have a lot to discuss," she said gently. "In the meantime I want you all to return to Nemo and get some rest. No doubt your talents will be needed soon. Seven, after you regenerate please do what you can to enhance our sensors. If anyone can configure them to cut through all this interference and find Lieutenant Torres it’s you."
Crewman Leyton listened to his commanding officer’s orders from an entrance several feet away. He usually filled his days in engineering, but Nemo’s tactical chief had seen something in the Bolian during the time they had been stranded on Safe Haven and drafted him for double duty with her beta squad. He had trained diligently in the holodeck after being assigned to Nautilus and was proud that his hard work had finally paid off. It wasn’t that he didn’t like being an engineer; just that sometimes he felt a little stifled being inside an engine room all the time. He wanted something different, more challenging and he thought security might provide that. Now that he had been recognized he wanted to prove to Commander A’zal that her faith in him was justified.
That being the case he stood by the entrance carefully watching the room for any sign of a threat to his captain or the other members of the away teams. Leyton was so focused on the main hall that he didn’t realize someone was behind him until he felt warm breath on the back of his neck.
His eyes widened and he slowly turned to look over his shoulder. What he saw caused gooseflesh to abruptly break out all over his body and the hair on the back of his neck to stand on end. A pair of glowing eyes and long white fangs stared back at him from centimeters away. The whites of the creature’s eyes were rimmed with red, but it was the wickedly sharp fangs that caused him to break out in a cold sweat.
It was a vampire!
"Aaahhhhh!" Leyton screamed and fainted dead away.
Captain Janeway started when her crewman screamed and everyone in the hall rushed across the room wondering what had happened. A female Ikonian stepped out of the shadows behind Leyton, looking down at the man and laughing helplessly. Even by Ikonian standards the stranger was unusual. She had white-blonde hair and raven wings. The pale eyes were mesmerizing, but Janeway saw her teeth and understood her crewman’s fearful reaction. Most planets in the alpha quadrant entertained legends of vampirism.
"Eos!" Shoya admonished, "You did that deliberately!"
"I couldn’t help it, it was just too good an opportunity," the woman said, gasping in an effort to speak through her laughter. "He never heard me coming!"
The First Flyer cast Janeway a resigned look, as though to say, ‘What’s a leader to do?’ Captain Janeway made a mental note to keep Eos and Larry Spunkmeyer apart. Allowing those two to interact could create serious problems!
Lieutenant Jameson squatted down by Leyton and said, "Heart of a lion, this one." Then she reached down and shook the engineer/security officer by the shoulder. "Wakey time, Crewman."
The Bolian groaned and opened his eyes. He had the grace to look embarrassed, but climbed to his feet while casting the Ikonian an accusing look.
"Eos, come over here," Borea said and grasped the other woman by the arm. She pulled Eos away from the others and began to speak to her in a low voice, but from the comment Janeway overheard she assumed the two were much more than just friends.
"Is your brain leaking? You could have caused his heart to stop!"
Eos, Kathryn thought. First it was Hekate and now Eos. Why are these names so familiar?
The others moved away toward the center of the room though Janeway was beginning to understand the reaction of her crew to the Ikonians. It was easy to be charmed by their open, carefree manner, but they needed to stay focused.
"You four have your orders," said Janeway, dismissing them with a lift of her chin. Knowing Seven was safely back on board their ship went a long way toward helping her relax and focus on what she needed to do to try and find her missing engineer.
"I think we will be more comfortable in the meeting room, Captain. If you will follow me?"
Shoya led the way to a meeting hall with a long, rectangular conference table surrounded by comfortable chairs. Various snacks and drinks had already been laid out and the Ikonians helped themselves to a plate before they took their seats. In an effort to be polite the Starfleet officers chose beverages, but declined any food for the moment.
Along with the Starfleet personnel Shoya brought five Ikonians. Janeway learned that Hermera, Hekate, Eos, and Latinus were Chief Flyers in their regions and exceptionally capable as strategists. Borea also accompanied them in her capacity as healer.
The First Flyer brought Janeway up to speed on every detail of the Chthonians that she hadn’t considered pertinent prior to the Stingray’s encounter.
"As you know the Chthonians have been attacking us for centuries. You also know that we believe they attack because of their hatred of the Ikonian people. What you don’t know is the history behind these attacks. There simply wasn’t a reason to tell you all this before."
"And you believe it’s important now?" Captain Janeway asked.
Shoya nodded. "Considering that circumstances have changed and they now hold one of your people captive I believe it is important for you to have all of the facts. Regardless how minor the details may seem now, there is no telling what information may become useful."
"I agree. Please continue."
"Centuries ago the Chthonian and Ikonian people shared a planet; Minoa," Shoya said, surprising Janeway.
"The Chthonians were cruel, barbaric, preying not only on each other, but anyone they could easily victimize. Our ancestors tried to share technology and information, but the Chthonians were only interested in weapons, armaments and polluting the planet with industrial wastes. The Overlord of these savage people came to hate Ikonians and blamed them for the squalor his people lived in. Coupled with the envy of my forefathers for their ability to fly he began to plot the annihilation of the Ikonians.
"That is not logical," Commander A’zal interjected with a frown. "With your abilities the Ikonians could have easily defeated them."
"At that time the only abilities our ancestors had was flight. Our latent powers only manifested after exposure to the Ikonian suns, which was many centuries later."
"What did your people do?" Karri asked.
"Rather than engage in a war the Ikonians left the planet. Even then they possessed warp capability. They constructed generational ships that they used to travel the cosmos. They visited many worlds and made many friends before they eventually settled here."
When she had finished Kathryn was silent for a moment while she considered everything that had happened to her crew, the Ikonians’ true abilities, and the Chthonian situation.
"After what your people had gone through why would they possibly return to this same system?" asked Janeway. It seemed to her that if the Ikonians had traveled the universe they could have settled anywhere. Why come back to a solar system where they would be under constant attack?
"A few centuries into their travels the generational ships were caught in a massive gamma radiation storm. At first they thought the shields had prevented any damage to their bodies, but soon after they began to see mutations in their children. The mutations were so severe that it crippled the children severely or killed them outright. The mortality rate was very high." Just speaking about the incident was difficult and Shoya needed a moment before she could continue.
"Researchers discovered that metaphasic radiation would reverse the effects of the previous accident. They knew through extensive mapping of the galaxies that the twin suns of Ikonia were the highest source of metaphasic radiation. In addition Ikonia is on the opposite side of the solar system from Minoa and they hoped that the Chthonians would not think to look for them so close to their former home.
"Shortly after my people settled on this planet they learned that metaphasic radiation also causes side effects. It cured the children of the deformities and they were born strong, but they also began to show the latent abilities that you see today."
"Metaphasic radiation also causes remarkable rejuvenating properties as well as increasing metabolism and energy levels," Commander A’zal pointed out.
"Yes," Shoya agreed. "The average life-span for an Ikonian now is four hundred years. I am one hundred eighty-seven years old."
"How did the Chthonians find you?" Captain Janeway asked, returning the conversation to its previous flow and ignoring her crewmen’s amazed gasps.
"A Chthonian vessel was damaged in an ion storm centuries ago, during my mother’s childhood. They crash-landed on Ikonia and were freely offered assistance to repair their ship. The Ikonians hoped that by helping the Chthonians they could prove their goodwill and avoid further hostility. They were wrong."
"So they’ve been on the planet before. Do you think they might have created any strongholds on Ikonia? We know they had foot troops and small vessels flying around the Eastern Mountains."
"I do not believe so," Shoya answered. "The Chthonians were only on Ikonia during that one incident and have little knowledge of the terrain. In addition we have lookouts scattered throughout the continent and they would know if large enemy groups had assembled anywhere."
"All right. So the Chthonians have no strongholds on the surface and Nemo didn’t pick up any signs of them in space. Can anyone think where they might be taking Lieutenant Torres and why?"
"I think the why is easy enough to answer," Lieutenant Jameson spoke up. "These Chthonians have been fighting the people of this planet for decades with very little success. Now they have suddenly captured someone they believe to be an ally of the Ikonians, someone they believe they can use to gain tactical information."
"B’Elanna would never tell them anything, even if they tortured her," Spunkmeyer hotly defended the Klingon.
"The Chthonians would not know that and are not above using any means at their disposal," Shoya pointed out.
"Which begs the next question," Captain Janeway interjected. "Where would they take her?"
"Captain, if I may?"
Janeway looked expectantly at her Vulcan security chief and nodded.
"I recommend we begin with the Ikonian data on enemy ship movements." A’zal looked at the First Flyer. "You said you are capable of identifying the Chthonians once they have moved into your sector. If they do not utilize warp drive how are you capable of tracking them?"
"Chthonian propulsion systems use magnetic fields to drive electrically charged gases."
"Ion propulsion," Janeway extrapolated.
"Yes. It is a highly efficient system even if it is considerably slower than warp drive."
"Ion propulsion can also be tracked though not easily," A’zal said. "It leaves a faint but distinctive trail of residual gases than can be picked up on scanners."
"You’re forgetting about our scanner problems. In this region of space the nemolite interferes with sensors."
"True, Captain. It will be much more difficult to locate any residual trail."
"Maybe we need to go at this from the other direction," Janeway proposed. "Where exactly in the sector is your former planet? It’s only been a few days since you picked up the enemy vessels as they entered Ikonian space. Maybe Nemo can trace the residual ion trail that the Chthonian vessels left before they entered the system. From that we might be able to extrapolate where they were headed when they left with B’Elanna."
"Minoa is located in the Daedelus grid," Shoya said and began to enter the data onto a padd A’zal handed her.
Janeway and the others spent considerable time gathering as much information as they could, but without an exact location on which to focus their efforts there was finally nothing else they could do. The Ikonian method of avoidance had saved many lives over the centuries, but had left them with very little useful tactical data. They knew the patterns of the standard Chthonian strafing runs over the planet, but nothing else. The Ikonians couldn’t tell them the hierarchy of enemy units or how many soldiers were on their space-faring vessels, or if they even had an ulterior motive for their attacks other than a millennium of prejudice and jealousy toward the Ikonians.
Eventually Janeway decided there was nothing more they could do for the time being, but Shoya had one thing further to add before the meeting adjourned. Her comments were intended to outline exactly what the peaceful Ikonians should expect in the near future.
"There is one final matter," The Ikonian leader said looking around the table at each of her people. "Before this is over it may be necessary to use violence against the Chthonians. I know that none of us wants that to happen, but it is often the price of war. We have been fortunate that until now violence was not required, but I feel we are ethically obligated to help retrieve Lieutenant Torres."
Shoya allowed a brief silence to let her words sink in before she continued. "I will not order any one into a direct encounter with the Chthonians, but before you volunteer I ask that you consider all of the implications. You may be required to take a life."
Captain Janeway waited tensely. The leader had essentially given her Chief Flyers an out and Kathryn didn’t know if Nemo would be successful against the elusive enemy without them. She didn’t have long to wait and her opinion of the Ikonian people went up another notch.
"I fought the Chthonians with B’Elanna Torres today," Hekate said. "I could have used my powers to save her, but I didn’t. That’s not something I can live with easily. I know exactly what we will be facing and I don’t need to think about it. I will go."
Eos, the woman who had frightened Leyton so badly, shrugged and grinned. "You know I love a good time. Count me in."
"You can count on me, Shoya," Hermera said simply.
All eyes turned to Latinus. A simple nod of his head was answer enough.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Borea spoke up. "What about me? If you are going into a dangerous situation you will require a healer."
Shoya silenced the young woman by placing a hand on her arm. "We’ll need you here. I can’t risk my chief physician on such a dangerous mission. Talk to your people and see if anyone will volunteer to go in your place."
"How can I do that? How can I ask someone to do what I cannot?"
"Borea, please," Eos spoke. "I have to be a part of any enterprise we undertake because of my abilities. If you are there I won’t be able to concentrate on my assignment; I’ll be too worried about you. Don’t make this more dangerous than it needs to be."
Borea wanted to argue. She had barely gotten to know the engineer, but she liked B’Elanna and wanted to do anything she could to help get her back. It was the look in her partner’s eyes that stopped her. Eos was right; she would be a distraction. Finally she nodded and looked away.
"It is settled, Captain. We don’t know much in the way of fighting an enemy, but we will help you in any way we can."
"Thank you, all," Janeway said sincerely. "I’ll contact you as soon as we have more information. With any luck we’ll have her back soon with a minimum of bloodshed."
Shoya led them back to the main hall and bid them good evening while the other Ikonians went their separate ways. Janeway nodded to the leader and tapped her combadge.
"Janeway to Nemo, we’re ready to go. Energize."
As soon as they finished rematerializing on the transporter pad Janeway turned to Commander A’zal. "Schedule ship-wide battle drills for all shifts. Keep us at yellow alert and make sure your people are up to speed. We don’t know what to expect from these Chthonians, but one thing is certain. They took B’Elanna somewhere and if it’s not a base on Ikonia then it’s somewhere nearby."
"Understood, Captain. I will inform Commander Tuvok of the proceedings on Ikonia. Perhaps he will have some insight."
Having been close friends with a Vulcan for twelve years Janeway knew A’zal was ordering her to bed. Normally she might have protested, but all she wanted now was to go to her quarters and wrap herself around Seven of Nine. The past few days had been so difficult, first knowing she was missing and then finally seeing the other woman but being unable to touch her. All of the worry for her partner was finally catching up and Kathryn knew she had to see Seven… now!
Nodding once to the Vulcan Janeway started for the turbolift.
"Captain?" Lieutenant Jameson called. "Can I have a moment of your time?"
She actually considered saying no before she finally took a quiet breath and responded, "It’s been a long day, Lieutenant. You have as long as it takes for us to walk to our quarters."
Both of them resided on deck three so Janeway thought that would work out well. She stepped onto the turbolift followed by the lieutenant and waited to see what she would say.
"All right I’ll get to it. I’d like to be on the rescue team that goes after Lieutenant Torres."
Janeway looked at her and Karri must have thought she was going to interrupt. Holding up a hand the engineer said, "Please, hear me out. I know I kept things from you in the past, but only about Sakonna. You know everything now and I promise I’ll never withhold information from you again, but I have to be included on the rescue team. Please. B’Elanna means everything to me."
Kathryn lifted her eyebrows slightly and stepped off the lift when it stopped on deck three. That was an unexpected bit of information! She had felt there was something going on between the two women, but never would have guessed it was a romantic situation. Nevertheless, she had planned to put Karri’s special training to use and what she heard hadn’t changed her mind. Janeway had seen Jameson in action and trusted her to keep her personal feelings in check throughout any mission they finally put together.
As much as she would have liked to string Jameson along a little Kathryn was just too tired. She stopped in front of the quarters she shared with Seven and looked at the other woman.
"Consider yourself drafted, Lieutenant."
"I…I…" Karri swallowed to clear her throat and said, "Thank you, Captain. Goodnight."
Kathryn entered her quarters, unzipping her jacket as she went and tossing it negligently over the back of a chair. The green glow of Seven’s alcove beckoned her and she went into the bedroom to gaze up at the young woman’s beautiful face. The tears that had been threatening since the Ikonians freely offered their help finally overflowed as she looked at her love. Those people had rescued Seven, given her back the one person that she would gladly give up her command for and Kathryn didn’t know if she would ever be able to repay that.
Now all she wanted to do was see the love shining from those blue eyes. Knowing Seven had not regenerated long enough but unable to stop herself, Kathryn tapped in the sequence on the data pad that would end the cycle.
"Warning. Regeneration cycle incomplete."
Seven of Nine inhaled and took an automatic step forward before her eyes opened. The smile as she saw Janeway quickly vanished to be replaced by one of concern when she saw the tears sliding down her partner’s cheeks.
"Kathryn, what is wrong?"
"Hold me," Janeway replied and stepped into Seven’s embrace. "I was so worried about you."
Long arms held her close to Seven’s powerful frame and for precious minutes Kathryn let the tears come, relieved to be where she belonged and secure in the knowledge that Seven was home. But soon being held simply wasn’t enough. Kathryn needed to reconnect physically.
Before she quite realized what she was doing Kathryn turned to face Seven, parted her lips softly and kissed her. Gently. Sweetly. Her lips moved slowly over Seven’s and she stroked the full bottom lip with her tongue. She felt the swiftly indrawn breath of arousal as strong arms tightened around her, pulling her closer even as the contact of their lips remained gently exploring.
Kathryn continued to explore, nibbling gently. Seven allowed her the time she needed, participating, but not asking for more than this. Then Kathryn felt the exhalation warm against her lips, a sighing release as Seven’s tongue touched her upper lip so very briefly. Seven’s lips were pressed to her own as one hand slid across Kathryn’s back and the other came up to hold her gently. Seven finally parted Kathryn’s lips with soft strokes of her own tongue.
Kathryn opened to her, moaning softly into her, moving her hands to Seven’s back. Passion rose between them, undeniable like the tide. Both of them drew breath deeply as it seared them and within seconds they were kissing deeply, hungrily, mouths open and tongues tangling. She pressed into the taut, strong body with her eyes closed, trying to absorb every sensation that washed through her. Seven’s mouth was insistent as it demanded more and Kathryn’s soft moans melted into her as strong hands held her.
Holding Kathryn even more firmly, from her knees upward Seven was tight up against Janeway's body. Both of them were devouring one another now, kissing so very deeply, ardently, taking and giving, holding tight before letting go. Their breathing quickened, synchronizing as they sought to consume one another utterly, no thought remaining except this sweet, hungry, breathless excitement, sweeping them up and pulling them together. Kathryn released sweet sounds from deep in her throat, her tongue sliding over and past Seven’s lips softly to explore before withdrawing, stroking, feasting... until at last her lovely, strong hands slid to Seven’s shoulders and they both drew away slowly.
"Please, sweetheart. Love me," Kathryn said, her voice huskier than Seven could remember having heard it before.
Seven shuddered gently in arousal and drew Kathryn toward the bed. Clothing disappeared quickly and then she was leaning over to press Kathryn gently back against silken sheets. Kathryn’s arms came up to wrap around Seven’s shoulders to hold her tightly as though afraid to let go. Seven felt the tension in the smaller woman’s body, the need, and heard the soft sounds of pleasure that spilled into her mouth when Kathryn kissed her again. They had made love many times, but this was different, gentle, measured, taking and returning love freely with quiet moans of hunger and desire.
She left Kathryn’s mouth; trailing down her jaw to the elegant line of her throat with kisses and nips that inflamed before finding the spot that drove Kathryn wild. Kathryn threw her head back and Seven felt hardened nipples press sweetly against her chest. Mesh encased fingertips slid up to cup a breast, the pliant metal rasping pleasurably over a stiffened nipple, a questing thumb teasing in feather light circles that caused Kathryn to cry out and press closer against the sensation.
Kathryn’s hand came to the back of her neck, pulling Seven up, the small body surging against her as Kathryn’s need grew, driving Seven’s own desire higher until all she could see, all she could think was this.
One hand slid smoothly to the juncture between slender thighs and Seven felt Kathryn buck against her. Kathryn parted her thighs eagerly and murmured against Seven’s throat, "Beautiful. You’re so beautiful."
Her lips captured Seven’s lobe, hot breath filling her ear and making it difficult to think. Kathryn’s muscled thigh pressed firmly between Seven’s legs encouraging her to move against her. Kathryn slipped a hand between them and Seven cried out at the first touch of the slender fingers against her wetness. Never stopping her own rhythm Seven concentrated on building Kathryn’s pleasure. She felt the wet heat as Kathryn opened to her, starting to surge against her as the tension in her body grew.
One arm circled her back, drawing Seven down as her body began to move more forcefully. Kathryn was surging against her with deep, guttural moans as the fire inside her mounted and the hand nestled between Seven’s thighs moved in fits and starts as Kathryn began to lose control. Seven pressed against the slender fingers, feeling one slip inside of her as she pushed against her lover. The palm of Kathryn’s hand massaged her clitoris roughly as Seven moved back and forth toward her own release.
