The 2nd in the Galaxies series. While it isn’t imperative that you read the first story, it might help to understand the current events. (Posted in April 2007)
She awakened with the definite sensation of being wet.
Kathryn Janeway, captain of the brave little saucer section of a once mighty starship called Nautilus, awakened feeling hot, sweaty and more exhausted than when she had gone to bed the night before. Fortunately her girlfriend, one of the scientists assigned from the Theoretical Propulsion Group and a former Borg drone, had needed to regenerate the night before so Kathryn didn’t need to come up with a reason why her nightgown clung to her like a second skin.
The truth was that she had felt run down since they left a little planetoid behind them that reminded the crew of Earth’s ancient Egypt. It was nothing Kathryn could put her finger on, she just felt tired. There was no fever, chills, body aches; nothing except these night sweats and the feeling of being flushed through a plasma injector. Finally, Janeway decided she was just getting her space legs back after being bound to a desk at Starfleet Headquarters for three years.
Kathryn rolled wearily out of bed amidst the green glow of the Borg alcove located in the corner of the bedroom, and stumbled into the bathroom. She used Seven’s sonic shower quickly before she drew on the uniform she had replicated the night before. Kathryn preferred the hydro setting for the shower because she didn’t feel the sonic setting really got her body clean, but in this instance had to forego the luxury. She still needed to go by her own quarters before she left for the bridge and was already going to be pressed for time.
Dressed and her teeth freshly brushed, Kathryn looked critically in the mirror and was surprised to see what looked like dark circles under her eyes. Hopefully they would go away before Seven came to her with her customary update on the slipstream engines.
On the way out the door Kathryn was struck by a sudden impulse. She turned to where the regenerating woman stood in the Borg alcove and spent a moment just looking at the blonde beauty. It reminded her of being back on Voyager and lost deep in the delta quadrant. Often, Kathryn would drop by cargo bay two just to gaze in wonder at the woman before her. Janeway had even managed to convince herself that she did it out of a purely maternal impulse, that in some way she was watching over Seven. It was only in the final year of being stranded so far from the alpha quadrant that she had finally admitted her true motivations.
Being captain, Janeway still felt compelled to keep her feelings hidden. After three years back on Earth she had been assigned as an observer on a new experimental class ship and Seven was assigned in a civilian capacity. It was only after all that when Kathryn finally felt she didn’t need to hold back anymore and she had let Seven know how she felt. To her enormous surprise and joy she discovered that the former Borg drone returned those feelings.
Kathryn stepped up closer to Seven and noticed every detail of her porcelain features. Seven’s nose was long and straight, her lips full and pouty. With hair the color of the noon sun in Indiana, Seven was gorgeous by anyone’s definition and the Borg implants she still retained made her even more alluring in Kathryn’s eyes.
Eyes riveted to those full lips, Kathryn remembered how they tasted and how truly talented they were when making love. She shivered and leaned closer until she could brush a tender kiss across the closed mouth. Then she stepped back and looked again into the motionless features.
Ironic how things change, yet stay the same, Kathryn thought. All those years of denying our feelings because of our respective positions on board Voyager and look at us now.
Heaving a tired sigh Kathryn turned away from the woman she loved and left Seven of Nine’s quarters to begin another day.
Seven of Nine, tertiary adjunct to unimatrix zero one and late of the Borg collective, squatted on the hull of the Nemo. As a Borg drone Seven had space walked on numerous occasions, but she had become considerably more human in the seven years since Captain Kathryn Janeway severed her from the hive mind.
The bulky space suit was a lot more cumbersome than her Borg plating had been and it was difficult to move. But her current objective was critical and she persevered long after the average person would have given up.
Two weeks ago the crew of the U.S.S. Nautilus had traveled to the delta quadrant in mere hours under the power of experimental slipstream engines. Seven of Nine and Starfleet’s Theoretical Propulsion Group, headed under Doctor Leah Brahms, had designed the engines. Admiral Kathryn Janeway, the woman who had severed Seven from the Borg and with whom Seven had subsequently fallen in love, was on board as an observer.
When a space battle ensued, the Nautilus had been separated from the saucer section. A lucky alien strike and the resulting explosion blew the two pieces of the vessel in opposite directions across the galaxy.
Nemo, the saucer section, was hurtled deeper into the delta quadrant while the main body of the ship was lucky enough to make it almost all the way back to Earth. The saucer section was left to fend for themselves in a hostile sector of space with a crew of fifty and only conventional warp drive to power the ship. Admiral Janeway took a field demotion to captain and now faced the task of bringing yet another brave crew thousands of light years across the universe.
Seven had complete faith in her captain’s abilities. They would reach Earth again.
The hyper-spanner slipped off the duranium alloy and out of Seven’s grip. She was barely able to grab the tool before it floated into space and frowned in frustration. Sometimes, even the Borg had to concede defeat.
Seven shifted onto her hands and knees to rest for a moment. Her nanoprobes kicked in to help her recover, but after twelve straight hours in an environmental suit, they were starting to become taxed.
"Doctor Brahms to Seven of Nine. How’s it going out there?"
The voice sounded tinny in Seven’s ears and unaccountably irritated her even more.
"Not well. I am having difficulty with the quantum fusion matrix."
"Still?" Doctor Brahms sighed gustily into the headset. "I guess it’s harder to install slipstream on the Nemo than we thought it would be."
Seven thought Doctor Brahms was pointing out the obvious. Slipstream tended to work better on larger vessels such as Voyager, but Seven had no doubt that it was possible with a little more time and patience.
"You might as well pack it in. I’ll break the news to the captain."
"I would like to get the fusion matrix aligned first, Doctor."
"Seven, I am not going to tell Janeway that you’re still on the hull, she’ll have my head. Besides, Nemo can’t go to warp as long as you’re out there and you know how much the captain hates being stuck in one place."
Only the mention of Janeway could have gotten Seven to move from her workstation and she was convinced Leah Brahms knew that. In fact the whole crew seemed well aware of the intimate relationship Seven shared with the captain even though the couple had done their best to be discreet.
"Very well," Seven finally relented.
She could have sworn she heard the propulsion team leader chuckle before Doctor Brahms terminated the link.
Seven entered the airlock and cycled the oxygen controls before she took off her helmet. Once the sensors detected normal atmosphere the pneumatic door into main engineering opened and Seven stepped through.
Helmet under her arm, Seven walked to the turbolift and took it to deck three. The corridor on deck three was empty, but she knew it wouldn’t be for long. Right now Captain Janeway was working on a plan to reassign crew quarters to take some of the strain off deck four. She had already reassigned Lieutenants Torres and Paris to Captain Thomas’ old quarters. Kathryn had packed up the former captain’s belongings and stored them in the cargo bay, a task made much easier by the knowledge that the man was alive and well in the alpha quadrant.
At one time Seven would have argued that storing his belongings was an unnecessary waste of valuable resources and storage space. Now she understood that personal items had a profound emotional impact on an individual and if there was a way to return them to the man then they should. As for the rest of it, Seven had an idea how to simplify things for her lover if Kathryn was willing to go along with it.
A small smile graced Seven’s lips as the doors to her quarters closed behind her. Mentally she went over the list of reasons to get Kathryn to agree to her idea and was satisfied that her arguments were logical. Unfortunately, Captain Janeway was not always swayed by logic.
"Computer, location of Captain Janeway."
"Captain Janeway is in her ready room."
Seven tapped her combadge and hailed the captain. The response was immediate.
"Captain, are you alone?"
There was a startled pause before Janeway said in a much softer voice, "Yes, darling. What is it?"
"Isn’t your shift over?" Seven asked with a smile. It was well into beta shift and she knew the captain should have left her office hours ago.
Over the com line Janeway chuckled. "I guess I lost track of time. I’m still having a little trouble with the reassignments for crew quarters."
"If you agree to join me for dinner, I have a suggestion that could resolve this dilemma."
"How can I possibly pass up such an offer? Dinner with a beautiful woman and all of the answers to my problems? When should I be there?"
Seven considered how much time she would need to clean up and prepare a meal before she responded. "One hour."
"I’ll be there. Janeway out."
Even with the problems weighing on her mind Kathryn seemed to be in good spirits. Seven was happy about that as she prepared to take her shower and spent a few minutes thinking what to serve for dinner.
In no time two antipasti salads and a plate of garlic bread were ready and placed under stasis lids. Seven replicated a bottle of light Bajoran wine that she knew Kathryn adored and sat it in an ice bucket to chill.
For once Kathryn was on time and Seven was pleased to see that she had changed into jeans and a loose fitting white shirt. With tennis shoes on her feet Kathryn looked very comfortable, but Seven could still see signs of strain on her classic features. Hopefully, that look would soon be a thing of the past.
"Hello, love," Kathryn said and walked closer to wrap her arms around Seven’s waist.
Seven relished holding the smaller woman in her arms and returned the embrace. She took the time to snuggle against Kathryn’s hair at the same time. Kathryn smelled wonderful just as she always did and Seven thought her hair was the most amazing shade of auburn. She thought the fact that she loved Kathryn had absolutely no basis in her opinion.
"How was your day?" Kathryn asked idly with her cheek nestled against Seven’s strong chest and her eyes closed for a few minutes.
Seven wondered if Kathryn had overworked herself again and decided that she need to ensure the captain took better care of herself.
"Unproductive," Seven answered softly, but honestly as was her way. "I was unable to get the fusion matrix aligned properly, but I am confident that I will have it working some time tomorrow."
Kathryn hummed her response and Seven wondered if the captain had heard her properly. She had expected a much more emotional and disappointed reaction to her news. It was no secret that Captain Janeway was impatient with the TPG’s lack of progress in getting the slipstream engines working on the Nemo. In fact, they had all expected to be well on their way to Galactic Cluster Three by now.
"I’m sure you’ll get it working. Now, didn’t you tell me something about dinner and a solution to my problems?"
Seven released Kathryn slowly and for a nano-second could have sworn Janeway swayed on her feet.
"You are working too hard," Seven accused while Janeway walked over to the table and seated herself. "You must take better care of yourself or I will be forced to have the doctor examine you."
Kathryn’s head turned abruptly and she pinned Seven with the look she was so famous for. Then the look faded, and Kathryn merely said, "Darling, I appreciate your concern, but you know that I have a lot to do at the moment. Even with Nemo virtually at station keeping there are a lot of things that need to be sorted out."
Seven sat down while she listened to her partner and knew Kathryn was right. Still, she listened to the words and knew there was something else that Kathryn wasn’t sharing with her yet.
"At the moment quarters are close and nerves are frayed. Our supplies are limited and Starfleet expects results very soon. Sometimes I think the only thing preventing an outright mutiny is the fact that our replicator energy isn’t limited. As long as we have dilithium we have full use of the replicator systems."
Seven suddenly decided that Kathryn had enough pressure from Starfleet and the host of other worries that a captain with a stranded crew suffered. She would not add to the pressure. Instead, she decided that a little humor was in order to lighten the mood.
"At least the crew of the Nemo need not suffer the culinary efforts of Mister Neelix’s leola root creations."
Kathryn laughed and her eyes lightened to a shade of blue before she tucked into her meal and Seven was happy to have made the effort. Her concerns about Kathryn’s health could wait until later when the captain would be more receptive to hearing her.
After dinner the women sat close together on Seven’s sofa. One long arm was around Kathryn’s shoulders while Seven held the smaller woman close against her side. Kathryn sipped at her after-dinner coffee, but Seven ignored the teacup on the table in lieu of nuzzling the soft, auburn hair.
"So, what did you have in mind to solve our little housing problem?" Janeway asked after a few companionable moments.
Seven decided to tackle the problem obliquely. She would wind around to her main proposal when Kathryn least expected it and hopefully avoid most of her resistance at the same time.
"There are ten cabins on this deck. Currently four are empty and five have a single occupant. Lieutenants Paris and Torres are now in Captain Thomas’ former quarters."
"Yes, although I’ve decided to occupy the four empty quarters with senior officers from each department."
Seven nodded. "That still leaves five quarters with only a single occupant; yours, mine, Doctor Brahms, Commander Tuvok and Commander A’zal."
"And who would you have me pair Tuvok with? Mister Kim? Somehow, I don’t think that would work out very well. I have to take personalities into account, too."
"Actually, I believe Lieutenant Kim would be better paired with Ensign Morales from the beta shift. Commander Tuvok and his daughter, Commander A’zal, would make better roommates. Both are Vulcan and they are a family unit."
Excited by a previously un-thought of solution, Kathryn sat up and put down her coffee cup. "What about privacy? I doubt they’ll want to share a bedroom even if they are family."
"Maintenance can easily erect movable bulkheads and create a second bedroom. These quarters are very large, Kathryn."
After brief consideration Kathryn said, "All right. I think that’ll work. We can’t install a second room in every cabin because I just can’t justify the expenditure of energy, but in this case I agree. That will leave A’zal’s quarters open, but if I’m going to pair up my first officer that means everyone is going to have to have a roommate. Who did you have in mind for Doctor Brahms, you?"
Kathryn felt a twinge of jealousy when she mentioned pairing Seven with the propulsion leader. She still remembered how the doctor rushed to sickbay when Seven had been injured on a previous mission, even if the Doctor was supposedly already involved with Lieutenant Commander Jordi LeForge. Commander LeForge was in the alpha quadrant and that was a long ways away.
"That would make sense," Seven said. ‘Both of us are from the same department, but my concern is not who Doctor Brahms’ roommate will be. It is who yours will be."
"Mine?" Kathryn asked in surprise. "I’m the captain."
"True and under normal circumstances you should be separate. But these aren’t normal circumstances."
Kathryn agreed with that sentiment. As much as she hated to admit it, Nemo needed all the room they could spare for quarters and it would open up another room. The crew was desperately crowded on deck four and she just couldn’t justify maintaining a solitary cabin on such a small vessel.
Resigned to the inevitable, even if she didn’t particularly like it, Kathryn asked, "Just who did you envision putting in my quarters?"
"You should relinquish your quarters."
"What? And move in with Doctor Brahms?"
"Oh." The light finally went on when Kathryn realized where she was being led. She turned and gently cupped Seven’s soft cheek in the palm of her hand. "Darling, I adore you. You know that. But, I’m not sure we’re at the stage where we should live together."
"Why not? We spend every night together already."
"Yes, but that’s different."
"In what way? Kathryn, please listen to me. The Nemo is extremely crowded and we need every available cabin. You do not cook and the VIP quarters do not contain a kitchen. My regeneration alcove is already installed in these quarters and would you really prefer another roommate?"
Kathryn had to admit that Seven was right. The only thing holding her back was fear.
"No, you have a point. You’re the only one I would choose to live with."
Seven rewarded her by leaning down with a tender kiss. When the Borg finally pulled away she added, "Besides, it would be extremely difficult to conduct a romantic affiliation if you resided with Doctor Brahms."
