Galaxy Reunion (Part One)
Sixth in the Galaxies series. If you haven’t read the previous stories things will be very confusing. The setting for this story is one week after the last, after Nemo leaves Ikonin space.
Seven of Nine’s eyes opened suddenly in the darkness of the quarters she shared with Captain Janeway. Confusion swam in the blue depths as she looked around wondering what had disturbed her slumber. Starlight streamed in from the viewport to illuminate the room and she realized they’d been so overcome with passion the night before that they forgot to close the blast shield. Seven decided that had turned out to be convenient since it now allowed her to see every corner of their bedroom. Nothing looked out of place. Their clothing was scattered about where they’d hurriedly stripped in preparation of lovemaking and Kathryn still lay peacefully sleeping on her chest. Soft exhalations tickled the skin of Seven’s left breast but she ignored the sensation as she listened intently for anything out of place. Finally she decided she had imagined the noise and settled back down.
Kathryn took a deep breath and shifted before she raised her head to look at Seven. "Can’t sleep?" she mumbled in a drowsy voice.
"I’m sorry I woke you, Kathryn." She encouraged the other woman to lie back down until her head was resting on Seven’s chest again. She pressed a kiss to Janeway’s forehead before she said, "I thought I heard something."
"Maybe you were dreaming."
Kathryn yawned and Seven smiled at the flash of tenderness she felt. She ran her fingers through thick auburn locks and felt a surge of something else. "Or perhaps I awakened for another purpose."
For a second there was no response and then Kathryn drew her knee up along Seven’s body until it was resting on her hip, silent communication that she was interested. Talented fingers trailed up her side, skimming over sensitive flesh and implants until the small hand rested possessively over her breast.
"What did you have in mind?" Kathryn whispered provocatively in her ear.
Seven shivered and turned her head to claim soft lips in a gentle kiss. Kathryn’s lips were like butter as they parted and Seven rolled over until Kathryn was beneath her. No matter how many times they made love the sweet sensation of their bodies pressing together always took her breath away. Often Seven thought loving Janeway was the single most wonderful reason for regaining her humanity.
She left Kathryn’s mouth and nibbled along the cords of her neck. Janeway arched under her and groaned when she bit down slightly. The feeling of sinking her teeth into soft skin was an erotic one, but she was careful not to break the skin. Seven released the flesh and moved up to Kathryn’s ear, swirling her tongue around the sensitive shell. Kathryn was driven to distraction, clawing the length of the strong back as she clung to her lover.
The sharp sensations caused Seven to inhale sharply as her passion was stoked higher by the other woman’s responses. Softly and tenderly she made love to Kathryn, taking the time to show through actions what was in her heart. When it was over Kathryn clung to her, chest heaving as she gasped for breath before finally quieting and sliding into sleep.
The viewscreen in the newly constructed Astrometrics lab took up one entire wall. It wasn’t as large as the one on Voyager had been but Seven was still quite satisfied. The original design for the Nautilus hadn’t included such a lab because they didn’t think it was needed, but that changed when an accident left the saucer section stranded on its own in the delta quadrant. Yet even though they had the need after the accident Nemo was too small for an Astrometrics lab.
In a way Seven thought crash landing on the small planet dubbed ‘Safe Haven’ had been fortunate. Nemo had landed so hard that many bulkheads had ruptured or collapsed. The quantum fusion matrix that allowed the modified slipstream engines to function had been destroyed and much of the small vessel had to be rebuilt. Slipstream was no longer viable on Nemo, but by moving certain bulkheads around on deck five they now had a fully operational, if extremely compact, Astrometrics lab.
The pneumatic doors opened unexpectedly and the chief engineer, Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres, strode into the room. While aboard Voyager Torres had been a provisional junior lieutenant but once they reached Earth Starfleet had happily embraced the former Maquis. Now she was a full-fledged member of the organization and a Senior Lieutenant. Seven smiled in welcome at her friend and it struck her how incongruous the scene was. There had been a time when the sight of the half-Klingon would have annoyed her, though she never would have allowed the emotion to show on her face.
"B’Elanna," Seven greeted politely, curious why her friend would be away from engineering during the middle of a duty shift.
"Save it. I have a question."
Torres rested her hands against Seven’s console and from the tight fists the former drone was able to discern that the volatile young woman was agitated. "You’ve been involved with the captain for a while now, right?"
"Yes. Is that the question?"
"Huh?" B’Elanna sputtered for a moment before she saw the glint in the blue eyes that meant she was being teased. "Funny. You’re getting good at that. No, that’s not the question and you know it."
Seven relented and turned her attention away from the console and toward the lieutenant. "I’m sorry, B’Elanna. How may I assist you?"
"I have a date with Karri tonight and I need some…advice."
The optical implant over Seven’s left eyebrow rose and she replied, "Concerning romantic affiliations…from me? B’Elanna forgive me, but you have been involved in relationships before and in fact you are still married. Why do you require assistance from me?"
"Let’s not talk about that rodent, Paris. That’ll be over once we get home. As for the rest of it, I’ll admit it’s true. But I’ve never been involved with another woman before and tonight’s sort of special. Karri and I only started officially dating about a week ago, but I want to do something really romantic to show her how I feel."
"Is that any different from how you have been with her during the last week?"
"No, you know you’re really not trying here. It just seems like things are going a little fast and yet not really since we did date for a while on Voyager. Yet on the other hand this is like starting all over again since that was three years ago."
Seven was starting to get confused. "B’Elanna stop. I believe you are causing yourself unnecessary anxiety. My advice is to relax and be honest with her about how you feel. The actual amount of time you have dated is irrelevant."