"Yes," Kathryn groaned, feeling her love begin to lose control and knowing she needed only a little more. The thought incited her to move faster, more hotly until she felt Seven’s fingers flowing over her. Long fingers slipped into her and Kathryn’s body responded, her hips thrusting to meet every downward stroke. "Oh, God."
Seven felt the small body tense in anticipation, felt that anticipation stoke her own desire. "Kathryn…Kathryn!"
"Seven! Yes, darling, now!"
Seven felt the contractions inside of Kathryn, felt the body as it began to shudder and heard her cry out as she was overwhelmed by her pleasure. Hips pounding, Seven thrust against Kathryn’s hand and when the fingers inside her flexed she cried out and clung to Kathryn as she was also overwhelmed by pleasure that was almost too intense.
Kathryn kissed her sweetly as the last ripples died away. Eventually they relaxed and Kathryn drew the covers over their cooling bodies. They were silent for a time, content to hold each other and be together.
"I love you," Kathryn finally said, snuggling under Seven’s chin. "More than I ever thought it was possible to love someone. Please don’t scare me like that again."
"I love you as well, Kathryn. And I will not frighten you like this again because I will no longer participate in away missions that might present such a situation."
"What?" Janeway asked in surprise. "I thought you loved being the first one to investigate a new planet."
"I do, but it is not worth the risk of being lost to you."
Kathryn thought about that for a moment and realized Seven had also been very worried. Eventually she concluded that her partner was more concerned how Kathryn would react if Seven were injured.
"Darling, I appreciate you’re offer and I think I understand why you would say it, but it’s just not realistic. I don’t want you to be in danger and as your partner I would give my life to prevent it. But as captain I have to make use of the talents of every individual aboard this ship. I hate it, but I’m afraid this is our life. I’ll just have to settle for being worried about you when you’re on a mission and showing you how happy I am to have you home afterward."
"Making love to me like you did was a way of showing you are happy I am back on Nemo?"
"Oh, yes," Kathryn said pulling her down for a tender kiss. "I am so happy to have you here, in my arms."
Seven sighed and pulled Janeway more tightly against her. She rested her chin on Kathryn’s silken red hair and replied, "I am also pleased to be here with you. I just wish B’Elanna was also on board Nemo."
"I know, love. We’ll find her, don’t worry." Kathryn told Seven everything they had learned from the Ikonians, finishing up by telling her about the ion propulsion used by the Chthonians.
"The nemolite interference may prevent us from being able to trace their vessels. Ion propulsion trails are difficult to locate in normal circumstances, but I will do what I can to modify the sensors to compensate."
"I know you will, but it’ll have to wait until morning. You’ve had a very busy last few days without proper rest or nutrition and now I’ve interrupted your regeneration cycle."
"I am gratified that you did," Seven assured her.
Kathryn chuckled and brought up something she had been wondering since Paris gave his initial report on the Ikonian rescue. "Right now I want to ask you a question. How did it feel to fly?"
Janeway’s tone had taken on a curiously whimsical quality and Seven wondered if she was envious of the Ikonian ability. "Technically I was not the one flying, I was being carried. Still, it was an…invigorating experience."
"I’ll bet. When I was a child my sister and I would tie sheets around our necks and leap out of the hayloft. We always imagined that our ‘capes’ gave us the ability to fly, but of course they didn’t work. That never stopped us from trying, mind you."
"Where were your parents when you did this?" Seven asked, horrified that Janeway’s parents would allow her to attempt something so dangerous.
"Are you kidding? My mother would have killed us if she knew what we were doing with her clean sheets! We only did it when they weren’t home."
After a stunned silence Seven said, "I am truly amazed that you survived your childhood."
Janeway laughed. "Then remind me not to tell you about the time I set fire to the barn."
Seven was so astonished by that mental imagery that she couldn’t think of a response. It was a few minutes before she realized Kathryn had fallen asleep snuggled tightly against her. Smiling indulgently, Seven kissed the top of the auburn head and closed her eyes. She followed Janeway into sleep seconds later.
A few hours later Seven awakened completely refreshed. It was still several hours until the start of alpha shift, but she had regenerated for a few hours before she slept and was too worried about B’Elanna to sleep any longer. Carefully she slid out from under Kathryn and smiled when the other woman only grumbled and rolled over. Then Seven took a quick shower to erase the scent of their lovemaking before she dressed and headed to Nemo’s small Astrometrics lab. She had several ideas on how to modify their sensors and wanted to start immediately. There was no telling what B’Elanna was having to endure and Seven wanted to find her friend as quickly as possible.
The small, battered Chthonian shuttle dropped slowly toward the surface of the moon base. Located in the Ikonian asteroid belt it was the perfect place for an acropolis and from which to launch sneak attacks against the flying abominations. Nemolite was present in high concentrations throughout the chain of celestial bodies as well as the moon itself. Ikonians called the twelfth moon Athos, but the Chthonians called it Astron, which translated to enemy’s blood. Since the moon was essentially a great rock in space and was incapable of supporting life on the surface no one ventured close. The Chthonians had been able construct the fortress right on top of their enemy without their knowledge.
"Nearing the docking port; activate the interface."
A camouflaged hatch on the surface of the moon slid away smoothly and the shuttle sailed through. Beneath the outer shell a virtual city had been constructed. Most of the inner core had been excavated to allow for military barracks, flying craft, and training areas. Atmospheric generators had been installed to create an M-class environment that would never have been dreamed of by beings on passing vessels.
The interior of the moon wasn’t as dark as before and the pilot knew their leader had been successful in wresting luminescent shielding from the Nazardeen. The trade-oriented species had assumed they were entering into an exchange agreement with the Chthonians, but things didn’t work that way. The Chthonians took what they needed.
"Overlord Hephaestus has been busy," the pilot said approvingly, turning the nose of the shuttle toward the central tower.
"Yeah, that’s just great," the co-pilot groused. His knee hurt from the shattered bones and he wasn’t paying proper attention to what he said. "I’m tired of this moon. If the Overlord is so productive why haven’t we taken the planet yet? It’s been five years since the base was established. We should be feeling sunlight on our faces, not breathing reclaimed air."
The pilot raised an eyebrow as his ears perked up. Already he was dreaming of the rewards he would receive when he reported a traitor to the Overlord. "Lord Hephaestus has brought us closer to annihilating our enemy than at any other time. He is the greatest tactician in history."
"He is also the cruelest," the other responded gruffly. It was too bad they had to turn the strange female over to Hephaestus; he would love a chance to get even with her for the broken leg. "Nine hundred Chthonians have died building this base and we are no closer to taking the planet."
"You do not care about the others. None of us do."
"No, you’re right. I don’t care. The fewer there are the greater our resources will be once we have Ikonia. If we ever take it! Maybe the strange one will have the information we need and we can finally feel the sun."
"You criticize the Overlord?" the pilot finally asked as his eyes narrowed.
"No!" the other man replied, finally realizing how careless he had been. "I would not dare criticize Lord Hephaestus. You will not tell him what I said?"
The pilot suppressed the urge to grin. "Of course not."
In the rear of the shuttle B’Elanna began to stir. Her eyes blinked open and she looked around in near total darkness. A guard sat on a bench across from her with his head back against the wall and his eyes closed. He looked like he was asleep and B’Elanna realized from the hum of engines that they were on a ship. If she could catch the guard unaware and disable him she could sneak forward to take control of the vessel.
The Chthonian held a disruptor rifle, but it lay uselessly across his lap. His arms were folded and he looked completely relaxed.
Apparently he didn’t consider her much of a threat and that was a grave mistake where the Klingon engineer was concerned. B’Elanna tensed to sit and bit off her gasp of pain. Sharp needles of agony lanced through the back of her neck and up into her skull from the previous blows she had taken on the planet. Carefully she breathed through the pain and glanced toward her keeper. He hadn’t stirred.
Torres tried again and was able to sit without the accompanying pain. Her hands were tied behind her, but she didn’t have a hard Klingon head for nothing. If she bent over and rammed him hard enough she might be able to crush his chest. It would prevent the guard from crying out and eliminate him as a threat instantly. She slid quietly toward the edge of the hard bench and shifted her weight to the balls of her feet, but before she could do more than that the guard opened his eyes.
B’Elanna froze and the Chthonian raised his head to pin her in place with a glare. He spat on the floor and said, "Don’t even think about it. The Overlord wants you and that is the only reason you still breathe, but do not think that I would not gladly kill you."
Is that supposed to be a threat? He’s not so tough, she thought remembering how easily she had snapped one of her attacker’s knees.
"What would your Lord say to that?" she taunted. If she could get him mad enough he might make a mistake and give her an opportunity to take him out.
To her surprise the guard smiled, a cruel twist of the lips and said, "I would not care. If you cause trouble I can claim that you became a threat and had to be eliminated."
His dark eyes suddenly drifted down over her body and she felt disgust at the obvious lust in his expression. "If you were not so repulsive I would take you for myself and then kill you afterward. The Overlord would never know."
Torres shivered in revulsion at the very idea, but then her Klingon nature asserted itself and her lips peeled back in a snarl, revealing pointed teeth. "Try it and I’ll tear your beating heart out of your chest."
The shuttle suddenly bumped as they landed and the guard narrowed his eyes. She had missed her opportunity to escape, but at least the guard hadn’t had the opportunity to make good on his threat. Although she would resist with every ounce of breath in her body B’Elanna knew she would be no match physically for the Chthonian. A hatch slid open beside her to reveal the two others that had attacked her and Hekate on the planet. One of them tried to walk without putting any more weight than necessary on his left leg.
She refused to be intimidated by these thugs and asked casually, "How’s the knee?"
The Chthonian responded by backhanding her so hard that her skull rebounded off the side of the shuttle. "Shut up!"
No problem, she thought, her ears ringing.
The guard that had been sitting across from her handed his rifle to the limping man who used it as a crutch. Then he reached over and grabbed B’Elanna around the waist. He lifted her as though she weighed ounces and slung her over a shoulder. B’Elanna started to struggle and tried to twist out of his grasp. She couldn’t even throw him off balance and he started out the airlock without hesitation.
The chirp of a failed com-link made her look down and B’Elanna saw that they hadn’t even taken her combadge. It had chirped when struck by the Chthonian’s shoulder plate. The device wouldn’t work for any kind of a communications link with Nemo, but her engineer’s mind was thrown into overdrive as she considered other ways it might eventually come in handy. That being the case she stopped fighting the Chthonian and concentrated on where they were going.
The shuttle had landed in the middle of a flat plain inside the asteroid, and one glance overhead told confirmed they were inside a planetoid of some sort. The air was extremely warm and already she had started to sweat. They were headed directly for a large stone structure that vaguely resembled a castle except that it wasn’t nearly so elegant. Lumpy in places and smooth in others, the structure looked like someone had thrown it together without any care or thought to functionality.
Anyone living inside that thing would freeze from the wind coming through the cracks, if there was any wind or if it weren’t so damned hot in here!
Two Chthonians flanked the entrance to the stronghold and Torres was surprised when they stepped in front of the one who carried her. Apparently these guys didn’t trust anyone including their own people.
"Move aside!" the Chthonian that held her said.
"What is your purpose? The Dark Lord doesn’t want to be bothered."
"Are you blind? We captured this one on the planet. Lord Hephaestus will want to question her. Now move aside or I will gut you where you stand!"
It took only a few moments for the sentry to weigh his options. He wasn’t really worried by the threat from another grunt, but if Hephaestus really wanted this…thing…and he stood in the way he would be the next example set by their ruthless master. He moved to the side and resumed his position to right of the entryway no longer concerned with the matter.
B’Elanna’s captor shoved the door open and stalked inside. She didn’t know where the other two from the shuttle had gone nor did she care as she tried to memorize the layout of the winding stone corridors. Being pinned on the Chthonian’s hard shoulder wasn’t helping. Every time she started to take a breath it was driven back out of her and with her hands tied behind her she couldn’t move into a more comfortable position. Soon her head was spinning and it was hard enough just to inhale. Eventually they stopped outside a heavy door and the guard dropped her to the ground. She grunted when her shoulder hit the stone floor, but kept her mouth shut while the Chthonian beat on the door with his fist.
"I told you I do not want to be disturbed."
The voice was low, calm, yet it was so loud that it boomed like thunder. If her universal translator hadn’t picked up the syllables and delivered the translation she would not have known it was language. B’Elanna Torres did not scare easily, but the voice caused a trickle of fear to race up her spine for the first time since encountering the Chthonians on the surface of the planet.
Her captor seemed similarly affected. He swallowed nervously and raised his voice to respond.
"I bring a prisoner from Ikonia. I thought she might provide information."
When there was no response B’Elanna wondered if this Hephaestus had been surprised. She opened her mouth for a wise crack when the booming voice interrupted her.
The Chthonian reached out a trembling hand and pushed the door open before he bent to pick the Klingon up again. This time he grabbed her around the waist and carried her under his arm as he walked into the room. He took only five steps when he abruptly let go of her again and sank to his knees.
B’Elanna’s elbow hit the stone and she grunted in pain. "You have got to stop doing that!"
She looked up to see the Chthonian guard with his eyes on the floor. Large, booted feet came into view and her eyes traveled up the Overlord until she got her first look at his face. Hephaestus was the tallest Chthonian she had seen yet. His shoulders were so wide that she could not have reached across the distance and the huge face looked like it had been carved from granite. The Overlord’s mouth was a cruel slash and a scar ran from just under one eye to the corner of his mouth.
Heavy brow ridges stood out from his forehead and in the gloom B’Elanna couldn’t see his eyes. They just looked twin pools of emptiness. Yikes! No wonder these guys were so scared!
"You have done well. What is your name so that I may reward you?" Hephaestus asked.
"Who I am doesn’t matter, Lord. It is important only that you be served."
B’Elanna wondered if the man would be punished for his response. Instead the Overlord responded. "You are fortunate; that is the right answer. Secure this creature to the harness and leave."
"As you command, Lord Hephaestus. At once!"
The guard jumped to his feet without meeting his master’s eyes and grabbed hold of B’Elanna again. He dragged her over to an odd looking contraption in the corner where he grabbed hold of a chain that dangled from the ceiling. He shackled B’Elanna’s wrists to it and grasped a metal wheel that was attached to the wall. As he turned the wheel the chain tightened until B’Elanna was suspended leaning forward with her toes barely touching the ground. She felt like her arms were being torn out of the sockets. The Chthonian soldier locked the wheel in place and beat a hasty retreat.
"So now what?" she asked as soon as she was alone with the Chthonian leader. "You beat me until I talk?"
Hephaestus stood in front of her with his powerful arms folded. "I thought I would merely ask the questions and you would answer."
Again his tone was calm and rational, but it reverberated in B’Elanna’s head like a gong. How did he do that? Was it some kind of voice modifier? "Well, you can forget it! I won’t tell you anything!"
"Then I shall beat you until you talk."
Common sense reared its head and B’Elanna realized that one blow from his hammer fist could cause serious damage. Since she didn’t really know anything about the Ikonians defensive capabilities she could answer Hephaestus’ questions and not give anything critical away. Then again if she cooperated and he figured out she was of no use to him, he would probably kill her anyway. If that was how it was to be then she would at least try to die with honor.
"I can’t answer your questions because I don’t know anything."
"We shall see. Tell me how to get past the Ikonian city shields."
"I don’t know," B’Elanna answered honestly.
"That is the wrong answer."
Hephaestus slowly relaxed his folded arms and the Klingon saw that he held a club of some sort. He let her absorb the implication before he swung the thin metal bludgeon. It whistled through the air before striking her in the upper arm. The humerus snapped easily under the blow and B’Elanna ground her teeth to keep from crying out. He could have aimed for her head, but if he had the first blow would have killed her. There was no mistaking the brute’s experience getting information quickly and efficiently without disabling his victim.
"How do I disable the Ikonian shields?"
"I told you," she panted. "I don’t know."
Another blow to the same spot and B’Elanna lost all feeling in her fingertips. The excruciating pain in her upper arm and shoulder made up for the lack of feeling in her fingers. She let out a small groan, but refused to cry out. Instead she ground her teeth together until her jaw ached.
"How many of the Ikonian horde covers the planet?"
That one she could answer, but she wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction. What difference did it make anyway? "I don’t know."
This time Hephaestus back-fisted her across the jaw. B’Elanna’s head snapped to the side and blood flew across the room. Before she could recover the Overlord punched her in the stomach.
"Unhh!" All of the breath whooshed out of her and Torres fought the urge to throw up. She felt like her stomach had been slammed against her vertebrae and she felt something tear inside. It took several moments before the contractions in her gut ceased enough to draw a breath.
"Speculate how to disable the Ikonian city shields."
B’Elanna spit blood onto the floor and tried to take a few deep breaths before she finally said, "I don’t know… and I wouldn’t tell you…if I did." Her voice was barely above a whisper. The pain in her shattered arm and stomach lanced sharp needles throughout her body when she tried to breathe and her head swam. Definitely some internal damage. The Overlord raised his club to strike another blow and B’Elanna rushed to speak up, trying to delay the inevitable.
"Why are you trying to hurt the Ikonians anyway? What have they ever done to you?"
She didn’t expect an answer, but apparently the Chthonian leader saw no reason not to. "They owe us this world and everything on it. Because of them our world is polluted and unfit for populating, our people engaged in civil war. The core of Minoa has become unstable."
"You did that to yourselves," Torres said, losing control of her temper and risking further injury. "The Ikonians left your planet centuries ago. They couldn’t be responsible for what’s happening now!"
"Enough! Tell me how to get through the Ikonian shield matrix!"
Torres wanted to clap her hands over her ears to drown out the noise, but that was impossible with them tied behind her back. She ground her teeth together and grated, "Go to hell! I’m not telling you anything."
The Klingon warrior braced herself for another physical assault, but the Overlord turned and walked across the room to a large wooden chest. He set the club aside and opened the chest. She couldn’t see what he was reaching for until he straightened and turned around.
"A plant? Is that supposed to scare me?"
The plant was a short-stemmed succulent of some sort. The leaves were thin and fleshy with serrated edges. It was tipped with tubular yellow spikes approximately two to three centimeters long.
"Beautiful, isn’t it? It is called aconite."
B’Elanna cringed internally as the leaves on the plant began to move. The tops bent over and the yellow spikes undulated about as though on a menacing quest.
"If beating the crap out of me won’t make me talk, what makes you think a couple of thorns are going to make a difference? You obviously don’t know much about Klingons."
"Nor do I care and you would be surprised how many times I have heard that. In the end everyone talks. You are no different."
Hephaestus stepped up in front of her and extended the plant. With her body tipped forward B’Elanna had to strain to see what was happening and flinched backward as the aconite tips swung in her direction. The spikes sensed her body heat and plunged sharply into her skin. The pain was minimal compared to her earlier beating and for a few seconds B’Elanna thought she would easily be able to tolerate it. Then the plant began to thrash excitedly as the barbs encountered blood and bone, digging deeper, ripping through her body to perforate organs and invade her nervous system. Distantly B’Elanna heard the scream she had so stoically held back before. As the aconite tore deeper the agony began to fade and numbness suffused her body as pain receptors were blocked. Chemicals in the plant reduced her anxiety as her mind began to drift away, leaving the Klingon vulnerable to a more insidious type of attack, a mental one.
Kathryn Janeway awakened alone in her bed. Adrenaline shot through her veins as she sat up in sudden fear and it was a few seconds before her sleep-addled brain engaged enough for her to remember that Seven was safely back onboard Nemo. The lights hadn’t come up yet for morning watch, but she didn’t hear her partner moving about in their quarters and Seven wasn’t regenerating either.
"Computer, state the time."
"What is Seven of Nine’s location?" she asked, knowing the answer even before the computer responded.
"Seven of Nine is the Astrometrics lab."
"Computer, how long has Seven of Nine been in Astrometrics?"
"Six hours and forty-three minutes."