Kathryn laughed at the teasing remark. Seven was definitely developing a broader sense of humor these days. "Well, that certainly does make things easier and will allow for twenty crew members on this deck. It’s going to get crowded around here, though."
"Yes," Seven agreed, "but can you imagine how crowded deck four is right now?"
"Good point. Help me figure out the details. I’d like to implement these changes as soon as possible."
They got up and logged on to Seven’s workstation. It took a while, but they finally figured things out together. Kathryn insisted on senior officers from every department to keep things fair, but Seven managed to finagle things to have a high representation of security personnel and people she personally trusted to be around the captain’s living quarters. When they finished both women stood back to have a look at the finished product in satisfaction.
"Well?" Kathryn asked with a crooked smile.
‘Good. Now, if you don’t mind, darling, I’m exhausted. Can we go to bed?"
Seven slipped her arms around Kathryn’s small waist. "I can think of no where else I would rather be."
"Why, Seven of Nine, I do believe you have a dirty mind."
"If I do," Seven responded beginning to nibble the tender flesh of Kathryn’s throat, "it is entirely your fault."
Kathryn hummed her delight when Seven’s long arms slid down her body and under her legs. She did so love being carried to bed by her younger lover, even if she would never admit it to anyone.
As soon as they were on the bed Seven kissed Kathryn slowly, with lingering delight. Kathryn wallowed in the sensation of full lips covering her own, but when Seven’s hand started to wander over her body she decided to slow things down a little. Kathryn captured the exploring hand in her own and tried not to look guilty when Seven lifted her head to look down at her with a small frown.
Kathryn turned her head away briefly before she looked back into the eyes of her lover. She tried not to hear the hurt in the other woman’s voice, but her heart twisted in her chest anyway. Since the beginning of their intimate relationship Seven of Nine had proven to be a wildly enthusiastic lover, and Kathryn did so adore being with her. The first few days it was a wonder they had gotten out of bed at all, but things had changed since then.
She still wanted to be with Seven and loved being held in her arms. The younger woman’s kisses could drive her mad with want, but Kathryn’s body didn’t seem able to keep up. Kathryn felt tired, listless. As the weeks passed it was all she could do to drag herself out of bed in the morning and report to duty. Kathryn tried to hide her condition from Seven of Nine since she knew the other woman would insist that she see the doctor, but it was getting harder to conceal her utter exhaustion.
"I’m sorry, darling," Kathryn said gently. "It’s just been a long day. Do you mind if we get some sleep?"
"I do not mind," Seven said with a small frown. "It is enough to be here with you."
Kathryn patted Seven on the arm before she turned onto her side. She felt Seven snuggle up against her from behind, spooning her longer form around Kathryn’s body. Long arms came around to hold her close and Kathryn heaved a contented sigh.
Now if she could manage to wake up before Seven and get into the shower she might be able to hide her illness for a short while longer. If Seven saw how her front was soaked with sweat in the morning no doubt she would insist that Janeway had to see the doctor.
Kathryn was asleep before she finished the thought.
Seven lay awake a little longer and held Kathryn in her arms while she thought about how tired she seemed. Seven had discussed her concerns with B’Elanna Torres, whom she considered her best friend next to Kathryn, and was assured that such a reaction was perfectly natural in humans.
B’Elanna had said that Kathryn was in a ‘grieving’ state and felt somehow responsible for another crew becoming stranded in a distant corner of the galaxy so far from home. She also said that for the first few weeks things would be strained until the captain felt she had established a comfortable routine for the crew and Starfleet Command. Until the slipstream engines were installed and worked properly it would be impossible for the captain to get that much needed sense of momentum to feel that such a routine was established.
For her own part, Seven thought the idea of the captain being responsible for the Nemo’s location was ludicrous. Captain Janeway was not the one who detonated the missile that blew the two halves of the ship in opposite directions. Nor was she responsible for the lack of progress on the slipstream engines. Suddenly chagrined by the idea, Seven thought she was the one responsible for the latter of the captain’s two problems.
Tomorrow she would get the engines working. She had to succeed so that the captain could stop damaging herself by working so hard.
Kathryn Janeway sat quietly on the bridge of the Nemo and gazed with apparent fixation on the star field in front of her. All around her people moved with a new sense of purpose and she could feel the lessening of tension and renewed sense of optimism as they went about their duties. No doubt this was owing to the first order of business the crew had discovered when they logged into duty this morning, that of moving to new and much less crowded quarters. It seemed that not being packed into cabins like sardines in a can had an impact on the psyche.
Even if they hadn’t yet got the slipstream engines working there was just a lighter feel on the tiny bridge, and Kathryn had to admit she didn’t feel as tired today. She had more energy than she had felt in days. Maybe Seven would be interested in a little expenditure of that energy later, Kathryn thought, mentally rubbing her hands together in delightful anticipation.
Added to that was her excitement about her own upcoming relocation. After all, she had to move out of her quarters after her duty shift so that someone else could move in.
Kathryn admitted that she was a little nervous about what would happen. Moving in with a lover was something she had never done before and she still wasn’t completely convinced it was the right decision. She had been engaged to her former fiancé, Mark Johnson, for the better part of three years and they had never even talked about it except in the most general of terms. Then again, he hadn’t had gold spun hair, full lips and sensual blue eyes either.
Each time Kathryn saw Seven she wanted nothing more than to rush into the other woman’s arms and be held close in her powerful embrace. It was a good thing that the captain of the Nemo had other things to occupy her time and that her engine specialist was also otherwise employed.
Seven was currently out on Nemo’s hull finishing up with the quantum fusion matrix. Her last report an hour ago said she was finally making headway and that the ship should be able to make their first jump at the start of the alpha shift tomorrow.
Nemo had only been able to travel at warp six during the hours when someone wasn’t tethered to the outside of the hull, but they were still days from where they had anticipated making the first jump. As a result the small vessel would bypass Galactic Cluster Three and emerge in an area of space that Seven had assured her was ‘unremarkable’.
It’s too bad, Kathryn thought. I really wanted to see what an ‘omni-cordial life form’ looked like. She glanced over at Harry Kim where he manned the communications board and smothered a smile. I bet he was curious about it, too.
Seven had told her how Harry had asked about the life forms in Galactic Cluster Three and Kathryn smiled to herself as she thought about it. Seven had just come aboard Voyager then and still been more drone than human. Harry had asked how the Borg came up with autonomous resequencers and Seven informed him they had assimilated the information from the omni-cordial life forms. That was right before she struck him at the base of his skull and attempted to contact the collective.
At the time, Kathryn hadn’t thought the situation funny at all, but looking back on it now made her even more proud of the woman Seven had become.
"Captain, sensors are showing a massive ion storm approaching off the starboard bow. It’s a level ten."
Lieutenant Kim’s voice was calm while he relayed the dire information, something Kathryn knew it wouldn’t have been when he was back on board Voyager. Still, in this instance, she thought he should have been a little more emotionally involved. She knew she was. Seven of Nine was still tethered to the hull!
"I thought you said the wave front was going to be ahead of us."
"I…it was, Captain. It just changed directions."
"Mister Kim, ion storms are not shuttle craft. They don’t just change direction! How long until it hits?" Kathryn asked as she frantically raked her fingers through her short auburn hair.
"Two minutes, Captain."
Janeway slapped her combadge to open a channel…hard. She ignored the pain on her chest and said, "Bridge to Seven of Nine. There is a level ten ion storm approaching. You have two minutes until it hits. Get off of there!"
The only response Kathryn received was garbled static.
"Seven of Nine, respond! Can you hear me?" Damn it! Communications with the environmental suits always seemed to be the first thing to go when there was any kind of magnetic interference in the vicinity.
"One minute, thirty seconds," Kim informed her unnecessarily, but she was pleased to note that his voice was a bit higher than it had been before.
"Shields are at one hundred percent, Captain," Tuvok informed her calmly from the seat next to her.
"Bridge to transporter room," Janeway said, "Seven of Nine is on the hull. Get a lock on her and beam her back into the ship."
"Understood, Captain," Crewman Moehnke responded smartly. Then after a few agonizing seconds he said, "Captain, I’m having problems locking onto her pattern. She’s moving around a lot out there!"
"Don’t tell me what problems you’re having, Crewman, just get it done!"
"Fifty-nine seconds until impact," Kim counted down.
There was nothing Kathryn could do, but grind her teeth and wait for the transporters to get her partner out of harm’s way.
"Transporter room, I need an update!"
"I’ve tried narrowing the annular confinement beam, Captain, but sensors aren’t showing anyone on the hull," the terrified crewman replied.
"What?" Where was the closest access into the ship from where Seven had been tethered? Was it the airlock outside the shuttle bay?
Kathryn mentally pulled up the information she had read on the re-fit. They had planned to install the fusion matrix generator as close as possible to the ship’s engines. That meant Seven was near deck six.
"Mister Tuvok, you have the bridge," Janeway shouted to her first officer. "I’ll be in engineering."
Kathryn ignored the startled looks from crewmen as she scampered from the bridge and authorized the lift to go to emergency velocity. Even then it seemed to take forever before the doors opened on deck six and she ran as quickly as she could for the airlock adjacent to main engineering. Seven of Nine had just taken off her space helmet and was frowning harder than Kathryn had ever seen her do before.
Seven looked over at the doors when Kathryn entered, but she didn’t have time to say anything before she managed to catch the smaller woman in her arms. Seven’s helmet rolled away unnoticed across the cold deck plating.
A moment later they felt the jolt as the ion storm flowed around the small ship and Kathryn was glad for the improvements in shielding since the Federation had been thrown into the Dominion War. Before, any starship would have been in for a pounding from a level ten magnetic storm, but even if the newer ships could withstand the torture a human body could not. Anyone caught hanging idly on the hull of a vessel would have been ripped into pieces by the gravimetric forces and it was that vision that played over and over in Kathryn’s head.
"Why didn’t you tell me you were all right?" Kathryn asked weakly, hoping that Seven didn’t notice the trembling in her limbs.
"My suit malfunctioned. I had just recycled the airlock and removed my helmet when you entered." Seven took a shaky breath and Kathryn realized how frightened her love had been even if she didn’t let it show very much. "I am sorry I frightened you, Kathryn. If you had not warned me, I do not believe I would have survived."
Understatement of the century, Kathryn thought, more visions of a shredded Seven drifting in her thoughts. She pushed the unpleasant pictures away and said, "I’m glad you heard me. I didn’t know if my message got through or not."
"Not well," Seven admitted. "But the distinct note of fear in your voice was enough to convince me to return to the inside of the vessel."
Kathryn held on to Seven a moment longer before she finally pulled away. If anyone else had been present in the airlock she never would have thrown herself into the other woman’s arms to begin with. But there hadn’t been, a fact Kathryn was extremely grateful for at the moment.
Janeway reached up to tap her combadge. "Janeway to the bridge. Seven’s all right. Keep the hatches battened down until the storm passes and then I’ll need a full damage report, Tuvok."
As soon as the com link was cut Kathryn rested a hand on Seven’s forearm and looked intently into her blue eyes. "I’m planning on leaving my shift a little early today. I thought there were some activities you might be interested in participating in."
Kathryn had never done coy very well, but in this instance thought she might have a good excuse. For one thing she had just been scared out of her mind that she had lost Seven and for another she was remembering the hurt in Seven’s eyes last night. Kathryn didn’t ever want the other woman to think she wasn’t interested in making love with her. To her delight Seven’s eyes lit up and her full lips rose slightly at one corner. She always smiled like that when she was being playful and Kathryn doubted that anyone else ever noticed it.
"Are you referring to your relocation of quarters?" Seven queried. "Or perhaps you are interested in a velocity match?"
"Well, relocation is definitely on the agenda. After that I was considering a physical encounter, but velocity is not what I had in mind. Besides, how would we play velocity? We don’t have any holodecks."
Seven’s arms gently encircled Kathryn’s waist again and pulled her close. She dipped her head and lightly brushed the captain’s lips with her own. "I am definitely interested in any physical encounter you wish to pursue, Kathryn."
Kathryn groaned and kissed Seven deeply. They clung to each other tightly all sense of propriety forgotten for the moment. Then a thump from behind made them break apart quickly before the captain could be caught necking with her girlfriend beside an airlock. A moment later the chief engineer, Senior Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres rounded the corner.
"There you are! You scared the hell out of me! Why didn’t you let someone know that you made it back inside okay? Why, I ought to wipe the floor with your Borg butt!"
When the two had first met such a violent statement had been commonplace for the fiery half Klingon, but since then they had become almost as close as family. Seven surmised that the only reason B’Elanna would behave so aggressively was because she had truly been frightened for her welfare.
"I am all right, Lieutenant. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with anyone because I have been with the captain."
Kathryn turned an odd shade of red suddenly and Seven wondered if she had said something wrong.
"Um, yes, well," Kathryn stammered. "I should be getting back to the bridge and make sure everything is alright."
The captain beat a hasty retreat and B’Elanna grinned mischievously. "Did I just interrupt something juicy?"
Seven decided she could approach the question obliquely, but she knew very well what her friend was asking and decided to be honest. The captain would soon be moving in with her and it was better to solidify the speculation that was already running rampant around the small ship. B’Elanna already knew that Seven was in love with the captain and had guessed that Janeway returned the sentiment. If she couldn’t talk openly with her best friend, then with whom?
"Yes. You interrupted us kissing."
"On duty? Janeway?"
"I believe that I frightened her by being on the exterior hull when the ion storm approached."
B’Elanna thought for a moment and then nodded. "Yeah, I guess I can understand that. It’s just surprising that Janeway would be kissing someone where anyone could walk in on it."
"Kathryn is a very passionate woman, B’Elanna."
"Oh yeah?" Brown eyes lit up, and Torres invited, "Wanna tell me about it?"
Seven merely stared at her friend and then said, "No. There will be enough crewmembers discussing the captain’s personal habits when she moves into my cabin. I do not believe that I wish to add ‘fuel to the fire’."
"Whoa! Hang on; you and the captain are going to live together? Isn’t that a little sudden?"
Instead of trying to gather information for gossip, Seven thought that the engineer was actually concerned and she realized that B’Elanna was reacting in the same way Kathryn had the night before.
"Kathryn mentioned a similar concern when I suggested the move. Why have you both reacted this way?"
B’Elanna shook her head and thought Seven always had to ask her the hard questions. "Seven, this is the only relationship you’ve ever been in so you just don’t have the experience to understand her concerns. All I can tell you is that sometimes rushing into something like that can destroy a relationship. If you’re not ready to be fully committed or if your lifestyles are too different living together can ruin a good thing."
"I do not believe that is the case," Seven frowned. "We spend every night together as it is."
"Yes, either in my quarters or in hers. Therefore, our cohabitation should not change the nature of our relationship."
"Got me there," B’Elanna admitted. Then she patted Seven on the arm and said, "Maybe it’s just irrational concerns on her part."
