Personal Log-Admiral Kathryn Janeway:
I sit here writing this entry and can still hardly believe where I am. Three years ago Voyager triumphantly returned to the Alpha Quadrant at great personal cost to my future self. Seven of Nine did not die and Tuvok received medical attention for a neurological condition that he had withheld from his captain.
I can’t say I’m sorry that Chakotay and Seven’s … affiliation…didn’t last. While on Earth she confessed to me that she had begun experimenting with romance by utilizing a hologram of Chakotay. It was only a natural progression to begin dating the man himself, she insisted.
Of course he had been more than willing to be the recipient of her affections, what man wouldn’t? It had taken an encounter with an older Janeway to point out that life was too short to waste time settling for someone she didn’t love.
Chakotay took an assignment as Starfleet Director of Anthropology in New Mexico and seemed to get over Seven pretty quickly. He’s married now and their first child is due in a few months.
The rest of the crew was just as quickly snapped up. Seasoned officers were hard to come by after the Dominion War and Starfleet was happy to pardon any minor transgressions by Maquis and Starfleet personnel alike.
Tom Paris took a position on Mars as a pilot instructor for Starfleet and is a senior lieutenant now. I’m so glad that I took a chance on him and got him released from the penal colony. I always knew that he had potential.
B’Elanna became chief engineer at McKinley Station, also on Mars, to be near her husband and is also a senior lieutenant. She will probably receive a promotion to Lieutenant Commander shortly.
It’s ironic that B’Elanna and Seven began with so much animosity and are now close enough that they could be family. I suppose that’s what happens when you end up working elbow to elbow with someone for two years. In a way it was inevitable once Seven joined the Theoretical Propulsion Group headed under Doctor Leah Brahms and started working on a new Nebula Class starship. As chief engineer B’Elanna Torres was designated to help construct the new vessel.
I guess out of all my crew I made the worst decision as far as my career was concerned. Accept a promotion and remain at Starfleet Command in San Francisco or accept reassignment on a Galaxy class starship exploring the region near the Badlands? At the time it was a no-brainer. The Badlands were partly responsible for stranding Voyager in the Delta Quadrant for seven years and I had no desire to command a ship full of families. I took the promotion and after six months of pushing paper knew I’d made the wrong choice. That’s really how I ended up here with most of my old family around me. I guess everything happens for a reason.
Seven, B’Elanna and their team finished the construction of the Nautilus three weeks ago. The decision fell to me to decide who would man the vessel for a three-month shakedown cruise. I can honestly say the requests to join Nautilus’ crew literally flooded my office and I wasn’t about to let the chance go by to venture into space once again even if it was only in a supervisory capacity.
I chose the crew according to my own comfort zone, those I trusted more than any other. The only concession asked of me was that Starfleet choose the captain. They chose Captain Robert Thomas to lead this new vessel. I have never worked with the man, but he has a fine Starfleet record although he is a little young. That’s not uncommon these days after the war. Tuvok is first officer. I’m aware that he doesn’t enjoy the part of a first officer’s job that entails personal interaction with the crew, but I believe he will adapt.
Lieutenant Harry Kim contacted me while still at headquarters to ask for his old job of communications officer back. How could I deny him?
Tuvok’s daughter, A’zal, is chief of security. Tom and B’Elanna volunteered for this three month cruise and left their daughter, Miral, with Admiral Paris for the duration. The baby is three years old now and while I’m sure neither of them is completely comfortable leaving her for that long even devoted parents need a vacation from time to time. It’s not likely that what happened to Voyager would ever happen to another vessel since there isn’t another Caretaker in the known universe.
There is no one I trust more to pilot us safely on this journey than Tom Paris and I believe that B’Elanna just couldn’t let her new baby, the Nautilus, out of her sight. The fact that she helped construct those engines goes a long way to ease my mind. Of course Seven and Doctor Brahms are both on board to monitor the efficiency and design of this new type of propulsion they’ve come up with. Voyager’s Emergency Medical Hologram is also aboard at my request although dragging him away from his very human wife was difficult to say the least. I still can’t believe he’s married.
The doctor has chosen the name Joseph Martin to be entered into the ship’s logs. It took him seven years to come up with Joe?
Computer, delete the last sentence.
Now, for the ship itself.
The Nautilus has twenty-two decks and a crew of five hundred and twenty. Engineering, the heart of the ship, is located on decks sixteen and seventeen. Although not much larger than Voyager this vessel has a detachable saucer section much like the Enterprise, Starfleet’s flagship. The saucer section has been fitted with conventional warp drive and an independent engineering section on deck six. Since it is highly unlikely that the saucer section will be piloted independent of the main body of the vessel for a significant amount of time the design team determined warp speed would be sufficient.
The saucer section, if separated, comprises six decks with a battle bridge, sickbay, brig, and one cargo bay. Fifty crewmen are typically assigned to the saucer section for actual combat situations.
Propulsion for the Nautilus is based on Borg transwarp technology adapted to be compatible with Starfleet systems. Purportedly, the ship can travel tens of thousands of light years in weeks as opposed to decades. Wouldn’t that have made a difference in the delta quadrant, and you know…only Seven could have gotten it to work.
Of all the times to exercise appreciation for the arts it amuses me that Seven did it with the naming of this ship. I thought she called it the Nautilus as some kind of tribute to Earth’s first nuclear submarine. I was wrong. The name was actually chosen for a ship created by Jules Verne in his novel ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’. That intrepid vessel traveled where no one had ever gone before. Seven says this one will too.
I can’t wait to see how the Nautilus performs and I have to say that since returning to space I feel more alive than I have for the last three years. They say you can never go home again? I feel like I have.
Now let’s see what this baby can do.
End Personal Log
"Admiral on the bridge," Captain Thomas declared as Janeway stepped off of the turbolift and into the familiar sights and sounds of a starship bridge.
She was momentarily surprised by the outburst of enthusiasm until she met the green-eyed gaze from the sandy-haired captain. Excitement glistened in his eyes, a grin curled the corners of his mouth and made dimples appear on his youthful cheeks.
Kathryn grinned back, his enthusiasm infectious. "As you were."
All hands eagerly returned to their duties as the Nautilus prepared to retract the moorings that kept them berthed at Deep Space Nine. They had used the two days of the start of this journey to travel from Earth to the Federation outpost where they finished taking on their crew. Now it was time to head into deep space. Janeway took a seat at the captain’s left as he began to give orders.
"Clear all moorings."
"Moorings cleared," Tom Paris replied smartly in the best Starfleet tradition.
"Mister Paris, engage impulse engines at one eighth velocity and back us away slowly."
As soon as they were cleared the captain ordered them to full impulse. They wouldn’t go into warp until out of DS9’s sector of space.
Kathryn heard the unmistakable sound of the turbolift doors open and turned her head although she already knew whom it was.
Seven of Nine stepped onto the bridge and up to the aft science station where she immediately began to tap a series of buttons.
"Doctor Brahms will monitor the engines from deck sixteen," Seven told the captain but her eyes were on Janeway.
Kathryn was amused and smiled at her. Clearly, the other woman wasn’t convinced of the captain’s qualifications and still considered her to be in charge. She had never seemed to grasp the concept of a chain of command and Kathryn was secretly delighted by the obstinacy displayed by the other woman. It had certainly kept her on her toes while lost in the Delta Quadrant.
She idly noticed that Seven had abandoned her customary biosuit and the coveralls she had worn to work on the new vessel to adopt an unadorned Starfleet uniform for this mission. She cut a dashing figure with her blonde hair in its customary severe twist, a long-sleeved gray turtleneck, black trousers and matching boots. A strange feeling started in her chest and Kathryn frowned as she tried to identify the sensation.
Seven kept looking at Kathryn throughout the perusal and when she looked back up into those blue eyes she felt caught.
Nothing like openly checking her out on our first trip into deep space, Kathryn thought and turned her attention back to the front.
She finally decided not to worry about it as the Nautilus headed for the coordinates where they would make the first jump into transwarp. She was just easing back into the comfort and familiarity of having Seven behind her on the bridge, she decided. And Tom in front of her, she mentally added as she glanced down at the back of his head. Still that uncomfortable feeling persisted in her breastbone.
Being on Earth for the last three years with separate career paths had left the former crew with precious little time to keep up with each other. There was the odd dinner here or the formal gathering there, but all in all each had gone their own way. Of all the crew Seven was the one Kathryn kept in closest contact with and even that was sporadic at best. She was going to enjoy getting reacquainted with old friends during this short journey.
"So, Tom how’s Miral?" Harry asked from his former position at communications.
It gave Kathryn a jolt of déjà vu to look over and see him there. He had been so green that first time out of space dock, but had gone through so much during the seven years Voyager was stranded in the delta quadrant that he had become a fine officer and an even better man. She was intensely proud of him.
"She’s doing great. Getting more and more like her mother every day," Tom said as he looked over his shoulder. "She knows what she wants and she’s going to get it in the loudest way possible."
Kathryn chuckled with everyone else in appreciation of the Klingon temper, and although Tom’s words were complaining the pride and love he held for his daughter was evident.
"I know this is the first time you’ve been away from her for any length of time, Tom, but I’m sure she’ll be just fine."
"Oh, don’t worry about me, Admiral. Feel sorry for my father. You should have seen his face when he found out both B’Elanna and me were going on this trip. He was absolutely terrified!"
Harry laughed and asked, "Not quite sure what to make of a half Klingon granddaughter, eh?"
"One eighth actually, but yeah something like that. Don’t get me wrong dad loves Miral. But like most people he’s always ready to give her back to her parents. I wish we could have brought her along, but after our last mission we all know how unpredictable things can be. I’d rather have dad pulling the rest of his hair out than take a chance on anything happening to Miral."
Kathryn noticed that Captain Thomas didn’t participate in the jovial banter and looked over at him curiously. He sat quietly working his console, completing tasks expected of any captain at the start of a mission. But the soft smile on his face was evidence that he was listening.
Over the last two days Kathryn had noticed that he seemed quick to laugh and slow to anger. He listened intently and focused completely on what happened around him. More than that he was unthreatened by her presence among so many of her former crew. He had even confided over coffee at Quark’s that he considered her presence a bonus. The majority of her senior staff had been on Voyager and having their former commanding officer aboard would ease the transition to a new captain.
On the whole she decided she rather liked Robert Thomas and understood why Starfleet had put their faith in the thirty-six year old captain.
Tuvok of course was Tuvok. He ignored the exchange going on around him as he concentrated on his duties as first officer, having grown used to the small talk while stuck in the delta quadrant.
When he finally did speak into the lull in conversation it was to ask, "Seven, status of the warp engines?"
"All systems functioning within normal parameters."
Kathryn looked back and saw Seven watching her again as she spoke, if she had ever looked away. She knew that Seven trusted Tuvok implicitly so perhaps she just enjoyed looking at Janeway. Well, there were certainly worse ways to pass the time Kathryn decided. It wasn’t like there was a lot for an observer to do aside from the daily reports to Starfleet Command. Maybe she would ask Seven to dinner in her quarters later so they could catch up. With the final adjustments to the ship’s systems it had been a few weeks since they had gotten together.
"Very well," Captain Thomas responded. "Helm, prepare to engage at warp six. Set coordinates at 236 mark 6."
"Aye, sir." Tom quickly tapped his panel.
The familiar hum from the warp engines vibrated subtly beneath the soles of her boots and Kathryn couldn’t hold back her excited grin. Ah, to be among the stars again with the potential for unknown adventures!
She looked at Thomas and didn’t see the joy reflected back that she had witnessed earlier. Of course, this was just a new ship/assignment to him. He had never left space, but Kathryn hadn’t been out from behind a desk in three years. It was new to her all over again.
Thomas felt her gaze on him and abruptly met her eyes. Her excitement was palpable and he smiled at her.
"You have a way of making someone appreciate what they take for granted, Admiral."
"What ever made me give this up?" she asked as the Nautilus streaked into the endless night.
Janeway sat for a while and enjoyed the excitement of the busy crew all around her. After an hour she found that she had started to wander away with her thoughts. She wondered if she would have been the one to receive command of the brilliant new ship if her crew had never gotten lost in the Badlands all those years ago. Probably not, she decided, since Seven would never have been rescued by the Borg or helped contribute to the design of the new vessel.
"Captain Thomas, I should assist Dr. Brahms in engineering," Seven spoke from the science station on the upper level.
That reminded Kathryn of things she had to do as well and she stood up. "Speaking of other duties, I should probably go start my report for Starfleet Command."
"Understood, Admiral," Thomas said and smiled up at her before he addressed their resident expert in theoretical propulsion. "Carry on Seven. Let me know how the diagnostics go on the transwarp."
Seven seemed to hesitate before she nodded once toward the man in command and headed toward the turbolift.
Janeway joined her on the lift and commanded the computer to carry the car to deck two. The main bridge was located on deck nine, but quarters for the VIP’s, the captain and the propulsion team were on the same deck as the battle bridge, deck three. Since the battle bridge was only used during actual engagements or for simulations there was very little traffic on that deck the majority of the time and she appreciated that her quarters were only one deck away from where her office was located.
Kathryn also liked the fact that it meant Seven had her own quarters right down the hall from her. A Borg alcove had been installed in the quarters to recharge her cybernetic systems and at least she didn’t have to regenerate in a cargo bay where anyone could see.
"So Seven, how are the transwarp engines looking," Kathryn asked more for something to say into the silence than because she doubted the young woman’s ability to accomplish anything she set her mind to. On the heels of her question came the identity for the nagging sensation she had experienced since Seven first set foot on the bridge. She was nervous around Seven.
Nonsense, Starfleet Admirals don’t get nervous around subordinate crewmembers, she tried to tell herself.
To her surprise Seven said, "Several of the plasma flow regulators have been thrown out of alignment by a .03 variance since we engaged conventional warp engines, but I do not believe it is anything to be concerned with. We are correcting the problem now."
Janeway frowned. The last thing they needed on a deep space mission was problems with the regulators but that was what a shakedown cruise was for, to work out any bugs in the system.
"Well, I’m sure if anyone can get the problem solved it’s you."
Kathryn looked sideways at her companion and realized that the words had come out as an unintentional purr. She had only meant them to be a compliment, but with the way it had come out she was concerned Seven would think there was a hidden agenda.
Fortunately the other woman didn’t seem to think anything out of the ordinary since her expression hadn’t changed.
Struggling for something else to say to deflect her discomfort she said, "At least that cloaking technology Starfleet picked up from the Romulans during the Dominion War will come in handy."
"Indeed, as well as the ablative hull armor that Admiral Janeway brought with her during her rescue of Voyager."
Kathryn almost choked at the easy reference to her other self’s blatant violation of the temporal prime directive and was relieved when the lift doors opened onto deck two. There was that feeling of nervousness again!
She had almost walked past the sensor that would allow the doors to close when another thought occurred to her. Janeway turned back to Seven and said, "Oh, by the way…I know we’re both busy getting settled in, but would you have dinner with me tonight? If you have the time that is."
Now see, that wasn’t so hard. It even sounded kind of smooth, she thought, and it didn’t sound nervous at all!
Seven agreed immediately. "Of course, Admiral. I would be delighted to join you."
"Great," Kathryn smiled. "My quarters at eighteen hundred?"
Seven nodded and Kathryn stepped back into the corridor to allow the doors to close. She could have sworn there was a tiny smile around Seven’s eyes when she had agreed to the dinner. Feeling entirely too good for herself Kathryn turned and strode toward her office with an extra bounce in her step.
Now if she could only get all of her bags unpacked before Seven showed up in her quarters! She had never been one for so much procrastination before but that was what three years behind a desk did for you.
Janeway entered her office and stopped just inside the doorway. It wasn’t the first time she had been in here, but it still always gave her a bit of a start. In a lot of ways it reminded her of being back on board Voyager although the room was considerably larger than her ready room had been back then. The Nautilus was almost twice as big so she supposed she should expect that, but it still seemed like an awful lot of wasted space. The room was decorated in simple, but stylish colors of pale green and silver. A large potted plant took up one corner of the wall next to the huge windows and although there was no upper level a small lounging area had been set up next to the viewports where she could look out into space.
Kathryn felt the room could be split in two and still be large enough for two offices. Still, she did like the feeling of not being cramped and walked to the replicator for a cup of coffee before she started her report to Starfleet.
Even the replicators were different she remembered from going over Nautilus’ schematics. The same dilithium crystals that powered the warp core powered them. Thus they were a lot more reliable than the bio-neural gel packs Voyager had been graced with. As long as they had dilithium the replicators would continue to function.
Kathryn sat at her desk and turned on the console in front of her before she took a sip of her hot beverage and sat it beside her. It didn’t take long to fill out the daily report Starfleet required of her and store it with the communications package due to be sent out at the end of the alpha shift, remembering to include the minor problem with the plasma flow regulators.
Communications had changed significantly since Voyager had been lost in the delta quadrant. Then they had only been capable of subspace transmissions that would have taken years to reach Earth from their location. Now Starfleet relied on the use of technology to open micro wormholes. This was especially important with a vessel capable of traveling the known universe as quickly as the Nautilus.
Finished with her task Janeway left the office to head back to her quarters. She wanted to finish getting unpacked and head for the holodeck to get in some personal exercise time before her dinner with Seven. Nautilus was equipped with eight holodecks; four on deck ten and the other four on deck twelve. It seemed like a lot for such a small ship, but there were five hundred plus people on board and during any deep space mission holodecks weren’t just a luxury, they were essential. With everyone on board so fresh into this mission it was unlikely they would be in use yet. Maybe she would even set up the program of Leonardo De Vinci she had enjoyed before.
Two hours later a very sweaty but content Admiral Janeway headed back to her quarters on deck three. She had programmed a heavy workout of rock climbing into the holodeck and her limbs still trembled slightly from the strain of free climbing. It wasn’t something she had enjoyed before being assigned to Starfleet Command while on Earth, but after such a sedentary position she had found that she needed an adrenaline rush from time to time. With the holodeck safeties on there was no real danger, but the perceived possibility of a fall gave her all the thrill she needed and provided a great workout.
Walking down Nautilus’ corridors Kathryn was lost in thought and absently nodded greetings to any of the crewmembers she passed without really seeing them. A small frown marred her features as she thought of the conversation she had shared with Seven earlier.
Nothing had been said that could even marginally have been considered over the line, but she remembered the tone she had used and the looks through her lashes she had given the other woman while they talked. Anyone else would have known that they weren’t the usual tools a superior officer used to address a crewmate.
The last thing Kathryn wanted was to make Seven uncomfortable around her and with the limited contact they had enjoyed over the last three years she realized that the potential existed to do just that. Her personal feelings for Seven were strong but the other woman had never done anything to indicate she returned them. In fact, she had chosen Chakotay when it came down to it.
Even after Seven broke off her affair with Chakotay, Janeway had never let her feelings show. At first there were debriefings to be held and Kathryn felt Seven needed some time after her break up before her former commanding officer declared her feelings. Then Seven joined the TPG and they both suddenly seemed too busy. Kathryn had tried to tell herself that it was enough that Seven was no longer involved with her first officer but subconsciously realized there was more to it than that.
What held her back boiled down to nothing more than fear. She could face a quadrant full of hostile species and very large germs, but she couldn’t tell a beautiful woman how she felt about her.
Seven had never shown the slightest romantic interest in her and Kathryn simply couldn’t face the possibility of being rejected by her. Added to that were her own insecurities. She had never been involved with another female and if by some strange chance Seven were interested she would demand a lot more than any man would!
She would just have to try and control herself better around her friend, Kathryn decided as she entered her quarters. Catching sight of her reflection from the replicator Janeway wondered why Seven would want her. She was thirteen years Seven’s senior and didn’t think she could hope to equal the former Borg’s beauty. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t be her friend or ignore the crush she had on the younger woman.
Crush. The word felt so juvenile, but she refused to allow it to be more than that. A crush could be gotten over, worked past. Love could not.
Her decision made Janeway reached up and tapped her communicator. "Janeway to Captain Thomas."
"Thomas here, Admiral."
"Estimated time to our destination?"
There was a pause while the captain conferred with navigation. Then he answered, "Twenty six point nine hours."
"I’ll be in my quarters settling in if you need me."
Janeway grinned as the communications channel closed. Someone had obviously told him she didn’t like to be called ma’am.
Kathryn walked into her bedroom, a much larger version than what she had enjoyed on a starship before, and began to unpack her final bag. Most of her clothes had already been placed in drawers or hung in the closet and a few holo-images were strewn about her cabin. Her toiletries were in the bag she now held and she crossed over to the bathroom to unpack them.
Although any crewmember could obtain personal hygiene items from the replicator these were more personal. A bottle of her favorite cologne from her mother, a hairbrush she had picked up on the Katarian home world and her favorite bath salts were placed with care around the small room. It did boast a shower as well as a tub with whirlpool jets. All of the showers installed in the Nautilus were equipped with a sonic as well as a hydro setting, but only the quarters on deck three had tubs installed in addition to the regulation shower.
Kathryn ran the tub and added a generous splash of her bath salts before she left it to fill while she retrieved her robe from the bedroom. The tub finished filling and shut itself off. Steam rose off the hot water and she gingerly climbed in before reclining against the side. A groan escaped her lips as the water helped ease the ache in her sore muscles.
The workout had been intense, but even then her thoughts of Seven kept distracting her. She had memorized every detail of the other woman’s face by now and images of full, pouty lips slipped through her mind while her fingers dipped lower in the water to slip over distended flesh. Kathryn realized what she was doing and yanked her hand away while she sat up fully alert.
She refused to indulge her fantasies about the other woman in such a way. That could only lead to her wanting more and ultimately making a fool of herself in front of Seven. She might desperately want the other woman, but her desires and her actions were two separate things. She refused to let her desires dictate her actions.
Kathryn cupped double handfuls of the hot water and splashed it over her face repeatedly. Then she picked up the washcloth and lathered it with soap before she began to scrub her body almost furiously. After a time she realized she was trying to punish herself for her inadvertent slip and dropped the cloth into the tub.
"Kathryn, get a grip," she said aloud. Then she took a deep breath and finished her bath quietly. Seven would be here in a few hours and she still had to get ready.
It was almost eighteen hundred and Kathryn was almost ready. She had replicated a light dinner of antipasto salad, ravioli and garlic bread and placed them under stasis lids to keep them hot and fresh until her guest arrived. With the new replicator systems even she had a hard time ruining dinner. The best part was that she could replicate anything, even chocolate ice cream, and the replicator would make sure the meal was completely nutritionally balanced. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about gaining a ton of weight from all of the carbohydrates implied by her selections.
A light blush wine sat in a bucket of ice on the table and she was just putting the finishing touches on her wardrobe. Kathryn wore a pair of simple, but flattering black slacks that flared out slightly to drape over black loafers. A short-sleeved white silk shirt with the first two buttons open framed an emerald necklace and she couldn’t resist adding a touch of perfume behind her ears.
When she walked back into the dining area she realized that she had created a romantic atmosphere. Even the light jazz playing overhead could be considered romantic. Just as her eyes went wide and she considered changing something the chime announcing her guest went off. At least she hadn’t lit candles!
Kathryn was disappointed to see that Seven was still in uniform. Although she looked good in it she had hoped the other woman would take the chance to let her hair down a little. It seemed that some things never changed. No doubt if Kathryn suggested such a thing Seven would want to know why. She could just hear the other woman ask, "Will my choice of attire change the experience of dining in your quarters, Admiral?"
Instead she said, "Come in, Seven. I’m glad you could make it."
Glad was an understatement and the way her blood just surged in her veins was not a good sign. To cover her sudden blush she said, "Dinner’s ready. I hope that you like Italian food," and led the way to the table.
Seven glanced at the dishes Kathryn revealed when she removed the stasis lids and said, "It looks delicious, Admiral. I have found while on Earth that I enjoy Italian cuisine very much."
Happy with that news Kathryn seated herself and filled their wineglasses while Seven sat down across from her. "This is a very light wine," she said conversationally. "It is slightly sweet and easy on the alcohol content. I remember that you used to have a very low tolerance to alcohol."
"Yes," Seven agreed readily. "However I believe that my tolerance has improved since we left Voyager and I am sure one glass will not unduly affect me."
Startled Kathryn looked up to see if she had somehow offended her guest and noticed a slight twinkle in her eye. "You almost had me there," she laughed.
Seven smiled slightly and raised her glass to sip the beverage. "It is very good. I like it."
Janeway was pleased things had started off so well and tucked into her meal. She was determined that she would not talk about work over dinner and searched for a safe topic. Since asking Seven to literally let her hair down was out she asked, "So, how was your day?"
Talk about inane, she thought, but Seven seemed to take it in stride.
"My duty shift was unremarkable. Doctor Brahms and I work well together, but I have discovered that she becomes nervous in open space."
"What do you mean," Kathryn asked curiously.
"She is much more vocal than previous interaction with her had led me to believe. I now know more about her relationship with Commander LeForge than I ever wanted to."
Kathryn laughed at the idea of an uncomfortable Seven of Nine listening to the romantic entanglement of the propulsion director with the Enterprise’s former engineer. "I’m sure she’s just missing him. She’ll settle into the flow once we’ve been in space for a few weeks."
They spoke about being back with previous crewmembers on a ship again and Kathryn discovered that the former Borg had missed the others too. Naomi Wildman, the first child born on board Voyager and one of Seven’s closest friends, was attending school on the Katarian home world and Seven missed their games of kodis-kot.
Conversation drifted off and they were quiet for a few minutes but Kathryn was having difficulty keeping her eyes off Seven’s hair. She had only seen it down once while they were in Unimatrix Zero. Would it be as shiny as she remembered? Had Seven continued to let it grow or was it still at shoulder length.
The questioning tone brought her attention to Seven’s face. "Hmm?"
"Is there something wrong?"
"No, Seven. Why would you think that?"
"You have been staring at me for two point four minutes without speaking. I was concerned that something was wrong with my appearance."
Kathryn sat back and put her fork on the edge of her plate. "I’m sorry, Seven. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable."
"I am not uncomfortable. I am merely curious."
Could she do it? Should she do it? Unable to help herself Kathryn finally admitted, "It’s your hair. I was wondering…if you would take it down."
