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She slid behind Seven on the biobed and propped the other woman up against her. Kathryn gently held the canteen to Seven’s lips.

After Seven had taken a few sips of water Kathryn sat the canteen aside and picked up Seven’s plate. Patiently, she fed the omelet to Seven as she would to a small child. In a strange way the act of helping her lover consume nutrition made Kathryn feel even more protective of her.

 

"Where’s the doctor?" Janeway asked to fill the silence, hoping it would ease any embarrassment on Seven’s part.

 

Seven swallowed and said, "He is assisting Lieutenant Torres. I am unsure how."

 

"Oh. Knowing B’Elanna she’s just trying to get him out of your hair for a while."

 

"He can be overbearing," Seven agreed. "I believe I can do this for myself now."

 

Seven reached for the fork and Kathryn let her have it. She stayed where she was behind Seven and watched her finish her meal, not because she didn’t think Seven couldn’t handle it, but just because Janeway wanted to hold her. Without realizing what she was doing Kathryn started stroking the back of Seven’s neck and gently kissing her cheek.

 

Seven finished her meal and leaned more fully back against Kathryn. Grateful to have this quiet time each night, Kathryn embraced Seven with both arms and simply enjoyed the heat and softness of her skin.

 

"I love you, Annika," Kathryn finally said softly. "I can’t lose you."

 

Seven didn’t comment on Janeway’s use of her given name. Kathryn had started using it occasionally since the accident, but only when she was especially concerned or frightened. Rather than point out she preferred to use her Borg designation Seven replied, "I am getting weaker."

 

"You’ll get better," Janeway countered. "You’re strong and I’ve never known you to give up on anything. Don’t give up on me now."

 

Seven turned to look at her and her blue eye was alight with promise. "I shall not give up. The doctor will find a treatment."

 

"He always does," Kathryn said with as much humor as she could muster, but her eyes were sad. Seven seemed to be slipping away and without the ability to regenerate there was nothing she could do to save her.

 

Janeway leaned closer and gently kissed Seven’s full lips. They were the sweetest ambrosia and Kathryn could never get enough of the taste of the other woman although she was careful not to let the kiss grow too passionate.

 

After a few blissful minutes of kissing softly Seven pulled away. "You must finish your meal, Kathryn. You have to keep up your strength as well."

 

"You’re right, of course," Janeway smiled. "I won’t let it go to waste."

 

She carefully kissed Seven once more before she eased out from behind her and sat in the chair again. Kathryn reached for her plate and had only taken one bite from the cold omelet when the EMH suddenly walked back into the medical bay.

 

"Ah, Captain. Here for your nightly visit I see."

 

"You’re very observant, Doctor." Janeway tried to keep the sarcasm out of her tone, but failed miserably. To cover it up she took another quick bite.

 

"I seem to be observing a problem right now," he shot right back. "I’m observing that your sarcasm stems from your direct violation of a medical order."

 

"How do you figure?" she asked, one eyebrow rose in query.

 

"If you had actually slept as I ordered you to do, no doubt you wouldn’t be so testy."

 

"Now just a minute…"

 

"Really, Captain. You have to sleep. Since Seven’s nanoprobes have cured you of the Section 31 toxin I can only assume the dark shadows under your eyes are from a lack of rest."

 

Janeway carefully sat her empty plate and fork on the tray before she stood to face the doctor. "You may not have noticed, but the crew is in the middle of a crisis right now. If I’m not getting a lot of sleep it’s hardly a medical mystery."

 

"I just meant that the crew would hardly benefit from the leadership of an exhausted captain."

 

"Thank you for pointing that out. Are you finished?"

 

The doctor seemed to finally catch on to the impatience in Janeway’s voice. Wisely, he closed his mouth and walked into his office.

 

Kathryn took a deep breath, and let go of the anger coursing through her veins before she turned back to Seven. "I have to go, darling. I’ll be back as soon as I can."

 

"It is time for your meeting. Kathryn, before you leave I must tell you that B’Elanna updated me on the ship’s condition. Perhaps if you were to bring me a data padd I could assist from here?"

 

Kathryn reached out to gently touch Seven’s cheek. "As much as I appreciate that I think it’s more important for you to rest."

 

"Please, Kathryn. I am not accustomed to this much inactivity. I am…bored."

 

"Bored?" Janeway grinned. "I never thought I’d hear you say that. All right. I’ll see that you get a data padd as long as you promise not to over do it."

 

"Thank you."

 

Kathryn leaned down and kissed Seven again, full and lingering. When she finally leaned away she said, "No, my love. Thank you."

 

"For what?"

 

"For this, what’s between us. You know I’ve been involved with a few others before you. What you don’t know is that I’ve never felt…so much…I never thought I could feel this much for anyone. For so long I thought that I was just one of those people who didn’t have the capacity to love anyone completely. Then you came along and I realized that I was just marking time until that moment."

 

Kathryn didn’t know why it felt so important to tell Seven these things now. In a way she felt like she was saying goodbye, yet fighting strenuously against that possibility. Then there was the possibility that she was just scaring Seven.

 

"I’m sorry. I’m really making a mess out of this. All I mean is that…I love you."

 

"I love you as well, Kathryn."

 

Kathryn spared one last tender look with Seven before she took the plates and silverware and left the medical bay. She tried very hard not to look at the doctor where he was working in his office. Janeway didn’t know if he had overheard their heartfelt moment and she didn’t really care. She was just still a little singed by his implications that she was neglecting the welfare of the crew by not getting more rest.

 

Chapter 2

"Okay, let’s get started."

 

Janeway squatted down by the campfire where the rest of her team leaders had already gathered. At this time of day the other members of the crew were getting settled for the evening or preparing for perimeter security duty. The air had begun to cool considerable with as the sun sat and a light breeze had sprung up.

 

By unspoken agreement this particular campfire, one of the three, was reserved for the team leader’s meeting. In the gathering dusk Janeway could hardly make out Commander Tuvok or A’zal’s features, but with their pointed Vulcan ears the fire gave them a slightly demonic look.

 

Kathryn sat down on a large rock and accepted the cup of water B’Elanna passed over to her. The captain wished she was drinking a cup of coffee and wondered idly if the headache caused by caffeine withdrawal would ever go away. After a sip from her cup she looked up to see six faces staring back at her. Commander Tuvok was in charge of one half of the beta team. They were responsible for hunting, fashioning weapons and fishing. Tuvok led the hunting and weapons half of the team while Tom Paris was in charge of the fishing, once it got off the ground.

 

Commander A’zal was in charge of gamma team and the security around the area. Although one member of her security team had been assigned to each of the other five teams she still maintained the bulk of her security detail. Security was established around the camp continually, although only two guards were on duty in four-hour rotations each night.

 

Ensign Helen Mossler was assigned to Janeway’s alpha team and specifically appointed as the captain’s bodyguard when away from camp. The alpha team was to find alternate food sources, non-game related, such as fruits, nuts and vegetables.

 

Delta team was under Lieutenant Kim’s leadership. They were responsible for all logistics and smooth operations of the camp itself. Although that might not sound like a lot Janeway realized that keeping cooking fires going, assigning latrine positions, gathering water and recycling or disposing of waste was a job that required good organizational skills. She thought he was perfect for the assignment.

 

The last team leader was someone Janeway could hardly look at without anger flaring. She didn’t know exactly why it bothered her so much that she hadn’t realized Karri’s true role aboard Nemo. It still rankled her that Lieutenant Jameson had been able to fool her so completely, but in this situation she couldn’t afford to let her personal feelings get the best of her. She certainly didn’t have time to analyze her true feelings now since survival was a more immediate concern. The important thing was the lieutenant was obviously more skilled than Janeway had realized and was thus assigned as leader of the epsilon team.

 

The epsilon team was also the topographic mapping team and heavy on security personnel. They were charged with mapping the area and scanning for carnivores or other humanoids that might unexpectedly visit the planet. Their secondary task was to scan for useful minerals, crystals or ore.

 

"Tuvok, how do we stand on weapons?"

 

"There are sixty-three type two hand phasers if we consider the crew’s personal weapons and those assigned to individual stations for emergency situations. However, in the interests of preserving the power cells I have begun to fashion some rudimentary tools."

 

"Are you talking about spears?" Tom Paris asked incredulously.

 

"Yes. In addition I have fashioned a bow and arrow, several sling-shots and twelve snares for capturing small game."

 

"That’s right," B’Elanna said. "You taught archery science at the Vulcan Institute of Defensive Arts. Do you think you could teach me how to use one of those?"

 

"I believe so, however your talents would be best suited for finishing the repairs to Nemo."

 

"He’s right, B’Elanna," the captain said. "But repairs aren’t going to last forever. Either we’ll get the ship fixed or we’ll reach a point where we’ve done all we can. In any case, Tuvok, I want you to teach a few other members of the crew how to use the bow and arrow starting with B’Elanna. We may be here quite a while and we’ll need more than one person who can use such a weapon."

 

"Very well, Captain."

 

"Did Leyton get with you about the fishing tackle?"

 

"He did. I anticipated your request and had already begun to design traps to utilize in the shallows of the stream."

 

"What kind of traps?"

 

"I believe I can construct a trap closed on all except one end. The open end will be fashioned so that it is large enough to allow fish to enter; yet they will be unable to escape. Starfleet rations can be utilized as bait to lure the fish inside."

 

"How long can the fish survive in something like that?" Harry asked.

 

"Approximately one week. Any longer and they would likely starve."

 

"I don’t think that’s going to be a problem," Janeway said. "There are forty-five people here and I’d say it’s more likely we’ll have trouble catching enough. It’s a good thing this planet is so rich in other resources."

 

"Uh, Captain? Who’s going to clean these fish?"

 

Lieutenant Jameson’s disgust was apparent and Janeway couldn’t really blame her. "We don’t have the luxury of being squeamish, Lieutenant. However, I don’t think you’re the only one among the crew who is going to have trouble with that particular chore."

 

"If I may, Captain," Tuvok interrupted. "I believe that the Vulcan members of the crew would accept such a responsibility as the logical course of action in the given situation."

 

"Yeah and the Klingons wouldn’t mind it either," Torres added.

 

"Fine, that settles that. Let me know as soon as your teams are ready to start hunting and fishing, Commander."

 

"A’zal?"

 

"All security teams have been briefed and are familiar with their assignments. Ensign Mossler will accompany you each time you leave camp. The others have been set up on a rotating schedule so that they will not become fatigued."

 

Already familiar with security’s duties, Janeway nodded and looked to Lieutenant Kim.

 

"There are three cooking fires that have been well-established. The initial fires were started using a blast from our phasers, but if we keep the fires going we shouldn’t have to do that again. There’s no reason to deplete the power cells when there’s enough kindling and larger logs around here to fuel them. We’ve established a latrine approximately a half-kilometer to the east of camp and downwind and away from the water supply. We’ve also managed to create a portable refrigerator from one of Nemo’s cooling units so we can keep things like eggs cool and hopefully create a stockpile. The stream is fairly fast moving and clean so water isn’t a problem. The crew could even take baths in the water if they wanted."

 

Janeway grinned at the mental image. Even though the climate was warm the water would probably be chillier than the crew expected.

"Just make sure the crew knows to be downstream if they decide to do that. Good work. That just leaves the topographical team."

 

All eyes went to Karri Jameson and the young woman easily began to update the senior staff. If she was uncomfortable suddenly finding herself in these meetings she didn’t let on. "We’ve been able to map the immediate area within five kilometers around the camp, but so far we haven’t found any dilithium or other useful minerals. There are some larger animals that might be carnivorous, none sentient, but they seem to be kept away from the camp by the fires. Tricorder sensors haven’t detected any humanoids or artificial energy signatures, but we’re keeping an eye on it."

 

"So as far as we know there haven’t been any off world visitors," Janeway said.

 

"That we know of," Karri stressed. "But again our range is limited."

 

"Tricorders may be the Swiss army knife of the 24th century, but the sensors aren’t very sophisticated when it comes to long distance scanning," Paris said.

 

"Right. Continue to map the area and look for anything useful. Each day should see us expanding the exploration another kilometer around the perimeter of the campsite."

 

"Aye, Captain. Eventually the epsilon team is going to be too far away to come back to camp at the end of the day. Tarinia suggested we could take provisions with us and stay in touch each night by combadges."

 

The changeling had been assigned to the epsilon team and Janeway was gratified to see she was making a useful contribution.

 

"That’s true, but even combadges are limited in range. Once you cross out of that range you would have to boost the signal through the tricorders. Fortunately, we won’t have to worry about that for a few more days. If we’re lucky that won’t be necessary at all. If we can get the shuttle repaired the epsilon team could use it to map the region."

 

"The onboard sensors of the Stingray would probably be able to determine any dilithium deposits a whole lot faster," Jameson added.

 

"How are repairs to the shuttle coming, B’Elanna?"

 

As the battle bridge section of a much larger vessel Nemo had been outfitted with only two shuttles. Lieutenant Sakonna stole the Conseil when she escaped Nemo, but they had been left with the Stingray. That was a fortunate turn of events since the Stingray was a much better vessel than the other shuttle; what Tom Paris would have called a ‘hot rod’. Sleek, streamlined and equipped with the same ablative hull armor and multi-phasic shielding, it was almost as good as having the Nemo functional. The only thing it didn’t have was the ability to cloak or carry the entire crew.

 

"Doctor Brahms and I have been able to replicate parts for the shuttle pretty easily. All systems including sensors will be functional in a few hours."

 

"Good. I’ll be joining your team in the morning, Lieutenant Jameson. Maybe we’ll get lucky. If we don’t find anything tomorrow you’ll continue sensor sweeps daily while I rejoin the alpha team. I think Leyton can handle the team for one day."

 

"I will advise Ensign Mossler that she is to join epsilon team in the morning," A’zal stated.

 

"Fine."

 

The captain turned to Torres and asked, "What of the rest of the ship?"

 

B’Elanna shook her head and said, "Repairs are going slowly. That should improve since we’ve finally managed to clean up the spilled plasma, but we don’t have enough dilithium to keep the replicators going for very much longer. Deuterium tanks are damaged, but nothing that can’t be repaired."

 

"All right. Since the plasma has been cleaned up the rest of your team can get in there with you tomorrow. Maybe that will speed things along."

 

Being a dangerous job, plasma clean up utilized only minimal personnel. The rest of the engineering team had been temporarily assigned to other duties, but could now focus on what they were best suited for. Janeway thought things just might be settling into a routine.

 

"There’s one more thing, Captain," Torres said.

 

"Yes?"

 

"One of the replicators is down to minimal power. Unless we find more dilithium soon it won’t matter. Even with emergency power restored throughout the ship, both replicators will be dead in the next forty-eight hours."

 

"I prefer to think we’re going to get lucky tomorrow, Lieutenant. We’ll find dilithium. Just have faith. Remember people, in a survival situation a positive mental attitude is essential. Make sure your teams share that philosophy. If there’s nothing else I suggest we all get some sleep. Dismissed."

 

Janeway stared into the flames of the fire lost in thought as the others drifted away. She didn’t realize Torres was still there until the other woman cleared her throat.

 

"B’Elanna? Was there something else?"

 

"Uh, actually yes, Captain. Could I talk to you for a minute?"

 

"Sure. Pull up a rock." Janeway grinned up at her and was surprised when B’Elanna cast an uncomfortable look around the busy campsite.

 

"Maybe in private?"

 

"Maybe we’d better go to my tent." She didn’t know why B’Elanna looked so flustered, but she didn’t think she wanted to find out in front of the whole crew.

 

Silently she led the way to the small tent. Ambient light from the fires and a lantern Lieutenant Mossler had thoughtfully activated relieved the shadows inside. Janeway sat down on one end of her cot and invited B’Elanna to sit beside her.

 

"What is it, B’Elanna?"

 

"Well…that is to say…I’ve been working on something in addition to my other duties. It’s something you might not want to hear…or you might, I guess, if you think about it from another point of view."

 

"Spit it out, Lieutenant. What have you been working on that you so obviously didn’t have authorization to do?"

 

"I’ve been working on Seven’s alcove."

 

Janeway waited quietly, but when there was nothing more she said, "I see. May I ask why?"

 

"I was talking to the doctor and he said that if Seven wasn’t able to regenerate her cybernetic systems would start to degrade. I spent a lot of time on the alcove today and was able to restore partial power. It’s only enough for her to regenerate for about three hours at a time, but it’s a start."

 

Janeway stood and quietly walked away. Her arms were folded as she stared at the tent wall and with her back turned B’Elanna couldn’t see her expression. When she finally spoke it wasn’t what the chief engineer expected to hear.

 

"Who do you think you are, Lieutenant Torres?"

 

Janeway turned and her eyes were flashing with anger. Her voice was tightly controlled, but the restrained ire caused B’Elanna to squirm uncomfortably. Janeway was angry with B’Elanna because she had circumvented the chain of command. "How much reserve replicator energy did it cost us for you to go off on your little quest?"

 

"Captain? I don’t understand."

 

"I know you don’t, Lieutenant and I’m not sure if that makes this even worse. We are in a survival situation. Every spare electron we can find may mean the difference between getting off this planet and making it a permanent residence. Replicating parts to repair the power feeds to the alcove was not a priority and now we’ll be without replicators that much faster because of your little side project."

 

"I was trying to save her life!" B’Elanna argued strenuously.

 

"Oh, I know why you did it and believe me when I say that a huge part of me is thrilled. But I have a responsibility to the entire crew and I don’t have the luxury of putting the needs of one person above everyone else. Even if that person is the woman I love."

 

Torres didn’t expect Janeway to state her feelings so plainly, but the unsteadiness in Janeway’s voice got through to her more than any lecture ever could.

 

"Yes, ma’am," she said softly. "I’m sorry, Captain."

 

Janeway sighed and walked back over to the half Klingon. The anger was gone, but she stared into the other woman’s dark eyes and said, "B’Elanna, it is essential that you understand me here. This situation is hard on all of us and as tempting as it is to use every remaining resource we have for Seven. I just can’t. Having said that, thank you."

 

Over the years B’Elanna had become more than a crewmember. She was a friend and Kathryn felt comfortable in private letting B’Elanna see the more personal side of her character.

 

Again, the captain had managed to catch her off guard, but Janeway wasn’t finished. "I want you to know that I’m grateful. She means everything to me, even if as captain I have to consider the welfare of the entire crew. I may not have authorized it, but it’s already done and I’m not about to try to put the genie back in the bottle. How soon can we get Seven into the alcove?"

 

"Right away, but we’ll need the doctor. With all that Borg alloy he’s the only one strong enough to carry her through the Jeffries tube to deck three."

 

Kathryn remembered how weak Seven was at dinner and didn’t think she could hold on to the doctor for a climb through the ship. "That won’t work. She would never survive if she fell from the level of even one deck. What about the transporter on the Stingray? Is it functional?"

 

"Yes," B’Elanna said suddenly excited. "The shuttle’s transporter wasn’t damaged in the crash. We can initialize the transport from the Stingray and then reroute the signal to your quarters. When she isn’t regenerating the bed is only a few feet away."

 

Kathryn started to ask how B’Elanna knew the layout of Seven’s sleeping quarters, but then remembered she had helped design the ship. B’Elanna Torres was too conscientious an engineer to limit herself to only the engine schematics of the ship. She probably knew every little detail of the Nautilus and Nemo better than Janeway.

 

"The doctor can treat Seven in our quarters and with her there we won’t need to keep environmental controls routed to sickbay."

 

"That won’t be hard. It’ll take about an hour to manually reroute environmental controls to your cabin. If the doctor needs to perform another surgery we’ll just route them back. Trust me when I tell you that no one will mind a little extra work. She did save all our lives, after all."

 

"There is that," Janeway grinned back. She was starting to feel a whole lot better about everything. She was going to be sleeping in her own quarters with Seven only a few feet away and with the ability to regenerate Seven’s chances of survival had just increased exponentially.

 

"I’ll help you. Once the environmental controls are rerouted I want you to operate the transporters. The doctor and I will wait for you to route the signal to my quarters."

 

"Understood."

 

"Let’s do it."

***

Kathryn Janeway stood quietly in her quarters and watched Seven of Nine regenerate just as she had countless times before. There had even been several of those times when Seven was recovering from a grave injury, but Kathryn had never felt such a profound sense of relief before. The sense of relief was made all the more palpable because in all those other instances a Borg alcove stood by fully operational and ready to go. This time things had been so very close. After safely locked in a three-hour regeneration cycle in a barely functioning alcove the doctor had unthinkingly blurted out a startling comment. Kathryn didn’t think she would be able to forget the off-hand remark, no matter how hard she tried. The comment served to inform her exactly how close Seven had come this time. It had also explained why B’Elanna had acted as she did. If Kathryn had known all of this in advance she might not have chastised the other woman as she had.

 

"Now that she can regenerate she just might have a chance."

 

Tired, Kathryn rubbed the back of her neck before she stepped up on the edge of the small platform where Seven stood. An hour ago Janeway and the doctor had helped Seven into the alcove and already Kathryn thought there was some improvement in her condition. It was more something she could feel rather than something she could see. Seven was still unnaturally thin, even for her, and her flesh had a deathly pallor against the bandage that covered the left side of her face.

 

Probably wishful thinking, Janeway thought.

 

She gently kissed Seven on the cheek before she lay down on the queen-sized bed only a few feet away. The light from the alcove glowed green in the darkness, but in this situation the Borg glow was strangely comforting. Kathryn wanted to stay awake until Seven came out of the cycle, but knew she had to get some sleep. Rerouting the power from sickbay had taken slightly longer than B’Elanna’s estimate, and Kathryn still had a full day in store for tomorrow.

 

Kathryn lay on her side facing Seven so she could open her eyes at any time to see her standing in the corner, and snuggled into her pillow. Seven’s cycle would wake her when it ended in a few hours anyway. Then they would sleep together for the first time in a week, at least for a few hours. At first she kept replaying the doctor’s comment when Seven had slipped into the short restorative cycle.