Seven suddenly got the feeling that B’Elanna seemed strangely focused on the captain’s private life. "B’Elanna, are you experiencing difficulties with Mister Paris?"
"Huh?’ B’Elanna felt like she had been blindsided by the question, but couldn’t deny she was having personal problems. They just weren’t necessarily what Seven thought they were. Leave it to the Borg to get straight to the heart of the matter.
"I said, are you experiencing difficulties…"
"I heard what you said, Seven. You just surprised me, and no I’m not having problems with Tom. Well, not really. He’s a little more snarky than usual, but then again so am I. I think we’re just having trouble being so far away from Miral."
"Ah, you are concerned about being away from Earth longer than expected."
"Yeah, something like that. I mean I know the slipstream engines are almost ready and that we’ll be able to cover ground pretty quickly once they are. And I also know that if everything goes right we’ll only be three months later than expected before we get home."
"Then what is causing you distress?" Seven asked honestly confused.
"Since when has anything gone the way we wanted in the delta quadrant?"
Remembering their numerous encounters with hostile species in the delta quadrant during Voyager’s trip home, that was something Seven couldn’t argue with. Not only were there hostile aliens in this quadrant, but spatial anomalies and a ship that wasn’t even designed to stand alone. Odds were definitely not in their favor. Still, she felt compelled to offer some comfort.
"Chance is irrelevant. We will succeed."
"That’s what I like to hear," B’Elanna said. "Borg optimism. Now, why don’t you get out of that space suit and help me out in engineering? I want to run a few simulations before we make that jump in the morning."
Seven nodded her agreement and followed the chief engineer out of the airlock chamber. If Kathryn’s concerns were irrational then Seven had to try to help her work past them. She had a lot to think about while she finished the rest of her shift.
Captain Janeway returned to the bridge at a much more sedate pace than when she had left and quietly took her seat. Tuvok didn’t look up while he scanned the work console attached to his chair but began to update her as soon as she was seated. She was still a little embarrassed that she had rushed from the bridge to check on Seven, but argued internally that she would have done the same for any crewmember in danger of being pulverized by a magnetic storm.
"The ion storm has passed, Captain. There were no injuries and only minor power disruptions."
"That’s good news. Mister Paris, set a course for the next star system and engage at warp six. Since no one is on the hull right now I’d like to put as much distance between us and this area of space as we can."
"Aye, Captain. Course laid in."
Janeway checked the time on the computer’s chronometer and told Tuvok, "I’ll be in the war room. Join me when the rest of the senior staff arrives?"
The captain was already in the conference room, dubbed ironically enough as the war room, and had just sent her daily communications packet to Starfleet when the others started to arrive. The staff meeting had been scheduled during the middle of alpha shift because the engineering crew was busy installing the new engines and Janeway wanted to give them plenty of time before she got an update.
Paris and Kim entered together, followed a few moments later by Torres, Seven and Doctor Brahms. Commander Tuvok indicated that all were present when he followed Doctor Martin, Voyager’s former EMH, into the conference room and sat at the end of the table.
"All right, folks. Let’s get this meeting started."
They went around the table updating the captain on all matters pertinent to the small saucer section. Paris informed her that navigation was operating near peak efficiency except for a minor drag in one of the engines. Torres assured the captain it was expected until they finished working on the new propulsion. Communications and sickbay had no problems to report and Janeway moved on to Commander Tuvok. She wanted to wait until the end of the meeting to speak with Doctor Brahms about the engines.
"Tuvok, how are the crew? I’m getting the feeling that things seem to be looking up."
Janeway knew how hard it was for the Vulcan to interact with the crew on a more personal rather than logical basis and was impressed with the man’s professionalism for trying to get a handle on such emotional beings. Of course, she realized that having emotions and expressing them were two different things. Tuvok had once told her that the Vulcan heart had been forged in barbarism and only after they had adopted the ways of logic had his people been spared from annihilating themselves. There was no question that he experienced emotions and understood them perfectly, even if he tried to give every appearance to the contrary.
"You are correct, Captain. Most of the crew have relocated and the rest are expected to do so shortly after their duty shifts. I believe that the new accommodations will have a positive impact on crew moral."
"Here, here!" Kim said softly and then blushed when all eyes focused on him.
"Mister Kim," Kathryn said with humor threading her voice. "You have something to say?"
"Umm, sorry, Captain. I know we’re doing the best we can, but I’m glad we’ll have a little more breathing room."
Lieutenant Torres laughed and asked, "What’s the matter, Harry? Tired of smelling Thelev’s feet?"
Amidst the chuckles Harry shifted uncomfortably and said, "Well, uh, not that I’m complaining. They’re just a little more…pungent than I’m used to."
Ensign Thelev was an Andorian and while his blue skin, white hair and antenna were exotic looking, his sweat glands were located in his feet. After a long day wearing Starfleet issue boots the captain had no doubt they could be quite aromatic. Added to that was the fact that Kim and Thelev had been sharing quarters with two others and Kathryn was sure it made for close quarters, indeed.
Janeway decided to let Kim off the hook and went on with the meeting. "Doctor Brahms, anything to report?"
The small brunette looked at the captain with shining eyes and answered happily. "I’m pleased to report that Seven managed to get the quantum fusion matrix operational just before the ion storm hit. The last of the relays have been installed and we’d like to run a few simulations. Barring any unforeseen difficulties we’ll be able to make the first jump first thing tomorrow morning."
Shouts of excitement and relief ran around the table and although Janeway had already known what was coming she grinned in response. The happiness of her crew was contagious and she was glad to bring the staff meeting to an end on a positive note.
"It sounds like engineering and the propulsion group will be working late tonight," Janeway began, "but I don’t want you people overdoing it. We want to have a safe launch tomorrow and if there are any problems one more day at conventional warp won’t kill us.
Run the simulations, but make sure you get some rest. Now, if that’s all I’d like to see Doctor Brahms, Lieutenant Torres and Seven."
Everyone else filed out of the room with the exception of the three women the captain had asked to see. All eyes looked at her curiously as Janeway began a separate meeting with what was essentially the core of the TPG.
"This didn’t really concern the others, but since I was initially placed on this cruise as an observer to the experimental propulsion drive, I feel compelled to discuss the problems we’ve had as they pertain to any future designs."
"Ah," Leah said, "You mean you want to talk about what we should do differently next time."
"I believe that is what the captain said," Seven said in confusion while Torres merely grinned at her friend.
"First off, I think the basic ship design is brilliant and well thought out." Janeway stood up and retrieved a cup of coffee from the replicator, signifying that this was to be a more relaxed meeting of comrades rather than captain and crew. "But I think next time you should think about installing slipstream on the saucer section from the start."
B’Elanna was nodding her head. "In hindsight, I agree. We considered that in the beginning, but with the saucer section being so small it was difficult to fit both types of engines."
"Difficult or not, it is obviously necessary," Seven of Nine observed.
Janeway noticed that Doctor Brahms didn’t respond, but it was clear that she was listening intently. Perhaps that was her way of gathering good and bad information and working all the bugs out in her head before she contributed anything.
"While we’re talking about the saucer section, I think we should think about putting larger quarters on decks three and four."
The captain started to ask B’Elanna why it would be necessary to have larger quarters if they had slipstream, then rethought the question. Space was unpredictable and if another vessel found themselves in a similar situation the larger quarters could make all the difference to the crew.
Janeway nodded and said, "Not to mention a larger cargo hold. We may need that space before we arrive back in the alpha quadrant."
"All of that is fine for idle speculation," Doctor Brahms finally spoke up, "but where would you get all this extra room you want? You can only make the saucer section so large before the bulk of the ship can’t accommodate the design. At the most you could take the existing space allocated for crew quarters and cut them in half."
"The existing quarters are rather large. The amount of cabins could be doubled simply by adding moveable bulkheads," Seven contributed.
"Well, it’s something to consider," Janeway said. "I would also like to recommend a larger cache of emergency medical supplies and dilithium in cargo holds of the main ship and the detachable section for the initial jump of any shakedown missions."
Kathryn could see that statement got everyone’s attention. Their initial supplies of dilithium had been faulty and they had barely made it to the Egyptian planetoid before they ran out of fuel.
"Not to mention a better screening process," B’Elanna grumbled.
"It’s not your fault, Lieutenant. Unless you were the one personally responsible to scan every crystal of dilithium on the Nautilus there is no way to have detected the problem. It’s something I’ve already brought up to Starfleet Command and they assure me they’ll be more careful where they obtain dilithium from in the future."
Torres took a deep breath and let it out in frustration before she finally said, "Thank you, Captain. I appreciate the fact that you don’t blame me, but I can’t just let it go. I’m the chief engineer."
"And I’m the head of the Theoretical Propulsion Group," Leah said. "If you wanted to you could blame the rock formations for the faults in the crystals. My point is, Lieutenant, that it’s water under the bridge. There’s nothing we can do about it and wallowing in self-pity is counterproductive. Let it go."
Kathryn thought she couldn’t have said it better and started to feel a grudging respect for the smaller woman.
"I also have a suggestion," Seven surprised them all by saying. "I believe we should investigate the viability of a holodeck on the detachable section."
"I thought you said recreation was inefficient, Seven," Kathryn pointed out with a grin.
"In this case, I do not believe that to be true. As you have pointed out on many occasions, the crew needs to be able to distance themselves from their duties on their off hours. There is little to occupy their time on this vessel when they are not at their assigned posts."
Janeway remembered telling Seven at one time that it was important to be able to get away from duty and just forget about ship’s business for a while. She still believed that and the thought had occurred to her that without a holodeck certain members of the crew could have too much time on their hands. People with nothing to do didn’t always make the best choices.
"Hopefully, we won’t have to worry about that this time," Janeway finally said. "The slipstream will be working and we’ll have completed the first jump by this time tomorrow. Surely we’re all professional enough to survive six months without a holodeck."
"That brings me to one final concern," the captain said. "Once we’ve got the slipstream working, I’d like for you to look into installing the experimental drive on the Stingray."
"The shuttle? I’m sorry, Captain, but that’s just not possible," Doctor Brahms responded. Janeway could tell she had surprised the woman by even suggesting it.
Seven stepped in this time to answer the question, with Torres and Brahms both nodding their heads in agreement. "The shuttle is too small to accommodate slipstream, Captain. Gravimetric forces would rip the Stingray apart even if we were able to install such propulsion on the vessel."
"Captain, it’s hard enough to get slipstream working on Nemo. We’ve had to install all kinds of back up shields and redundant relay circuits around the engines and warp core," Torres added. "Remember when we installed the same type of drive on Voyager in the delta quadrant? We were only able to stay in the slipstream corridor for an hour before we had to shut it down and Voyager was twice the size of Nemo."
"How long will Nemo be able to stay in the slipstream corridor?" Kathryn asked.
Doctor Brahms answered, "No more than ten minutes at a time, but we’ll be traveling ten thousand light years in that time. Hence the reason for needing to make so many jumps with two weeks down time between events."
"So you have time to repair the resulting damage," Kathryn said. "Well, it was worth a try. It would have been nice to have a shuttle with the same capabilities. I guess I’ll just have to be happy with warp six on the Stingray."
"Considering that most type two shuttles can only handle warp two, yeah," B’Elanna agreed.
On that note, Janeway decided to end the meeting. She still had some reports to complete and belongings to move and the people sitting in front of her had a lot of work to do before the next day. She was also starting to feel a little tired and pushed the sensation away.
"All right, let me know as soon as we’re ready to make the first jump."
"Aye, Captain," Torres responded.
The other two merely nodded and started to leave the room. Janeway kept Seven behind with a word. The door closed and the two of them were alone.
"What time do you think you’ll finish?" Kathryn asked softly.
Seven didn’t attempt to reach out to her, sensing that in this instance it would be inappropriate with both of them still on duty. But she did lower her voice when she answered, "I anticipate B’Elanna and Doctor Brahms will want to make several simulations, but it should take no longer than four hours to complete."
"I should be moved by then," Kathryn said. "Would you like for me to make dinner?"
Seven eyed her suspiciously for a second and then said, "Kathryn, you do not like to cook."
"So, I’m trying to change my ways. Besides, I’m not too bad with finger foods."
Now seemed like as good a time as any to bring up the subject so Seven walked closer to her partner and laid a gentle finger against Kathryn’s cheek.
"You are tired, Kathryn. You have dark shadows under your eyes, and although I am aware that you have tried to hide your exhaustion from me, I must point out that it is obvious."
Kathryn turned her back and crossed her arms defensively. "I assure you it’s nothing unusual. You should have seen me during my Academy days."
Seven gently turned Kathryn back around to face her and said, "This is not the Academy, Nemo has not been attacked by hostile aliens lately and you are sleeping deeply each night. Therefore, I can only conclude that you are ill. Kathryn, please, I do not wish to anger you but I am worried."
All the fight abruptly went out of the captain and she leaned forward to rest her head against Seven’s chest. "You’re right," she finally admitted. "I don’t know what’s wrong, I’m just so tired. I feel like I’m not getting any sleep at all and those damned sweats are annoying too."
The concern in Seven’s voice made Kathryn tense up when she realized she had let something slip. But after a second she relaxed again and said, "Yes. When I wake up I find that I’ve been sweating all night and my clothes are just clinging to me."
"That is indicative of a fever, but I haven’t detected an elevated temperature."
"Neither have I," Kathryn admitted. "If it is a fever, it’s only when I’m asleep."
Seven drew away to look intently into her partner’s eyes. "Kathryn, you must see the doctor."
The old Janeway struggled to resurface and insist that she didn’t need to see the doctor, but in this case Kathryn resisted. On a ship this small and in a situation such as theirs she didn’t have the luxury of being stubborn. Nemo needed every member of the crew in top physical condition and that included the captain.
"I will, just as soon as I’ve finished moving my belongings."
Seven wanted to argue that the captain see the doctor now, but knew she was lucky Kathryn had agreed to see him at all. "Very well, I must join the others in engineering."
A lingering look later and Seven walked to the door. She stopped just before the doors parted and said, "Do not worry about dinner. I will make it for both of us when I return to our quarters."
Kathryn smiled at the words ‘our quarters’ and watched her lover leave the room.
Captain Janeway hauled herself step by agonizing step into her ready room. She had only been on the bridge for two hours, but it felt like ten. What the hell could possibly be wrong with her? Kathryn couldn’t attribute her exhaustion to old age or being out of shape and the EMH hadn’t been able to find anything physically wrong with her.
True to her word Kathryn had gone to see the emergency medical hologram right after she moved her belongings into Seven’s cabin; of course it was her cabin too, now. Although she described her symptoms as fully as possible and he had run a complete physical battery of tests, the physician hadn’t been able to find anything out of the ordinary. Doctor Martin, as he liked to be called now, had suggested she was overdoing it as usual. Kathryn accepted that explanation at face value and hurriedly left sickbay.
Starfleet captains were notorious for despising the medical facility and Janeway was no exception.