B’Elanna took a huge breath and let it all out in a rush, blowing the hair up on her forehead. "You’re right. I just have to relax."
"Why are you so agitated? You have been dating Lieutenant Jameson for several days."
"Yeah, but I haven’t said those three little words to her ever! Now I’m at the stage where I’m ready to, but I’m nervous."
"What three little words?" Seven asked with a confused shake of her head.
"You know! I love you?"
"Yeah. Now you know why I’m nervous."
"Actually I do not. I am not anxious about telling Kathryn that I love her."
"It just is, okay? Sheesh!"
Sometimes Seven thought B’Elanna’s reasoning was perverse at best, but she had been through a lot recently so she decided to make allowances for her. Before the engineer’s capture by the Chthonian forces B’Elanna had denied any chance of becoming involved with the undercover Starfleet operative. Then she had been forced to endure a very real hallucination induced by her captors in which she had not only been involved with Lieutenant Jameson, but was also married to her. Once Nemo’s crew had rescued her, with the help of the super-powered Ikonians, Torres had begun to revisit her excuses for denying her feelings and she had agreed to have dinner with Jameson. The two had started seeing each other exclusively and now it seemed B’Elanna was ready to escalate the relationship.
Seven tried a different tactic. "B’Elanna, Karri loves you. You love her. That is all that is important."
B’Elanna stopped pacing and looked up at the other woman, stunned for a moment. "You know, for a former Borg drone you really are pretty wise sometimes."
"If I am it is because of you. I have learned much from our friendship." Seven’s console beeped and interrupted their conversation. She looked down and tapped a few buttons before bringing a star chart up on the large viewscreen.
"What is it?" Torres asked.
"The computer has finished extrapolating a new course for our journey toward the alpha quadrant. According to my estimates this should eliminate four years from our previous course."
"Indeed. I must get this information to Captain…." Her voice trailed off as she frowned and began to look around the room in confusion.
"Seven? Something wrong?"
"Do you hear something?"
B’Elanna listened intently for a second before she shrugged and asked, "Like what?"
"It resembles a low hum." She shook her head and met the other woman’s gaze. "I cannot be more specific than that."
"Well, I don’t hear anything. I better get back to work and you need to get this information to the captain."
The sound began to dissipate and Seven was able to focus on the moment at hand. She would pursue the mystery at a later time. "You are correct."
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat in her command chair on the bridge of Nemo. Her legs were casually crossed and her hands rested easily on the arms of her chair. Beside her Tuvok tapped away on his console performing the mundane chore of scheduling duty shifts. The Vulcan’s talents were suited for more demanding work but Janeway was pleased to have her old friend serve as her first officer. She trusted him implicitly as second in command even if he would rather be behind the tactical controls.
So far the shift had been uneventful and Kathryn was in a good mood, but starting her day by making love with Seven always put her in a pleasant mood. Personnel reports had been completed at the beginning of her shift and the only real item requiring her attention had been an official request from Lieutenant Paris to relocate quarters. He’d been sleeping on the sofa in Lieutenant Kim’s cabin since the break-up with B’Elanna and Kathryn knew Harry would be happy to have a little more privacy.
Since Tarinia stayed on Ikonia with the delta quadrant superheroes they actually had an opening. The changeling hadn’t been on board long but her presence made an impression on all of them and Janeway owed the young woman her life. If not for Tarinia the saboteur, Sakonna, might have succeeded in killing the captain. Still things happened for a reason. The relocation hadn’t been difficult. With Tarinia gone Tom could be moved into her old quarters with a minimum of fuss. She had authorized the move and expected the helmsman to take her up on it at the end of his shift.
Kathryn noticed Tuvok shifting slightly in his chair. He’d seemed pensive all day and she wondered what would have an unflappable Vulcan on edge. It wasn’t time for his pon farr. She knew he’d already gone through that when they returned to Earth three years ago and it wasn’t due again for another four.
Leaning over toward the older man she whispered so that only he could hear. "Is something wrong?"
Tuvok looked at her quickly and raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry. She only smiled and he easily understood why she was asking. "I am unsure. I sense that something is amiss, but I can find no evidence to support that."
"A hunch, Tuvok?"
"Really, Captain. There is no need to be insulting me."
"Sorry, I couldn’t resist." She smiled unrepentantly and asked in a louder voice, "Harry, anything on sensors?"
"Nothing, Captain. I’m reading calm space ahead."
"Perhaps I simply need to meditate." Tuvok said quietly.
"I’m sure that’s it. You haven’t had a lot of time for that what with crash landing on an alien planet and rescuing Lieutenant Torres from the Chthonians. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off? It’s only a few hours to end of alpha shift anyway."
"Thank you, Captain. I believe I will accept your offer."
Tuvok stood and quietly left the bridge leaving Kathryn to contemplate other more pleasant things. Nemo was in good shape thanks to the Ikonians and they had a large store of pristine dilithium crystals in the cargo bay. They no longer had faster than warp capability and they were facing another twenty years to the alpha quadrant, yet in spite of that she was happier than she’d ever been. Kathryn knew she felt that way because she had Seven of Nine to help shoulder the load with her and wondered why she had ever hesitated to let her feelings be known to the other woman.
Her thoughts naturally circled around to the forced landing on Safe Haven and she remembered how badly injured Seven had been. She had almost died breaking open the plasma containment pods manually in an attempt to save Kathryn and the crew. If B’Elanna hadn’t disobeyed orders and used their emergency power to get Seven’s alcove up and running she probably would have. Kathryn still felt a lot of guilt from that, she wished she’d been the one to disregard everything in an effort to save the woman she loved but that was part of the burden of being captain. She could never put any one person above the safety of her ship and crew, even if that person meant more to her than anything else in her life ever had.