 

"Now that she can regenerate she just might have a chance."

 

Kathryn realized in that moment how deeply she had been in denial. All along she was convinced that Seven would survive her devastating injuries, but apparently the doctor hadn’t been so sure. It was only now that she could recharge her nanoprobes that Seven might truly have a chance of survival.

 

Eventually Janeway drifted into a light sleep but awakened instantly when the alcove disengaged. Feeling like there were little grains of sand in her eyes she stumbled over to the alcove just as Seven inhaled and took an involuntary step forward.

 

"How do you feel, darling?"

 

"Better," Seven said simply, but Kathryn could hear new strength in the voice that had been so weak recently.

 

Kathryn put an arm around Seven and guided the other woman to the edge of the bed. Seven held onto Janeway’s forearm as she sat down. Even though Seven had just regenerated and said she felt better Kathryn heard the weary sigh when she rested on the mattress.

 

"That’s wonderful, but you’re still very weak. Let me help you into bed."

 

"Kathryn, I am tired of resting. You said you would bring me a padd so I could assist B’Elanna with repairs to the ship."

 

"I know, love, but so much happened so quickly that I just haven’t had time. I promise to get you the padd in the morning. To be honest the only thing I want to do right now is sleep with you in my arms."

 

Seven’s expression softened and she smiled. "I would like that as well."

 

Seven leaned forward until she could kiss Kathryn gently. As far as she was concerned it had been far too long since she had been able to kiss Kathryn properly. She reached up to cup Janeway’s face in her palms and kissed her deeply. Sliding her tongue between dark red lips Seven tasted her fully causing Janeway to make a sound like a small groan.

 

Kathryn closed her eyes and wound her arms around Seven’s torso, kissing her back passionately. For a few moments she forgot where she was until she opened her eyes to see the stark white bandage on Seven’s face and her bald head. She pulled back reluctantly and caught one of Seven’s hands between her own.

 

"Darling, as much as I would love to take this further I just don’t think you have the strength for it." She pressed small kisses to Seven’s knuckles to take any sting out of the words.

 

"Unfortunately, you are right. I am tired, Kathryn."

 

"Come on. Let’s get you settled."

 

Seven started to completely disrobe until Janeway stopped her by gently grasping her hands.

 

"Darling, I realize you prefer to sleep naked in our bed, but the doctor will be here first thing in the morning to check on you."

 

"I see. What do you suggest?"

 

"Well," Kathryn thought for a moment. "Maybe if you slept in your t-shirt and underwear you’d be comfortable enough without giving the doctor an eye full in the morning."

 

Seven had been completely unclothed in the medical bay and covered only with a sheet. When the decision was made to move Seven to her quarters Janeway insisted on replicating her a fresh uniform and decided it was definitely on the list of emergency provisions. Seven couldn’t run around the ship naked, even if she was only transported from sick bay straight to her quarters. As a result, Seven was the only member of the crew who didn’t reek of sweat. Everyone else had the same uniform on as the day the crashed on Safe Haven, although they had taken the time to rinse and air dry various articles of clothing in the stream.

 

"I believe I would be comfortable enough."

 

Kathryn squatted down and removed Seven’s black boots and socks. She sat them under the edge of the bed before she helped Seven take off her black jacket. Although Seven wore a modified Starfleet uniform she didn’t wear a tunic with a color band to denote her specific department. Rather her uniform consisted of a black jacket, gray t-shirt, black trousers, boots and socks.

 

Kathryn carefully hung the jacket over a chair in the corner and turned back to help Seven with her trousers. They were already unbuttoned so she only had to help Seven stand and then quickly push the trousers over her hips. When Seven sat back down on the bed Kathryn finished removing the trousers and put them with the jacket. Then she pulled back the covers and waited for Seven to climb in. A few moments later they were snuggled together in the center of the bed. Seven was asleep almost instantly and Kathryn joined her a few moments later, resting completely for the first time in six days.

                                                                                  Enduring Galaxy
 

Acknowledgments: This is the Fourth in the Galaxies Series. Dedicated to BeachBum for the beta, keeping my muse going and helping to iron out the technical details. Thanks always to Snowolf and Gun. I can’t even begin to list all the reasons why.

 

                                                    Hope is the destination that we seek. Love is the road that leads to hope.
                                                    Courage is the motor that drives us. We travel out of darkness into faith.
                                                                   (Dean Koontz-The Book of Counted Sorrows)

 

  Chapter 1

 

B’Elanna Torres heaved a steadying sigh as she stood outside the doors to the medical bay. Injector lube smeared one cheek and she desperately needed a sonic shower, but right now she had other things on her mind. Since Nemo crashed on the planet they dubbed ‘Safe Haven’ she had been pulling double and triple shifts trying to get critical systems repaired and unable to find time to visit Seven in sickbay. Unexpectedly, she had a few minutes out from under an electrical conduit and decided to drop by and see how her friend was doing. The last time she saw Seven the woman was barely hanging on by her fingernails. That was a week ago and the doctor had been working non-stop to save her life. With the condition of the ship that meant he was functioning solely through his mobile emitter. If power levels onboard Nemo didn’t improve soon he would go off-line, as the mobile emitter was incapable of functioning indefinitely without a recharge. She intended to speak with him about that.

 

Since all functioning power cells had been transferred to sickbay and emergency power routed there to maintain climate control, hopefully power loss wouldn’t happen for a while. The only problem was since everything had been routed to the medical bay it made getting other critical systems working again a bit of a problem. No one was complaining though. Seven of Nine might be the sole occupant of the medical bay but she was still one of their own and if it took what power they had to make her comfortable then that was all right. After all, she had saved the ship and crew. If it weren’t for her quick actions Nemo would have exploded in space. Besides, who would want to argue with Janeway about power expenditure when it was her girlfriend who benefited from it?

 

B’Elanna realized she was procrastinating and took another deep breath. Cowardice is not a Klingon trait, she finally told herself, admitting that she was scared of how she would find her friend. Finally she summoned the courage and stalked into sickbay.

 

The medical bay was quiet. Seven lay on a biobed in the corner. She appeared to be asleep and B’Elanna noticed the EMH working quietly in his office.

 

"Hey, Doc," she said leaning across the threshold to his inner sanctum. "How’s she doing?"

 

He looked up and started to say something, but seemed to think better of it and closed his mouth. No doubt he’d barely reined in some sarcastic comment, B’Elanna thought, but she maintained her silence needing some reassurance from him before she went to see Seven.

 

"Dermaplastic grafts have repaired most of the epidermis on her left side and I’ve even managed to repair the internal injuries. I’m just thankful that most of her organs were protected by her Borg enhanced skeletal structure."

 

"She looks almost completely healed," B’Elanna observed through the transparent window. But as whole as Seven looked, one glance at her face was enough to know otherwise. The doctor had shaved Seven’s golden hair away to get at the damage to her cranium and a large bandage covered the left side of her face. B’Elanna was aware that Doctor Martin hadn’t replaced the Borg eyepiece yet and that was no doubt the purpose for the bandage.

 

"Well, she isn’t. Her nanoprobes have been over-extended from trying to repair internal injuries so she has to recuperate in a more…human manner. In fact, they’re practically in stasis."

 

"Meaning?"

 

"She’s sleeping a lot which is to be expected, but I don’t think it will be enough. Seven needs her nanoprobes for her cybernetic systems to fully recover. But the nanoprobes can no longer function unless she can regenerate to recharge them. It’s the chicken and the egg. I’ve decided to wait a few days before I repair her Borg eyepiece to allow her to recover somewhat from the multiple surgeries she’s undergone."

 

"Borg alcoves draw a lot of power," B’Elanna pointed out. "Almost thirty megawatts. So she’ll die unless she can regenerate."

 

Startled, the doctor flinched and asked, "Did I say that? Well, I suppose eventually that would happen, but that wasn’t what I was referring to. I simply meant that Seven is having to rely on her human systems to recover."

 

"But she does eventually have to regenerate, right?"

 

"Yes. Unfortunately with the state the ship is in the alcove is non-functional."

 

"You let me worry about that. I’m going to visit Seven now."

 

"Don’t tire her out. I’ll be in the science lab running some tests on an alien fruit one of the supply teams found. Apparently the tricorder readings on compatibility were inconclusive. Let me know if you need anything."

 

"Oh, Doc? Do me a favor and recharge your mobile emitter."

 

"Lieutenant! What if the emergency power goes off-line?"

 

"Look, I know you’re worried that your program will be lost if the power goes out, but that’s just not going to happen. At least not right now. You’ve been running off the emitter for days and the power cell can’t last indefinitely. Recharge it now, while we do still have power. I promise if something happens I’ll personally transfer your program from the computer to the emitter."

 

"Very well, Lieutenant," he reluctantly agreed and left the medical bay.

 

B’Elanna waited until the doctor left to approach Seven’s side. At the moment her friend was sleeping and B’Elanna felt a little overwhelmed as she watched. Seven was one of the strongest people she knew, stronger than Vulcans or Klingons due to her enhancements, and it was a shock to see her lying so still. B’Elanna had always thought Seven was pale but the stark white of the bandage on her face made her look positively tan.

 

Memories of their initial association came back to haunt her and she remembered how they had butted heads on Voyager. Her innate sense of honesty had forced B’Elanna to admit years ago that she had really hated Seven at first. People like the captain knew that, but they were wrong about the reason why. B’Elanna didn’t hate Seven because she was Borg, although that was why she didn’t trust her initially. She grew to hate Seven when it became clear she knew more about Voyager’s engineering systems than the chief engineer.

 

Since she was a small child on a Federation colony B’Elanna was made to feel like an outcast. Then Janeway made her the chief engineer on a Starfleet vessel and just when she thought she had found her niche along came a beautiful, snobbishly egotistical woman that the captain couldn’t seem to do without. In a nutshell, B’Elanna felt threatened by her. It took a long time for B’Elanna to realize that Seven wasn’t out to replace her and Janeway would never consider it anyway. The fact that Seven saved Voyager on at least twenty-three separate occasions went a long way toward adjusting B’Elanna’s opinion and being elbow to elbow with the other woman for three years on Utopia Planetia sealed the deal. Grudging respect turned to admiration and an unexpected friendship that B’Elanna would do anything to protect.

 

If things had worked out differently they might have eventually reached a romantic understanding. Instead B’Elanna married Tom and Seven became involved with the captain. Then there was the whole Karri Jameson thing. B’Elanna didn’t even want to go there at the moment.

 

Tom, she thought. Yeah, that was going well. Even marooned on a planet with nothing to do at the helm and he was never around.

Something was up with that, but she just couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Seven surprised B’Elanna a moment later when she suddenly opened her right eye.

 

"Hey, there. How are you feeling?"

 

Seven shifted her mouth around to work up some moisture before she mumbled, "B’Elanna."

 

B’Elanna pulled up a chair and straddled it to rest her elbows along the back of the seat. "I’m surprised the captain’s not here."

 

"She was here this morning." Seven’s eye blinked slowly before she said, "How is the ship? Kathryn will not tell me. She says not to worry and that I should concentrate on recovering, but how can I not worry?"

 

B’Elanna briefly considered not answering. She didn’t want Janeway on the warpath for telling her girlfriend something she shouldn’t, but on the other hand Seven was an integral part of the crew. She had a right to know.

 

"Well, we’re crashed on an alien planet twenty-thousand light years from the alpha quadrant and the deflector array was destroyed on impact. Most of Nemo’s systems are non-operational, we have only two replicators now and even emergency power is sporadic at best. If it weren’t for the universal translators in our combadges the crew wouldn’t be able to communicate."

 

"The warp core? Deuterium tanks?" Seven asked weakly.

 

"Off-line, but no major damage. Thank Kahless. If we’d lost those we might as well set up housekeeping, not that it won’t come to that anyway if we don’t find some dilithium to mine. Most of our stores were shattered on impact."

 

"What about sensors?" Seven’s voice cracked and B’Elanna picked up a cup of water from a nearby tray. She waited until Seven slaked her thirst before she put the cup down and answered the question.

 

"Sensors are useless. We’re down to the range of the tricorders, so unless one of the provision teams stumbles on a dilithium deposit we’re not going anywhere."

 

There was no need to remind Seven that dilithium ore powered replicators. They would need actual crystals to power the warp drive once it was repaired. As soon as the crystals they still had were used up in energy conversion they would lose the two replicators that were working. Without more power there was no hope of recrystallizing what they had left.

 

"Well," B’Elanna said, "I better get back to work. I just wanted to see how you were feeling."

 

Seven grasped the edge of the biobed and tried to pull up into a sitting position. "I will assist you."

 

"I don’t think so," B’Elanna said. She grasped Seven by the shoulders and held her back against the biobed. "You’re weak as a targling and your depth perception is non existent."

 

"You require assistance."

 

"I’ve got an engineering team, remember?"

 

"Who are all currently assigned to the provision teams."

 

Even badly injured Seven was frustratingly logical.

 

"Well, until the rest of that plasma is cleaned up only two can get in the engine room at a time and that’s in environmental suits."

 

B’Elanna noticed how easy it was to hold Seven on the biobed and was even more disturbed. If the doctor had minimized Seven’s condition in any way B’Elanna would reprogram him with a nose the size of a banana.

 

"Something tells me you couldn’t hold up the weight of an environmental suit right now anyway."

 

Frustrated, Seven admitted, "You are correct. B’Elanna, I am sorry I had to break open the plasma pod."

 

"If you hadn’t we’d all be dead. As it is we’re just without power. Try not to forget that."

 

When Section 31 operative Lieutenant Sakonna fled Nemo she had activated the experimental slipstream engines. The ship hadn’t been repaired from the previous jump and would have disintegrated if allowed to jump into the transwarp corridor. Seven made the only decision she could and risked her own life by breaking the plasma pod to cut the flow into the warp core.

 

As a component of the warp drive, plasma was partially responsible for the ship’s power conversion levels. It also controlled the flow of ionized gas into the warp coils. The spilled plasma was so hot when it spewed from the containment unit it could liquefy organic tissue on contact. The process of cleaning up the plasma was time consuming and hazardous and they had been fortunate that the warp core hadn’t breached.

 

Karri had already helped B’Elanna to vent the plasma from engineering by rerouting what power they had, but it was still slow going to degauss the engine room with a magneton scanner and micro resonator. Since Janeway had reassigned Jameson to one of the provision teams and left B’Elanna with Yuta Marouk things were going even slower. Lieutenant Marouk was a qualified engineer, but the Katarian was no substitute for Jameson.

 

"Well, I’d better get back to it before Janeway wonders what I did all day."

 

"She is with one of the supply teams," Seven pointed out in confusion.

 

"Trust me, she’ll still know. Try to feel better."

 

Seven was already starting to drift back to sleep before B’Elanna was through the doors.

 

***

Captain Kathryn Janeway led the alpha team toward their staging area. The planet was lush and beautiful and while they were away from the crash site it would be so easy to believe they were on R & R. If only they were roughing it on some alien planet just for fun instead of being stranded. If only she had realized there was a saboteur on board. Maybe if she had been more concerned with the state of the ship instead of worrying about her love life Sakonna wouldn’t have been able to cause this mayhem.

 

Janeway tried to force away the unpleasant thoughts and concentrate on the positive side of things. Safe Haven had a vibrant ecosystem, rich in food sources and wildlife. The crew, though tired and unaccustomed to such manual labor, was healthy and whole. The ship was heavily damaged, but with time they would be able to make repairs if they were fortunate enough to find a dilithium source. Best of all Seven of Nine was still alive. As the days passed and Seven hung on Kathryn began to have hope that she would recover in spite of the lack of regenerative capability.

 

She looked around at her team and smiled in spite of her pessimism. The bags were full of exotic fruits and potato like vegetables. Crewman Helen Mossler’s face and hands were stained purple from the half bushel of ripe plum-like fruit she had eaten straight from the vine. At least the young woman had the sense to scan the fruit first with a tricorder for compatibility and Kathryn couldn’t blame her for her enthusiasm. Mossler also carried a satchel full of blue, spotted eggs that on Earth might have come from an ostrich.

Eggs for dinner actually sounded wonderful, Kathryn thought.

 

"Captain, are we really going to try fishing in that little stream by the campsite?" Crewman Leyton asked.

 

"Of course. That’s one of the first rules of survival; waste nothing and utilize whatever raw materials are available."

 

"But we’re actually going to eat anything we catch? Isn’t that a little barbaric?"

 

With the advent of replicators it was considered bad form in the 24th century to eat meat. Most Federation or Starfleet personnel would never even consider it, but these weren’t normal circumstances. Their emergency rations wouldn’t hold out forever and with only two replicators functioning synthesized protein was really out of the question. The faster the crew got used to the idea that they needed to do whatever they could to survive the better.

 

"If it’s compatible, yes. I realize that we’re all a little repulsed by the idea, but the fact is that a humanoid body requires sustenance. Fruits and vegetables are fine, but as hard as we’re working we also need protein." If the Bolian hadn’t looked so offended by the idea Janeway might actually have laughed. Instead she fell back on a captain’s old standby. "Get over it, Leyton. That’s an order."

 

"Aye, Captain," he said reluctantly.

 

They neared the final curve of a dried up streambed and rounded a huge boulder. As soon as they rounded the boulder the damaged hull of Nemo came into view. Kathryn kept her command mask firmly in place, but it was hard when she saw the condition of her vessel and the damage their landing had caused in the forest around it.

 

Scorched tree stumps still smoldered four days after being shorn off by Nemo. The angle of their descent into the atmosphere caused the hull to reach dangerous temperatures that set the trees on fire on contact, but apparently a recent thunderstorm had the surrounding area damp enough to prevent a forest fire. Nemo had hit the ground, bounced, impacted again and slid another two hundred meters, leaving a three-meter deep trench before finally coming to a shuddering halt only a few yards from a busy stream.

The stream turned out to be freshwater and free from contaminants. At least they had an ample water supply.

 

Rents in the tritanium hull showed glimpses into the ship’s inner workings. Pieces of hull and deflector array were scattered over the entire area. The crew had been picking up the pieces as they moved around setting up camp and trying to scavenge for supplies. They had been fortunate that the sole cargo bay of the battle drive carried environmental habitats and they were able to set up shelters on the planet surface very quickly.

 

Ten of the larger structures were scattered in a protective circle with Nemo in the center. The shelters boasted independent power sources and a sonic shower inside each. It was a shame the power sources were incompatible with the ship’s systems, but five crewmen could reside comfortably in the shelters. There was only one smaller habitat set up near the center of the circle and close to Nemo. It was the captain’s temporary quarters and makeshift office and was a concession to her position as commanding officer.

 

Cooking fires were also set up toward the center of the protective circle, but angled so that they wouldn’t blow smoke into the habitat entrances. Some crewmen had volunteered for mess duty and cooking pots bubbled with curious and often times questionable dishes.

Kathryn was thankful that the environmental habitats happened to be carried with the saucer section. The climate on Safe Haven was fairly moderate and without power Nemo was nothing short of a metal disc baking in the sun all day. With nothing to circulate the hot, dry air it was stifling inside the ship even at night. If B’Elanna hadn’t thought to carry all remaining power cells to sickbay that area would be intolerable for more than a few minutes. The habitats outside allowed the crewmembers to sleep in comfort and also provided a more significant contribution to their survival. The metal structures would protect them from the environment in the event of a storm but more importantly gave them a boost in morale, a sense of stability. That thought reminded Kathryn that she still had something pleasant to look forward to.

 

"Okay, people. Get the food supplies to the cooking fires. Leyton, talk to Mr. Tuvok about getting some fishing tackle rigged. He’s got more survival experience than probably any of us. Mossler, come here for a moment. Dismissed."

 

Crewman Mossler stood curiously in front of the captain, but a large grin curled her mouth when the captain started to root around in the satchel she carried.

 

"Omelets for dinner, captain?"

 

Janeway returned the grin. "Our secret, crewman."

 

"I have no idea what you’re talking about." Helen waited until Janeway selected two huge eggs with beautiful blue spots before she walked away.

 

Kathryn walked over to one of the fires and squatted down to rest for a moment while she checked out what there was for dinner. It looked like some kind of grayish gruel and smelled even worse.

 

"Captain," Lieutenant Quist said. "Would you like to try some Klingon porridge?"

 

"Uh, maybe not right now. How about you loan me a fry pan instead?"

 

"Of course."

 

The Klingon handed the captain a huge cast iron skillet and quietly turned back to his fire. Kathryn wondered why a Klingon, trained as security personnel, would suddenly turn cook. Klingon warriors weren’t typically very domesticated and Kathryn finally decided she didn’t want to think about that too much. Instead she spied a nearby metal container and drew it over to the ground in front of her. It was a hollow piece of hull plating, but had obviously been cleaned for food purposes.

 

Waste nothing.

 

Janeway approved. She broke open the eggs and poured the contents into the makeshift bowl, surprised to discover two yolks in each egg. The pan heated up while Kathryn beat the eggs together with a fork and then poured them into the skillet. In no time she had two fluffy omelets. They didn’t have any cheese or meat, but were more than enough for a meal considering the initial size of the eggs. Some people could argue that without the cheese or meat they were just scrambled eggs, but to Kathryn it was all in the preparation.

 

Scrambled eggs were stirred around all willy-nilly in a pan while omelets were carefully prepared by gently folding the beaten eggs. Part of her had to admit that it was the romantic streak in her that insisted they were omelets as she would never make just scrambled eggs for Seven of Nine.

 

Kathryn thought it was interesting that she could hardly program anything edible from a replicator, but she could make such delicious food over a campfire. She supposed in a way it proved her mother was right. The Janeways were meant to be traditionalists.

 

"Thank you, Lieutenant," Janeway said politely as she slid the omelets onto two plates and scooped up a couple of clean forks.

 

She tried not to grin when she noticed that most of the crew had lined up for dinner at the other two cook fires. Apparently she wasn’t the only one not in the mood for Klingon porridge.