After dinner with Seven the two had spent hours wrapped in each other’s arms. Kathryn had made love with the younger woman with all the enthusiasm in her heart, but the exertion seemed to have left her drained and now she was paying for it. All in all, though, she had to say that their first night together cohabitating had been a raging success.
But this morning she was even more tired than she had been the previous days. If this continued it was going to seriously start affecting her work.
Captain Janeway retrieved a cup of coffee from the replicator as soon as she entered her ready room and then slumped into her chair.
The TPG members and Lieutenant Torres had told her they would be ready to make the jump in another forty minutes. As far as Kathryn was concerned that meant she had time to suck down a cup of her favorite brew and finish going over the morning departmental updates before she had to make an appearance on the bridge.
As the time drew near she began to feel the familiar excitement that came when exploring new territory and conversely her exhaustion began to recede. Kathryn froze in the process of standing when a thought suddenly occurred to her. Each time her adrenaline started to pump a little, excitement over the upcoming jump or moving into new quarters for example, her malaise seemed to fade. Could there be a correlation?
No, it couldn’t be that simple, she finally dismissed. If it were that easy the doctor would have discovered it. He had certainly run enough tests!
"Tuvok to Captain Janeway."
Kathryn realized she was still rooted in place by her desk and responded to her first officer. "Janeway here."
"We are preparing to make the jump to slipstream in six minutes."
"On my way."
Janeway walked with what she hoped was her usual confident swagger onto the bridge and sat calmly in her command chair. With her ankles crossed and arms resting comfortably on the armrests she presented an air of surety that was infectious to a bridge crew. A few minutes later the call they were waiting for came.
"Engineering to the bridge."
Janeway glanced around quickly and noted how attentive her alpha shift crew was to the hail. With a small smile she said, "Go ahead, Doctor Brahms." Kathryn wondered exactly what Seven was doing at that moment.
"Standing by to engage slipstream engines."
"Understood. All hands, this is the captain. Seal all outer bulkheads and stand by for the jump to slipstream." After she terminated the ship-wide link Janeway said, "On my mark, Doctor."
"Course laid in, Captain. Conventional warp drive has been disengaged," Tom Paris reported from the helm.
"Doctor Brahms, activate slipstream engines."
There was no verbal response from the engineering department, but if there had been it would have been superfluous. The saucer section began to shimmy in place like a cat readying itself to pounce and Janeway felt the power from the engines build up all the way down to the soles of her feet.
"Inertial dampers at maximum," Commander A’zal called from tactical.
Suddenly Nemo accelerated forward and Kathryn was pressed back into her seat. Speed built exponentially and the slipstream corridor became visible to the naked eye. They had all experienced this before several times on board the Nautilus during their initial foray on this doomed mission, but with the Nemo it was different…and not in a good way.
At first the captain was sure she was imagining how much worse the gravimetric forces were affecting the small vessel, but after a few minutes of the wild tossing she began to wonder. A quick glance around assured her that wasn’t the case. Over at con Tom Paris was hunched over his navigational board and she could see his whitened knuckles as he held on tightly.
Harry Kim was a decided shade of green and he also had a death grip on his console while the saucer section bucked and shimmied. The lights dimmed overhead and the red glow of emergency lighting suddenly came on to illuminate the bridge. After a few more minutes that felt like an eternity Captain Janeway began to wonder if the Nemo could survive the first jump, much less several more.
"How much longer?" Kathryn rasped through gritted teeth as she tried to fight the nausea that rolled through her.
Tom quickly checked the plotted course on his board. Although engineering had control of the helm for the moment the path had been carefully coordinated with the bridge ahead of time.
"Two minutes to end of slipstream corridor," Paris fairly shouted.
Kathryn’s fingers dug deep into the pads of her armrests and all any of them could do was hang on.
A few circuits overloaded and sparks flew, but at least there were no fires. Now if they could just make it another few minutes. An emergency klaxon sounded suddenly and the computer reported, "Warning, outer hull fractures detected on decks one, four and six.
"Harry, seal those fractures before they become breeches!" Janeway ordered. "Paris, report!"
From behind Kathryn heard the panicked voice of Lieutenant Kim as he shouted, "We’re coming apart!"
If it were even possible, Nemo shuddered harder than ever. Kathryn barely held onto her seat, but others were not so fortunate.
Crewman Haro, a Bolian female monitoring the science station, was flung half way across the bridge. Janeway had no idea how anyone required to stand at their posts managed to stay on their feet, but she was thankful when the wild careening began to lessen in intensity.
"Fifteen seconds to threshold," Paris said. Then a few moments later he began to countdown. "Five, four, three, two, one…"
Nemo abruptly dropped back into normal space and the ride smoothed out before they finally came to an abrupt halt. The stop was so sudden that even Commander Tuvok lurched in his seat. For an instant no one moved. The air was filled with the smoke of shorted circuits and the red glow made it difficult to see clearly through the haze. The spell was broken when Crewman Haro groaned from where she lay on the deck plating.
Two crewmembers rushed over to check on the woman and Janeway snapped, "Report."
Tuvok answered immediately and Kathryn could have cheerfully struck him for sounding so impassive when she felt like she had been spun in a blender. "Systems are coming back on-line. Hull fractures still in evidence on decks one, four and six, but none of them are breeched. Four EPS conduits blew out; shields are down to sixteen percent. Sickbay reports minor injuries to nine crewmen."
"Make that ten," Kathryn said. "Get Haro to sickbay."
The crewmen assisting the felled woman nodded to the captain and headed for the exit.
"Get repair teams on those fractures, Tuvok. They’re our top priority. Helm, what’s our position?"
"Ten point four thousand light years from where we started, Captain. We’re still in the delta quadrant, but at least this is space we’ve been in before; sector two one nine mark four."
They might have had some systems overload, Kathryn thought, but the slipstream had worked even better than projected. The area of space they were in now had been traversed by Voyager five years previously and they were now only forty-five thousand light years from the alpha quadrant.
"Bridge to engineering," Janeway said.
"Seven here, Captain. Doctor Brahms fractured her wrist during the jump and is in sickbay."
Considering how bumpy the ride had been the captain wasn’t at all surprised.
"Understood. I just wanted to extend my congratulations to the team, Seven. It seems like the engines were even more efficient than projected." Kathryn couldn’t resist teasing the former Borg a little by using her favorite world. "The jump put us four months closer to Earth than expected. Good work."
"Thanks, Captain," Lieutenant Torres horned in on the conversation. "But I’m afraid the engines were a little too efficient."
"What do you mean?"
"Nemo is so small that the speed was a little more than what we hoped for. It almost pulled the ship into pieces. We’ll have to scale it back a little next time to be safe."
"Understood, Lieutenant. Are we able to use conventional warp?"
Janeway nodded. "Right, keep me informed. Janeway out."
The captain looked over at Tuvok and said, "Let me know as soon as repairs are complete. We’ll travel at impulse until then and then set a course for the alpha quadrant at warp six. I’ll be in my ready room."
The commander merely nodded and Janeway left him with the bridge. She had a lot to communicate with Starfleet about now and she had better get some work down. Kathryn fairly skipped down the small flight of stair to her ready room and noticed how much better she felt after the harrowing journey through the slipstream tunnel. Perhaps her observation about adrenaline rushes had been close to the mark after all.
Kathryn settled into her command chair and prepared to update her log when an image of Seven suddenly came to mind. She was remembering how alluring the young woman had been after her bath the previous evening. Seven always maintained the position that the sonic shower was the most efficient method of cleansing herself and Kathryn had finally convinced her to try the bath.
She had run the water for Seven and stood there while the younger woman settled into the tub. At first Seven was reluctant, but when she sat down the expression of wonder on her face made Kathryn happy that she had insisted. When Seven asked Kathryn to join her nothing could have prevented it. What had began as a cleansing ritual had resulted in some rather time consuming play.
Sitting in her ready room now, Kathryn realized that memories like that were to be cherished and she wondered how she could have fought her feelings for so long. She had loved Seven for so long, but actually being involved with the younger woman had changed her feelings. Kathryn realized that the longer they were together the deeper her love grew. Each look between them felt like a caress; each kiss a benediction.
Whatever else happened along this journey back home Kathryn wouldn’t let that feeling grow commonplace. Seven was too special to be pushed to the bottom of the pile by duty and Kathryn was just going to have to find a way to balance her love for Seven with her responsibilities as captain.
In order for that to be successful, Kathryn realized she was going to have to make a concentrated effort. It would be too easy to fall back into her usual habits and let her partner suffer the consequences. Not this time.
Maybe she could start by making dinner for Seven, something romantic but easy on the stomach. Kathryn was well aware that she wasn’t the galaxy’s best cook, but a lot of that was simple motivation. Food had just never been that important to her. It was nourishment to keep the body going and that was it. Properly motivated Kathryn thought she could be a half decent cook. What better motivation could there by than taking care of the woman she was in love with?
A hail from the com-system interrupted Janeway’s musings. "Captain Janeway to the bridge."
The call was from Commander Tuvok and since there was little the Vulcan couldn’t handle Janeway stood immediately and left her ready room.
"What is it, Commander?" Kathryn asked and sat down in her command chair. Her eyes were on the forward view screen, but she didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
"Sensors have detected a steady beacon being generated over the lower subspace communications band."
Lieutenant Kim picked up the thread when Tuvok finished. "It’s not a frequency we usually pick up, Captain, but the signal is very strong. I’m not sure, but it might be some kind of homing signal."
"Homing signal? From where?"
Harry checked his communications board again quickly and said, "The signal appears to be coming from an object to our port side approximately two parsecs distant."
It was a little out of their flight path, but being that close Janeway thought it might be worth investigating. She only had one question first. "What do you mean an object? It’s not a vessel?"
"No, ma’am. Readings are a little erratic, almost like the object is slightly out of phase, but the dimensions of the object are small, roughly half the size of one of our torpedo casings."
"Like a coffin." Upon the death of crewmembers in space, it was Starfleet’s policy to fire the body into space in a torpedo casing. But if that were the case here it would be unlikely that the casing would have any power readings. "Could it be an escape pod, Harry?"
"Possibly, but if it is it’s only big enough to hold one person."
Janeway weighed the options quickly before she finally said, "Helm, set a course."
Paris adjusted the course of the Nemo quickly and before long Janeway could just barely see something hanging in the black drop of space.
The image seemed to leap forward quickly and then lay clearly before them. Kathryn guessed the object was indeed slightly out of phase since there was no casing. Instead, there was a body floating in space encased in something similar to Nemo’s environmental suits. Multi-colored lights flashed all about the torso, but the form was clearly humanoid and bi-pedal.
Captain Janeway stood up quickly as her eyes popped. "Life signs?"
"Minimal," A’zal responded.
"Get a lock on them and transport directly to the medical bay. Bridge to sickbay, we’ve found someone floating in space in some kind of environmental suit. We’re transporting them directly to you. Make sure you set up a containment field as soon as they’re on board, Doctor. We don’t need any kind of contaminants loose on the ship."
"Understood, Captain," Doctor Martin responded quickly.
Janeway turned to Commander Tuvok and said, "You have the bridge. I’ll be in sickbay." As she walked toward the exit the captain turned to A’zal. "You’re with me."
Even though she didn’t expect trouble from an unconscious alien Janeway wanted security there just in case.
When they walked into sickbay Kathryn could see the EMH and Lieutenant Commander Scott, his nurse, as they hovered over the unknown alien. Janeway and A’zal stopped by a medical console since they knew a forcefield had been erected and waited for the doctor to report.
"I’m not detecting any contaminants," the EMH said softly as he scanned the being. "Nurse Scott, you can deactivate that containment field and could you bring me a bio-neural monitor?"
Janeway relaxed marginally knowing that the alien didn’t have anything contagious to the crew and that the doctor didn’t appear overly concerned.
Scott smiled at Janeway and Kathryn was pleased to see that it wasn’t just the normal courtesy shown by a crewman to their captain. There was actually pleased warmth in the light brown eyes as the nurse stepped close to Janeway and retrieved a medical device from the console.
"Raylene," Janeway greeted. "How have you been?"
"Fine, Captain. Thanks. And thanks for the new quarters. It sure beats the heck out of rooming with four other people!"
Janeway had moved both nurses on Nemo to deck three and right down the hall from her own cabin. She had been a little concerned that Scott and the Vulcan nurse, Lieutenant Sakonna, wouldn’t be able to cohabitate. Kathryn was pleased to see that her concern was unfounded and that Scott was happy with the arrangement. She watched the nurse hand the monitor to the doctor and then glanced down to get her first look at the alien as the EMH prepared to remove the helmet.
"This actually isn’t an environmental suit," the photonic physician said conversationally. "It’s more of a stasis suit, really."
"Stasis? How is that possible," Janeway asked.
"If you want you can step over here, Captain. I assure you, she’s quite unconscious."
The captain stepped over to the bio-bed with A’zal at her elbow. Kathryn curiously looked down on the darkened faceplate of the helmet and watched the doctor dislocate it from the rest of the suit.
"Apparently, this species is a little more technologically advanced than we are."
Doctor Martin managed to get the helmet loose and slowly drew it over the alien’s head. Shoulder length, brown hair obscured the features for a moment and then Kathryn gasped as she caught her first real look at the alien up close.
Her skin was almost as pale as Seven’s and unblemished. The hair was light brown, wavy and the shine reflected the sickbay lights almost painfully. The stranger had a small oval face, thinly arched dark eyebrows and thick eyelashes. Kathryn noticed that the alien woman possessed a small, perfectly formed nose and a full lower lip. The top lip was thinner, but just as flawless as the rest of the features. There was a lot of class built into those features, but Kathryn sensed intelligence as well.
"She looks…almost human."
"In this case appearances are quite deceiving, Captain," The EMH responded. "She may look human, but her internal organs and nucleotide sequences suggest morphogenic properties."
"Morphogenic? You mean she’s a shape shifter?"
Captain Janeway was intrigued and looked closer at their impromptu visitor’s features. Since she had missed the Dominion War while stuck on Voyager in the delta quadrant, the only shape changer Janeway had ever met was Constable Odo on Deep Space Nine. He had been pleasant enough for a rule enforcer, but had difficulty approximating human appearance. This young woman was absolutely perfect.
"Can you tell if she has any special needs? If I remember correctly Constable Odo needed to revert to his original form every sixteen hours."
"That’s right," Doctor Martin confirmed while he continued to scan the alien. "He reverted to a pile of goo and slept in a pail."
"And?" Kathryn prompted a little impatiently.
The physician looked at her and said, "Hmm?" in a distracted manner. Janeway wondered if he had really been listening to her. "Oh, original state, right. From what I can tell this is her original state. Not every shape changer has to be a pile of goo, Captain."
Janeway allowed a mental sigh of relief. That was one less problem to deal with.
"Any idea what’s wrong with her, Doctor, or why she was hanging in space in a stasis suit?"