Kathryn sighed and kept her expression neutral as her stomach churned from the unpleasant memories. It suddenly occurred to her that Seven had almost died without knowing how much she truly meant to her. Kathryn had told Seven she loved her on many occasions, but she didn’t think the young woman really understood the soul-deep yearning Kathryn had when they were apart. She couldn’t understand how much Janeway longed to have a more formal union.
How can she when you propose to her and then don't bring the subject up again?
For the last two months Kathryn had concealed a diamond engagement ring in the bottom of her underwear drawer. She kept thinking she was waiting for the right moment to ask Seven to marry her, and finally had while they were on Ikonia. Seven had said yes, but since then things had been too busy to even discuss an engagement party. No that wasn't quite true. Kathryn was hesitating and she knew it.
Kathryn knew why she hesitated; it was a vulnerability thing. Starship captains didn’t like to appear vulnerable and Kathryn was no exception. Actually setting a wedding date would open her up to another individual in a way that she never had before. Then again, this wasn't just any individual. It was Seven, and Kathryn loved her more than she every had anyone else.
She thought again of Seven’s recent near-death experience and decided it was time. She just couldn’t let something like that happen again without taking the chance to show Seven how much she was loved. Janeway leaned over to her console and pulled up Seven’s service record. There was the date she’d been assigned to Nautilus as part of the Theoretical Propulsion Group and the more recent entry when Janeway had awarded her the Medal of Valor for saving all of their lives, but at the top was what she was looking for. Seven’s date of birth was stardate 25479. Through a little meticulous calculation Janeway was able to convert the date to Earth standard. June 24th was a little more than two weeks away. It would be the perfect time to hold an engagement party that Seven would never forget.
Now another problem arose. How and where to hold it? Should they have a public birthday party for Seven and should Janeway propose again in front of the entire crew? They were all family in a way and Seven was more comfortable with social gatherings than she had been at first. Maybe she should have a public party for the crew and then just discuss a wedding date with Seven in the privacy of their quarters.
Damn, why did this have to be so hard? She was proposing marriage to a former Borg drone, not reinventing the basic laws of physics!
Finally she had to acknowledge that there was really only one choice. There would be no public party for Seven’s birthday since there was no place on the ship large enough for such a gathering. She would have to hold a small celebration for a few close friends in their quarters and discuss the event itself with Seven after they left.
B’Elanna would want to be there and so would Tuvok. Of course Harry and Tom would also want to come, but how would she keep Tom and B’Elanna from coming to blows? Damn. Oh well, she had two weeks to work out the details. Besides, the two seemed to have come to some sort of understanding while on Ikonia.
The doors to the turbolift opened unexpectedly and Seven stepped off. As usual Janeway noticed how beautiful the younger woman looked in her modified Starfleet uniform. The gray of her turtleneck complimented the silver facial implants and the black trousers hugged the lean form. Kathryn took a moment to enjoy the sight of Seven walking toward her until she met the amused expression in her blue eyes.
"Seven, what brings you to the bridge?" Janeway managed to ask in a professional voice.
"I have a report I wished to deliver personally."
"Ah! Our first official Astrometrics report."
Kathryn ignored the little jolt she felt when their fingers brushed as she accepted the padd. Then she read what was on it and forgot all about how aroused she could become in the span of a heartbeat. She had to read the data twice more before she finally looked up to meet the other woman’s gaze.
"Are you sure?"
"This is great news. Seventeen years instead of twenty-one. I can live with that."
"Really?" Harry asked excitedly from the communications station. "That’s terrific! Of course we could always run into a wormhole or another spatial anomaly that would get us home faster."
"Always the optimist, eh Harry?" The captain smiled and looked around at the other happy faces on the bridge. Only Tom Paris kept his back to her and his gaze firmly fixed on his navigational board. Kathryn thought he was thinking about Miral. His daughter would be a young adult by the time they returned home.
There wasn’t really anything she could say to him so she decided to concentrate on helping her crew feeling energized by the news. "I agree! Look what we did last time. It only took us seven years when it should have taken seventy."
Seven looked at her with a mildly amused expression before she pointed out, "Voyager returned to Earth because your future self altered history, stole a temporal transponder, destroyed the Borg Queen and used the transwarp hub to return to the alpha quadrant."
"That’s all right, Seven," Harry interrupted. "This time it’ll probably be you that comes back from the future to rescue us."
Light-hearted banter broke out among the bridge crew for a few minutes until things finally settled back down. Kathryn handed the padd back to Seven and said, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention."
Seven took the device and spared her another warm look before she turned and left the bridge. Kathryn smiled and watched until the turbolift doors closed. She really was going to have to start showing Seven how much she loved her starting with a romantic dinner as soon as her shift ended. With their advanced replicator technology even Kathryn could come up with something edible.
Alpha shift finally came to a quiet, uneventful conclusion heralded by the parting of the turbolift doors. Lieutenant Morales shared a few whispered comments with Paris before the blonde helmsman cast Janeway a grin and headed for the lift. No doubt he was looking forward to moving into his own cabin. Harry Kim joined him immediately, almost eagerly. Even Commander A’zal raised a silent eyebrow in her direction before relinquishing her controls to Lieutenant Quist. The beta shift conn officer slid quietly into the seat next to Captain Janeway and that easily command and control was transferred to the oncoming shift.
Janeway grinned thinking about how many times her senior staff had to practically be forced off the bridge. But unlike a crisis situation where they didn’t want to miss a moment of the action, boredom was another thing altogether. Endless days of undisturbed quiet could get to the crew faster than anything. Personally, she relished it and if she ever found herself longing for the excitement of a heated space battle she would try to remember Seven of Nine.