 

Kathryn crossed the compound, glancing at the horizon as she did, and noticed that the sun was starting its descent. Thick clouds loomed on the horizon ensuring there would be no moon that night. It would be dark in about two hours and that meant she had an hour before her meeting with the senior officers. They met at the same time each evening to compare notes, advise each other what supplies had been discovered and catch up on any other pertinent business.

 

Stepping through the open hatch into Nemo was like stepping into a sauna. The heat was stifling and still. After taking a second to adjust to the heat Kathryn set off down the corridor on deck two toward sickbay. The pneumatic doors into the medical bay were closed to maintain the climate-controlled air, but the power supply was tuned to the doors as well as the environmental controls. The doors opened when Kathryn neared and it took another second of adjustment when she stepped into the comparatively chilled air.

 

Then she saw Seven of Nine across the room and all worries for her crew dropped away for a few precious minutes.

 

"Hey there," she said with a huge smile when she saw Seven was awake. "I brought dinner."

 

She didn’t ask if Seven was hungry because she knew she probably wasn’t. Seven hadn’t been hungry since the accident, but Janeway always made her eat anyway. It was important for her to keep up as much strength as possible.

 

Kathryn pulled up a rollaway tray and placed both plates and forks on it before she pulled the strap of the canteen off her shoulder.

 

"This looks wonderful, Kathryn."

 

Janeway was surprised by the enthusiasm for mere food; something Seven hadn’t shown before. Then she suddenly understood why and laughed out loud. "I guess it beats Starfleet rations at that."

 

"Has the crew been able to find ample food supplies?"

 

"Ample enough," Kathryn said handing Seven a fork and picking up her own. "We could subsist entirely on Starfleet rations, but I think if we tried the crew would mutiny. This planet provides ample variety so it only makes sense that we use more organic foodstuffs than use up our rations."

 

"I am sure the crew appreciates that," Seven said and attempted to scoop up a portion of omelet onto her fork. Her hand shook slightly and the morsel dropped away. Frustrated, Seven sat the fork on the plate and reached shakily for the water canteen.

Kathryn didn’t comment, but was silently disturbed that Seven seemed to be even weaker than before. She put the bite on her fork into her mouth before she set her plate down and stood to help Seven with the canteen.

 

 

Chapter 3

 

Captain Janeway was up before the doctor was scheduled to knock on the door. She had time to dress, clean her teeth and contact B’Elanna briefly before the tap on the entrance came.

 

"Come in, Doctor."

 

Doctor Martin entered and looked around in the gloom before he spotted the captain. "Ah, there you are. No problems last night I presume?"

 

"None. Seven regenerated for three hours and then slept soundly the rest of the night."

 

The EMH nodded and said, "Shall we get started?"

 

Janeway followed him into her sleeping quarters, happy to see that Seven was already awake. She was sitting up against the headboard with the blanket pulled up to her waist.

 

"Good morning, Seven."

 

"Doctor."

 

"How are you feeling?"

 

"Stronger."

 

"My, aren’t you monosyllabic this morning?" he asked merrily as he began taking some scans.

 

Seven chose not to comment and merely smiled gently at Kathryn. Janeway felt her heart soar just as it always did when Seven looked at her in that special way. They waited quietly while the doctor took his readings.

 

"Well?" Janeway prompted when the doctor finally closed his tricorder.

 

"I’m happy to report your nanoprobes are no longer in stasis. Nanoprobe activity is up eleven percent."

 

"Eleven percent? Is that all?"

 

"Captain, I assure you that eleven percent is significant. Now that the nanoprobes are active their energy will increase exponentially each time Seven regenerates."

 

"He is right, Kathryn. As long as there is no further damage the nanoprobes should be fully operational in a few days."

 

When the captain didn’t respond Martin said to Seven, "You’ll need to regenerate again this morning. When the cycle is complete I’ll be here to help you into bed and monitor your progress throughout the day. I assume when the captain is off duty she’ll prefer to attend those duties herself?"

 

Janeway bit her tongue with difficulty. The doctor was trying to be discreet, even if it didn’t really sound like it. She decided she should be grateful Seven was doing so well and just go with it. "You assume correctly, Doctor. Now if you’re finished?"

 

"Of course." Doctor Martin turned back to Seven and said, "If you continue to improve at this rate I’d like to schedule you for surgery the day after tomorrow, to replace your eyepiece."

 

Seven’s face lit up at the prospect of being whole once again and Kathryn wondered if the day could possibly get any better.

 

"I would…like that. Thank you, doctor."

 

Kathryn walked with the doctor to the door and just before he left said, "Thank you, Doctor Martin. I know I speak for Seven as well as myself when I say there is no one else who could have saved Seven’s life. We’re indebted to you."

 

"There’s really no need to thank me, Captain." For once the doctor actually sounded humble. "Seven means a lot to me, both of you do. I’m glad I could help."

 

The doctor had just left when there was a muted thump against the door.

 

Janeway turned back to the doors and said, "Come in?"

 

"I can’t! My hands are full."

 

Kathryn smiled and keyed the door for Lieutenant Torres. The Klingon engineer carried the large padd Janeway had requested from her earlier while Seven was still asleep. She had turned the padd upside down and utilized it as a tray to carry two meals, cups of brownish liquid and utensils.

 

"Breakfast, B’Elanna?" Kathryn asked, happily. "You didn’t have to do that."

 

"Oh, yes I did. You’ve been crankier and crankier without your coffee so I brought you a substitute. Where’s Seven?"

 

"In the bedroom."

 

Without being invited B’Elanna walked into the bedroom and right up beside Seven. "Good thing you’re still laying around. Now you can hold this. The padd you wanted is on the bottom so now you can quit your bitching," she said cheerfully.

 

Torres placed the padd on Seven’s lap and snatched up one of the mugs to hand it to Janeway. "It’s not coffee, it’s tea. Apparently Lieutenant Buell found the leaves yesterday."

 

"Lieutenant Buell from the alpha team? I thought those were some kind of spinach leaves."

 

Janeway didn’t really care for spinach, but knew from eating Neelix’s leola root stew that sometimes nutritious didn’t equal good taste. She left the gathering of the leaves to Buell while she helped Ensign Mossler load the blue, spotted eggs into her satchel.

 

"He did, too," B’Elanna chuckled. "It was only when he tried to boil some last night and they disintegrated that he took them to the doctor for additional scans. The doctor didn’t confirm they were safe for consumption as a drink until a few hours ago. Seems he was holding out on giving his approval because it has too much caffeine."

 

"Sound perfect," Kathryn said enthusiastically and took a healthy swig.

 

The tea had a strong mint flavor, but wasn’t overpowering. It was good and hot, too, and Kathryn felt like the vice that had been pressing on her temples for days suddenly lessened in intensity. She knew of Seven’s preference for tea and smiled encouragement at the other woman.

 

"It’s not Earl Grey, but it tastes wonderful."

 

Seven carefully picked up her cup. She took another look at Janeway enjoying the beverage before she took a sip. Finally she said, "I like it."

 

"What?" B’Elanna asked, "Not just acceptable?"

 

"I am attempting to adopt a more relaxed speech pattern when I am alone with those I consider friends…or family."

 

B’Elanna positively beamed at that pronouncement. But instead of commenting on it she said, "I recommend we call it Safe Haven Deep Forest mint blend."

 

"Your title is…verbose. Perhaps simply the Safe Haven blend?"

 

Torres looked offended by the modification until she finally said, "I see your sense of humor is coming back."

 

"How about a compromise," Kathryn offered. "Safe Haven Mint blend."

 

"Agreed."

 

"Fine," B’Elanna grunted. "Well, enjoy your breakfast. Now that I’ve got my engineering team back it’s high time we got the emergency power running throughout the ship."

 

"Do you believe you will be successful?"

 

"We can hope, Seven. Captain," B’Elanna said politely and left.

 

Janeway pulled a high backed chair from the kitchen into the bedroom. She sat beside Seven and took one of the plates on her lap. It wasn’t an omelet, but at least it wasn’t Klingon gruel. Someone had managed to make a meal of various boiled vegetables that actually tasted buttery. It was delicious and Kathryn watched with barely veiled delight as Seven cleaned her plate. When they were finished she cleaned away their dishes and sat close to Seven while they drank their tea.

 

"Kathryn, would you tell me about the planet? I haven’t seen it."

 

"Of course, Seven."

 

Kathryn thought for a moment before she began. Seven had been injured before they landed on the planet. She wanted to be clear in her description and let Seven know not only how the planet looked, but how vibrant it was, how it made her feel.

 

"It’s a beautiful planet, Annika. The grass and the leaves of the trees are a deep, bluish green. Tree trunks stand well over ten meters in places and are alive with birds and other forest creatures. At night you can hear animals as they cry out to each other."

 

"No doubt they are carnivorous."

 

Kathryn laughed. "Probably. Maybe they’re this world’s version of coyotes. I don’t know. But this planet is so…vivacious. Birds sing during the day and insects chirp at night. The stream beside Nemo is teaming with all manner of aquatic species."

 

"It sounds as though you are beginning to embrace this planet."

 

"You mean would I be happy to stay here indefinitely? Well, it may come to that. There would certainly be far poorer choices, but no. If there’s any way to get off this planet we will. As soon as you’re on your feet it’s almost a guarantee. I simply meant we were very lucky to find this planet."

 

"But, we did not find it," Seven pointed out. "We merely crashed here."

 

"Then we’re lucky we crashed on it. The delta quadrant isn’t known to be very forgiving and to find a planet that isn’t hostile while providing everything we need to keep the crew healthy is a blessing. Remember that."

 

"I will. Thank you for telling me about Safe Haven."

 

Kathryn smiled and leaned over to kiss Seven briefly. "You’re welcome, my love. Now, do you want me to help you with a sonic shower before you regenerate?"

 

"Is the shower functional in here?"

 

"No. I’m afraid, we’d have to use the habitat outside."

 

"In that case I believe I will wait."

 

"All right. Let me help you into the alcove then. I’ll have to go soon so I can check in with Tuvok and A’zal before I head for the shuttle bay."

 

Before transporting Seven to her quarters the night before Janeway had filled her in on the repairs to the Stingray and their plans to map the area with the shuttle’s sensors.

 

"Be careful, Kathryn. While beautiful, Safe Haven is still an untamed planet."

 

"I promise." Kathryn retrieved Seven’s uniform and helped her to dress. Then she helped her over to the alcove.

 

She typed in the regeneration sequence, but didn’t activate it. Instead she walked over to Seven and slipped her arms around her neck. Both leaned forward until their lips met.

 

Kathryn indulged in the kiss until she felt Seven begin to tremble. Her legs were still weak and Kathryn didn’t want to tire her unnecessarily. "I’ll see you in a few hours. I love you."

 

"I love you, Kathryn."

 

Janeway stepped down and activated the alcove. She spared her lover a final fond glance before she left their quarters.

 

***

"Janeway to Commander Tuvok," Kathryn said tapping her combadge.

 

"Tuvok here."

 

"I’m going to grab something to drink and I’ll meet you in the shuttle bay in five minutes. You can brief me on the crew’s status before epsilon team leaves."

 

"Understood."

 

Harry Kim looked up and smiled when he saw the captain walking toward the cook fire. She grinned back before she dropped down onto one knee beside him.

 

"How are you doing, Harry?" she asked clapping him on the shoulder.

 

"I’m fine, Captain."

 

"Really? You look tired." Kathryn felt a twinge of regret that she hadn’t had time to speak to him lately and was worried he was working too hard. He tended to overcompensate when in a crisis situation and sometimes Kathryn felt he worked even longer hours than she did. The day was barely getting started and he looked worn out.

 

"I’m just not adjusted to how long the days are on this planet yet. Guess I’m too accustomed to a twenty-four hour rotation. I’m sure I’ll get used to thirty-two soon enough."

 

"I’m sure you’re right," Kathryn said kindly. It wasn’t as if there was a lot of choice in the matter.

 

"How’s Seven?"

 

"Holding her own. I’ll tell her you were asking about her. B’Elanna managed to get partial power restored to her alcove and she was able to regenerate for three hours last night. The doctor said her nanoprobe activity is up eleven percent."

 

"Ah, good. I’m glad B’Elanna got those power feeds figured out," Harry said absently.

 

"So you knew about that?"

 

"Didn’t everyone?"

 

Janeway was warmed by the thought that apparently the entire crew was so concerned for Seven that it wasn’t even an issue to expend resources in an effort to restore her to health. To cover the rush of emotion Kathryn cleared her throat and changed the subject. "By the way, you wouldn’t happen to know where I could find some of that tea B’Elanna brought us earlier?"

 

Harry was already leaning over holding a pan he had just taken from the fire. Wordlessly he reached for the captain’s empty mug and poured the contents of the pan into it. "If anyone asks you didn’t get this from me. I’ve been telling everyone that we’re out, but I was saving the last cup for you."

 

"My lips are sealed."

 

Kathryn took the cup and grinned again as she walked away. She would have to keep her eyes open for more tea leaves while they were out scouting around. What would be even better was if they were to find coffee beans. Now that would be a true miracle!

 

She took another sip of the minty tea and shivered slightly in the morning breeze. Down by the stream Tom Paris, Tamun Elbrun and Jonas Wahl struggled with a bulky crate made from tree branches. Paris slid on a rock and would have fallen into the creek if Elbrun hadn’t grabbed him by the elbow. The trio was laughing and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

 

Oh yeah, she thought. Things could be far worse.

 

Janeway walked around the ship to the open bay doors. Voices came from inside the shuttle bay. All members of the epsilon team were there along with Commanders Tuvok and A’zal. Karri Jameson could be seen through the transparent aluminum of the Stingray.

 

"Commanders," Janeway greeted.

 

"Good morning, Captain," Tuvok said politely. A’zal merely nodded while Tuvok began to brief the captain.

 

"There were no security breaches during the night. Crewman Spunkmeyer sprained his ankle in the darkness, but the doctor easily repaired the injury. Alpha team left camp twenty minutes ago. They appeared to be in somewhat of a hurry. Ensign Buell said something about tea."

 

Janeway smirked, but concealed it as she sipped from her mug.

 

"Epsilon team is boarding the Stingray and Lieutenant Jameson has already conducted the pre-launch sequence."

 

"And what about beta team? Was that the fish trap you mentioned last night that I saw Paris with?"

 

"Yes. If the trap is properly placed in the shallows it should be successful. The other half of the team will concentrate on snaring small game with a few kilometers of camp. Once the team gains hunting experience we will move on to larger game."

 

"Well, larger animals would feed the whole crew more easily." The whole idea sickened her and Kathryn hoped all the replicators would be fully powered before that happened. "Very well, Commander. I’ll let you know what we find. Good hunting."

 

Janeway started to go, but Commander A’zal stopped her.

 

"Captain, Ensign Mossler has already reported aboard the shuttle."

 

Damn! So close!

 

"Why thank you, Commander," the captain said dryly. "I’d hate to forget my bodyguard."

 

A’zal was just like her father. Even on a planet devoid of other sentient life they refused to let her have any fun.

 

Janeway stepped into the Stingray and Crewman Kim Malone sealed the hatch before she took her place at the aft science station. Lieutenant Jameson manned the helm and Crewman Haro sat at communications. The captain took the co-pilot’s seat.

 

"Where’s the rest of the team?"

 

"Lieutenant Martin is giving Mossler, Pearce and Matz a lesson on Starfleet mining equipment just in case we run across dilithium."

 

"I see." Since the trio were security personnel and not engineers that was probably a good idea. It just rankled her a little that Jameson seemed so relaxed giving her response. Most crewmen who experienced Janeway’s ire were more uptight.

 

"And Tarinia?"

 

"She’s back there, too, Captain. I guess she just wanted to listen in."

 

"Then what are we waiting for, Lieutenant?"

 

Janeway noticed her dry sarcasm finally appeared to have cracked Jameson’s veneer. The lieutenant took a deep breath before she said, "Initiating thrusters."

 

Feeling marginally better around the lieutenant, Janeway realized where part of her anger stemmed from. At least subconsciously Janeway felt Karri’s subterfuge was somehow a display of her lack of respect for the captain. That wasn’t all of it, but Kathryn was still struggling to understand why she was so angry with the lieutenant. No doubt Karri was responsible for uncovering the identity of the operative aboard Nemo, and in doing so had saved Janeway’s life. Kathryn knew she should feel grateful, but something else was bothering her. Until she could identify the root problem it was better if she didn’t bring the subject up with the lieutenant. She decided to concentrate on the mission in the mean time.

 

Although Janeway had gone over the schematics of the new shuttle this was the first time she had been in it. The Stingray lifted smoothly from the pad before it glided past the launch doors. The seat hugged her form and the control interface in front of Janeway gleamed in the morning light. She familiarized herself with the controls quickly, noticing that it would be a simple matter to take over should the pilot become disabled.

 

"Bringing sensors on line," Crewman Haro reported.

 

***

With no warning the regeneration cycle ended. Seven of Nine inhaled deeply and took an involuntary step forward before she opened her eyes. There was a brief instant of disorientation just as there had been on the previous abbreviated regeneration period. The sensation was made more intense because this time the EMH stood waiting for her instead of Kathryn. He was already running a medical tricorder over her from where he stood.

 

"Doctor."

 

"How are you feeling?" he asked, stepping forward to offer his support.

 

"Disoriented."

 

"Dizzy?"

 

"No," Seven answered quickly, responding to the alarm in his voice. "The computer customarily announces the termination of the regeneration cycle."

 

"And now it doesn’t," he said catching on. Doctor Martin helped Seven sit on the bed and said, "Completed cycles aren’t announced on a Borg vessel. Why do you suppose it bothers you now?"

 

"It has been quite some time since I regenerated on a Borg vessel. No doubt I have become accustomed to the computer’s voice."

 

"I understand. It’s a habit. Well, whether or not the computer announces the end of the cycle, regeneration definitely agrees with you. Nanoprobe activity is up to thirty-three percent. If this continues I anticipate full activity by tomorrow afternoon. We can schedule surgery to replace your eyepiece the following morning."

 

"What of my hair?"

 

Seven reached up to touch the light fuzz that had begun to grow. It felt bristly and unattractive. There had been a time when hair was irrelevant, but that was a time before Kathryn. She could still remember the appreciation in the other woman’s eyes that first time on Voyager after the doctor stimulated her hair follicles. Since becoming romantically involved Kathryn delighted in running her fingers through Seven’s long hair at every opportunity. Seven had come to luxuriate in the feel of Kathryn’s strong fingers combing through the thick locks. While they were sleeping Kathryn would curl into her and snuggle her face against Seven’s hair, inhaling the scent before falling back to sleep.

 

Since the accident Kathryn did not touch her scalp. Instead Seven could see pain in the deep blue eyes each time Kathryn looked at her. She tried to hide it, but Seven could see it in the tightening around her eyes. Not having hair was a constant reminder to Kathryn exactly how damaged Seven had been. Perhaps even more so than not having her eyepiece because Kathryn could ignore the eye as long as the bandage covered it. If it wasn’t very logical it was very human and Seven adored her particular human.

 

"Seven, hair is a human vanity. You should know that better than anyone. I think it’s more important to repair your eye rather than tax your systems further by stimulating hair follicles. I’d rather let it grow out naturally."

 

"I understand."

 

Seven must not have been quite as successful as she thought in keeping the disappointment out of her voice. The doctor heaved a sigh for purely dramatic effect. "Fine. As soon as I’ve finished replacing the eyepiece I’ll stimulate your hair to grow. Who am I to stand in the way of narcissism? Your nanoprobes should be at full capacity by then anyway."

 

Rather than correct his assumption of Seven’s vanity, she just said, "Thank you, doctor." There was no way she could make him understand why this was so important to her so why try?

 

"Well, try and get some rest. I’ll have Mister Kim bring you some lunch."

 

"I am not hungry."

 

"But you will eat anyway," he added cheerfully. "You’ll need all your strength so I can fix that eyepiece, especially if you want me to stimulate those hair follicles."

 

The doctor waved and let himself out of Seven’s quarters.

 

Disgruntled at how skillfully she had been manipulated into eating the next few days, Seven could only climb back into bed as she had been ordered. She had regenerated twice in addition to sleeping for five hours and was far from sleepy. Instead she picked up the padd Torres had brought that morning and powered it up. She had a lot of work to catch up on since Nemo crashed six days ago.

 

Chapter 4

 

Midday found epsilon team on top of a mountain two hundred kilometers from base camp. It was so much easier to map the terrain with the Stingray’s sensors, but even with them they hadn’t found so much as a molecule of dilithium. Sensors did show that the only evidence of an ion trail belonged to the Nemo when it entered orbit six days ago. It was beginning to look like they could well and truly be on their own.

 

Without sophisticated weaponry to defend themselves that was probably a good thing, Kathryn thought. She wasn’t about to delude herself into thinking the sentient life they were likely to encounter in this quadrant would be benevolent. The delta quadrant just didn’t work that way.

 

The captain leaned against a tree with her arms folded, scuffing her toe in the dirt as she thought about their options. Epsilon team sat in a loose circle enjoying lunch. The Stingray sat not far away with the cargo hatch open. While scanning the area the team would periodically set down and add to their food surplus. They had even found a cache of the tealeaves Ensign Buell had discovered the day before. Janeway decided the leaves were a priority and had the team gather as many of them as they could find.

 

Karri Jameson stood up from the group and walked toward Captain Janeway. Kathryn watched her approach but didn’t shift from her position. Quietly the engineer offered her captain the water canteen. Janeway sipped from the canteen while she waited to hear what Jameson had to say.

 

"Captain, can we talk?"

 

Janeway shifted her eyes toward the rest of the team and decided they were far enough away as long as they kept their voices down.

"Are you sure you want to do this now, Lieutenant?"

 

Karri grinned crookedly and admitted, "Not really, but I think we need to resolve this."

 

"And which part would you like to resolve? The part where you lied about why you were on my ship?"