"Not really." He shook his head. "I can tell you that she has been tortured, quite severely from the amount of deep tissue damage I’m finding. Of course, as a metamorph she should recover quickly enough. Given her unique physiology I can’t even tell how old this damage is. It could have occurred days or even weeks ago."
Sometimes Janeway wondered if his programming was all it should be. Undoubtedly the young woman would recover physically as the doctor said, but mentally was another story. Janeway had been captured and tortured by the Cardassians when she was a new ensign on the Albitani and knew from experience that mental recovery was a lot slower process.
Janeway voiced those concerns now. "And mentally?"
This time the look of compassion on the doctor’s face was clear. "I just don’t know, Captain. Without knowing what she’s been through I can’t even postulate a prognosis. We don’t know how long she was tortured or why or even by whom."
"I guess we’ll have to wait until she wakes up before we get some answers," Janeway said.
"Well, I don’t recommend that any time soon. Who knows how she’ll react when she does regain consciousness? Might I suggest that we wait until morning to wake her? I’ll keep her sedated until then and the rest will do her good."
Kathryn raised a weary hand and ran it through her short-cropped hair. "Very well, Doctor," she relented. She was aware of the doctor’s concerned gaze as it followed her out of sickbay, but quite frankly couldn’t have cared less. If he couldn’t find anything wrong with her then she didn’t need him poking and prodding at her anymore. She still had a few hours to go on her shift and she had plans for afterward that she wouldn’t allow him to ruin.
A small smile curled her lips as she thought about the plans she had for Seven later. Kathryn had promised herself that she wouldn’t neglect Seven for the ship except in the case of emergencies, which she thought was perfectly normal. But unless there was something urgent that required her attention Janeway intended to be home on time on a regular basis and to show Seven of Nine what she truly meant to the captain of a Starship who had to devote much of her time to ship and crew.
Sometimes Kathryn thought it was unfair that Seven had to fall for an over the hill Starfleet Captain, but unfair or not she was happy to be the recipient of the other woman’s affections. Kathryn had definitely gotten the better end of the deal!
The captain passed a few crewmembers on her way to the bridge and was pleased to note that each of them nodded and smiled a greeting. It wasn’t like being stranded in the delta quadrant where Janeway had ordered the destruction of the caretaker’s array and their only way home. In this case their circumstances had been completely out of her hands and Janeway felt none of the accompanying guilt she had before. This time there was nothing but the driving urge to get her people home and the support of a young, beautiful and very intelligent woman. Could things possibly get any better?
An hour later Kathryn quietly heaved a bored sigh. There was still an hour to go and she had been sitting in her command chair with nothing to do but watch the view screen. Her daily report to Starfleet had already been sent, all departmental reports finished and systems were functioning at peak efficiency. All things considered there was no reason she couldn’t knock off a little early and start on that romantic dinner for Seven.
It was understood that the captain was never really off duty and if Tuvok needed her Kathryn was only a hail away. After the success of their earlier jump Kathryn definitely felt a celebration was in order.
"Tuvok, I’ll be in my quarters."
The Vulcan merely returned to his duty shift assignments for the next day. Since there were only fifty crewmembers on board it shouldn’t have been difficult, but with a crew this small it was even more important to make sure the people working together got along. Not an easy task for a Vulcan who preferred not to deal with emotional humanoids, Kathryn thought.
Janeway even made it all the way to the door before disaster struck.
Doctor Martin’s frantic voice suddenly blared over the comm. system. "Sickbay to the bridge, intruder alert!"
The glow of the red alert lights dimmed the interior immediately and Janeway turned to Commander A’zal. The woman nodded once, grabbed a hand phaser from under her console and waited for the captain’s next move.
"Is it our guest, Doctor?"
"Yes, captain. The morphogenic properties of her physiology must have metabolized the sedative I gave her more quickly than we thought. Scott and I followed her out of sickbay onto deck two, but she got away from us."
A four-man security contingent rushed onto the bridge and stood beside Commander A’zal until Janeway nodded at the Vulcan woman. That was all it took for A’zal to understand her orders. She flowed lithely out of sickbay, a sudden deadly agent on the prowl with her security team right behind her. Unfortunately Janeway knew it wouldn’t be as easy as tracking a mouse through a Jeffries tube. The stranger in sickbay was a shape shifter and they didn’t know her full capabilities. Was she like the founders back in the alpha quadrant? Could the woman mimic the appearance of a bulkhead or a floor grate?
"Mister Kim, adjust internal sensors to scan for any non-humanoid life signs."
"If I were on a ship full of humanoids and I had the ability to change shape I would try to be something no one would pay attention to," Janeway explained. Harry nodded and Kathryn turned to Tuvok. "Lock down the shuttle bay, Commander, and set up a level five containment field at all access points to that bay."
Damn it, and I’d had such plans! Why can’t I ever learn that being bored is a good thing?
Janeway retrieved a phaser from a compartment and ordered the rest of the bridge crew to arm themselves. "We don’t know where a threat might come from or if this woman is even a threat to begin with. But better safe than sorry."
The doors to the bridge opened and Seven of Nine strode up next to the captain. Janeway was relieved to see her, but still had to ask, "Shouldn’t you be in engineering?"
Seven raised an eyebrow and said, "No."
Civilian, right, Kathryn reminded herself. Besides, when had she ever expected Seven to go along with anything complacently? Janeway hesitated only a second and then decided she felt better with Seven here, anyway.
"You’re with me."
Twenty minutes later they still hadn’t found the shape changer. Janeway was ready to believe that somehow the woman had gotten off Nemo, but that was impossible. No one had even tried to access the shuttle bay. Internal sensors couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, but the woman had to be somewhere!
"Captain," Seven said softly and froze in mid-stride.
From the tone of her voice Janeway knew Seven had detected something unusual. They were on deck five near the torpedo launchers. The area was rarely manned since the launchers were automated and the only time crewmembers were present was when maintenance was required.
Seven was staring into a dark corner of the room near an almost closed hatch. The hatch led into a maintenance shaft that was only half a meter in height and width and was slightly ajar. Typically maintenance on the shaft was performed by a smaller crewmember, but the entry way would be large enough for someone who could manipulate their form.
"Is she over there?" Janeway whispered.
"I believe so. My ocular implant is detecting a slight rise in the air temperature around the hatch."
"Why didn’t sensors detect her?"
"My Borg implants are more sensitive than conventional sensors and the additional tritanium around the room may have prevented her from being detected."
Janeway nodded. The torpedo launchers were encased in thickened tritanium to prevent hull breaches in the case of an accident.
Seven started to touch her combadge to call for security but Janeway grasped her hand before she could. Kathryn knew Seven was following protocol in such a situation, but Janeway had a unique perspective considering what she knew of the stranger’s past experiences.
"Captain, security must be alerted."
"Not so fast. I want to try talking to her first."
"She may injure you!"
Kathryn was touched by Seven’s concern and spared her a brief amused glance. "Maybe, but I don’t think so. Besides, you’ll be here to protect me."
The expression on Seven’s face spoke volumes and Janeway knew she was going to pay later but right now there were more important things to worry about. Janeway slowly, cautiously, approached the hatch. She moved slowly so she wouldn’t frighten the metamorph anymore than necessary and when she got within a few feet Kathryn knelt down. Phaser clipped to her waist, Kathryn’s empty hands dangled in plain view.
"It’s all right," Kathryn said softly. "No one here is going to hurt you."
There was no response, but Janeway didn’t really expect one at this point.
"I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been through, but I know what it’s like to feel fear. I know what it’s like to be held captive… beaten for days on end for information that no one really cares about anyway. To go without food for so long that you start to wonder if it was all a dream, that there is no such thing and it’s merely a product of your imagination."
Kathryn closed her eyes and dug into buried memories of being held prisoner in a Cardassian camp. The horrors of the camp could overwhelm her if she allowed it and with difficulty Kathryn focused on the past. Smells of decay and human waste surfaced in her mind along with the screams of the tortured. Janeway had been fortunate. Her commanding officer, Admiral Paris, had taken the worst of the abusive treatment. The Cardies had barely begun to direct their attention to Janeway before her fiancé, Justin Tighe, and a Starfleet security contingent rescued them. Kathryn had only endured six hours of the harsh treatment, but those six hours had felt like an eternity.
To this day Kathryn avoided memories of that time and when the memories forced their way through it was usually in the form of a nightmare. She would awaken shaking and sweating with the taste of fear bitter in her mouth. How much worse would it be for this woman who had endured God knows what?
"I know the helplessness," Kathryn’s voice broke and dropped another octave. She had to swallow to force the lump down. "There is no reason for you to trust us, except my promise that I won’t allow anyone to hurt you."
Slight movement in the darkness caught her eye and Kathryn tried to focus on the woman in the maintenance hatch. If nothing else Janeway knew the stranger was listening. Kathryn took a huge chance and inched her way a little closer. Even without seeing the other woman Kathryn could feel the tension thicken in the air. She froze and tried to reassure the stranger.
"I’m Kathryn Janeway. You’re on my ship, the U.S.S. Nemo. We found you floating in space in your stasis suit and treated you in sickbay. From what our doctor says you’ve been through a lot, but we are not your enemy."
The captain could see the pale face now as the woman peered out of the hatchway and Kathryn could see the tentatively hopeful expression in her face. Janeway held out a hand palm up and was within a foot of the shaft.
"We know of your abilities and you could probably get off this ship if you tried hard enough. But, where would you go? How far are you from home? Please, let us help you."
Kathryn held her breath while she waited with her hand out. The next move had to come from the stranger. A few terse minutes passed while Janeway waited. Seven didn’t fidget behind her as any other crewmember would have done, but Kathryn’s legs had started to go numb from kneeling on the floor so long. Janeway had tried to use her compassion to reason with the woman, but it looked like she had gambled and lost.
Then slender fingers became visible around the edge of the hatch as the changeling pushed it open slightly. Kathryn could clearly see the frightened features now and allowed a friendly grin to curve her lips.
"Hello there," she said gently. "Kathryn, my name is Captain Kathryn Janeway. Welcome aboard Nemo."
In fits and starts the woman moved out of the shaft. Her dark eyes flitted nervously between Janeway and Seven, but she edged toward the comforting voice. A small hand tremulously reached out and Kathryn grasped the nervous woman’s fingers. She was surprised by the amount of strength behind the metamorph’s grip, but kept her features schooled into a friendly expression.
"This is Seven," Janeway continued when the stranger nervously eyed the former Borg. "She’s one of the engine specialists on board and my friend."
At the moment it wasn’t important for the woman to know the exact nature of Janeway and Seven’s relationship. It was more important that the woman not feel threatened.
"The doctor was very worried when you ran out of sickbay. Shall we go back there and let him know you’re all right?"
"Ta…Tarinia," The woman stuttered, her whispered voice so soft that Janeway barely heard. The sound was like small bells tinkling, pleasant but not overpowering. Kathryn guessed the word was the woman’s name.
"Tarinia, I’m happy to know you."
Kathryn kept the smile on her face and a deliberately reassuring look in her eyes while she and Seven led the way back to sickbay. Seven walked a few paces behind and Janeway heard her open a com signal to let the bridge know the woman had been found. A few seconds later normal illumination came back up as the red alert was cancelled.
Tarinia huddled close to the captain as they walked through the corridors. A’zal along with a small security force intersected with them in the corridor and Kathryn’s heart ached in compassion for the alien woman that crouched even closer. She tried to ignore the thought that if the shape shifter got any closer the two would merge into one. Fortunately A’zal was more insightful than the average Vulcan and held her team back with a quietly raised hand.
Doctor Martin and Nurse Scott met them at the door to sickbay having been relayed the information on the changeling’s location.
"There you are. You scared us to death!"
Kathryn was worried that Tarinia would be even more frightened by the EMH’s exuberance, but when she glanced down all she found was carefully veiled amusement. Perhaps it was the obvious concern in the doctor’s face, but for whatever reason the shape changer didn’t appear to be afraid of him.
Well, that makes two, Kathryn thought in relief. She couldn’t imagine what she would have done if the stranger refused to be let out of the captain’s sight.
"Now, now, Doctor. We don’t want to overwhelm her," Janeway said softly before she pinned the EMH in place with a look and stressed, "again."
"Point well taken." He let out his holographic breath in a huff and said, "Please, Miss,"
"Tarinia," the captain supplied helpfully.
"Tarinia? How lovely. Yes, well. If you’ll just have a seat on this bio-bed."
"Why?" Tarinia asked and huddled against Janeway once again.
Kathryn was starting to get the idea that scans had been part of the torture regime Tarinia had endured. It would hardly be the first time that someone used the offer of medical assistance as a prelude to getting another into a vulnerable position.
Gently, Kathryn led the woman over near one of the diagnostic beds and assured her, "It’s all right. We just want to make sure that you’re recovering from your ordeal."
"Commander A’zal, perhaps a smaller security force would be enough?"
The security officer weighed the suggestion from the captain briefly before she turned and released her team with a nod. Only she and Seven of Nine remained along with the captain and the medical personnel.
A while later the captain was satisfied as to her guest’s welfare, but wasn’t sure the other woman wouldn’t bolt if given half the chance. Janeway wanted to give Tarinia a chance, but knew it would have to be in increments. Anyone that had suffered such a trauma would only want to seek escape, but Kathryn didn’t feel that would be the best choice given the circumstances. As a way to give a little she decided to use the doctor’s office to find out the woman’s story as well as make sure she didn’t elude them again.
The changeling seemed to understand the situation immediately and Kathryn had to give the woman high marks for intelligence. It didn’t hurt that for some reason Tarinia seemed to inherently trust the captain of Nemo, leaning toward her in time of crisis.
As soon as they were alone Tarinia graced Janeway with a wry grin. "I guess I must tell you my story now?"
"It would be helpful," Janeway admitted. "I’m afraid we just don’t know how to help you without knowing the whole story."
The alien wrapped her arms defensively around herself and took a deep breath. Her look was guarded when she asked, "How do I know that you really even want to help me? I have heard that claim before."
Kathryn flinched in sympathy and she caught the brief look of surprise on Tarinia’s face before it vanished. This was a pivotal point and the diplomatic captain knew everything hinged on her answer. "You’re not a prisoner here. If you want to leave we can provide you with a shuttlecraft and enough supplies to send you on your way."
She saw that she had surprised the changeling with her offer and she didn’t hesitate to press her advantage. "But if you’d stay, you might find yourself among friends."
Tarinia assessed Janeway quietly with her sable eyes for a while, long enough for Janeway to notice that even though the young woman looked human her eyes had a bit of a purple cast to them. She was in a word…exquisite. Tarinia reminded Janeway of one the actresses from Tom Paris’ holonovels during the 1940’s. She was painfully thin with small, graceful hands, long flowing brunette hair that held a touch of chestnut in the overhead lights and a haunted look about the classic features. If she weren’t so desperately in love with Seven of Nine, Kathryn felt she could have been attracted to the other woman in another place and time.