Janeway smiled fondly. It was just like her partner to disobey orders and neglect her own welfare, but in this case the captain couldn’t really fault her. Not only was B’Elanna a crewmember and the finest engineer Janeway had ever known, but she was also a good friend to both Kathryn and Seven. Kathryn was almost as worried for the Klingon as she had been for Seven and there was nothing she wanted more than to chase through the cosmos to rescue B’Elanna. Unfortunately they needed more information to go on before they could initiate any kind of rescue and it wouldn’t do B’Elanna any good if they went after her in a state of exhaustion. Fatal mistakes were made that way and if there was one thing Janeway understood it was tactics. Any rescue team they assembled needed to be clear-headed and have a sound strategic plan before they even thought about moving toward the Chthonians.
With her mind engaged at warp six Kathryn threw the covers back and got out of bed. She couldn’t possibly sleep anymore and her shift would start in a couple of hours anyway. Maybe Seven had something relevant by now. Janeway took a quick shower and dressed in her duty uniform before she stopped by the replicator for a cup of coffee. Armed with her first caffeine infusion of the day she walked out the door of her quarters on deck three and headed for the turbolift.
Seven had her back to the door when Janeway entered the lab, but the captain knew the other woman had identified her before she walked through the entry. "Anything?"
"Yes. I utilized the data on Chthonian ship movements inside Ikonian space and enhanced the Astrometric sensors with Borg algorithms."
As she listened Janeway ignored the slight shadows under Seven’s eyes that were caused by working too hard. Right now the former drone was her shipmate not her lover. "And?"
Seven tapped in a sequence into the computer and a view of the spatial grid came up on the Astrometrics screen. A fine white line began over Ikonia and terminated near the asteroid field that marked the outer edge of their space.
"Okay, so we know they definitely left the planet and that nemolite interference interrupted the sensors as they neared the asteroid belt. Any idea where they’re headed?"
Seven nodded. "The Ikonians stated that enemy vessels entered their sector approximately three days ago."
"So you should be able to pick up their ion trail on the other side of the asteroid field and determine where they are, or at least where the Chthonians are headed." Janeway was pleased by the other woman’s ingenuity.
"Because no such trail exists."
"How can that be? They can’t just vanish into thin air."
"I do not believe they did. Large quantities of nemolite prevent conclusive scans of the area of space surrounding the asteroid field, but there is enough evidence to suggest their final destination. Observe."
Seven enhanced a grid on the screen to show that the trail ended near a large planetoid and said, "I believe the flight path terminates here."
"Ikonian’s twelfth moon to be precise. It is located inside the asteroid belt."
"A Trojan horse."
"Clarify," Seven requested. Although she possessed an eidetic memory the Borg didn’t retain every bit of trivial data they assimilated, but discarded what they considered irrelevant. The Collective obviously considered this particular reference irrelevant.
Accustomed to Seven’s requests for clarification Kathryn grinned and said, "It’s a way of hiding in plain sight. The remark itself came from a wooden horse in which, according to legend, the Greeks hid and gained access to Troy."
"Indeed. Then this may in fact qualify as a Trojan horse. Sensors do not detect a viable atmosphere on the moon, but I located five faint ion trails all of which terminated near the surface. If they were able to successfully hide their presence the Chthonians could offer sufficient resistance once their numbers were great enough. The moon would be a convenient location from which to launch an enemy attack."
"I think it’s time we mount a little resistance of our own."
"You have a plan?" Seven asked, noticing the look of anticipation on the captain’s classic features.
"Half a plan, anyway. I think we should cloak the Stingray, once it’s repaired, and take it in to scout the area."
"The Stingray does not have cloaking ability," Seven pointed out helpfully.
"Not yet. After we get the information we need we’ll contact the First Flyer. She should go with us on the actual rescue so she can see first hand how ignoring a threat can cause a greater problem."
"Captain, are you angry with her for refusing to engage in hostilities with the Chthonians?"
"Yes. No!" Frustrated, Janeway stopped and tried to answer Seven in a way she could understand. "It’s not as simple as that. I applaud their peaceful way of life, but by ignoring the Chthonians they’ve become even more dangerous. Not only do the Ikonians have no way to prevent their space from being invaded, but they have no useful data in the event of a military confrontation."
"And now an innocent has suffered as a result of their non-action," Seven finished calmly.
"The Ikonians did state they would assist in retrieving Lieutenant Torres."
Janeway nodded. The Ikonians might not have any experience with subterfuge or warfare, but their unique abilities would be essential against a greater foe. "Then maybe they’ll agree that it’s time we all worked out a plan to get B’Elanna back."
The captain tapped her combadge and said, "Janeway to Lieutenant Jameson."
Karri’s immediate response told Kathryn that everyone was working overtime to get things in place for the rescue. Good.
"Lieutenant, what’s the status of the Stingray?"
"We’re almost finished, Captain. Repairs should be finished in the next twenty minutes."
"Right. How long would it take to equip the shuttle with cloaking technology?"
There was a startled pause, but then to her credit the engineer merely replied, "Best guess at the moment would be another five hours."
"Get on it." Janeway terminated the link and turned to her partner. "Let’s get some breakfast and then I think it’s time to call a war conference with the Ikonians. I want to let them know what we’re up to. I don’t think they should send anyone on the recon team, but I would like their input. By the way," Kathryn asked as they walked out of the lab, "did you know there was something going on between B’Elanna and Karri?"
"Yes," Seven answered honestly, wondering how Kathryn had learned of the relationship and what would prompt her to ask about it now. "Why?"
Janeway shrugged and said, "Sometimes the smallest detail can make all the difference." She was starting to feel a lot better about their chances of getting the Klingon back but would never admit that sometimes she enjoyed a bit of gossip as much as the next person.
"Cutting power to the impulse engines."
Lieutenant Paris’ voice was low and Seven wondered at the human propensity for superstition. The Chthonians could not possibly have heard them, even if there was more shuttle activity near the moon’s surface than the Borg enhanced sensors had indicated.
"Cloaking field is stable," Lieutenant Jameson reported.
Captain Janeway had decided to send a minimal away team to investigate the moon, Commander A’zal, Lieutenants Paris and Jameson and Seven of Nine. With absolutely no idea what they would find or what unknown technologies the Chthonians had access to Janeway decided that the fewer officers placed in harm’s way the better. The recon team’s orders were to observe only and gather as much strategic data as possible.
"Look there!" Karri said and pointed toward the surface.
Seven’s eyebrows rose when a concealed portal on the moon’s surface slipped open and a vessel flew inside. "Intriguing."
A’zal realized that Seven had discovered something important and she needed that information, too. "Please elaborate."
"I believe the nemolite is present only in the moon’s crust," Seven told the Vulcan security chief. "During the brief moment that the aperture was open sensors began to function normally."
"This may be easier than we thought," Tom said, his voice raised in excitement.
"Do not become overconfident, Lieutenant," A’zal said with a typical Vulcan frown. "This is a fact finding mission. Exposing our presence at this juncture would not be wise."
"All I’m saying is we might be able to get B’Elanna back ourselves. Who knows what she’s going through down there right now?"
Karri resisted the impulse to slap the helmsman on the back of his head. This wasn’t the time or place to vent her contempt for his past scurrilous behavior with the Klingon, but she also wasn’t about to let him go off half-cocked. "We don’t even know that she’s here."
"I thought you of all people would agree with me. Don’t you think the Chthonians have held on to her long enough?"
"If she is here and it’s safe to get Torres out I’m all for it, but don’t get antsy," Jameson chastised. "For now all we’re going to do is gather as much data as we can and see what’s what."
"Fine! Well, whatever we’re going to do let’s get on with it. We only have twelve hours," Paris shot back and turned to his console.
Everyone was silent as they considered how to proceed. Although the Starfleet crew hadn’t been sure what they would find on Athos, it hadn’t been a secret entry into the interior of the moon itself. There was no telling what they might discover inside or if they would be able to get out again if they somehow got through. It required that they reset their way of thinking and start from square one.
"I have an idea," Jameson spoke up. She hadn’t gone through Advanced Covert Operations for nothing and an idea began to form. When all eyes turned to her she smiled and said, "When one of their ships goes through that hatch we ride their ion trail inside."
A’zal nodded thoughtfully. "A logical suggestion, but the Chthonians may possess a security grid that would detect our presence."
"Not if we get right up behind them and cut power just as we crossed the threshold," Paris contributed. "We ride through on inertia and there would be no power signatures to detect."
"Efficient," Seven approved. With the cloak activated and engines offline the Chthonians wouldn’t know they were there.
"Proceed," A’zal ordered.
The Stingray drifted slowly toward the surface, carefully avoiding enemy vessels. Paris allowed a few small shuttles to enter without moving and almost thirty minutes passed with agonizing slowness. Jameson was about to ask if Paris was taking a nap when he finally spoke up.
"There’s our pigeon."
A larger scout ship ambled toward the aperture on maneuvering thrusters. It dwarfed the Stingray in size and Paris deftly slid under the belly of the vessel, near the rear where the power from the Chthonian engines would mask them completely.
"Cutting engines," Tom said softly and the recon team held their breath as the shuttle slid past the threshold.
"Sensors are functioning within normal parameters," Seven reported. "There are no indications that we were detected."
"Yes!" Tom said and pumped both fists in the air in triumph.
Seven had kept quiet while Paris and Jameson argued whether or not to attempt a rescue, but internally she sided with the helmsman. B’Elanna meant more to Seven than she had ever admitted to the Klingon and she was furious with the Chthonians for daring to take the woman captive. If the decision had been left to Seven she would have used a photon torpedo to detonate the aperture and flown inside to verify the Klingon’s presence. If she detected it, she would have immediately transported the other woman out and destroyed the entire complex as she left. Unfortunately those were not their orders. At one time Seven would not have cared what their orders were, she would have done what she felt was right and answered for the consequences later. But she had not loved Kathryn then and would not have cared how Janeway reacted to her disobedience. Now, although the former drone still wanted very much to disobey and pull her best friend out no matter what, she would obey orders and conduct this inefficient clandestine operation.
"Sensors to maximum," Commander A’zal ordered stoically.
"They’ve hollowed out the whole inside of the moon," Karri breathed, not quite able to believe what she was seeing. "The Chthonians must have been at this for years; hiding right on the Ikonian’s door step!"
The interior of the moon was in a perpetual state of night. Light from the stars was only visible when the outside portal was open, but artificial lights abounded on the landscape below. All of the structures appeared to have been constructed from compressed rock and it wasn’t difficult to determine how the Chthonians had disposed of the excavated lunar material.
"Sensors read an M-class environment inside the moon and four atmospheric generators. The generators are emitting large quantities of energy," Seven said. "I recommend we hold position above one of the generators to mask any residual energy signatures unique to the Stingray."
A’zal nodded and Paris used the shuttle’s thrusters to maneuver them into position. While he was doing that Seven was running every scan she could think of and a few new ones she improvised on the spot. Beginning with the far side of the moon she set the scanners to sweep slowly over the terrain, automatically identifying and mapping barracks, hangers, airstrips and training grounds. Seven located three heavily stocked weapons caches and a shipyard in the process of constructing large battle vessels, but it wasn’t until sensors locked in on the central tower that she found anything she considered noteworthy.
"I have located Lieutenant Torres. She is on the second floor of the largest central complex."
"Great," Tom said. "Let’s transport her out of there."
Karri looked at him in astonishment. She realized Paris was a pilot, not an undercover operative, but what he was suggesting was out of the question. "You’re really not thinking clearly are you? We’d have to de-cloak and drop shields to transport B’Elanna out. The Chthonians would be all over us!"
"We’re already powered up. We could get her out, use a torpedo to blow the hatch and be gone before they knew what happened!" he argued. "Besides, how many of them could there be?"
Seven pinned him with a glare. "Lieutenant, there are one thousand thirty-three Chthonian life signs below and four enemy vessels are currently powered up."
The discouraged look on the pilot’s face finally got through to Karri. She had never cared for the brash young man, but was honest enough to admit that some of her resentment toward him stemmed from jealousy. Paris had never seemed to understand what a precious gift he had been given by having B’Elanna in his life and Karri would have done anything to take his place. But even though she didn’t approve of the way he had treated his wife Karri knew he really cared about B’Elanna. She was also wise enough to know that in a way he blamed himself for what had happened to her and might be happening to her now at Chthonian hands.
"Look, Tom. I know you want to get B’Elanna back. So do I. But being reckless is only going to get other people hurt. If we…grab…B’Elanna and blast our way out of here the Ikonians are going to suffer for it."
Paris slumped back in his seat and closed his eyes for a moment before he could accept the truth of what he was being told. "I just want to get her back."
His dejected tone pulled at Karri’s heartstrings and for an instant she was ready to throw caution to the wind to rescue B’Elanna, but she took a deep breath and forced the impulse down.
"We will. Let’s do what we came here to do. We’ll gather as much intel as possible and when we get back to Nemo we’ll come up with a rescue plan that will make the Chthonians wonder what hit them. All right?"
Seven prayed they would not be too late.
B’Elanna blinked and carefully opened her eyes. The brightness from the overhead lights caused searing pain to shoot through her temples and she squeezed her eyes shut again for a moment. As the pain faded she opened her eyes and looked around at the room’s stark white walls in confusion. The familiar smells of antiseptic burned her nostrils and told her she was in a medical facility.
What the hell? Nemo’s sickbay wasn’t like this.
B’Elanna was lying on a real hospital bed with stark white sheets pulled up to her chest. Machines beeped next to her and the scent of flowers tickled her nose. But it had to be a Starfleet hospital because even the Ikonian medical center hadn’t smelled like this.
As she looked around the room B’Elanna spotted a woman sitting in a chair near the wall. Even dressed in casual clothing and her head tilted back against the wall as she slept Torres would have recognized Karri Jameson anywhere. Unfamiliar fine lines at the corners of her eyes and a few gray hairs couldn’t diminish the sudden rush of blood through B’Elanna’s veins when she saw the woman sitting nearby.
Suddenly Karri opened her eyes and looked in her direction. The unexpected eye contact made B’Elanna gasp and then Karri was out of the chair and rushing toward her.
"Oh, honey, you had me so worried."
Shock kept B’Elanna from responding and suddenly Karri gripped her hand in both of hers and was kissing her gently on the forehead. If this was Chthonian torture they might want to change their tactics!
"The doctor wasn’t sure when you’d wake up and I’ve been so worried."
Karri leaned down and kissed her tenderly, lingering over B’Elanna’s full lips until the Klingon was breathless. The intimate touch caused a rush of memories from the time when the couple had dated aboard Voyager and B’Elanna’s arms went up around Karri’s neck to pull her closer.
"Easy, sweetheart," Karri said pulling back with a chuckle. "As much as I love you and have been worried for you I don’t think the other patients would appreciate seeing us make out."
The easy endearments and Karri’s obviously older appearance finally nudged B’Elanna into asking, "Karri, what the hell is going on? How did I get here? Why aren’t we on Nemo?"
"Nemo? B’Elanna, what are you talking about? Why would we be back on Nemo?" demanded Karri anxiously.
Karri was prevented from responding further when the door opened. A woman wearing a Starfleet uniform entered the room. She was an older woman with white-blonde hair and remarkably intense eyes. Her rank identified her as an admiral, and the blue shoulder pads denoted her position in the medical department. Torres recognized Kate Pulaski from the brief time she had spent in Starfleet Academy. Then a captain, Pulaski could often be seen walking across the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters.
"Hi," the smiling woman greeted in a husky voice. "It’s good to see you awake. I’m Doctor Pulaski." The admiral pulled a medical tricorder from a pocket and took some quick scans. After a moment she set the device aside and peered into B’Elanna’s eyes.
"How are you feeling? Any headaches…nausea?"
"Just a slight headache," Torres admitted carefully, still confused about how she’d gotten here…wherever here was.
"She asked me why we weren’t onboard Nemo," Karri said. The worry on her face was clear and so was the love she had for B’Elanna.
That was different and it made the Klingon frown. She had grown so used to them hiding their feelings that something just felt wrong. She knew Karri still had feelings for her, but it had been a long time since she had worn her heart on her sleeve for anyone to see.
Pulaski looked startled by that information and frowned as she turned back to B’Elanna. "Well, some memory loss is to be expected. All of your scans are normal and I’m sure that once you settle back into a normal routine the memories will return."
"Three years worth of memories?" Karri asked.
Karri sounded on the verge of panic and B’Elanna was right there with her. How could she possibly have forgotten three years? How could she be in a Federation hospital and being treated this doctor? Admiral Pulaski would have her choice of patients and there was no reason to believe a lube-jockey would be important enough for that. Why did Karri keep calling her ‘sweetheart’ and…oh my God! Was that a wedding band on Karri’s hand?
"What the hell is going on here?" Torres asked, finally finding her voice.
The fear in both of their voices seemed to register with Pulaski and the doctor tried to reassure them. "I’m sure it’s all right. Some memory loss is to be expected after a head injury. What’s the last thing you remember?"
"Ikonia," B’Elanna answered honestly. "Some Chthonian overlord was beating the crap out of me and trying to get information on the Ikonians. He wanted to know how to get past their defensive network."
"What did you tell him?" the doctor asked curiously.
B’Elanna couldn’t believe her ears. "Huh?"
"What does it matter?" Jameson interrupted. "Why doesn’t she remember us?"
"What are you talking about? There is no us!"
Karri’s face lost all color and she recoiled like she’d been slapped. "B’Elanna, we’ve been married for almost two years!"
Tears sprang to Jameson’s eyes and she turned helplessly to the doctor. "Is there anything you can do?"
"Not really." The doctor turned to address the Klingon. "Even in the 24th century the brain is a mysterious organ. It may take a while before all of your memories come back or they may never return. All I can advise is get plenty of rest and ease back into your routine slowly. Don’t try to force anything. In the meantime I’m taking you off duty for the next week."
"I have to stay here for a week?"
This was just too much! It was bad enough that she had lost her memories of being married to Karri, but now she had to stay here, too? Like most Starfleet officers Torres didn’t care for being in a medical facility, poked and prodded like some kind of lab rat.
Doctor Pulaski smiled indulgently. It was hardly the reaction B’Elanna would have expected considering the reputation the woman had. "Hardly! I know better than to expect that. No, I’m taking you off duty to give you a chance for your memories to return."
She turned to Jameson and said, "There’s no medical reason for her to stay here. Take her home, Commander. She’ll need you to help jog her memory." She turned to Torres and added; "I’ll see you back on Monday for your final check-up."
"I thought you said I was fine medically."
"You are," Kate grinned. "But I still have to give the final okay before the Commander in charge of the Utopia Planetia Shipyards can go back to work. It’s one of the perks of being the Director of Starfleet Medical."
"Commander? Utopia Planetia?"
Instead of clarifying, Doctor Pulaski turned to Karri and said, "Take her home. That’s an order."
The former drone came to an abrupt halt and turned to Captain Janeway. At the moment they were aboard Nemo waiting to meet with the Ikonians. The recon team had returned after their allotted twelve hours with giga-quads of data on the Chthonian moon base. Scans had shown that Torres was not alone inside the fortress and Seven did not believe the Chthonian who was with her merely wanted to chat.
"I cannot. Why are we not attempting to secure Lieutenant Torres ourselves? The Ikonians have no useful tactical experience and will, in all likelihood, be a liability."
"Well, I disagree. I think their involvement is essential."
Janeway sat back on the sofa in her ready room and sipped carefully at her scalding hot coffee. Seven had come a long way from the Borg drone that had stepped out of an alcove almost six years ago, but some things never changed. She still needed help understanding the intricacies of individual interaction on occasion. Their philosophical discussions had become a rarity and this was the perfect opportunity for such a talk, but it was also imperative that Seven understand how important Ikonian involvement was for any rescue. If Kathryn were unable to make the other woman understand it was likely that Seven would initiate her own impromptu raid on Athos. Seven just didn’t have the same respect for the chain of command that Nemo’s other crewmen did.
"Elaborate." Seven all but flopped, although elegantly Kathryn thought, down on the sofa beside the captain and pinned Janeway with her own version of a ‘level ten’ glare.
Once she was sure she wouldn’t spill coffee all over the front of her uniform, Kathryn masked her amusement by taking another quick sip from the mug. She could always count on intriguing Seven with the possibility of more information by making such a generic statement. At least now Kathryn had her attention.