 

Kathryn held her anger in check with difficulty. The question was tightly contained, but Jameson flinched anyway.

 

"I’m sorry I had to keep my mission a secret, Captain, but it was my job."

 

"What I don’t understand is why you had to keep it a secret from me. Did you think you couldn’t trust me?"

 

"It’s not that," Karri said regretfully. "I didn’t know how closely the operative was monitoring internal communications and until I could identify who that was I just couldn’t take the chance. I came to you as soon as I found out her identity."

 

"And what about before that?"

 

"Captain?"

 

"Exactly how long have you been with Starfleet Internal Security?"

 

Jameson frowned, wondering where the captain was going with that question. "I don’t understand."

 

Captain Janeway could feel her anger heating up again. She had been trying to rein in her temper around the lieutenant for days, but everything came surging to the surface. "Were you an undercover operative when you were onboard Voyager, too? Tell me, was I so gullible that you were able to conceal your true mission for seven years in the delta quadrant?"

 

Both of them were startled by the question. Until she said it Kathryn didn’t realize that was the true reason for her anger. For years their survival had hinged on the instincts of the captain and her crew. If Jameson really were an operative all that time Janeway would have to question those instincts. She would have to second-guess herself continually as they struggled to get home once again. It was completely unacceptable for a captain to question every decision that had to be made during the course of a day. She might as well hand command over to Tuvok.

 

"No ma’am. I swear to you that I didn’t start training with Starfleet Security until Voyager returned to the alpha quadrant." Karri seemed to understand exactly what her admission meant to the captain and looked intently into her eyes attempting to convey her sincerity.

 

Captain Janeway read the truth in Karri’s green eyes and finally looked away. "Thank you for telling me that, Lieutenant."

 

Kathryn let her breath out and along with it felt her anger dissolve. Lieutenant Jameson seemed to feel it too. Her shoulders relaxed and Janeway realized how tense the lieutenant had been. Janeway wasn’t completely over the sting of the subterfuge, but at least now she could stand back a little and understand that Jameson’s actions had been necessary. Right now there were more important things than her wounded pride.

 

"Come on. We still have a ways to go before the end of shift."

 

Janeway had decided epsilon team would map the topography of the planet in sectors. It might take a little longer, but in this case accuracy was more important than speed. Not only were they searching for any minerals needed for Nemo’s critical systems, but anything else the crew could use for survival. Gathering supplies in individual satchels was all well and good, but with almost fifty mouths to feed loading provisions into the cargo hold made things a lot easier. For the last few days it had been a difficult task to keep everyone fed and the last thing they needed in such a complicated situation was a hungry crew.

 

Epsilon team lifted off again and spent the rest of the day adding to their supplies. Toward the end of shift Janeway was disappointed that they still hadn’t found anything they could use to power the replicators or warp core.

 

"I think it’s time to head home, Lieutenant."

 

The cargo hold was full of tealeaves, banana-like fruit, eggs and even some wild stalks of what Ensign Collins called corn. The kernels were slightly larger than traditional corn and were a dark orange color. They were also slightly chalky in texture, but had a sweet taste. Janeway thought the corn would be fine once cooked, but would no doubt taste better if they had some butter to go on it. It was too bad the replicators were so low on power.

 

"Aye, Captain," Karri said. "I’m just sorry we didn’t find any dilithium crystals."

 

"Or even a kilo of raw ore," Haro said from communications.

 

If subsisting on berries, tubers and mint tea was hard on the crew in general it was even worse for the Bolians. Bolians had a cartilaginous lining on their tongues as well as a dual digestive tract. As a result they required heavily spiced food and twice as much as other crewmembers. If Janeway thought she was going to bed hungry each night the Bolians probably felt like they were starving.

 

"We will," the captain assured the blue-skinned woman. "I know there’s dilithium on this planet. We just have to find it."

 

"I believe you, Captain, but the problem is going to be in finding it in both forms. Usually dilithium exists in ore or crystals on a planet, rarely both. I think I’m with Haro on this one. I’d prefer to have the ore," Jameson said.

 

"To power the replicators. I agree. If we had to we could search for crystals on other planets in the sector with the Stingray, but without ore for the replicators we won’t be able to finish repairs."

 

"Or have anything decent to eat," Haro mumbled, unaware that the captain overheard.

 

"Approaching camp," Karri reported.

 

"Bring us in slow, Lieutenant."

 

"Dropping to one quarter thruster power."

 

The Stingray landed easily in the shuttle bay with hardly a bump. Captain Janeway headed to the rear of the cabin with Jameson and Haro behind her. "See that the supplies get sorted, Lieutenant. Mister Kim set up a cooling unit yesterday for perishables so you can take the eggs to him."

 

"Aye, Captain. Those banana things might need to be refrigerated, too. I’ll see to it."

 

While Karri set about organizing their supplies Janeway turned back into the main body of the shuttle. With a perfectly good head available she had no intention of squatting in the woods again right now.

 

After using the facilities Kathryn splashed some cool water on her face and then looked up into the mirror. She was startled to see a few more lines around her eyes and decided that roughing it definitely didn’t agree with her. She couldn’t wait until Nemo was back in space where it belonged. Maybe then they could all get some quality rest.

 

She thought of Seven lying in their quarters and wondered if she should take advantage of the momentary privacy to contact her. If Seven was regenerating she wouldn’t answer, but as much as she had been resting lately it was unlikely. Seven had expressed boredom recently and if Kathryn knew her as well as she thought she did Seven wasn’t sleeping. It was more likely she was working away on her padd at this moment.

 

Kathryn reached up and tapped her combadge. "Janeway to Seven of Nine."

 

"Seven here, Captain."

 

The response was so immediate that Kathryn grinned. She just knew Seven would be going against doctor’s orders and if she was doing that then the doctor was nowhere around! "How are you feeling, Darling?"

 

"Much better, Kathryn. The doctor left only moments ago. He says my nanoprobes are now at sixty-two percent capacity. In addition they have begun to bolster my Borg implants."

 

"That’s wonderful," Janeway said beaming. She was so relieved that tears pricked the backs of her eyes. "I’m going to check in with engineering to see how repairs are going, but then I thought I might interest you in dinner."

 

"I would enjoy that."

 

"Is there anything in particular you would like to eat?"

 

There was a brief pause while Seven considered the question. "Were you able to locate any more eggs?"

 

Kathryn smiled knowing even after all this time Seven preferred her food slightly on the bland side. "We found plenty of eggs, love. I’ll even bring some more of that mint tea. See you soon, darling."

 

"I look forward to it."

 

The words stated so simply were warm with feeling. Janeway closed the com link and smiled all the way to engineering. Her mood sustained by the fact that engineering was on the same deck and she wouldn’t have to climb through a Jeffries tube.

 

"Doctor Brahms, Lieutenant Torres," Janeway greeted when she walked into engineering. How are repairs coming along?"

 

"A lot faster now that we’ve got all that plasma out of the way," Doctor Brahms said.

 

"Yeah. The rest of the power feeds have been repaired except the ones to the deflector array and the sensors of course. Those system will have to be completely rebuilt."

 

The sensors were tied into the deflector dish and had been destroyed on impact along with the array itself.

 

"I understand. Emergency power?"

 

Although Brahms was the lead scientist she was perfectly happy to defer to the excited chief engineer. "We’ve got emergency power, communications and environmental controls working. We even have the shields at thirty-one percent. Anyone who wants to can sleep in their quarters tonight, as long as they don’t mind climbing through the Jeffries tubes to get there."

 

"No power to the turbolift?" Janeway teased.

 

"It wasn’t a priority," B’Elanna returned dryly.

 

"Good work, but don’t get too excited. We still need to conserve as much energy as we can."

 

"I take it you didn’t find any dilithium," Doctor Brahms said.

 

"Maybe epsilon team will have better luck tomorrow, but at least the crew can sleep behind partial shields tonight. Just remind them to use the habitats for showers."

 

"And the latrines, too," Torres added impishly. "That’s all right, Captain. I don’t think the crew will mind. Just being back inside will be a big morale boost."

 

"I’ll leave you to it then. I’m going to get some dinner for Seven before our meeting."

 

"We already ate, Captain. If you don’t mind, Doctor Brahms and I would like to keep working here after the meeting."

 

"That’s fine, B’Elanna, but make sure you all get some sleep. We’re all pretty strung out right now and I don’t need people collapsing from exhaustion."

 

"We will, Captain. Thanks."

 

Janeway walked back toward the shuttle bay to exit Nemo. The camp was starting to wind down for the day and crewmen were sitting around talking in small groups. She collected the promised eggs and tea from Lieutenant Kim before heading for her quarters. Again Janeway didn’t have to take the Jeffries tube but entered from the hanger bay. Whether it was by design or just blind luck the main hanger bay was even with the engineering deck, while the upper level came out on deck three. Since Nemo was only six decks in total, Kathryn decided it had to be blind luck. At any rate she easily carried two meals to her quarters.

 

"Hi there," she said when she walked in and found Seven seated in the living quarters. "I thought you were supposed to be resting."

 

Seven looked up and sat her padd aside with a smile. "I am resting. I am merely resting here now."

 

"Tired of being in bed, huh?"

 

"Yes. I do not understand why the doctor insists I must rest in bed," Seven groused.

 

"He’s just worried about you. We all are." Kathryn sat the tray on the coffee table before she leaned over to kiss Seven gently. Then she walked around and sat beside Seven on the sofa.

 

"What are you working on?"

 

Seven picked up her fork and said, "I interfaced the padd with B’Elanna’s console in main engineering and have been assisting with repairs to the computer core."

 

"You didn’t have to do that," Kathryn said taking a bite of her stew. It turned out to be an interesting mixture of some kind of fish and tenderly cooked vegetables. The soup was surprisingly good and she began to eat with more enthusiasm. She had opted for the soup for variety’s sake while bringing Seven the eggs she had promised.

 

"Do you mind that I am helping with repairs?"

 

"Not at all. I just don’t want you to over do it."

 

"I promise I will not," Seven said, touched by Kathryn’s concern.

 

While they consumed their meals Seven updated Janeway on the details of the repairs B’Elanna hadn’t mentioned. Kathryn wasn’t concerned knowing Torres was probably saving the boring bits for the senior staff meeting and she appreciated being able to learn the details from Seven in this more intimate setting.

 

According to Seven shields would be restored to full capacity in the morning. Then Seven said something that made Kathryn choke.

 

"Since my nanoprobes will be operating at full capacity tomorrow afternoon the doctor believes he can replace my Borg eyepiece the following morning."

 

After Janeway cleared the fish stew from her lungs she asked huskily, "Isn’t that a little soon? Shouldn’t you take a few more days to recover?"

 

"Kathryn, my nanoprobes are already repolarizing my implants. Tomorrow they will be fully functional, and…"

 

Seven seemed a little embarrassed which only served to make Kathryn supremely curious. "And?"

 

"I want the doctor to perform the surgery," Seven admitted in a small voice.

 

Kathryn put her fork down and turned toward Seven. With her fingertips under Seven’s chin she gently urged the other woman to meet her gaze.

 

"What is it, darling?"

 

"I want my eyepiece replaced, Kathryn. I feel unattractive without the eye and I don’t want to be unattractive to you."

 

"Oh, darling, don’t you know? You could never be unattractive to me. I love you, so very much."

 

Janeway leaned closer and gently kissed Seven’s full lips. When she pulled away she said, "If you want the surgery the day after tomorrow then you’ll have the surgery. Do you want me to be with you?"

 

"Yes, but are you sure you do not need to be with one of the provision teams?"

 

"They’ll make do without me," Kathryn said softly. "Nothing is more important than this."

 

"Thank you, Kathryn."

 

"You are more than welcome, my love." Kathryn kissed her once more before she urged Seven to finish her dinner.

 

"Would you like to take a shower this evening? B’Elanna has emergency power restored throughout the ship now. You could take it in here instead of having to go outside."

 

"Is that not an unnecessary expenditure of energy?" Seven asked.

 

"If it were anyone else in the crew I would say yes, but then again no one else in the crew was injured. If someone had been injured like you were I can assure you I would authorize it for them as well."

 

Seven could have said that no one else would have survived the injury she had sustained, but knew it would only hurt Kathryn to point that out. Instead she asked, "Will you shower with me?"

 

"Well, you still don’t have any depth perception. It would be negligent of me if I allowed you to be injured by showering alone."

 

"That is very logical," Seven said appreciatively.

 

"I thought so," Kathryn grinned. "Now if only I could get a clean uniform."

 

"Why don’t you bring the uniform into the shower with us?"

 

"Darling, as much as I would love a clean uniform I draw the line at showering with it on."

 

"Kathryn, that is not what I meant," Seven admonished. "If you hang the uniform on the towel bar the sonic pulses will dissolve the dirt and sweat while we shower."

 

Since Janeway still maintained a nightstand full of underwear and pajamas she could still wear clean clothes to bed. It would have been a bitter disappointment to have to put her ripe smelling uniform back on.

 

"That’s brilliant. I never would have thought of that. Well, I better get back outside. It’s almost time for the meeting and I want to check in with Tuvok before we shower. After we get clean I don’t want to have to put my uniform back on until in the morning."

 

***

Karri finished getting the supplies organized before she picked up a basket and walked over toward Harry Kim. Kim was kneeling by a cooking fire stirring a pot of soup.

 

"Hey, Harry. How’s it going?"

 

"Hi, Karri. I think it’s getting easier. Now that all the basics have been set everybody’s getting into a routine."

 

"Yeah, I just wish Janeway would let me go back to engineering. I’m a lube jockey, not a team leader."

 

"I know what you mean. I’d rather be back behind my console, too. Can’t have everything, I guess. So, what have you got there?"

 

Karri handed him the basket. "Some fruits and vegetables we found. They’re kind of like bananas and corn. Got some eggs, too. Janeway said you’re using one of the cooling units for perishables?"

 

"Yeah, it’s over there. Why don’t you put the eggs up and I’ll get you some of this soup. Beta team caught some really big fish and we extended it by making soup with some potatoes and other vegetables. It’s pretty good. The crew seems to like it."

 

"Sounds good. We found some more of those tealeaves. They’re in the bottom of the basket there."

 

Karri walked over and placed the eggs into the cooling unit. She walked back over to Lieutenant Kim and squatted down beside him.

"You didn’t even ask if we found dilithium."

 

"I figured you would have told me if you found any."

 

"Huh."

 

"What?"

 

"You just surprised me, that’s all. Usually you’re the one who’s focused on any possibility of getting home."

 

Harry shrugged. "I guess I’m so used to this now, it seems like just another day. You know how it was on Voyager."

 

"Right. Just don’t give up, okay?"

 

"It’s not that," Harry said. "After everything we’ve been through with Captain Janeway I just know it’s not if we get home, but when."

 

"You really trust her, don’t you?"

 

"Unconditionally."

 

"Yeah. I know what you mean. Say, have you seen B’Elanna lately?"

 

"She was here about twenty minutes ago. She took two bowls of soup for her and Doctor Brahms. They’ll probably pull a double after the meeting."

 

Thinking about the possibilities Karri said, "Since I’ll be officially off shift then maybe I’ll help out. It would be nice to get my hands dirty again."

 

"We’ve got some time until the meeting. Do you want something to eat?"

 

"I’d be more interested in some tea."

 

Harry handed Karri a pot. "You get some water and I’ll make you the first cup."

 

"Deal," Karri grinned and jumped up.

 

She decided to walk upstream for a bit to make sure the water was as clean as possible. She didn’t see anyone around and walked through the trees and high grass down to the water’s edge. Karri had just squatted beside the stream when she heard voices.

 

"Tom," a feminine voice said breathlessly, "anyone could see us."

 

"You worry too much. Everyone’s eating dinner. Relax, Tamun."

 

Karri felt her hackles rise when she turned her head and saw the couple. Paris had the dark haired Betazoid pressed up against a tree. His mouth was latched onto her neck and her head was back, her eyes closed. From the leaves in their hair and grass on their uniforms Karri guessed they had been rolling on the ground. Tamun’s tunic was open and her t-shirt un-tucked. Tom had his back to Karri, but while she watched he reached down to unsnap her trousers. The Betazoid probably hadn’t sensed Karri’s approach because she was too preoccupied.

 

"Paris!" Karri shouted, dropping the pot and lunging to her feet.

 

Paris and Elbrun wrenched guiltily apart and the junior lieutenant started straightening her uniform.

 

"Jameson! It’s not what you think." Paris wiped his mouth and chuckled nervously. His eyes shifted back and forth as he thought desperately for an explanation. "We were just…"

 

"I know exactly what you were doing, you weasel! I just didn’t think you were stupid enough to do it out in the open where anyone could see it."

 

"Now wait a minute!"

 

"Shut up!" Karri looked at Lieutenant Elbrun. "And you. You’re a Betazoid! Can’t you sense what a bastard he is? He’s married and has a kid and his wife happens to be on this ship. What do you think she’s going to do to you when she finds out?"

 

Elbrun’s eyes went wide with sudden fear. Karri didn’t know if Tamun was reacting to the sudden realization of how bad a Klingon temper could be or the implied threat in her voice. Either way, the woman suddenly flushed red.

 

"Get out of here, now!"

 

Elbrun didn’t argue, but left rather quickly.

 

The time Karri spent chastising Tamun seemed to be all Paris needed to regain his equilibrium. "I’ll remind you, Lieutenant, that I out rank you. You’re being insubordinate talking to me like that."

 

"Oh, shut up before I kick the shit out of you. I don’t give a Cardassian fig about your rank."

 

"My personal life is none of your business."

 

"It might not be if you were at all discreet, but now you’re just flaunting it. B’Elanna is a friend of mine and I will not have you dishonor her where anyone can see it."

 

"Who are you kidding?" Paris shot back angrily. "Friend? Hah! You never got over the fact that I took her away from you. I bet you’re thrilled right now. I bet you think if she finds out about this you’ll finally be able to fuck her!"

 

Karri let the punch fly before she even thought about it. Her fist connected with his nose and she felt a satisfying crunch. Blood spurted as he fell down cupping his face with both hands.

 

"Go ahead and report me if you want. I’d love to see you explaining it to Janeway," Karri panted. Her adrenaline was running so high it was hard to take a proper breath. "Be glad I was the one who caught you. If it had been one of the Klingons they’d have gutted you on the spot."

 

Tom put his bloody hands on the ground to stand up and Karri got a good look at the front of his uniform.

 

"Button your fly before you go back to camp," she said in disgust.

 

Paris zipped up before he knelt by the stream to wash the blood off his hands, but he could do little to stem the flow from his nose. His eyes never left her face and Karri saw the flesh around them was already starting to blacken.

 

"This isn’t over, Jameson," he said in his best threatening tone after he finished washing up.

 

"It is for us. You might want to hurry and get to sickbay. I doubt you want to show up at a staff meeting with a busted nose and two black eyes. That would make it rather obvious that someone kicked your worthless ass."

 

Tom started to respond, but thought better of it and closed his mouth. Karri thought it was probably the smartest decision he had made lately, but she wasn’t finished with him yet.

 

"Oh, and Paris? B’Elanna will find out because you are going to tell her. You have until this time tomorrow or I’ll tell her myself."

 

"If you’re going to tell her anyway, why should I?" he asked scathingly.

 

"Do you think a Klingon would take it better coming from her husband or a third party?" Karri asked in a deceptively calm tone. "Either way, you probably won’t survive."

 

The last comment finally seemed to drive home that he was in very serious trouble. Tom walked quietly toward camp and Karri was more than a little pleased to see his shoulders hunched.

 

Karri turned her back after Tom was out of sight and shook her hand. "Ow!"

 

Looking down she saw that her knuckles were swollen, but she still felt good about punching him. Karri squatted down and put her hand in the cold stream water and waited for her anger to subside. She would have done anything to avoid bringing pain to B’Elanna, but it was done now. All she could do was try to be there for Torres when she needed support. Paris might be a pig, but he was right when he said B’Elanna chose him over Karri. Even if by some miracle B’Elanna later decided she wanted to be with her, Karri would always be second best.

 

Six years of practice helped Karri push her misery deep inside. For several minutes she did nothing but let her hand soak and listen to the sounds of the forest around her. When Karri felt she had her emotions under control she filled the pan with water and walked back to camp.

 

Harry was still by the fire. She watched him scoop soup onto a plate for Ensign Patterson before he was left alone at the fire again. Kim didn’t look up when Karri sat the pot on the fire in front of him.

 

"I saw Paris," he said, dropping tealeaves into the water.

 

Karri sighed and sat on a rock next to him. Flexing her sore hand she asked, "Why do you let him get away with it, Harry?"

 

"Tom Paris is an idiot." Harry’s dark eyes were as miserable as Karri felt when he finally met her gaze. ‘But he’s my friend."

 

"Yeah. So is B’Elanna."

 

Sickened now by the thought of food Karri stood and walked away.

 

Chapter 5

 

The following day proved to be more of the same disappoint for Captain Janeway. She spent another day with epsilon team hoping they would discover dilithium in any form, but it wasn’t to be. By late afternoon the Stingray was already safely parked in Nemo’s landing bay. Kathryn was disappointed not to find the minerals she needed for the ship’s critical engines, but the time spent on the Stingray allowed her to come to terms with Lieutenant Jameson’s actions. Karri had proved herself a loyal Starfleet officer and even if they weren’t exactly best friends after all this, at least things weren’t as strained as they had been.

 

Even though not pleased by their lack of success Janeway was happy to be back a little early and spend the time with Seven. With the young woman going into surgery in the morning Kathryn wanted to spend as much time with her as possible. She had an irrational fear that Seven wouldn’t survive another operation but would never admit that to her partner.

 

After a leisurely afternoon and early dinner with Seven she wandered down to engineering to check in with the repair teams. The first person she saw walking into engineering was Doctor Brahms. Lieutenant Torres was nowhere in sight and Janeway figured she was under a conduit somewhere.