A look of confusion flitted across Seven’s face, but in the end she humored Janeway and reached up to remove the pin that held the blonde tresses in place. Golden locks fell to gentle frame Seven’s face and satisfy Janeway’s curiosity. Her hair had indeed continued to grow and fell to the middle of her back. They stared into each other’s eyes; one curious and the other spellbound.
"You should wear it down more often," Janeway said striving for casual but sounding remarkably shy. "You look lovely."
Seven didn’t respond but the warm look in her eyes made Kathryn glad that she had spoken what she felt. Both women concentrated on their meals after that; content to simply be in each other’s company. Soon Kathryn felt the meal drawing to a close and wondered what now? Should they sit on the sofa and discuss warp theory?
Her hands had started to tingle when Seven let her hair down, a sure sign of sexual desire, and she ached to touch the other woman. If they sat together on the sofa she didn’t know if she would be able to resist. Were the blonde locks as soft as they looked?
Their few dinners together on Earth had usually entailed a very public restaurant and there had never been the possibility of impropriety. Having Seven alone she just wanted touch her. The decision was made for her before she could invite the other woman to sit with her on the lounge.
"Torres to Seven," the chief engineer’s voice came over Seven’s combadge.
"Seven here," she replied with a regretful glance at her companion.
"Seven, we’re having some trouble down here with the plasma regulators. We can’t seem to get the flow right and could use your expertise."
Janeway was disappointed that their evening had to end so quickly, but in a strange way felt relieved at the same time. At least she wouldn’t be able to do anything else to make Seven uncomfortable and maybe by the time she saw the other woman on a personal basis again she could get her hormones under control.
Seven flashed Janeway an apologetic look before she responded to the chief engineer. "Understood, Lieutenant. I am on my way."
She stood and swept her hair into its customary style as she said, "My apologies, Admiral. I must return to duty."
Kathryn stood and walked her toward the door. "Plasma flow regulators? Isn’t that the problem you mentioned earlier?"
"Yes. Most of the regulators have been corrected but we are still experiencing some difficulties."
Kathryn’s faith in Seven’s abilities was unshakeable. If she said she could correct the problem, then she could. As long as everything was fixed before they reached the jump coordinates she wasn’t concerned. Besides, a few bugs were to be expected with a new ship design. She had never seen one that hadn’t initially had a few problems.
Seven was about to leave when Janeway impulsively rested a hand on her forearm. "Thank you, for coming to dinner. I’m sorry you have to leave so soon."
Honestly! What was wrong with her? Couldn’t she even say goodnight with Seven without flirting with her?
Again a briefly confused expression showed in the small frown between Seven’s eyes before it cleared. "As am I, Admiral. Thank you for a lovely evening."
Janeway didn’t know if the remark was one Seven had learned from her social lessons or if it was a spontaneous statement, but was charmed by it nonetheless. She simply couldn’t have stopped herself when she said softly, "Perhaps you would like to do it again, soon?"
For the first time since the evening had started Seven seemed to realize a little of what Janeway was doing. She turned to face Kathryn fully and her expression softened from her usual cool countenance.
"I would like that very much," Seven admitted with half a step into the other woman’s personal space. "Tomorrow? Same time?"
Kathryn was tempted to jump on the idea and not just the promise of dinner, but common sense held her back. Looking up at Seven through half-closed eyes she said, "As much as I would like that we’ll be at the rendezvous coordinates about this time tomorrow. If nothing unexpected happens would you settle for a late dinner instead?"
Seven seemed to consider the request before she responded, "Under one condition. Tomorrow night I shall cook and you shall be my guest."
The slight inflection Seven placed on the word guest made Kathryn wonder if she had meant more. Was Seven actually flirting back with her a little? She felt the blood rush through her veins and readily agreed to the other woman’s terms.
"Until tomorrow night then, Admiral."
"Oh, and Seven? When we’re alone would you please call me Kathryn?"
After all she wasn’t Seven’s commanding officer anymore and was really just an observer during this mission.
"I would be honored…Kathryn."
Seven smiled and in the next instant she was gone. Kathryn was left with the intense feeling of needing a cold shower.
"Are you sure? This is Janeway we’re talking about."
Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres looked at Seven like the other woman was close to losing her mind.
"Am I sure that she was attempting to flirt with me? No. However, I was Borg and I have the assimilated memories of countless individuals who have engaged in romantic endeavors."
"And these remembered experiences have lead you to the conclusion that Janeway was coming on to you," B’Elanna finished. The whole idea of Janeway getting involved with someone was like hearing that your mother was having sex! She blanched at the idea, but tried to get a grip.
"What exactly did she do to make you think this?"
Seven answered the question logically and without any inflection as she described the tone of voice Janeway had used while speaking to her, the request to let her hair down and the way the Admiral had looked at Seven from under her lashes.
"She batted her eyes at you?" Torres asked incredulously before she smacked herself hard on the forehead. "Ho boy!"
"Indeed, she also asked me to call her Kathryn when we were alone." Maybe now the engineer could give Seven some helpful advice for their dinner the following evening.
Instead there was a tiny moment when B’Elanna looked at Seven carefully. Finally she said, "The real question is how do you feel about her?"
"I am unsure," Seven admitted. "Admiral Janeway has always been the person I trust most. Her smile makes me feel warm; when she is displeased I experience a tight sensation in my abdomen. I am more content when she is near me and am distracted when she is not."
"Didn’t you feel that way about Commander Chakotay?"
Chakotay and B’Elanna had been very close friends. They had served in the Maquis together and trusted each other implicitly. When the man had gotten involved with Seven B’Elanna hadn’t liked the idea very much, but she had gotten to know the other woman better since then. Still, there was the nagging possibility in the back of B’Elanna’s mind that Seven had given up on her relationship too quickly.
"No. My experience with Commander Chakotay was pleasant, but was not passionate. I found it easy to terminate our relationship."
"Not passionate? You mean that you never…?"
"Had sex with him? No. We dated for several weeks, but then Admiral Janeway came from the future to return Voyager to Earth. Shortly after that our affiliation ended."
"I can’t see Chakotay being happy with a platonic relationship," B’Elanna mused aloud.
"He was not." Seven frowned at the memory before relating to her friend, "In fact there were several occasions where he insinuated something was wrong with me because I had no interest in what he called ‘sleeping with him’. Somehow, I think sleep was the last thing he had in mind."
B’Elanna’s head impacted with the underside of the warp core assembly and she bit off the oath that came to mind. Instead she slid out from under the flow regulators to look at her friend where she was lay on her back using a hyper-spanner to adjust the plasma intake.
"There is nothing wrong with you. If you don’t feel like having sex with someone, then you shouldn’t. He was wrong for doing that to you."
B’Elanna sat up on the engineering deck and asked, "Seven? I want you to think about something for a moment. Think about what it would be like to have…sex…with Janeway, and then tell me how it makes you feel." She had to try not to choke over the use of the word Janeway and sex in the same sentence, but felt it was very important for Seven to know how she felt before she could decide on a course of action.
To her amazement Seven’s eyes fluttered closed and a soft smile curled the corners of her lips. "How does it make me feel? The blood in my veins feels heated, like molten lead. My skin tingles and my stomach feels odd. I can hear her voice and…" Seven swallowed and took a deep breath that caused her full breasts to fill in a slightly distracting way.
"I get the idea," B’Elanna said dryly. "Look, I’m hardly an expert. My longest relationship is with a Human flyboy who’d rather repair old cars in a holodeck than have a nice dinner together. Still, even I can see that you’ve got it bad."
"You’re in love with her!" B’Elanna said in a loud stage whisper so the rest of the engineering and propulsion crews wouldn’t hear her. "If Janeway really is flirting with you, then I’d say here’s your chance."
"What do you recommend?"
B’Elanna thought for a moment and looked around engineering. No one was in earshot for which she was eternally grateful. It wouldn’t be good if the rumor got around that she was trying to fix the resident Borg up with the Admiral and it certainly wouldn’t be much fun if Janeway found out. She could still remember the few lectures she had received from the other woman during her career and didn’t look forward to a repeat performance.
Doctor Brahms stood across the room pulling diagnostics out of the main computer and would probably work her way over to the duo with the results. Strands of her dark hair had come loose from her bun and she looked tired. Whatever advice B’Elanna was going to give her it had better be quick.
"Remember all of those assimilated memories? Court her."
"You think I should court Admiral Janeway?"
"She may be an admiral," B’Elanna pointed out, "but she’s also a woman. Treat her like one."
From where Seven lay on the hard deck plating,that seemed like the best advice she had received in a long while. The thought of Janeway as a woman added to the tender feelings she had experienced while thinking of having sex with her. But what would Janeway like? Would she like flowers and candy, poems and moonlight walks?
"But B’Elanna if I am ever going to have sex with her…"
B’Elanna choked and yanked Seven by her collar into a sitting position. Seven was accustomed to the Klingon’s aggressive nature and thought nothing of it when B’Elanna’s face suddenly hovered three inches from her nose. She had a very good view of slightly pointed teeth.
"Whatever you do, don’t use that expression with her! Janeway strikes me as the romantic type,and I think sex is beside the point for now. Concentrate on spending time with her and allowing your feelings to develop before you try to jump in the sack with her. Also, when and if it finally does happen I think she would probably prefer the term ‘making love’."
Making love? Seven thought about it and had to agree. Sex implied nothing but the act itself. If she ever found herself in a physical encounter with Janeway it would have to be about showing how she felt. It would have to be love.
"Is this a wrestling match or can anyone join in?"
Both women looked up into the amused face of Doctor Leah Brahms and Torres quickly let go of Seven’s collar.
"Just working out the details."
Seven was impressed by her friend’s ability to speak the absolute truth while implying something else altogether. She raised her eyebrow and tried to concentrate while Leah began to point out the problems with the flow regulators. Apparently the problem wasn’t in the systems at all but in the dilithium crystals they had used to power the core. The crystals had minute fissures that hadn’t been detected with initial scans and had begun to break down while in use. To fix the problems they would have to replace the crystals altogether. It looked like it was going to be a long night and Seven spared a thought that Janeway would have a good night’s rest.
The following morning Janeway dressed for duty while she mentally slapped herself a few dozen times. She hadn’t meant to be so blatant with Seven, but had been unable to help herself. It had to be the exhilaration she felt at being in space, she felt fifteen years younger.
Kathryn walked out the doors to her quarters headed for her office and came to a stop in mid-stride.
Was she imagining things?
She shook her head to clear it slightly from the hallucination she had experienced before she finally turned to look at the object that sat on the deck outside her quarters. Who could possibly be giving her flowers? Maybe they had accidentally been left in front of the wrong door.
The spray of red and yellow roses was breathtaking. Various greens and babies breath had been incorporated into the bouquet that sat patiently in a cut glass vase. She knelt on the floor and looked for a card that would identify the source of the mysterious gift.
There! So small she would have missed it had she not looked for it.
Kathryn opened the card with anticipation, but there were only two words inside. "Thank you."
Thank you? She was more confused than ever as she looked up and down the corridor for signs of the anonymous gift giver. Thank you for what? The note could have come from anyone.
Was someone thanking her for adding him or her to the Nautilus crew or was it something more personal? Were the flowers from Seven thanking her for dinner? That thought caused a pleasant rush to her mid-section, but she quickly discounted it. That was just wishful thinking since she could hardly see the stoic young woman giving her a gift that had no practical use.
Kathryn decided just to enjoy the flowers and carefully picked up the arrangement before she walked back into her quarters. The bouquet was heavy and she had difficulty getting it to the kitchen table without spilling water all over her fresh uniform.
The flowers added a splash of color and she smiled as she breathed in the heady scent of roses again. Roses had always been her favorite and she refused to wonder who had given them to her. No doubt it would come out in time.
This time Janeway left her quarters with a smile on her face as she headed for deck two.
First Kathryn began her preliminary report for Headquarters. She would add to it after they reached the Badlands and engaged the transwarp engines for the first jump. She had just retrieved her second cup of coffee when she noticed a personal communiqué that had been sent to her work console.
The message was from Seven of Nine and Kathryn smiled as she opened it. The message was succinct and so reminiscent of the young woman who had sent it. It merely said:
She suddenly froze as the image of the card she had read earlier came to mind. The card had also been very brief with a two-word message saying thank you. The flowers really were from Seven?
Janeway felt a little dizzy when she considered that apparently Seven had not only caught on to the fact that Kathryn had flirted with her, but she had actually responded in kind.
You’re not imagining things, Katie, she thought happily. If this isn’t a romantic gesture then I’ve never seen one.
Kathryn decided to keep her reply to the other woman in the same light vein, and merely responded with: I’ll bring the wine.
Finished with more personal matters she tried to concentrate on duty. She had never let personal feelings interfere with her job and the professional in her wouldn’t allow it now. Even if she was just an observer on this ship there was still a mission to accomplish and she needed to keep personal and professional separated for her own sanity. Even though that’s what she told herself it was difficult to concentrate on the crew roster she pulled up on the work console.
Once the ship settled into weeks worth of routine this kind of thing would bore her senseless, but there were a lot of people Janeway didn’t know on board. She needed to know their capabilities, weaknesses and strengths before any crisis situations arose. Several minutes later she realized she was staring into space thinking about what to wear later.
Stop it! This is not a date! Is it? It might be a date. It could be a date if Seven also wants it to be one.
Maybe it was time for Janeway to go to the holodeck for more rock climbing to get her mind off of the alluring young Borg. Perhaps level five…with the safeties off! Kathryn had just stood to leave her office when a hail came over her communicator.
"Thomas to Admiral Janeway."
"Janeway here," she responded after she slapped the badge a little too hard.
"We’ll reach the target coordinates in five minutes. I thought you’d want to be here when we engage the transwarp engines."
Thank God for diversions! "I’ll be right there. Janeway out."
Janeway took the lift to the bridge and sat beside the younger captain. Nautilus hung in space with the view of the Badlands on screen in front of the bridge personnel. Thomas had ordered the ship to a full stop once they had reached the coordinates and allowed the less experienced crewmembers to take in the ion lightning and plasma storms the region was famous for while the propulsion team ensured any last minute tasks had been completed.
Kathryn remembered the first time she had seen this place and it took her back ten years. Her crew had been together less than a week and Voyager had been sent after a renegade Maquis ship to get her tactical officer back. She had been impressed with the view of the Badlands then, but as captain had been unable or perhaps unwilling to show it. The view of it now brought all of those subsequent memories back and her breathing became a little hitched.
The Badlands. The name itself could be seen as an omen if she were a superstitious person.
"All hands, this is the captain."
Thomas’ voice brought her back to the present and Janeway listened as he addressed the crew.
"Report to your stations and stand by to engage transwarp engines. Helm set coordinates and prepare to engage transwarp in sync with engineering. Set engine burn for two minutes from my mark."
From her briefings Kathryn knew that the propulsion team would make a series of short jumps to test the engines in increments. Two minutes wasn’t a long burn by any stretch, but was merely a way of carefully breaking in the new engines. It was also a lot different than two minutes at warp and they would travel considerably farther.
Two minutes in conventional warp would only take them a parsec, but two minutes at transwarp could conceivably take them thousands of light years. They didn’t have Borg transwarp corridors, but it was still a lot faster than they were used to going.
Once the two-minute burn was completed the propulsion group would quickly verify that everything had functioned as expected. They would inform the bridge and Captain Thomas would initiate another transwarp burn for ten minutes. A series of jumps would be conducted until Nautilus completed the fifth in the series and traveled for an hour. By all accounts they would emerge on the far side of the Delta Quadrant, farther than Voyager had ever been.
Kathryn had a brief thought of ancient humans who believed that if they traveled far enough they would fall off the edge of the horizon. She wondered what they would find out there and whether the first astronauts felt as she did now, excited, frightened and curious beyond measure. She watched Paris tapping in the commands to interface with the propulsion team in engineering and mentally braced herself for what came next.
"Are you ready, Mister Paris?"
Kathryn felt the powerful gathering of the engines beneath her feet, like a jungle cat that had coiled in preparation of the attack. She suddenly remembered Seven’s concern about the plasma flow regulators and turned to Captain Thomas.
"I guess that problem with the regulators was corrected?"
The captain looked at her blankly. "Regulators?"
Janeway’s eyes went wide as Nautilus shot forward and the Badlands disappeared from view. Then there was no time to think or wonder about anything. Kathryn found that the inertial dampers were having a hard time keeping up with the sheer velocity of the ship. She was pressed back against her seat and her fingers gripped the arms as everything began to shake all around her. A few conduits sparked but nothing came apart and she concentrated on clenching her teeth so that she wouldn’t bite her tongue off. How much time had passed, she wondered, and would the dampers hold out or would they all be splattered over the bulkheads like bugs on a windshield?
Apparently Tom had the same idea for he suddenly volunteered, "Thirty seconds from target!"
Kathryn tried to turn her head and saw that Bob Thomas was in a similar predicament. His head was pressed into the captain’s chair and he had gone a distinct shade of white. Then the engines began to power down and inertial dampers were able to fully compensate once again. The bridge crew all looked around like they were coming out of a dream and then began to cheer the successful completion of their first jump.
Either that or they’re just happy to be alive, Kathryn thought sarcastically.
Thomas quietly let out the breath he had been holding and tried to say in a steady voice, "Congratulations, we’ve just made history. Sorry, about before. I was only teasing you. Doctor Brahms contacted me this morning to let me know all the regulators had been fixed."
Thomas turned to address his crew. "Navigation, adjust those inertial dampers. I really don’t want to feel that again."
"Thomas to Doctor Brahms. Everything all right down there?"
"Everything is just fine, Captain. The engines functioned perfectly and are ready whenever we can get the inertial dampers realigned. Ensign Jamison just threw up all over engineering."
Janeway felt sorry for Jamison but laughed along with the captain. Things could have been much worse and the first successful jump presented the future possibility of being able to explore the entire universe. It was a concept that hadn’t truly been a reality before now and even with the bumpy ride she felt like they could do anything.
"Understood. We should be ready to make another jump in a few minutes. I’ll advise you when we’re ready to proceed."
She waited for Thomas to finish giving orders before she said; "You do realize that I’ll get even with you for that."
His expression turned very serious and Kathryn allowed her amusement to show in her face.
The next ride was for ten minutes. The dampers had been realigned and nothing shorted out. Janeway was curious to note that without the prior bumpy ride transwarp didn’t seem very different from conventional warp. The stars streaked by at a fairly faster speed, but there really wasn’t anything very remarkable until the captain turned to speak to her.
"You do realize that we’re going so fast we’re actually traveling through some planets?"
"Excuse me?" Kathryn was horrified to think they might actually be flying through solid rock and various life forms. When had she missed that?
"Well, we are flying in a straight line. It only makes sense that our path wouldn’t be completely clear of obstacles."
It made sense she thought, and the scientist in her allowed the possibility that their velocity would make it seem like they were in two places at once. She just hadn’t considered all of the implications before.
Kathryn glanced down and saw Tom stifle a yawn. With all of the excitements of the jumps she had lost track of time and suddenly realized it was getting late in the alpha shift and no one had even taken a break for a meal. The captain seemed to realize it at the same time and said, "If anyone needs to get something to eat your backups can fill in for a few minutes."
No one seemed inclined to take Thomas up on his offer and Tom turned to face him.
"With all due respect, sir. I don’t think anyone wants to miss out on what’s happening right now."
Janeway smiled back at the lieutenant and thought that was exactly why these people were on the alpha shift. They were the best and wouldn’t stop until they were finished. Fortunately, the last jump for the day was almost over. Another twenty minutes and they would reach their target. She couldn’t wait to see the region of space where they would re-emerge.
Would all life be different at the opposite end of the galaxy? She had met some very interesting species in the delta quadrant: Hirogen, Vidiian, even a species related to the dinosaurs of earth. How would things be even farther away from home?
One thing was for sure; stellar cartography, engineering and even the propulsion team would be very busy for the foreseeable future. But not too busy, she hoped. She still had dinner plans with a very intriguing young woman later.
Some time later Thomas gave the orders to bring the ship out of transwarp at the target coordinates. The Nautilus was powered down until it reached a full stop and everyone looked at the viewport in unabashed curiosity.
Although they were still technically in the region known as the delta quadrant Kathryn knew it was an area of space no human had ever been to before. The sight before her filled her with awe and she reached out to share it with another person.
"What do you see, Harry?" she asked softly.
The younger man walked out from behind his console with his dark eyes fixed on the forward viewer.
"I see…a very busy nebula class star system. There are two gas giants and two moons locked in an opposing orbital dance."
Kathryn couldn’t argue the slightly poetic description of what lay before them. One of the gas giants was blood red and throbbed as though a heart pumped molten lava beneath its core. The other was a swirling mass of purple and blue, but no less impressive with dense layers of poisonous nebula gas covering the surface. The two moons swirled around each other like electrons dancing around a nucleus.
"Any life signs," Thomas asked quietly, unwilling to break the mood. Although it was very unlikely that this type of system would have a viable life form it was protocol to ask.
"Scans of the region and long range sensors detect no life forms or m-class planets anywhere in the system," Tuvok said from his position as first officer.
It was the first time Kathryn had heard the man speak except to respond to the occasional order since she had come onto the bridge.
She wondered what he thought of all this. Although Tuvok liked to give the appearance that he was all logic and uninvolved discipline, she knew him better than anyone. She could see the look of curiosity carefully concealed in his expression and longed to ask him his impressions of the sight before him.
Maybe later. She wouldn’t embarrass him here on the bridge.
"Very well," Captain Thomas said. "We’ll set up station-keeping here and acquire as much data about the region as we can."
Kathryn sat quietly for a time, but when nothing out of the ordinary happened she excused herself from the bridge. "I better get on my report to Starfleet. At least now I have something to say besides ‘all systems functioning at peak efficiency’."
"Right," the captain said. "And now we get to see if those micro-wormholes are as good for sending communications as we’ve been told."
Janeway smiled and left the bridge. So far this day had been wonderful; roses outside her quarters, entering a completely new region of space without any problems and a dinner later with a beautiful woman she would like to see on a romantic level. Could life get any better than this?
Kathryn finished her report to Starfleet in record time and flew to her quarters. Seven had just contacted her to say that she would have dinner ready at twenty hundred hours. Eight o’clock was a little late for dinner, but she wasn’t about to complain and would need the hour and a half she had left to get ready. Trying to figure out what she was going to wear would probably take half of her free time.
She took a long bath liberally perfumed and changed her mind about what to wear six times before she finally decided. In the end she chose a simple cream-colored gown and low, sling-back heels. The same emerald necklace she had worn before was it for jewelry. Her father had given it to her the week before he died and was her favorite piece.
At twenty hundred on the nose she walked down the corridor from her quarters to stand in front of Seven’s door. She rang the chime and waited patiently for the doors to open and she stepped inside. Several delicious smells permeated the room and she tried to identify what Seven had made when the younger woman stepped around the corner from the kitchen alcove.
Kathryn was stunned by the beauty of the other woman and took a few moments to stare breathlessly.
"I take it my appearance pleases you?"
Seven’s voice was uncharacteristically shy and Kathryn realized the other woman had gone all out for her. She was dressed in a black gown with a plunging neckline. It fell to just below her knees and the shoulder straps were spaghetti thin. She wore three-inch stiletto heels that added incredibly to her height, but also to her sex appeal. Her hair was loose and swished softly about her pale features.
Kathryn didn’t know whether to blush or faint and finally choose to do neither when she sucked in a deep shuddering breath.
Seven dipped her head with a small smile and was that a light blush covering her cheeks? Kathryn didn’t know what had happened to bring out the shy, coy side of the other woman, but she enjoyed it immensely. Having Seven vulnerable in front of her wasn’t anything she had ever expected and she wanted it to continue if only for a few more precious moments.
"Thank you for the flowers," she said taking the chance that they had been from Seven. "They are almost as beautiful as you."
Seven took a breath and closed the distance between them. She was well inside Kathryn’s personal space and a deep breath would have forced full body contact. For a moment Kathryn wondered if the other woman was going to kiss her.
"Is that for me," she asked instead.
Confused at first Kathryn glanced down and realized she still held the wine she had brought for dinner. "Oh, yes. Sorry."
She handed the bottle to Seven and said, "I hope it goes with whatever you made. I really didn’t know what kind to bring."
"I’m sure it will be fine," Seven said as she glanced over her shoulder and led the way into the kitchen.
Kathryn looked around her while they walked and was enchanted by the simple yet elegant décor Seven had chose. There were a few holo-images of Seven and Voyager’s crew placed carefully throughout the rooms, but it was still relatively spartan. She realized it was much like the woman herself. There was something missing, though and it took a second to realize what it was.
"Where’s your alcove? I thought you had one in here."
Seven uncorked the wine to breath before she answered, "Yes, it is in the bedroom. Although I do not sleep often I prefer to keep the alcove in that room."
"Oh," Kathryn was a little uncomfortable at the mention of the other woman’s sleeping arrangements and tried to change the subject.
"So what’s for dinner?"
Seven indicated the place settings at the table and waited for Janeway to seat herself. "Since we had Italian last night I thought a change was in order. I made Shrimp Creole, jambalaya and soft shell crabs as well as a light dinner salad."
"Cajun?" Kathryn asked in delighted surprise. "Isn’t that a little spicy?"
Seven met her gaze intently for several seconds before she said, "It seemed appropriate."
Oh my! So this really was a date! Did it just get several degrees hotter in here?
Kathryn suddenly noticed that the seating arrangement was decidedly different than last night. In her quarters they had sat at opposite ends of a round table. Although this table was the same shape, Seven had put their chairs very close together. When the other woman brought the wine bottle and sat down next to her, Kathryn could smell the gentle perfume she wore waft over her.
Seven leaned toward her to pour wine into her glass, and was that an accident or did she intentionally flash a shot of her cleavage? Again Kathryn considered the option to faint and she felt the ship rock under her.
It took a few seconds to realize that the ship had actually rocked. Then Captain Thomas’ voice came over the ship’s communications system. "Red Alert! All hands to battle stations!"