"It’s true that the Ikonians are untrained in warfare, but in this case we need their help. With over a thousand Chthonians inside that moon we can’t hope to get in undetected without their abilities. Then there’s the fact that this fight is as much theirs as it is ours."
"How can you say that? They have ignored the Chthonian threat for centuries and have not appeared remotely interested in confronting them!"
"That was before they found out the Chthonians are amassing troops and battle destroyers on one of their own moons."
"Chthonian weapons are inferior to Ikonian defenses." Seven sounded so disgusted by the enemy offensive capabilities that Kathryn had to resist another grin.
"They’re inferior to Nemo’s defensive systems, too. But sheer numbers could overwhelm us, just as they could the Ikonian defenses."
Then there was Ikonian pride to consider. As a skilled diplomat Janeway knew there weren’t many people that appreciated an alien species stepping in and solving all of their problems for them. "I appreciate your input, Seven, but we’re all in this together."
Seven assessed the information briefly before she allowed, "If some of the Ikonians possess the ability to mask their life signs it would make it easier to enter the moon’s stronghold undetected."
This time Kathryn didn’t try to hide her smile. Once Seven of Nine got behind an idea she would put her all into making it a reality.
"Bridge to Captain Janeway."
Janeway raised her voice to respond to the hail. "Go ahead, Tuvok."
"The Ikonian representatives have assembled in the Hall."
"On my way. Please have the away team meet me in the transporter room."
Janeway sat her cup on the tray service and smiled when Seven picked it up and carried it to the replicator. She would never have believed the young woman would be so domesticated. Janeway had never been much for housekeeping and if it weren’t for Seven’s fastidious nature their quarters would have become uninhabitable quite some time ago.
Seven turned away from the replicator and Kathryn took the opportunity to slip her arms around the other woman’s slender neck. She didn’t give Seven time to adjust to the change from captain to lover and instead stood on her tiptoes and kissed her gently.
Seven didn’t know what prompted the affectionate gesture, but was more than willing to respond. Even though Kathryn was more comfortable touching her in public than she used to be, a hand on her back or a fond look, kisses were something different. After a moment Janeway pulled back and smiled up at her.
"I can see I surprised you, but it was something I had to do. Who knows when we’ll get the chance again?"
"In that case…"
Seven drew Kathryn close again and kissed her until her head began to spin. Finally she pulled away and after a few stunned seconds Kathryn opened her eyes. They were bluer than Seven had ever seen before.
"I…uh…I think we better go while I can still stand."
Janeway ignored the self-satisfied smile on Seven’s lips as they walked to the transporter room. She was leaving Tuvok in charge during her absence while A’zal joined the rescue team. Prompt as usual, the Lieutenant Commander was already present along with Jameson, Quist, Spunkmeyer, Leyton, Mossler and Tarinia. Janeway had carefully chosen each individual present because they possessed unique talents that would ensure the successful completion of this mission.
A few moments later they transported down into the Main Hall. It was night on Ikonia and Kathryn could see two full moons through the skylight and the barest sliver of a third. Although an advanced race, the Ikonians seemed to prefer a more natural setting and several lamps burned at intervals along the wall. A young Ikonian male with pale hair and soft white wings met them. He inclined his head respectfully and directed them to the meeting room. First Flyer Shoya and several other familiar faces were present as well as a few new ones.
All of the Ikonians stood politely as the Nemo crewmen entered, Captain Janeway in the lead. More torches illuminated the room and shadows danced near the corners. Shoya welcomed them and said, "I believe you know most of the people present; Hermera, Eos, Latinus, Hekate and Cloe. This," she said gesturing to a tall man with ebony hair and an open friendly face, "is my mate, Erebus."
Erebus. Again Janeway felt that nudge at the back of her brain from the oddly familiar name. She knew she had heard these names before, she just couldn’t remember where and right now wasn’t the time to worry about it.
"It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir."
"The honor is mine." His smile was friendly and the voice pleasant to the ear. When he glanced away from Janeway he looked at Shoya and the devotion in his eyes was clear. Kathryn liked him immediately.
"Please, have a seat." Shoya took her seat at the head of the table and indicated that Kathryn should sit next to her. Erebus took the seat on the Ikonian leader’s other side.
"We understand that the purpose of this meeting is to plan a retrieval of your crewman. We also realize the consequences of Ikonian involvement in this undertaking. Although the rescue of your officer will conclude your business in this sector it will signify the beginning of war for us."
The words so plainly spoken by the First Flyer, struck right to Captain Janeway’s heart. If not for the crew of Nemo mucking around in this sector the Ikonian/Chthonian debacle might have gone on for another two centuries. No matter how hard Janeway tried not to influence other societies she just couldn’t seem to help it. "I can’t begin to express my regret for that outcome."
"Please." Shoya held up a hand to stop Janeway. She smiled without humor and said, "It was inevitable and to be truthful I am grateful. If your people hadn’t chosen to visit Ikonia we would never have known of the Chthonian base. As much as we value peace we can’t continue to bury our heads in the sand and hope they will go away."
"I agree," said Janeway, "and I’m relieved that you understand the severity of the situation."
"We do, and the people in this room have volunteered to take that first step with you. In fact there were so many offers to help retrieve B’Elanna that I had to turn them away."
Moved the nobility of the Ikonian people as a whole Janeway could only respond very sincerely, "Thank you. All of you. Since each of you were so carefully chosen I assume you have very special abilities?"
This time Erebus picked up the thread. "Yes. Although many have similar powers the people you see before you have exceptional strength and control. I believe each of them will be crucial to this enterprise."
"Oh? How so?" Janeway asked intrigued. "I don’t mean to appear indelicate, but on my planet we have a saying: seeing is believing. Would it be possible to see a demonstration?"
"Of course," Erebus responded. "Without first hand knowledge of each individual’s power it’s difficult to know their weaknesses."
"Or how best to incorporate them into a rescue," the captain added.
"I shall begin."
Janeway was somewhat surprised that Erebus apparently intended to join the operation. To her knowledge he had never met B’Elanna, but she watched curiously as he stood and walked toward the shadows near the corner. One moment he was there and the other he simply vanished. The captain started abruptly, her eyes widening as she sat up and focused intently on the corner.
Shoya smiled, obviously quite proud. "My mate has a natural ability to blend into darkness, shadows."
"There are many shadows on the Chthonian base." Seven looked at Janeway, her eyes expressing her approval.
"I agree. That’s very impressive. Are there any limitations?" The captain thought they were getting somewhere now. Although it was taking more time than she would have liked it to get down to the details of the rescue it was crucial that she know each person’s strengths and weaknesses. It could mean the difference between life and death.
Erebus stepped back out of the darkness. "Just don’t turn on the overhead lights or focus a lamp in my direction."
His comments had the desired effect of eliciting a few chuckles and also answered a question for Janeway. Now she knew why torches had been lit throughout the Ikonian castle. They had obviously known a test would be coming and set up for it in advance.
As he sat back down Shoya said, "You know the others present and their abilities. Latinus has earth powers and can tunnel through solid rock. In addition he has exceptional night vision."
"The nemolite does not interface with this ability?" A’zal asked.
"Nothing ever has. Even moving through something as hard as diamond is the same as walking across the surface of the planet."
"That’s good enough for me." Janeway couldn’t see there really were any limitations as far as this particular talent went.
Shoya began to list the other abilities represented at the table. Hermera, of course, had a talent for fire manipulation. She could shoot eight-inch blasts of flames from the palms of her hands or concentrated beams from her eyes. In extreme instances she was capable of turning her entire body into flame to allow solid objects to pass through without harming her.
Cloe, the one that according to Seven had transformed into a gorilla, boasted enhanced senses and had access to all powers of the animal kingdom. She could take the shape of any beast, but even in her natural state Cloe could utilize their strengths. Her only limitation was mass. The Ikonian couldn’t assume the shape of a small lizard for the purpose of slipping under a door, but she could change into a dragon-like reptile and knock that same door off the hinges.
Hekate had demonstrated her control over various elements such as the small thunderstorm she had doused Torres with as well as the whirlwind she had summoned to resist the Chthonian invaders. In addition she was able to teleport great distances. The drawback to teleportation was that Hekate had to be able to envision her destination. If she hadn’t been to that location before she would be unable to teleport to it. If she attempted to do so she could wind up inside solid rock.
Captain Janeway hadn’t met Hekate before. She had only heard of her in second-hand reports, but from everything Kathryn had learned she thought Hekate’s greatest strength might well be her heart.
With the other Ikonians accounted for that left only the First Flyer and Eos. During their discussions thus far Janeway had discovered the Ikonian leader had a true gift for tactics and strategy. That ability would prove to be a blessing during their future encounters with the Chthonians. In addition Shoya was considered to be physically stronger than any other Ikonian. That left one final member.
Janeway considered the vampiric prankster that even now Crewman Leyton was eyeing suspiciously. Though outwardly neutral Kathryn had to admit the almost colorless eyes gave her a chill. "So what can you do besides sneak up on people in the dark?"
Eos grinned at the slightly teasing question and torchlight glinted off her fangs. "That’s it. I sneak up on people in the dark."
From where the captain sat Eos never moved. She never blinked and never stood, but suddenly Eos just wasn’t there anymore. A cold, heavy mist filled the area where she had been. The mist began to flatten and drift toward the floor as it moved around the table.
Janeway watched in fascination as the fog moved between her and the First Flyer. It seemed to falter, wavering as though in indecision before the cloud slid toward Janeway’s chair and began to encircle her from behind. Chills broke out all over her body before they began to race up and down her spine. Eos began to solidify with her arms around Janeway’s shoulders. The captain felt Seven tense beside her, but she stayed seated.
"I don’t need shadows," Eos whispered in her ear. "All I need is a crack, an opportunity."
Janeway thought Eos was expecting her to shiver in fear from the little display. Instead she grinned and cocked an eyebrow at the fun-loving young woman. "Very impressive."
Eos grinned back at her and stepped away. "Of everyone in this room I have the greatest chance to find your lieutenant without encountering resistance. My molecular cohesion alters to a mist-like substance, but unlike natural fog heat cannot cause me to evaporate."
"Thank you, Eos. You’ve made your point," Shoya said indulgently before she turned to the captain. "I believe you already have a plan. How do we fit in?"
Janeway exchanged a brief look with her security officer before she leaned forward and began to outline their proposal. As she spoke the others began to offer suggestions and before too much longer they had a working plan. The Stingray would carry two eight-member teams toward the moon with Tom Paris at the helm. Regardless how they chose to evacuate the moon when the time came their entry had to go unnoticed. For that reason they would enter the interior of the stronghold the same way the recon team had on the previous mission. The shuttle would have to stay cloaked so transporting inside the fortress would not be an option. Instead the Stingray would land near the central tower and the rescue teams would go in on foot.
Information gathered by the reconnaissance team had revealed two portals into the heavily armed fortress. One team would enter from each side and make their way to Lieutenant Torres. After she was freed the rescue teams would attempt to get back to the shuttle without encountering the Chthonians. Janeway insisted that the EMH also accompany them on the mission since they wouldn’t know B’Elanna’s condition. With that many people on the shuttle it would be a tight squeeze, but A’zal suggested keeping the EMH offline unless they actually needed him.
"If something does go wrong we’ll have to break stealth mode, but I want to maintain com silence for as long as possible. Two taps on the combadges will indicate an emergency situation. In that instance Paris will de-cloak and transport all of us out. Since the Ikonians don’t have combadges each of them will pair off with a Nemo crewman."
"Agreed," said the First Flyer. She had borrowed a data padd from A’zal, but now passed it to Janeway. "Based on each individual’s powers I would like to recommend the following team assignments."
Janeway took the padd and made a few adjustments considering what she knew of her own crews’ strengths. She finally decided the assignments were sound and would ensure that the teams benefited from shared powers such as strength and the various elements.
As the captain read the data Shoya said, "There is one final detail you should be aware of. Using our latent abilities causes a great expenditure of energy. If we’re forced to overtax our reserves we will become extremely weak. Of course all Ikonians will carry nutrient pouches, but you should be aware that we could become a hindrance."
"I appreciate that, but a lot would have to happen for things to get that bad. I don’t think it will come to that. I think if anything your gifts will be just the edge we need to pull this off. We just have to stick to the plan and keep it simple. We go in as quiet as a mouse, find B’Elanna and get out. No one tries to be a hero. Remember people, stealth. Once we leave the shuttle we’re on our own."
Captain Janeway handed the data padd back to the First Flyer and after a brief glance Shoya nodded in agreement.
"I will have Ikonia activate the defensive network once we leave the planet," Erebus said. "If the Chthonians decide to launch a counterattack we should be prepared."
Janeway nodded and stood, her crewmen following her example. "Make the preparations you need, we launch in one hour."
B’Elanna stared at Karri across the small bistro table. After leaving the hospital Karri had suggested they stop for lunch at a sidewalk café near the waterfront. For the last hour she had listened to Karri describe their life together in San Francisco and she still could hardly believe it, but had to admit it sounded like a dream come true. Jameson did her best to fill in the gaps of missing memories and as they ate lunch Torres happily listened to the beloved voice, encouraging Karri to continue by asking questions when she hesitated.
Apparently a rescue team led by Karri and Seven of Nine had penetrated the Chthonian compound just as the overlord used the aconite against her. B’Elanna had been rushed back to Nemo and treated quickly for her injuries while Janeway ordered the immediate evacuation of the sector. Torres thought it fitting that the Ikonians were left to face their enemy on their own as the Starfleet vessel left the troubled planet far behind. Two weeks later Karri worked up the nerve to ask B’Elanna to her quarters for dinner and proceeded to sweep the Klingon off her feet in a whirlwind romance.
"When did we get home?" B’Elanna asked, noticing again the fine lines around Karri’s eyes and the scattered gray hairs that added a lot of character to her features. The eyes were vibrantly green and shone openly with the love she felt. B’Elanna felt drawn into that gaze and almost missed it when Karri answered.
"Less than three months after leaving Ikonian space we found a wormhole that led almost all the way home. It was the exit portion of the Barzan Wormhole."
"The one that’s always jumping around? What are the odds of that?"
"Astronomical, I’m sure," Karri grinned. "But you know what Janeway always says."
"Don’t bet against the house," they both said at the same time and began to laugh.
Humor faded slowly as it turned to something else. Karri slowly reached across the table and took B’Elanna’s hand. She realized how unsure Karri had to be right now as green eyes faltered and glanced away. Karri still had her memories of their love and daily life together while B’Elanna couldn’t even remember leaving the Chthonian stronghold. B’Elanna gripped Karri’s hand tightly, trying to reassure her wife that she was there and not going anywhere ever again. Her wife! Kahless!
Torres couldn’t believe it was possible to forget such a thing and even though her memories weren’t intact she knew how she felt sitting across from Karri now. B’Elanna had never stopped loving the other woman even during the years she had been married to Tom. Being able to openly show her feelings for Karri now, while a little scary, felt like a release from a life sentence. Karri ‘s features suddenly filled her vision and B’Elanna realized she had leaned across the short distance between them and in another moment would have kissed her.
She took a deep breath and searched for a neutral topic. "So. Miral is with your brother?"
"Yeah." Karri appeared as shaken as B’Elanna felt. Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips and the Klingon watched in fascination.
"Kevin teaches grade school for the Federation. For the last two days he’s stopped by to pick Miral up in the morning and taken her to school. Then he keeps her while I’m at the hospital. Miral loves her Uncle Kevin, but she’s been very worried for you. She’ll be so happy to see you."
"I know the feeling." From her perspective B’Elanna hadn’t seen her daughter in almost six months, but according to what she was being told Miral was almost seven years old.
Karri was looking at B’Elanna in such a way that she felt her blood start to heat up. If she didn’t get Karri talking again she was going to do something that might embarrass the other woman. Karri’s wedding band glinted in the sun and the Klingon glanced at the matching ring on her own hand.
"So how did you manage to become a commander?"
"Lieutenant Commander, actually. You still outrank me, but only by a few months. When Nemo reached the alpha quadrant we decided we wanted to stay on Earth and be with Miral. You took the job at Utopia Planetia and it didn’t take them long to realize what an asset you were. Now you’re in charge."
B’Elanna could tell from the way Karri talked about Miral that she adored the little girl. She wasn’t surprised. "And where do you work?"
"Well, I’m not the boss like you are," Karri teased, "but I work in Advanced Tactical Training."
Looking at their rings again Torres suddenly said in a gentle voice, "Tell me about our wedding." Karri smiled and B’Elanna’s heart swelled at the joy in her expression.
"You were so beautiful, hot is probably a better word." Karri chuckled. "Your mother insisted you wear full Klingon armor. I think I actually forgot to breathe for a few minutes when I saw you standing at the altar."
"My mother was there?"
"Front row. I know the two of you didn’t speak for a long time, but after Nautilus was lost in the delta quadrant she finally decided it was time to bury the hatchet. After almost losing you twice she realized fate was trying to tell her something. She comes over at least once a week for dinner."
B’Elanna couldn’t believe she actually got along with her mother now. It seemed things really had changed in the last three years.
"Not at all." Karri grinned. "Where was I?"
"Right. Seven stood up with you and Captain Janeway graciously stood with me. I couldn’t believe it when she accepted. Miral was our ring bearer." Karri started to laugh as she remembered that night. "Captain Janeway gave such a wonderful toast at the reception. That was right before Chakotay got so plastered that he passed out in his soup! I swear, if Paris hadn’t pulled him out of it he would have drowned!"
They were both howling with laughter and several patrons turned to look at them in amusement. It was several minutes before they could look at each other without breaking down again.
"I thought that was the happiest day of my life…but every day just got better."
"I wish I could remember it."
"I’ll show you the holo-vids when we get home." Karri lifted their joined hands and gently kissed B’Elanna’s fingers.
B’Elanna felt her heart ricochet off her rib cage and asked, "When is Miral supposed to be home?"
"In about four hours."
"In that case I can think of something besides holo-vids that might jog my memory."
Karri’s eyes darkened and her smile became less gentle, more wanton. "I think that can be arranged. Are you finished eating?"
"I’m finished with lunch," B’Elanna corrected.
She was surprised by how quickly Karri signaled their waiter, signed the credit authorization chit and dragged her toward the transport center. B’Elanna didn’t know the last time they had made love in their married life, but for her it would be a first time. They had never allowed their relationship to become that intimate while dating aboard Voyager. She was excited, nervous and scared all at once.
B’Elanna barely had time to notice a brick home with the traditional white picket fence before they were inside. She darted a quick look around noticing the tasteful white furnishings and hardwood floors, but when she was led down the hall and into the master bedroom her whole being focused on the woman before her. Karri turned to look at her and B’Elanna could easily see the desire in her eyes, but she could also see that the fear had returned.
"Hey, what is it?" she asked, stepping forward to rest her palm against a soft cheek.
Karri flushed slightly and looked away. Then she looked back and said, "I know you don’t remember us. I guess I’m scared that you’ll change your mind."
"Change my mind about what; about us? About being married to you or wanting to make love?"
"All of it," Karri admitted with a shrug. "You don’t even remember our first date."
"No, I don’t. But one thing that has never changed is how I feel about you." B’Elanna wanted to tell Karri that everything was fine, but they were both mature enough to admit that a loss of memory could be a problem. All she could do was try to reassure the other woman about her feelings and let things happen naturally from there. Stepping close enough to feel the heat from Karri’s body B’Elanna said, "I don’t know if I ever told you this, but I’ve always loved you. From the first time I saw those beautiful green eyes onboard Voyager my heart belonged to you."
Karri was breathing hard now, her lips parted slightly from the effort it took to inhale. "Really?" she asked breathlessly.
"Oh, yes." B’Elanna reached up and started unbuttoning Karri’s shirt, taking the time to savor and effectively driving the other woman to distraction. "When I was with you it took every ounce of my self-control not to take you back to my quarters and make love to you, make you mine."