Finally, haltingly, Tarinia began to speak.
"My people, the Dreit, are used as spies and infiltrators because of our abilities. As you can imagine, we are not well liked in this region of space. Much like your Borg drone, I suspect." Tarinia nodded in the direction of Seven of Nine through the transparent aluminum, but Janeway didn’t notice any animosity directed to her lover. It was quite unlike the reception Seven usually received from strangers and was either an indicator that Tarinia was non-judgmental or had been through so much that she had ceased to care.
Kathryn kept quiet with an effort of will. Somehow she suspected that if she spoke it would break the spell that kept the shape shifter talking.
"We are distrusted because of our ability to be anywhere or anything…listening to everyone’s secrets. But everyone has their uses, right? The Dreit were used by outside governments as law enforcement until war broke out on two neighboring worlds. After that we were sent out to these warring worlds to infiltrate and gather intelligence."
"For what purpose?" Kathryn asked softly, carefully.
"We weren’t involved in the aggressions but we still trained for defensive purposes. Our purpose was to make sure the Dreit weren’t being targeted, but whenever changelings were discovered by either side they were tortured for information and killed."
Janeway held her tongue with difficulty. How well she understood the art of war and the brutality that either side in a conflict could perpetrate in the name of patriotism.
"Two years ago a plot was uncovered from one of those warring planets colonized by a species called the Vadwaar to annihilate the Dreit with multiple tricobalt missiles set to a one hundred kiloton yield."
The Vadwaar? The name rang a bell and Janeway’s brain reluctantly made the connection to an extremely aggressive species she had encountered during her previous time in the delta quadrant. Seven had thought she was being compassionate by awakening a species that had been in stasis after an apparently devastating nuclear war. There was no way to know about the subspace corridors the Vadwaar used to cover and conquer thousands of light years or how that same species would attempt to destroy Voyager.
"A hundred kiloton yield would be large enough to tear a hole in subspace," Kathryn breathed in horror. "What happened?"
Tarinia’s strange eyes riveted on her and for a second Janeway wondered if she had stopped the other woman’s train of thought.
"We stopped them," the changeling finally said in an odd tone. "The Dreit, in cooperation with the Tash went in a team of twelve. The Vadwaar have hundreds of worlds throughout their subspace corridors, but we had information that their world closest to the Tash home world housed their main ammunition site. It was only two parsecs distant from the Tash and that is where their missiles were stockpiled. Unfortunately, it was also heavily guarded."
Tarinia had been leaning against the doctor’s desk with her arms folded. As her story unraveled she felt the need to move and settled into the faux leather chair. For some reason it felt safer here behind the desk. She looked down at the simulated wood grain rather than at the strange woman’s face. It made telling the tale easier.
"Four of the Tash went down before we made it inside," Tarinia said tremulously. She cleared her throat and went on, "Explosives were planted, the depot blew and all but myself and two others were lost when the Vadwaar resisted."
Janeway’s eyes closed in sympathy for the quiet pain in the other woman’s voice. From the glossed over details of the events she had survived, Kathryn knew how traumatized Tarinia had to have been. Her generic description was nothing less than an attempt to distance herself from those horrors.
"Our transport was destroyed and we hid in the caves, raiding Vadwaar camps for food and supplies. We moved around constantly to avoid detection, but of course something was bound to give. After all, you can’t hide forever."
"Didn’t your government send a rescue team?"
Tarinia shook her head and Kathryn saw tears glint in the brown and purple eyes. "We knew going in that we were on our own. If we were caught the Dreit could claim we were acting on our own. After our transport was destroyed we had no way to contact them anyway. About eight months ago we raided one of their medical facilities. Garth was the only Tash that survived the initial mission. He had fallen off a ledge and had a large gash on his leg. You can imagine how primitive our situation was, living in caves and surviving off of whatever we could steal. Garth developed an infection and started to run a high fever."
"So you were only after antibiotics?"
"We weren’t criminals," Tarinia said defensively.
Kathryn raised both hands silently in surrender and was relieved when the fight went back out of her guest and Tarinia continued with the story.
"Yes, we were after antibiotics. That and bandages and maybe even a dermal regenerator if we were lucky."
Tarinia shrugged. "We got sloppy. Over a year living off the land and the fact that we didn’t expect a hospital to be so heavily guarded and you have a recipe for disaster."
"You were caught," Janeway guessed. "But you’re shape changers. Couldn’t you just morph into something else and evade detection?"
"Normally, yes. But they were ready for us. We entered the hospital under cover of darkness and got what we needed. There must have been sensors in the room that we couldn’t detect because we had just turned to go out a window when the lights went on. The Vadwaar shot us with disruptors before we could escape."
"Garth must be dead by now," Tarinia added softly. "He was too sick to go with us and we left him in the cave. That was eight months ago."
"You’ve been in Vadwaar hands ever since?" Kathryn asked in horrified disbelief.
"The Vadwaar spend all of their time involved in the art of war," Tarinia pointed out. "Is it so hard to believe they developed an inhibitor to prevent us from changing shape and escaping?"
"No," Kathryn answered honestly. "But it does beg the question of your eventual escape. You got away from them somehow."
Tarinia nodded. "One of the Vadwaar guards was very young and I could see how much it bothered him to have to stand and watch as his superiors tortured me. I played on his sympathies over the months I was held captive, telling him how much it hurt and that I only wanted to see my family one more time. I must have eventually gotten through to him because one night he came to my cell with the stasis suit."
"He had a cousin who flew transport missions in a small cargo ship and told him I was a high ranking official that needed to be sent to their capital city. Since I was in the stasis suit his cousin couldn’t see my features."
"So how did you end up floating in space?" Janeway asked.
"I have no idea," Tarinia admitted. "I was unconscious. Was there any space debris around me to indicate we had been attacked?"
"Nothing, not even an ion trail."
"So I could have been floating there for days. I can’t say that I’m sorry if something happened to that ship. The guard may have been compassionate, but the majority of that species is bent on the total destruction of anyone not Vadwaar."
"I’ve run into them before and I know the species you’re describing. My people barely escaped from them the first time we encountered them and I’m not eager for a reunion. If this is their space then I think we need to find the fastest way out of this sector."
"In that, Captain Kathryn Janeway of the U.S.S. Nemo, we are in agreement."
B’Elanna Torres was having a really bad day. She was irritated and more than a little frustrated as she crawled through Jeffries tube thirty-seven beta on deck five with an engineering kit. The hard floor grate under her knees on incensed her further and she fairly fumed as she thought about her husband, or soon to be dead husband if he kept at it.
"Get it yourself," she mimicked Tom’s voice quietly. "Get it yourself."
Since when was it so wrong to ask your husband to get you an ale from the replicator? He was standing right beside the damn thing. Tom Paris was being a complete ass lately, short-tempered and condescending. Not that B’Elanna could really blame him. She missed Miral too. Neither of them had been away from the little girl for more than overnight since she was born. It was true that they had both signed up for this mission to test Nautilus’ new engines, but they hadn’t expected another upside down journey to the other side of the galaxy.
"I mean really," B’Elanna huffed. "How many times can the same crew manage to get themselves lost in the delta quadrant?"
But at least this trip had an end in sight. If they could make the scheduled jumps that the propulsion team was confident that they could it would take no longer than six months to get home. Six months away from Miral.
B’Elanna’s half human heart tore as an image of the little girl flashed through her mind. Only one quarter Klingon, Miral only had the forehead ridges to show for it while the rest of her was entirely human. Except for her temper, Torres conceded with a grin. When she wanted something she could be just as hardheaded as her mother. B’Elanna had never known it was possible to love another person so much.
Another image, this one unwanted, flitted through her mind and B’Elanna snarled again in frustration. On top of the situation with Tom and Miral, B’Elanna had recently been forced to realize there was still a spark of …something between her and Karri Jameson. True, they had tentatively started dating while they were both assigned to Voyager, but then B’Elanna became involved with Paris and she thought that other relationship was a thing of the past. She had even gone so far as to tell herself that it was a simple case of experimentation. Karri was cute enough and had muscles to spare, but she was a woman. Since B’Elanna had never been involved with another woman before she chalked her feelings up to curiosity and put it behind her.
At least she thought she had put it behind her.
Recently they had both been captured during an away mission to a planet with an Egyptian based society…or was it Cambodian?
Whatever it was Karri had been badly wounded with an energy blast to the back as she tried to escape. B’Elanna could still see it when she closed her eyes, she could also smell Karri’s charred flesh and how she felt when it happened. She had been convinced that Karri was dead and felt a piece of her soul tear away. It had only been restored to her when Karri showed up later to help Captain Janeway save the day. Fortunately, a native boy found Karri and partial healed her injuries with a dermal regenerator.
After that B’Elanna’s honor demanded that she acknowledge the truth. There was still chemistry between her and Karri. She also knew that she would never act on those feelings. Tom was a good man and he was Miral’s father. She made her choice when she married him and she wouldn’t turn her back on her obligations now. That didn’t mean that every time she saw Karri she couldn’t still feel it. If she looked for very long into those deep green eyes she felt the urge to take Karri in her arms. So she did the next best thing. She avoided Karri.
That was a little hard to do considering they both worked in engineering and now Captain Janeway had stationed Karri’s quarters right down the hall from hers. To avoid taking the same turbolift to work B’Elanna started going in a little earlier. It seemed juvenile, but at least it kept her from throwing Karri against the turbolift wall and kissing the daylights out of her.
Wouldn’t that be a sight, B’Elanna snickered. She rounded the corner near the power grids and came to an abrupt stop when she saw someone there ahead of her. It was definitely not someone she expected to see on their hands and knees inside a Jeffries tube.
The Vulcan continued her work, but acknowledged the engineer’s presence. "Lieutenant Torres."
"What are you doing down here? Uh, I mean…do you need some help with something?"
A’zal finally looked over at Torres with a typically raised eyebrow. "No, I am quite capable of making repairs to the security grid myself."
"The security grid? What’s wrong with it?" B’Elanna moved over beside the other woman and sat down, grateful to get off her knees.
"There appears to be a faulty relay that is sending feedback through the grid to the tactical console."
"Ah, I get it. You wanted to fix it yourself so that you could make sure it was done right."
"The security systems are a vital part of Nemo’s defenses," A’zal assured her gravely. "It is not recommended that they be repaired by just anyone."
B’Elanna was hard pressed not to laugh at how serious the other woman was about a relay switch. When it came to her ship B’Elanna was just as demanding that every system be at optimal performance. Normally she would have protested the tactical chief doing the repairs personally since that was usually B’Elanna’s job, but she had her hands full as it was. The sooner they got the slipstream engines working again they could make the jump out of Borg/Vadwaar space.
"Well, I’ll leave you to your relay. I’m just going to recalibrate the new exhaust manifold for the next jump. It doesn’t take long to recalibrate, but it sure would save time if we didn’t have to replace it after every jump."
"Why must you replace it each time?"
B’Elanna shrugged. "The manifold virtually explodes from all pressure of the transwarp gas expelled through it during the jump."
"Wouldn’t it be more prudent to construct the manifold from the same material as the ablative hull armor? It would save you necessary reconstruction time."
"It’s a good thought," B’Elanna admitted. "At least it wouldn’t send shrapnel flying and blow out other systems, but we’d still have to replace the manifold entirely because all of the components would be burned up inside. Still, it would save a lot of repair time for the other systems around it. Thanks, Commander. I’ll bring it up with my team."
"You are welcome, Lieutenant."
A’zal went back to her relay and B’Elanna started to crawl toward the newly installed manifold. Her head buzzed at the implications of A’zal’s casually offered solution to repair problems. If they constructed the manifold from the ablative hull armor material it would save considerable repair time. Instead of two weeks refit it would cut the time in half.
B’Elanna recalibrated the manifold as quickly as she could and left the Jeffries tube with A’zal still working away. She had news for the team and her day was definitely starting to look up.
Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine finished up their visit in sickbay and left Tarinia there for the night.
Since Tarinia seemed to feel comfortable with the doctor Janeway left the young woman in his capable hands. He said he needed to run some additional tests and wanted to monitor her so he could measure how quickly her morphogenic abilities healed her. A bio-bed was set up and the corner and the lights lowered all around the area. When Tarinia was satisfied with the arrangements and the captain was finally comfortable enough with the security details Janeway and Seven left sickbay.
Kathryn didn’t want Tarinia to feel trapped, but she was an unknown element and any act of sabotage in space could have deadly repercussions. Tarinia wasn’t allowed access to replicators to prevent her from creating any type of weapon and was allowed only minimal access to unsecured systems on Nemo’s computer. That left the captain with the problem of housing.
Just when she thought that details had finally been resolved along came someone else needing a room! Of course while trapped in the delta quadrant years previously Janeway had taken a Talaxian, an Ocampa and one Borg drone and five half assimilated Borg children along for the ride. Surely this couldn’t be any worse. So why did Kathryn have this nagging feeling that it would be?
At least this was only a temporary problem, Kathryn decided until they could find her home planet.
Janeway and Seven took the lift to deck three and Kathryn’s footsteps automatically carried her to the doorway of her former quarters. When the doors didn’t open as they normally would Kathryn almost ran smack into them. Momentarily confused she looked up but it wasn’t until a raised brown from Seven reminded her that she had moved.
"Sorry, force of habit."
"Kathryn, you seem tired. What did the doctor say?"
Kathryn could hear the worry in Seven’s voice and took her arm as they turned away from the door. There was no one else around at the moment and Janeway squeezed her arm affectionately as they walked through the doors of their new shared quarters. Kathryn was so glad someone had finally thought to make pneumatic doors that would open quietly instead of announcing to the galaxy that someone was passing through.
"He assured me that I’m in perfect health and I’m not really all that tired right now. I’m just a little preoccupied."
Janeway released Seven’s arm as soon as the door closed and took off her uniform jacket. She tossed the jacket over a chair, but missed the amused tolerance in the glance Seven shot her before the former drone turned away and walked to the replicator.
"Oh, yes. That would be wonderful."
Kathryn sat on the sofa and started to take off her boots when Seven walked over and handed her a steaming cup of her favorite brew. She took a small sip and sat the cup on the coffee table when Seven surprised her by kneeling on the rug in front of her. Seven moved not with the utilitarian intent to remove the boot, but with deliberate slowness. Her blue eyes were fixed on Kathryn’s face; her fingers slow as Seven began to knead the back of Kathryn’s muscled calf. Seven slipped her Borg hand up behind Kathryn’s knee and raised the leg so she could pull the boot off. Seven slipped the sock off with the boot to leave Kathryn’s foot bare. Then long fingers of flesh and metal massaged the foot while Seven used her thumbs to probe the pressure points on the sole.
Tingles of pleasure shot through Kathryn from the pit of her stomach and she gasped as she steadied herself by grabbing onto Seven’s strong shoulders.