Kathryn didn’t have time to think as both women scrambled. Seven rushed without a word into her bedroom, presumably for a uniform while Janeway bolted for the door. Normally she would have questioned someone changing clothes before responding to a red alert, but Seven in stiletto heels wouldn’t exactly be stable on her feet!
Kathryn didn’t really have a battle station and changed in record time before she bolted for the bridge. It only took two or three minutes to change and get to the bridge, but she was still in shock when she saw the attacking force on the view screen.
She didn’t know who they were, but a fleet of small ships darted around Nautilus firing with determined, albeit ineffective weapons. Captain Thomas had already disabled three of the small shuttle type vessels, but the others were undeterred.
"They are no match for our shields or weapons," Lieutenant A’zal reported from tactical.
Thomas nodded at the Vulcan’s assessment before he conferred with her father and his first officer, Tuvok. "Options?"
"An electromagnetic pulse should be enough to disable their systems."
"I’m not trying to kill them," Thomas said. "I don’t want to knock out life support."
Quickly assessing the situation Kathryn asked, "Have they responded to hails?"
"No," Bob shook his head. "All we get is the notice that we have violated their space and will be destroyed."
Kathryn nodded. "Tuvok, if that e. m. pulse was low enough would it disrupt their weapons without knocking out life support?"
"I believe so, Admiral."
Kathryn shared a look with the captain and he nodded once before he said, "Do it!"
Tuvok readied the pulse before he lifted a brow at the tactical officer. That was all the communication needed between father and daughter for A’zal to fire the pulse. A second later all was quiet around them.
"Now try hailing them!"
Now that the threat was over Kathryn started to get angry. Typical delta quadrant bullies, she thought. Shoot first and ask questions later…not to mention the romantic dinner they had interrupted.
"Captain, sensors show a war ship on approach," A’zal said. "Time to intercept…three minutes four seconds."
"More than one," Kim added a second later. "Long range sensors show at least four more on the way. They match the energy signature of the smaller vessels that we just disabled. It’s over four thousand metric tons and loaded with sixty-four pulse cannons, photon disruptors and thoron torpedoes."
"It’s a predator," Bob said softly from the command chair.
"Coming to rescue their chicks, no doubt," Janeway said.
Captain Thomas quickly assessed the situation and made a command decision. If this was any other observer he wouldn’t consider it, but this was Janeway. No one had more experience in these types of encounters than her.
"We’re going to have to separate the saucer and launch a multi-pronged attack. Admiral Janeway, I need you to take command of the Nemo."
Nemo was the name that had been affectionately conferred on the separated saucer section, but Janeway didn’t know if she agreed with the man.
"What about transwarp? Can’t we just jump away from them? The saucer hasn’t been separated yet,and those systems haven’t even been tested."
To her horror Captain Thomas seemed to pale before her eyes, but firmed his jaw before he spoke. "We’ll have to test them in battle. The transwarp engines are off-line. One of the alien phaser strikes hit it before we had time to raise the shields."
Although it was unnecessary Harry Kim seemed to feel the need to justify the preemptive strike by the aliens. "I’m sorry, Admiral. They were hiding behind one of the gas giants. Sensors didn’t detect them."
Janeway nodded. That first warship was drawing closer every second and if they were going to do this it had to be now.
"All hands this is Janeway; battle situation epsilon. Report to full battle stations and prepare for saucer separation."
She was already heading for the turbolift where Tom Paris, Harry Kim, Commander Tuvok and A’zal joined her. Replacement crew specifically designated for these types of situations filled their chairs even before the lift doors closed.
Kathryn ordered emergency velocity to the turbolift and in seconds was on the battle bridge.
"All crewmembers are in position," Tuvok reported as he took the first officer’s station and checked the console.
"Prepare for emergency saucer sep on my mark." The command would be transmitted over the communications system throughout the ship. A quick look around told her everyone was ready. In this situation she was no longer an observer, but the senior officer and would take command. "Mark!"
Kathryn could imagine the couplings coming loose from Nautilus and mentally took inventory of the crew on the battle bridge. Of the two pieces of the ship she felt she had the best of the crew. Seven and B’Elanna were in engineering on deck six and she had Tuvok, Harry and Tom on the bridge.
Lieutenant Kushimora was also a very capable tactical officer and would defend Captain Thomas and the Nautilus well.
"Nemo to Nautilus, attack pattern omega!"
"Admiral, the first warship is coming into range now," Harry Kim advised her.
"Shields to full. Let’s see if they’ll talk or shoot first."
Somehow she didn’t think they were ready to be diplomatic if they were anything like the smaller fleet.
"Their weapons are powering up."
A’zal’s report didn’t surprise her in the least. "Target their weapons array with photon torpedoes."
Kathryn usually went with the smallest weapons needed for the job, but the incoming ship she saw on sensors severely over powered them.
The torpedoes bounced harmlessly off the other vessel and Kim reported belatedly, "No damage to the warship. The others will be here in less than a minute."
"Captain Thomas," Janeway shouted through the comm. channel, "deploy ablative hull armor. A’zal, do the same."
The Vulcan nodded and deployed the armor just in time for the attacking warship’s return volley. The hull armor prevented any damage to Nemo, but it shook harshly under the assault.
"Tuvok, Harry, find a way to get past their shields, now!"
A second later Harry said, "I think I’ve got it. There’s a disruption in the warp signature near the weapons array. It could be a weakening in the field from previous weapon’s fire."
"I’ll take it. A’zal, target all weapons on that spot and fire at will."
While she was carrying out her orders Janeway was becoming concerned. She still hadn’t heard from Thomas and the Nautilus didn’t seem to be responding with anything but sporadic phaser fire. Maybe she had overestimated Kushimora!
"Captain Thomas report!"
The voice she heard was not the one she expected. Kushimora reported in a panicked voice, "Admiral, the captain is unconscious. Shields and ablative hull armor are inoperable."
"Understood," Janeway said quickly. This could not be happening. "Lieutenant, target your weapons to intersect with Nemo’s and fire on that ship!"
Seconds later Nautilus’ weapons changed trajectory and aligned with the smaller vessel. When the warship exploded both ships were hurtled backward from the blast. The only sounds around them were those of the groaning injured and sizzling conduits.
Harry picked himself up and struggled back to his board while Janeway pulled herself off the deck and fell into the captain’s chair.
"The other warships are breaking off their attack and the smaller vessels are moving away," Kim said in relief. "I guess we got their attention."
"Mister Tuvok I want a full damage report and I want to know how a supposedly inferior force was able to defeat the Nautilus so easily. Even with the shields down one shot shouldn’t have been enough to disable those systems."
Seven’s voice came over her combadge, gaining her attention and deflecting some of her ire. "Admiral, the Nautilus is showing a warp core overload. It is possible that the weapons discharge that struck the transwarp system triggered a feedback surge."
"Of all the damned…!"
Next time they built an experimental ship they needed to put the engines where they couldn’t be hit so easily. And here they were across the galaxy!
"Janeway to Nautilus’ engineering team, can you eject the core?"
"Attempting to do so now," Senior Lieutenant Evans spoke frantically over the conn. Then a second later she fairly screamed, "Magnetic constrictors are locked. A core breach is imminent! It’s those damned fractured dilithium crystals!"
What fractured crystals?
"Estimated time to core breach?"
"Eject the transwarp engines!" Seven suggested. She had obviously been listening in on the communication.
It was only one word, but the panic was clear. Evans wanted to know what Seven was talking about, but also why she wanted to eject the engines. She was also looking for command permission to carry out the suggestion.
"She’s right, Lieutenant. The engines were designed to be ejected the same as the warp core in the event of an overload. It’s that or we watch as the entire ship and crew are destroyed. Do it!"
"Preparing to eject transwarp engines."
Janeway and the rest of the battle bridge watched on the main viewer as the Nautilus’ experimental engines were ejected into space. The overload hadn’t been stopped and she could only hope that the velocity of the expulsion would push the engines far enough away before they exploded.
"All hands, brace for impact!"
Janeway gripped her armrest and waited for the inevitable explosion. When it came it was with such force that she was thrown halfway across the bridge. She impacted hard against the bulkhead and saw several multi-colored stars. The shock wave from the blast hit the saucer section and Janeway was momentarily pinned to the floor as they were hurtled across space. It was several seconds before she could shake the fog loose and climb shakily to her feet.
"Report!" she barked, but her only response was a series of groans.
A’zal managed to right herself and looked at the computer screen. "The transwarp explosion tore a hole in space, we have been thrown approximately four hundred sectors away from our previous location. Neither the alien fleet nor Nautilus show on sensors. With their shields down it is unlikely that Nautilus was able to withstand the force of the blast. In all probability they have been destroyed."
They had assembled in Nemo’s sole cargo bay for a brief memorial. Janeway felt it was paramount that they attempt to pay tribute to the crew of the Nautilus that they had known so briefly before they tried to put the recent events in perspective. Afterward she addressed the remaining crewmembers.
"We’re a long way from home," she began, "but we’re not alone. Nemo is equipped with the same communications array we had on Nautilus and we will be able to communicate with Starfleet command. We also have the bulk of the propulsion team on board who will no doubt be able to construct transwarp engines on Nemo to get us home. It may take some time, a few weeks, but we will return to Earth. Stay focused, remember the men and women you served with on Nautilus and honor them with your determination."
"Commander Tuvok will set up long-term duty assignments and if you need someone to talk to Doctor Brahms has volunteered to be our temporary counselor."
"I believe in each and every one of you," she said looking around at the fifty crewmembers present, "and I have complete faith that with your help we will make it home soon. Dismissed."
Janeway quickly left the small assembly and headed for her office. Since she was the commanding officer now rather than merely an observer she had tons of work to do. Before she had gone far she heard someone call from behind her.
"Captain, a moment please."
She had only taken the field demotion to captain a day ago and it still caused her pause to be called that.
"Yes, Tuvok? Was there something that couldn’t wait?" She didn’t mean to be cranky with her old friend, but she was not in the mood for pleasantries or more bad news.
"Unfortunately not," he said and placed his hands behind his back as he stood in front of her.
Janeway sighed and rubbed her forehead tiredly. "Get on with it then."
"Supplies of dilithium are severely limited. As you know the bulk of the crystals were stored in cargo bay four on board Nautilus?"
"What are you trying to say, Tuvok?" she asked with an increasing sense of dread.
"We must find a source of dilithium soon. Without fresh supplies we will be out of power in one week."
"Can this situation possibly get any worse?"
"I’ve just got to stay in Earth’s solar system. That’s all there is to it."
"Let’s face it, Tuvok. Every time I go on a deep space mission it turns into the voyage of the damned. Honestly, if Seven and Doctor Brahms can’t get transwarp to work for Nemo we won’t make it back to Earth in our great, great, great grandchildren’s lives!"
Captain Kathryn Janeway, former Admiral Janeway, of the U.S.S. Nemo paced agitatedly back and forth across her ready room. She preferred that term to ‘office’ and had started calling it that as soon as she officially became commanding officer of the tiny ship. It was the saucer section of the apparently destroyed Nautilus and was even smaller than Voyager had been. The fact that Nemo resembled the old flying saucers of ancient Earth lore wasn’t lost on her.
Abruptly Janeway stopped pacing and faced her first officer. That his countenance was slightly demonic by human standards, with pointed ears and sloped eyebrows didn’t bother her in the least. His presence here was a comfort to her and she found she needed it. She couldn’t go through this again without someone she trusted to share the burden. At least this time around she had several people she trusted, unlike the beginning of her previous seven-year tour.
"Why didn’t I order Nautilus to use the cloaking technology? I didn’t even think of it. Do you think I’m losing my ability to think on my feet, Tuvok?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
Kathryn actually started and stared at her friend. From anyone else she would think that was a joke.
When the captain only stared at him as she waited for an answer Tuvok decided that perhaps she was serious. He resisted the urge to sigh in frustration. Why did humans immediately question their mental faculties when they made a tactical error?
"I do not believe you are in any danger of a mental breakdown, Captain," Tuvok spoke from his seat on the ready room sofa. "It is merely a matter of experience."
"Experience?" she demanded. Kathryn felt slighted. If she wasn’t battle-seasoned after seven years in the delta quadrant then who was?
All it took was a raised eyebrow to make her feel like an over-emotional human being. She tried to regain some of her dignity. "Well, by all means clarify," she invited with a wry grin and sat adjacent to him in the deeply cushioned chair.
"You are not accustomed to considering cloaks in your battle tactics. The Romulans shared this technology with the Federation during the Dominion War. We were not present during those events. In fact the war was over before Voyager returned to the alpha quadrant."
"I still knew it was part of our inventory," she pointed out. "I thought of using the ablative hull armor and I wasn’t around when that was created."
"Your argument is invalid. Voyager utilized ablative hull armor during our battle with the Borg and the subsequent return to Earth."
"So, I’m a product of my personal experiences?"
"As are all individuals, and while you are a formidable opponent you are not infallible."
She thought about what he said and wanted to believe him, she wanted to let herself off the hook. Somehow she found his reassurances lacking.
"I have to be, Tuvok. In this situation I have to be infallible. There are too many souls relying on me not to be."
He stood and walked over to her. Humans sometimes drew comfort by physical contact and he briefly considered touching her on the shoulder. Just as quickly he changed his mind. Even that small gesture would display more emotion than he was comfortable with.
Kathryn stood to meet him halfway.
"Perhaps," he said quietly. "But you must rest and you are only one person. You are only as good as the crew around you."
Not convinced, but cheered by his unquestionable support Kathryn reached out. Unconsciously, she mirrored the very gesture he had considered before.
"Thank you, old friend. Now, was there something you wanted before I dumped my emotional turmoil on you?"
Kathryn turned and walked toward her desk while she listened. She sat down and looked up at him curiously.
Tuvok nodded once and stood in front of her. "Ensign Kim has detected a young M-class planet on long range sensors. There are several large veins of dilithium present."
"Why do you sound like you’re not happy about that? How young is this planet?"
"By Earth standards early Mesozoic."
"And the inhabitants?"
"No discernable advanced technology. From the scans we have taken it is a wonder they have invented the wheel."
Kathryn struggled not to laugh. It was obvious as much as he tried not to show it, that Tuvok was disturbed by such a crude species. No doubt he would call them ‘savages’ at some point.
"Well, we’ll just have to use that cloaking technology. Won’t we?" she asked with a half grin.
"You plan on setting Nemo on the surface, Captain? A stingray shuttle would accomplish the same mission with a minimum of personnel."
"Maybe, but the Stingray won’t be able to hold all the dilithium we need to have a surplus. They would have to shuttle the crystals over in several trips and the shuttles don’t have cloaking ability. No, I’m afraid it’s the whole ship or nothing. I don’t think it’ll be a problem though. Nemo isn’t very big and we only have one cargo bay to hold the dilithium."
"As you wish, Captain."
"How soon until we get there?"
"Eighteen hours, ten minutes at warp six."
Kathryn quickly calculated their remaining power and suddenly felt a little nervous. Three days ago they only had enough power for another week. With another day added on top of that and the stress of making planet-fall she began to understand why Tuvok had argued for the shuttles.
"We’ll barely have enough power to land."
"Indeed, and we will not have sufficient power to leave the planet’s surface without the ore."
"I understand, but I still think it’s our best option."
Tuvok seemed to realize the conversation was over and nodded once in his customary manner without a formal dismissal before he left her and returned to the small bridge. She let the grin slip off her face when the doors closed behind him. She had other things on her mind besides the state of the ship that weighed just as heavily on her heart. But unlike the ship the solutions to the other problem didn’t seem so clear cut. Had it really only been six days ago that a romantic date had been planned with Seven of Nine?
Even if it hadn’t been called a date that was certainly what was intended. Both women had tentatively acknowledged the attraction between them and light flirting had ensued. Kathryn had relished the chance to show some of what she felt toward the other woman even if she wasn’t completely sure that Seven was ready for a romantic entanglement. It was only the fact that she had embarked on a relationship with Janeway’s former first officer, Chakotay, which convinced her otherwise and allowed her to take the chance.
Now all of that was over before it had really begun. The choice had been taken away from her with the loss of the Nautilus and Captain Thomas. Instead of being an observer with Seven of Nine a civilian contractor, Janeway was now the captain and Seven was a crewmember. Protocol dictated that she not cross the line but her heart insisted it had already been crossed and there was no going back.
Uncertain in this deeply personal situation she had done the only thing she could think of. She had withdrawn, avoided Seven as she would never have avoided even the most violent of encounters. But this wasn’t a battle scenario and was fraught with more pitfalls than a Telaran minefield. Kathryn had to admit that she had never been very good at inter-personal relationships and it didn’t look like she had improved any over the years. Even the man she had been engaged to for three years, Mark Johnson, she had kept at arms length. They had never lived together and she had refused to set a wedding date no matter how hard he pushed.
Was it really any wonder she ignored the personal requests via com link to meet with the other woman or pleaded duty when Seven confronted her directly in the corridors?
Honestly, Kathryn! You are such a coward.
But really, what else could she do? Janeway had taken a field demotion to the rank of captain after it became clear that the Nemo was on its own and immediately sent out a communications packet to Starfleet informing them of her decision. She didn’t know how long it would take for the information to reach headquarters in San Francisco even utilizing the new micro-wormhole technology, but the deed was done.
The ironic part was she was back in the same position that had kept her from declaring her feelings for Seven in the past. And the worst of it was now that she had admitted how she felt in her heart the necessary withdrawal hurt like hell. At least she had never said the words aloud to Seven of Nine.
She could only hope that Seven would understand, forgive her and maybe they could try again when this nightmare was over and they returned home. She refused to consider the possibility that a return to Earth wouldn’t happen.
Her console chimed with an incoming communiqué and she looked down in reflex. Even though she half expected it she still winced when she saw who the sender of the message was. Seven of Nine did not know how to give up.
Kathryn sighed and resigned herself to the inevitable. It was late into beta shift and there was no excuse to put it off any longer. She would have to face Seven and explain the way things were even if she dreaded the resulting fallout. Seven didn’t have the same respect for the chain of command that most Starfleet officers did and Kathryn briefly considered the bodily harm an enraged former drone could inflict.
Oh, well. Best to get it over with.
She reached up and tapped her combadge. "Janeway to Seven of Nine."
"Seven here, Captain."
The response was immediate and Kathryn felt her stomach twist with pain and pleasure simultaneously. The beloved voice caused her delicious sensations, but the obvious eagerness of the alto tones hurt because she knew what she had to do.
"Seven are you busy?"
"My shift concluded two point six hours ago, Captain."
In other words no, I’m not busy, Kathryn thought and felt even worse. If I had bothered to check with the computer I would have known that she was waiting for my call.
"Could you meet me in my quarters in half an hour? I think there are some things we need to talk about."
This time there was a brief pause before Seven’s cautious voice came over the communications channel. "Understood, Captain. One half hour."
Janeway stood and tugged the hem of her jacket down. She felt like she was about to go into battle rather than have an unpleasant conversation with a gorgeous woman that owned her heart completely.
She left her ready room and crossed the battle bridge without noticing the crew around her. A short walk down the corridor, one deck down and she was in her quarters. Kathryn thought about a whiskey and soda, but decided it really wouldn’t help.
"Coffee, Janeway blend number five," she told the replicator and eagerly took the hot beverage from the tray as it materialized.
She ordered number five only in rare emergencies and this definitely qualified. The sharp taste of strong espresso and Katarian blue hit her senses and sent her blood through her veins like a warp core breach. She forced herself to take a large gulp of the hot drink and held it on her tongue as she relished the pain that brought tears to her eyes. She deserved it for what she was about to do.
Kathryn realized she was trying to punish herself and swallowed. It wouldn’t do any good to wallow in self-pity and she was doing what she had to. In this situation she couldn’t allow herself to be distracted, the ship and crew needed her too much. And Seven would be a distraction; there was no doubt of that.
She’ll be here in twenty minutes. What am I going to say to her?
She couldn’t think of anything that would make it easier and briefly considered a sonic shower and change of attire. Just as quickly she changed her mind. If she let her defenses down even the slightest bit she wouldn’t be able to go through with this. Seeing Seven after a hot shower and in civilian clothing would be too intimate.
It was better if she kept her uniform on. It would provide her with a mental barrier and help her keep her professionalism intact. She walked over to stare out the viewport at the passing stars while she sipped her coffee and refused to think about anything personal at this moment. It would happen all too quickly as it was. Instead she considered how obscenely large her quarters were now that they had lost the main body of the ship.
There were only fifty people on board but they were desperately short on crew quarters. Everyone had been required to double up or even triple up on quarters. Perhaps the captain should too, she thought then snorted at the idea as it brought her full circle. The problem was that the only person she wanted in her quarters on a regular basis was out of the question, as were her intentions toward the younger woman.
Exactly twenty minutes later the chime to her quarters sounded. Kathryn hadn’t moved in that time and the computer had automatically lowered the lights when it didn’t sense any movement in an endeavor to conserve energy.
"Come in," Janeway said softly, but the computer heard and obediently parted the pneumatic doors.
There was no need to turn to feel the presence that suddenly entered the room and filled her senses. She always knew when Seven was there and she was content to watch the other woman’s reflection in the transparent aluminum for a minute. With her back turned it was the only way she could allow the painful desire and need for this beautiful woman to flood her eyes with tears.
"Kathryn?" Seven said softly and Janeway was jolted by the sound of her name rolling off her tongue. She had almost forgotten they had moved to this before the disaster that left them in this predicament.
Kathryn heaved a silent shuddering breath before she squared her shoulders and allowed her command mask to slam into place. Then she resolutely turned toward the woman she loved and ignored the pain that stabbed through her as the lights came up fully and illuminated Seven’s hopeful blue gaze.
"Seven," she said simply and walked toward the sitting area. "Please, have a seat."
She could see the effect her odd formality had on Seven and the confusion in the blue eyes but held on to her resolution.
Seven sat carefully in the chair adjacent to Janeway and faced her with a small frown.
"We need to talk."
"You said this earlier. What did you wish to discuss?"
Right to the heart of the matter, Kathryn thought. Fine, that was probably best. "Us."
Kathryn could see that she really did. The knowledge in her expression was apparent.
"I’m sorry," Kathryn said as gently as she could. "You know that I wanted this, but now the situation has changed and it just can’t be."
"Why?" Seven demanded and that one word asked everything.
Why can’t it be? Why do you pull away after so long? Why won’t you admit your feelings to me?
"Because the ship needs me."
"I need you," Seven argued.
Kathryn’s eyes darkened at the pain and love expressed so simply. "I can’t, as much as I want to. Surely you can see that. Maybe once this is over we can try again, but right now I can’t afford to be distracted."
Seven stood abruptly and towered over Janeway. "But you love me. I know you do."
Kathryn stood and faced the pain she was causing. She had tried to appeal to Seven’s logic but that didn’t appear to be working. All she wanted to do was throw her arms around Seven and admit that she did love her, but she fought those desires and took refuge in twisted semantics.
"You’re presuming a lot, aren’t you? I never said that I loved you. I admit that I’m attracted to you and I would have liked to see where things could go. But I never said those words to you."
Seven’s head dipped and her skin paled when she heard that and Janeway could cheerfully have ripped her own tongue out. What was she doing? Trying to chase Seven into someone else’s arms?
"I’m sorry," she said and touched Seven’s shoulder. She could feel the implant on the warm shoulder and imagined what the skin-warmed metal would taste like as she made love to the other woman. Then she clamped down on the thought.
Seven suddenly looked at her with the old challenge in her eyes. "You may not have actually said the words, but I know that you love me. Just as I love you."
She loves me? Kathryn felt dizzy and didn’t respond so Seven went on unchallenged.
"You are doing this out of some misguided sense of duty, but you are in error. We are meant to be together and I will not allow you to do this."
Now Kathryn was starting to get angry. It was one thing to be hurt, but the arrogance was a little too much in her current condition.
"You don’t have a choice. I’ve made up my mind."
Seven ignored the low warning tone and asked, "And if I don’t agree?"
"That’s just too damned bad. That’s the way it is."
Seven’s eyes flashed in anger and Kathryn felt a thrill as the taller woman stepped well within her personal space. The front of their bodies were only a breath apart and she could smell Seven’s unique scent as it flooded her senses. She tried to take a step back, but the sofa pressed into the backs of her knees and she had nowhere to go.
Seven grabbed her by the upper arms and pulled her to her chest.
"Seven, let go of me," Kathryn ordered. She ignored the excited desire that shot through her and tried to be angry. It didn’t work. All she felt was white-hot need with the previously unseen passionate side the other woman displayed.
Instead of letting go Seven lowered her head and crushed her lips to Kathryn’s.
Kathryn froze when she felt soft, full lips descend on her own. There was nothing gentle or loving about the kiss. Seven plundered the softness and demanded that Kathryn respond to her. The unexpected attack broke through carefully erected barriers and Janeway was lost. A small whimper of surrender sounded in the back of her throat before she finally leaned into Seven and parted her lips to deepen the caress. Seven immediately gentled her touch. She released her hold on Kathryn and slid her arms around her body.
Kathryn melted into the full softness and slid her tongue into Seven’s mouth. The soft moans of desire that resulted made her insane with want and moisture flooded from her.
Seven was unprepared for the sensations that filled her chest when she kissed Kathryn. All she knew was desire and the softness of Kathryn’s body, the taste and heat of her lips and her own need to merge with her completely. She had never lain with another, but knew that was what she wanted. She wanted to make love to Kathryn Janeway and show her how wrong her decision was. When Kathryn parted her lips and kissed her back she rejoiced that she had taken that first step.
Then suddenly Kathryn pushed her away.
"No! This cannot happen!"
Janeway sidestepped when Seven moved toward her again.
"No!" she repeated and the look in her eyes was that of a trapped animal.
"Kathryn," Seven said and raised a hand toward her. "I will not hurt you. Please, I only want to love you. I want you to love me, too."
Janeway turned her back and strode back over to the viewport. She folded her arms in an unconscious gesture of self defense and said, "This conversation is over. I’ve made my decision."
"But, you kissed me. I felt your love."
"Love is irrelevant," Janeway argued harshly.
She felt Seven move to stand close behind her, saw her reflection in the portal and the small movement as she lifted a hand to touch her. "Don’t."