 

"Doctor Brahms. How are things going?"

 

"Pretty well, Captain. B’Elanna’s a real genius when it comes to these systems. It would have taken anyone else two months to do what she’s accomplished in a week."

 

"I thought you were supposed to be the resident expert," Janeway teased. It was funny how comfortable she felt teasing the propulsion expert when she hadn’t even been sure she wanted Leah on her ship in the beginning. Kathryn supposed it just proved how perceptions could change when you were forced by circumstances to get to know someone better.

 

"Oh no," Leah said easily. "Engines are my specialty. I don’t have anything on Lieutenant Torres."

 

Just then B’Elanna stumbled backward out of a Jeffries tube and landed hard on her backside.

 

"Damn," she mumbled, then looked around quickly to make sure no one saw her fall.

 

"Oh yeah, that’s our chief." Janeway smiled. "She’s very graceful."

 

"Captain, you’re back early," B’Elanna said jumping up and making a beeline for her commanding officer.

 

"Not to mention observant," Brahms added. Grinning the scientist wandered away to leave the updates to the chief engineer.

 

"You’re in a good mood."

 

"I am. We’ve got all the repairs finished. Well, everything that we can repair at this stage."

 

"What about the deflector array and the sensors? B’Elanna, I can think of a dozen things that haven’t been fixed yet."

 

"That’s true, but without dilithium we’ve gone as far as we can. Emergency power and environmental controls are at full capacity. Shields have been restored, along with communications and the consumables re-supply connectors to the replicators. But without dilithium we can’t actually restore full operation to the replicators or create the necessary parts for any other systems."

 

"Were the ground hover foot pads damaged in the crash?"

 

The ground hover footpads would lift Nemo off the ground so that repairs to the deflector array, and sensors could be made.

 

"Not the food pads themselves since they were retracted into the ship’s belly when the crash happened, but some of the power feeds were mangled. Even if they hadn’t been we need full power restored if we want to get those things working."

 

"What about the slipstream engines and the power feeds to the warp core?"

 

"I don’t really know yet. Until we can get Nemo raised we have no way to see how much exterior damage has been done. I can tell you this; the quantum fusion matrix that tied into the slipstream engines was destroyed right along with the deflector array. The deuterium tanks might not have been badly damaged, but it’s going to take some creativity to get those engines working again."

 

"I see," Janeway said, disappointed by the news. The fusion matrix was tied directly into the navigational sensors and the sensors were part of the deflector dish. It was what allowed the computer to map the slipstream corridor fast enough to keep the ship on course. Even if they got the warp engines online it might not be possible to get the slipstream working. There was no use worrying about it now though. They would just have to deal with that problem when they came to it. The important part was to get Nemo back into space and headed toward Earth.

 

"I guess we’ll just have to hope epsilon team has better luck tomorrow. We’re going to be starting on a new sector."

 

"I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Since we’re finished here I think I’ll go visit Seven. I haven’t seen her since yesterday at breakfast."

 

"She’d like that. I’m going to check in with Tuvok now, but I’ll see you at the staff meeting, B’Elanna."

 

Janeway walked away mentally reviewing the critical systems that still needed repaired. The list was much longer than what was already done. Along with the deflector array and sensors there were weapons systems, the aft sensor platform, escape pod hatch controls, transporter emitters, the phaser strip, tractor beam emitter, warp and impulse engines and the turbolift. And those were just the main systems!

 

Deciding to concentrate on the here and now, Kathryn went to check in with Commander Tuvok. His news was much better and involved only the day-to-day business of survival.

 

Tomorrow Tom Paris would lead half of the beta team to set small snares within a kilometer of the camp. The snares had proven effective but it would take several small animals to feed the fifty-member crew. There was also the off chance that Paris’ team would be unsuccessful altogether, having never used snares before.

 

Tuvok’s half of the beta team was finally trained and moderately proficient in the use of the crude weapons he had designed. Initially the Vulcan wanted to wait until his people were completely comfortable with the crude weapons, but he finally decided to send them out in an effort minimize the loss of life to the small animal population. If one large animal could feed the crew it was preferable to taking several smaller life forms.

 

They would make a foray into the forest in the morning to try and bring down game large enough to feed the entire crew, or at least those members that could force themselves to eat it. For those that simply couldn’t abide ingesting fresh meat there were enough fruits and vegetables for them to subsist on.

 

Finally updated, Kathryn took the opportunity to walk around their camp. This was her first opportunity since being stranded on Safe Haven that she had the chance to interact with the crew on a more personal level. Occasionally she stopped and offered a word of encouragement here or there, but overall the crew seemed in good spirits.

 

Over near the woods Tom and B’Elanna stood talking. The chief engineer had removed her tunic and her folded arms were smeared with dirt and injector lube. Her eyes were on the ground as she listened to her husband and Janeway was pleased B’Elanna had taken some time to get some fresh air. No doubt B’Elanna was working so hard that she had little enough time to spend with her husband.

 

Hungry crewmen waited in lines by the cooking fires, but there definitely appeared to be a favorite. Crewman Larry Spunkmeyer dished out food to what was by far the longest line. Spunkmeyer, although a competent security officer, was equally skilled with a spatula. If he had been on Voyager he probably would have given Neelix a run for his money and there would have been fewer upset stomachs. As the resident Texan, Spunkmeyer claimed his talents for campfires and bar-b-ques were built into his genetic make-up.

 

The man always had a grin on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue, unless it was the captain he was talking to. On each of the few occasions Janeway spoke directly to him, he seemed to suddenly freeze up. Spunkmeyer would suddenly have difficulty speaking coherently or looking her in the eyes. Scaring the wits out of junior crewman wasn’t something new to Kathryn, but still secretly amused her no end.

 

Knowing what was coming Janeway already had a grin on her face when she greeted him. "Crewman Spunkmeyer, how are you? I heard you sprained an ankle the other night."

 

"C…captain Janeway," Spunkmeyer stammered, before springing to his feet. "Evenin’, Cap’n. I’m fine. I...I tripped over a crate of gol durned cackle berries, but the doc fixed me up," he gushed in a heavy southern drawl.

 

Before he could explode from the strain of speaking directly to his commanding officer, Raylene Scott saved him by distracting him with a good-natured question. "Cackle…? What the hell are cackle berries?"

 

"You know, them things what chickens lay," Larry said as though it should be obvious.

 

"Eggs? Where do you get cackle berries?"

 

"Because chickens cackle," Janeway supplied helpfully, having grown up in rural Indiana.

 

"And because they’re shaped like berries," Scott finished. "Oh, that was bad Spunkmeyer. Really bad!"

 

He was chuckling happily at the nurse’s reaction and Kathryn was pleased to see the red in his face had subsided somewhat. Others standing around who heard the exchange were also laughing and Kathryn thought his bad joke was worth it. It was no secret Larry liked to play up his accent and act like an ignorant hick, but in truth he was far from it. He had double degrees in bioengineering and astrophysics as well as a class five tactical rating. Often, his façade helped him fit into undercover situations where an enemy was likely to underestimate him.

 

"What are you serving up?" she asked curiously.

 

Spunkmeyer finally seemed able to relax a little and squatted back down by his pots. "It’s an old family recipe of sausage gravy and biscuits. Well, really that’s what I wish it was. Actually I made some corn cakes out of the stalks alpha team found, some fried potatoes and fish sticks. ‘Course those terms are relative since it isn’t really corn or potatoes, but it’ll stick to your ribs."

 

Janeway glanced around and saw everyone eagerly cleaning their plates and thought his food must be quite satisfying. "Sounds good. Now I’m sorry I tried the Klingon porridge."

 

"You’re always welcome back for a midnight snack, Cap’n."

 

"I’ll keep that in mind."

 

"What?" Lieutenant Torres shouted, drawing the attention of every crewmember present. "You slept with Lieutenant Elbrun and you want me to calm down?"

 

The captain winced at the impact of the unexpected information and watched her chief engineer shift into betrayed Klingon wife mode. Her face was flushed dark with anger and her brow ridges stood more pronounced in her fury. Had B’Elanna been carrying a batleth she would have used it without a second thought.

 

Suddenly Torres lunged forward and grabbed Paris by the front of his tunic. "This has been going on since we left space dock, hasn’t it? That’s why you’re never around!"

 

Janeway started toward the couple intent on saving her helmsman’s life, but apparently she wasn’t the only one who deemed an intervention necessary. Lieutenant Commander A’zal stepped up on one side of the couple while Harry Kim stepped up on the other.

Neither attempted to touch the enraged Klingon knowing that to do so would have set her off entirely.

 

"Release him, Lieutenant Torres," A’zal said calmly, but with a hint of steel in her voice.

 

"Yeah, right! Just as soon as I rip out his spleen!"

 

"You are being illogical."

 

Captain Janeway shook her head and started forward again. Appealing to a furious Klingon’s logic was ridiculous and the crew had learned quite enough about the couple’s marital problems. If someone didn’t break this up quickly there was going to be bloodshed.

Kathryn didn’t want to get involved since it didn’t look good for the captain to get in the middle of a lover’s spat, but keeping her officers in one piece was more important.

 

Before she could reach the small group Harry said, "Let him go, B’Elanna. He’s not worth it. Don’t sink to his level."

 

"He deserves it, Starfleet," Torres spat looking Tom threateningly in the eye while he did his best to cower in her grasp. Apparently he knew an enraged Klingon was not someone he was prepared to engage in a violent encounter with, even that Klingon was his wife!

 

"I’m sorry, B’Elanna. It didn’t mean anything, I swear!"

 

Janeway thought a particularly unwise thing to say and apparently B’Elanna agreed.

 

"P’taq! You threw our marriage away over something that meant nothing?"

 

Hands fisted in his tunic, B’Elanna lifted Paris until the tips of his toes dangled a few centimeters above the ground.

 

"B’Elanna," Harry said stepping right into her personal space next to her shoulder. "Please, let him go. You’re right. He deserves whatever you do to him, but I don’t want to see you put in the brig over him."

 

Harry finally seemed to be getting through and Janeway stepped up to the group. "Let him go, B’Elanna; if not for him, then for me. I don’t want to have to put a friend in the brig."

 

Where no one else could have gotten through, Janeway’s plea did the trick. B’Elanna let out an angry snarl before she said, "It’s all right, Captain. Harry’s right. He’s not worth it."

 

Suddenly Torres shoved Paris to the ground where he had the sense not to move. "If I were a full Klingon no one could prevent me from killing you. But I’m not a full Klingon and the captain needs every member of this crew, even a low-life pig like you. This marriage is over. And I am warning you, Paris. Stay away from me or I just might kill you anyway."

 

B’Elanna turned on her heel and stalked angrily away. The crowd slowly broke up with something new to talk about.

 

Frustrated by the turn of events Kathryn glanced toward the horizon. Great. That’s just great. It’s time for the meeting and I’ve got two of my senior staff at each other’s throats. Now the question was how to keep the peace with their emotions so raw, not there was any question who was at fault.

 

Janeway followed B’Elanna toward Nemo’s aft section where she found the engineer beating a thick tree branch against the trunk until it splintered.

 

"B’Elanna," she said softly, truly sorry to intrude at such an intense moment.

 

Torres turned with a snarl on her face. "If you’re here to lecture me on my conduct in front of the crew, you’re wasting your time. He dishonored me. I should have slit his throat!"

 

"Actually, I thought you handled things rather well; probably better than I would have in the same situation."

 

"Then why are you here?" B’Elanna asked suddenly confused.

 

"I just wanted to let you know that there’s no reason for you to come to the staff meeting."

 

"Captain, I’m perfectly capable of doing my job! Just because Paris is a lying, cheating bastard that doesn’t mean I can’t control my temper long enough to be in a staff briefing."

 

"I’m not saying that. I’m saying you shouldn’t have to."

 

"Captain?"

 

"B’Elanna, you’ve already briefed me on your progress. There’s no reason for you to repeat everything you’ve already told me. I think both of you need some distance right now."

 

The engineer considered the captain’s words for a moment before she finally relented. "All right."

 

"Are you going to be okay?"

 

B’Elanna crossed her arms defensively before she replied with little humor. "Yeah, fine. When we get home I have to tell my three year-old daughter that her daddy isn’t going to live with us anymore."

 

Her voice broke toward the end and Janeway thought B’Elanna was barely holding the tears back. "I’m so sorry and I want you to know that I’m here for you if you need anything."

 

Kathryn started to leave the other woman alone in her misery when B’Elanna said, "There is one thing."

 

"Name it."

 

"I’d like to join one of the away teams tomorrow. We’ve done as much as we can with repairs and I think I could use a change of scenery."

 

Janeway thought that was an exceptional idea since it would also give the lieutenant distance from Tom Paris and maybe some time to cool off. With B’Elanna in such a precarious emotional state Janeway had to take care how she voiced her response. She didn’t want to tread on the Klingon’s already wounded pride by saying why she thought it was a good idea, but she had to still be honest.

 

"Seven is having her eyepiece replaced in the morning and I promised her I’d be there. It would be a big help to me if you could take my place on epsilon team. Jameson could use your engineering skills on sensors."

 

"Thanks, Captain."

 

At a loss for anything else to say, Kathryn nodded and walked away.

 

***

After the staff meeting Kathryn walked back to the shared quarters where Seven of Nine waited. She had a lot on her mind and was distracted when she walked into the room. By habit Janeway went over to the replicator and almost asked for a cup of coffee before she remembered their situation.

 

"Kathryn? Are you all right?" Seven walked out of the bedroom.

 

It had only been a few hours since Kathryn had seen her, but suddenly she couldn’t wait to feel Seven’s long arms around her. In these quarters the veneer of the commanding officer dropped away and she was just a woman with a tremendous responsibility resting on her fragile shoulders.

 

"I’m fine. Just hold me for a few minutes."

 

Seven gently took Kathryn in her arms and held the soft body close. Kathryn was always the strong one no matter the situation. These moments where Seven could provide strength for her were few and far between. For that reason they were infinitely precious to the former drone and she would have held Kathryn all night if the other woman would allow it. Kathryn felt warm and solid in her arms and Seven gratefully inhaled the scent of her hair.

 

"What happened?" Seven asked worriedly.

 

Kathryn held on to Seven’s narrow waist and rested her cheek against her chest. "Not much really. Tom and B’Elanna just broke up. Apparently he’s been cheating on her with Lieutenant Elbrun."

 

Seven was surprised by the news, but didn’t understand why it would have Kathryn so distressed.

 

"I really thought Tom had grown up over the years. Being married to B’Elanna, being a father; I just never saw this coming."

 

"Tom Paris is who he is," Seven pointed out quietly. "As much as an individual may wish to change their behavior they cannot change their basic personality."

 

"A leopard can’t change its spots, huh?"

 

Kathryn remembered when Chakotay used to say the same thing about Seven. But his logic was flawed. He never took the time to see her personality because he could never get past the Borg exterior. Underneath the façade Seven was always fiercely passionate and loyal. The Borg might have assimilated her into the collective, but they were never able to eradicate her inherent selfless character.

 

Seven’s assessment of Paris was altogether different. Janeway had always had a soft spot for the young man and allowed him a lot of latitude that she would never have given anyone else, but she had to admit that Seven was probably right. How many times had Tom displayed juvenile and selfish characteristics? She had lost count yet after each incident Janeway managed to convince herself it wouldn’t happen again.

 

"I guess that’s true, however much I don’t want to admit it."

 

"Kathryn, this news is distressing, but something more is troubling you. It is not just the termination of their relationship. Please tell me what it is."

 

"I can’t get anything past you anymore, can I?"

 

"You rarely require support," Seven pointed out.

 

Kathryn finally pulled away. "Come sit with me."

 

They walked over to the sofa and sat close together. Kathryn was quiet for a few minutes gathering her thoughts before she spoke.

"You’re right. It just seems like everything is so hard. Just when it seems like we’re making headway, something else happens. I am sorry to see things end like this for them, but it couldn’t possibly have come at a worse time. The crew needs positive reinforcement right now and I’m concerned this is going to be another blow to their spirit."

 

"On the other hand," Seven said, "it may give the crew something to focus on other than survival."

 

Kathryn chuckled and said, "That’s my Seven; always looking on the bright side."

 

Although still deeply concerned over the latest turn of events Kathryn felt marginally better. No matter what happened Seven would be there to support her and help her stay strong.

 

"I guess I’ll just have to make sure B’Elanna stays too busy to eviscerate Tom," she said jokingly.

 

"That would be a wise idea."

 

Seven’s comment was much more serious, but she wondered if this wouldn’t turn out to be an opportunity for B’Elanna and Lieutenant Jameson. The engineer’s pride was no doubt deeply wounded and she would probably withdraw from everyone on a personal level for a while. Seven had never seen her friend emotionally injured before but thought she would react more as a Klingon warrior than as a Human. The threat against Tom Paris’ life would be very real until Torres came to terms with the situation. However, once that time was passed Seven believed it might be an opportunity for her friend to be with the one person she truly loved. From Seven’s observations she thought Lieutenant Jameson returned those feelings.

 

Seven could have told Kathryn about Torres and Jameson, but felt it would fall into the realm of speculation. There was always the possibility that B’Elanna would turn away from love altogether and Janeway had enough on her mind.

 

"I suppose we’d better get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for you and I don’t want the doctor to postpone the surgery because you’re tired."

 

"You will still be there for the surgery, won’t you Kathryn?"

 

"Of course, darling. I’ll be there every second and when you wake up I’ll be the first thing you see."

 

"Thank you." Seven was unaccountably frightened of the upcoming surgery, yet looking forward to being able to see properly. She also wanted to be medically cleared for duty. It was hard for her to remain in her quarters while the rest of the crew was fighting for survival on an alien planet.

 

The golden bow that was mounted on the bulkhead caught her eye and an idea began to take hold.

 

"Would you like to take a shower now?"

 

Knowing that Kathryn would be with her in the shower, Seven thought it would be another opportunity to hold her lover if she was still in need of moral support. "Yes, I believe I would like that. "

Chapter 6

 

By 0700 hours Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway were in the medical bay. The surgery wasn’t scheduled until 1000 hours but Seven was transported early so that the Stingray could take off.

 

"Kathryn, once the surgery is complete I shall be released for duty and all the repairs to the ship will be complete. Is there any assignment of significance you wish for me to undertake?"

 

"Darling, I know you’re bored, but it’s really not necessary for you to jump right back into work. If you want to take a few days to get your strength back there’s nothing wrong with that."

 

Janeway was trying to be diplomatic. She understood that Seven felt compelled to help out her fellow crewmembers, but she just couldn’t see the doctor releasing her to full duty so quickly.

 

Eyeing Kathryn indulgently Seven smiled softly and said, "I will be medically released by the doctor. I may look unusual without hair, but my systems are at full operating capacity and the only reason I have not been returned to duty is the need to replace the eyepiece."

 

"You sound very sure of that."

 

"I am."

 

Kathryn shivered at the intense look in Seven’s eye. She had never been attracted to strong men, preferring that they submit to whatever decisions she made, but the opposite was true when it came to Seven. When the former drone demanded her due it usually made Kathryn’s blood boil, but definitely not in anger. She was convinced that during the early years when Seven was first aboard Voyager she deliberately provoked the woman just to get a reaction.

 

Listening to her now Kathryn felt familiar tingles in the tips of her fingers and realized exactly how long it had been since they made love. She glanced around the medical bay knowing full well they were alone, but needing the reassurance anyway. Emergency power had been restored throughout Nemo, but the crew remained on the surface rather than have to travel through the Jeffries tubes to get around. In addition, all of the provision teams were carrying out their individual assignments on Safe Haven. As a result they were quite alone on the ship.

 

"You know what it does to me when you get forceful," Kathryn warned flirtatiously. "You better be careful if you don’t want to suffer the consequences."

 

Seven’s lips quirked and Kathryn knew from the gleam in her eye that the young woman was about to call her bluff. "And exactly what would those consequences be?"

 

"Would you like for me to tell you?" Kathryn asked leaning very close into Seven’s personal space where she sat on a biobed. Janeway was standing between Seven’s knees with her palms resting on strong thighs. Seven’s breath ghosted across her lips and Kathryn shivered again. It didn’t bother her in the slightest that Seven had only a light fuzz of hair covering the top of her head or that a bandage covered most of the left side of her face. Seven was still the sexiest woman she had ever seen or ever would.

 

"Perhaps you should show me?" Seven’s eyes were fixed on her lips and Kathryn felt the tingles in her fingers shoot through her belly and into her groin.

 

She slid her arms around Seven’s neck and then yielded to strong arms gathering her into the soft, rich contours of her body. Seven dipped her head and traced the delicate shape of Kathryn’s ear with her tongue.

 

Kathryn’s hands lovingly caressed Seven’s shoulders, down her back and then under her t-shirt. She slid her hands back up the woman’s bare back, feeling the warmth and curve of smooth muscle; sinking her fingertips into soft flesh. Then around to the front, Kathryn filled her hands with creamy heaviness, overflowing, curvaceous and wonderful. As if wanting the full sensation of Kathryn’s hands on her breasts Seven leaned back. Her nipples quickly firmed against the palms and Kathryn released them to take the nipples between her fingertips.

 

Seven gasped through full lips. Her tongue darted out to moisten her lips; her head was thrown back, her eyes closed. Seven reached down and cupped Kathryn’s slender hips, pulling her up onto the biobed as she lay back. She pulled Kathryn up into her arms and her kiss was aggressive, her tongue a swift thrust into the smaller woman’s mouth.

 

Her hand pushed under Kathryn’s tunic and undershirt. The hand was not gentle as it reached for her and Kathryn felt the nipple tingle and harden before Seven’s Borg fingers closed over it.

 

Seven’s kisses gentled and deepened. Her large hands cupped and caressed Kathryn under the shirt as their legs tangled together.

Abruptly, the sickbay doors hissed open. "Captain! Seven!" the doctor blurted in embarrassed outrage. "This is hardly the time…"

 

Seven released Kathryn’s lips. "Computer, deactivate EMH."