Hopefully the thought of almost losing the woman she loved would remind her how nice it was to have only the routine of undisturbed passage day in and day out. Thinking of Seven reminded her of the plans she had to surprise the other woman and if shift change was anything to go by she didn’t have much time. Captain Janeway uncrossed her legs and stood to take a casual look around the bridge. Everything was as it should be and no one even looked up from their stations.
"Lieutenant Jarok, you have the conn. Steady as she goes." They would implement Seven’s streamlined course corrections at beginning of alpha shift in the morning.
"Aye, Captain," the Bajoran said. "Have a good night."
His response was appropriate and respectful but she didn’t miss the warmth of honest affection in his brown eyes. As she stepped into the turbolift and directed it to deck three she realized that letting her hair down a little with the crew on Safe Haven apparently hadn’t hurt her command persona. During such a difficult time the crew had needed to know she was with in it with them, not above them. Now that they were back in space and protocols had been reestablished things were back to Starfleet norm.
No, she thought, not exactly. Some things had changed. Before the crash onto Safe Haven she had a fine crew that would have done anything she commanded as long as her orders were lawful. Now she had an exceptional crew that would follow her into hell itself if they even suspected that’s where she wanted to go. That knowledge made Kathryn feel tall and powerful, proud. It was also extremely humbling to be trusted so much.
The doors to the lift opened silently on deck three and Kathryn automatically stepped off before she realized she wasn’t alone. For the first time since getting back into space onboard Nautilus she wished for the old pneumatic doors that would have hissed loudly and interrupted the scene she’d just stumbled into. Halfway down the corridor two women were engaged in a passionate kiss. At least now there was no doubt that the two were dating.
Kathryn grinned and thought; they’re not in uniform so I guess they can do what they want in their time off. I just wish there was someplace a little more private for them to do it in.
Janeway walked down the hall toward her quarters and her quirky brand of humor kicked in just as she reached the couple. Instead of quietly passing them by she said in her driest tone, "Ladies."
B’Elanna jerked backward out of Karri’s arms like she’d been scalded, her face flaming red. Karri on the other hand was quite calm, her green eyes dancing in amusement. Somehow Janeway got the feeling the engineer-cum-Starfleet Intelligence officer had known she was there all along. Jameson turned to engage the captain in easy conversation.
"Any plans tonight, Captain?"
"Same as every other night," she bantered back. "A quiet night with a good book, a good night’s sleep and more of the same tomorrow."
"I know what you mean." Suddenly there was a bit of a wistful look in the redhead’s eyes. "I wish we had a couple of holodecks on board."
She didn’t finish saying what else she wished, but she didn’t have to. Kathryn already knew what she was thinking. Twenty years together on a ship with no diversions was going to be very difficult.
"Things could be worse. At least we have each other."
Karri’s eyes brightened and she glanced quickly in Torres’ direction. "I get your point."
"Uh," the Klingon said, speaking for the first time since Janeway caught them kissing. "What if I told you I might be able to get the quantum fusion matrix working again?"
Janeway froze, rooted to the spot. She felt like someone had suddenly vented all the oxygen into space. On one hand she realized the engineer had brought the subject up to distract her from the scene she’d just witnessed, but on the other the ramifications were staggering enough that she allowed it. The quantum fusion matrix was a unique piece of technology designed by Seven of Nine. Seven, Torres and the Theoretical Propulsion Group had actually constructed the device and it was crucial in making slipstream work.
"I thought you said that was impossible. Even if we could rebuild the slipstream engines one more jump would rip the ship apart."
"Technically that’s true. Nemo has so many micro-fractures throughout the hull from all the previous jumps that if we tried that again they’d see the explosion all the way back to Earth, even with the repairs we’ve made."
"Then what are you talking about?"
"It’s an idea I just had and it might not even work…"
The expression on the half Klingon’s face told Kathryn her mind was moving in many directions at once. It also told her a little caution was in order. "Lieutenant, you are not to make any modifications without my express permission. Is that clear?"
"As a bell. Don’t worry, Captain. This is too important to rush and if I’m right the refit alone would take months. We’d need a team on the hull almost constantly to repair the micro-fractures before we even tried it."
Kathryn stemmed her excitement with difficulty. B’Elanna had matured a lot in the time they’d known each other. She’d gone from an angry outcast to a devoted Starfleet engineer, but the one thing that never changed was her brilliance. She had a way of just looking at a device, even something completely alien, and knowing how it worked as well as a few ways to make it function better.
"Fine. Draw up a proposal and show it to me once you’ve got all the kinks worked out."
The captain turned away but couldn’t resist casting back over her shoulder, "Oh, and you might want to find somewhere a little more private to make out. Anyone could walk in."
She could tell from Karri’s delighted laughter that B’Elanna was sporting another fiery blush. Kathryn smiled as the doors to her quarters closed behind her. "Computer, what is Seven of Nine’s location?"
"Seven of Nine is in the Astrometrics lab."
Good. She still had a little time. Seven tended to work another hour in the lab after alpha shift ended. She said it was to make sure the crewman relieving her understood any projections she was running and what she wanted accomplished during the next shift. Kathryn just thought she enjoyed having a new lab so much she couldn’t stand to leave.