Apparently she had finally gotten through. Seven dropped her arm back to her side and stared at Janeway with an unreadable expression.
"Very well. I accept your need to do this, but I do not agree with it."
"I can’t ask you to agree with it," Kathryn acknowledged with a small shake of her head. "But I do expect you to abide by it."
Kathryn almost turned when Seven said that, but the other woman went on.
"I never understood the human need for love until I fell in love with you. Now that I have, I understand that it is something that cannot be ignored indefinitely. We love each other and we are meant to be together. In time you will understand this."
Seven turned on her heel and left the captain’s quarters. As soon as the doors closed Kathryn lowered her head and banged it softly against the window.
She stood at the viewport long after the lights lowered again. It was only exhaustion that finally drove her to her bed. She was still the captain no matter how much the woman in her argued against her choices and the ship still depended on her.
She knew that she wouldn’t sleep that night but it was important to rest her body even if she couldn’t relax her mind. The conversation with Seven played over and over again as she tossed and turned. Again and again she watched the hope in the other woman’s eyes shatter and pain blossom. It was pain that she had caused; yet despite the pain Seven had insisted that Kathryn would eventually see the light and relent. Kathryn was familiar with how stubborn the former Borg could be, but when determined she could be even more obstinate. As much as she might wish otherwise she would not give in.
Two hours before her shift was to begin Kathryn finally fell into an exhausted sleep. The last image that floated through her conscious mind was the memory of Seven’s lips gently caressing her own.
When the chronometer went off Kathryn jerked painfully awake. She felt sweaty and exhausted. Not much wonder she considered with the precious little sleep she had managed.
Kathryn pushed sweaty locks of hair out of her eyes and struggled from beneath her blankets. At least she hadn’t let her hair grow long again and it would be easy enough to shower the sweat from the greasy strands. She ignored the covers that slipped over the edge of the mattress and swept against the deck. Kathryn stumbled toward the sonic shower with half open eyes and only hoped she wouldn’t stub her toe on the doorjamb.
Twenty minutes later and still five minutes early she stepped onto the bridge. Tuvok was already seated in the first officer’s chair and Kathryn swallowed her annoyance that he had beaten her to the bridge. Too tired to ask why he was so early she flopped less than elegantly into her seat and ignored the look he cast her direction. At least he didn’t badger her about why she looked like she’d been flushed through a plasma manifold. Not for the first time she was glad Chakotay was no longer second in command.
"Report," she said with less force than she normally used.
Tuvok responded immediately. "Estimated time to the planet is five hours, twenty three minutes. All systems are functioning within normal parameters although energy reserves have fallen to twenty-six percent."
Kathryn nodded, determined to project an air of optimism. "Let’s hope the propulsion team will have some good news."
She stood and walked into the war room for the staff meeting that was scheduled to start in ten minutes. She just needed a few minutes alone and a cup of coffee to clear the cobwebs and check her console.
"Coffee, Janeway blend number five." If she didn’t watch it this could become a habit.
Kathryn sat at the head of the table and sipped the hot beverage. As she checked her console it beeped with a new communiqué. It turned out to be from Starfleet and she felt her burden ease slightly. She had been a little afraid that they wouldn’t be able to communicate at all from this distance. It was a relief to be proved wrong. The message was short and to the point, but knew it would be welcome news for the rest of the crew.
She logged off the console and sat thinking silently for a few moments. Her eyes felt like they had been scraped with sandpaper and she closed them for a few minutes to lubricate them. When the door opened a few minutes later it was all she could do not to start and splash coffee all over herself. It was a close call but she ended up merely opening her eyes as Seven of Nine entered the room.
Seven of Nine entered the war room and noticed that except for Captain Janeway she was the first to arrive. Tuvok still sat on the bridge and would undoubtedly remain there until the last of the senior staff arrived before he relinquished command and joined them in the small conference room.
The captain refused to meet her eyes other than a swift glance to confirm who had entered the room and Seven took the opportunity to absorb the beloved features. Kathryn Janeway looked pale and dark circles accented her eyes that were more gray than blue.
Perhaps the captain hadn’t slept well. Seven’s heart clenched in compassion but she fought not to show it in her expression. She had decided to maintain the relationship they had enjoyed before. Kathryn would eventually come to realize that she had made a mistake. Until then Seven must not show any of the anger or frustration she felt toward this most exasperating woman.
Regardless of their personal disagreements Seven regretted having to give the captain bad news in any form and was glad that task would fall to the team leader, Leah Brahms. She sat at the end of the conference table and glanced at the padd in her hands.
The door opened again and the rest of the senior staff began to file in. When Tuvok finally joined them and made their numbers complete Seven glanced over at the captain.
Seamlessly the captain began the meeting as soon as Tuvok sat down.
"Good morning everyone. We have a lot of ground to cover so let’s get started." She began at the head of the table and moved around systematically. "Tuvok?"
He had already given his initial report on the bridge but repeated it for everyone present. Then he added, "The planet we are currently approaching shows no advanced technology of any kind. There are several small villages with impressive architectural structures reminiscent of Earth around 650 A.D. The villages are small and widely scattered. To that end the Prime Directive applies and cloaking technology will be utilized while the ship is on the planet’s surface."
"We’re going to land the ship?" Tom Paris asked in obvious disappointment.
Janeway smiled in spite of her weariness and said, "Sorry Tom, this has already been decided." She knew how much he looked forward to piloting the Stingray on an actual mission rather than just on a test flight, but their objective was too important to indulge him right now.
Harry Kim spoke next for operations. "There are several rock formations constructed of galacite that are impervious to our scans.
Considering the rest of the terrain and lack of sophisticated technology though I really don’t think there’s anything to worry about."
Janeway nodded, "Just keep an eye on things while the away team is on the ground."
Tom had nothing new to report so Janeway moved around the table to the head of the Theoretical Propulsion Group. It was a relief not to have to address Seven directly; she just didn’t think she was up for it this morning. The love and tenderness the other woman constantly maintained despite the presence of the rest of the staff was already getting hard to ignore.
Instead she asked Doctor Leah Brahms to update her on their progress for installing transwarp engines on the Nemo.
The small brunette woman looked at her and Kathryn could see the bad news in her eyes before she spoke. "So far we haven’t had any luck fitting transwarp engines to the Nemo. As most of you already know it usually takes a good-sized ship for transwarp to work. The saucer section isn’t even the size of a Borg probe."
"You said ‘so far’," Janeway pointed out. "Do you think that you’ll be able to get it to work eventually?"
Doctor Brahms smiled at the captain. "You know my counterpart on the team. Seven can be quite determined when she wants to be. I have all confidence that in time we’ll figure it out."
"Then I’ll consider your report with optimism and expect regular updates on your progress." Kathryn was tired and right now didn’t feel so optimistic. She felt drained and alternately hot and cold, but it was important to keep crew morale up.
"Does anyone have anything to add?" Kathryn asked. When no one answered she said, "I received a communiqué from Starfleet just before the meeting started."
Whistles and cheers sounded around the table and she felt cheered despite her lethargy. She smiled and continued. "I’m officially the captain now and they want us to know that they’ll be working on transwarp or any other new propulsion to get us home from there end."
"Anything on the Nautilus?" Harry asked hopefully.
His question was mirrored in other eyes and Janeway hated ending the meeting on a bad note, but had no choice. She shook her head and said, "There’s been no word from the Nautilus and it doesn’t look good. But Starfleet hasn’t given up on her. They remember how long it took to hear from Voyager when she went missing and until there is definite proof that the ship has been destroyed they’ll keep looking for her."
"We’ll be arriving at the planetoid in a few hours. Commander Tuvok will inform the away team of their duties before we land the ship. Everyone please make sure your departments are ready ahead of time and prepared for planet fall. Dismissed."
Everyone dutifully stood and walked out of the conference room except for Doctor Brahms. She stood up and looked at the captain with a quizzical look on her face.
"Was there something else, Doctor?"
For an instant Kathryn had the fleeting thought that Seven had confided in the other woman. Oh boy, here it comes. She’s about to tell me I’m a fool for rejecting Seven. To her immense relief Doctor Brahms opened her mouth, took a deep breath and then closed it again.
She shook her head and said, "Never mind, Captain. I better get back to work."
Janeway sighed in relief and picked up her coffee cup. Now, about ten more of these and she might be able to face the day.
The climate proved to be hot, humid and jungle-like. It was difficult to find a clearing large enough to allow the Nemo to settle to the ground and still be close to a dilithium cache. In the end they had to settle for a two-kilometer walk. More of the ship’s precious energy was utilized to provide the away team with the conventional clothing of the local inhabitants. In the end they wore cloth boots tied with leather cords, brown breeches, loose fitting tunics that fell below their waists and dark green hooded rain ponchos.
The away team consisted of Lieutenant Torres, Junior Lieutenant Karri Jameson and Crewman Leyton from engineering. A security team was also assigned and consisted of Commander Tuvok, Crewman Helen Mossler and Ensign Quist, a large and powerful Klingon male.
Leyton was the only Bolian on the team and his blue skin would have been a neon sign to any locals who happened to spot them.
Fortunately Voyager’s former holographic doctor was able to alter his appearance although Leyton still sported a bald head.
At the last minute Janeway assigned Seven of Nine to the team as well. There was nothing else to do with the ship at station keeping and she hoped to keep the other woman occupied. Seven would be an asset to the team and if there was any kind of trouble no one was more formidable. Her other motive for assigning her to the team was more selfish; she wanted to avoid more arguments against her flawed reasoning for keeping them apart.
The ship was cloaked and the away team was preparing to disembark through the shuttle bay. Janeway was there to see them off and couldn’t help noticing the dirty looks B’Elanna kept shooting her.
My God, how many people has she told?
Internally Janeway heaved a shrug. No doubt Seven had told B’Elanna what a low life she was and Kathryn couldn’t really argue. She felt like one.
In full captain mode Janeway smiled encouragement to the team. "Be careful and keep your hoods in place. We want to avoid standing out in any way."
"Just keep the lights on for us, Captain," Jameson teased.
Jameson had been present on board Voyager and felt a little more comfortable with the captain than some of the newer members. She had also worked for Torres during that time and she had Janeway’s full confidence.
"Will do, Lieutenant. Good luck to you."
Janeway turned and nodded to a crewman to lower the forcefield on the shuttle bay. The away team pulled their hoods over their heads and with their features obscured left the ship.
The rain ponchos were large and loose fitting. They helped conceal the bulky equipment that would be necessary to extract the dilithium power crystals from the veins.
B’Elanna shot Janeway another dark look before she stalked out of the ship with the team close behind her. Seven was the last to depart and she cast one last longing look toward her commanding officer. It was that look that stayed with Kathryn and she felt the walls around her resolve crumble a little. Then they were gone and the waiting began.
This was the worst, Kathryn thought. Every time Seven left for an away mission she was filled with dread and the certainty that the other woman would return to the ship a broken, battered shell. Even on the most benign missions she was afraid Seven would be killed and could hardly breathe until the other woman returned completely intact.
She tried to ignore how she would feel if that ever happened before she could tell Seven how she truly felt.
They hadn’t gone far from the ship when B’Elanna dropped back to the rear beside Seven. Her voice was low when she finally grated, "I can’t believe Janeway did this to me."
Confused, Seven lifted an eyebrow toward her friend. "You cannot believe that Captain Janeway assigned you to the away team? You are the chief engineer, why would she not?"
"No, Seven," B’Elanna growled with a frown. "She assigned Jameson to the away team."
Seven still didn’t understand why the lieutenant was so upset. Karri Jameson was a talented, competent engineer. "I do not understand."
B’Elanna cast her a look and then looked away in frustration. "No, I guess you wouldn’t. Look, back before Tom and I got together on Voyager…Jameson and I had an encounter."
Her tone was carefully low so that Jameson couldn’t overhear and Seven lowered her voice to match. "You initiated a romantic encounter."
"Actually Jameson did, but yeah, something happened between us."
Seven sensed an opportunity to explore a topic remarkably similar to what she was experiencing with Janeway.
"Why did you not maintain your relationship?"
B’Elanna shrugged. "Sometimes things just don’t work out. Vorik tried to mate with me when he went through the pon farr. He created this mind meld that made me have symptoms too, and Tom was the only one around when those symptoms started to take hold. I bit him and tasted his blood."
Seven knew how Klingon mating rituals worked. She had assimilated many Klingons and knew their traditions and biological urges well even if she had never experienced the sensations themselves.
"Once you had tasted his blood you would not have been able to resist."
"You could say that. After I bit him there was no other choice. I had to have him; I obsessed completely and seduced him into a relationship. Of course he was a willing participant, mind you," B’Elanna added.
The former Borg analyzed what B’Elanna told her from every angle. She took into account the words, the tone and the expression in her friend’s eyes and came to a startling conclusion.
"You no longer love him."
B’Elanna was shocked Seven had figured it out so quickly. "No…I mean yes. Of course I love him, he’s the father of my child. And he really is a good man, Seven. But no, I don’t love him passionately. He’s more a good friend than anything."
She stopped walking and waited until Seven turned to look at her. "If you ever tell him that I’ll rip your tongue out and wear it as a belt."
The determined look in the half-Klingon’s eyes made Seven shiver. "I believe you."
They began walking again and Seven asked, "You still have feelings for Lieutenant Jameson? Is that why you are angry that she is present?"
"In a way. I never really got to explore the potential for what Karri and I had and now it will never happen. It’s just frustrating to have her here and know that she still has feelings for me."
"If you share the same feelings why can you not act on them?"
Kathryn and Seven also shared feelings. Perhaps B’Elanna’s answer would help her understand Kathryn’s decision. She noticed how B’Elanna stared at Lieutenant Jameson’s back and wondered if the half-Klingon was seeing the other woman’s feature in her mind. She couldn’t really see her with the bulky clothing, but Seven understood love and desire. Could B’Elanna see Jameson’s short blonde hair and petite figure in her mind? Karri’s hair was more golden strawberry than sunshine, and Seven knew that the tiny engineer’s light frame was deceptive. She was muscular and quick and practiced martial arts every chance she got. She was deadly.
Seven considered Jameson’s personality and found nothing lacking. The woman had a sense of humor and was very loyal and intelligent. To say that she had honor would not be an exaggeration. She would have made a good mate for B’Elanna Torres.
"It would hurt Tom. I can’t do that just to satisfy my own selfish desires. Besides, what if I did take the chance and it didn’t work out between Karri and myself. I will have hurt him for no reason and my daughter will have a broken home. It’s better if I just stay away from Karri."
Seven could hear the longing in her friend’s voice, but could understand her reasoning. B’Elanna had a valid point and a selfish decision would hurt an innocent. Kathryn did not have that excuse. There wasn’t a third party involved, so the two situations did not mirror each other after all. Frustrated with the lack of an answer to her own dilemma Seven was silent for the rest of the walk.
After a time she noticed that B’Elanna was uncharacteristically silent. The half-Klingon’s hood obscured most of her features, but Seven could see the frown on her face and how she kept glancing around the forest.
"Is something wrong, B’Elanna?"
After a moment the other woman answered. "Probably not. I just keep getting this feeling that we’re being watched. It’s like a prickling sensation on the back of my neck."
Seven looked around but the foliage was very dense. Jungle vines, trees and shrubs were so thick that they had been cutting through with machetes. She could see nothing out of the ordinary even with her enhanced Borg eyesight.
"I see nothing except flora, fauna and various small animals."
"I’m probably just being paranoid," B’Elanna said. Then she checked her tricorder and said, "There’s our target sight."
They emerged from the forest into a small clearing. Seven felt a little better out of the woods. She was unaccustomed to confined spaces and found that she preferred having what humans would call ‘room to breathe’.
Tuvok and the security team moved out in a standard pattern and set up warning sensors around the area. A normal away mission of this type would require at least twice the personnel they had, but with the reduced crew that was out of the question. Three members of a security team wasn’t much, but with the sensors to warn them of the approach of a local it would have to suffice.
Seven and the engineering team set to work with the extraction equipment. Soon the drill was humming quietly and they had cut deeply into the bedrock. Torres appeared completely focused on the task as she directed Jameson and Leyton, but Seven noticed how she still looked around when she thought no one was paying attention.
They worked steadily for two hours and the packs were generously filled with dilithium crystals. The equipment they used ensured that only pristine specimens were collected and Seven wondered if those obtained by the Federation for the Nautilus had been purchased by Ferengi traders. That would certainly explain the poor quality they had been.
Sweat began to bead on Torres’ upper lip from the humidity and soon Seven felt her own anxiety begin to rise. It wasn’t like the half-Klingon to show discomfort and she realized she was starting to feel it too. Someone was out there.
Seven stopped collecting crystals from the extraction tube and looked carefully around. A simple thought altered her vision and she could just make out something that didn’t belong on the edge of their work area. Whomever it was they stayed just beyond the edge of the sensor alarms.
She frowned. How could they know about sensors or alarms if they had no sophisticated technology? It didn’t make sense. The mystery was unimportant, she decided. The stranger hiding in the trees was a threat.
Trying to appear unconcerned she sat down her pack and walked over toward Commander Tuvok. He was scanning the area with a tricorder; unfortunately he was scanning the wrong area.
"Commander," she said quietly. He turned toward her soft voice and she said, "We are being observed."
"Behind Lieutenant Jameson’s position, approximately twenty meters into the tree line."
Simulated casual was not something a Vulcan did convincingly, but he tried as he scanned the area in question. A small beep sounded on the tricorder and one slanted eyebrow went up. He looked at her and silently confirmed her suspicions.
Apparently the locals could see through the façade. Suddenly the stranger in the woods became twenty and then forty as the natives rushed over them. Torres and the engineers had been so involved in their work that resistance was brief at best. Torres managed to land some well-placed blows and kicks, but sheer numbers overwhelmed her.
Leyton had been captured quickly and easily with a native on each arm, but Jameson fought back like a tiger. She was a blur, her native clothing doing little to hinder her movements. Fists and feet flying Karri easily fought back and was almost enjoying herself until someone struck her on the back of head with a tree branch.
Tuvok, Seven and the security detail struggled to remove phasers from beneath their ponchos but the unfamiliar clothing hindered them. There was no time to call for a transport and they were immediately engaged in a short scuffle.
Seven picked up one of the ruffians by the scruff of the neck and tossed him into two others. They went down in a heap and she spun a roundhouse kick into the head of another as the tsunkatse style of fighting she had been forced to learn came to her aid.
The fight separated her from the others and she lost sight of them in the melee. A large man with a heavily scarred face charged Seven and managed to duck her punch. He threw one of his own and connected solidly with her jaw. Seven’s head snapped sharply to the right and her vision clouded over. She was convinced she could hear the bone crack as she was thrown back a few feet by the force of the blow. Before she could gather her wits he struck again. The stranger kicked her solidly in the stomach. The kick was so hard that she felt one of the bands of her abdominal implant shift and she was thrown forcefully against the truck of a large tree. Her vision went dark when she hit the ground.
Torres was involved in her own struggle and her hood was thrown back from her face. At least she could see now, but the clothing prevented free movement. She couldn’t struggle free from the locals that held her securely in their grip, but she watched stunned as Seven was kicked into a tree. When she hit the ground the hood completely covered her features. B’Elanna couldn’t see the extent of Seven’s injuries, but she could see that she didn’t move after she hit the ground.
Tuvok attacked the man that had defeated Seven and drew his attention. The Vulcan fought desperately, but was also eventually overcome.
Six of the away team was taken forcefully into custody, but Torres was happy to note that they had overlooked Seven. She had fallen in the greenery just at the edge of the tree line and her dark green poncho helped camouflage her from sight. She just hoped Seven wasn’t injured so severely that she couldn’t call for help.
Seven regained consciousness slowly. Her head ached when she tried to lift it and she fought against the nausea the movement induced. For a moment it was a close call before she managed to swallow the discomfort. Then she tried to stand and cried out involuntarily against the sharp pain in her abdomen. Seven curled into a ball and struggled to draw breath.
Time passed seamlessly, she drifted in and out of consciousness without the strength to call for help. Darkness was just beginning to fall and an insistent sound nudged her back from sleep. She frowned trying to figure out what it was and then realized there was a voice coming from the combadge.
"Janeway to away team. If you can hear me, please respond. Tuvok, Seven. Report!"
She is worried, Seven thought. I have brought her pain. Then she realized it was a concerned captain checking on her crew, not a worried woman trying to find her lover.
Seven struggled to push her hand under the poncho to activate her own combadge.
"Seven to Janeway," she rasped painfully. She was interrupted by a coughing attack that racked her slim form. Spasms shook her helplessly and she tasted blood in her mouth.
"Seven, Seven! Respond."
Finally she stopped coughing and said weakly, "Captain, I need assistance. We were attacked."
Seven felt the sudden pull of a transport beam and was pleased Janeway hadn’t wasted time with a verbal response.
"Transport her directly to sickbay," Janeway ordered. "See if you can get a lock on anyone else and transport them too."
Fear tasted like ashes in her mouth. Seven was hurt and the rest of the away team was in trouble. She didn’t know what had happened, but she intended to find out and was headed out the door before Harry had finished the transport. She trusted that he would beam back any Starfleet equipment while he was pulling in the team so the natives wouldn’t discover it. Perhaps she should call them savages like Tuvok would, considering what had happened.
"Transporting Seven to sickbay, Captain, but I can’t get a lock on anyone else."
Janeway froze in mid stride and looked at him. "What do you mean you can’t get a lock?"
"I mean they’re not there. Scanners aren’t detecting them."
"Those rock formations!" she realized. "You said you couldn’t scan the rock formations because they’re made of galacite. I bet that’s where they’ve been taken."
"Captain, there are dozens of those formations. It’ll be difficult to find them."
"Difficult, but not impossible. Extrapolate the most likely formation where the away team would have been taken. It’ll probably be the one closest to where they were working. I’ll be in sickbay. Maybe Seven will be able to tell me what happened."
Maybe, she thought and walked out the door. With sickbay on the same deck it was only a short walk, but it felt like forever. Seven had sounded awful over the communications channel and Kathryn was worried she wouldn’t survive. If Seven died because Janeway had sent her on this mission to keep from distracting her she would never forgive herself.
The doors sickbay parted obediently and she rushed in to see the doctor and Sakonna, a Vulcan nurse, working on Seven of Nine.
Janeway rushed toward the woman and bounced back off an unseen forcefield. The fact that the EMH didn’t respond with his usual acerbic wit worried her more than ever.
The medical team was cutting Seven’s uniform off and dropping it negligently to the floor to get at her injuries, but their bodies prevented Kathryn from seeing all of the damage to the beloved form. All she could see was the spongy looking bruise on the young woman’s side and a gash on the side of her face. There was blood too, but it didn’t seem like such a large amount that she should lay unconscious or be even more pale than usual.
The doors swished open again and Janeway was surprised to see Doctor Leah Brahms hurry into the medical bay with such a worried look on her face. She was caught off guard by the flash of jealousy she felt. Why would the doctor rush to Seven’s side? Of course they were colleagues and it was only normal that she would want to check on her, but there couldn’t possibly be any more to it…could there?
"Captain," the other woman greeted shortly, but her eyes were on Seven’s unmoving form. "How is she?"
Janeway swallowed her instant dislike of the woman. She hadn’t really had a lot to do with her except for the odd meeting with the propulsion team here and there, and just to acknowledge that she was on board. They hadn’t really interacted in a personal setting and Kathryn thought this was about as personal as it could get.
"I don’t know. They’re still checking."
The captain tried to be patient, but five more minutes was all she could stand. She watched the doctor scan his patient and say ‘hmm’ a few times and she finally ordered, "Report!"
Doctor Martin actually flinched like he had forgotten she was there. Then he pressed his holographic lips together in a gesture of impatience and looked over at her. When he saw the stark desperation in her eyes his expression softened.
"I’m sorry, Captain. I shouldn’t have made you wait." Then he quickly updated her. "The damage isn’t as severe as it looks. She has a moderate concussion, fractured jaw and a few cracked ribs. In addition one of the bands of her abdominal implant have been bent and her spleen has been ruptured."
"Her abdominal implant?" Kathryn breathed and felt the room spin just a bit. "Isn’t that life threatening for her? Doesn’t she need the implant to survive?"
"It would be more troublesome if she were in the hands of a less skilled physician, but you forget that I have had quite a deal of experience with Seven’s implants. She’ll be fine. In fact her nanoprobes have already begun to repair a great deal of the damage and with a dermal regenerator and a little rest I anticipate a full recovery."
She was so relieved that his normal boastful reassurances didn’t even faze her. "Let’s hear it for Borg nanoprobes."
"They do seem to be efficient little buggers," Leah commented.
Janeway looked at the shorter doctor and still felt a twinge of dislike. She squashed that feeling with the knowledge that they would have to work together for a long time and that she really was being unreasonable. She didn’t even know the woman and anyone that was so worried for Seven that they dropped everything they were doing to rush to sickbay couldn’t be all bad.
"I suppose they are at that."
Kathryn turned back to the medical team. "Keep me informed, Doctor. I want to know the moment I can speak with her. We still have an away team to find."
"A moment, Captain."
Janeway was surprised that the EMH detained her and turned back curiously.
"If I may say so, Captain, you’re looking rather pale yourself. Perhaps you should come by for a checkup once I’ve finished with my current patient."
Now that she knew Seven would be all right Kathryn had felt the exhaustion rush back over her. The fact that the doctor commented on it made her hackles rise. In a voice that could peel paint she said, "I’m fine doctor and a little lack of sleep is hardly going to cause me to rush to sickbay. Treat Seven and keep me informed."
She missed the amusement on Leah’s face as the doctor blanched while Janeway headed for the bridge.
Like Voyager there was a turbolift entrance to the battle bridge, but there was also a main entrance from the corridor. With most of the ship missing there was little reason to use the turbolift especially with sickbay on the same deck. Janeway walked onto the miniscule bridge and stopped to look around at the remaining alpha shift crew.
A’zal, Tuvok’s daughter, competently worked at the tactical station while Harry Kim continued to run scan after scan for the missing members of their family. Tom sat quietly at the helm with little to do since they were on the ground. She wondered how many outlandish rescue schemes were running through his head to get his wife back safely.