She leaned forward until their lips were only centimeters apart. Karri’s breath ghosted across her open mouth and B’Elanna knew she wanted this more than she had ever wanted anything, she wanted it to be slow and sweet, a first time she would never forget no matter how many head injuries she suffered.
"Even when you were with Paris?" Karri gulped.
Looking into her eyes B’Elanna was relieved to see the fear had receded enough to allow naked desire to show clearly. She felt a sudden rush of yearning as though all of her life had been leading her here, to this perfect, singular moment. "Let’s not talk about him ever again. From now on it’s only us."
The eyes rising to meet hers were the greenest B’Elanna had ever seen them, gazing up at her from beneath heavy eyelids. Strong hands slid around her to pull B’Elanna closer to Karri’s body, feeling the warmth emanating off it being soaked up by her own skin. Then Karri was leaning into her, raising her chin.
Smiling down into the flushed face B’Elanna leaned in without haste and kissed Karri’s lips very slowly, tenderly tasting them with her tongue before opening her mouth for a deeper touch. Karri answered the kiss, melting into it as her body grew heavier against B’Elanna. All the while B’Elanna held the other woman in an embrace that was more of a caress, showing her that she was cherished. It had been a long time since B’Elanna had kissed Karri and the unexpected, half-forgotten sweetness hit her sharply, twisting her stomach and making her gasp into the other woman’s mouth.
The kiss caused a firestorm to rage through B’Elanna enflaming all of her senses. She could feel Karri’s soft mouth beneath hers begin its own hungry demands, lips parting and tongues tangling. Firm breasts pressed against her chest, nipples hardening beneath the cotton shirt. The intoxicating scent of lavender combined with Karri’s skin enveloped her and when her lips abandoned Karri’s to wander down the slender throat she heard and felt the other woman moan. She pulled away slightly to watch Karri as she unbuttoned the shirt and slowly pushed it off her slender shoulders. Despite her resolve to move slowly, she couldn’t suppress the flash of heat that seared her blood as the shirt parted to reveal Karri’s breasts. The smooth skin seemed to glow in the warm light of the sun through the window. B’Elanna reached out with her right hand and delicately stroked the side of one breast before leaning forward and kissing and nibbling the tender flesh. Karri sucked in her breath.
"It’s all right. I’m not going anywhere."
By the time the last article of clothing had fallen away between them B’Elanna found that her hands were trembling and her breathing had gone ragged. She gently urged Karri back against the sheets and lay over her. She stroked the other woman’s cheek with the back of her fingers as she looked down at her and said, "You are so beautiful. I feel like I’ve been waiting for you forever."
The last bit of uncertainty that shadowed the desire in Karri’s eyes vanished. "We don’t have to wait anymore."
Karri reached for her and B’Elanna suddenly found herself on her back looking up at the other woman before Karri bent down to claim her mouth. Sensations overwhelmed her, the feel of Karri’s lips on her own, the strong muscled thigh pressing against her center and the feel of plush breasts against her own. Her hands slipped along Karri’s sides before sliding around to hold the other woman tightly against her. Then sliding farther down, over her back and over firm cheeks. Karri moaned and surged against her and B’Elanna arched up against her, almost desperate to merge with the woman above her.
Driven by a sudden desire to possess B’Elanna rolled their bodies until she lay on top. As her blood began to boil her Klingon instincts struggled to take over. B’Elanna growled deep in her throat and she tried to resist the sweet scent of Karri’s blood thrumming in her veins. B’Elanna wasn’t as vicious as a full Klingon during the act of making love, but she was much more passionate than the average human. She started to shake from the effort of holding back and strove for control, worried how Karri would react.
Karri grasped her shoulders and looked up with her eyes full of love and acceptance. "B’Elanna, baby, do it. Claim me." She turned her face and freely offered her unmarked cheek to her wife.
The gesture of complete trust calmed the fire in B’Elanna’s blood like nothing else would have done. She leaned down and kissed Karri’s cheek tenderly. "I never want to cause you pain, love, only pleasure."
She kissed Karri again and passion surged forth tempered by her devotion for the other woman. Her lips and tongue burned a trail from Karri’s mouth to her throat and finally to her breasts, reveling in the softness and slight saltiness of her skin. B’Elanna cupped one breast and encircled the nipple of the other with her lips. Then she flicked her tongue against it and smiled at the answering moan.
As her mouth moved to the other breast B’Elanna’s right hand slid down between their bodies. Her fingers moved over Karri’s belly and downward, slipping at last into slick folds. Karri shuddered and pressed into her touch.
"Don’t stop," Karri panted urgently.
Karri surged up against her and B’Elanna moaned, allowing her fingers to glide through silky wetness to enter her wife in one smooth thrust. Karri’s gasp gave way to groans of pleasure as B’Elanna claimed her with slow, deep strokes. She pressed one leg against her moving hand to intensify the pleasure and then they were moving together.
Karri arched and cried out a final time as her desire peaked and the cry carried B’Elanna over the edge with her.
Karri took the rest of the week off work to be with B’Elanna, going so far as to insist that they take Miral out of school as well. It was a bit of a mini-vacation for all of them. When B’Elanna asked why it was so important for Karri that they spend the week together all the other woman would say was that if B’Elanna’s memories didn’t return they would have to make new ones. It was the happiest week the Klingon had ever spent in her life. The only real surprise came when Karri told B’Elanna she had changed her name after they married. Though it was unexpected B’Elanna Lynn Torres-Jameson decided it was just another thing to have to get used to. At least people couldn’t call her BLT anymore.
They spent the time sightseeing in San Francisco, taking Miral to the Zoo and, after putting the child to bed, making love every night. On Sunday Karri invited now Admiral Janeway and her wife, Seven of Nine, to dinner. She wasn’t really surprised to find the couple had married considering the relationship they had shared aboard Nemo, but she was caught off guard by Janeway’s demeanor. Where once her former captain had carried the weight of the world on amazingly slender shoulders, this Janeway was relaxed and carefree in a way Torres would never have guessed.
When half way through dinner B’Elanna called her ‘admiral’ for the second time Janeway turned to her with a familiar glare and said, "It’s Kathryn, remember?" Then she grinned and everyone began to laugh.
Seven had lovingly turned to her and said, "Kathryn, it’s not nice to tease the Klingon," causing more smiles all around the table.
Kathryn was fascinated with Miral and it didn’t take long to understand why. Although they had been married immediately upon the Nemo’s return to the alpha quadrant, Kathryn and Seven had recently decided to expand their family unit. Only two months along Janeway hadn’t even begun to show yet. Seven insisted on doing everything for her, not even allowing Janeway to carry her own dishes after their meal until Kathryn firmly but gently informed her that she was pregnant, not an invalid.
Eventually the magical time ended and Monday morning dawned warm although slightly overcast. Fog was not uncommon in the bay area, and couldn’t put a damper on her emotions as B’Elanna walked down the block to the transport center. Karri had offered to accompany her to the medical evaluation, but B’Elanna insisted she could handle it on her own. Besides, Pulaski didn’t seem as abrasive as her reputation led B’Elanna to believe and it was time they take up their normal routines. Thus reassured, Karri had kissed her lingeringly before she left for work thirty minutes earlier.
Still not cleared for active duty, B’Elanna wore a long-sleeved flannel shirt, jeans and white sneakers. She walked along the bay slowly, looking out at the misted over blue-gray water where seagulls circled high overhead. She could hear waves crash against the shoreline not far away and felt drawn to the sound. Transport center and Starfleet medical forgotten, B’Elanna walked over to the railing and grasped it with both hands. She leaned forward and looked down the cliff face at the waters far below. The smell of brine was strong in the air and she closed her eyes to inhale, filling her lungs deeply. A smile of happiness curved her lips and she opened her eyes to look out toward Alcatraz in the distance. All her life she had felt like an outcast, on the edge looking in but never really a part of it all. When people spoke of being happy she had never really believed them. To her way of thinking you were either content with what you had or struggling just to survive from one moment to another. Being with Karri and Miral this last week had taught her what nothing else ever had, she had been wrong. It was possible to actually be happy: euphorically, ecstatically happy.
B’Elanna laughed out loud in simple joy and turned away from the sight of the ocean. She still had one final obstacle before she could return to the work she truly loved and continue with the life that she could only have dreamed of a few short years ago.
Most people had left for work much earlier and she only had to wait a few minutes before the transport operator signaled her to step onto the platform. In no time she was walking into Starfleet Medical where Doctor Pulaski kept a suite of offices. She checked in with the receptionist and settled in to wait. B’Elanna was used to the custom of showing up for a medical appointment on time only to be kept waiting for an hour or two until the physician finally decided to see the patient. As a result she didn’t expect to suddenly be called by the receptionist.
"Commander Jameson? The Doctor will see you now."
B’Elanna’s heart flip-flopped being called by the unfamiliar name, but she hid it well and walked into Pulaski’s office.
"Have a seat, Commander." Pulaski closed the door and stood next to the Klingon to take some tricorder readings. "How are you feeling?"
How was she feeling? Fantastic? Ecstatic? B’Elanna decided to settle for the more appropriate answer. "Fine. No headaches or anything."
"Have any of your memories come back?"
The doctor’s friendly voice encouraged her to answer honestly. "No, but it doesn’t seem to have caused any problems, at least not until I go back to work. I’m sure I’ll have to get used to procedures all over again, but it’s no big deal."
"Uh huh." Pulaski said in a neutral tone. "Last week you said the last thing you remembered was being on Ikonia."
The Klingon nodded, not really surprised that Doctor Pulaski would ask her what she could remember.
"You said Overlord Hephaestus asked how to get past the Ikonian defensive network, but you never told me how you answered him."
"Why is that important?"
"I’m trying to find out how complete your memories of that time are. I’ve read the mission logs since the last time you were here and I know you were tortured extensively during that encounter. I want to find out where your complete memories stop and see if we can’t jog some more recent ones."
"Oh. Okay." B’Elanna thought about her response for a moment and then answered. "I told him I didn’t know how to get past the Ikonian defensive systems and that even if I did I wouldn’t tell him."
"How did he react?"
"You mean after he broke my arm? Then he pulled that damn plant out and stuck it on me."
"The aconite?" Kate prompted.
B’Elanna frowned, "Yeah, I think that’s what he called it."
"Then what happened?"
"That’s all I remember," B’Elanna shrugged. "The next thing I knew I was waking up here."
"What about Captain Janeway? Was she helping the Ikonians improve their defenses against the Chthonians?"
"Huh?" Surely Pulaski knew Janeway was an admiral now? The question seemed a little odd, but she had said she was trying to job B’Elanna’s memory. "I don’t know; she might have after I was taken by the Chthonians."
"How good of a tactician would you consider Captain Janeway? Do you think she would have been capable of overthrowing the Chthonian acropolis when she rescued you?"
"She’s the best," the commander answered honestly, "and yeah, she was definitely capable of it. I can’t remember what happened if they rescued me, but if she spared them it was because she’s a very compassionate woman."
"How do you think she would have gone about destroying the enemy if she had been so inclined?"
The last question prompted one of the Klingon’s own. "Doctor, what has Janeway’s tactics during the Ikonian/Chthonian incident got to do with anything? That was three years ago."
Pulaski shrugged easily. "It’s important to see if you remember the captain’s personality correctly, my dear. Often minor details could indicate more damage than medical scans can properly reveal. For example; after you were taken by the Dark Lord how long do you think Captain Janeway would wait before she came for you?"
B’Elanna looked at her blankly, unsure if she was supposed to answer the question or not. Something was definitely off here. The Dark Lord? Pulaski almost sounded like she looked up to that bastard Chthonian.
When the doctor turned to walk toward her desk B’Elanna realized the woman had been standing almost right over her. The look on Pulaski’s face had been so intent when she was asking her questions, more than a simple medical assessment could account for and she wondered if the doctor wasn’t a little more fascinated by what she had read in those mission logs than she was admitting to.
"Your medical scans show the same break in the memory centers of your brain as the last time I examined you. Since it’s been a week and you haven’t remembered anything further I think it’s safe that your memories aren’t coming back. I think it’s time to move on, Commander."
"I agree." B’Elanna wasn’t as upset by that news as the doctor apparently thought she should be. Instead she stood up and said, "Well, thanks for all your help, Doc. I assume you’re going to clear me for duty now?"
Kate smiled and said, "Yes, there’s no reason to keep you from work. Report for duty tomorrow morning. That will give me time to process the necessary paperwork. Just keep in mind that memory is a funny thing. Although I doubt you’ll remember anything else from the last few years anything is possible. With that in mind I’ll schedule you for another appointment at the end of the month. If at that time you still haven’t remembered anything then I don’t think there will be any reason for another appointment."
"All right, sounds good." B’Elanna briefly shook hands with Admiral Pulaski and left her office.
Truthfully B’Elanna would have preferred never to see the other woman again. Doctor Pulaski was nice enough, but something about her bothered her Klingon instincts. Maybe it was just the fact that she didn’t like being examined by doctors. In any event B’Elanna suddenly decided it was early enough in the day to set up a surprise for Karri. Maybe Kevin could be convinced to baby-sit Miral overnight.
Fully cloaked and powered only by its impulse engines the Stingray eased toward the Athos moon, undetectable by the Chthonian legion. Loaded with nine Federation personnel, eight Ikonians, an alien changeling and the EMH quarters were somewhat tight.
Conversation was sparse especially among the Ikonians. Looking around, Captain Janeway decided it felt just like being back on Voyager. Even then the crew had been a rag-tag group made up of Starfleet personnel, Maquis outlaws, a delta quadrant native and a Borg drone. This was something she was familiar with.
The Ikonians had outfitted themselves for battle as best they could. First Flyer Shoya wore a heavy breastplate over her white unitard. The others were similarly attired although their chest plates matched the individual colors they wore. Janeway had learned that the breastplates were designed to absorb the discharge of energy weapons and dissipate the charge without harming the wearer. To her surprise the shielding material contained in the breastplates was nemolite and she realized that at last they’d found a use for the bothersome substance. The Ikonians carried no weapons of their own save for those granted to them naturally by their abilities.
All of the Nemo crewmembers wore solid black coveralls that would blend in with the interior of the moon, heavy black combat boots and were armed with hand phasers. The phasers were easier to carry than rifles and less of a hindrance on the unfamiliar terrain.
"Why are you smiling?" Seven asked. She’d sat down in the seat next to Janeway taking every opportunity to spend time with the woman she loved even if it wasn’t a very private setting. The others were sitting a fair distance away, as much as the space inside the shuttle would allow, granting the captain what solitude they could out of respect.
"I didn’t realize I was."
"Just a little."
"I was just thinking how familiar this is, going on a desperate rescue mission against delta quadrant bad guys with a half-baked plan and a mismatched group."
Seven could hear the weariness in Kathryn’s voice, but she could also hear the admiration she held for these people who would risk everything even though they had no real experience against an enemy opponent. "In each case we were successful and we will be again."
Kathryn leaned into Seven unconsciously, just enough for their shoulders to touch and said, "Tell me again this is a good idea. I don’t want to be responsible for any of these people’s deaths."
Janeway had adamantly insisted they needed the Ikonians in order for this plan to work, but it was just like her to worry for their welfare before the mission actually got off the ground.
"The choice was theirs. At first I did not believe it was a wise idea to involve them, but now I see that you were right. They are a brave and noble species, Kathryn. To doubt them at this juncture does them a disservice."
"You’re right, of course. Would you believe me if I said I was having pre-mission jitters?"
Seven seriously considered the question for a nanosecond before she answered. "No."
Kathryn chuckled and rested lightly against Seven’s side. "You know me so well. All right, no jitters. I just don’t want anyone else to be hurt."
"Your compassion is one of the qualities that makes you a great leader. It is also one of the reasons I fell in love with you."
"Yes, that and your eyes. They are the most amazing blue-gray color, especially when you are angry. I find it is my favorite color."
"Is that why you insisted on butting heads with me in the beginning?"
Seven blushed slightly. "The first time I provoked you was unintentional, but I found it a most interesting display. At that time I was still new to individuality and did not realize there were more pleasant ways to…arouse… you."
"Well, I guess I’ll have to keep that in mind."
Across the cabin Lieutenant Jameson sat unobtrusively watching the easy interaction between Janeway and Seven with no small amount of envy. The couple kept their voices low enough not to be overheard, but the easy rapport and emotion between them was clear. Their relationship had seemed unconventional at first, but as time passed it became obvious that there were no two people better suited for each other. She thought that was true of B’Elanna Torres as well. No one was better suited to Karri than B’Elanna. From the moment she had met the feisty Klingon Karri had been smitten.
Originally a Maquis outlaw turned reluctant chief of engineering on Voyager, B’Elanna had a chip on her shoulder the size of the Horsehead Nebula. Karri had taken one look at her and been able to see the sensitive woman beneath the gruff exterior. Her heart was claimed in that instant and it had never been returned to her. Karri had never truly loved anyone until that moment. For so long she had felt dead inside, empty. Then a Klingon hybrid with a serious attitude stood her world on end and showed her that life could be wonderful. The thought that she might lose that woman now at the hands of these bigoted Chthonian monsters was almost more than she could bear.
"Hey," Spunkmeyer said by way of greeting as he plunked down next to her on the deck. "How ya doin’?"
"Sure you are. Listen I know things have been really hard on you, what with Torres being captured…"
"I’d say things are probably harder on her, wouldn’t you?"
Larry shrugged. "You’re not wrong. Anyway, I just think you should remember how tough she is. She won’t give up and neither will we. We’ll get her back."
Before Karri could thank him for the reassurance Tom Paris spoke from the pilot’s seat. "One thousand kilometers from the surface."
Janeway turned back toward the transparent aluminum windscreen and down at the moon’s exterior. The pockmarked face was dark and foreboding, if not for the few small vessels that darted near the surface she would have thought it uninhabited. "Maneuvering thrusters, Mister Paris."
The portal to the interior of the planetoid slid smoothly open and Kathryn’s eyebrows rose at the display. Even though she had been briefed on what they would find it was still impressive that a civilization considered technologically backward would have the skill to hollow out an entire moon. She could only hope the Chthonians didn’t possess other more advanced weapons and technology that they didn’t know about.
"There." The captain pointed toward a large freighter moving toward the hatch. When the recon team had investigated Athos they had needed to wait more than thirty minutes before a ship large enough to mask their energy signature entered. Janeway considered it a sign of good fortune that one had come along so quickly this time.
"I’m on it," Paris said and gently engaged the vessel’s thrusters.
Once he had brought the Stingray under the enemy ship without incident Janeway unsnapped her harness and walked toward the rear of the shuttle addressing the teams. "On your toes, people. This is the last chance to check your gear. Remember, once we leave the ship we’re on our own."
A burst of activity took place as the team members checked phasers and combadges to ensure proper working order. The Ikonians made sure their breastplates were securely fastened and nutrient pouches were in place. The nutrients to recharge their energy reserves were just as important to the Ikonians as the phasers were to the Nemo crew.
Captain Janeway strode back to the front of her cloaked ship, sharing a fond look briefly with Seven of Nine before she looked outside again. She was just in time to get her first impression of the interior of the moon. Four atmospheric processors scrubbed the air and fed oxygen back into the enclosed structure. A forcefield buzzed as the freighter with the shuttle hiding under it flew through the entrance and answered the question of how the Chthonians kept the inside of the moon pressurized. For all the artificial lights that attempted to beat back the darkness of an unlit surface shadows still abounded. Chthonians drilled in ranks on the training grounds below, looking very organized and formidable.
When the central tower came into view Janeway recognized it instantly. Although she would have known the fortress from the away team’s description she thought she would have been able to determine the enemies’ headquarters without that knowledge. No windows were visible on the exterior of the structure and the only way inside was a single door at each end. From a tactical point of view it would eliminate an enemies’ chances of infiltrating the construct, but inside a concealed fortress it said a lot about the Chthonian leader’s trust for his own men.
"Sit us down under the atmospheric processor closest to the tower, Tom. How long have the guards been on their rotation?" she asked Seven.
"Approximately two point four hours."