She stripped off her uniform and tossed it into the recycler before taking a quick shower. She dressed in cream-colored trousers, a white silk blouse and light brown sandals. A couple of dabs of perfume behind her ears and she was finished. While dressing she’d been thinking about what to serve for dinner. With the new design of the replicators even she couldn’t mess things up. Kathryn decided to go Moroccan, sans the spice since Seven didn’t really like it. Soon the table was loaded with a platter of small meat and vegetable filled pastries and another of couscous. Both were covered with stasis lids to keep the food fresh and warm until Seven arrived. A bottle of white wine sat chilling in the center of the table and Kathryn had just taken two of their best wine glasses from the cupboard when Seven walked into their quarters.
The young woman looked over at the preparations Kathryn had made and stopped a few feet away with a confused look on her face.
Kathryn felt her heart flutter in its familiar way when their eyes met and she thought for the thousandth time how wonderful her partner looked in the blue and black of her modified uniform.
Seven’s cortical implant lifted and she asked, "Are we celebrating?"
Kathryn set the glasses on the table before she walked over to wrap her arms around Seven’s neck. She pulled her into a brief kiss before she leaned away to reply. "Yes. We’re celebrating the fact that it was another quiet day and that I love you completely."
For a moment there was silence. Then Seven said, "You are premenstrual."
Kathryn felt instantly irritated. "No I’m not. I don’t menstruate. Remember? Medication while in space prohibits that particular bodily function and you know it."
"Nevertheless, every twenty-eight point six days you are extremely amorous."
Finally in a huff, Kathryn stepped out of Seven’s arms and walked over to the table. She grabbed the neck of the wine bottle, ignoring the water that dripped onto the table, while she struggled with the cork.
"Why is it when you do something like this it’s all sweet and romantic, but when I do it I’m premenstrual?" Kathryn realized she was being a little emotional and it did nothing for her mood to acknowledge that Seven was probably right. With anyone else she probably would have gotten angry, but when she was feeling emotional Seven could prompt quite an opposite reaction, which only irritated her more.
She continued to fight with the cork until a strong hand covered in Borg mesh gently slid over her trembling fingers. Seven took the bottle from her and put it back in the ice bucket before she pulled Kathryn against her. Kathryn slid her arms around Seven’s waist and she allowed herself to be comforted by the only person who could and at the same time was embarrassed that she even needed it. Soft kisses covered her forehead, eyes and cheeks; so many she couldn’t count them until Seven held her close and said; "I’m sorry, Kathryn. You are right and your gesture is very romantic. It wasn’t my intention to belittle your preparations."
There was a time when Seven would have continued to argue until the other woman finally admitted she was right, but that was before she fell in love with Kathryn. Now she would do anything to keep from hurting her and it seemed she still had a long way to go to figure out humor. Her thoughtless remark had been meant to make her partner chuckle, not hurt her feelings.
"Will you forgive me?"
Kathryn leaned away far enough to look into Seven’s azure gaze. She sniffled a little and asked, "Does that mean you like it?"
"I love it and I love you. It means a great deal to me when you create a romantic atmosphere. I should not have casually disregarded all of the efforts you have gone to for my sake."
Seven surprised her by kissing her very thoroughly. For the next few minutes there was only the feel, touch and taste of Seven of Nine in her mouth. When the kiss finally ended Kathryn was a little dizzy.
"In that case apology accepted."
Seven released her and Kathryn sat down to eat. It was a moment before she realized Seven had stopped with her hand on top of the chair back and she was frowning as she looked around their quarters. At first Kathryn thought something was out of place, but she didn’t see anything.
Seven looked back at her and asked, "Do you hear something?"
Kathryn frowned and listened intently. "No. What are you talking about?"
"Never mind. I’m sure it is nothing."
Seven shook her head slightly and sat down. Kathryn was delighted by the way her partner devoured the meal, proclaiming how much she enjoyed it. She made Kathryn tell her where the food originated on Earth and when she demanded to know why Janeway had never served Moroccan food before she earned a hearty laugh.
Kathryn forgot about her bruised feelings as she enjoyed time with her lover and it was only after she was pouring their second glass of wine that she brought up the subject of the engineers.
"I caught Torres and Jameson kissing in the corridor when I came home today."
"They care for one another very much," Seven returned casually, stuffing another pastry into her mouth.
Kathryn smiled and asked, "Did you notice how B’Elanna seems to have this perpetually confused look on her face whenever she’s with Karri?"
Seven nodded and picked up her napkin. "She has loved Lieutenant Jameson for a very long time, but repressed her emotions for several years. I believe that she is feeling overwhelmed now that she is no longer required to hide how she feels."
Kathryn sighed. "I guess I was hoping she and Tom would be able to make things work, if only for Miral’s sake. Still, I have to admit they do make a cute couple."
Instead of responding Seven looked up sharply and frowned again. She looked around briefly and then pinned Janeway’s eyes with an almost desperate look. "You truly do not hear that?"
Seven stood abruptly and her napkin landed on the floor, definitely unusual behavior for the normally fastidious former drone. She began to move around the room touching things: a wall here, a knick-knack there as she tried to figure out where the sound was coming from. Kathryn also stood and followed her, concerned with what was happening.
"Annika, what are you doing?"
She knew Seven hated being called by her human name but Kathryn couldn’t seem to refrain when she was worried, like now. Instead of correcting her Seven continued to look around, frightening Kathryn more.
"I have heard the sound on four separate occasions. It awakened me last night and I heard it twice again throughout my duty shift, but B’Elanna was present during one of those occasions and said she did not hear it."
Seven’s fingertips rested briefly on the glass surface of the coffee table and then she moved on. "The sound was present again when I entered our quarters but disappeared quickly."
"And now you’re hearing it again?"
"Yes. Are you sure you do not?"