 

Kathryn started to chuckle, but Seven was already kissing her again. Her hands gripped Kathryn’s hips, pulling them down against her before she reached for the fastening to Janeway’s trousers.

 

Finally, Kathryn regained a modicum of awareness and raised her head. "I can’t take them off."

 

"I understand."

 

Seven pulled her down, kissing her lips, her eyes and then trailed to her ear. "I am aching for you."

 

"Let me take that ache away," Kathryn growled.

 

She quickly opened Seven’s trousers before sliding a hand inside to cup the waiting moisture. Desire dripped from her like honey and Kathryn gasped. "You’re very wet."

 

"For you, Kathryn. Love me," she pleaded.

 

All too willing Kathryn raised Seven’s shirt with one hand and took a firm nipple into her hungry mouth. At the same time she slid two fingers deep inside, moving with increasing force and fervor. Seven’s tempo gradually built against the thrusting rhythm and driving Kathryn to distraction.

 

Riveted by the passionate expression on her love’s face Kathryn gasped, "Come for me, darling."

 

"I am…" Seven whispered.

 

Kathryn felt her fingers being pulled into Seven’s body and at the same time felt herself start to climax against Seven’s thigh. "I’m going to…I can’t hold back much longer!"

 

"Now!" Seven urged as her own climax started.

 

Kathryn felt Seven’s muscles grip her tightly as the orgasm tore through her. Their cries filled the room, lingering with the sounds of wet thrusting. Slowly the sensations subsided. Seven pulled Kathryn down to kiss and hug and hold her tightly.

 

Kathryn wasn’t sure how she survived the intensity of the emotions surging through her. She wanted to say so many things, to tell Seven that she could never survive without her, that she had never known anyone as wonderful, but in the end all she could say was, "I love you."

 

"And I love you, Kathryn. Always," Seven returned, running her long fingers through Kathryn’s hair.

 

After a moment Janeway chuckled and said, "I can’t believe we just did that in here. Anyone could have walked in!"

 

"Someone did."

 

"Oh, thanks for pointing that out," Kathryn said laughing. "I’m sure we’ll never hear the end of it, but he is a doctor so I guess we can count on a certain amount of discretion."

 

"Doctor Brahms to Captain Janeway."

 

Both women started at the sudden hail over Janeway’s combadges. Grinning wryly, Kathryn responded. "Janeway here, Doctor. What is it?"

 

"Lieutenant Torres contacted me a minute ago, but communications were badly garbled. I’m worried that something is wrong. Could you come down here for a minute?"

 

Communications shouldn’t have been a problem at this point and Janeway was suddenly worried. She was also thankful that the call hadn’t come a few minutes ago. That would have been difficult to explain.

 

"I’m on my way," the captain responded. She closed the com-channel and looked down at Seven gently. "I’m sorry, darling. I’ll be back as soon as I can."

 

"I understand, Kathryn. If B’Elanna is in trouble she will require your assistance."

 

"Let’s hope it’s nothing," Janeway said, climbing off the biobed. She walked toward the doors while tucking in her shirt and called, "Computer, reactivate EMH."

 

The physician rematerialized in the middle of the same tirade embarked on when he had been deactivated. "…for this!"

 

Realizing what had occurred Doctor Martin stopped and rolled his eyes. The captain didn’t look his way when she breezed out the door, but from her mussed appearance he knew exactly what had taken place.

 

With only one of the conspirators still present he started in on her. "Seven, you are about to be involved in a serious operation! Couldn’t you have waited until it was over to indulge in…?"

 

"Computer," Seven interrupted softly; her eyes already closed, "deactivate EMH."

 

***

"Are you okay?" Karri asked the silent chief engineer as the Stingray lifted off Nemo’s landing bay floor.

 

Jameson hadn’t actually been present for the altercation between Torres and Paris, but knew every last detail. It was hot news traveling among the crew and while Karri’s heart went out to B’Elanna she was happy Paris had followed through. If he hadn’t told B’Elanna of his philandering ways the task would have been left to Karri, just as she had threatened. Now her only concern was B’Elanna’s well-being.

 

"I’m just great," Torres said sarcastically. "I see good news travels fast."

 

Stung by the comment, Karri shot back, "If you don’t want to talk about it why don’t you just say so?"

 

"Fine. I don’t want to talk about it."

 

For long moments an uncomfortable silence held sway over the cockpit. Even Crewman Haro, normally quite talkative, seemed to understand that Lieutenant Torres was not in the mood for small talk. It was only after they neared the designated area and she double-checked the readouts on her board that the Bolian reluctantly had to speak.

 

"I’ve got some unusual readings on sensors, Lieutenant Jameson. Bearing one three five mark three, approximately fifty-three kilometer."

B’Elanna was technically the senior officer, but Karri was still in charge of the team. That didn’t stop the chief engineer from taking over and Karri didn’t seem inclined to argue the point.

 

"What kind of readings?"

 

"Unclear, but sensors are showing high concentrations of amino acids. It could be a food source."

 

"It’s slightly out of our sector target for today, but what the heck. Changing course," Karri said smartly. Hands flying deftly, the redhead altered the Stingray’s path.

 

In spite of her pain and anger B’Elanna was impressed with the other woman’s abilities and tried to remember that this wasn’t Karri’s fault. She had no influence over Tom Paris being an absolute dog and it wasn’t fair to take her anger out on the other woman.

 

That’s it, B’Elanna thought. No more thoughts of Paris. From now on I need to concentrate on the mission.

 

Unusual readings, huh? B’Elanna pulled up the sensor readings on the co-pilot’s board and studied the information quickly. Haro was right that the readings were confused, but it was the slight covariant signature under the amino acids that caught her attention. That signature could indicate an energy source.

 

Torres felt a surge of adrenaline and said, "Karri, check out those readings. What do you see?"

 

Shifting her eyes from their heading for a moment Karri pulled up the sensor display. The readings were jumbled, but she was almost as good an engineer and saw the same thing B’Elanna did. At first she couldn’t believe what she was seeing and wondered how many times they might have passed these same readings. Haro was a communications officer, not an engineer. As garbled as the signals were they could have passed it several times over and the young woman wouldn’t have realized the significance.

 

"Are you seeing what I’m seeing?"

 

"If you’re seeing a possible energy reading, then yes."

 

"What is it?" Haro asked curiously.

 

Accustomed to working as a team neither Karri or B’Elanna heard the question.

 

"Distance?" B’Elanna asked.

 

"Coming up on the source now, but readings are really scrambled. There’s some kind of interference. If we’re going to check this out with any accuracy we’re going to have to do it on foot."

 

"We need to land the shuttle?"

 

"You guessed it."

 

Torres sent a com-signal to the back of the shuttle informing the rest of epsilon team that they were about to land the shuttle.

Lieutenant Martin acknowledged the signal and the other four crewmembers waited in the cargo hold. There was no room in the front of the shuttle for the entire team and their skills wouldn’t be needed until the shuttle landed.

 

A few moments later the Stingray flew over the top of a large rock formation. In the center of the almost perfect circle was a depression in the ground.

 

"Looks like some kind of extinct volcano," Karri observed.

 

"Yeah and those rocks are galacite. That’s why the sensors are having such a hard time."

 

Jameson landed the shuttle as close as she could, but it would still be a hike over to the hollow. "This is as close as we get," she said powering down the engines.

 

"Make sure you’ve got phasers at the ready," B’Elanna added to the entire team. "With this much interference there could be a hostile village close by and we’d never know it."

 

Epsilon team exited the shuttle and walked as a group toward their objective. Karri led the way with a phaser in one hand and a tricorder in the other. The chief engineer walked beside her with her own tricorder scanning the region. The terrain was difficult and they occasionally had to climb over large boulders, but eventually they reached the center of the ring.

 

"Here," B’Elanna panted. Sweat poured down her face, but she was more concerned with her tricorder readouts.

 

"What is it?" Ensign Collins asked.

 

"Energy signature and if I can just filter out some of this interference…" B’Elanna said tapping a few buttons on her tricorder. "Got it!"

 

Lieutenant Torres looked up and grinned ecstatically at Jameson. "You’re not going to believe this."

 

Just from her expression Karri knew what she was going to say and grinned back. It was incredible, but she knew that if B’Elanna hadn’t been with them epsilon team never would have found it. "Dilithium?"

 

"Dilithium."

 

Crewman Matz, a Katarian known for his subdued manner, suddenly threw his head back and whooped with delight. Martin, Collins and Haro weren’t as overt in their reaction, but all of them fairly beamed with joy. The only member of epsilon team that didn’t seem to have any particular reaction was Tarinia.

 

"I guess that means we need to break out the mining equipment," the changeling said with little excitement.

 

"What’s wrong?" Jameson asked curiously.

 

"Oh nothing. It’s just that even after three days of constant instruction by Lieutenant Martin I’m still not sure I understand how your mining equipment works. I am not looking forward to trying it first hand."

 

"It’s all right," B’Elanna laughed. "I think we can manage most of the technical end of it. How do you feel about hauling what we find back to the shuttle’s cargo hold?"

 

"Relieved. I am much better at moving over uneven terrain than mining crystals."

 

"Oh, it’s not crystals," the chief said. "This is the good stuff. It’s ore, and from what I can tell a large supply of it. In a few days all of Nemo’s systems will be back on line."

 

"Except for the engines. They still need dilithium crystals," Jameson pointed out.

 

"One step at a time, Lieutenant. Martin, take the others and go back to the shuttle for our equipment. This stuff is pretty deep so it’s going to take a while to get to it. I’ll call Nemo and let them know."

 

The others left and B’Elanna tapped her combadge to contact the ship. With the channel open she hesitated momentarily over whom she should contact. Janeway was in sickbay with Seven and she didn’t want to interrupt.

 

"Torres to Doctor Brahms."

 

After a brief instant of static B’Elanna heard, "…Is Doc…r Bra…s."

 

"Great, we’ve got garbled communications," she said to Karri. "Doctor Brahms, we have found dilithium. Relay to Captain Janeway."

 

"Repeat…sage. Say again."

 

"We have found dilithium," B’Elanna said slowly. "Relay to Janeway."

 

The signal cut off abruptly and Karri and B’Elanna could only share a frustrated look.

 

"Do you think you got through?"

 

"Who knows?" B’Elanna shrugged. "If nothing else, they’ll know when we get back to camp."

 

Ten minutes later the balance of the team returned with the mining equipment. They had just set up the boring tool to dig down to the ore when Torres’ combadge sputtered to life.

 

"Janew…to Torres. What is … status?"

 

Apparently Doctor Brahms hadn’t understood her message and was concerned enough to contact the captain. From the question Janeway thought they were in some kind of trouble. To dispel that notion and finally get her message across, the Klingon decided on a more condensed version.

 

"Found dilithium!"

 

"Dilithium!"

 

We’ll at least someone had finally caught on, B’Elanna thought elatedly. "Affirmative!"

 

"…ell done, Lieutenant!"

 

With communications so bad the chief engineer didn’t even try to respond. She ended the com channel and said, "So what are we waiting for? Let’s do it!"

 

***

Captain Kathryn Janeway sauntered back into sickbay with a huge smile on her face. In engineering the repair teams were no doubt still cheering and she felt like things were finally going to be all right.

 

"Epsilon team is not in trouble," Seven observed from the ecstatic expression on Kathryn’s face.

 

"Hardly. They found dilithium."

 

"Oh, thank God," Lieutenant Commander Scott said. The nurse was assigned to camp duty, but relocated for the moment to assist with Seven’s surgery and was overjoyed at the news.

 

"That is wonderful, Captain." Seven said, mindful of the fact that they weren’t alone.

 

"Yes, it is. Communications were badly garbled so I don’t know what form the dilithium is in, but it’s something."

 

The doctor stood looking on only a few feet away so Kathryn couldn’t celebrate by throwing her arms around Seven’s neck, but the look they shared was full of love and hope.

 

"That is good news, Captain," the EMH said, "but if you don’t mind I’d like to get started."

 

"By all means."

 

Doctor Martin stepped up beside the biobed and urged Seven to lay back. Kathryn stood close beside her and took the young woman’s hand. "I’ll be here the whole time."

 

Seven nodded nervously and then looked to the doctor.

 

"I’m going to sedate you now. When you wake up you’ll be as good as new."

 

The hiss of the hypospray plunged Seven into immediate unconsciousness. Then the doctor turned to the captain and said, "I realize you made a promise to Seven of Nine, but if you could leave the surgical bay?"

 

Janeway looked at the doctor through narrowed eyes. She ground her teeth momentarily and then took one slow, deliberate step backward. Her gaze never left his and she silently dared him to challenge her.

 

"Thank you," he said sarcastically. Finished arguing with the captain for the time being the doctor activated a sterilizing field around the surgical bay and then began the procedure.

 

Firm in her resolve, Kathryn stood and watched every move the medical team made. She didn’t flinch as the bandage was removed to reveal the damage done to her beloved. She stood stoic as the EMH cut through Seven’s flesh and bone with a laser scalpel to make way for the newly constructed eyepiece.

 

Raylene diligently monitored her patient’s life signs throughout the procedure, noting every minute fluctuation and reporting immediately to the doctor. At no time did Seven’s vitals dip below acceptable norms, but Janeway’s fisted hands were sweaty balls of ice during the entire medical routine.

 

After two hours barely breathing Janeway watched the doctor finish the last connector to the Borg circuitry.

 

"Close, please," Martin said to Commander Scott.

 

Janeway frowned. Why would the doctor leave closing the incision to the nurse? Surely he could do that since he was finished with the operation. Doctor Martin surprised her by picking up a regenerator and passing it carefully back and forth over Seven’s cranium. As she watched Seven’s hair began to lengthen.

 

"Doctor?" she said, speaking for the first time in hours. "I would have thought you would consider hair unnecessary."

 

"I do, but apparently Seven is of a different opinion. Besides, she requested that I stimulate her hair follicles once the procedure was complete. If having hair assists the patient in recovering from any emotional injuries, then I suppose it is necessary."

 

"Thank you, Doctor," Kathryn said sincerely. "I admire your compassion."

 

Soon the doctor was finished. Seven’s hair was back to its usual length and the flesh of her face pristine. It was finally time to wake her.

"Only for a moment," Martin said. "She’ll need to sleep until morning to recover her strength."

 

"What about regenerating?"

 

"Unnecessary. Seven has regenerated several times in the last few days and her systems are back to normal. Once she’s had a good night’s sleep I see no reason why she shouldn’t be fit to return to duty."

 

Kathryn smirked, but remained silent. Leave it to Seven to be right about this, too. Instead she waited until the nurse deactivated the sterilizing field and then walked over close enough to lean against the edge of the biobed.

 

The doctor pressed the hypo against Seven’s neck and an instant later ice blue eyes blinked slowly open. He immediately began to take readings, but Kathryn was too intent on trying not to cry when Seven’s eyes focused on her.

 

"Kathryn."

 

"I told you I would be the first thing you would see when you opened your eyes." Kathryn raised Seven’s hand and kissed her knuckles, unmindful of the medical professionals looking on.

 

"Thank you."

 

"Sleep now, love. I’ll see you in the morning."

Chapter 7

 

Seven of Nine stood patiently in the quarters she shared with Janeway while the doctor ran several scans. She knew she was completely healed but apparently it required the CMO to make that declaration before anyone would listen. The former Borg thought Starfleet protocol did nothing on occasion but get in the way. If Kathryn had listened to her when Seven said she was fully recovered she would have been in Nemo’s engine room an hour ago. Instead she was forced to endure more scans and tried hard to curb her impatience.

 

As eager as Seven was to assist the crew one look at Kathryn’s face was enough to silence any protests. Janeway tried to hide her fear and uncertainty, but Seven could read her expression easily.

 

Finally the doctor closed his tricorder. He looked up at her with what he apparently thought was a smile of approval and said, "I’m happy to report that you are fit for duty. Your eyepiece is functioning perfectly; in fact I’d have to say it’s even better than the old one."

 

"Thank you," Seven said with forced politeness. Her hands were folded behind her back in her usual stance and she remained riveted to the spot eager for Kathryn to show the hologram out of their quarters.

 

"Thank you, Doctor," Janeway repeated, leading him to the door. "I appreciate all of your hard work."

 

"Anytime. Don’t hesitate to call me if I can be of further assistance."

 

Unaccountably his overly cheerful manner irritated Seven but he was gone a moment later and she tried to put him out of her mind.

 

"What’s the matter?"

 

"You are very perceptive," Seven said and regretted the sharp words immediately when the other woman flinched slightly. "I am sorry, Kathryn. I am merely…frustrated."

 

"Tired of being poked and prodded, eh? Well, I guess I can understand that."

 

Janeway walked over to Seven and slipped her arms around the narrow waist. Seven happily returned the embrace for a moment before Kathryn pulled away and looked up at her.

 

"I know it gets tedious, but we were all very worried about you. We just want to make sure you’re all right now."

 

Seven melted at the love she saw in Janeway’s eyes. "I understand, Kathryn, and I love you for it. But I am feeling restless. I need to contribute to the crew’s survival now."

 

"All right. I can’t really justify keeping you here in our quarters, even if I just want to hide you away and keep anything bad from ever happening to you again."

 

Kathryn said the words slightly tongue in cheek, but Seven could tell that there was a hint of seriousness to the comment. Rather than point that out and possibly embarrass her love she said, "No, and I do not believe you would try. The lives we have chosen carry an inherent element of danger; we both know that. You will just have to trust that I would never take an unnecessary chance and risk being permanently separated from you."

 

"When did you get to be so wise?"

 

"I do not know if I am wise," Seven admitted. "I am merely stating a fact."

 

"I hate to admit it, but you’re right. You’re more than qualified to assist this crew and there is no justifiable reason to keep you sequestered away. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you have my authorization to join any of the away teams you choose."

 

Seven was impressed by the offer and knew how much it had cost Kathryn. It was also a sign of how much faith she had in Seven that she would allow her the choice.

 

As a concession to that show of faith Seven said, "I believe I would like to assist Lieutenant Torres with the repairs. If she does not need me then I shall choose another team."

 

If Seven’s talents with repairs would be a useful contribution while still allowing Kathryn the reassurance that she was safely onboard Nemo she was pleased to do so.

 

Kathryn’s eyes shone with gratitude but she asked, "And if she can’t use you? What team will you join then?"

 

Seven glanced involuntarily across their quarters at the golden bow mounted on the bulkhead. "I believe beta team is going hunting this morning?"

 

Janeway froze completely for two point seven seconds and Seven watched her eyes become more gray than blue. She recovered quickly and said, "Promise me you’ll be careful."

 

"I promise, Kathryn," Seven said seriously, knowing Kathryn needed to hear the words.

 

"Thank you. Please let me know which team you’ll be helping out after you talk to B’Elanna."

 

"I will."

 

Seven enfolded Kathryn in her arms again, disturbed when the smaller woman clung desperately to her. There was nothing she could do to alleviate Kathryn’s apprehension. It was going to take time for her to get past this latest event and all Seven could do was take every precaution to remain free from injury.

 

"I have to go," Kathryn said. Her voice was suspiciously husky and she blinked several times before she added, "The dilithium ore epsilon team found yesterday was so deep they were only able to mine a few kilos before it got dark. I’m taking the team back this morning and we’re going to try and load the Stingray’s cargo hold."

 

"You will be careful also, Kathryn. I will worry for you while we are without shields or weapons on this planet."

 

Kathryn stood on tiptoe and quickly kissed Seven’s lips. "I will, besides I’ve got a bodyguard. Remember? Ensign Mossler is so far up my backside every time I move that sometimes I feel we’re drinking from the same mug."

 

"Kathryn?"

 

Janeway grinned and said, "It’s just an expression. It means she doesn’t let me get more than two feet away from her. I think Tuvok must have impressed the seriousness of her assignment on her."

 

"I must remember to thank him."

 

Kathryn Janeway had an uncanny knack for getting into trouble even in the most mundane of circumstances. Seven thought it very prudent on the Vulcan’s part to assign a bodyguard to the captain while they were marooned on this planet.

 

"Don’t start."

 

Janeway and Seven walked out of their quarters toward the hanger deck. It was Janeway’s destination and offered Seven a convenient set of stairs to deck six rather than a climb through a Jeffries tube. The loading bay doors were open and Seven saw it was a rainy day. The sky was overcast with heavy storm clouds and the breeze was quite cool.

 

Ensign Mossler handed Captain Janeway a poncho before she stepped into the shuttle and allowed them a moment of privacy.

 

"It’s much cooler today than it was yesterday. I don’t know if it’s just a front or if this planet is moving into its cold season, but I’m happy for a relief from the heat," Janeway observed. "Don’t forget to let me know which team you’re on."

 

"I will not forget." Seven quickly looked around the cavernous bay to see that they were alone at the moment. "I love you, Kathryn."

 

"I love you, too, darling. With everything that I am."

 

They didn’t kiss, but Seven thought it was only because the captain was concerned with the possibility of being seen by a crewmember. Then Janeway stepped onto the shuttle and the hatch sealed behind her.

 

Seven walked down the corridor of deck six noting that there was no sign of damage though the slightly acrid scent of singed conduits still lingered. When she entered main engineering she saw Lieutenant Torres and Doctor Brahms deep in discussion near a makeshift fractional distillery. The refining equipment wasn’t online yet and apparently there was some disagreement on the proper way to separate the chemical compounds of the dilithium ore into their component parts.

 

"No, no," B’Elanna argued pointing at the equations on the padd. "I’m telling you the source we found isn’t pure enough to boil at less that 25º Celsius. We’re going to have to use an alembic to make this work."

 

"This isn’t alchemy, Lieutenant. We’ve advanced a little since the middle ages."

 

"Well, like it or not sometimes the simplest method is the one that works best. With the ore we’ve found, this is what we need to do."