No one glanced around to see who had entered the bridge, but they knew who it was. Janeway had a command presence that filled a room when she walked in even if she wasn’t fully aware of it.
"A’zal, Kim, Paris…I’d like to see you in the war room," she said softly.
Each one of them quietly left their stations and were efficiently replaced by the back up crew that were working at other posts. They walked past Janeway and gave her a look of encouragement or a smile except for A’zal who in typical Vulcan fashion was expressionless.
Wasn’t she even a little worried for her father, Kathryn wondered? She wasn’t even fully involved with Seven and her heart was screaming at her to be at the other woman’s side while she was in sickbay. Even with the knowledge that she would make a full recovery, Kathryn only wanted to be with her.
Right now she had to be the captain, she reminded herself and followed them into the small conference room.
As soon as they were seated she said, "Mister Kim what have you got?"
"We haven’t been able to detect the away team, but we were able to transport all of the equipment back to Nemo. The extraction tubes as well as the packs were almost full. Engineering says they should have the new crystals installed and full power back within the hour. We also have enough reserves to last for quite a while."
"That’s welcome news. We’ll have the full resources of the ship to find our missing crew. To that end I’ve been doing some thinking. A’zal, what have you got on those rock formations that we haven’t been able to scan through?"
The Vulcan said, "Sensors remain unable to penetrate the galacite in the rock. However logic would suggest that since they are the only areas we are unable to scan, that must be where the members of the away team have been taken."
"My thoughts exactly," Kathryn grinned. "How many of those formations have you detected in the area?"
Janeway flinched internally at the answer and forced herself to concentrate. "I want you to extrapolate the most likely set of coordinates the away team could have been taken to. Based on the amount of time between the away team’s last report and Seven’s rescue try to determine which formations are within the time distance. This will have to be process of elimination so try to be as exact as possible."
She ignored the raised eyebrow that said the Vulcan would be nothing but exact.
"We’ll get them back, Tom. I promise you that."
The young husband and father had been pale and silent throughout the briefing, but he seemed to take heart from her assurance and nodded in agreement. "Thanks, Captain. I know we will."
A sudden hail from sickbay interrupted them.
"Doctor Martin to the captain."
"I have a patient here who insists on speaking with you now…against medical advice."
Janeway would have laughed at his put out tone if the situation were not so dire. "I’ll be right there, Doctor."
"A’zal get that information and have a rescue team ready to go within the hour. Harry, you’ll watch our backs from the bridge. Keep a sensor lock and transporter lock on us at all times. At the first sign of trouble get us out of there."
"Captain, if you enter those formations I won’t be able to keep a lock on you," he pointed out.
"Don’t tell me what you can’t do, Harry. Just get it done."
She hadn’t meant to snap at him, but the command in her voice made him sit up a little straighter and she was glad to have him at her back. She looked at Tom and knew the man had to have something to do. He would have to be involved with this rescue or he would never forgive himself.
"Tom, I want you standing by in the shuttle bay. Have the Stingray prepped and ready to come to our rescue. Make sure you have plenty of medical supplies just in case. You won’t have cloaking technology with the shuttle, but if we get that desperate it won’t matter anyway."
Kathryn was reassured now that she had him focused on doing something instead of mourning the loss of his wife.
"That’s all people. Now I have to get to sickbay and find out what the hell happened to my crew."
Janeway rushed back to sickbay desperate not only to hear what had happened to the away team, but also to see for herself that Seven was all right. What she found caused her to skid to a stop and muffle a burst of relieved laughter.
Seven sat indignantly on the side of a bio-bed with her arms folded and a sheet wrapped around her naked form. A mighty frown covered her face as she blushed and avoided the captain’s gaze. Kathryn had never seen so much emotion on the other woman’s face but to say she was indignant seemed like an understatement. A careful look around convinced her that they were alone.
"Seven, where’s the doctor?" she asked carefully.
"I disengaged his autonomous recall program and deactivated him."
Although the statement was matter of fact Seven still refused to meet her eyes.
"I see." Kathryn pressed her lips together briefly to stifle her smile and walked over to the other woman.
The sight of Seven whole and well filled her heart with joy. She couldn’t resist stepping close to where she sat. Seven’s legs were slightly parted under the sheet and Kathryn stepped between her knees. She stopped there careful not to actually touch Seven’s body, but there was no question she was well within her personal space. Kathryn was still trying to fight her desire for Seven, but standing so close she could at least bask in her scent.
"What did he do?"
The question was a smoke screen. Kathryn used it to mask the way she was fighting her emotions and hoped Seven would fall for it.
Instead Seven gasped as she felt Janeway’s proximity and looked up quickly. Her blue eyes darkened in response to the desire she saw reflected back at her.
"H…he refused to give me a uniform or release me from sickbay. Then he ordered the computer not to respond to my voice commands before I was able to deactivate him."
Kathryn licked her lips briefly and felt her nipples tighten as she swayed toward the other woman. She remembered that she was supposed to be suppressing her feelings for Seven and closed her eyes against the magnetic pull. "That’s why you’re sitting here covered only by a sheet."
Soft fingers unexpectedly touched her cheek. Kathryn’s eyes flew open and she found that Seven had closed the distance between them. Her face loomed only inches away and Kathryn’s eyes fell to the full softness of Seven’s lips.
"Cap…captains aren’t supposed to fall…" Kathryn stuttered in a halting whisper. Her tongue darted out to moisten her suddenly dry lips. She mumbled the words softly to herself. For so long she had hid her feelings or fought against them, but finally she couldn’t deny the reality that she had fallen completely in love with Seven of Nine.
Seven’s thumb brushed over her lips spreading the intoxicating moisture and stopped her from making excuses.
"Kathryn, even the walls of Jericho fell."
Before she could decipher the meaning of the words Seven leaned forward and kissed her sweetly. The touch was soft; a mere brush of parted lips, but Kathryn felt the ground shift and leaned into Seven. Strong arms slid around her and she gasped at the feel of soft skin as she was pulled close and their breasts crushed together. Forearms cradled her back while long fingers lovingly stroked strands of silken hair.
Kathryn finally pulled away slowly from Seven’s full lips. Her fingertips gently touched the softness of the pale cheeks before she tenderly explored the curves and crevices of the ocular implant, finally able to fulfill the fantasy of being allowed to touch the other woman. Seven didn’t flinch away from her touch as she had so long ago in an alien brig and the truth finally struck her. The love had been there all along; what had been lacking was trust. At first she had questioned Seven’s loyalty to humanity rather than the Borg.
Later she had feared having her heart broken. Could Seven truly love someone so much older and experienced? All of her doubts were gone in an instant when she finally acknowledged her insecurities.
"I’ve been such a fool," Janeway admitted close to tears at the loss of so much time. "I don’t know why I tried so hard to fight this."
"You are not foolish," Seven countered looking deeply into her eyes. "You are the most intelligent person I have ever known. You merely have a misguided sense of responsibility at times."
Kathryn saw the twinkle in the loving blue gaze and chuckled softly. Many people thought Seven didn’t have a sense of humor, but she knew better. It was dry enough to shingle a roof with, but it was definitely there.
"You never had any doubt that I would see the light, did you?" she asked recalling Seven’s previous assertion that they would be together.
"No, I did not."
"How did you know?"
Seven leaned forward to press a gentle kiss to Kathryn’s forehead before she pulled her tightly against her body.
"Kathryn, the Borg assimilated thousands of species. The vast majority of those were passionate beings just as you are. I have their memories even if I have not always understood their motivations."
"And here I thought you were an innocent," Kathryn murmured and snuggled into the other woman’s embrace, content to seek shelter there if only for a few minutes.
"Inexperienced is not the same as innocent."
Goose flesh broke out on Kathryn’s arms as her body reacted to the thinly veiled suggestion. Helping Seven gain all of the experience she wanted was definitely high on her list of priorities.
"I look forward to exploring the possibilities with you," Kathryn whispered in Seven’s ear before she reluctantly pulled away, "just as soon as we get the away team back and get into open space."
Seven easily shifted back into her professional mode and stood up from the bio bed. The sheet slipped to the floor unnoticed and Kathryn did her best not to stare at six feet of perfect feminine curves. Still, she felt her face burn scarlet and another sharp surge of desire tingled in her midsection.
"Perhaps we should get you a uniform," Kathryn suggested and headed for the replicator. She didn’t notice the smug look on Seven’s face but regained her composure quickly. "Oh, and darling? Would you mind reactivating the doctor? We might need him."
She waited for Seven to dress and deliberately ignored her refusal to reactivate the holographic physician until just before they left the medical bay.
A quick briefing was held in the war room and Kathryn was very aware of Seven’s stare the whole time. Could everyone suddenly sense the acknowledged love between them? Did she even care?
"Harry, what have you come up with?"
"There are two of the galacite structures that fit into the time frame where the away team could have been taken. The coordinates have been downloaded into these tricorders," he said and sat the devices on the table.
"Good. A’zal, is your team prepped and ready to deploy?"
"Affirmative, Captain. Native clothing has been replicated and the teams have been fully briefed. Since the Nemo is minimally staffed several crewmen have volunteered for rescue duties."
Kathryn nodded pleased with that information. All Starfleet personnel were fully trained for combat regardless of their actual positions. "Good work. We’ll need as many people as we can get standing by, but recycle the native clothing. I’d like to try this with minimal staff at first. We’ll call in the cavalry if we need them."
"Captain?" Tom Paris asked with a frown. "What about the prime directive?"
"Our people have already been captured, so the cat is out of the bag. There’s nothing we can do about that, but I don’t intend to lose any more people. That clothing is bulky and we aren’t used to it. From what Seven tells me it may have hampered the away team’s ability to defend themselves and I won’t have a repeat performance. If anyone disagrees with me now is the time to speak up. I’ll note your objection in the ship’s logs and the responsibility will be solely mine."
Everyone looked around for a moment but no one spoke up.
"Fine. A’zal, report to the shuttle bay in five minutes. Have the security contingent ready if we need to call them in. I will lead the away mission and Tom; I want you standing by with the shuttle. I still intend to do this as quietly as possible, but I want you ready in case we call for help."
"Once you get outside the galacite structure we can transport you back aboard," Harry pointed out, confused why Janeway would want the shuttle ready.
"That’s true, Harry, but I still want to affect this culture as minimally as possible. Going into a rock formation with our uniforms on is one thing. With any luck the only natives we’ll interact with will be the ones that took Torres and the others."
Satisfied with that explanation the young man only nodded.
"If that’s all? Dismissed."
Everyone left except for Seven. She sat quietly at the opposite end of the table and waited for the others to leave. The situation reminded Janeway of Doctor Brahms doing the same thing earlier. She was going to have to ask Seven about that one.
"Something on your mind, Seven?"
Seven stood and walked toward Janeway. She stood close to her and said, "I wish to accompany you on this mission."
Images of Seven’s previous return from an away mission fired through her mind and Kathryn suppressed a shudder. That wasn’t something she wanted to experience again any time soon.
"I’m sorry, Seven, but I need you here on the ship. You’re the best person qualified to keep a lock on the away team once we go into those galacite structures."
The excuse sounded thin even to her own ears, but she stared resolutely into Seven’s blue gaze. Disbelief was apparent and she readied herself for the argument she knew was coming.
"Your reasoning is faulty. No one is able to keep a transporter lock on the away team once they enter the structures and you know this."
Kathryn was accustomed to Seven arguing with her and tried not to assume the young woman was merely taking advantage of their new relationship. The fact that Seven was right did little to change her mind. She was still the captain and expected Seven to follow her orders.
Seven seemed to realize what was about to happen and quickly cut off Janeway’s next comment. "Kathryn, B’Elanna is my friend. I have seen the enemy and without the bulky native clothing I am the best one suited for this mission. You can not ask me to wait patiently on the ship while the woman I love goes into danger to rescue my friend."
She knew Seven was right. If she were in the same position she would be arguing strongly to go on this mission. Seven was imminently qualified and Kathryn’s fear was a poor excuse to keep her from going, but she still had to try.
"B’Elanna and the others are my responsibility, Seven. I’m sorry but I simply can’t have all of my senior officers off the ship." In truth she would feel better if Seven stayed on board, but she wouldn’t mind having the other woman with her either. To say she didn’t want Seven out of her sight wouldn’t have been a stretch.
Seven could sense Kathryn’s indecision and played her trump card. She knew it was the one thing Janeway had never been able to resist and didn’t feel even a little guilty when she said softly, "Please."
A full lower lip trembled as she uttered the word and Kathryn’s defenses fell into a heap. After the briefest hesitation she nodded once in capitulation and was rewarded by the brightest smile she had ever seen from Seven.
Kathryn stood up close enough to feel the other woman’s breath ghost over her features. "Join us in the shuttle bay but I’m warning you now; don’t get hurt again. I couldn’t bear it."
Seven’s strong hand gently encircled Kathryn’s bicep. "I will not be hurt, Kathryn. Thank you."
The next few minutes flew by as the rescue team met in the shuttle bay. Although they still wore their uniforms, they also donned the dark green ponchos to protect them from the rain. The ponchos were modified so that they could be removed in an instant.
"Set phasers to heavy stun," Kathryn ordered.
A simple nod to the crewman operating the shuttle bay controls lowered the forcefield that would allow them to exit the ship en masse.
B’Elanna still couldn’t believe it. The rock formation that they had been dragged into was perfectly shaped like a triangle. The three sides were smooth and at amazingly precise angles for a species without advanced technology. At the same time the structure was huge and there was little light. It took some time for her eyes to adjust but the natives seemed perfectly comfortable in the gloom.
Most of the natives had stayed outside the structure and only the men guarding the prisoners entered the structure. She wondered if this was some sort of religious place that only a few were allowed to enter. It had obviously been carefully constructed.
The six remaining members of the away team had been bound and gagged, but forced to walk quickly toward the center of the structure. At least B’Elanna assumed it was the center they were headed for. The inside of the formation was like a maze with narrow, winding tunnels. It didn’t take long with all of the twists and turns before she lost her way completely. She hoped Tuvok was having better luck memorizing the way out if they managed to escape.
Worry for Seven assaulted her. Had the other woman managed to signal for help? How injured was she? Was she still alive? Did Janeway know they had been captured?
A sudden scuffle from ahead made her look up.
Karri spun roughly away from the natives that held her by each arm. A roundhouse kick followed quickly and she sent one of the men into a rock wall. He struck the wall hard enough that he went down in a heap. Tuvok assisted the lieutenant by bending over and ramming the other man hard enough to knock him off his feet.
With her arms tied behind her back Karri could only use her feet, but Tuvok’s help allowed her to run back the way they had come. The rest of the away team began to struggle with their captors in an effort to engage them and allow Jameson to get away. It looked like it would work too until the man that had been leading them suddenly leveled what looked like a wooden wand toward Karri. A blast of orange light shot from a crystal on the end of it and struck Karri in the center of her back.
"Karri!" B’Elanna tried to shout, but the gag muffled her voice. The other woman was thrown off her feet and landed hard on the unforgiving ground.
Torres twisted away from her guards and ran to the fallen woman. She expected a blast between her own shoulder blades but it didn’t come. Instead she was allowed to kneel in the dirt beside the fallen woman.
The fabric of Karri’s poncho and the tunic underneath were charred and smoking. Her flesh was scorched but B’Elanna ignored the stench of seared flesh as she visually checked for life signs. She had just determined that Karri was still breathing before she was pushed rudely away to land on her butt in the dirt.
She grunted and looked up at the same man that had injured Seven of Nine so badly. With hands the size of platters he reached down and hauled Karri up from the ground. He tucked her under one arm and turned back the way they had come. Her weight seemed inconsequential even with her feet dragging the ground and B’Elanna began to see why even a Borg drone had been no match for him.
One of the natives she had twisted away from grabbed her by the back of the shirt and hauled her to her feet. B’Elanna was tempted to try an escape of her own but the memory of Karri’s injury surfaced and she allowed herself to be shoved forward. Escape would have to come in another form.
Time passed in a strange blur like pictures moving quickly in one of Paris’ old Earth movies, yet at the same time seemed to flow slowly like molasses. It wasn’t long before they reached their destination and were pushed roughly into a stone and dirt prison.
Torres was very worried about Jameson. Although her Klingon side told her that the young woman had acted bravely and if she died her death would be an honorable one, her human half disagreed. Where was the justice if she died having been shot in the back by aliens on the far side of the galaxy?
She sat back against a rough-hewn rock wall along with the other members of the away team and watched where Karri lay unmoving on the hard ground beside her. The junior lieutenant’s chest rose and fell erratically and B’Elanna silently prayed she would survive long enough for them to be rescued.
The alien guards, or priests as B’Elanna had heard one of them called, had thrown Karri carelessly to the ground inside the dirt cell and left her lying on her back. The blood rattled noisily in her throat and threatened to choke her to death. It was hard with her hands tied behind her, but Torres knelt beside the other woman and used a shoulder to shove her onto her side. Breathing came easier for Jameson after that, but blood still gurgled alarmingly in her chest. If only they could get out of this God forsaken hole!
Hell, we have the chief tactical officer with us. What are we waiting for?
Torres shot the Vulcan former tactical officer a dark look to which he merely raised a sardonic eyebrow. She snorted with as much dignity as possible considering she had a gag in her mouth and then looked away.
They couldn’t even draw out an escape plan in the dirt because their hands were tied!
B’Elanna leaned back against the wall and huffed in frustration and wondered what was affecting her so strongly. They had been in worse situations, what was so different now?
A quick look to her left answered the silent question. Honesty demanded she admit the true reasons for her frustration. It was true that being kidnapped by hostile aliens was no picnic but what worried her most was Karri’s condition. B’Elanna didn’t know if she would ever be able to accept it if Karri died. She tried to believe it was because they had a shared history aboard Voyager and now here in this distant galaxy so far from home.
It almost worked.
Lost in her thoughts B’Elanna didn’t realize that she had completely relaxed until she started to nod off. She jerked awake with a start and silently berated herself for her lack of vigilance. The lateness of the hour combined with the double shifts she had been working had her body demanding sleep, but she refused to give in to the urge. A chance for escape could come at any second and she intended to take advantage of it. Hours had passed and she guessed that it must be close to daylight.
Apparently the security contingent didn’t agree with her sentiments though. Tuvok was still awake but the security officers, Quist and Mossler, were sleeping. Or at least they’re resting, B’Elanna thought looking closer. They looked a little too tense to actually be asleep.
Perhaps they were merely conserving energy until the right moment. Crewman Leyton, an engineer not really suited for survival situations, merely huddled quietly against the rock wall. His eyes were wide in fright as they darted ceaselessly around their surroundings.
Movement from the shadows outside the cell caught her eye. B’Elanna and Tuvok exchanged a glance when two priests stepped up to open the heavy metal gate. It was all they needed to communicate a silent message to be ready.
The priests must not have considered them much of a threat for they spoke freely, unaware of the universal translators contained in the Starfleet combadges.
"We must begin the ceremony precisely at first light or Oshir will not hear us," a priest spoke to his companion.
"Oshir is a God. Of course he will hear us. He will merely be displeased."
"It’s the same thing isn’t it?" the first man countered. "He will refuse to awaken the Queen and we will still experience this horrendous rain. We cannot take much more of this, Moham. Our livestock are drowning in the fields!"
Moham merely grunted in agreement. The cage was unlocked and the first priest leveled a wand similar to the one that injured Jameson toward the prisoners. The implied threat was clear. If they resisted in any way they would suffer the same consequences.
The security guards Torres had thought were sleeping suddenly sat up fully alert. Only resting after all, she decided. She shouldn’t be surprised though. Tuvok would expect only the best from his people.
They were rounded up and pushed out of the cell. Jameson was left behind with the door ajar. More than anything this convinced B’Elanna that the savages didn’t expect her to survive or become a security threat. Something within her seemed to tear and she wanted to howl in Klingon rage. Tears flooded her eyes and made her even angrier for her loss of emotional control. Then something clicked.
Her heart rate slowed to normal and the tears subsided when she allowed her Klingon side full control over her human sentiments. These people would pay for what they had done so coldly. They would pay for blood with blood.
Slowly, carefully B’Elanna began to work at the leather bindings. The shadows of the dark tunnels helped to conceal her careful movements. At first they refused to give, but eventually she felt them shift ever so slightly. A new emotion surged through her being; satisfaction. The restraints would give; it was only a matter of time.
The away team was lead through an intricate series of tunnels to a large antechamber. Steps had been cut into the ground and led down to a circular area that had been brilliantly lit with torches attached all around the walls.
B’Elanna blinked at first as her eyes complained the sudden glare, then she realized the air seemed fresher here. Being deeper inside the structure it should have been stuffier and she looked around curiously. There was a circular opening high up on the ceiling. Heavy clouds obscured any starlight but she could clearly see rain as it shimmered across the surface of a forcefield. Several incongruities snapped into place and B’Elanna realized that all of their initial scans had been wrong.
The first of these was the fact that the aliens had detected their presence. Since the away team had purposely chosen a location void of native life signs they had clearly been sought out. Then there was that energy wand they had used on Karri. It wasn’t exactly something one would find lying around on the ground.
Finally, the forcefield glowing overhead proved that these people had advanced technology. It was concealed by the galacite in the rock walls and might only exist inside these structures. But if they had concealed these devices, what other nasty surprises were hidden around here?
Each of them were grabbed and lashed against poles that had been driven into the ground. Struggling against their captors proved ultimately ineffectual and B’Elanna suddenly found they had been tied facing toward the center of a raised stone altar. Priests stood around the altar and obscured her vision, but she could see a small, almost fragile humanoid lying quietly on the slab.
When the priests suddenly stopped chanting and moved aside her breath caught on a gasp of horror. Lying quiet and obviously dead was the small, frail figure of a woman that was immensely familiar.
Janeway insisted on a minimal compliment to go with her to retrieve the errant crew. In addition to herself the rescue team consisted of Seven of Nine and A’zal, Tuvok’s daughter and Nemo’s tactical officer. Harry Kim and Tom Paris offered only token resistance to that idea, well aware that they would not be able to stop the captain once she had made up her mind.
Paris was already in the small shuttle bay ensuring the Stingray was loaded with necessary medical supplies and that the pre-flight sequence on the shuttle was finished just in case he was called to fly in and pull the teams out. The rest of the security team that had volunteered was to wait with him in case they were needed.
"All right, people. Check your gear, make sure phasers are set to heavy stun and prepare to move out."
Kathryn followed her own orders and checked her phaser setting before she pulled the dark green hood of the poncho low over her features. They were equipped with what looked like ancient, wrap-around sunglasses, but actually took the place of tricorders and allowed them perfect night vision. She left the shuttle bay followed by Seven and A’zal with the night glasses carefully tuned to any deviations in the life signs around them.
The glasses made their environment look like they were walking on a heavily overcast day, but was otherwise perfectly clear. Life signs registered as heat signatures and stood out enough for them to determine whether they were animals or humanoids. A small readout in the upper right corner displayed their location with a flashing green blip and their destination as a fixed red point.
Talk was minimal and low when it occurred and the two-kilometer walk through the dense jungle seemed to take forever. She wondered if she shouldn’t have brought the rest of the rescue team with her after all.
Alien insects chirped and animals rustled through the underbrush. Kathryn half expected to be jumped by marauders at any moment. Even though that never happened she was tense and jumpy by the time they reached the edge of the jungle near the first of the monolithic stone structures where the first team could have been taken.
They approached the edge of the forest and she hovered under the cover of heavy trees and brush while she gaped in awe at the sight before them. The light of a full moon illuminated the structure and with the night glasses she found it easy to recognize the design.
Disbelief flooded her mind at the sight so out of place deep in the delta quadrant and she blinked almost expecting the apparition to disappear.
"Am I imagining things?"
"You are not," Seven said in a low emphatic tone. "It is a pyramid."
Shouts from the forest behind them caused Janeway and the others to swivel around away from the pyramid as she quickly scanned to see if they were being attacked.
"It is coming from seventy-five meters away in a small clearing," A’zal reported quickly. "Several of the natives are being attacked."
"By whom?" Janeway asked curiously.
"Other natives. They are outnumbered and unarmed."
Janeway wanted to help them but in the end the plight of her own crew was more important. She couldn’t interfere with these people any more than they already had. It was unfortunate but her course was clear. She had just turned back toward the stone pyramid to plan their next move when Seven suddenly plunged into the jungle toward the attack to their rear.
"Seven! Where are you going? We can’t get involved."
"I will not stand by in the name of the prime directive while the innocent are slaughtered," she said over her shoulder and kept moving quickly.
Kathryn sighed in frustration. She knew she should have left Seven on the damned ship!
Well, it wouldn’t do any good for all of them to be separated. Besides, she was glad someone had come up with an excuse to help the defenseless natives. It hadn’t set well with her to have to turn her back and she should have known that Seven wouldn’t allow it. Since regaining her humanity it sometimes seemed like she was trying to make up for the sins of her past as a Borg drone.
"Let’s go," she told A’zal and went after her determined officer, almost losing her in the dense underbrush.
It didn’t take long before the three women came to a clearing where they hovered on the edge to get the lay of things. Four natives stood back-to-back holding torches and circled warily to ward off their attackers. The attackers looked to be of the same species, but their dress was different. They were all men and wore gold chains around their necks and thick gold bracelets on their wrists. They wore sandals and what looked to Janeway like skirts. None of the attackers wore shirts and all were smooth skinned and heavily muscled. All of them were deeply tanned with dark hair.
The only weapons visible were those carried by the attackers and appeared to be nothing more than long wooden staffs. The victims used their torches to swing at the attackers and barely managed to keep them away with the threat of the flames.
Again Seven reacted before Janeway could stop her. She left their place of concealment and ran toward the disturbance.
"I’m going to kill her," she vowed and rushed after her. She didn’t see the un-Vulcan look of amusement that briefly flitted across A’zal’s face before she followed her captain.
Seven ran toward the attackers with her phaser already in her hand. There were six of them that threatened the innocent natives and she quickly calculated the necessary angle of fire as she moved. The first shot took one of the attackers high in the chest and caused him to summersault into a back flip before he landed face down unconscious on the ground.