When Seven’s troubled eyes met hers Kathryn felt like she was falling down a long, deep well. What was going on here? Was Seven hallucinating like she had when a sabotaged Borg vinculum caused the equivalent of a multiple personality disorder? Or had the doctor missed something when Seven had been recently injured? There had been some serious head trauma after all. The very idea of something seriously wrong with her lover made Kathryn’s mouth go dry.
Kathryn swallowed and asked, "What does it sound like?"
"It is…" Seven closed her eyes. "It can only be described as a low hum, almost a whine."
"Could you be hearing the warp engines? Maybe one of the power converters is slightly out of phase."
"No!" Seven opened her eyes. "It is not the warp engines."
"Seven, there’s nothing here!"
The young woman’s already pale complexion turned ashen. "You are not teasing me? You know the Borg have no sense of humor."
The weak attempt at levity didn’t make Kathryn feel any better. "I think it’s time to see the doctor."
Suddenly Seven relaxed and stood a little straighter. "It is all right, Kathryn. The sound has stopped."
"Uh huh. Maybe it has, but we’re still going to see Doctor Martin."
Kathryn took Seven by the arm and led the young woman toward the exit. She was glad she’d forgone the candles and didn’t have to waste time by blowing them out before leaving.
"Is that an order?"
Long ago the two had established this was a partnership of equals, but Seven understood the difference when Janeway was acting as captain. She could balk if this was a relationship issue, but not if it was something that concerned the safety of the ship and crew and Janeway knew how much Seven hated needing a checkup. Kathryn honestly didn’t know which category this situation fell into or if it fit into both. Right now she only knew she was frightened for her lover.
"Yes," she stated in a firm voice. "It is."
Seven of Nine quietly prepared a hearty breakfast for Kathryn while the other woman was in the shower. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, crisp bacon and copious amounts of black coffee were Janeway’s breakfast of choice, when she ate breakfast, and Seven enjoyed preparing it for her. The shower shut off just as she realized she’d forgotten to turn on some light jazz music and she hastily corrected the error. Since the incident last night she was slightly distracted and hoped Kathryn wouldn’t notice.
The EMH hadn’t been able to find anything wrong with Seven after numerous pointless tests and even after she insisted the sound had stopped Kathryn kept shooting worried looks in her direction. A ship-wide diagnostic had also been initiated and yielded the same results as her medical exams, nothing. Seven felt guilty for scaring her partner and felt she had failed to fulfill part of her responsibilities in their relationship. When they’d returned to their cabin Kathryn had cleaned up the remains of their dinner. Seven thought she’d let Kathryn down. Their arrangement was that whoever made the meal was excused from what Kathryn called ‘clean up detail’. Of course Kathryn didn’t seem to think anything of it, but Seven was new to romantic relationships and wanted everything to be perfect. Since Seven had been unable to fulfill her obligations she hoped to make up for it by preparing Kathryn’s favorite breakfast.
A moment later Janeway walked into the living area wearing only a white terry cloth robe. She was rubbing her wet hair with a towel and looked up to smile at Seven. "Good morning, darling. You got up early."
"I wished to make breakfast for you." Seven didn’t miss the dark circles under her partner’s eyes and felt guilty once again. She knew the lack of sleep was caused by worry.
Kathryn stood on tiptoes and kissed Seven quickly on the lips before she looked over at the table. She draped the towel around her neck and said, "This looks wonderful."
They sat down and Kathryn picked up her coffee cup. She took a healthy swallow of the dark liquid while Seven picked at her oatmeal.
"Do you intend to change course this morning?" Seven asked curiously, referring to the new heading she’d charted for the alpha quadrant the previous day.
"Just as soon as I get to the bridge. I know it sounds silly, but I want to be there when we change headings."
Seven barely heard Kathryn’s response. The humming noise from the previous day was back. In fact it had been resonating throughout her ears since she’d awakened, but had just gone up another octave. Seven gritted her teeth and endured the annoying buzz that threatened to split her skull. She refused to bring it up because Kathryn would insist they return to sickbay so the doctor could perform more worthless tests. It didn’t occur to her that Kathryn was talking far too much and too quickly.
"Tuvok seemed a little unsettled yesterday. I hope he’s better today, he said he was going to meditate for a little while…and what the hell is that noise?"
Seven’s eyes widened with shock and she dropped her spoon. Her head came up sharply and she met Janeway’s questioning gaze. "You hear it?"
"I’d have to be deaf not to hear that. It sounds like a really loud vibration and it’s starting to give me a headache. Is that the noise you’ve been hearing?"
"Yes, only much louder this morning."
Kathryn raised her face toward the ceiling and said, "Janeway to the bridge, all stop."
"All stop. Aye, Captain." The voice was Tuvok’s and she realized he’d reported for duty early. With a possible crisis on their hands she found a measure of relief in that.
Kathryn reached across the table and grasped Seven’s hand tightly. "I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you."
"You thought I was imaging it," Seven said in a slightly hurt tone.
"Yes, I did. And for that I’m very sorry. I should have known better, I should have realized that your Borg senses allow you to hear things no one else can. But right now we need to find out where it’s coming from."
A hail from the bridge interrupted them. "Captain, do you require assistance?"
"Stand by, Tuvok." Janeway closed the channel and stood up. "I guess I need to get dressed so we can get to the bridge and find out what’s going on."
"Kathryn, the noise is coming from inside our quarters." She was surprised Kathryn couldn’t detect the direction of the resonance frequency from how loud it was.
Seven watched Kathryn look around their quarters much as she had the night before. Last night the sound had been so faint that Seven couldn’t track it down, but today it was so loud she felt like her teeth were vibrating. She let go of Kathryn and stood up heading for the living area. For a second she stood and looked around curiously and then her eyes centered directly over the object that had been causing so much consternation in the last few days…the golden bow.