Exquisite moments passed with Kathryn’s head thrown back and her eyes closed while she enjoyed the impromptu massage. All too soon it was over and Seven lowered Kathryn’s foot to the ground. But Kathryn didn’t move and Seven reached for her other foot. The boot was removed with the same deliberate teasing. Her foot was lifted and as Kathryn shifted to accommodate Seven she could feel the moisture at her center and was almost surprised by the arousal Seven could cause by an innocent foot massage. Then again maybe it wasn’t so innocent.
Kathryn opened her eyes to mere slits and the vision before her caused more sharp tingles of pleasure to shoot through her midsection. Seven’s eyes were half lidded and glazed with desire. Her full lips were slightly parted and the tip of her pink tongue was visible as it darted out to moisten them.
Seven’s gaze drifted up and their eyes met. A moment of electric desire surged between them and Kathryn asked huskily, "What about that romantic dinner I promised you?"
"I am not hungry."
The words barely left Seven’s mouth before her lips claimed Kathryn’s in a passionate kiss. Kathryn met her halfway, her hands slid around Seven’s neck to hold her close as a strong arm wrapped around her waist. Seven shifted Kathryn over on the soft until she could lay her down. Then she settled on top of Kathryn and pressed their bodies closer together. Kathryn moaned and parted her legs to welcome Seven closer against her.
Seven kissed Kathryn avidly and her hands seemed everywhere at once. In a way she seemed almost frantic like it had been weeks since they had been together, but nothing could have been farther from the truth. It drove Kathryn wild with desire to think Seven could want her so much and she eagerly assisted when Seven started to remove their clothing. Soon they were both naked and squirming eagerly together on the sofa.
Seven’s teeth grazed Kathryn’s neck and made her cry out in pleasure. She kissed and nipped her way along Kathryn’s throat and chest before she finally dipped down and captured a hardened nipple between her sharp white teeth.
"Oh yes, darling. Suck on them."
Seven obliged by drawing most of Kathryn’s breast eagerly into her mouth and elicited another cry of joy. Happily she spent several long minutes alternating back and forth between the tender mounds of flesh until Kathryn’s nipples were red and almost painful.
Kathryn’s desire had escalated until she was moving constantly against Seven’s body, searching unconsciously for release. She wasn’t aware of the loud cries she uttered, only the all-consuming edge of fire that was burning her from the inside out.
When long fingers brushed unexpectedly but oh so tenderly between her legs Kathryn jerked and bucked up against the touch. But Seven withdrew momentarily before she moved in again. Once more she touched Kathryn, a single stroke that caused the normally contained captain to cry out in frustration.
Seven slid back until her knees were on the carpet. Two long fingers parted Kathryn’s folds and Seven gazed at the perfect image before her on the sofa for a moment before she moved in and flicked against Kathryn’s hardened nub with her tongue. She kept her eyes open and thought her heart would burst in sheer joy as she watched Kathryn’s reaction.
Kathryn’s eyes were scrunched closed, her head thrown back and her mouth open as she groaned and cried out. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead and dampened the auburn hair. With her chest thrust forward Kathryn’s hardened nipples stood out sharply and goose bumps were visible on her arms. It was an image Seven would never forget and one she knew would sustain her in any future hard times.
Finally, Seven gave in to Kathryn’s need and lowered her head. Gently she took Kathryn in her mouth and tenderly licked against the hardened nub as she stroked the flooded opening with two fingers. Kathryn murmured indecipherable words and held onto Seven’s head with both hands afraid that she would stop what she was doing. But Seven had no intention of stopping.
She gradually increased the tempo and pressure with her tongue and slid one finger into Kathryn. Kathryn moaned and raised her knees a little to encourage Seven to go deeper. Instead Seven slid another finger into Kathryn and started to move in and out gently.
Seven stopped licking the clitoris and began to suck on it while she thrust harder into Kathryn. She could feel the tiny vibrations in Kathryn’s little bundle of nerves and the sensation drove away any coherent thoughts Seven might have had as her own passion overwhelmed her. She held on tightly to Kathryn’s thigh with her left hand and sucked harder while she fairly pounded into Kathryn with her right hand. When Kathryn’s orgasm hit her body went rigid and her cry was fairly a shriek. The cry reverberated throughout Seven and she felt her own body tense as she also peaked.
Seven and Kathryn both climaxed together for what felt like an eternity before the tremors finally passed. A few seconds later Seven took her mouth from Kathryn and rested her damp cheek against her belly, but she left her fingers inside of the other woman.
Kathryn took several long shuddering breaths before she reached for Seven. Reluctantly, Seven removed her fingers and slid up on top of Kathryn, but slightly to the side.
"That was wonderful," Kathryn said enthusiastically.
Kathryn tensed slightly and asked, "Good different, or bad different?"
"I don’t know." Seven sounded unsure before she finally admitted, "When I felt you start to orgasm I also climaxed. I have never done that before without you touching me."
Kathryn chuckled slightly and said, "I’m flattered."
"Umm, it’s just flattering to know that you were so excited by my response to you that it made you come." Janeway snuggled against Seven’s hair and pressed closer against the warm body. "Not every one can do that and it just shows that when it comes to making love you have fewer inhibitions that some of us. I know that I’ve never done that."
"So there is nothing wrong with me?"
Kathryn looked down into Seven’s blue eyes and said, "Absolutely nothing. I like you so wild with desire that you can come just by tasting me."
Seven’s eyebrows both rose at the admission and then darkened in renewed desire. "If you come into the bedroom I will show you just how wild I can be."
"How can I possibly refuse?"
The next morning Janeway made her way to the bridge with a happy smile on her face. She had awakened refreshed with no hint of the night sweats on her clothing and felt fully rested for the first time in weeks. In addition, she thought she had figured out the dilemma of housing for their new guest. The thought had come to her a few minutes ago while sharing a cleansing and rather time-consuming shower with Seven of Nine, or rather just after. During the shower itself Kathryn had her hands literally and figuratively full of delicious nubile flesh. She had always worried a relationship with the amazing young woman would interfere with her responsibilities, but it seemed that by just being Kathryn for a while helped her think clearer. It had certainly helped her resolve the newest dilemma quickly enough.
When Kathryn had severed Seven from the Borg collective a few years ago it had been necessary to install Borg alcoves in the cargo bay so that the woman who was more drone than human could regenerate. There really had been no alternative then since Seven needed the alcove to survive, but it also granted the young woman very little privacy since anyone needing access to the cargo bay could do so any time of the day or night. Kathryn had learned her lesson since then, and had no intention of denying Tarinia privacy by making her live in the cargo bay, but there was an alternative.
Like all cargo bays on any starship Nemo’s cargo bay had two levels. An upper walk way contained storage closets for any goods that need refrigeration or special environments as well as a control room and an auxiliary public restroom, or head as Starfleet called it.
Kathryn thought one of the small storage rooms could be converted into quarters for Tarinia. Since the woman was accustomed to living in a cave the small room would afford a sense of security. Maintenance could install a small bed and a head in the corner. Tarinia would have a sonic shower and a private bathroom.
Feeling rather pleased with herself Janeway sauntered onto the bridge and acknowledged Commander Tuvok with a half grin and a raised brow.
"Nothing of interest to report, Captain. All systems are functioning at optimal efficiency and repairs on the slipstream drive are proceeding as anticipated."
"In that case, I’ll be in my ready room."
Janeway turned and left the command center. Curious about their newest member, she immediately logged on to her workstation and pulled up sickbay’s morning report. It seems that Tarinia had spent a quiet night, slept soundly and even politely consumed the meal that the doctor had replicated for her.
Tarinia’s physical injuries had all but completely healed and Janeway realized how thoroughly the young woman had been brutalized for her to still be showing tissue damage when Nemo found her. All things considered it was a wonder Tarinia managed to trust anyone. The doctor also reported that Tarinia would be ready for release from sickbay in a few hours.
That thought alone was enough to remind Janeway how relentless the Vadwaar could be. Talaxian lore spoke of a demon that would appear out of nowhere and destroy entire species simply to expand their own territory. The sad thing was that even after nine hundred years in cryo-stasis in order to survive a nuclear winter they still didn’t learn their lesson. As soon as they were freed from their cryogenic coffins the surviving Vadwaar began to plot Voyager’s takeover. Kathryn vividly remembered her previous encounter with the Vadwaar. They were a warlike species that were almost as scary as the Hirogen.
Until Doctor Brahms and her propulsion team could get the engines ready to make another jump Nemo’s crew would have to remain very cautious. They were alone in Vadwaar territory and by extension at the cusp of Borg space.
Admiral Janeway may have infected the former Borg Queen and hopefully the rest of the collective with a pathogen four years ago, but there was no real proof they had been destroyed.
In either case Janeway had no desire to be engaged in a war or assimilated. She pulled up all information in the Federation database on the Vadwaar. Complacency simply wouldn’t do and she needed to get reacquainted with all of the details of their prior encounter before she left for sickbay. Janeway wanted to be there personally when Tarinia was released so she could welcome her properly on board and show the young woman to her new quarters.
For the next few hours Janeway poured over Starfleet records, checked departmental reports and started to compile data for her regular report. During moments that she spent refilling her coffee cup thoughts of Seven permeated her mind. Even in the face of the unknown threats that waited for them on the journey back to Earth just the thought of the other woman could bring a smile to Kathryn’s face.
Kathryn finished her tasks and stood to stretch the kinks out of her back. She was more convinced than ever that they needed to augment Nemo’s security systems. She walked out on the bridge and took a moment to appreciate her crew’s quiet efficiency.
Commander A’zal, Tuvok’s daughter, worked quietly at the tactical station.
The dark young woman spared the captain a courteous glance before she returned to her duties. Kathryn had been friends with Tuvok for many years and remembered A’zal as a small, quiet and almost shy little girl. Harry Kim was a lieutenant now, but Kathryn would never forget how keyed up he had been as a fresh new ensign straight out of Starfleet Academy. Seeing him standing confidently at his console, it was hard to believe he was the same man. Even Tom Paris who piloted the Nemo started off as a recruit from the New Zealand penal colony. They had been through so much together and had become closer than family.
"Tuvok," she said gently and waited for him to look over. "I’d like to see if we can enhance the shield grid and scanning distance of the long range sensors. Ablative hull armor needs to extend around the engine modifications the propulsion team has added to the outer hull. We need to be ready in case the Vadwaar detect us."
"Understood, Captain. I shall also schedule battle drills for all shifts."
"Good idea. I’ll be in sickbay."
Janeway walked through the silent bridge doors and walked the short distance down the hallway to sickbay. Two security personnel stood outside the door and stiffened to respectful attention as the captain walked up. Kathryn smiled at the two men and walked into sickbay. She was surprised when she walked in to find Tarinia alone and sitting on a bio-bed. The young woman looked anxious and jerked visibly when Janeway suddenly walked in.
The captain wondered briefly where the doctor had gone and why he had left Tarinia unguarded, but decided to pursue that line of questioning after he returned. It wouldn’t help their guest to relax if Janeway started grilling her.
"How are you feeling?" she asked instead.
Tarinia stood up and said guardedly, "The doctor has been very kind to me. My injuries are healed, but…"
"I guess I’m a little bored. I’m not used to sitting around doing nothing for such a long time."
Janeway smiled and said, "That’s actually why I’m here. I wanted to let you know that we’ve prepared some temporary quarters for you. Of course, you understand that you will be limited on what you can order from the replicators. I’ll also have to post security around you and your quarters as long as you are on board."
If she was worried about insulting her guest she needn’t have bothered. Tarinia calmly said, "A prudent course of action, Captain. You don’t know me."
"Which brings me to another question. Have you thought about what happens now? Where is your home world? We would be happy to drop you off."
"That’s very generous of you. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to give you the coordinates of my planet for security reasons. I’m sure you understand."
"Better than anyone." Tarinia might be cordial, but she obviously didn’t completely trust them. Janeway felt the same way about Tarinia and it was better if they both acknowledged it up front. The door in the corner opened and the doctor walked in from the science lab.
"Where have you been?" Janeway’s question was more than a little sharp since had had just left a potential threat without a security contingent. Surely as part of the ship’s database he should be familiar with basic security protocols!
The EMH seemed to realize why the captain was angry and rushed to explain. "I assure you, Captain, I was right in the next room checking on an experiment. There was no danger."
With the security personnel outside the door it was doubtful their guest could have left the medical bay without their knowledge, but every system on the ship was tied into the main computer. All Tarinia needed to do was access the doctor’s terminal and she could cause all kinds of havoc. In addition there were her metamorphic abilities to take into account. So far she hadn’t attempted to change shape even on her previous escape from sickbay and the doctor postulated that she wouldn’t be able to do so until she was fully healed. There was no way to test that theory and until Tarinia confirmed that information they couldn’t know for sure.
"We’ll discuss security protocols later, Doctor. Right now I’d like to know if your patient is well enough to be released."
"Her injuries are completely healed. I see no reason to keep her here any longer," he said in a flustered attempt to placate the captain.
"In that case I’ll take her off your hands."
Suddenly interior lights dimmed and were replaced with the crimson was that signaled a red alert. Commander Tuvok’s voice blared over the ship’s internal communications system.
"Red alert. Captain Janeway to the bridge."
"Please come with me, Tarinia," Captain Janeway said and strode for the door. She noticed the brief look on surprise on the holographic physician’s face, but he had already let her down once. With some unknown threat attacking her ship Kathryn wasn’t going to leave the alien woman with the doctor until Tarinia could be trusted on her own.
Lieutenant Quist and Ensign Travis Price, the security personnel, automatically fell into place behind Tarinia. Janeway didn’t comment, but she was comforted by the fact that at least someone on this ship could follow procedures. Of course A’zal and Tuvok wouldn’t allow anything else.
Kathryn had gotten to know the Klingon lieutenant while on a previous planet and was well aware that more recently Seven had deliberately influenced her to house the man on their own deck, but she didn’t mind. She was familiar with him and felt better knowing he was backing her up as he followed them to the bridge.
"Report!" Janeway ordered as she stalked onto the bridge and directly to her command chair. But she didn’t sit down as her eyes fastened on the view screen and an image of three alien vessels hung around the smaller disc shape of the Nemo. But Janeway had learned through experience that size wasn’t everything. Nemo might only be the left over remnants of another larger ship, but that ship was state of the art. These attacking vessels looked like they had been cobbled together with parts from a scrap heap. It was a wonder they had even achieved warp.
"We are being surrounded by three ships, all Vadwaar," Tuvok reported. "So far they have not fired, but neither are they allowing us to pass."
"Captain, we’re being hailed."
Janeway acknowledged Harry with a single nod, her eyes still locked on the viewer, and said, "Open a channel."