The others didn’t seem to notice his plight until Janeway and A’zal took out two more of them. Suddenly the Nemo crew had their full attention. Eyes wide in surprise but not fear the attackers turned toward the three women. As one their faces hardened and they rushed toward them. Janeway couldn’t believe it. Could these guys really think a couple of sticks were any match for them after what had happened to their companions?
Seven obviously didn’t care what they thought. She quickly shot two more of the men while A’zal took out the last one.
The natives that hovered back-to-back didn’t seem reassured that the threat was truly over. They regarded the three strangers with open suspicion, but Janeway didn’t really detect any hostility.
"It’s all right," she reassured them and reached up to push her hood away from her face and took off her night glasses. The sudden darkness was a shock to her senses, but the area was still lit by the glow of native torches.
The universal translator had picked up the native shouts and already processed their speech. When Janeway spoke it easily converted her words into the local language, but the look of shock on the swarthy faces when she pushed her hood away made her wonder for a second it they had misunderstood.
Kathryn quickly dropped her phaser and raised both hands with her open palms toward the strangers so they could see that she was now unarmed.
"It’s all right," she repeated. "We’re here to help you."
Seven and A’zal followed her example and dropped their phasers before they pushed back their hoods to reveal their features.
The locals stared in awe at the three women before they suddenly dropped their torches, knelt down and dropped their foreheads to the ground.
Kathryn looked at Seven in confusion. "What are they doing?"
Seven smirked slightly and said, "I believe they are worshipping you."
Kathryn didn’t wait for an answer but started to reach for the forearm of the nearest local to urge the strange woman to stand. The last thing she wanted was for these people to worship her.
"Captain, wait," A’zal forestalled her quietly. "Perhaps we can use this to our advantage."
A’zal kept her voice deliberately low so that only Seven and Janeway could hear her. "If these natives believe you to be their deity we may be able to gain valuable information without violence.
Kathryn bit off a retort and considered the security chief’s advice. As a Vulcan the other woman would see the logical side of the equation and Janeway struggled not to react on a strictly emotional basis. Deceiving these people wasn’t something she wanted to do, but A’zal had a point. She desperately needed to get her away team back, how better to do so than with some local help?
Kathryn remembered enough ancient Earth history to know that the Egyptians worshipped Gods and Goddesses and they had pyramids. Of course several cultures such as the Cambodians, Incas and Aztecs also built pyramids and they all worshipped Gods. She didn’t know if this society was based on any of those same premises, but she would not be worshipped by anyone.
The woman stayed crouched toward the ground, but turned her face up to Janeway’s, obviously fascinated with her.
"You are the Great Goddess Heka for surely she is Aset." The woman’s gaze flickered toward Seven and she suddenly fell back on her face in apparent worship of Seven as well.
A’zal’s features were close to those of the natives and they didn’t seem to think her anything special since they ignored her completely.
Janeway’s odd sense of humor made her wonder if the Vulcan felt slighted at all. She looked at Seven for some direction and merely received a raise eyebrow in return.
"You’re no help."
Kathryn reached back down and grasped the woman by the arm. "Stand up."
"As you say, Great One," the woman muttered and rose haltingly to her feet. The look on her face said she didn’t believe for an instant that Janeway wasn’t a Goddess, but she did as she was told. Her whole body trembled and Kathryn wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t fall back on the ground.
"That goes for the rest of you. Get up, your…Gods desire your assistance."
The woman spoke while her eyes wandered reverently over Janeway’s features. "You have hair of fire, just like in the scrolls."
Another of the locals found the courage to speak up, this one a male. "She has hair the color of golden wheat. Her skin is as pale as fresh cream." His voice was soft, mesmerized and Kathryn was briefly tempted to whack him on the head for looking at Seven like that.
"And the way you killed the priests…"
Janeway looked at the woman in astonishment. "They’re not dead, we just stunned them!"
Priests? On Earth priests were men of peace! These guys didn’t seem very beneficent to her.
Right on cue one of them groaned as he began to come around. The woman’s expression suddenly turned to one of fear. Janeway reached down and pulled on her night glasses. Before she straightened up she glanced over toward one of the unconscious priests who lay on his back. The design on his necklace caught her eye and it clicked in her mind which culture these people followed. The Egyptian ankh, a cross with a circle at the top that symbolized long life, was clearly sculpted. She looked at the bracelets on his wrists and saw the relief of raised cobras.
"If they are not dead then we must leave, now! Come with us, we must get our people to safety."
The woman grabbed Janeway by the arm and tugged her along. Kathryn didn’t really see what the threat was; they could just shoot them again. Finally she shrugged and looked at Seven and A’zal.
As soon as it looked like Janeway and the others would follow willingly the woman dropped her arm like she had been scalded.
"Forgive my impudence, Great One," the woman said and dropped her eyes while they walked quickly into the night.
Kathryn rolled her eyes under the cover of the darkness, adjusted her night glasses and tried to change the subject. "What’s your name?"
The woman glanced at her quickly in surprise before she looked away again. "I am called Xexus, Great One, but you may call me anything you desire."
I desire for you to stop calling me Great One before I beat you to death with a shovel, Janeway thought sarcastically.
They were led to a small cave that Xexus told her was used as a hideout from the priests.
"They are evil and use magic to keep the people oppressed. Many of the ceremonies they perform involve sacrifices of the people. They drain the blood from their victims and use it to perform other ceremonies."
"Human sacrifices?" Kathryn asked in horror.
A touch on her arm drew her attention and she looked at Seven curiously.
"Anthropologically speaking, it is not uncommon for cultures to engage in humanoid sacrifices."
"That makes me feel so much better, Seven. Thanks."
The sarcasm was lost on Seven and Janeway turned back to Xexus. "So tell us about this…about me. What?" she asked when she saw the look on the native woman’s face.
"Seven is what Aset is called by the Great Mother?" she asked in disbelief. When Seven nodded she said, "Seven is a number of great power."
"Clarify," Seven demanded in her typically abrupt fashion.
Xexus smiled and said, "First let us sit. The men have the fire started and will make us something to eat while we talk." Apparently they didn’t find it odd that their Gods might do something so mundane as to consume nutrition.
Kathryn noticed that large sitting stones surrounded a campfire and the three men were crouched down pulling out rations from their pouches. She nodded and they sat quietly. While they waited on the meal to be prepared Xexus began to speak quietly. Her eyes drifted contentedly between the features of Janeway and Seven as she told the story of Heka and the Seven Scorpions.
"Of course you must know the story, Great One, since you experienced it yourself, but I will be glad to tell you the rendition known to our people."
"Heka was married to Oshir the Sun God. Setmos, the Serpent God, sent assassins to kill the God and Goddess. Oshir was killed, but Heka was taken prisoner and put into a weaving house. As she sat and weaved the mummy wrappings for Oshir, Thotet the God of Justice liberated her and told her to find a hiding place for her young son Horus.
Heka wandered looking for a hiding place from Setmos, carrying her baby son in her arms. For her protection Thotet sent seven scorpions to go in front of her. Four scorpions went in front of her: Tefen, Petet, Tjetet, and Matet. The next two: Mesetet and Mesetef went under her palanquin and kept quiet so as to not alert Setmos to their whereabouts.
One day she reached the Town of the Two Sisters in the Nejet Delta where she stopped by a big wealthy-looking house to ask for food and a resting place. But the rich woman living there was scared by the sight of the scorpions and closed the door on Heka. When she wearily prepared to walk on a poor fisherwoman approached them and offered for them to share her meager meal.
While Heka rested Tefen and the rest of the scorpions decided to take their revenge on the rich woman who had denied them help, and during the night they all loaded their poison onto Tefen who crept into the wealthy house and stung the woman’s child. The mother woke up by the cries of her son and ran in search of help, carrying the small child in her arms but none offered her help or knew what to do.
Her cries woke up Heka who soon found out what had been done. Looking down at her own child who slept calmly she felt pity for the rich mother and decided not to let an innocent child die. Heka uttered words of great power, named each of the scorpions by their names, which meant she dominated them. Thereby she ordered the poison of Tefen to leave the body of the boy who soon could breathe again.
Tefen and the other scorpions merged when Heka spoke her magic spell and became one. Heka called the great scorpion Aset, the Great Protector.
The spell spoken by Heka could be used for any child who got stung by a venomous bite, together with a medical prescription of barley-bread, garlic and salt.
When the mother understood whom she had refused she became very regretful, collected all her possessions and carried them over to the poor woman’s house trying to make amends for her pride. Heka rejoiced on behalf of the poor woman and the next day resumed her journey with Aset at her side.
From that day forward Heka and Aset have never been apart and the Great Mother, Heka took Aset, the Protector as her consort."
Once Xexus finished the story Janeway and Seven merely glanced at each other silently. Although Janeway was no Goddess, she was in a sense a mother to her crew. As for Seven of Nine the woman had always put Kathryn’s safety above all others and in a sense they had become ‘consorts’ lately.
"Grand eloquence notwithstanding the narration could describe our situation," Seven volunteered softly.
Kathryn didn’t know what to say. Her mind raced with what she had learned and she wondered if the Egyptian influence could be used to their advantage.
"We’re here because members of my personal guard have been kidnapped. Is it possible that the priests that attacked you could be responsible?"
The question wasn’t a comforting thought, but it would narrow down the possibilities and help them focus their search.
"It is not only possible, it is probable," Xexus stated. "The priests are the only members of our society that are aggressively hostile."
Janeway’s blood ran cold. "Do they…worship us as you do?" she asked finally starting to get into the swing of their impersonation.
"Of course. All our people respect the Gods. The rituals the priests perform are to honor them, although the common people do not agree with bloodletting. A great ritual is being planned now to bring back the Queen who passed into the Netherlands one day ago. She was the embodiment of Heka, the Great Mother, but was attacked by a bovine and gored to death. The blood of seven must be let at first light to return her to life."
Kathryn had a feeling she knew who six of the seven would be. If Seven had been captured instead of injured no doubt she would have completed the requirement for the number of victims needed for the sacrifice. Would the missing seventh victim slow the ceremony down in any way?
"My missing people would make up six of the victims needed. Do you think that would delay the ceremony any to allow us time to rescue them?"
"Unlikely," Xexus responded. "In all likelihood that is why we were attacked. The priests are searching for the final one to complete the ceremony before the time is expired. If the ritual is not performed by dawn of the first day after death, it is too late."
"Dawn? How long is that from now?" Kathryn asked.
Xexus looked at one of the men, "Seth, will you check the hour?"
Seth bowed his head briefly before he picked up a pouch and left the cave. He returned quickly with an odd device in his hands and said, "Daylight will occur in three candle marks."
"Is that like hours?" Kathryn questioned but Xexus merely looked at her blankly.
Seven answered. "It is most likely. That leaves us little time to prepare."
Kathryn was way ahead of her after the story they had heard. "Xexus, these priests…would they respect us even if they supported the evil Serpent God, Setmos?"
Xexus looked at her strangely and then said, "Allow me to show you something, Great One."
She reached for one of their supply packs and pulled out a large scroll. Xexus unrolled it and showed the picture that had been painted on it to Janeway and her companions. Although it was a painting and crude by Starfleet standards the beings presented could have been painted that day. A small flame-haired woman in typical Egyptian garb stood immediately in front of a tall, imposing blonde beauty. Minus the Borg implants the blonde could have been Seven and with only slightly different bone structure the other figure clearly resembled Janeway.
"I take it this is us?" Seven asked with a raised brow.
"Yes. The priests may worship Setmos, but they would not take the chance of affronting any of the Gods. They will respect you, Great One."
Janeway didn’t like any of this one little bit. A lot of it smacked of more than coincidence, but she believed in taking her opportunities where they were presented. If this meant that she could get her people back safely she would try.
"Xexus, do you have any idea where the priests would have taken my people?"
"Yes. There are seven structures of power, but only one where the sacrificed are taken."
"Thank you. Now I only have one last question. Will you help us get our people back?"
Xexus smiled with an odd look of satisfaction. "The priests are evil. Many of us have lost loved ones to their sacrifices. We will be honored to assist in the return of your people and to bring down the evil ones."
Kathryn shuddered at the venomous glint in the dark eyes and briefly wondered if they had chosen the right path. She shrugged the feeling away and decided to be grateful for the help.
"Then it’s time to get to work. We don’t have much time. Aset and I need somewhere where we can confer in private." Kathryn had a plan and not much time to get it going.
Kathryn’s plans hinged on letting the kidnapper priests believe that she and Seven were Gods. She wasn’t comfortable with the idea but sometimes a captain did what she had to for her crew. She had Seven scan the scroll Xexus had shown them with a tricorder after the three crewmen went into a smaller cave structure deeper in the hillside. Without the locals around she was able to contact the ship to set her plan in motion.
"Janeway to Nemo," she said after she tapped the combadge hidden under her poncho.
"Nemo here," Kim responded almost immediately. The relief in his voice was palpable and Kathryn smiled sympathetically. They had been out of contact far longer than they should have been.
"Harry, Seven is sending you an image," Kathryn nodded at the other woman and Seven quickly tapped in a sequence of buttons to send the data to the ship. "I want you to replicate the clothing exactly as it appears in the image and send it to these coordinates."
"Just do it, Harry. You’ll understand when you see the image. I also need you to send an extra set of garments in Commander A’zal’s size. Make the garments as close to the ones in the image, but scale the colors back a little. She has to look like a servant of some kind."
There was a brief pause before Kim said, "I’ve got the data, Captain. Am I to understand the sizes of the other garments in question should correspond to yours and Seven’s?"
"Understood, Captain. It’ll take a few minutes for me to replicate the clothing and I think I should take care of this in the cargo bay."
It was good thinking on his part, Kathryn acknowledged. He was trying to keep the rest of the crew from realizing that their captain was about to perpetrate a hoax. As much as she appreciated his discretion, it wasn’t necessary. She would have stood up in front of Starfleet Command and shouted her intentions if it helped her accomplish her goal.
"That’s fine, Harry. Let me know when you’re ready to transport them."
After she ended the communiqué she turned back to her companions. "I don’t suppose either one of you knows anything about ancient Egyptian customs? Some idea on how to proceed would be good."
A’zal and Seven exchanged glances before the Vulcan responded. "Captain, I must point out that this is not Earth and these people are not Egyptian no matter how much their culture parallels what you are accustomed to. We have no choice, but to utilize Xexus and the other locals if we are to be convincing."
"I was afraid you’d say something like that." Kathryn remembered the look of gleeful vengeance on Xexus’ face when she had asked for their help.
"A’zal is correct that there will be differences in the cultures," Seven interjected, "but I believe that most ritualistic civilizations share a great deal of similarities. For example, As the Great Protector Aset, I must constantly be at your side yet you will lead. As a servant, A’zal will walk first and her face will be covered as the serving women in the scroll. She will precede you."
"Why is that?" Kathryn frowned. "If she is a servant shouldn’t she follow behind?"
"No," A’zal answered. "I will go first to thwart any assassination attempts on my Queen and my God."
Kathryn grinned. "You sound like you might know a little about this stuff."
A’zal raised her eyebrow and for a moment looked remarkably like her father. "I must admit to a certain amount of curiosity concerning ancient Earth cultures. I studied those cultures during my years at University while still on Vulcan."
"Great!" Kathryn said enthusiastically and for the first time felt they actually had a chance. "We have an expert."
"Nemo to Captain Janeway."
Kathryn responded quickly to Harry’s hail and was told he was ready to transport the garments. A few seconds later the familiar hum of the transport beam sounded and a small pile began to form in the center of the cavern. She was thrilled to see that not only had Harry replicated the clothing down to the tiara worn around Heka’s forehead, but he had also included Aset’s bow and arrow as well as a scythe for A’zal. At least they wouldn’t be defenseless.
"Bless you, Harry. Well ladies, shall we?"
Kathryn was very aware of changing clothes in front of Seven, but she couldn’t exactly try and find a private place without looking foolish. With no other choice she turned her back and stripped off her tunic and undershirt. The whole time she was changing she felt Seven’s eyes boring into her back. The air was cool in the cave and she felt her nipples tighten in response as goose bumps broke out over her skin.
Fortunately, Seven refrained from any questionable comments and A’zal appeared not to notice anything unusual as she changed into her own costume.
Janeway fumbled with the unfamiliar straps on the sandals before she finally stood up and carefully lowered the tiara into place. The white linen dress was tied at the waist with a gold belt and the hem fell to gently swirl against her naked ankles, although Harry had thoughtfully added a slit on one side up to her hip in case she had to fight. Golden bracelets encircled her wrists and the relief of a scorpion rose sharply from each of them. Harry Kim had taken poetic license with one of the bracelets and had concealed a surprise inside. Kathryn smiled. Had he similarly equipped A’zal and Seven’s bracelets?
The irony that ‘scorpion’ had been the code word used to sever Seven of Nine from the hive mind wasn’t lost on her. In a strange way it seemed fitting.
Kathryn felt overdressed, yet oddly exquisite at the moment and turned to see how Seven’s garments looked. What she saw made her absolutely breathless. Surely, it was true. A Goddess stood before her…or was it an angel?
The light of the campfire framed Seven from behind and lent her a glowing appearance. Her hair had been lowered from its customary twist and was secured into a ponytail with a golden clasp at the nape of her neck. A thick golden necklace hung low over her breast and the dress she wore was more of a long, white tunic. It fell to just above her knees and combined with the sandals that tied high on her calves gave her more of a resemblance to a Greek Goddess. She was similarly adorned with bracelets.
Seven had slung her quiver of arrows over her shoulder and stood with the bow in her left hand. Her implants shown brilliantly in the firelight, one of them snaked from her right thigh to behind her knee before it entwined lovingly with her calf and disappeared under her foot.
With her feet spread wide, bow in hand and a tunic that more than hinted at the feminine curves underneath she was the epitome of an avenging angel. All she was missing was the wings.
"Oh my God," Kathryn breathed stunned. "You’re beautiful."
Seven’s cheeks grew rosy and she cast a self-conscious glance toward A’zal before she looked quickly away. The image of a Goddess or angel gave way to that of an innocent child playing dress up. Kathryn felt her heart twist and realized that if she hadn’t been in love with Seven before, she would have been now.
Kathryn cleared her throat and looked quickly away. She hadn’t meant to make Seven uncomfortable and sought to ease the awkward situation. "Looks like Harry did a good job with your costume too, A’zal."
The dark-skinned woman was adorned in a linen dress close to the design of Kathryn’s own. It fell only to mid-shin and she also wore scorpion bracelets as well as matching anklets. Her scythe was held against her chest and appeared more ornamental than functional, but when the tactics chief turned the glint of firelight off the honed edged belied that supposition. In deference to her position as a servant A’zal wore a veil that covered the lower portion of her face. Only her eyes were bare.
"Looks like we’re ready. A’zal, see if you can find a place for our uniforms."
Janeway winced at the formal terminology. "That’s Heka and do me a favor, will you A’zal? Try not to speak unless someone asks you a direct question."
The Vulcan looked blankly at the captain, but only nodded in response. She quickly found a spot behind a rock to stow their gear and they turned to head back toward the locals.
An idea suddenly occurred to Janeway as she took in Seven’s costume again. She could see that the bow was hardly an antique version, but was definitely something that the locals might think would be used by a ‘God’. It was gold and the ends were elaborately carved into scorpion tails. Undoubtedly it was a compound bow and would increase the length of a shot exponentially. If Harry had taken license with the bow, what else had he done?
"Seven, let me take a look at your arrows."
Seven obediently waited while Kathryn pulled an arrow from the quiver. The shaft was made of duranium and the tip was serrated with four separate barbs that combined into a single point.
"I am detecting an electro-magnetic pulse from the end of the arrow."
Kathryn smiled. "A low level electric current. It’s perfect for rendering someone unconscious without killing them if you strike in the right spot."
"I will not kill anyone unless I have to, Kathryn," Seven pointed out softly.
Their eyes met and Janeway tried to pour all the confidence she felt for the other woman into the gaze. "I know that, Seven. I trust you."
After a moment she dropped Seven’s gaze and straightened her tiara. "Ready? Let’s do it."
When the women entered the main chamber the locals looked around in surprise. The expression of shock in their eyes was almost worth the whole charade. All of them fell to their knees and planted their foreheads on the dirt floor in supplication. Kathryn’s instincts cried out for her to correct the situation, but she caught herself just in time.
"Xexus, how long will it take to reach the pyra…uh, structure of power were the priests hold their sacrifices?"
The alien woman dared raise her eyes to frown at Janeway. Surely this was a test for the Goddess would know everything. "Not long, Great One. Less than a candle mark."
"Then let’s get moving. I want to get there before this ritual can get started."
Head down, spirit all but broken he trudged along the dirt floor toward the place where the sacrificed were kept. Revih had been a slave to the priests for all of the young life that he could remember. And although he was only at the midpoint of his fourteenth cycle he felt far older. Years of cleaning up blood, bodily wastes and disposing of the sacrificed had aged him greatly.
So smudged with dirt that his skin was nothing but shadow in the gloom, he wandered carefully toward the cells. The floors were laid with booby traps and as much as he despaired this existence he was far from ready to leave it.
The sacrificed had already been taken to the main chamber and his task was to clean up the cell for the next time it was needed. Revih had little in the way of ambition, but it would not be worth the beating if he failed in his duties. Often one of the sacrificed would have been killed trying to escape and their body would be left behind for him to get rid of.
Sure enough, he walked silently around the corner of the dirt tunnel and saw a lump lying motionless inside the cell. The sight was so commonplace that he didn’t pause as he walked quietly up next to the unmoving form. Revih stood and looked down at the heap and contemplated the task ahead of him. The familiar smell of charred flesh assaulted his nostrils. He would have to come back with the cart to move the corpse. Then something unusual happened and the lump moved.
It was only a breath, a shallow inhalation, but enough to convince Revih that the stranger was still alive. He frowned. This was new. He didn’t know how to dispose of someone that still drew breath. Should he leave until it died and then return for the corpse?
Undecided, unsure he stood for a moment longer. If he left the body behind the priests could accuse him of neglecting his duties. He might find himself on the sacrificial alter. But he couldn’t kill the stranger himself and then dispose of it. That was out of the question.
What the priests did in these dirt walls was a blasphemy as far as Revih was concerned. He had been taught right from wrong as a young child and still had flashes of memory from a kind and loving mother who had told stories of gentle Gods, but he was a slave now. The priests did not ask his opinion and he had learned as a youngster that the most he would receive for unsolicited input was a fist across the cheek.
The stranger groaned and Revih cast a worried look around the deserted corridors before he knelt quickly beside the body. A large green cape of sorts covered the features and Revih ignored the bloodied hole in the center of it before he pushed it back from the stranger’s face. He gasped and pulled away when he saw that the stranger was a woman.
When she didn’t move again he leaned toward her. Her eyes were closed tightly and she moaned softly through dry, cracked lips. A gag was still tied around her mouth and with shaking hands he slowly reached to the back of her neck to untie it. Immediately the stranger took in a huge lungful of air. Revih was amazed that she still lived. The priest’s energy sticks were deadly and he had never seen another survivor.
Deep eyes, color muted by the darkness of the stone walls, suddenly opened and pinned him in place. "Help me."
Jameson’s combadge was still hidden beneath the folds of her clothing and easily translated her breathless request.
"I cannot!" Revih stammered, his eyes wide in fear. "If the priests found out they would kill me. They would kill my family." In fact it was only that last threat that had kept him in quiet servitude for so long.
A weak hand grasped his dirty sleeve and Jameson tried again. "Please, don’t leave me here to die."
Torn between his duties as a slave of the priests and what he knew to be right Revih hesitated. Then he came to a sudden decision that he hoped wouldn’t get him killed. He knew these dirt tunnels very well, having navigated them for most of his young life. He was even willing to bet that he knew them better than the priests. Most of the holy men were concerned with nothing more than the sacrifices to the Gods and traveled only the most utilized corridors and chambers. Of course they would know the treasury room and where the Gods and priests were buried, but he knew other places.
"You must hurry," he said in a voice rusty from disuse; fear suddenly a bitter taste in his mouth. He was taking a huge chance and was convinced that as soon as they started out of the chamber he would be caught.
He could always say he had found one of the sacrificed alive and was bringing them to the ritual chamber…couldn’t he?
Karri leaned heavily on the young man’s shoulders. Pain tore like knives through her back and into her chest. Drawing breath was a harsh, agonizing experience and the copper taste of blood was bitter in her mouth. As the youngster urged her toward the door she tried to move quickly afraid that the priests would return, but her limbs were weak and every step cost her.
"You must hurry!" he encouraged again.
"Trying," she gasped and redoubled her efforts.
Sweat popped out on her forehead as she struggled not to pass out from the pain. Whatever they had hit her with, it had missed anything vital and she decided to be thankful for small favors.
"It’s not far. Around this turn."
A few seconds later they stopped and Karri leaned gratefully against the wall. The boy appeared to tamper with an outcropping against the wall and she frowned as she looked around. Her vision was cloudy and she had to keep blinking back the mist, but she didn’t think he looked like he was doing anything other than stalling.
Suddenly a section of the wall swung inward and Karri blinked again. Had that been there before? What the hell kind of place was this?
The boy grabbed her arm and shoved her toward the entrance. Karri resisted momentarily, convinced it was some kind of trap until she heard heavy footsteps approaching from nearby.
"Get in!" the boy hissed and shoved her hard on the backside.
Karri had no choice and was forced through the narrow aperture. That’s when the ground gave way under her feet.
The ground suddenly became a narrow, dirt-covered chute that tilted down at an impossible angle. Karri landed face first with a grunt and then groaned as fire lanced through her chest. Time and space merged for a while after that but she had the definite sensation of falling.
Revih jumped into the aperture right behind the stranger. He had discovered this chute as a young boy and often played here when the priests weren’t looking. From experience he knew that as soon as the chute dropped from the floor above the doorway would automatically close. No doubt it was meant as a trap for the unaware and indeed he had been frightened the first time he discovered it.
That had been long ago and he remembered how long it had taken to wander out of the subterranean chamber it lead to. He still had scars from the beating he had suffered for being away from his duties too long. The stranger stopped in a heap at the bottom and it was all he could do not to charge into her. His fall had been more controlled with his feet pointing down as he slid on his rear end. Just before he hit the unmoving woman Revih pushed onto his feet and leapt over her.