When Kathryn saw where her eyes stopped she walked over until she was only a few feet away from the bow. She frowned and looked over her shoulder at Seven. "You’re kidding. How can this be causing the noise? It doesn’t have any moving parts, other than the string."
"Perhaps the bow has come loose from the bulkhead."
"Maybe." From the sound of her voice Janeway didn’t buy Seven’s reasoning.
Janeway looked at her pointedly. "If it came loose from the bulkhead why did you hear it in the Astrometrics lab? Two decks down?"
Instead of responding Seven stepped up to the bulkhead and unfastened the clips holding the bow. They had been tightly fastened and it was obvious that they had not come loose and caused the annoying vibration. Even held securely in her Borg enhanced grasp the weapon continued to resonate. She looked up and met her partner’s fascinated gaze.
"Maybe it’s time to talk to Lieutenant Kim," Janeway said.
Twenty minutes later the chime to the ready room sounded. Commander Tuvok stood to one side of the captain’s desk while Seven stood on the other. He’d been briefed ahead of time and felt the resonance signal explained his uneasy feeling from the day before. Janeway and Seven exchanged a significant look before the captain turned her attention to the person standing outside the entrance.
The doors parted dutifully and Lieutenant Kim walked into the room. He glanced curiously over toward Seven and Tuvok before coming to a stop in front of the captain’s desk. "You wanted to see me, Captain?"
Janeway hesitated for only a moment. They had already discussed how to handle this and Seven had reluctantly agreed to let the captain lead the way. "Lieutenant Kim, do you recognize this?"
She indicated the Seven’s golden bow that was resting across her desk. At the moment the weapon was silent. Kathryn was happy about that since the resonance frequency emitted by the weapon was distracting.
"Sure," he shrugged. "It’s Seven’s bow from that Egyptian society we encountered when Nemo first got thrown into the delta quadrant."
At least he hadn’t said ‘stranded’ in the delta quadrant. "Yes, it is. What I’d like to know is if you installed something unique in the weapon when you replicated it."
"It’s all right, Harry. I just need to know. The bow has been…vibrating for the last two days at intermittent intervals. We’ve scanned it with a tricorder of course, but we can’t find anything wrong with it and we thought you might know what was happening."
Harry frowned and said, "Captain, I’m sorry but I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not the bow I replicated."
"Excuse me? It’s the same one we received when you beamed down our costumes on that planet. You remember? When we had to imitate their gods?" Surely he needed his memory refreshed if he couldn’t even recall sending down those supplies.
"It may be the one you saw when I sent you the disguises, but it’s not the one I replicated."
"Lieutenant Kim, are you certain?" Tuvok asked calmly.
Kathryn could see from Seven’s expression that the woman was unsettled and she hoped she was doing a better job keeping her poker face in front of Kim.
"Positive. The one I sent down was made of dark brown wood. When Seven came back to the ship with that one I just assumed it was something you found on the planet."
"And that’s why you didn’t mention it," Janeway finished looking at Seven for a possible explanation.
"We were inside a cave at the time and it was very dark. The interior was lit only by Xexus’ campfire."
Kathryn nodded. "Even that light was muted since we were in an antechamber. I guess it’s possible the golden bow was already inside that chamber and we didn’t see the other one."
"There were other supplies in that cave," Seven pointed out.
"Why wouldn’t Xexus and the others say anything if we took something that belonged to them?" the captain wondered. "Never mind. We were imitating their deities, they wouldn’t have presumed to deny us anything."
Seven cocked her eyebrow and said, "Apparently we have committed theft."
"Belay that." Kathryn was secretly amused by her partner’s quip but the situation was serious enough for her not to let it show. If they had taken something from the planet it could have inherent properties they just didn’t understand. Hadn’t they already encountered a species in this quadrant with extraordinary abilities imbued simply by their environment?
"Seven get that weapon down to sickbay. Have the doctor run every viable scan for radiation, bacterial or viral properties that might be dangerous for the crew. After that get it to engineering and have Lieutenant Torres do the same. We need to know if there is a threat here."
"Would you like for us to continue along our present heading?" Commander Tuvok asked.
Obviously since the bow was the cause of the mystery he’d decided continuing along wouldn’t hurt anything. Kathryn wasn’t sure she agreed. With the ship at station keeping the weapon had remained silent. She needed to be sure before they started up again. "Stand by on that, Commander. Let’s wait to see what Seven finds out. Dismissed."
"Understood," he replied and left the ready room followed closely by Seven and Lieutenant Kim.
Seven parted company from the men at the upper command center and took the main exit onto deck two while they went back to their stations. With sickbay located on the same deck it took only a few seconds to walk down the hall.
"Ah, Seven. What brings you here so bright and early? Still hearing that sound?"
The emergency medical hologram seemed entirely too cheerful for such a possibility and she tried not to frown in exasperation. "I was not imagining the vibration."
"Of course not."
Seven sighed quietly and tried again. "This morning Captain Janeway also heard the sound and we traced the source to this weapon."
"Really?" The doctor looked skeptical.
"Indeed. Numerous scans with a tricorder have revealed nothing unusual and Lieutenant Kim was unable to provide further information. He insists this is not the weapon he replicated and sent down to the Egyptian planetoid."
Doctor Martin’s eyebrows went up and he looked at the bow in question. "So what do you want from me? I’m a doctor not an archer."
Now he was just being annoying. "The captain would like you to analyze the bow for possible threats to the crew."
"I see." He picked up a medical tricorder and began to scan the bow. "You do realize that’s unlikely. It’s been on board for several months and any contaminants would have affected the crew before now."