Janeway knew from the reconnaissance team’s report that the guard rotation was every four hours. She had trusted that the former Borg would easily be able to convert the amount of time that had passed since their last incursion to determine how much time they had for a rescue and she wasn’t disappointed. That would give them an hour and a half to retrieve B’Elanna.
The bulky machinery was shrouded in darkness and would provide plenty of concealment when Paris needed to open the shuttle’s hatch. The Stingray wouldn’t need to de-cloak to open the portal, but the lights from the interior would be a dead giveaway to any Chthonian who happened to be looking in their direction. "Make sure you power down the lights before you open the hatch."
The other members of the rescue team were already standing by ready to go, all eyes watching her with open trust. Seven stood in front of the group and for an instant Janeway wished the other woman carried her golden bow. Although the weapon was archaic and definitely useless in this situation there was just something about the sight of it that made Kathryn feel safe. Maybe it was just the fact that such an incredible woman carried the weapon rather than the bow itself. Janeway had to admit that no matter the situation she always felt better when Seven of Nine was with her.
"Alpha team, stand ready to follow me. We’ll exit the shuttle first and head for the north entry. Everyone keep low and stay to the shadows as much as possible. Beta team, wait two minutes and head for the south entrance. It’s hand signals from here. Whoever finds Lieutenant Torres will tap their combadge once. That will be the signal for all of us to get out. Twice will indicate an emergency situation and Lieutenant Paris will break stealth mode and beam everyone out as quickly as possible," Janeway reminded them. "Good luck."
The faces staring back at her were sober, firm in their determination. There was no reason to expect a response and she was pleased that none of the Ikonians chose that moment to back out. She turned to Paris and gave a quick nod. The lights inside the shuttle went out as the helmsman powered down all non-critical systems and opened the hatch. Janeway waited a few moments for their eyes to adjust to the darkness before she crouched down and sprinted toward the central complex, the rest of her team on her heels.
Janeway wanted to look back to see Seven’s team leave the shuttle, but was experienced enough with covert operations to resist the temptation. She had to trust the other team to carry out their end of the mission, which was exactly why she had put Seven of Nine in charge. No one else was as cool-headed as the former Borg and with Lieutenant Jameson on the same team she knew they would make the right choices. Instead she concentrated on flitting from shadow to shadow, sensing more than seeing her comrades close by.
The north entrance was well lit and easily discernable in the surrounding gloom. Two large Chthonian males stood guard in front of the entrance, their eyes constantly scanning the area and looking far from bored. Apparently they took their duty very seriously as most sentries became somewhat lax in the performance of their duties when nothing exciting happened. The Chthonians seemed to be an exception to that rule and they were either very duty conscious or had a very exacting master with no tolerance for slacking off.
She quickly assessed the surrounding area and the approach of the building and decided their best option was an attack from the rear. It would require a team member to circle around and sneak up on each of the guards from opposite sides of the structure. Simple hand signals instructed A’zal to take out the guard on the left while the Klingon security officer Quist was directed to take the one on the right. Mossler and the rest stayed with Janeway while the highly skilled Starfleet officers carried out their assignments.
It wasn’t hard for A’zal to slip up undetected behind her target. Her dark skin tones and the black uniform blended in with the shadows. If Janeway hadn’t known the Vulcan was there she would have missed the vague movement entirely. Lieutenant Quist was as silent as the Vulcan, not an easy feat for a Klingon warrior, and was behind his mark in seconds. It helped that there were no other Chthonians in the immediate vicinity. With perfect timing the two rendered their opponents unconscious, A’zal with a Vulcan nerve pinch and Quist with a hard chop across the back of the guard’s neck.
Janeway looked toward the rear of the fortress and saw movement in the shadows. She thought it might be Seven’s team, but without contacting them over the combadges there was no way to know for sure. She turned and signaled for Mossler and the others to follow her to the tower. When they were all present she squatted down and put an ear against the door to listen for anyone on the other side. She didn’t like going in blind, but she couldn’t see through solid rock. Just before she opened the door Eos reached out and caught her arm. Janeway looked at the other woman expecting to see her signal that she had heard something. Instead Eos indicated that she would check the hallway for guards. Before the captain could object the woman shifted into mist form and drifted under the door. The small crack underneath allowed the vampire entrance with no one being the wiser. An instant later the door opened and Eos signaled that it was safe for everyone to enter. The captain let the other team members go first before she cast a final look around and entered the tower.
While the interior of the moon was quite warm it was even more stifling inside the fortress. Janeway felt sweat pop out all over her body and start to bead on her forehead. She thought it was possible that the Ikonians looked even more uncomfortable than she felt. A’zal of course was perfectly comfortable in the heat, but her Vulcan features began to shine with humidity and the flickering torches lent her a satanic cast in the gloom. Even though most of them were hot, they all blended easily into the shadows with one exception; Shoya’s white uniform stood out as a splash of bright color in the near total darkness.
Moving toward the stairs located near the center of the stronghold proved to be a chess game of avoidance from the Chthonians. Everywhere they turned guards patrolled the halls in twos and threes. Somehow Shoya and the rest managed to avoid detection, but the captain thought it was only because the building was so haphazardly constructed. Rocky protrusions and unexpected recesses provided hiding places and the flickering torches, the only light inside the structure, produced a good supply of shadows. There was also the possibility that the Chthonians were so arrogant that they never expected anyone to infiltrate their stronghold so they never bothered to look.
Regardless how good their luck had been so far Janeway knew all it would take for was one Chthonian to leave the fortress. Once the guards from the entrance were discovered missing from their posts an alarm would be sounded immediately.
She led the team into one of the few open areas of the tower. Directly across the cavernous room was the foot of the stone staircase. Torches were installed at random intervals across what appeared to be some kind of gathering room. There were several closed doorways around the perimeter of the chamber, but no convenient hiding places. For this leg of the journey they would be out in the open. Any of the closed doors could open unexpectedly and she decided they needed to get this over with as quickly as possible.
Without hesitation she signaled for Quist and Hekate to cross the expanse. The Klingon nodded once in understanding and crossed the opening in a crouching run with Hekate at his side.
The captain was pleased that even though they were practically running the pair made little noise. As soon as Quist and Hekate reached the base of the stairs they hid off to one side where the shadows were heaviest. Kathryn knew the large, open chamber was a danger, but once they started up the stairs things would get even more perilous. Hiding places on the staircase would be practically nonexistent and their team would be easy targets.
A quick hand signal from Janeway sent Mossler and Latinus to join the others near the stairs. They had just reached the shadows when a door flew open and rebounded off the stone wall. Janeway and the remaining team members shrank back into the hallway as two Chthonian males emerged.
"You turned Skara in to the Dark Lord?"
"You sound impressed, Draxus," the other said in response. Janeway could hear the pride in the man’s voice even if she didn’t understand what they were talking about.
"What happened to Skara?"
"Hephaestus had him detained. Once he finishes with the alien miscreant I’m sure he will deal with Skara’s treachery."
"And I am sure you will reap the rewards," the second man said with a sneer in his voice.
"If the Overlord sees fit to reward me I will not refuse the honor."
Clearly Draxus did not believe his comrade, but wouldn’t dare speak out against someone who had turned in a supposed traitor. If he did that he would probably join Skara on the rack.
The two men were completely occupied with their discussion and passed Janeway with no indication that they noticed the intruders hiding only a breath away. The captain cringed when the duo passed Shoya, surprised but relieved when they didn’t notice her either. The soldiers were headed for the front of the tower and she expected them to walk outside and discover the missing guards. A moment later they turned and entered another room, slamming the door behind them. Captain Janeway let out the breath she didn’t realize she had been holding and signaled for the rest of the group to cross the room. They were running out of time and needed to get up those stairs.
Eos waited with the others as the Human captain joined them at the foot of the stairs. Her heart pounded in her chest and her mouth was dry with fear. From the sound of their accelerated heartbeats Latinus and Hekate shared her feelings though Shoya was just as calm as ever. Sometimes Eos thought her enhanced senses were more of a curse than a blessing. This was one of those times since her friends’ anxiety only increased her own. None of the Ikonians had ever been involved in direct conflict and she would freely admit that she was terrified at what might be asked of them before this was over. She knew that technically this wasn’t their fight, but just thinking of the missing Starfleet officer assured her that she had made the right decision when she volunteered. B’Elanna didn’t deserve this fate and never would have been abducted if not for the passive conflict between the Ikonians and Chthonians.
When the Chthonians had suddenly burst in the room Eos thought they would be detected and could only cower in the shadows as she waited to be discovered. No one was more surprised than she when the enemy soldiers passed without noticing the infiltrators. Then Janeway and the others joined them and the small captain didn’t hesitate. Captain Janeway used the shadows to maximum advantage while she gazed up through the darkness to assess the next obstacle, the staircase. The woman was tiny by Ikonian standards, smaller even than Hekate. Yet the alien exuded courage and feistiness and Eos, impressed by Janeway’s example, knew she was the only one who could scout the stairs and keep the others safe. At her touch the captain looked at her and Eos signaled that she would go first. This time Captain Janeway nodded immediately in understanding.
Eos swallowed nervously and willed her body to change. If she continued to shift between her solid and mist forms she would exhaust herself quickly, but that was something she didn’t have time to worry about. Eos felt the familiar cold sweep through her body before her focus shifted and she drifted toward the stone floor. Then she was moving steadily up the staircase, worried about what she would find but at the same time curiously exhilarated that she would be the first of her kind to see it.
Seven of Nine easily ignored the shadows cast by the flickering torchlight. Jameson, Tarinia and the others followed behind her. Glancing back with her enhanced optical array Seven could see every individual except Erebus. He blended into the shadows so completely that she couldn’t see even a flicker of movement from him. If not for her ability to hear his heartbeat she would have thought they left him at the entrance. The Ikonians that she could see sported a tense, but determined expression. Jameson seemed more than resolute; she looked almost angry.
Anger was the first emotion Seven had been introduced to when Janeway severed her connection to the Borg. She knew from personal experience that giving in to that emotion could be very destructive. Yet at the same time she understood Karri’s position entirely. If Kathryn were the one who had been taken no amount of persuasion could have prevented her from storming the Chthonian acropolis to retrieve her partner. All things considered Lieutenant Jameson was far more restrained and logical than Seven would have been in her position.
Beta team encountered few enemy opponents as they worked their way toward the staircase near the center of the fortress. When they did see enemy soldiers it was not difficult to avoid them. Seven spotted the staircase through the gloom after only five minutes and started directly toward it across the center of a large room.
"Wait," Tarinia hissed in her ear.
A moment later Seven heard the thud of many booted feet and ducked back against the wall. It was several seconds before a group of six Chthonians passed directly in front of them. The stone floor seemed to have the ability to absorb sound and Seven hadn’t even heard them coming. The fact that Tarinia did said a lot for her sense of hearing. Seven could see from the shaken expression on her teammates’ faces that they hadn’t heard the Chthonians either.
They waited several seconds after the soldiers passed before Tarinia nodded that they were clear. Seven stepped away from the wall to walk across the large room and saw Erebus already waiting for them near the staircase. She didn’t even want to consider how he had gotten across without the Chthonians knowing. She crossed the room quickly with the others behind her and started up the stairs without pause. After Tarinia’s display she trusted that the changeling would have stopped her if anyone waited at the top of the stairs. But even though she trusted the other woman’s ability to hear Seven kept her enhanced vision locked on the top of the staircase. With the ambient light of the torches she could see just as well as if she were walking across Nemo’s bridge.
It took only seconds to get up the stairs and Seven was pleased to see the corridor clear ahead of them. Perhaps the Chthonians had never expected anyone to penetrate so deeply into their citadel. Then they heard a calm yet booming voice that caused Seven’s blood to run cold.
"After you were taken by the Dark Lord, how long do you think your Captain waited before she came for you?"
It was obviously some kind of interrogation and from the question there was no doubt who was being questioned. The individual asking the question was utilizing a voice amplifier, the technology was crude and had been developed by species 369. Her memories from the Collective told Seven the Amari thought the amplifier would make them more threatening to aliens that wished to prey on the physically weak species. They had been wrong and were eradicated less than two decades after developing the technology, but apparently this Chthonian had the same idea. Already physically intimidating, the amplifier would cause other species to see them as a serious threat.
Seven heard a voice answer the question. She was too far away and there was too much stone between them to hear the response clearly, but she was sure it was B’Elanna who answered. There was a dreamy quality to her voice that scared Seven more than anything they had seen so far. Torres was the last person to be sedate when being questioned by an enemy that had captured her by force.
She looked over her shoulder and signaled for Jameson and Hermera to take up a position on the far side of the heavy stone door. Karri nodded and sprinted into place with the Ikonian beside her. Seven stood by the opposite side with the balance of her team behind her and reached down to try the doorknob. She wanted to enter the room without the Chthonian hearing her and take him from behind. Unfortunately the door was locked. Frustrated, Seven briefly considered their options.
From the demonstration they had received on Ikonia Cloe was the obvious choice for the next task. One brief nod to the young woman was all that was necessary to communicate her wishes.
Cloe stood in front of the door and took several deep breaths to call on superhuman powers drawn directly from the strongest of the animal kingdom. Seven and the Nemo crew drew their hand phasers while the other Ikonians stood by to use whatever natural gifts would be called upon.
Seven watched Cloe closely so that she would be ready to move as soon as the door was open. Cloe tensed suddenly and rammed the stone door with both fists, causing a muffled boom as the door flew off the hinges and halfway across the chamber. Seven ignored the explosive sound as they charged into the room. The largest Chthonian male they had seen to date spun toward them and three simultaneous phaser blasts caught him high on the chest. He was thrown across the room where he slammed into the wall and slumped to the floor unconscious.
"Hurry!" Spunkmeyer said, "The guards downstairs will have heard that noise!"
Karri rushed straight across the room to where B’Elanna hung suspended from the ceiling. Her hands were restrained behind her and she was hanging limply forward, but Seven could clearly see the creature covering her torso and shoulders. The obscene creature had plant and animal characteristics and Seven grimaced when it writhed and the tentacles wrapped even closer around B’Elanna’s flesh.
Jameson gently lifted B’Elanna’s head, horrified by the dazed expression on the Klingon’s face. "What the hell is it?"
"I do not know," Seven answered stepping up quickly beside them, "but it is clearly keeping B’Elanna captive."
"Get it off her!"
Seven was offended by the invasion of her friend’s body by the disgusting creature. She reached out and grasped hold of the plant, tearing it from B’Elanna in one sharp movement. Pounding feet entered the room and just as the tendrils were ripped from the Klingon Seven heard Shoya shout, "No! You must not remove the aconite!"
B’Elanna suddenly blinked and opened her eyes. She looked at Seven of Nine with a combined expression of pain, anger and utter hatred. Seven shivered from the cold malevolence in the look and then B’Elanna began to moan in pain.
"Sedate her, quickly," The First Flyer said before glancing over her shoulder.
"Why?" Janeway didn’t understand the suggestion until B’Elanna suddenly began to scream in agony.
Seven could hear the Chthonian army swarming up the stairs, the thuds of their boots mixed with the screams from her friend. It would take far too long to remove the hypospray from the med kit with the enemy rushing toward them so she reached out and administered a Vulcan nerve pinch that rendered Torres unconscious just as the first Chthonians rushed through the door.
Two soldiers started firing energy disruptors as soon as they entered the room. Shoya took a hit on her breastplate that caused her to stumble back a few steps. Then the Nemo crew opened fire with their hand phasers. From the number of Chthonians rushing toward them the power cells in their phasers would run dry long before they could escape.
Janeway quickly slapped her communicator. "Paris, get us out of here."
Hekate heard the high-pitched whine over the shouts and bursts of weapons’ fire. Hermera and the Klingon male disappeared in a sparkle of light. Instinct made her step away from the light and closer toward the enemy. She would not run from the fight this time, the last time she did that an innocent had suffered for her cowardice.
"Get B’Elanna out of here!" Hekate shouted. Then she focused her internal energies to impose a force shield between the Chthonian horde and her teammates. She wouldn’t be able to hold the invisible barrier long, especially if the enemy kept shooting their disruptors at it, but maybe it would hold long enough for them to escape.
Captain Janeway took a much-needed breath and glanced back at the others in the room. "Go!" She wouldn’t leave until everyone else had been pulled out and with the small transporter on the shuttle Paris would only be able to take the rescue team out in groups.
Jameson wasted no time following the suggestion. Kathryn saw her burn through the chains holding B’Elanna suspended with what little energy that remained in her phaser. She supported the unconscious woman on one side while Seven took the other. Spunkmeyer, Leyton, Tarinia and Cloe joined them, but the transport beam left Tarinia behind. Apparently Tom could only take six at a time.
She turned back toward Hekate wondering how much longer the young woman could hold the barrier. Already she had begun to shake from the strain and blood began to trickle from her nose.
Janeway activated her combadge and shouted, "Hurry up, Paris! We don’t have much time!" Paris didn’t bother to respond. The transporter activated again and Janeway was left behind with Hekate and Eos. The force shield wavered and began to dissipate and the captain knew it would be down before the helmsman had the time to reset the transporter buffers. Suddenly it blinked and went out completely.
Captain Janeway fired at the first Chthonian to come through the breach and Eos lashed out with a booted foot that caught the next soldier in the solar plexus and launched him back out the door. Then Eos heard movement behind them and turned quickly to see the Chthonian that the others had rendered unconscious climb to his feet.
The huge male stormed across the room, swatting Hekate aside like she was an annoying insect before heading straight for Janeway. The young woman impacted with the stone wall, slumped to the floor and did not move again. Eos saw him grab a disruptor rifle from against the wall and swing the weapon toward Janeway. Dealing with the assault from the front the Human captain had no idea of the threat behind her.
Without thinking Eos spread her wings and propelled herself over Janeway’s head. She landed behind the Chthonian male and grasped his left shoulder with one hand. She grabbed his chin with the other and jerked it hard to the right. The adrenaline pumping through her veins gave her the strength to snap the Chthonian’s neck in an instant. His body felt to the floor with a thud and Eos snarled in rage as she faced the others. Her flashing eyes, sharp fangs and the death of their master caused the other Chthonians to stop their headlong charge in fear.
When Eos launched herself over the captain’s head Janeway had instinctively turned to confront the attack from behind. She witnessed Eos break the Chthonian’s neck, but when the woman snarled and the others fell back in fear Kathryn saw the anguish in her eyes. What the Chthonians took as a snarl of rage was Eos’ agony over the necessity of taking the man’s life. She perceived all of that in an instant before she swung back around. Before the Chthonians could pull themselves together the tingle of the transport beam grabbed hold of Janeway and the others and pulled them onto the Stingray.
Janeway and Eos materialized in a crouching stance on the transporter pad. Hekate lay still beside them and the EMH rushed over to check on the downed woman while the captain sprinted for the front of the shuttle, jumping over Ikonian and Starfleet personnel as she went.
"Told you we’d get her back," Spunkmeyer was saying to Karri.
"What do you mean we?" Eos demanded angrily.
Janeway ignored them as she stalked to the front of the shuttled and jumped into the co-pilot’s seat. "Get us out of here!"
"Way ahead of you." Paris touched the controls and the Stingray lifted off under full power. "I’ve got two vessels coming toward us from the port stern. Seven, I need you at weapons!"
Seven of Nine sat down at the tactical control station and started firing a steady stream of phasers toward the pursuing ships. Although the Chthonian vessels weren’t as technologically advanced as the Stingray the pilots managed to dodge the majority of the phaser fire, doggedly continuing the pursuit.
The captain pulled up the sensors and said, "They’re firing! Shields to full!" The shuttle rocked for a moment under the assault before righting itself and turning toward the outer hatch.
A third ship came in from the starboard side firing as it came. Paris dipped and rolled the shuttle through every evasive maneuver he could think of. It paid off and the enemy fire missed them but impacted with one of the atmospheric processors and set off a massive chain reaction of explosions inside the moon.
"Seven!" Janeway shouted. "Fire a photon torpedo at that hatch and blow it open."
An instant later Seven reported, "Torpedo away."