She did not move and he wondered if she were finally dead. It would have made things easier, but a quick check proved that she was still breathing.
Almost disappointed, Revih grasped the injured woman under the arms and dragged her toward the small flat table in the center of the chamber. Hieroglyphics covered the walls and he figured it once had been used for more intimate types of rituals. He couldn’t read the ancient writings, it was just what he preferred to believe; that no one had died here. Pictures showed sacrificial tables piled high with grain and fresh fruits…not the dead.
The stranger was too heavy for him to lift so Revih left her in the shadows under the table. With her injuries she was becoming more and more of a liability to him. Now that he had crossed the line and actually helped a sacrifice he had to go all the way. He either let her die of her injuries and took the risk of the priests discovering her, or he had to steal one of the devices he had seen used on an injured priest and hope it worked on the stranger.
Neither was a choice he savored. Either one meant death, but one would be easier to pull off than the other. How many times had he stolen meat right out from under the priests and hidden it in his robes? He could steal a medical device, but he couldn’t sneak the stranger out inside his garments.
Revih sighed heavily and cast his dark eyes toward the ceiling. The Gods were testing him mightily today.
B’Elanna tried the bindings again and felt them shift a little more. If she had about ten thousand more years to work at them she thought she might actually get them loose! She was looking directly at Tuvok when he shifted his eyes to the right behind her.
Immediately, B’Elanna stilled and a couple of priests came to a stop only a few feet behind her.
"First light is in two candle marks. Where is the hunting party?"
He sounded nervous and B’Elanna wondered what they could be searching for that could be so important.
"Perhaps the rain has delayed them. They will be here soon," another voice answered.
"They must be in time. We need two more for the sacrifice or the Queen will not be restored."
Great! They’re looking for two more victims before they can start, B’Elanna thought sarcastically. On the other hand, it might just give them the time they needed to get out of this jam and not leave her daughter without a mother.
"What of the one left behind in the cell? If she still breathes we need only one more."
The first man was silent as he contemplated the idea. "If the hunters return with only one and she still lives, she will be sacrificed. I do not wish to use her if there are alternatives. Her blood has been spilled and she is unclean."
"Do you think the Gods will be angry?"
"Perhaps they will be satisfied with the blood of the other six that are whole," the first man suggested before they walked out of earshot.
B’Elanna couldn’t take the chance of trying to escape without knowing where they had gone and she could only stare at the still figure of a queen that bore a remarkable resemblance to her captain. B’Elanna could almost sympathize with the priests…almost.
She would follow Captain Janeway into Grethor itself if the woman asked. Janeway had taken a chance on the volatile half-Klingon when no one else would have and given her back her dignity and respect. If these people felt even half of what she did for the other woman, and they truly believed this ritual would bring her back, what else did she expect of them?
Still, as much as she understood where they were coming from, she had no intention of being the sacrificial lamb meekly led to the slaughter.
Quist, the Klingon security officer was tied directly across the ritual circle from B’Elanna and she watched as his eyes followed the priests out of sight. Then his shoulders tensed and the cords in his neck stood out as he strained against his bindings. He was full Klingon and B’Elanna expected his leather ties to snap like a dry twig. To her disappointment his body sagged in defeat a few moments later and he shook his head at her.
Movement from the shadows caught her attention and she watched a boy in his early teens quietly enter the room. He had a swarthy complexion just like the priests, but looked like he could have used a good meal or two. His clothing was tattered, torn and filthy. No doubt he was a servant of some sort, but she couldn’t figure out what he was doing there. The fear in his eyes was that of a cornered animal like he wasn’t supposed to be there.
Dark eyes darted around the chamber and he even scanned the overhead forcefield, but he didn’t seem to be afraid of the captives.
Briefly he met her eyes and she was convinced she saw compassion there before his gaze slid away and he moved toward the figure lying on the stone table. If anything he looked more frightened as he approached the dead woman. His eyes were wide and his breathing was quite fast. B’Elanna was convinced that if someone dropped a stone he would jump out of his skin.
To her surprise he continued toward the lifeless queen and stopped just a meter away from the body. Then he knelt down and crawled toward the stone. For a moment B’Elanna thought he was somehow honoring the corpse. That notion was dispelled when he reached out and touched a spot on the base of the stone table. A drawer slid noiselessly from the table and the boy looked around again before he reached inside it. He seemed to know exactly what he was looking for and a second later pulled out a small, square device.
She had no idea what the purpose of the device could be, but she was sure she saw small lights blinking and it seemed to be made of metal.
The young slave quickly stashed the device into his clothing and pushed the drawer closed again. He backed away from the table a few feet before he stood up and darted for the shadows.
Now what was that about, B’Elanna mused curiously. No doubt it was something he shouldn’t have been doing. For some reason that thought made her feel a little better about their chances.
Revih had seen the woman with the strange bumps on her forehead watching him as he took the healing device. She had frightened him almost as much as being near the dead queen because he had never seen anyone who looked like that. Her malformed face, however, was still less of a threat than the spirit of the dead and he wondered if she was a friend to the stranger in the catacombs.
In fact all of the intended sacrifices were wearing the same clothing. Ideas began to form in his head and he began to wonder if the dead queen’s spirit was infecting him. Surely these thoughts of helping the others to escape too couldn’t come from inside him? One thing at a time, Revih decided. See if the healer would work on the stranger.
Revih passed a few priests on his way back toward the lower levels. They didn’t seem to notice him and he carefully kept his head down as he passed. Before long he entered the lower chamber and walked toward the woman. She hadn’t moved since he had left, but she was definitely still breathing.
The injury from the energy stick had been on her back. Revih figured that was a good place to try and heal her.
She was curled in a ball, lying on her side and he grasped her by the ankles to pull her out straight. There was no response indicating that she had lost consciousness again. In a way he was relieved. Cries of pain would have been very distracting and he had never done this before. He didn’t know if he could continue if she cried out.
As soon as she was straightened out he knelt by her in the dirt and pulled the healer out of his robes and looked at the strange device. It was thick and cumbersome for such a small thing. It was made of some kind of strange material that he had never seen before. Red and yellow lights blinked on the tip and he assumed it was the end he was supposed to aim at the injury.
Revih pointed the device toward the woman’s back, but after a moment he figured out it wasn’t doing anything. Frustrated, he looked at it a little closer and realized there was a small button on the base. He was familiar with buttons having seen the priests use them enough. Perhaps he needed to press it to get the thing started.
He tried again and this time a narrow beam shot out from the end of it that caused him to jump slightly. When he realized it wouldn’t hurt him, his hand steadied and he swept the beam back and forth on the injured woman’s back. Nothing seemed to happen after a few moments and he frowned. Maybe the healer wouldn’t work on the woman.
He frowned and rested a hand on the woman’s back to try and see if she was healing beneath the cloak. His hand encountered something hard and unyielding. This couldn’t be her skin, could it?
No, that wasn’t it. Her hand was as soft as his. There was some kind of padding between her body and the healer.
Revih snorted in frustration and set the healer down. Now he was going to have to remove some of her clothing. He struggled to roll her over and saw the small catch at her throat to loosen the cloak. It was easily undone and he figured out how to open her blouse.
Revih had never seen a woman’s intimate flesh before and his face burned in embarrassment. He started to avert his eyes, but then saw there was something else in the way.
The woman wore a blue garment that covered her chest and back. It was very bulky and was undoubtedly what had interfered with the healer. Revih stared at the garment for a moment but couldn’t figure out how to open it. He eased her onto her back and saw straps that wrapped around from the front.
He pulled one of the straps and it came loose with a ripping sound. Afraid that he had broken something he pushed the strap back into place and watched as it stuck. When he lifted again, it made the same sound. Amazing! These people were truly wondrous to have invented something like this!
This time he didn’t hesitate and pulled the four securing straps loose. The sight of bare skin rewarded him. Some of the flesh was a little burned, but it looked like the other garment had absorbed most of the blast. Revih aimed the healing beam at the injury and watched in fascination as the skin began to knit back together. He forgot to be nauseated by the stench of blood as skin pulled back together and the woman’s breath came easier. Perhaps it would work after all.
Even after the wound appeared healed Revih continued to sweep the healing light back and forth across the woman’s back.
"I think you can stop now."
The amused voice made Revih jump slightly.
Karri rose up on the palms of her hands and glanced over her shoulder at the young man. Fortunately her shirt was still close enough that the universal translator worked. She sat up reached for her shirt. Her bra covered her front and she unselfconsciously put her shirt back on.
"Thanks, what did you do?" she asked and glanced at him. "I’m Karri, by the way. What’s your name?"
Karri knew that he had somehow healed at least most of her injuries and curiously reached down to pick up the device he had used. As good as she felt compared to a few minutes ago she couldn’t really complain, but she knew that the treatment had been far from complete. She fought the urge to cough and tried to ignore the pain that still shot intermittently through her chest. This thing definitely wasn’t on the list for technologically backwater aliens.
"Re…Revih," he stammered fearfully. Although he had just restored the strange woman to health he still wasn’t sure he had made the right decision. Just because she wasn’t one of the priests didn’t mean that she was a nice person. Perhaps she would hit him for fun.
She smiled at his hesitant answer and handed the instrument back to him before she concentrated on getting dressed. When she picked up the blast vest and saw the gapping hole in the back she grimaced. If she hadn’t decided to wear the garment she wouldn’t be here now to enjoy the pain she still felt in her chest.
Now was not the time for her to be concerned about lingering injuries, she thought. Karri didn’t consider herself anyone’s hero or some kind of a martyr, but B’Elanna and the others were still in serious trouble. Once this was over the doc could fix her up.
She looked over at Revih’s wide-eyed innocent gaze and felt a lot more confident about that outcome. Karri resisted the urge to ruffle his hair; most teenage boys probably wouldn’t appreciate the affectionate gesture.
"Well, Revih, you saved my life and I’m grateful. Now do you think you could tell me where to find my friends?"
"The…the strange man and woman with bumps on their face," he touched his own forehead to illustrate, "and the dark man with the ears of a demon?"
Karri smiled again at his descriptions and said, "Yeah, that’s them."
Dressed she stood up and reached for the poncho. After she saw the other hole that mirrored the one on the vest she dropped it again. Oh, well. It was a little cool in the caverns and her clothes were still damp from the earlier rain she had been exposed to, but shirtsleeves were better than nothing.
"You cannot just walk to the ritual chamber and rescue your people. The priests would kill you."
"What’s the deal with them anyway? Why did they kidnap us?"
"They are preparing the sacrifice to resurrect the queen. In order to do so they must have the blood of seven?"
Karri was horrified by such an archaic practice. "The blood of seven? Do you mean to tell me they kill their own people? What possible purpose could that serve?"
Revih shrugged having long ago grown used to the sacrifices. "Blood is life."
The boy frowned and nodded his head. "I have always thought so."
He wandered toward one of the stone walls and Karri noticed the carvings for the first time. Revih’s fingers lightly traced the symbols and she wandered closer to see what he was doing. His gaze was slightly distant when he began to speak.
"When I was a young boy my mother told me stories of the Gods and the priests. The priests were emissaries to the Gods on behalf of the people, but I do not remember her telling me of blood sacrifices."
"Qebeshenuef, the falcon God, was the only one who required blood and he desired it only in the form of a young calf or goat. Even when the Gods Horus and Seth raged against each other they were appeased with offerings of first fruit from the fields."
"So what changed?"
"I do not know," Revih answered in a quiet voice. "But for some reason, I have always felt the answer lay here in this chamber among these carvings. The priests do not come here and there is no blood upon the stone table."
Karri frowned and looked back at the table Revih had concealed her under earlier. She checked the stone carefully, aware that here underground any bloodstains wouldn’t have faded very much. She didn’t see any blood but there was something caught in a groove that drew her eye. Karri dug in the crevice with her fingernails and pulled it out. It was a seed.
She walked back over to the wall and looked more closely at the hieroglyphics. The form of a woman with a huge crown and something that looked like the rays of a sun pouring from it stood slightly separate from a crowd. A man who was obviously a priest stood in front of an altar on which was piled masses of fruits and vegetables. The crowd looked happy and prosperous as they worshiped the Goddess.
What had changed indeed?
Karri found this all very interesting, but it really wasn’t helping her rescue the others.
"Revih, I hate to interrupt you, but I really need to go after my friends. I can’t just waltz into where they are and cut them free, but you know this place. Any suggestions?"
"I have been thinking about that."
Kathryn was happy that the rain had stopped for now. With all the humidity in the air her hair was already clinging to her forehead and made her feel decidedly unattractive. Fortunately it wasn’t a long walk through the forest to the pyramid where her away team was being held, and she was distracted by the thought they were winging a rescue plan. They were just sort of making it up as they went along and hoping that their disguises as Gods would get them through.
It was still dark, but she had a feeling that the sun would be coming up soon. Torchlight lead their way through the forest and sizzled occasionally as raindrops fell from the trees.
She looked to the side and started again at Seven’s appearance. The fabric clung to the feminine curves and the shortness of the tunic revealed the flex of muscle and sinew as she walked. Her biosuit left little to the imagination, but Kathryn thought she looked so much sexier in what she wore now. Even a Starfleet uniform didn’t look that good on her.
It was probably a good idea that she had left the reinforcements on the ship until they were needed. Otherwise they’d return to the ship with a bunch of love-struck horn dogs on her hands!
Seven surprised her by suddenly looking over with a smile. "You are staring."
Kathryn smiled back and said in a low voice, "You look amazing. What do you think of the new clothes?"
"I like them," Seven admitted. "For some reason I cannot understand, wearing these garments makes me feel strong. The shoes are functional and comfortable, the short tunic allows more freedom of movement in my legs and the bracelets lend support to my wrists."
"I must admit that I don’t mind seeing you in them either," Kathryn added.
Seven raised an eyebrow. "Kathryn, I am well aware that you have always admired whatever costume I was wearing at the moment."
"Whatever do you mean?" Janeway asked in a feigned attempt at innocence.
Seven made an abrupt noise that sounded suspiciously like a snort. "You may have tried to be discreet, but I was always aware when you were watching me."
Kathryn shrugged unrepentant. "I may have always been the captain, but that’s no reason to deny myself a pleasant view."
Xexus suddenly interrupted their private discussion. She turned back toward them from where she led the group and said, "We are approaching the structure."
Janeway was instantly all business. Her face hardened and she stalked toward the edge of the forest intent on marching in and getting her people back. Just before she reached the steps leading up into the structure Xexus stopped her with a hand on her forearm.
"Forgive me for touching you, Goddess Heka, but you must be careful."
"Why? Didn’t you tell me that the priests wouldn’t dare attack a God?"
Xexus looked fearful for cautioning a Goddess, but persevered. "These are ancient grounds, Great One. They are laid with many pitfalls for the unwary who might seek to plunder tombs of the Gods."
Kathryn was a little confused as she tried to decipher what the woman said. A’zal helped out by stepping forward.
"Cap…Queen Heka, many pyramids were laid with booby traps to protect treasure rooms or burial chambers. We must have a care where we step. As your servant I shall lead the way."
"No!" Xexus interrupted appalled. "You are serving woman to the Goddess and therefore must also be protected. One of my people will lead the way."
"I shall do it," Seth stepped forward. Kathryn recognized him as the young man that had checked the time for them while they were in the cavern.
Kathryn nodded her ascent and allowed him to precede them into the structure. Although she didn’t like putting a stranger at risk she had to play this game by their rules.
The small group walked carefully up the stone steps. Kathryn doubted there would be any ‘pitfalls’ on the entrance but it was better safe that sorry. All of them were quiet now, very aware that they were entering enemy territory. An idea suddenly occurred to her and she quietly turned toward A’zal.
"You didn’t happen to bring a tricorder with you, did you?"
For an answer the tactical chief silently lifted her hand away from her robes and allowed the captain to see the blinking lights of a display. As she watched the small readout became filled with static and suddenly winked out.
"So much for that."
"The galacite in the structure prevents the device from functioning," A’zal explained unnecessarily.
"I guess we do this the old-fashioned way."
Slowly they entered the tunnels. Here the torchlight seemed to be swallowed by the shadows and did little to illuminate their way.
Kathryn could see other torches mounted on the walls intermittently, but none of them were lit. If there really were booby traps here the going would be even more treacherous in the dark.
They just couldn’t seem to get a break!
The entrance tunnel gave way to a large antechamber. Steps led a short distance down to a stone floor. Something was different here and Janeway’s senses told her there was more here than met the eye. The floor was made up of individual stone tiles with different carvings on each one. Along the walls carved images of humanoids faced the room as though watching the intruder enter. Holes were carved in the eyes and mouths of the faces.
Large statues in armor stood sentinel throughout the chamber and gave it a spooky feel. Kathryn felt as though the eyes of the dead watched every move her small group made. She looked around and saw four different openings leading in different directions from the room. It appeared they would have to cross the room before they could go any deeper into the structure. She turned to A’zal for confirmation.
"There is no other way."
Kathryn nodded and motioned with her head for Seth to continue.
The man carefully stepped from one stone tile to the next, ensuring that all of his weight rested firmly on one stone before he stepped to the next. The others followed him carefully one by one. Janeway didn’t know if this was even necessary or if they could have just marched across the room en masse and chose a tunnel to follow.
Ahead of her, Seth moved diagonally to avoid one of the monolithic sentinels and stepped onto an elaborately carved stone. Suddenly the stone dropped a few inches and Seth gave a cry of surprise. He lost his balance and stepped sideways before he fell. In the dark Kathryn couldn’t see where he stepped, but small, pointed barbs suddenly shot out of the mouths of the humanoid faces on either side of the unfortunate young man. Seth cried out again, this time in pain and collapsed onto the stone floor.
"Seth!" Janeway cried out and started to rush to his side.
Seven grabbed Janeway’s arms from behind and prevented her from moving.
Kathryn fought the urge to run to the fallen man. Seven was right, it wouldn’t help matters if she got herself killed. She watched as A’zal carefully moved between the stones to his side.
The Vulcan knelt down and felt for a pulse before she looked up at Janeway. "He is dead."
Janeway had known it before the other woman spoke. It was unlikely the barbs would have been dipped in a sedative.
A’zal interrupted her thoughts by speaking again. "The writings on this floor appear to be a story. I noticed similarities on the ones we traversed to this point and they appear to follow the patterns of the seasons."
She pointed to the stone she currently stood on. "This one shows a picture of rain, perhaps depicting spring."
She looked around at the connecting stones and chose another one. "This one is of things in bloom. It is logical to assume it is the next in the sequence."
Before the captain could stop her A’zal tested her theory by stepping onto the stone in question. When nothing shot out of the walls she looked back at her commanding officer with a raised eyebrow.
"That was one hell of a way to prove your hypothesis, lieutenant."
Kathryn could see that her gruff threat of a demotion surprised even the unflappable Vulcan, but A’zal recovered quickly and returned her look quietly.
"Very well," Janeway decided. "A’zal, lead the way carefully. Everyone else follow and keep your eyes open. I don’t want to lose anyone else."
The small band moved slowly the rest of the way across the floor. Although the chamber was small, it seemed huge because they couldn’t move quickly. Kathryn was tense, but felt a little better with Seven following closely behind her. A’zal reached the far side of the room before she turned back to Kathryn for a decision on which way to go.
The captain looked at Xexus. "Well?"
"That way," the woman and answered and pointed to the far corridor on the left.
It was the tunnel closest to A’zal’s location and the tactical officer easily reached the exit. She leapt over the last stone and landed on firm dirt. She turned around and looked at the others. "I believe it will be safe once everyone reaches the tunnel."
One by one the others followed. Xexus and the other two locals reached her side. Kathryn followed closely behind them and stepped carefully onto the stone A’zal had leapt from. She could see the stone just in front of the exit tunnel showed a completely opposite symbol from the one she stood on. If she stepped on it she would set off another booby trap.
Kathryn leapt to safety and turned quickly back to Seven of Nine. She was the last in the line and as soon as she was across they could find the away team and get the hell out of here.
When Seven made the leap across the last stone she was looking at Kathryn. Later Janeway felt it was that eye contact that prevented the former Borg from watching where she stepped. Seven landed in the dirt tunnel, but the heel of her left foot and much of her weight struck the suspicious stone. The ground gave way under her and Seven’s eyes widened in surprise when she started to fall back.
"Seven!" Kathryn shouted and lunged toward her. Her fist closed around the front of the tunic and she yanked Seven toward her.
Seven shifted her weight onto her right foot quickly and leaned into Janeway. They both crashed to the dirt floor with Seven on top.
Kathryn’s breath was pushed out of her in a rush and she lay dazed for a moment. Then dark eyes were looking down at her.
"Kathryn, are you undamaged?"
She rested a palm against Seven’s pale cheek. "I’m all right. What about you?"
Seven smiled but before she could answer the others were there and helping them to stand. Kathryn brushed herself off and turned to A’zal. "You’re leading from here. I don’t want anyone else hurt."
"Xexus," Kathryn continued. "Would you mind following behind her and advising her which way to go?"
"Of course, my queen." The woman bowed her head and turned to A’zal.
There didn’t appear to be any more traps and from there they made good headway toward what they hoped would be the missing away team. Soon they turned into another corridor and found torches lit on the walls.
"Looks like we’re on the right track," Janeway observed.
From there they simply followed the light. Another left turn and Janeway caught sight of a youth ahead in the tunnels. From behind she couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, but it definitely wasn’t a priest. The youngster was leaning forward, obviously straining to push a heavy cart. Everyone stopped and looked to ‘Queen Heka’ as the young person in tattered garments rounded a corner.
"Your thoughts?" Seven prompted softly.
"Makes sense they’d be heading to where the action is," Kathryn said. "We’ll follow them."
They dropped back a little, not wanting the young person to spot them and sound an alarm. All they had to do was go where the cart tracks led. Seven stopped them again a few moments later.
"There must be a large chamber just ahead."
"I am detecting fresh air and I can smell the electromagnetic discharge of a forcefield."
Oh, Kathryn thought. Borg senses. Forcefield?
"It will be the sacrificial chamber," Xexus said quietly.
The away team; they would be in here. Most likely the priests would be here too. Kathryn stood up straighter. The show was about to begin.
"Get ready people. From here on out we’re Gods. A’zal in the front, Seven I need you here behind me. Xexus?"
"We must follow behind you now, Great One."
Regally Kathryn lifted her chin and allowed a bit of a sway in her hips as she followed behind A’zal. She noticed that the tactical chief now held her scythe to her chest, ready to use it if necessary. Did Seven have an arrow fitted to her bow as well?
The royal party confidently entered the sacrificial chamber and only Kathryn’s Starfleet training kept her from ruining the charade when they entered.
Three priests stood around the form of a dead woman on a stone table. The away team was tied to stakes in a circle around the priests and looked a little the worse for wear. Lieutenant Jameson had apparently climbed out of the cart pushed by the youth they had spotted earlier. Now she stood crouched behind Torres with a stone knife in her hand as she prepared to cut the other woman’s bindings.
All eyes in the sacrificial chamber swiveled around when the Gods entered the room. The priests jerked in visible fear and shock. Two of them instantly dropped their ceremonial trappings and dropped to the floor in abject terror.
The high priest shouted, "Goddess Heka!" before he too dropped to the ground.
Then all hell broke loose.
Several things occurred simultaneously and contributed to the pandemonium. With her Borg enhanced senses Seven was able to make note of each of them and determine the best possible response.
A fourth priest entered from an antechamber to the side just as the ‘royal party’ entered the sacrificial ring and the others dropped to their knees. He apparently wasn’t ready to concede to the miraculous appearance of Heka. His face hardened and he lowered a wooden staff with a crystal on the end toward them. Seven surmised it was some kind of weapon.
Before he could fire Jameson quickly cut B’Elanna’s bindings and then the half Klingon was on the move. Torres leapt away from the pole she had been tied to and directly toward the resistant priest, tearing her gag away from her mouth as she moved.
Xexus rushed from behind them and toward the prostrate men on the ground with a cry of savage anger. Her torch was held high over her head and she looked intent on setting their clothes on fire even though they posed no threat. A’zal prevented her by lowering her scythe to strike the woman on the shins. Xexus fell over the weapon and dropped her torch on the ground.
While all of this was happening Seven realized there was a forcefield in place overhead. It wasn’t a strong one and constant overuse from preventing rain from falling into the chamber had weakened it further. A simple electrostatic discharge should interrupt the field. She reached over her shoulder for an arrow and swiftly fit it into her compound bow. Seven aimed overhead and her optical implant was able to discern a spot that seemed weaker than the others.
She fired and the arrow impacted the shield. Bright sparks shot out from the forcefield almost blinding her before she could adjust her optical range and then the forcefield winked out of existence.
"Enough!" Janeway shouted in her most commanding voice; the same voice she used to cause Maelon and Vidiian to shudder and run away in fear.
Everyone inside the chamber froze and looked at her. Seven thought she looked exactly like the goddess she was portraying. Everyone else also looked convinced. Even the away team was looking at Janeway like they had never seen her before. Then she saw why.
A woman that strongly resembled Janeway lay unmoving on a stone slab in the center of the room. Right after Seven saw the woman she noticed the differences in their features. The native woman’s jaw was heavier and her complexion much darker. She discounted the stranger immediately and refocused on the priests.
"You are not Heka!" the priest with the staff said angrily. "Our Queen is there on the table. We have not yet performed the ritual to revive her."
Seven who had never left Janeway’s side leaned over and said quietly, "I have disabled the forcefield overhead and there is little galacite in these stones. All of our equipment should function now."
Kathryn nodded slightly. "The ritual is unnecessary. I am the Goddess and I have come to tell you that I do not approve of these blood sacrifices."
Seven’s eyebrow nearly climbed off her forehead at the captain’s show of bravado. Not only was the captain allowing the people to keep their beliefs in the gods, but she was also attempting to stop the bloodletting. Impressive.
"You are an imposter," the recalcitrant priest insisted, "and I will prove it!"