 

Seven searched her eidetic memory and was just as surprised as Doctor Brahms appeared to be. An alembic was an early form of distillation involving an alchemical still consisting of two retorts connected by a tube. It seemed a very crude process for distilling dilithium ore, but if B’Elanna thought it was the preferred method in this case Seven believed her.

 

She was loath to interrupt the chief engineer while she was engrossed in a heated discussion with the lead scientist and looked around at the others present. Lieutenant Harry Kim was busy constructing the crude refining equipment B’Elanna was defending, and Lieutenant Jameson was inputting data into a computer console. Seven realized she had yet to thank the young woman for saving Kathryn’s life and walked over to speak to her.

 

"Lieutenant Jameson."

 

Startled Karri looked up and stammered, "Uh…hello, Seven. I’m glad to see you up and about. How are you feeling?"

 

"I am fully recovered."

 

For a moment the two simply stared, each waiting for the other to speak first.

 

"Was there something I can help you with?" Karri finally asked.

 

"Yes. I wish to thank you for saving Kathryn’s life."

 

Seven deliberately refrained from using Janeway’s title. The crew knew Seven and the captain were romantically involved and she wanted to make sure Jameson understood her gratitude was of a personal nature. There was also the fact that B’Elanna loved the engineer and was not one to give her trust easily. That alone assured Seven that Lieutenant Jameson was a woman of character. Now that B’Elanna and Tom were no longer involved Lieutenant Jameson might become a more prominent figure in the Klingon’s life. If that happened it was important that Seven also develop a friendship with the junior lieutenant.

 

"Sure, you’re welcome. I was just doing my job."

 

Seven thought Jameson was being modest and searched for another way to form the beginnings of a friendship with the reserved young woman. Glancing again at Lieutenant Torres she started from another angle.

 

"I understand that B’Elanna and Tom Paris have ceased their affiliation," Seven said formally. "Do you intend to pursue a relationship with B’Elanna now?"

 

Karri coughed and looked away, face flushing in embarrassment. After making sure no one was close enough to overhear the lieutenant said, "You know, Seven, that’s kind of private. Besides, I don’t think B’Elanna’s ready for anything like that right now."

 

Heartened that the engineer hadn’t told her to mind her own business Seven continued undeterred. "You are correct. She will need time to recover but I know that you shared a brief relationship while aboard Voyager and that you still harbor romantic feelings for her."

 

Finally confused and starting to get a little angry with the line of discussion Karri folded her arms and asked, "Seven, what’s this about?"

 

"I simply wish you to know that if you decide to pursue a relationship with B’Elanna you will have my support."

 

"I will?"

 

"Yes. You are an honorable individual and you would not disregard B’Elanna’s feelings in favor of your own agenda. You are brave, intelligent and trustworthy. You are a worthy partner for B’Elanna."

 

"Thanks, Seven. I appreciate that. I guess you’ve just surprised me a little. I didn’t even know you liked me."

 

"I like you for several reasons, Lieutenant. Most notably you saved Kathryn’s life and for that you will always have my good will. Also, B’Elanna is my friend. Her happiness is important to me and I know she cares for you very deeply. I would go so far as to say that she loves you. For that reason you are also my friend."

 

Karri looked over where B’Elanna and Doctor Brahms were still in deep discussion. Her green eyes lingered on the Klingon’s features, and Seven could clearly see how B’Elanna affected her.

 

"Maybe you’re right," Karri said softly. "Maybe she loves me, but she picked Tom over me. Even if she decided someday that she wanted to be with me…"

 

"Yes?" Seven asked curiously.

 

Jameson glanced away from the chief engineer and met Seven’s gaze. Her eyes shown with repressed tears when she said, "I’d always be second best, wouldn’t I?"

 

"There is nothing second best about love, Lieutenant." Seven considered mentioning that Kathryn had been engaged on two previous occasions before becoming involved with her, but thought that bordered too closely on discussing the captain’s personal life. She noticed that B’Elanna had finished talking to Doctor Brahms and was walking toward Harry Kim. "I must speak with Lieutenant Torres, but I am available to you if you wish to talk."

 

"Thanks. Oh, and Seven? My friends call me Karri."

 

Seven nodded and walked away. Amazed that it took a former Borg drone to tell her how precious love was Karri could only shake her head in bemusement before she returned to duty.

 

"Harry, what’s you’re problem?" Seven heard B’Elanna ask. "You’re as nervous as a tika cat in a roomful of rocking chairs."

 

"Uh…nothing. I’m just…uh…trying to make sure this thing is how you want it."

 

Harry Kim looked intensely uncomfortable. He kept glancing at Lieutenant Torres while trying to assemble the various components of the refining equipment. Each time B’Elanna moved Harry would turn so that she wasn’t behind him.

 

"Stop it!" B’Elanna suddenly said and slapped him hard on the back of the head. "Tom told me how he dragged you into things and I don’t blame you. It’s just like him to put his friends in the middle."

 

"You’re not angry with me?"

 

Seven thought he did not look convinced.

 

"Of course not, but if you don’t stop acting so skittish I’m going to hurt you."

 

Harry finally let out a relieved sigh, though the threat would have made anyone else more nervous. "Thanks. And I’m really sorry, B’Elanna. Not only that he messed things up so badly, but that I didn’t tell you."

 

"Believe me, Starfleet, you did the right thing. If I’d had to hear about it from anyone but Tom, honor would have demanded blood. It was too close as it was. Now let’s get that refinery online."

 

"Right."

 

Harry got back down to work looking at lot more relaxed and B’Elanna turned to Seven with a grin on her face.

 

"You’re looking a lot better than the last time I saw you. How does it feel to be out of solitary confinement?"

 

"Liberating."

 

"I’ll bet. So what are you going to do now that you’ve been cleared?"

 

"I told the captain I would see if you required assistance here."

 

"I’d love to have the help Seven, but there’s not really much to do. We’re going to start refining the ore as soon as we get things set up, but it’s going to take a few days to get it purified enough to plug into Nemo’s systems. There’s nothing else to do until we get that finished."

 

"Unfortunate."

 

"Uh huh. So why do you look so happy about it?" B’Elanna asked with a suspicious grin.

 

Seven was impressed by her friend’s intuition. "Since you do not require my assistance I have no choice but to defer to my second option."

 

"Which is?"

 

"I intend to join Commander Tuvok’s team. They are going hunting shortly."

 

B’Elanna’s eyes widened and she grabbed Seven by the arm. "You’re going to take that golden bow of yours, aren’t you? That’s not fair! I told Tuvok days ago that I wanted to learn how to use a bow."

 

"Your skills are required here," she said, ignoring the pain in her right arm.

 

"Thanks for pointing that out."

 

Seven tried very hard not to smile. "I must go. Commander Tuvok’s team will depart shortly."

 

"Well, I’m jealous, but have fun anyway," B’Elanna grinned. "I’m sure you’ll be successful."

 

Seven quickly contacted Commander Tuvok over her combadge to ensure he wouldn’t leave before she could arrive. Then she went back to her quarters to retrieve her bow, and the poncho she had worn once before on another planet in this quadrant. The gray-green poncho and half gloves would allow her to blend in with the forest while keeping her dry. When she pulled the poncho over her head and lifted the bow from the mounting bracket Seven felt an indefinable emotion settle over her. The feeling was similar to how she felt when she was with Kathryn, but harder to quantify. All she knew was that from the first time she had held the bow she felt whole, like something had been missing before and she hadn’t even known it. Holding the bow now Seven felt that sensation again.

 

Suddenly she couldn’t wait to be in the woods.

 

All five members of Tuvok’s half of beta team plus Seven of Nine spread thinly throughout the forest. Seven couldn’t see anyone else and beta team maintained strict communications silence. Rain came down steadily giving the day a gray cast that helped to conceal her from her prey as well as dampen her human scent.

 

Only her optical implant gave her the ability to cut through the gloom to see the beast.

 

Seven moved noiselessly through the undergrowth. Her nanoprobes couldn’t regulate the pounding of her heart, yet she felt calm as though born with the instincts of the hunt. The mud and leaves absorbed any wayward sound as she slipped closer to the animal.

 

The quadruped stood easily two meters high at the withers and sported a sixteen-point rack, yet any resemblance to a stag ended with the horns. The animal more closely resembled a swine, with a thick body and stout, muscled legs. It had a large head with a long snout and was currently foraging in the underbrush. Its ebony coat glistened wetly over a heavily muscled body. Seven knew she had to kill the animal instantly with the first arrow. If she merely enraged the beast she would not get a second chance to reload the blow and even with Borg enhanced strength she was no match for the animal.

 

Moving as closely as she dared Seven used a tree trunk for cover. She fit an arrow into the bowstring and slowly drew it taut. An instant later she released the missile. It flew true to the mark and the beast dropped without a sound.

 

 

Seven rushed through the forest toward the felled beast. It was dead and at first she felt exhilarated. The animal was massive and would easily feed the entire crew for several days. Then she squatted down beside it and the reality of what she had done struck her.

 

She had taken a life. It didn’t matter that it was a non-sentient animal. Only moments ago it had been in pursuit of its own survival, foraging for food and harming nothing. Before killing it the only thing Seven had wanted was to use the bow; she hadn’t considered the consequences of her actions. Now that she had, her guilt was mitigated only by the fact that she hadn’t killed it only for sport. As objectionable as it was to take the animal’s life it was a necessity. The crew needed food. If they were very fortunate the dilithium ore would have the replicators back online in a few days and this would be the last animal they would have to take.

 

Swallowing her nausea Seven tapped her combadge. "Seven of Nine to Tuvok. The hunt has been a success. Rendezvous at my coordinates."

 

"Acknowledged."

 

Beta team used their tricorders to close in on her location. Soon Tuvok and the others were standing close around her.

 

"It is an impressive kill," Lieutenant Maltz said. "I would be honored to prepare the animal for you."

 

As a Klingon his offer was the highest praise and Seven readily took him up on it. Maltz squatted down and removed a d’ktahg, a large Klingon knife with a double blade, from his boot. She turned her head as he slid the blade into the animal to begin cleaning it.

 

"You are disturbed by the death of this animal," Tuvok said calmly.

 

"I am disgusted by it."

 

"Yet you know that it was necessary."

 

"I was excited by the idea of utilizing my bow. Now I realize that I used it not in defense of my crew, but to take this beast’s life."

 

"Your guilt is a human emotion, yet you must learn to rationalize it. The reason you used the weapon is irrelevant; the outcome is not. Your fellow crewmembers will have food because of your actions. Do not forget that."

 

The answer he saw was insufficient. Being a logical man Tuvok realized Seven needed more than platitudes to convince her she hadn’t lost something in the hunt. "You fear you have lost your humanity by enjoying the use of the bow. You must realize that your feelings of remorse over the death of the animal has reaffirmed it."

 

Seven clenched her jaw and nodded at his sage advice, but she didn’t have the time to dwell on it. Maltz called out to her and Seven squatted down.

 

"The beast is large, you must assist me."

 

That was the last thing Seven wanted to do, but had to acknowledge that he was right. Maltz, Tuvok and Seven were the only members of beta team with the strength to lift the animal and it had to be cleaned here or the internal organs and fluids would draw carnivores back to camp.

 

"Very well."

 

Seven and Tuvok helped lift and skin the carcass. Other members of the team buried the organs while Maltz located a branch heavy enough to carry the creature back to camp.

 

While the others were occupied out of earshot Maltz bid Seven to stand. He dipped two of his fingers into the animal’s blood before he faced her formally.

 

"Were we on a Klingon vessel I would blood you to honor your skill and the mercy you showed the beast by felling it in one strike. I cannot blood you as it would offend the crew."

 

Searching her eidetic memory Seven recalled ‘blooding’ as a ritual to honor a Klingon on their first kill. Blood from the slain animal was taken and smeared in large quantities on the individual’s face to mark a rite of ascension. She was pleased that Maltz didn’t intend to do that to her.

 

"However I still wish to honor your skill."

 

Maltz surprised her by smearing the blood from his fingers onto the back of her arm. The blood was missed with the gore already staining her from cleaning the animal and would be unnoticeable to the rest of the team, but the honor was the same. Heartened by the gesture and the sensitivity he showed to another culture by not fully blooding her, Seven could only nod at the show of respect.

 

Eventually the offal was buried and the animal was tied to the pole by its hocks. Maltz picked up the animal’s coat, rolled it up and placed it into his personal pack. Seven didn’t want to know why he kept the pelt and didn’t ask.

 

Seven slipped the bow over her head with the string toward the front. Then she picked up one end of the pole and rested it on her shoulder while Maltz took the other end.

 

As they walked back toward camp in the rain Seven heard Tuvok contact Janeway to report their success. The sun began to show through the clouds and the team began to sweat with the humidity contained under their ponchos. Temperature perfectly regulated by her nanoprobes, Seven was pleased that the rain had finally stopped.

 

Chapter 8

 

(Special disclaimer: stories and tall tales have been taken and modified from the works of Jeff Foxworthy and the late, great Jerry Clower. There is no intention to imply Texans are less than intelligent, especially since I am one! Any mistakes in the re-telling are mine.)

 

B’Elanna found Captain Janeway standing at the edge of camp staring off into the woods. Her hands were on her waist and she looked like she was expecting someone. The air was still humid, but the sun had come out of hiding and the air around them smelled fresh.

 

"Why are you standing here?"

 

Janeway looked sideways at B’Elanna with her trademark grin. "Beta team is on the way back and Tuvok says they got something."

 

"So what’s the big deal?"

 

"His exact words were ‘impressively large’. I’ve already told Harry to set up a spit for the animal since they’re bringing it back on a pole."

 

B’Elanna’s eyebrows went up. "Oh."

 

Tuvok was not prone to exaggeration and neither woman could wait to see what the team had brought in. They had only a few more minutes to wait before the sound of snapping brush could be heard. Then the team came into sight and both women gasped in unison.

"Kahless!"

 

"Holy Christ!"

 

Janeway’s jaw dropped when she got her first full look at the creature. That thing is absolutely massive! Seven held one end of a thick branch while Lieutenant Maltz carried the other. The animal was tied between them and was so heavy that the pole sagged in the middle. Even though both Seven and Matz were six feet tall the beast’s back almost brushed the ground.

 

"Do you want to bet on who brought it down?" B’Elanna asked.

 

"I don’t have to." Somehow Kathryn already knew who had killed the creature and she felt ready to burst with pride for the young woman. That’s my girl!

 

Other crewmen rushed toward the team, drawn yet at the same time repelled by the sight before them.

 

Beta team was covered in blood from cleaning the animal and disposing of the offal, but thankfully most of the gore was confined to the ponchos. Seven’s blonde hair stuck wetly to her scalp and some strands had come loose from her customary style. Her face was smeared with red, her countenance troubled or exhausted, it was hard to tell which at the moment.

 

"I hope people remember this," Raylene Scott said next to Janeway.

 

"I don’t think they’ll be able to forget it."

 

"I’m not talking about the animal, at least not directly. In this century hunting is not an easy thing to do, ethically speaking. I hope the crew appreciates what beta team did here today to ensure our survival."

 

Janeway looked over at the nurse, but Scott was watching beta team. Her gaze held a complicated expression: one of revulsion, yes. But it was also a look of profound respect and gratitude. Kathryn saw that same expression on the faces of other crewmen watching the spectacle.

 

Tuvok departed the small group and moved over to where the captain stood. He opened his mouth to report the details of the mission, but B’Elanna beat him to the punch.

 

"Who bagged that monster, or was it a team effort?"

 

The Vulcan looked at Janeway who was beaming proudly. "Let me guess," she said though it was clear she didn’t believe she needed to bother.

 

"Seven is quite proficient with the bow," Tuvok admitted.

 

"That’s an understatement," B’Elanna said and went over to thump Seven on the shoulders in congratulations.

 

Janeway watched Seven and Maltz place the ends of the pole onto the ends of two metal spikes that Harry and the rest of his team had hastily constructed as soon as they got the word.

 

"The only problem I can foresee is how to prepare the animal."

 

"Oh, I don’t think there’s any problem with that," Janeway said. She spotted the crewman she was looking for and yelled, "Spunkmeyer!"

 

The dark haired crewman had been standing with the others, laughing and talking about the amazing hunt when his captain called. Suddenly he seemed to pale and Janeway saw Mossler frown at him. Spunkmeyer squared his shoulders and walked over to his commanding officer. Briefly Janeway wondered why he always acted so nervous around her.

 

"Cap’n?"

 

"Do you think you can handle roasting an animal that size?"

 

Spunkmeyer suddenly grinned and it was like a ray of sunshine through the clouds. It changed his whole face and made him look a lot younger than he was.

 

"Cap’n, where I come from ain’t no critter that big without a fire under it. I’ll get ‘er cooked if I have to stand under ‘er with a phaser."

 

"Get started on it right away, Crewman," Janeway ordered jovially.

 

"Yes ma’am."

 

Tuvok and Spunkmeyer left, but Kathryn’s eyes were solely on Seven of Nine as the young woman walked toward her. B’Elanna accompanied her friend, jabbering excitedly.

 

"She dropped it with one arrow, Captain. Can you believe that?"

 

"I’m so proud of you," Kathryn said.

 

Janeway’s eyes were shining and her grin threatened to split her face. The delighted expression on Kathryn’s face finally allowed Seven to push her guilt aside. Of course Kathryn would always put the welfare of the crew first especially in a survival situation. She would discard guilt as irrelevant and Seven had to do the same. The love and respect in Kathryn’s eyes went a long way in helping Seven be able to do that.

 

"Thank you, Kathryn. I needed to hear that."

 

"Are you kidding?" B’Elanna asked. "What you did is amazing! Only that bow of yours would have that power to bring that animal down."

 

Kathryn was just as supportive in her praise, though not as ebullient as B’Elanna. "True, but only Seven could even use the bow."

 

"You’re right," Torres added excitedly. "I guess those Borg implants still come in handy for something!"

The sun has passed its zenith, sinking steadily toward the horizon. All signs of the rain were gone and Kathryn was pleased to see that it had turned out to be a nice day after all. Gamma team had dug a large pit under Seven’s game and a fire burned steadily beneath it. The creature had been roasting for a while now and Janeway decided to see how things were going.

 

Approaching from the rear of Nemo she could see Crewmen Spunkmeyer and Mossler standing beside the blaze but they hadn’t noticed her. Before she could speak to announce her presence Crewman Mossler asked the same question that had plagued Janeway.

 

"So, what’s the deal with you anyway, Spunkmeyer? You can tell your goofball stories to an entire room of admirals and never freeze up, but Janeway enters the mix and you stumble all over yourself."

 

"I don’t know," Spunkmeyer said with a shrug. "It’s just the captain, you know? That voice does things to me. It’s all husky and stuff." Spunkmeyer faked an exaggerated shiver and Mossler laughed out loud.

 

"You have a crush on Janeway!"

 

"Well, who wouldn’t?" the young man defended himself. "It’s Janeway!"

 

"Yeah, I can understand that. I can just see Janeway all kicked back in her command chair, she looks at Paris and says in that gravely voice ‘Engage’."

 

"Ooooowww!" Spunkmeyer said with a delighted shudder. "Do it again!"

 

"You’re out of your mind. You know that?" Mossler laughed. "She’s in love with a Borg. Do the words ‘assimilation tubules’ mean anything to you?"

 

Janeway covered her mouth with both hands to keep from snickering out loud and ducked back out of sight. Well that certainly answered a few questions! As captain, Kathryn had dealt with more than one crush in her time. Her usual response was to shift the crewman in question to another shift to put some space between them and allow the individual some distance to get things in perspective. But she rarely dealt with Spunkmeyer on a personal level and it was only their current situation that forced them to interact more closely. Once Nemo was back in space it would no longer be an issue.

 

That didn’t mean she wasn’t flattered by his infatuation, however. Even crusty old captains need an ego boost once in a while.

When she finally had her command mask back in place Janeway tugged down the hem of her tunic and walked around the side of the ship.

 

"Crewmen," Janeway said loudly, noticing how Spunkmeyer went a little red around his ears when he heard her voice. "How’s it coming?"

 

Mossler glanced at her friend but when he couldn’t answer she said, "Great, Captain. This monster will be ready in another hour or so."

 

To his credit, Larry didn’t stammer incoherently this time when he said, "Yeah, Cap’n. I can’t think of nothin’ that says b-b-q better than this." He indicated the animal roasting over his shoulder.

 

"I’m glad to hear it. I’ll make sure the whole crew knows. Carry on."

 

She started to leave, but then turned back. "Crewman Spunkmeyer, I’ve heard you have a reputation for storytelling. May I assume you’ll be sharing some of those stories with us later?"

 

His ears turned bright red, but he seemed to understand that it was a politely worded order. "Yes, ma’am."

 

***

 

Seven was finally clean again. Her poncho had joined the rest of beta team’s ponchos in the fire and her uniform run through the recycler. Janeway had authorized the entire team to recycle their uniforms to remove all traces of blood. Now fresh and clean, Seven interacted with other crewmen intermittently as they wandered around the camp.

 

A crewman tended the animal Seven had brought down; cutting strips of meat away and placing them on plates. Individuals professed sincere appreciation for the taste of the meat as well as how tenderly it had been cooked. While they ate some crewmen took the opportunity to tease the cook who took it all in good stride.

 

"Not bad for a guy who never finished school," Ensign Jaros teased.

 

Instead of contradicting her, the cook merely said, "Thanks, Garon."

 

Baffled, Seven asked, "Crewman Spunkmeyer, why did you not complete your education?"

 

Seven and Larry were both unaware that Captain Janeway was standing only a short distance away.

 

"Well, I’ll tell you Seven. When I was a boy on my way to school I ran into my best friend, W.L. But W.L. was going the wrong way. I asked him why he was going the wrong direction and W.L. said ‘Ain’t no reason to go to school today. Somebody done let the air out of the basketball.’ So we both turned around and went home."