The interior hatch of the moon blew away adding to the fracas from below. The last hundred meters from the exit the shuttle was being continuously rocked from the series of explosions. Janeway glanced down at the sensor readings and her eyes widened at what she saw.
"Full impulse engines, Paris! Go to warp the instant we clear the hatch!"
"We’re still inside the moon!"
"Do it!" She didn’t have time to tell him about the shockwave quickly approaching from astern. All of the atmospheric processors and generators had been severely damaged from the Chthonian weapons’ fire and were headed for a catastrophic detonation that would destroy the entire moon and them along with it if they didn’t get out now!
The Stingray shot through the portal at full impulse with three Chthonian vessels on their tails. The shuttle easily outpaced the enemy vessels’ slower ion propulsion, virtually leaving them in the dust as they jumped to warp. Yet for all its speed the shuttle was barely two hundred thousand kilometers from the moon when it blew.
"Shockwave approaching!" Seven of Nine reported. "It will overtake us in forty-one seconds."
"Increase speed to warp six!" Janeway ordered.
The shuttle leaped ahead and tore away from the asteroid field. In seconds they were away from the blast and moving out of the spatial grid. "We’re out of range of the shockwave," Janeway said. "Any sign of our pursuers?"
"No," Seven answered. "They were destroyed in the blast. The Ikonian moon has been vaporized."
"Any chance of damage to the other planetoids in the system, orbits disrupted or anything of that nature?"
After checking her computer console Seven looked up at her. "Negative, captain. The asteroid field is heavy with nemolite. It appears to have minimized the results of the explosion."
"At least the damn stuff is good for something. Set a course for Nemo, Mister Paris."
"How are they?"
It had been a very busy time after the rescue group returned to the Nemo and an hour later Captain Janeway was just getting the chance to check on the injured. The Ikonians had been understandably shaken by what they had witnessed while inside the Athos moon. At the same time they had been energized by the kind of after-battle adrenaline rush that the Starfleet crew understood only too well.
During the time spent reassuring the Ikonians that the Chthonian threat was really over, at least for the time being, all she could think about was B’Elanna. The internal damage to her young friend had been extensive and the EMH had set to work on her immediately while still aboard the Stingray to prevent her from bleeding out. Not realizing that tentacles hidden beneath the body of the plant had bored into B’Elanna’s internal organs Seven had ripped it from her friend. Had she realized that the plant had invaded the Klingon’s flesh she never would have attempted to remove it.
The thought that Seven blamed herself for B’Elanna’s condition wasn’t a surprise to Janeway, but discovering her partner standing in sickbay was. From Seven’s disheveled appearance and the dirt that still smudged one flawless cheek Kathryn surmised she had been in sickbay since their return to the ship. Even smudged and tired Seven looked wonderful to Janeway. The solid black uniform highlighted the Nordic features and an image of a French resistance fighter holding an archaic firearm flashed through Kathryn’s mind.
"How are they?" Janeway repeated softly.
Seven looked back at her and the blue eyes were haunted. "Hekate’s injuries were easily treated by Borea. The Ikonian is a skilled physician. The doctor is still working on B’Elanna."
The forcefield beside the biobed winked off and the EMH walked over to the captain with a grave look on his photonic face. Janeway ignored the surge of dread that ran through her and asked him for an update.
"She has suffered extensive injuries, Captain."
Seven swiftly inhaled and the doctor rushed to reassure her. "Not just from the aconite. There were multiple broken bones and the base of her skull was fractured. If she weren’t Klingon she would have died from the first blow."
"I doubt if you’d look so serious over just a few broken bones. What are the injuries from the aconite?"
The doctor glanced quickly at Seven before he answered. It was clear he would have preferred not to say, but the captain had asked for an update on a crewmember and Seven was B’Elanna’s best friend. "The tentacles perforated flesh and bone, even penetrating several organs as it bored into her. Captain, the physical injuries I can deal with. It’s the other damage that is going to take some…creativity."
Janeway frowned and asked, "What other injuries are there besides the physical?"
"Didn’t Shoya tell you?"
When they had first returned to Nemo the entire away team had to be cleared by medical, per protocol. Janeway hadn’t spoken with the First Flyer until after that, but Shoya hadn’t said anything about the aconite. "Doctor, why don’t you just tell me what you know?"
The physician heaved an unnecessary sigh and glanced toward Lieutenant Torres. "Why don’t we go into my office? I’d prefer not to disturb her."
Janeway nodded and they followed him into the office. She wasn’t in the mood to wait for an update and the doctor seemed to know that just from the look on her face and began to brief them even before the door fully closed.
"Shoya told me the aconite circumvents the nerve receptors in the body so at least B’Elanna wasn’t in pain, but aside from preventing pain the aconite is very useful as a method of interrogation."
"It causes hallucinations." When neither Seven nor Janeway interrupted the doctor attempted to explain further. "Shoya said the images created are unique to the individual, drawn from memory ingrams and hypnogogic images. Usually something very pleasant, something the person wants very much. It makes them more relaxed and open to questioning when the interrogator takes on the form of one of the individuals in the delusion."
"It made B’Elanna see what she wanted to see," Janeway extrapolated.
Seven continued, "So that the Chthonian questioning her could take on the form of someone she trusted to gain information."
"So when I removed the aconite, the pain from her injuries would have suddenly overwhelmed her."
"You couldn’t have known," the doctor said compassionately. "No one could except the Ikonians and they never would have been able to retrieve B’Elanna from their enemy on their own."
"They would not have tried had we not devised the rescue."
Seven’s tone was bitter and tore at Janeway’s heart, but she didn’t try to correct her. Seven was right. If things had been left to the Ikonians, B’Elanna would still be in enemy hands.
"Please let me know when she can have visitors," Janeway said softly. "I’d like to talk with her, see if I can help in some way. Until then there is no one better suited to help her through this than you, Doctor."
"Thank you, Captain."
Janeway turned to Seven and said, "Walk with me." She knew if left to her own devices Seven would have opted to wait in sickbay for as long as it took until B’Elanna awakened. Kathryn didn’t think that was a good idea right now.
As they walked out of the medical bay Kathryn was surprised when Seven started to speak without being prompted. "B’Elanna hates me."
"What? Why would you say that?"
"When I removed the aconite and she regained consciousness…"
"B’Elanna looked at me and I could see the hatred in her eyes."
Janeway stopped at the end of the hall and turned to the other woman. "Seven, you don’t know what B’Elanna was experiencing in her mind. She may not have even realized it was you. Wait until she’s recovered from her injuries and then try to talk to her. I’m sure you’ll see that things are not what you think."
Seven nodded unhappily and they started walking toward the bridge again. Kathryn didn’t know how else she could reassure the other woman. The fact was that until B’Elanna regained consciousness and they could talk with her, neither of them could know exactly what had happened. The captain knew from the brief update she had received from the beta team that the Chthonian with Lieutenant Torres must have been the enemy leader, but not why he was interrogating her.
"Eos did not look well aboard the Stingray," Seven said. "What happened after we were transported out?"
Kathryn remembered how Eos had vaulted over her to snap the Chthonian’s neck and answered softly. "She had to kill one of them. If she hadn’t, he might have killed me instead."
Seven didn’t say she was thankful Eos had killed to save Janeway, but her answer told Kathryn how compassionate the other woman had become. "None of the Ikonians have ever killed, it is not in their nature. Do you believe she will recover?"
Instead of answering directly Kathryn said, "Taking a life is never easy. The first is impossible to forget and she’ll never get over it, not completely. All I can tell you is that time helps and I for one am grateful for the decision she made."
Seven surprised her by taking her hand. "As am I."
Kathryn squeezed her hand gently and let go of it just before the doors parted on the bridge. Commander Tuvok looked back at her and Janeway quickly raised her hand. "You still have the bridge, Commander. I’ll be in my ready room."
Her Vulcan friend turned quietly back toward the front and Kathryn briefly wondered if he was all right, or if he would even admit to not feeling well. He didn’t necessarily seem ill, but he had been awfully quiet recently. She made a mental note to find out as soon as this latest situation was settled.
Seven followed her into the ready room and Kathryn walked directly toward the replicator. It had been far too long since she had enjoyed a cup of coffee, that morning in fact, and there were only a few hours left in the alpha shift. By her estimation Kathryn was seriously behind in her caffeine intake. She obtained a cup of her favorite brew and a cup of tea for Seven, handing it to the young woman before she settled on the sofa.
Seven sat gingerly beside her and asked, "When are we leaving orbit?"
"I’d like to leave immediately," Kathryn admitted, taking advantage of the quiet moment to rest a hand on the other woman’s muscular thigh.
"What is preventing our departure?"
Kathryn took a sip of her coffee before she said, "The Ikonian government wants to hold a celebration. They want to honor the Nemo crew and celebrate the fact that the Chthonians are no longer a threat. They’ve also offered the crew general shore leave, although I think we’ll pass on the last. We’ve had enough shore leave on Safe Haven to last a lifetime."
"Do you believe the Chthonians are no longer a threat?"
Startled Kathryn looked up at Seven. She hadn’t expected the other woman to read her concerns so clearly. "You’re getting to know me too well, but no. I’m not convinced. The Ikonians could only detect the Chthonians once they moved passed Athos, or more specifically the asteroid belt."
"The Chthonian home world, Minoa, is not far from this sector. There is nothing to prevent them from having launched reinforcements. The Ikonians stated it would take a year for the Chthonians to travel to this region, but even if they know of the moon’s destruction more troops could have been sent several months ago."
"My thoughts exactly."
Kathryn was troubled and this time it was Seven’s turn to attempt to reassure her. "From my understanding the Chthonians are engaged in a civil war on their home world. It is possible that they are otherwise occupied."
"Maybe, but I’d like to be sure. I don’t want them to catch us with our shields down while everyone is engaged in a celebration on the planet."
"Astrometric sensors are more efficient than conventional sensors," Seven pointed out. "We have the location of Minoa from the Ikonian data. Would you like for me to scan the region where the planet is located?"
"What about the nemolite?"
"Astrometric sensors work on different covariant harmonics than bio-sensors. I do not believe it will present an issue."
"Well then," Kathryn smiled, pride for her partner a familiar sensation in her breast, "get on it first thing in the morning. The Chthonians only have ion propulsion and we know they’re not in the grid yet. It can keep. There’s one more thing." Her partner merely quirked her optical implant and took a sip from her cup while she waited.
"This nemolite presents some interesting possibilities as far as shield technology goes. Our sensors can barely penetrate it and even the Ikonians use it in their breastplates to disperse the damage that could be caused from energy weapons."
"You are wondering if the mineral can be incorporated into our shield technology."
Kathryn stared down at the black coffee in the bottom of her mug for a moment. It was always hard for her to admit to vulnerability, but it was a poor captain that could see a weakness and not attempt to do something about it. "Nemo is a small ship, a lot smaller even than Voyager was. For all intents and purposes we’re on our own until we get back to Federation space. Without the slipstream drive we’re going to need every advantage we can get."
Seven considered Janeway a master tactician and knew she was right. She also knew what it cost her partner to admit to any weakness and would do anything she could to assist. "If we could utilize the nemolite in our shield generators, aggressive species would have difficulty damaging or even scanning inside Nemo."
"Do you think it’s possible?"
"Perhaps, but I will need to obtain a sample of the mineral for further study."
"There’s enough of the stuff floating around near the asteroid belt from the moon’s explosion," Kathryn suggested.
"I will take the shuttle and obtain a sample." Seven was ready to do whatever it took to protect Kathryn, the ship and crew.
"I’ll have Tuvok retrieve it tomorrow. You’re tired and I think my first officer needs to stretch his legs. Besides, after being on Safe Haven so long it’ll be nice for me to be back on the bridge under less than stressful circumstances."
Seven blinked slowly and Kathryn suddenly realized how tired both of them really were. "I’m sure the whole rescue team is pretty worn out so I’ve already given them orders to take the rest of the shift off."
"Are you going to take the rest of the shift off as well?"
"As soon as I get caught up here. But I think I’d like to take a moment to just be with you before I get started on that." It had been so long since they had enjoyed any time together that Kathryn couldn’t remember exactly when that had been.
She leaned back on the armrest of the sofa and put her arm on the back, inviting Seven into her embrace. Seven happily leaned into her partner and Kathryn took time to enjoy the feel of Seven in her arms. She wrapped her arms tightly around the younger woman’s shoulders and inhaled the scent of her hair. Seven’s unique scent combined with the odors from the Chthonian stronghold reminded her how precious this time together was and how easily either of them could have been killed; first during the crash on Safe Haven and now during a daring rescue to retrieve their chief engineer.
It was time, Kathryn realized. As soon as the celebration was over and they were free to leave it would be time to solidify this relationship with her lover. Seven had become so much more than that, truthfully had been more than that to her for a very long time. It was just too bad that it had taken her so long to realize it. Kathryn had always shied away from commitment in the past, but discovered she was eager to embrace a more binding relationship with Seven. Now if she could only work up the courage to actually propose!
Kathryn gently raised Seven’s face with two fingers under her chin and leaned down to kiss her. For long, wonderful moments she enjoyed the fullness of Seven’s lips and the taste of her kiss. She slowly withdrew and looked into Seven’s eyes with absolute devotion before her sense of duty reasserted itself and she had to break the mood. "I should probably get to work."
Understanding completely, Seven drew back and asked, "When is the celebration?"
"Tomorrow evening. We need time to rest and I’d like B’Elanna to be there. In a sense she’s the guest of honor."
Seven nodded and walked toward the door. Just before her presence activated the sensors to open it she turned back and asked, "Will you be in time for dinner?"
"I’ll probably replicate something here," Kathryn said from her place on the sofa. She wanted to take the time to appreciate Seven’s physique before she had to get back to business. "Unfortunately I have a lot of paperwork to get caught up on."
After Seven left Kathryn sat thinking for several minutes. An idea had just occurred to her and she couldn’t get the Federation Charter, the Ikonians and the nemolite out of her head. She wondered if the Ikonians would considering petitioning to become a member of the United Federation of Planets and what the peaceful species would have to gain from such an alliance. Benefits to the Federation were clear. They would have their first Federation planet located in the delta quadrant and the nemolite, should it prove advantageous in shield technology. But what would the Ikonians gain? It was time to do some research.
Several hours passed before the captain caught up on three busy days’ worth of paperwork. After completing that duty she had gone over the Federation Charter and decided she would present the idea to First Flyer Shoya during the celebration. If the Ikonians were interested in joining, Janeway would personally petition the Federation Council on their behalf. The Ikonians would be welcomed eagerly into the UFP and she would be proud to nominate them.
Kathryn stood and stretched, wincing at the pain in her lower back. She was tired, but things were definitely than they had that morning. Their missing crewmember was back onboard and the Chthonian stronghold on Athos had been neutralized Although there had been casualties from this confrontation Janeway believed in both B’Elanna and Eos’ abilities to come to terms with what they had experienced. Both women were strong and though the immediate future for both of them would be difficult she believed they would be fine. She was just relieved that none of their people had been killed.
As for the Chthonian casualties, Kathryn grieved the loss of life but realized that the warlike species had brought destruction on themselves. It was their own friendly fire that had started the chain reaction on Athos and the Stingray couldn’t have prevented the resulting catastrophe.
Captain Janeway nodded to the conn officer as she left the ready room. Stifling a yawn she crossed the bridge and stepped in the turbolift. It had been a long day and getting caught up had taken a lot longer than she expected. A brief hail to Seven to explain her absence had been all that was required to keep the other woman from waiting up for her and Kathryn was pleased she had thought to make the call. She had skipped dinner completely, but by this time tomorrow they would all be enjoying a banquet that would more than make up for any skipped meals. Janeway wished she’d had the chance to speak with B’Elanna to find out how the young woman was feeling, but the doctor had decided to keep her sedated until the next morning. He insisted she needed to rest for as long as possible and Janeway had to abide by the physician’s decision.
The lights in their quarters were already down and Kathryn navigated the bedroom by the light of the stars. She could hear Seven’s quiet breathing as she moved about getting ready for bed. After she showered and brushed her teeth Kathryn all but fell into bed beside her partner. Seven awakened and rolled over to hold her and Kathryn gratefully snuggled into her embrace.
"You have worked too hard."
"So what else is new?" Kathryn teased gently, kissing Seven’s jaw.
Seven held her tightly and after a moment Janeway realized her partner had tensed slightly. She had grown familiar enough with Seven’s body language that she knew the other woman wanted to tell her something and was deciding how to phrase her thoughts.
"What is it?" Kathryn asked, kissing Seven again and starting to feel far from exhausted. "What’s on your mind, love?"
"You asked how it felt to fly," Seven finally said.
"Yes. You said it felt exhilarating."
"Yes," Seven hesitated. "What I did not tell you was how it felt to be held."
Something in her tone made Kathryn pull away and look at her through the darkness. "Held? By whom?"
"The First Flyer."
"Oh." Kathryn knew from the away team reports that the Ikonians had carried Seven and the others away from the caves. She didn’t realize Shoya had carried her partner or that there were any particular ramifications from that event. Apparently Seven felt differently and Kathryn felt jealousy stir. Seven was a beautiful, vibrant woman and could have anyone she wanted. Almost hesitantly she asked, "How did you feel?"
Kathryn hadn’t expected to hear that and relaxed marginally while she waited for Seven to elaborate.
"Not just embarrassed. When Shoya pulled me against her…I felt her breasts press into my back. Her arms were around my waist and she is very strong."
"You felt aroused."
Seven heard the unusual tone in the other woman’s voice and thought Kathryn must be very disappointed in her. "I do not know why," she admitted miserably.
Seven lay tensely, quietly holding Janeway. Kathryn was reminded in that moment of just how young and very vulnerable Seven really was. The young woman was so capable and self assured most of the time that it was only at moments like these that Kathryn remembered Seven’s relative innocence. Even with the knowledge of thousands of species available to her through her assimilated memories Seven had no emotional connection to any of it. Emotions were often confusing to individuals that had never been assimilated, how much more so for someone who had been raised as a Borg drone?
Kathryn’s jealousy fled as she realized that Seven wasn’t professing desire for the Ikonian, merely confusion about her own body’s treacherous reaction. She thought about everything she and Seven had experienced together and the love that couldn’t be denied between them even though both of them had resisted during the years stranded on Voyager. Kathryn had absolutely no doubt how Seven felt about her, all she needed to do was illustrate her point in a way Seven would understand.
"Darling, I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. You’re involved in a relationship, not blind. I think you’ve simply progressed to the point where you’ve begun to notice and respond to an attractive woman when you see one."
"You believe First Flyer Shoya is attractive?"
Kathryn could hear the hopeful note in Seven’s voice and answered honestly. "Anyone with a pulse would think she’s attractive."
"So I have done nothing wrong?"
"Of course not. Seven, let me ask you something. Did you want to touch her?"
Kathryn stifled her grin of relief, thinking Seven wouldn’t understand what generated it and not wanting her partner to think she was being condescending. "Do you wish to engage in a relationship with her?"
"No! You are the only one I ever wish to be with. I love you!"
"And I love you, sweetheart," Kathryn said softly. "I doubt if Shoya is the only one besides me that you’ll ever find attractive, but as long as I’m the one you love it’s all I can ask."
Seven gently rolled Kathryn beneath her, pressing the smaller woman sweetly back into the mattress. "I shall never love anyone but you, Kathryn."
Janeway wrapped her arms around her partner’s neck and kissed her lightly, a tender brush of lips that promised something more before she looked into the blue eyes so close to her own. "Love me, darling."
Seven’s eyes glowed in the starlight. "For as long as I live, Kathryn," she said before she leaned down to claim her partner’s lips.
Seven of Nine stood hesitantly before the doors to engineering. It was time for her mid-shift break and rather than working through it as usual she decided to try and speak with B’Elanna. The engineer had been released by the doctor and returned to full duty at the beginning of alpha shift, but Seven had dutifully remained at her post until now instead of desperately seeking out her friend, as she wanted to. As soon as it was time for her break Seven powered down the board in Astrometrics and headed for engineering. She was apprehensive about speaking with B’Elanna and knew it was because of the look her friend had given her on Athos before she lost consciousness. Seven didn’t know what she would do if the Klingon decided to terminate their friendship. Other than Kathryn, B’Elanna was the only really close friend she had. When she had first been taken from the Collective the engineer couldn’t stand her. They had argued furiously and almost come to blows several times, but over time had become fast friends and Seven had come to think of B’Elanna as family, just as she had Naomi Wildman during those early years on Voyager.