Instantly the view switched to a thin alien with scaly flesh and a long, pointed chin. Ridges adorned his face, head and neck in various places, but what made Janeway’s blood run cold was the blackness in his eyes. A shiver traveled down her spine as the sight of the being brought more memories to mind than a simple reading of the log entries during that previous time ever could. In typical fashion of the militaristic species the alien assumed his victory over the Nemo and launched into a verbal ultimatum.
"Our sensors have detected a changeling on your vessel. Turn the creature over to us and we will forego the destruction of your ship."
As if. Kathryn actually had to fight the urge to snort at what was so obviously a lie. Whether they turned Tarinia over or not the Vadwaar would attempt to destroy Nemo. Suddenly Kathryn remembered something she didn’t like about the delta quadrant, all the blasted bullies! Sitting behind a desk for three years had dimmed those memories until she actually thought of Voyager’s previous struggles with a kind of nostalgia. Now here she was being confronted with another shining example of the attitude that seemed prevalent in this quadrant, and she found she still felt the same way. Kathryn Janeway did not like bullies and she had no intention of surrendering Tarinia.
She made a small hand motion and Harry Kim cut the comm. channel.
"One of their vessels is no match for the Nemo, Captain, but several of them could inflict serious damage."
It took only a moment to make her decision. She nodded discretely and Harry reopened the channel. "You’ve scanned our vessel," Janeway said softly, "and we’ve scanned yours. Your ship is no match for our weapons and I will not turn over the changeling as you so charmingly put it. She is under our protection."
Janeway turned and Harry cut the channel. "Shields to full capacity. Deploy ablative hull armor."
She had barely finished giving the orders when the Vadwaar opened fire. Nemo shook under the assault and Janeway was nearly thrown off her feet. She remained standing by the thinnest of margins by grabbing onto the pilot’s console behind her.
"Shields are holding, Captain."
"Not for long," Tom added to A’zal’s comment. "Not with all three ship’s firing."
"Evasive maneuvers. Where’s that hull armor?"
"Hull armor not available," Tuvok told her. "The emitters were taken off line when the propulsion team was on the hull yesterday. They have yet to be reinitialized."
Damn, why hadn’t she known that?
"Get us out of here, Tom. As soon as we’re clear deploy the cloak. We do still have cloaking technology, don’t we?"
If she hoped to make Tuvok cringe like the rest of the bridge staff was doing, she was doomed to disappointment. Instead he merely raised an eyebrow that made her feel like she was being a petulant child and said, "Yes, Captain. We do."
"Warp two, Lieutenant."
Paris’ fingers flew over his board and Janeway felt the Nemo’s engines gathering under the soles of her feet. Her fingers dug into the navigational console and she hoped that Tom didn’t mind her hovering over his shoulders. At the moment she really had no other choice since if she let go she would find herself careening unchecked across the deck.
Nemo started to shoot forward into the blackness of space, but just as it accelerated it came to an amazingly abrupt halt. The hull stresses were astronomical and the inertial dampeners were unable to keep up. Janeway slammed hard into the helm controls, thankful that she was on that side. Otherwise she would have been thrown across the bridge and into the front bulkhead.
Other crewmembers were not so lucky, but she noticed that Tuvok had managed to keep his seat. Even Tarinia was still standing, but Quist and Price hadn’t been so lucky. They lay in heaps on the floor.
"The Vadwaar ships have locked on a tractor beam," Tuvok reported.
"Which one?" And since when did the Vadwaar have tractor beams?
"All three of them. The technology is not Vadwaar. It has a Vidiian signature."
Well, that made sense, Kathryn thought quickly. The Think Tank that had tried to trick Seven of Nine into joining them had cured the Vidiian phage and the Vidiians had reverted back to a culture of artists. Before that they developed serious technological advances to help them steal the organs of other healthy sentient beings. Once the Vidiians were no longer a threat, it made sense that the Vadwaar would steal anything they thought they could use to conquer more territory.
"A’zal, reverse the hull polarity. Try to throw them off."
Janeway’s eyes were fixed on the forward viewer, but nothing seemed to be happening.
"No effect," the female security chief responded.
"Then send a feedback pulse back through that beam and fire all phaser banks."
She had barely finished the sentence when a harsh whine filled the air around them. Janeway stumbled back automatically as the air shimmered just in front of the helm controls. Suddenly two Vadwaar began to materialize on the bridge.
Most of the bridge crew had been rendered unconscious and Janeway was unarmed. The day had started off so quietly that she hadn’t expected to need a phaser and the one under her command console was too far away. Still, she could see before the Vadwaar completely reintegrated that they carried heavy disruptor rifles. She had to try or her crew would be defenseless.
Kathryn ignored the pain in her ribs from where they had struck the helm controls and lunged for her phaser. Even as she did it she knew she wouldn’t make it. But it was what happened next that captured her complete attention and made her freeze before she finished the maneuver.
In one graceful movement Tarinia seemed to gather into herself. Then she leapt smoothly over the aft railing before tucking into a diver’s position. Janeway stood astounded as Tarinia dove through the opening between her legs and came up between Janeway and the Vadwaar. Kathryn wondered if the distance had been shorter if Tarinia would have just jumped over her, but there was little time to wonder about much as she spun around to see what happened next.
Everything happened so quickly that the Vadwaar had just finished rematerializing when Tarinia landed in front of them. The young woman struck out with one foot and easily knocked the phaser rifle away from one of the invaders while she grabbed hold of the other man’s weapon and yanked it out of his hands. Obviously they hadn’t expected any resistance and Tarinia had taken them by surprise.
"A’zal, where’s that feedback pulse?" Janeway shouted; her eyes fixed on what was happening right in front of her.
"Initiating pulse now."
"Tractor beams disengaged," Tuvok reported an instant later. "Phasers have destroyed weapons on two of the three vessels. The Vadwaar are in retreat."
The Vadwaar intruders had no time to react whether it was to transport back off the Nemo or initiate more violence. Tarinia’s face seemed to contort and elongate into the image of a predator as she spun around the invaders. A booted foot connected solidly to the head of one of them men and he dropped to the deck like a stone. Before the other man could counter her attack the changeling flung herself onto his shoulders from behind. Tarinia grasped his head in both hands and wrenched it sharply to one side. With his neck broken he crumbled to the ground.
Janeway was sickened by the sound of breaking bone and with both Vadwaar on the floor, one dead and the other unconscious, she no longer considered them a threat. Apparently Tarinia didn’t agree with her. The young woman quickly snatched a phaser rifle from the floor and shot the other man at point blank range. Even then she turned the rifle upside down and prepared to smash it into the dead man’s skull.
"That’s enough!" Janeway shouted as she tried to grab the rifle out of the young woman’s hands.
Tarinia wasn’t quite willing to surrender and hung onto to the weapon. Her eyes met Janeway’s and Kathryn was struck by the blood lust in the gaze. A lesser person might have relinquished the weapon to the sheer ferocity in those eyes, but the look made Janeway pull even harder. Tarinia reluctantly surrendered the rifle, but her anger did not subside.
"That wasn’t necessary. They weren’t a threat to us anymore and you didn’t need to kill that man."
"That is your opinion. You say you are familiar with this species, but clearly your knowledge is lacking. If I had let him live he would have continued trying to kill you."
Kathryn knew Tarinia was right that the Vadwaar weren’t likely to back down, but she abhorred killing for any reason and she had full confidence in her security team.
Janeway held Tarinia’s gaze and said in a carefully controlled voice, "Commander A’zal, see that our guest is shown to her quarters. Make sure she gets a hot meal and that security is posted outside her door."
A’zal stepped into Janeway’s line of sight and held a phaser pistol leveled at their guest. Janeway wanted to consider that Tarinia had just shown a type of loyalty to her and the crew of the Nemo, but it was realistic to assume she was only meting out a certain amount of revenge to her former tormentors. In any case, she couldn’t take the chance. Tarinia had shown that she was dangerous even without her abilities to shift forms. Once her injuries had mended enough to allow her to regain her body’s natural abilities she could pose even more of a threat.
Quist and Price had finally picked themselves up off the floor and also stood flanking Tarinia with drawn weapons. She seemed to realize that arguing was pointless. Tarinia merely dipped her head politely at Janeway and went with the security personnel.
Janeway turned and met Tuvok’s serious expression across the bridge as soon as the three had left. "I want a full damage report and a senior staff briefing in one hour, Tuvok." Then she turned to the helm, and said, " Tom, can we manage warp?"
"Warp engines are fully operational, Captain."
"Good. Enable the cloaking device and engage engines at warp five. Let’s get the hell out of here before more of the Vadwaar show up."
Janeway unconsciously rubbed her sore ribs and turned back toward her command chair. She almost sat down until she remembered that she was due for a meeting with the propulsion group soon.
"Captain, are you injured?"
Kathryn smiled at her old friend and said, "It’s nothing, Tuvok. I’m just a little sore. I’ll be in my ready room. Please send Doctor Brahms and her team in when they show up for our meeting."
Seated at her desk Janeway’s thoughts swirled all around their newest addition. So much of Tarinia reminded her of Seven’s early years after she had been severed from the Borg Collective. Seven was stubborn and willful too, but she had the excuse that she had been raised by a race of cybernetic beings and knew nothing of social etiquette. The Vadwaar may have tortured Tarinia, but she didn’t have Seven’s excuse. Had she reacted like she did out of concern for a group of people that had saved her from floating in space or was it merely an act of revenge?
The answer to that question troubled her greatly. If she were protecting the crew of Nemo Janeway would be happy to have her on board. Her knowledge of the Vadwaar was extensive and could be an asset in this part of space. But if it were merely an act of revenge then Tarinia was a liability. Her anger would cause her to act irrationally and could jeopardize all their lives.
Her gut reaction told Kathryn that even if Tarinia’s actions were motivated by protection her anger had gotten the better of her. She had proved that by willfully killing the unconscious man on the floor. Until she knew for sure Kathryn would have to keep a tight reign on the young woman.
The sound of the ready room chime interrupted her thoughts and it was time for the meeting with the propulsion team. Kathryn heaved a weary sigh and bade them enter as she walked over to the replicator for a much needed caffeine boost.
Talking excitedly amongst themselves the three propulsion experts entered the room. Kathryn turned and took the opportunity to watch Seven interacting with her peers.
Stunning, Kathryn thought just as Seven turned her head and met her gaze. Kathryn felt suspended, caught in the glue eyes like this time existed only for them. Then B’Elanna cleared her throat and Kathryn turned back to the replicator. She tried to act like nothing was unusual but Kathryn was still embarrassed to have been caught staring at her lover like she wanted to have her on the spot.
"Ladies," Janeway greeted evenly and turned away from the replicator with her coffee. "I thought we could have the meeting in here. It’s a little more comfortable than the war room. Would you like something to drink?"
Everyone declined and when they were finally settled Janeway began the meeting. "Doctor Brahms, how are the repairs coming?"
"Very well, Captain."
Janeway raised an eyebrow at the tone. When the three had entered the ready room she had sensed excitement from their hushed tones, but now she knew something was going on. All of them, well maybe not Seven, looked like they were ready to bust.
"Okay, out with it."
"Well, it was Lieutenant Torres idea, so maybe she should tell you."
Doctor Brahms looked at the chief engineer and B’Elanna suddenly seemed a little uncomfortable with all the attention. "Uh, well, it was actually something Commander A’zal said that got me thinking…"
"B’Elanna," Janeway held up a hand to stop the tirade. "What is it?"
Torres froze for what Kathryn was sure was dramatic effect and then blurted out, "We think we can cut repair times between jumps from two weeks to one."
What? Had she heard correctly? One week? Did that mean they would be home in three months instead of six?"
"Tell me exactly how you think we can do that." Janeway was careful to keep her tone neutral, but her heart was pounding with excitement.
"If we construct all of the outer structures for the slip stream engines with the same material as the ablative hull armor it will significantly reduce the amount of damage the jumps cause."
Kathryn stood up and began to pace as the scientist in her came to the fore. "The ablative armor material will prevent the engines from exploding. Conduits will still burn out and electrical circuits will still overload, but…"
"But," Doctor Brahms picked up, "conduits and burnt electrical components are a whole lot easier to repair than starting from scratch each time."
Seven chose that moment to dampen a little of Kathryn’s excitement. "Of course that will not help us this time since we will need to construct the initial structures and engine components."
"Maybe not," Kathryn held up a hand, "but once everything is in place it’ll make a big difference. Do you anticipate any problems modifying the hull armor to incorporate it into the engines."
"None," Leah said.
"Good work, people."
"I just wish we had it working now," B’Elanna added with a sour look on her face. "Too many attacks like the last one and working on slip stream engines will be the last thing on our minds."
"We’ll just have to travel cloaked for the time being," Janeway said, "and hope the Vadwaar can’t detect us."
The meeting began to wind down and finally broke up. The propulsion team members were aware of the senior staff meeting scheduled to begin soon and assured Janeway that they would be there on time. Then they left but Seven of Nine remained with the captain.
"Was there something else?" Kathryn asked when she realized that Seven had remained seating.
"Yes." Seven stood and walked over to the captain. "Would you like some company for lunch?"
"Lunch, I’d forgotten. But there really isn’t time."
"Kathryn, there are still twenty minutes until the staff meeting. You must eat. Are you still feeling tired?"
"Seven, I don’t need a nursemaid!"
Kathryn felt all of the anger drain out of her suddenly when she saw Seven flinch at her tone.
"I’m sorry," she said and reached a hand out to Seven’s arm. In response Seven stood and put her hands behind her back in the familiar pose she had adopted when she was initially severed from the Borg.
"The fault is mine, Captain. I did not mean to be inappropriate on duty."
"Oh, darling it’s not that," Kathryn said softly.
She slid her arms around Seven’s waist and snuggled against the taller woman’s body. Slowly Seven’s arms came up to hug her back and Kathryn closed her eyes in gratitude that Seven could forgive her so easily.
"Would you mind if we just stayed like this for a few minutes? I’d rather hold you right now than think about food."
"I would be happy to hold you, Kathryn, but after the staff meeting I will insist that you eat something."
Kathryn merely smiled and held on to Seven for as long as she could. Twenty minutes went by much too quickly and then it was time to start the next meeting.
The damage report from the Vadwaar attack wasn’t as extensive as Kathryn feared, but she was worried to hear that the security relays had been damaged again. A’zal assured her that she would repair the systems personally and they moved on to other business. Janeway informed everyone of the good news about future jumps and that now they were back on their original timetable. Nemo would return to Earth exactly when it was supposed to when it had been part of Nautilus-in three months.
Tom Paris suggested that they have a post jump party scheduled after each jump until they completed the long journey back and everyone resoundingly agreed with him.
"I guess you just volunteered to be Neelix until we get home," Harry Kim teased his friend.
"As long as I don’t have to grow the whiskers."
Kathryn laughed along with the rest of her senior staff. She met Seven’s loving gaze across the table and if it weren’t for the stranger that now resided in the cargo bay she would have thought that everything was finally starting to go their way.
Continued in Haunted Galaxy