 

Seven was disappointed that there was no more to the explanation and frowned in confusion. "I do not see what relevance a deflated ball would have on a lack of education. I cannot believe Starfleet would allow an individual into the academy without extensive academic learning."

 

Spunkmeyer looked at Seven absolutely stunned that she really believed him. Speechless, all he could do was hand her a plate of food. "Here, Seven. Enjoy your meal."

 

Seven carried the plate over to where Janeway sat on a log talking with B’Elanna, Harry and Tuvok. Her mind wasn’t really on the conversation as she sat beside her lover, staring down at the roasted meat on her plate.

 

"Something wrong with the food, Seven?" B’Elanna asked curiously.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"You’re frowning," Kathryn explained. "Is something wrong?"

 

More concerned with the subject on her mind Seven didn’t hear the question. Instead she asked, "Kathryn, how can Crewman Spunkmeyer be a member of Starfleet? He says he did not attain a formal education. I thought all graduates of Starfleet Academy were required to complete minimum educational standards."

 

Harry Kim abruptly choked on the water he was drinking and sprayed it over the small group before he could turn his head. B’Elanna looked at Seven in astonishment before she burst out laughing until tears glistened in her eyes and even Janeway began to chuckle.

 

B’Elanna thumped Kim on the back as the young man attempted to clear water from his airway while Janeway tried to explain the situation to Seven.

 

"Seven, he was kidding. Spunkmeyer is actually quite intelligent, he just likes to make people laugh."

 

"At his own expense?" Seven asked, absolutely baffled why would he disparage himself in order to induce laughter?

 

"Well, it’s better than making fun of other people and his comments are usually something most of us can identify with. All of us know someone or have known someone like Spunkmeyer makes himself out to be with his remarks." Kathryn rationalized. "He’s from a state on Earth called Texas and is quite proud of the traditions that have been passed down in his family. Part of that tradition is something called telling tall tales."

 

"Or more accurately ‘swapping lies’," B’Elanna murmured.

 

"Yeah," Kim joined in. "Spunkmeyer says that from the time he was a kid he can remember his father and grandmother sitting at the dinner table after the evening meal and telling stories to each other. He said they would sit for hours lying to each other."

 

"For what purpose?"

 

Kathryn chose to answer this one. With a crooked grin she explained, "Whomever laughs first in a swapping stories contest loses. I’m sure we’ll get a chance to hear some of those stories later."

 

"So he is not ignorant?"

 

"No. You’re just going to have to trust me on this one."

 

"I do not believe I shall ever understand the concept of humor," Seven concluded, not completely satisfied with the answer and shaking her head slightly.

 

The others laughed quietly at Seven’s statement, but Kathryn decided this was something the other woman was just going to have to experience to understand. If she had to she would try her hand at trading stories with Spunkmeyer later so Seven could see the custom in action.

 

The crew spent hours by the fire and the atmosphere became more like shore leave than a survival situation. People were laughing and talking as the sun set, and Janeway began to relax with the people who were rapidly becoming like family to her. As the sun went down the air began to cool. Kathryn felt the heat from Seven’s body next to her and unconsciously moved closer to the younger woman until their shoulders were touching.

 

Eventually most of the crew was surrounding Janeway as they socialized near the large fire. Tom Paris judiciously kept a distance from B’Elanna, but apparently no longer saw a reason for hiding his relationship with Lieutenant Elbrun. They sat close together, but had the courtesy not to hang all over one another. Other members of the crew pulled pieces of equipment to sit on or sat on the ground. Since he had been tending the fire and cooking their meal Spunkmeyer sat not far away on an overturned crate.

 

"Hey, Larry," Ensign Rosenfeld said, "I know you grew up in the country and I can’t help wondering what you did for fun. Was there anything to do out in the sticks besides work?"

 

Wendy Rosenfeld was a friendly young blonde who worked with Spunkmeyer in security and Janeway thought she was only asking the question as an excuse to get the Crewman going.

 

Twirling a small twig between his fingers, Larry frowned as though he was really considering the question before he spoke. "Well, we didn’t do much besides work. My family was a bunch of traditionalists, you know. But now that you ask, I do remember the first annual peeing for distance contest we had which I am ashamed to say was won by my Aunt Erna Lee in the third round."

 

Smattered snickers were heard throughout the camp, and Janeway grinned at the mental picture the young man had painted. She glanced over at Seven to see her reaction and could almost pinpoint the moment when the former drone made the connection. A small smile graced Seven’s full lips and she looked back at Kathryn with her eyes shining.

 

"I believe I am beginning to understand the appeal of his remarks," Seven said in a low voice.

 

It’s a start, Janeway thought, and it was time to step things up a bit. She didn’t have long to wait before B’Elanna brought up what everyone was waiting for. "Why don’t you tell us about your family?" she invited.

 

Larry looked over at the Klingon curiously for a moment, either silently measuring her mettle or checking to see if B’Elanna understood what she was inviting. When she looked back at him innocently he decided she had no idea. Since that was the case the story would be for pure enjoyment purposes.

 

When he began to speak Janeway was convinced the slight pause was long enough for Spunkmeyer to get into character. His accent was much thicker and she decided it was to make the stories seem more authentic.

 

"I went to see my cousin Marcel Ledbetter before Nautilus left Earth. He’s tellin’ me his brother Claude was the only one in the community catchin’ any fish. Folks was going and they wasn’t catching nothin’.

 

Glancing around the crew was clearly fascinated by the tale. Some were already chuckling quietly.

 

"Oh, Claude Ledbetter he’d come in with a hover truck loaded down! So the State Game and Fish Commission of Texas decided they’d go fishin’ with Claude just to see how he was catchin’ em. Claude had told em, he’d popped off and said, ‘Ya’ll don’t know how to do it’. Said, ‘Ya’ll ought to just go with me and watch.’ Well, the game warden got up in the boat with him and they took off out in the middle of the river. The game warden said, ‘All right Claude, I’m gone see how you catchin’ all them fish when can’t nobody else catch none.’ Claude done raised the lid on the boat seat and got out a plasma charge."

 

Larry paused for a second to allow what he said to sink in amidst scattered chuckles. Then he said, "He set the fuse on it, let it go down kinda short. Drawed back and chunked it. Bluuummm! All them big catfish come turning’ their belly up and Claude was just gettin’ ‘em in by the tubful!

 

Kathryn restrained her urge to laugh along with the rest of the crew. Not far away Tom Paris was riveted by the tale, leaning forward on his elbows to catch every word. Spunkmeyer felt the captain’s eyes on him and turned toward her. He seemed to realize that she might give him the challenge he’d been looking for earlier in Torres and started to tell the story directly to Janeway.

 

"Game warden said, ‘Boy that’s against the law! You can’t do that! Don’t you know you breakin’ the law?’ Claude’s done lit another plasma charge, handed it to the game warden and it going shhhh. Game warden took the plasma charge and said, ‘You idiot! This is against the law! You can’t do this!’ Claude said, ‘You gonna sit there and argue or fish?’"

 

The crew burst out laughing, Tom Paris fairly howling in amusement as tears streamed down his face. Kathryn resisted the urge to laugh and steadily met Spunkmeyer’s challenging stare. A smiled tugged at the corners of both their mouths and Kathryn could feel Seven’s eyes on her; waiting to see what she would do next.

 

Kathryn Janeway realized she was no match for the man’s story telling talents, but she wasn’t about to back down from a challenge. Ever the master of improvisation, Janeway made up a tale on the spot and began to speak.

 

"I remember going to a fancy restaurant on Feringinar with my sister, Phoebe, a few years ago. It was right after Voyager returned to Earth. After we finished eating we went to pay the cashier. My sister picked up a complimentary toothpick from the bowl on the counter and started picking her teeth. Once she finished, Phoebe looked at the cashier, put the toothpick back in the bowl, and said, Lady, I bet you let a lot of people use those toothpicks and just walk off with them."

 

To her surprise the crew laughed just as heartily at her tale as they had at Spunkmeyer’s. Interspersed with the laughter were faint cries of "eww".

 

Spunkmeyer, being the master at swapping lies that he was, did not laugh. He did smile and Kathryn could see the suppressed laughter shining in his eyes. He took a deep breath to help quell the urge to chuckle and said, "Yeah, family can sure get you into trouble."

 

"When I was a young ‘un a growin up money was kind of short. So me and my cousin, Marcel Ledbetter, decided to take to the woods with our possum dogs and just catch em fer folks t’ eat. We was in the Johnson Station Community one night, out up north of the old railroad where they had a lot of persimmon trees and we was possum hunting."

 

Larry paused in his story and someone in the crowd bayed softly, mimicking the call of a hound. Bauuu! Laughter surged through the group and even Spunkmeyer had to take a moment to restrain the urge to join in.

 

"And about that time," Larry swallowed again and wiped the grin off his face. "And about that time I heard the big freight train coming and Marcel broke and run with his big lantern, took his red bandana and wropped it ‘round the lantern where it’d make it shine bright red and stood straddle the railroad tracks and went to waving that lantern; flagging the train. Man, a hundred car hover train squeaked to a halt. The engineer and the fireman jumped off. Said what kind of emergency do we have here? Marcel said; I wanted to see if ya’ll wanted to buy a possum."

 

Even Janeway was forcibly trying to restrain her merriment at this point. One hand was clamped over her mouth as her eyes danced. Paris’ shoulders were shaking steadily as he laughed and wiped at the tears on his face. Seven sported a rather large and attractive smile as well and Kathryn could see that she was far more interested in this game than when it had begun.

 

"The engineer said, ‘Are you an idiot? You mean to tell me that you have done stopped a hundred car hover train to see if we wanted to buy a possum?’ Said, ‘You must be an idiot! But I like possum and in as much as we have stopped, what do you want for him?’ Marcel said, ‘We ain’t caught him yet, I just wanted to see if you wanted one!’"

 

That did it! Kathryn couldn’t possibly hold her mirth in any longer. She threw her head back and laughed out loud, long and hard, along with the rest of the crew. An amused snort beside her caused Kathryn to freeze and stare at Seven in astonishment. When she realized that her lover had just snorted in laughter it set her off again.

 

Seven of Nine was actually laughing out loud!

 

Those sitting closest to the former drone came to the same understanding and laughed even harder. Tom Paris, who was already coming undone with laughter, actually started to wheeze in uncontrollable hilarity. His face turned red and it was several minutes before he could breath properly.

 

When Kathryn finally stopped laughing she looked at Spunkmeyer and wiped a tear from her eye. "You’re the master, Crewman. There’s no debate about that. Thank you. I think we all needed a good laugh."

 

Janeway glanced at Seven and started chuckling again. Seven was no longer laughing, but she did still have a lovely smile on her face.

With the show over the crowd began to break up. Crewmen drifted away, many of them heading for bed due to the lateness of the hour. A few walked over to take care of the left over remains of the animal, allowing Janeway and Seven a small amount of privacy.

 

"I believe I now understand the appeal of ‘swapping lies’.

 

"I’m just so happy I was here at this moment with you," Kathryn admitted placing a hand on Seven’s knee and leaning into her partner. "Watching you laugh for the first time was an amazing experience."

 

"Is there anything you cannot do, Kathryn? You are a great captain, decisive and wise and compassionate. You are an accomplished scientist and strategist, yet you can also tell tall tales very well."

 

Touched by Seven’s admiration Kathryn felt her cheeks grown warm and was pleased her reaction was covered by the night and play of the fire. "Oh, there are some things I can’t do. You know I don’t like to cook. I happily leave that to you. I think that’s why we complement each other so well."

 

"Because I feed you?"

 

"No!" Kathryn laughed again and said, "Because we each have our strengths and weaknesses. We balance each other."

 

Seven had a soft look on her face. She still had a small smile on her face, but the warmth in her eyes was very intense.

 

"What?"

 

Seven leaned down until her mouth was very close to Janeway’s ear. "I am very aroused, Kathryn. Perhaps we should…complement each other. Now!"

 

Blue-gray eyes widened and Kathryn drew back to look at Seven with a smile of her own. "I think that can be arranged."

 

She took Seven’s hand and led her back toward Nemo and the comfort of their quarters. She definitely appreciated Seven’s reaction to understanding humor!

 

Chapter 9

 

Three days after the barbeque the engineering team had refined enough raw dilithium ore to restore power to all of Nemo’s systems. All replicators were back at full operating capacity and the crew was back aboard. Now that the turbolifts had been repaired there was no need to climb deck by deck and the crew eagerly returned to their assigned quarters on the ship.

 

For the first time since their nightmare began the senior staff occupied the war room for their morning meeting. In the center of the table was a large pot of black coffee and a smaller carafe of Earl Grey. In front of each person was a mug filled to the brim though Janeway’s coffee cup rarely touched the tabletop as they spoke. Listening to each of her staff members in turn, Janeway slowly, but continuously sipped from her mug as though it contained the finest ambrosia; each drop to be savored and cherished.

 

With the ship repaired and a source of raw dilithium not far away she couldn’t in good conscience force her crew to continue the same way they had for weeks. They needed this. They needed clean, recycled uniforms and a familiar diet. They needed the privacy of their own quarters and a return to Starfleet routine. They needed the unequivocal confirmation that they were going to get off this planet and reach home again.

 

Seven of Nine sat at the far end of the table watching Kathryn enjoy her coffee. Janeway looked over the rim of her cup and saw Seven watching her. She grinned unrepentantly and went back to sipping the rich brew. It had been so long since she had tasted the beverage and she wasn’t about to be denied now.

 

"So that’s it," Lieutenant Torres said, doing absolutely nothing to stifle her grin. "Weapons and shields are at full power, the forward phaser strip has been repaired and the aft sensor platform is at one hundred percent. The only thing left to do is lift Nemo off the surface so we can get at the deflector array."

 

"That’s wonderful, B’Elanna. Your team has done a fine job."

 

All around was a palpable sense of accomplishment. The crew was proud and flushed with their success at having the ship fully operational with the exception of the deflector array.

 

"When can you begin repairs to the deflector?"

 

"Right away, Captain. The landing struts and ground hover footpads weren’t damaged in the crash and with full power restored it won’t be a problem to replicate any parts we need. The only reason engineering hasn’t started yet is that I want to be there when they do."

 

"I understand." It was what made B’Elanna Torres such an exceptional chief engineer. She loved her ship with the intensity she would lavish on a small child and needed to be there when repairs were done. "You have my authorization to utilize any personnel you require for this."

 

B’Elanna nodded and sat back in her chair. Janeway noticed the sharp look Torres cast toward Tom Paris, but deliberately ignored it. Tom seemed to be happy with Tamun Elbrun, but he was smart enough to stay away from B’Elanna. Even now he hardly looked up from where his hands sat on the table.

 

But sometimes, when he thought no one was looking, he would gaze at B’Elanna with a forlorn expression on his face. In a strange way Kathryn felt sorry for Tom, wondering if he had given into his baser instincts when he became involved with Elbrun and was only now realizing what he had lost. In the end she supposed it didn’t really matter. The result was the same; he had cheated on his wife and B’Elanna was not the sort to forgive and forget. She would not take him back.

 

B’Elanna had been betrayed by Tom and as a Klingon couldn’t even consider it, but Kathryn knew the woman was hurting. When she wasn’t working B’Elanna could usually be found by the stream tossing stones across the water and brooding quietly. Tom might be saddened by his loss, but he had caused the situation. B’Elanna was withdrawing from everyone on a personal level and of the two Kathryn was more concerned for her.

 

"Harry?"

 

Kim spoke quickly, as though he had barely restrained his excitement while Lieutenant Torres gave her report. "Long range sensors have picked up a planet in this system with clear readings of dilithium crystals."

 

"You could discern dilithium crystals from this distance?" Seven asked in some surprise.

 

"Yeah," he said. "There’s no mistake. It’s fairly loaded with dilithium, and the best part? The planet is populated and sensors are showing ion trails all around it."

 

"So the people there are warp capable," the captain deduced. "I guess we’ll just have to contact them and see about obtaining dilithium. Unfortunately, we don’t have much to trade at the moment."

 

"Now that Nemo is back to full power we could replicate any currency they asked for," Paris offered. He saw B’Elanna scowling at him and quickly looked away again.

 

"May I remind you, Mister Paris, that we do not even know if these people use currency?"

 

"That’s true, Commander Tuvok, but it’s worth checking into. Harry, how far away is the planet?" Janeway asked.

 

"Two point nine four light years, Captain."

 

"It would take the Stingray two days to make that journey at maximum warp," Tom pointed out.

 

"And in the mean time any away team would be on their own. Nemo wouldn’t be able to come to their rescue if they got into trouble," Janeway said. "Still, I don’t see any alternative. We’ll have to contact the leaders of this planet and see if they’ll negotiate for dilithium crystals."

 

"All they can do is say no," Torres pointed out. "We won’t be any worse off than we are now, and there are other planets in the system."

 

"Sensors aren’t picking up any other planets that show dilithium crystals," Kim pointed out.

 

"Not from this range, Lieutenant. However, once the Stingray is launched they may be able to detect other sources of dilithium."

 

"You’re as logical as ever, Tuvok, but let’s take this one step at a time. Lieutenant Torres, begin those repairs to the deflector right away. Mister Kim, see if you can raise the government of this planet. Let me know as soon as you’ve made contact. Commanders Tuvok and A’zal, please begin planning an away team to the nearby planet. Assuming we get permission I’d like to be prepared in advance."

 

The senior staff took Janeway’s orders as a dismissal and started to leave but she said, "One more thing. I want you all to know that I was able to send Nemo’s communications packet to Starfleet Command this morning. It’ll take a little longer to get there than we’re accustomed to, but rest assured that everyone’s families will be contacted."

 

"That’s great, Captain," Lieutenant Torres said. "Not only do they know we’re still alive, but if Sakonna shows up they’ll know to grab her."

 

"Precisely." It was the first time Seven had spoken throughout the meeting, but there was no mistaking the anger contained in the one word. She had almost lost everything because of the operatives actions and Kathryn had no doubt if the Romulan was present Seven might try to exact a little Borg justice.

 

"That’s it, then," she said into the suddenly quiet room. "Dismissed."

 

Everyone got up and filed out except for Seven. She walked over to Kathryn and waited until they were alone.

 

"What is it?" Janeway asked when the door closed.

 

"Kathryn, I wish to join the away team."

 

Janeway sighed and looked up at her lover. From the set expression on her face Janeway knew she wasn’t going to talk Seven out of this. They needed dilithium for the engines if Nemo was ever going to make it back home and Seven was eminently suited for this mission.

Kathryn suddenly realized the injustice she had done to her lover. She knew of the woman’s formidable intelligence and physical strength, yet when it came to away missions she still treated Seven like a child. Kathryn felt the need to protect the former drone and keep her out of situations where she could be harmed. The truth was that Seven was the most capable individual on the ship. If she were anyone other than her lover the captain wouldn’t hesitate to send her, even if her stomach was suddenly very upset.

 

"I’ll let Commander Tuvok know."

 

Seven’s expression turned quickly from surprise to gratitude. "Thank you, Kathryn."

 

The sick feeling in her belly subsided quickly when Seven rewarded her with a rather lengthy kiss.

 

"You’re welcome," Kathryn said in a husky voice once Seven released her. "Now why don’t we see if Harry was able to raise anyone on that planet?"

 

Kathryn stood and took Seven’s hand. She held it all the way across the room and released it just before they walked through the door. When they stepped across the threshold both women stopped in sudden surprise. It looked like the entire forty-six man crew was present on the bridge and Lieutenant Maltz stood at the front of the crowded room.

 

The Klingon held a jet-black cloak of some kind draped over his arm and stepped forward quickly when they entered. He nodded to the captain and then turned his sole attention to the former Borg drone.

 

"Seven of Nine," he began formally. "You showed great courage by your actions to protect this crew when the traitor sabotaged the ship. You almost paid for your heroism with your life. After your recovery you took on a beast that could have easily killed you to provide nourishment for that same crew. Were you a Klingon stories of your bravery would be told. You are not Klingon, but you have the heart of a warrior. The crew of Nemo wishes to honor your bravery by presenting you with this trophy of the beast."

 

Maltz stepped forward and shoved the soft fur into Seven’s arms. Stunned, she could only stare at the crew for a moment before she actually felt the softness of the fur. Then she saw B’Elanna’s grinning face over the Klingon’s shoulder and she realized a response was expected.

 

"I…I am honored by the gesture. Thank you."

 

Janeway smiled, slipping easily into her diplomatic persona and stepped up beside Seven. Somehow she seemed to understand that the other woman was overwhelmed by the crew’s generosity. "May I see it, Seven?"

 

Seven handed the fur to Janeway who held it up in front of her. "It’s been marvelously preserved, Lieutenant. I think it would look wonderful mounted on the bulkhead in our quarters next to your bow. What do you think, Seven?"

 

Apparently Kathryn wasn’t just being polite. She was smiling at Seven with that look in her eyes that typically made Seven melt and comply with anything Janeway wanted. This time was no exception.

 

"Yes, I think that would be the perfect location for such a thoughtful gift."

 

Satisfied with Seven’s reaction to the fur, the crew began to disperse. Lieutenant Maltz graced Seven with a customary Klingon salute of respect, a fist slammed forcefully against his chest, before he left the bridge.

 

"It really is an amazingly thoughtful gesture," Kathryn said in a low tone so only Seven could hear, handing her the pelt. Sometimes the generosity of her magnanimous crew absolutely astounded her.

 

"Captain," Lieutenant Kim said, garnering Janeway’s attention. "I’ve received a response from the planet. Visual communication coming in now."

 

Suddenly the view screen flickered and came to life. There was more than one appreciative gasp at the sight before them. A tall, slender woman stood facing them with her hands on her hips. Her hair was straight and raven black. Her body was lean and strong, muscles rippled in her arms. With sky blue eyes and patrician features the woman cut an impressive figure clad only in a snow-white unitard. And was that…?

 

It couldn’t be! She had wings!

 

"I am Shoya, First Flyer of Ikonia. State your intentions."

 

The End

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