The doors to engineering parted unexpectedly and a crewman barely managed to avoid running into her. Seven moved out of the way, swallowed nervously and walked into engineering. She spotted B’Elanna working near the corner by herself. The others in engineering were working far enough away from the Klingon that she did not think they would be overheard should things not go the way Seven hoped.
Seven walked over to the other woman and when she was a few feet away said, "B’Elanna," softly to gain the other woman’s attention.
B’Elanna looked quickly over her shoulder and turned back to her work immediately, but not before Seven caught the expression on her face. It was not welcoming, but Seven remained convinced that if she could only speak with B’Elanna they could work out whatever was wrong between them.
"The doctor told me you had been released from sickbay. How are you feeling?" The engineer froze at the question and slowly lifted her head. With her back turned Seven couldn’t see her face, but her posture spoke volumes.
"How am I feeling?" Torres grated. "I’m just great. I’m back at work, aren’t I?"
Seven ignored the sarcasm and tried again. "I was very worried. When I removed the aconite I did not realize it had invaded your body…"
"Yeah, thanks for that," B’Elanna interrupted and whirled around to face Seven, her voice rising steadily in anger. "Thanks for tearing the damned thing off and letting me feel every ounce of pain possible! You always have to do that, don’t you? Jump into a situation and just take over, do whatever you want without considering the consequences to anyone else!"
"B’Elanna, I was only trying to help you…"
"Well I didn’t ask for your help! Just leave me alone!"
Torres was trembling in anger by now and heads had started to turn. There had been a time when the volatile woman’s outbursts had been legendary, but she had changed considerably since then and such things now were a rarity. Seven didn’t know what was prompting it, but she did know the captain would not be pleased by a disruption in the workplace. She was also confused by B’Elanna’s comments and deeply hurt by the accusation in her voice. Seven glanced around at the crewmen staring back at her and took a step back.
She had tried only to save her friend from being tortured, to get her safely back onboard. Instead she had somehow ruined their friendship. Swallowing hard Seven fell back on what had served her so well in the past and abruptly linked her hands behind her back.
"I am sorry to have disturbed you, Lieutenant Torres," she said in her best Borg-speak before she turned on her heel and strode out of the room as quickly as she could.
As soon as Seven was gone B’Elanna’s shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes. She hadn’t meant to go off on the woman like that and Janeway would probably hear about it, but right now she just didn’t care. She turned back to her console and thought she was actually going to get some work done when she heard Leah’s outraged voice.
"In your office, now!"
"I don’t have time for this…"
"Then you’d damned well better make time because I have something to say that you are going to listen to and unlike you, I don’t intend to do it in front of your entire staff!"
Doctor Brahms’ voice was low, but insistent and B’Elanna had no doubt that she would carry out her threat. "Fine. Maybe after you get it off your chest I’ll actually be able to get some work done."
B’Elanna stalked into her office and tossed the padd onto her desk. Leah entered behind her and keyed the door closed. Torres didn’t have to wait long for the propulsion expert to open up on her.
"I don’t know what that was about, but I know that Seven is your friend and it’s not considered polite to tear into someone for trying to save your life!"
"Who are you to tell me that? You don’t know what happened on that moon or what she did!"
"No, I only know that Seven was as worried about you as everyone else on this ship, maybe more. I know that she tore that damned plant off that was making you hallucinate and that you were exposed to all of the pain from your…experiences at once."
"How do you know that?" the Klingon asked, vexed that the entire crew apparently knew what she had gone through.
"Everyone knows that! Seven wasn’t alone on that mission, but she blames herself for causing you unnecessary pain. Look, I don’t know everything you went through, but I know Seven didn’t deserve that."
"You don’t know what happened," Torres repeated, but softly this time. "You can’t understand what it was like."
No one could, she thought. How could they know that for a brief time she had everything she had ever wanted? How could they know she finally had the woman of her dreams and the perfect life with a wife and daughter back on Earth? Just thinking about it forced Torres to relive the memories of coming home after pulling a double, of being completely out on her feet and how Karri had taken care of her. Too tired to even think, B’Elanna had surrendered and let her wife undress her, help her bathe and put her to bed. In that unbelievable time, imagined though it was, she had slept over twelve hours and awakened to Kari bringing her banana pancakes and maple syrup in bed. It was a simple memory, but one of the most deeply poignant B’Elanna had ever experienced. The worst part of it was that it had felt completely, viscerally real!
"You’re right," Leah said, reminding B’Elanna that she was still there. "I can’t understand. But I know that whatever Seven did, she did it because she cares for you. You’re her best friend and for a Borg drone, former or not, that means she will do anything to keep you safe. Try to remember that the next time you talk to her."
Leah left B’Elanna standing quietly by her desk as she turned toward the doors. They parted and the scientist started to leave. Then she hesitated and turned back. "B’Elanna? I’d like to think that over the last four years we’ve gotten pretty close, too. I’m here for you…if you decide you want to talk about it."
At the end of alpha shift the next day Janeway turned the bridge over to the beta shift and left for her quarters. The banquet was due to start in an hour and she wanted to change into a fresh uniform before she transported down. She wanted to look her best as a representative for Starfleet and the Federation, especially since she had a proposal for the Ikonian government. As she walked toward her quarters she passed an occasional crewman who would nod respectfully before they moved on. It occurred to her briefly that she had relaxed protocol while the crew had been stranded on Safe Haven, but now that they were back aboard Nemo things would have to tighten back down. She truly felt it had been necessary to take a different approach considering how dire the situation had been at first. They hadn’t even been sure they would ever be able to get back into space and in a situation like that the crew needed a flexible, compassionate leader who was a part of the community, not a hard-as-nails captain who set themselves apart and micro managed every little detail.
Being a captain meant wearing many different hats and knowing which one was needed in any given circumstance, but she was going to miss the easy camaraderie. When Janeway first came on board Nautilus she had been an observer; required to become captain mid-flight after a battle that left them stranded back in the delta quadrant. As an observer she was free to cross the boundaries of the command structure, to begin establishing friendships she would never have cultivated as a captain and work up the courage to approach the woman she had loved on first sight. Then with the blast of a photon torpedo all of that changed.
Now she was back in command and had to withdraw from the tentative friendships she had begun to forge. The disturbing part was that it wasn’t difficult. Kathryn was so accustomed to being the captain that the persona fit her seamlessly. The difference between Voyager and now was her ability to recognize those times when a softer approach was preferable. Kathryn supposed she would always be the captain, it was just part of who she was.
Kathryn grinned as she approached the door to her shared quarters. At least now she had Seven in her life on an intimate level and that relationship was one thing she refused to give up. Seven also fit her seamlessly. They belonged together and that’s all there was to it and one thing Janeway had learned through experience was that life was just too hard without someone to share it with. She was confident that she could find a way to separate her personal and professional lives.
She walked through the door to the sounds of soft jazz playing in the background. Apparently Seven had already finished her shift and beaten her back to their quarters. Janeway walked into the bedroom expecting to find her partner in the middle of getting ready for the celebration. What she found instead caused her brows to furrow in worry.
"Annika?" she asked and strode quickly across the room to where Seven sat on the edge of the bed. Tears had dried and left tracks on her cheeks. The young woman’s shoulders were hunched in absolute misery. Kathryn squatted down in front of her and gently took the clasped hands between her own. "What’s wrong?"
"I was correct about B’Elanna. She has terminated our friendship."
Seven sounded absolutely convinced, but Kathryn wasn’t so sure. Wasn’t it just last night that Seven was confused by Human emotions and their repercussions? "Tell me what happened."
Seven took a deep breath and said, "I went to see her in engineering. I wanted to tell her I was pleased she was safe and had recovered. She became hostile. B’Elanna told me that she did not ask for my help on the rescue mission, that I had caused her pain without thought to my actions or the consequences. Then she told me to leave her alone."
It was easy to see where Seven would have drawn her conclusions that Torres had ended their friendship, but Kathryn realized it was probably just the Klingon lashing out. Considering her species’ hostile proclivities it wasn’t really out of character for a Klingon to vent their wrath on the closest available target. Logically speaking Seven should know that, but at the moment she couldn’t get past the emotional fallout.
"Annika, you and B’Elanna have been friends for years now. I don’t think she would throw that away so easily."
"Then why would she say such things to me?"
Kathryn’s heart ached at her partner’s unhappiness and she said, "Darling, B’Elanna has gone through a lot and it’s going to take time for her to come to terms with it. I’m sure she didn’t mean whatever she said to you. As for causing her pain, you couldn’t have known taking the aconite off her would cause that to happen. She knows it, too. Give her some time."
Seven didn’t look completely reassured but said, "She would listen if you spoke with her."
"Oh, Annika. You know I would do anything for you, but I can’t. If B’Elanna wants to talk with me I’ll be there for her, but I can’t force the issue and to be honest I’m not sure I should. As captain of this ship I can’t interfere with the personal lives of my crew. I’m sorry."
"I understand," Seven said unhappily.
Kathryn would like to have pursued the discussion further and to reassure her partner that B’Elanna’s reaction was only natural, but they had places to be and since Seven was part of the senior staff she was expected to attend as well. "We’ll talk about this some more later if you want, but for right now we have a celebration to attend."
"I do not feel like celebrating."
"I know, but diplomacy is part of first contact and I think we all need this. Come on, darling. I’ll help you get ready."
Forty minutes later Janeway had transported into the designated area of the main hall with the whole of her senior staff beside her.
Lieutenant Torres had grudgingly joined them but stood as far away from Seven as possible during the transport. As soon as they solidified the engineer had moved away through the crowd causing Janeway to sigh quietly. The First Flyer had taken her arm and led her into the party eager to discuss their past exploits. Captain Janeway didn’t mind since she had something she wanted to discuss with the First Flyer that might lead to an ally in the delta quadrant.
Food, laughter and conversation flowed and Seven found a quiet corner to stand in. Parties had never been her strong suit and were viewed upon by the former drone as something to be endured. Seven preferred to watch and wonder about the human condition as individuals interacted in the most curious ways. Across the room she saw Cloe and Tarinia talking together. Both women were technically changelings and Seven wondered if they were discussing their commonalities. From their proximity and the way their heads were bent closely together she did not believe that was the case.
Seven felt like she was intruding on a private moment and looked away. The room was very crowded, but she noticed that Eos was not in attendance. She regretted the Ikonian’s absence. She would like to have thanked the woman for saving Janeway’s life, but she could understand. She didn’t feel like being at the celebration either, but it had been a direct order from her captain.
A familiar form near the back of the room caught Seven’s eye and she watched as B’Elanna slipped out onto the balcony. Seven took a step in her direction but stopped when the EMH waved her over and she knew she had missed the opportunity. In a way she felt relieved. Kathryn had advised her to give B’Elanna time to recover and she instinctively knew it was too soon to have the discussion she wanted to have. Perhaps it would be better if she allowed her friend to approach her in her own time.
Unaware that she had been observed B’Elanna stepped out onto the balcony and inhaled the scent of the Ikonian sea. She grasped the railing and looked out over the water under the light of three full moons. The anger she felt toward Seven was still there, but mitigated somewhat by the talk Leah had with her. Of course she knew it wasn’t Seven’s fault that the delusion had been destroyed, but she couldn’t help feeling that everything meaningful had been ripped away from her.
She stood quietly, isolated from the joyous celebration taking place behind her when it suddenly struck her that maybe all of her dreams hadn’t been shattered. Thinking back to before Nemo had crashed on Safe Haven she remembered running into Karri in the hallway on deck three. The expression in Karri’s eyes then had been wonderfully similar to the one she sported in B’Elanna’s delusion.
It couldn’t really be that easy, could it? B’Elanna really didn’t know, but for the first time since awakening in sickbay her life didn’t seem so completely hopeless. Maybe, if she could summon the courage to take it there could be a first step toward that dream life. B’Elanna wasn’t sure she was ready to take that step yet, there was still too much she had to come to grips with. Soon, she decided.
B’Elanna turned away from the ocean and went back into the party. She still didn’t quite feel like part of the group, but at least she didn’t feel so cold anymore. She saw Seven standing near the doctor and felt a bit guilty for how she had treated the other woman, but wasn’t ready to approach her yet. She still felt a twinge of irrational anger when she looked at Seven and until she could get over that she didn’t trust herself to speak with her.
"Hi," Kathryn said softly.
Seven had left the celebration an hour ago and returned to Nemo. Janeway saw the other woman leave but had been so involved in diplomatic discussions with Shoya and the Ikonian counsel that she couldn’t get away. Entering their quarters she found Seven sitting in the living area with a cup of tea.
"Kathryn. Did the discussion with the Ikonian government go well?"
Seven didn’t seem upset, merely quiet. Kathryn sat down beside her and leaned back putting her feet up on the coffee table.
"Yes. I’ll admit I was a little surprised but they were very interested in becoming Federation members. They understood that we’re too far away to do them any good in a defensive capacity, but the shared goals of exploration and scientific discovery were very appealing to them."
"That is good news."
"Yes, and what’s even better is that we’ll be on our way back to the alpha quadrant at the start of shift tomorrow."
"I am also looking forward to resuming our course home."
For a few moments they just sat together, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Kathryn remembered something she had been considering earlier and sat up. She looked at Seven quietly considering for a moment and Seven asked if something was wrong.
"No, there’s just something I want to ask you."
"What is it?"
Kathryn had made her decision to do this several days ago and now seemed like the perfect opportunity. "There’s something I need to get first."
Seven watched her partner curiously, but sat patiently waiting while Kathryn stood and went into the bedroom. She returned a moment later with something held behind her back and Seven sat her cup on the edge of the coffee table expectantly. Kathryn was acting out of character with no indication of why.
Kathryn sat carefully on the edge of the sofa, close to her partner and looking intently up at her. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and began to speak. "I’m not much of a speech maker, but I have something I want to say."
Seven didn’t respond, the young woman merely sat and waited for Kathryn to put into words what she was feeling. Kathryn realized Seven always gave her the time she needed, never pushing her into a decision in their personal lives and only presenting different possibilities for her to consider. No one had ever trusted Kathryn that much before and it proved to her yet again how much Seven completed her.
"Things have been extremely difficult for the ship and crew lately and if it weren’t for you it’s possible that none of us would be even be here. After you were hurt so badly I realized exactly how much I love you, how I never want to be without you. And I know you love me, even when I make all sorts of mistakes you stand by me. You allow me to be the captain I have to be and the woman I want to be. I don’t want there ever to be any distance between us."
There was a hopeful glint in Seven’s eyes when she asked, "What are you trying to say, Kathryn?"
Janeway smiled at the woman who owned her heart and quietly got down on one knee in front of her. If she was going to do this she was going to do it right. Seven deserved it and Kathryn would not deny her.
"I want to spend my life with you, Annika. Will you marry me?"
An incandescent smile graced Seven’s lips. She took a shaky breath and responded simply, "Yes, I will."
Kathryn brought her hand out from behind her back and Seven saw that she held a small blue box. It was covered with a velvety material and the former Borg watched curiously as her partner opened it. She lifted out a silver band that sported a single, magnificent ruby. Kathryn had never forgotten the first time Seven told the captain that her favorite color was red, that moment was burned indelibly into her heart and it seemed the perfect stone for an engagement ring.
"Will you wear this…as a token of my love for you?"
Seven looked slightly confused at the request, but eagerly held out her right hand, the one without the implants, toward her love.
Kathryn smiled and reached for her other hand. "It’s traditionally worn on the left hand, at least where I’m from."
The other woman frowned and said, "It is a beautiful ring, Kathryn, but I fear my implants will detract from its appearance."
"Your implants are as beautiful to me as you are, darling," Janeway assured her sincerely. "I never want you to forget that and it would please me if you wore it on your left hand."
Her words were exactly the right thing to say. Kathryn witnessed the small tears of joy well in Seven’s eyes and gently slid the ring onto her partner’s finger. Then she raised Seven’s hand and kissed the top of the ring where it rested against her flesh.
When she had knelt in front of Seven to propose Kathryn felt a little silly, now she felt incredibly wonderful and thankful that she had followed the impulse. She was even more grateful when Seven reached down and pulled Kathryn into her arms, kissing her sweetly until she was breathless.
Kathryn finally pulled back and looked into her fiancée’s eyes. "I love you, Seven of Nine, Annika Hansen."
"I love you as well, Kathryn and I want to make love to you."
Kathryn laughed in utter joy. "I can’t think of anything I’d rather do."
Seven pulled Kathryn close again, claiming her lips as she stood and scooped the other woman up to carry her into the bedroom.
B’Elanna stood nervously outside the small room that had become a bit of a gathering place for the Nemo crew. Originally it had been converted from a storage area and used as a waiting room when Captain Janeway had been injured so badly by the saboteur, Sakonna. Now it was a makeshift gathering room and mess hall for those who didn’t wish to dine alone in their quarters. At this time of the night only one other person occupied it and it was that individual that B’Elanna had come to see.
She had been standing outside the door for several minutes, shifting back and forth and wondering if this was the right decision.
Oh, just do it for Kahless’ sake! What’s the most she can do? Say no?
Standing a little straighter and strengthening her resolve, the Klingon stepped forward to activate the sensors and open the door. The lights were dim and for a moment B’Elanna couldn’t see anyone else. Then she saw Karri sitting at a small table in the corner. Her back was to the door and apparently the engineer saw no reason to turn and see who had entered the room, preferring to stare out the transparent window into the star field.
It was pretty obvious that Karri didn’t want to be disturbed and B’Elanna almost turned on her heel and left. Then she remembered how things had been between them on Voyager, the simple pleasures of being together and how easy things had seemed. She had always been free to be who she really was with Karri, never feeling judged but always accepted and always cherished. The memories generated by the aconite might not have been real, but her feelings were. Her feelings toward the other engineer had never changed, only strengthened over time and it was no small miracle that B’Elanna hadn’t done what was necessary to rekindle their relationship. Only her Klingon honor had prevented that and there was no way she could walk away from the possibilities now.
B’Elanna walked toward the other woman and stood quietly beside the table until Karri finally turned to look up in curiosity.
"Hi," Jameson said. "Are you feeling all right?"
She could see that she had surprised Karri and that she was searching for a neutral topic that wouldn’t scare B’Elanna away. A little unsure what to say, the Klingon sat across from Karri and looked at her quietly for a moment.
"I’m fine," she finally responded. "I…wanted to thank you…for coming after me."
Karri frowned and B’Elanna easily read the emotions crossing the other woman’s face. She hadn’t been the only one on the rescue mission and doubted the Klingon was going around thanking each member of the team individually. That meant she had another reason for being here, but she was willing to go along with the pitiful excuse and allow B’Elanna to get around to what she wanted.
"I also wanted to say…that is, I mean…" Torres heaved a frustrated sigh and tried again. "Look, I know you’ve been looking out for me since we got stranded in this damned quadrant again. I just wanted you to know that I know."
Karri looked slightly amused at the Klingon’s ramblings and grinned crookedly. "All right, I won’t deny it. And you’re welcome, again."
"Good." B’Elanna nodded once and stood up. She started toward the door and just before she activated the doors she realized she was chickening out again. Damn!
If she walked away again she didn’t know if she would be able to get over her fear of being rejected by Karri. B’Elanna had never been one to run away because of fear and she refused to do so now. Instead she turned to find Karri watching her intently. The green eyes roved over her figure, feeling like a caress and solidifying B’Elanna’s feeling that she was making the right decision.
"Will you have dinner with me in my quarters?" B’Elanna finally asked softly. "Tomorrow? Eighteen hundred?"
In the shadows it was difficult to say that Karri actually smiled at the shy invitation, but B’Elanna didn’t think she was wrong about the glint in her eyes.
"I’ll be there."