The man leveled the staff at her and prepared to fire. Before he could Janeway extended her hand and pointed at him. A streak of ruby light appeared to shoot from her finger and struck him high on the chest. He flew backward and hit the stone wall hard enough to make him drop the staff. He was already unconscious before he hit the floor.
Seven’s small smile was hidden by the gloom of the chamber. She was the only one close enough to see the phaser the captain had hidden inside her bracelet.
The battered youth they had seen pushing the cart in the tunnel rushed toward the downed priest. Seven expected a display of violence toward his master, but instead the boy picked up the energy staff and quickly broke it in half over his knee.
"You shall not harm anyone else!"
Xexus' quiet voice amidst all of the rampage quieted everyone more effectively than a cannon blast. All eyes turned toward the woman and Seven could see tears shimmering in the dark eyes.
The native woman raised a trembling hand toward the boy and said haltingly, "I…I thought you were dead. They took you and I thought you were to be a…sacrifice."
While she spoke the boy walked slowly toward her. His face was calm, but his eyes too shone with emotion. "Mother?"
Xexus rushed the last few feet toward him and clutched Revih to her. The boy was in his teens but years of neglect and malnourishment had kept him from reaching his full height. He stood a head shorter than his mother, but she gratefully gathered him close and forgot about everything else going on around them.
"What is your command Great Mother?"
Seven was pleased to see that the remaining priests were willing to go along with the Goddess now. Unfortunately, from the blank look on Kathryn’s face she didn’t seem sure what their next move should be.
"If I may speak…Queen."
Karri Jameson seemed to be trying to get the gist of everything that was happening, but Seven didn’t think the lieutenant would have spoke unless she knew something important. Hopefully it would be the piece of the puzzle the rest of them were missing.
Kathryn must have thought the same thing. With a relieved look on her face she nodded once at the lieutenant and said, "You may."
Jameson took a deep breath to speak, but then began to cough harshly. Seven had noticed the scorch marks on the engineer’s shirt and quietly slipped a tricorder from the insides of her robes. Kathryn noticed her movements and leaned over to see the readout.
Lieutenant Jameson showed recent signs of healing, but still suffered from a broken rib that pressed against a lung. Kathryn frowned but allowed the lieutenant to continue after she recovered from her coughing attack.
The lieutenant hung her head to appear supplicant but before she could speak coughing spasms that forced her to lean forward and brace her hands against her knees interrupted her. Janeway frowned in worry, but kept silent until the younger woman was able to go on.
"In the lower chambers are depictions of the Gods being worshipped with fruits and grains. This boy told me that the priests were not always so blood-thirsty, but recently something changed."
Xexus interrupted the story at this point and added, "A new priest arrived from the stars. His name was Kashka and he said he had been sent from the Gods to herald in a new form of worship. With him he brought wondrous magic, some terrible and some great. The energy shields were meant to keep the elements at bay and the energy sticks were to subdue the masses."
Something about the name Kashka nagged at the back of Seven’s mind before it clicked in place. "Kashyk?" she said out loud.
Janeway gasped and looked at her quickly. Jameson’s eyes widened and Seven recalled that she had also been on Voyager when the Imperialist enforcer was subjecting the crew to inspections while they searched for empaths.
It was a possibility, but they were just guessing that he had been forced out of his position and traveled to this world. That was far from proof and at this point really didn’t matter.
Kathryn must have agreed. "It was this Kashka that was the imposter," she said imperiously. "I have come to decree that blood sacrifices of the people will no longer be tolerated. You are to return to the old ways. If you do not I shall return and you will not like the consequences."
One of the priests raised his head and smiled. "Thank you, Queen Heka. For so long many of us have felt killing our own kind to be wrong. You have my word that this will no longer occur."
"What is your name?" Janeway asked the man who had the courage to raise his head and look his Goddess in the eye.
"I am Moham."
For just a moment the man tensed and seemed afraid. Then he swallowed and stood with his shoulders back, bravely awaiting her decision.
"You shall be High Priest from this moment on."
The man nodded and bowed his head briefly. Then he turned to the other two who still knelt on the floor. "Remove his body from the chamber."
"He’s not dead," Jameson blurted out then amended, "Uh, I mean Queen Heka would never take a life without reason. He’s just unconscious."
Moham took this news in stride and said to the other two, "Take him into custody."
The unconscious man was taken from the chamber and Moham turned to explain to the Goddess, "Johan is a very cruel man. That is why Kashka left him in charge when he returned to the skies."
While they had been talking Torres had cut the other members of the away team loose.
Taking advantage of the situation Janeway commanded to Tuvok, "You," and pointed a finger at him. "Your people will come with me to serve the Gods."
As they all began to walk toward the small group Janeway used the momentary distraction to turn her back and tap her combadge.
After a few careful words to Ensign Kim she turned back toward the others.
"What are your commands for your remains, Goddess?" Moham asked respectfully.
Janeway glanced toward the unmoving form on the stone slab. Thoughts of Egyptian mummification turned in her mind and she controlled the shudder of distaste. "Inter my corporeal remains in keeping with tradition."
Moham simply bowed to her wishes and Janeway looked around. Everything seemed to have been taken care of. The away team was safe, the bloodletting had been stopped and even Xexus had been reunited with her son. Now all they had to do was get out of here and keep the local lore intact. Somehow she’d managed to bend the prime directive this time and still not really affect the natives.
Surreptitiously she touched her combadge.
"We must depart from you now and return to the stars."
It was the signal Harry was waiting for and the familiar tingling sensation of the transport beam came over Kathryn as they were all pulled out of the chamber. When she rematerialized she found that Ensign Kim had transported the large party to the cargo bay.
"I want everyone to report to sickbay," she said immediately and turned toward the others. "Especially you, Karri. Seven, you’re with me."
Kathryn had noticed from her time with the locals that the weather they were having wasn’t normal. Something had happened to throw off the climate of this planet and she intended to find out what it was. Since the emergency situation had been resolved there was no need to rush directly to the bridge. The women stopped by their quarters to change into standard uniforms before they met again in the corridor and returned to deck one.
"Mister Kim, scan this sector. I want to know if anything has happened to this planet recently to change the climactic conditions."
After a few seconds of tapping buttons Harry looked up and said, "Captain, scans show a sub-spatial explosion that was enough to throw the planet off its axis by .00015 percent."
"How long ago did this explosion occur?"
He checked his readings again and looked up at her. Kathryn knew what he was going to say before he spoke. "Eight days ago, Captain."
Eight days ago. It was the same day that Nautilus and the Nemo were separated by a large anti-matter explosion. This planet’s weather conditions were their fault. The problem was that there really wasn’t anything they could do to help. Nemo’s tractor beams couldn’t make enough of an impact to pull it back into alignment and even attempting to do so could pull the planet apart.
"Captain?" Harry spoke softly. "If it helps any, sensors also show that the storms in the atmosphere are abating. They should dissipate in the next thirty hours. The atmosphere is stabilizing."
Kathryn nodded sadly. "Thank you, Harry."
All she wanted at this point was a hot shower and a forty-eight hour nap. Kathryn turned toward the doors, but stopped before she got close enough for the sensors to open them. "Harry, have you been on the bridge since we left yesterday?"
The young man glanced down quickly, but the dark circles under his eyes answered for him.
"You’re off duty. It’s about time for beta shift anyway."
"Yes, Captain. Thank you."
Seven followed Janeway out the doors and into the turbolift. As soon as the doors closed Seven said, "Computer, halt turbolift."
The lift halted between decks and Kathryn turned curiously to Seven.
"It is a very short journey to deck two and I did not wish to keep you from regenerating. This would undoubtedly occur if I accompanied you to your quarters."
"Oh?" Kathryn asked tenderly and refrained from pointed out that Seven’s quarters were on the same deck. There was really no reason for her to have stopped the car between decks. "And how would you keep me from regenerating?"
Seven slipped her arms around the other woman and pulled her close, pleased when she snuggled into her arms. "I would delay your rest because I desire touching you."
Kathryn’s breath caught in her throat and suddenly the last thing she felt like was sleeping. "Seven," she whispered hoarsely, "kiss me."
Full lips pressed against her own, gently at first, barely tasting. Kathryn’s arms tightened around the slender, almost waspish waist and her lips parted. Their tongues touched, tangled and she was lost. All that existed was the touch and taste, the scent that belonged solely to Seven of Nine. For endless moments passion such as she had never felt for another consumed her as she consumed the love from Seven’s lips. It was only the sudden movement of the turbolift that broke the embrace.
At first Kathryn didn’t understand why Seven had pulled away, but when the turbolift stopped with a barely perceptible jolt she remembered where they were. Their arms were still holding each other close when the doors parted. Old habits died hard and when Kathryn saw Lieutenants Torres and Jameson she started to jump away from Seven like a guilty schoolgirl. At the last moment she caught herself.
Seven wasn’t some guilty pleasure that she ever wanted to hide from anyone. This was the woman she loved and it was better if the crew found out about their relationship sooner than later. Maybe then the rumor mill could run full tilt and get the initial shock over with faster.
Calmly, she stepped out of Seven’s embrace and exited the turbolift with Seven behind her.
"Lieutenants," she greeted and then walked sedately down the corridor with her hands behind her back. B’Elanna and Karri entered the turbolift together.
The captain and Seven, Karri thought. It was about time. But as interesting as speculating about the captain’s relationship, she had more immediate concerns on her mind.
Karri could feel the tension that radiated off the other woman, had felt it since the fiasco in the pyramid had ended. What she didn’t understand was where it came from. Yes, it was true that they shared a history, but B’Elanna had moved on. Without any warning she had ended their budding relationship aboard Voyager and refused to tell Karri why. The next thing she knew the engineer had shacked up with that egomaniacal twit of a helmsman, Paris.
She hadn’t liked it, but had tried desperately to refrain from lashing out in a jealous rage. Karri had acted as though that was just the way it went and there were no hard feelings. Too bad it wasn’t true.
At the time she had hurt so much she didn’t think she could survive. She had never been in love before, not to that extent, and she couldn’t understand what B’Elanna had seen in the brash young man. She had tried to bury her feelings, even managed to convince herself that she had moved on; gotten over the feisty engineer.
Then why did you take the posting on Nautilus, she asked herself. Because she knew B’Elanna would be here. Had she truly believed that being around her would be enough?
Torres and Paris were married now, married dammit! They had a child together. It was no wonder that B’Elanna was uncomfortable around her. Who wanted to be reminded of a past lover, well almost lover, when their husband was on the same ship?
"I really thought you were dead," B’Elanna said interrupting her thoughts. "How did you manage to survive?"
Karri allowed the distraction and smiled slightly. She had felt silly with the precautions she had taken before the away mission, but it had ended up saving her life.
"PBS 236 ."
B’Elanna’s eyes widened in disbelief. "A personal body shield? That’s not exactly standard away mission gear…especially on a mining expedition."
The engineer had the grace to flush slightly. "I guess you could say I had a feeling."
She had experienced more than a feeling, Karri thought. In fact before they left the ship she had the strange sensation that she wouldn’t be returning alive. Perhaps all those years in the Delta Quadrant fighting every vicious species they encountered had taught her to take extra precautions. Whatever the reason she was just happy to be here today. Even with the blast vest she had almost been killed.
The turbolift came to a halt and the women just stared at each other as the doors opened. Finally, B’Elanna broke the ice when she reached out to put a hand on Karri’s shoulder.
"I’m glad you decided to listen to your instincts."
Then she was gone and Karri felt the tension ease between them. She had never forgiven B’Elanna for dumping her. Now she realized that she had finally let it go and maybe they could actually be friends.
"The planet will realign, Kathryn."
The two women stepped into the captain’s quarters and the doors closed softly behind them.
"I know, darling," Kathryn said softly and turned toward the replicator. She programmed in a cup of coffee for herself and a tea for her companion.
Seven merely raised an eyebrow at the offered cup and quietly accepted it before she followed the captain to the sofa. They settled quietly together and the smaller woman continued.
"Thank you for letting me off the hook, and realistically I know there is nothing I could have done to prevent it."
"Yet you still feel responsible." It wasn’t a question.
Kathryn looked down into her cup and Seven wondered if she was looking for the answers in the velvety blackness.
"I always feel responsible. Now I’m responsible to get another good crew home."
"At least you were able to maintain the prime directive and rescue the crew from these people," Seven pointed out. "You have also managed to stop needless bloodshed on this world. You may not have chosen to be here, Kathryn, but your presence has saved countless lives; just as it did when you chose to save the Ocampa from the Kazon."
"And managed to strand Voyager in the Delta Quadrant," Kathryn added dryly.
"Do not forget, that same crew was returned home safely as this one shall be. We will do this together."
Seven’s unshakeable faith in her touched Kathryn’s heart and she carefully sat her untouched coffee on the table.
"How do you always know what to say to make me feel better?"
"Because I love you," Seven said simply.
Kathryn wasn’t sure who moved first or how Seven managed to set her teacup down beforehand, but suddenly they were in each other’s arms and their lips were crushed together. Passion flared intensely and she whimpered into Seven’s mouth. Her hands were in the long blonde hair and she pulled the pins out to allow it to flow down over strong shoulders.
For so long she had dreamt of this moment of being with Seven, touching her and showing her how much she was loved. Now it would happen; there would be no more delays, no more excuses. They would make love theirs.
Kathryn sobbed with the intensity of the sexual energy that surged through her. The sob became a gasp when the kiss deepened impossibly and made the room spin around her.
Janeway was the first to break the kiss. She ripped her mouth away from Seven’s and rested her forehead on the cleft chin before she said harshly, "Bedroom, now!"
They stood and she took Seven’s hand. Kathryn smiled and led the other woman to her bed, walking backward the whole way and holding her gaze; trusting that Seven wouldn’t let her run into anything. She came to a halt at the foot of the bed and stood gazing up at her soon to be lover. No words were needed.
Kathryn’s eyes were on her dark and wild with passion; her palms felt damp from nervous excitement. Seven’s hands reached up to slowly remove Kathryn’s jacket and the gray turtleneck underneath, dropping both garments carelessly to the floor as she gazed at the slightly freckled chest and the small, firm breasts. She reached out to cup the soft flesh, but Kathryn slid her hands behind Seven’s neck, closing the distance and kissing her with a wide open, passionate kiss.
For a moment Seven was lost in the kiss, but then she felt Kathryn’s hands move down her back and into the waistband of her trousers. Strong hands cupped her backside and pulled them closer together. Seven reached for the smaller woman’s waistband and quickly unfastened it. She was surrounded by the heady scent of Kathryn’s fully aroused body and she panted for breath.
Kathryn began to tug at Seven’s shirt. Clothing was discarded quickly until both stood naked to gaze in wonder and appreciation of the other. Kathryn’s eyes feasted on Seven’s full breasts before she took her left hand, loving the feel of skin-warmed metal as she tugged her toward the mattress.
Seven continued to glide her hands along the smooth skin of Kathryn’s waist and hips. Kathryn was breathing hard, obviously trying to let Seven lead. The Borg felt tenderness wash through her and kissed the captain’s neck, absorbing the taste and softness, the curve of the small ear. She was rewarded with a moan and she gently lowered Kathryn to the bed.
Kathryn was burning with desire and her hands trembled holding onto Seven’s shoulders. Her breath was coming in little gasps and then Seven’s eyes met hers. They were dark with desire, the blue only a narrow band around the pupils. Seven looked down and her eyes focused on Kathryn’s breasts. She brought herself down and fastened her lips around a coral colored nipple.
Kathryn cried out and arched into the wet heat. Lost in the sensations she grasped Seven’s head and held her closer, encouraging her. Seven somehow understood and sucked harder on the little nub. Finally Kathryn couldn’t stand it anymore and pulled the other woman back up with her fingers in her hair for another earth-shattering kiss.
Sweat broke out on Kathryn’s brow while Seven consumed her. The Borg’s weight pressed her into the bed, and she relished the sweet pressure. Her arms were strong around the narrow shoulders and her grip tightened when she felt Seven part her legs with a muscled thigh.
Seven left her mouth and sucked the soft skin of Kathryn’s neck into her mouth. Long fingers slid down Kathryn’s body and brushed against the juncture between her legs. Kathryn jerked in anticipation and then one long finger slid through the heat and moisture into her body. Kathryn began a counterpoint to the thrusting rhythm Seven started. A brief pause and another finger was added before the thrusting resumed.
Kathryn cried out again, loving the feel of being filled and taken by her lover. The pressure built in her steadily as Seven strengthened her thrusts until they were short, quick jabs. Kathryn threw her head back when the sensation finally crested, tightening her body and tossing her incredibly high before she began to drift back down safe in Seven’s arms.
She reached to claim Seven’s lips again and then she was biting at the long neck, kissing and licking. But she needed more now; she needed to taste Seven’s sweetness. Kathryn pushed at Seven’s shoulders and encouraged her to roll onto her back. She touched Seven’s breasts for the first time and paused to kiss down her chest. Slowly she kissed the starburst implant beneath her left collarbone, brushing over soft pink nipples with tender lips while her hands stroked the bands of the abdominal implant gently.
She loved every part of Seven, Borg and human alike. For all her deadly strength Seven could project a curious air of vulnerability that wound around Kathryn’s heart and drew her like a moth to a flame.
She had to force herself to leave the sweet mounds of flesh and kiss lower, moving toward her goal. Kathryn kissed over the metal and flesh of her stomach until her lips met the crisp hair at the apex of her thighs.
Seven’s scent was light and sweet urging Kathryn on. Gently she reached out to stroke once between the lips swollen with desire.
Seven’s essence rested on her tongue like an elixir and she groaned in adoration before she lowered herself to take Seven fully into her mouth.
Hips moved and began to push gently against Kathryn’s face as her lips and tongue stroked the excited bundle of nerves. She took the sensitive clitoris into her mouth and began to suck gently. Seven cried out with passion and her hands tangled in Kathryn’s hair as the tempo increased. When her release hit Seven’s body tensed so hard that Kathryn would have been thrown off the bed had she not been holding onto Seven’s thighs.
Kathryn guided her gently through her first orgasm and when the spasms finally stopped she looked up at Seven with tears glinting in her eyes. Seven’s head was thrown back, her eyes closed as she took one shuddering breath after another.
Kathryn grinned and moved sensually up the leonine form. She snuggled into the strong embrace of her lover and said, "I love you, Seven of Nine."
Deep blue eyes opened and Seven smiled back at her. "I am pleased you have finally realized the inevitable. I love you as well."
Kathryn Janeway strolled languidly onto the bridge. She didn’t feel like a captain whose crew was lost on the far side of the Delta Quadrant. She felt like a woman in love with endless possibilities for the future. Waking up in Seven of Nine’s arms had been the single most amazing experience of her life. Now she had to try and focus on being the commanding officer again after an incredible night of passion.
Commander Tuvok assisted in that transition when she stepped onto the command deck.
"Captain on the bridge."
Janeway cast him a glance where he sat in the first officer’s chair. "As you were. You still have the bridge, Tuvok. I’ll be in my ready room."
The captain walked into her office and headed straight for the replicator. Some traditions just shouldn’t be changed and she believed in starting the day with a strong cup of coffee. After retrieving her cup Kathryn settled down at her desk and signed onto her workstation. Between settling on this planet, mining for ore and rescuing the away team she hadn’t had much of a chance to communicate with Starfleet.
To her immense pleasure a communications packet was waiting for the captain and she sighed in relief. At least their prior contact hadn’t been a fluke. She was afraid that it would be and that contact with Starfleet Command would be sporadic at best. Thankfully it wasn’t and curiously she opened the file. As she read a long, slow smile curved her lips and tears glinted in her eyes. When the beep sounded at her door to let her know someone was requesting entrance a few moments later she was still smiling.
Seven of Nine breezed in looking entirely too good for herself in the quasi-Starfleet uniform as far as Kathryn was concerned. The captain stood up and met the blonde halfway across the room.
"I missed you," Kathryn said softly, entwining her arms around the narrow waist and standing slightly on tiptoe to reach for a kiss.
She could see that she had surprised the other woman by being so affectionate on duty, but Seven obliged her by lowering her head and claiming her lips in a deep kiss. When they parted a few moments later Seven quirked her cortical implant and allowed a small half-smile.
"Indeed. Since we parted only one hour ago I find that difficult to believe."
"I always miss you when you’re away for even a nano-second," Kathryn responded to the teasing in the pale blue eyes.
"I hadn’t realized."
Kathryn could see that she had pleased the younger woman by her sappy remarks and knew that as uncharacteristic as her behavior was at the moment she just couldn’t help herself. Everything seemed to be going their way at the moment, including the news she had just received from headquarters.
"Come on," Kathryn said. "I have some news I want to share at the staff meeting."
Janeway turned toward the door as Seven inquired, "What is it?"
"Uh uh, it’s captain’s business. You’ll just have to wait and hear it with everyone else."
She said it gently to take the sting out of the words and Seven seemed to take it at face value. The younger woman understood the difference between being captain and being a lover and Kathryn would be forever grateful for that. Not everyone could draw the line in their personal and professional lives. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to tell Seven what she had learned, just that she wanted to see everyone’s faces at the same time.
Captain Janeway walked into the war room followed closely by Seven of Nine. All other department heads were already present. Tuvok sat beside the captain’s chair. Next to him was B’Elanna Torres, Harry Kim, Tom Paris, Doctor Leah Brahms, the holographic doctor and Lieutenant Commander A’zal. Seven took the final seat on the captain’s other side and Janeway took her place at the head of the table.
"All right people, let’s get this party underway."
Seven watched Janeway fidget in her chair as the meeting took its customary course. Of course the movements were so slight she doubted that anyone other than herself and Commander Tuvok who had been friends with the captain for many years could see it.
Whatever bombshell she was planning to unload she obviously wanted to save it for the end of the meeting.
Doctor Brahms began to speak and Seven watched Janeway’s face intently. She knew what the diminutive scientist was going to say having spent the hour after leaving Kathryn with her propulsion teammate and wanted to see the joy on the captain’s face.
"I’m pleased to announce some good news," the brunette began with a soft smile. She cast Seven a short look and continued. "As you know it’s extremely difficult to fit any full-sized ship with slip-stream propulsion. However, Nemo is not a full-sized ship."
Janeway’s eyes began to shine and Seven hid her smile. Joy surged through her breast that she could help bring such happiness to her partner.
"Are you going where I think you are?" the captain asked softly, her voice cracking slightly.
Leah grinned and said, "I wanted to tell you earlier, but you were busy getting the away team back. We believe," another glance at Seven, "that Nemo can be fitted with slip-stream in the next three weeks."
"Wait a minute," B’Elanna interrupted in an excited rush. "You mean we’ll be home in three weeks?"
Doctor Brahms held up a restraining hand. "Let me finish. Nemo can be fitted with the proper propulsion, however there are limitations. We can only make short jumps at a time, otherwise the engines will burn out and we’ll have to reconstruct them from scratch."
"Just how short are these jumps?" Janeway asked trying to temper her excitement.
Leah looked at Seven and the young Borg took over. "The jumps will cover nine point five thousand light years at a time with a two week delay between jumps."
Paris whistled appreciatively from the other side of the table. "We can cover ten years worth of travel per jump? That’s incredible, Seven."
"Which means we’ll reach Earth in approximately six months instead of one hundred and fifty years," Doctor Brahms interjected.
Silence reigned all around and Seven could see excitement, joy and humility in the eyes of her crewmates. Her heart warmed that she could help bring this information to people she perceived as her family.
Janeway cleared her throat of suspicious tears and said, "On behalf of all of us Doctor, Seven, I thank you. Of course that means we’ll still be exploring various sectors during our journey back. When do you anticipate the first jump will take place?"
"We’ve been working on it nonstop since the accident, Captain." Leah said. "We should be able to bring the new engines on-line by this time next week."
It was only one word, but Seven thought the captain managed to incorporate a wealth of meaning into it. Efficient.
Tuvok chose that moment to ask his own question. "Do you have an idea where this first jump will take us, Doctor? The Delta Quadrant is not known for friendly inhabitants."
Seven had already done the calculations. She knew from her time with the Borg exactly where they would come out of slipstream.
"Galactic cluster three."
"Beg your pardon?" from Janeway.
"Galactic cluster three?" Harry Kim asked his brow furrowing. "Seven, didn’t you mention galactic cluster three to me before?"
"You are correct. When I first joined Voyager’s crew you inquired about technology utilized by the Borg. I told you it was assimilated from species 259 in galactic cluster three."
"What is that exactly?" Janeway asked.
Seven took a deep breath and said, "Galactic cluster three is a trans-material energy plane intersecting twenty-two billion omni-cordial life forms."
"An energy plane?" The captain asked, clearly aghast. "That sounds extremely dangerous, Seven."
"In this case the danger is irrelevant." Seven said gently. "The Borg assimilated most of these beings and I retain the knowledge of how to counteract their defenses. We will be safe."
Kathryn considered the words and decided that if Seven said she could handle it, then she could handle it. She would just have to trust her.
She nodded once in acknowledgement and said gently, "Now, I have some news of my own. I received a communiqué from Starfleet this morning."
All eyes riveted on the captain, suddenly curious what could cause such an inflection in their commanding officer’s voice.
"The Nautilus returned to Earth two days ago."
Cheers erupted all around the table and Kathryn had to raise a hand for silence although she couldn’t prevent the smile on her own face.
"It seems that the explosion blew them in the opposite direction of the Nemo. There were a few serious injuries, but thankfully no fatalities. A few systems blew out that were irreparable including communications. Starfleet didn’t even know they were coming until they were practically at Earth’s doorstep, but they made it."
"This news is most satisfying," A’zal said quietly.
"Are you kidding?" Tom asked. "It’s wonderful! We should have a party."
Everyone laughed except Seven who merely smiled at his enthusiasm.
"I’m sure if Neelix were here that he would agree with you Tom. If you can set it up I see no reason not to celebrate tonight." Janeway said. "We have until next week before we’re planning on making the first jump anyway."
"You’re not worried about this galactic cluster three?" Torres asked curiously.
Janeway’s eyes met Seven’s and held them. Her answer encompassed all present, but somehow Seven felt the words were meant for her alone.
"We are explorers, after all."
TBC in Galaxy Quest