"Well, I’m not reading anything out of the ordinary. No viral or bacterial agents, no radiation of any kind. Nothing."
Seven was relieved even though she hadn’t really expected the physician to find anything. If there were something unusual about the weapon it would be a technological abnormality. "Thank you."
"Is that all?"
He sounded disappointed and Seven thought he was feeling bored. "Yes. I must see Lieutenant Torres and have her analyze the weapon as well."
"I see. If you have time later why don’t you stop by? Maybe we can plan a game of kadis-kot."
"You do not play kadis-kot," she pointed out helpfully.
"You do recall that my program is adaptive, don’t you? Besides," he said dryly, "it’s not like there’s anything else to do."
"Perhaps after my duty shift," Seven relented, feeling sorry for her friend. He didn’t really spend time with other members of the crew and Seven spent most of her free time with Kathryn.
She left sickbay and took the turbolift to engineering. Lieutenant Jameson nodded politely and then told her B’Elanna was in her office.
"So you really did hear something yesterday?" Torres asked after Seven had explained the situation.
"Yes. It is a resonance frequency, however I have yet to determine the source or the purpose for the signal."
"Let’s see what we can find." Torres grabbed a tricorder and held her hand out for the bow.
"You seem excited, B’Elanna."
"Are you kidding? This is great! A little mystery to brighten up the day."
Seven handed her the bow before she said, "I find your attitude baffling. This signal could present a threat to the crew." The vibration had started up again, but was still not as loud as it had been.
"I don’t see how. It’s just a little vibration." Torres didn’t look up as she scanned the weapon intently. Her tricorder was more sensitive than the one the captain had used since the engineer had modified it to her liking and she was intent on her readings.
"It is a resonance frequency and as such may be detectible by other vessels in the area."
"They’d have to be pretty close," mumbled the engineer. "This thing may sound loud, but the frequency it’s emitting won’t go much farther than our outer hull."
"What would be the purpose for such a signal?"
"You tell me, you have the vaunted intellect of the Collective in that head of yours."
Seven quickly and carefully sifted through giga-quads of data stored in her cortical node but she was still mystified. "I am uncertain."
Torres snapped the tricorder closed and looked up at her. "I can’t find anything unusual. It’s solid gold with no moving parts other than the bowstring. Sorry I can’t be more helpful. I’d recommend putting it in a stasis field just to be on the safe side, but if it was a threat I think we’d know by now."
"The doctor said something similar."
"Sorry I can’t be more help."
"Thank you, B’Elanna. I must inform Captain Janeway of your findings."
Seven’s thoughts were swirling around the bow and she forgot to inquire how successful Torres had been in letting Lieutenant Jameson know of her true feelings. She turned and quickly left engineering headed for the bridge.
Captain Janeway sat quietly after Seven updated her on the findings with the bow. There was no logical explanation why the weapon would be emitting a resonance frequency and she was reminded of an incident that had taken place during Voyager’s second year lost in the delta quadrant.
"Eight years ago," she began hesitantly, "Kes was injured while we were visiting an alien race called the Nechani. She wandered into a shrine and was knocked unconscious when she passed through a biogenic field. The Nechani said there was nothing we could do, that Kes was being punished by their ancestral spirits and that she’d die."
"But she did not die."
"No. Neelix found some information, a story about a king whose son was injured in a similar manner. The king petitioned the monks to undergo a ritual that would allow him to enter the shrine to plead for his son’s life. The ancestral spirits were supposedly so impressed that they granted his request and the boy recovered."
Kathryn looked up from the desk where she’d been staring at her clenched hands. "I followed his example and underwent the ritual."
"Kathryn, I do not understand. Why would you do such a thing if you do not believe in such religious fallacies?"
"I was desperate. I had to try whatever I could to save a member of my crew."
"I had a subdermal probe inserted by the doctor because I believed there was a scientific answer. The probe sent back my bio-readings to the ship while I was going through the ritual. All the time I was doing so the guide kept telling me that what I was going through was meaningless. I ignored her certain that I was right and she allowed it. I thought I would go through these…grueling exercises that would cause bio-chemical changes in my body and allow me to pass through the biogenic field. Keep in mind that I really didn’t believe I would actually speak to the spirits."
Seven remained silent while Kathryn continued her story.
"After the ritual I returned to the ship. The doctor seemed to think that he had found a cure in the information sent back by the probe, but it didn’t work. It was then that I realized the guide had been telling me the truth. The ritual was meaningless."
"What did you do?" Seven was still waiting to see how this story would relate to the mystery of the golden bow, but she had learned that Janeway often arrived at a solution to a problem through this familiar means.
"I went back down to the planet. I learned that the only way to save Kes was to take her back through the biogenic field."
"You could have been killed!"
Janeway smiled at her partner’s outrage. "That’s just what Chakotay said. But something that I learned in that ritual is that sometimes there simply isn’t a scientific reason for the things that happen. Sometimes it’s a matter of faith. I took Kes into my arms and walked up onto the shrine. I remember closing my eyes and thinking about what was going to happen when I walked into that energy field. I had to let go of my fear, in fact I had to try not to think about anything at all. I walked through the field…I felt an electric charge go through my skin…then I opened my eyes and was surprised to find that I was still alive."
Kathryn smiled and said, "And then I looked down and Kes opened her eyes."
"Surely the doctor was able to explain what occurred. You cannot possibly be saying you believed there was a mystical reason for Kes awakening?"
"You’re right. Doctor Martin’s explanation was perfectly…scientific."
"Yet you did not believe him."
"You had to be there, Seven." Kathryn’s eyes were dark and troubled. "I’ve always considered myself a scientist, not one to believe anything that I couldn’t see or prove through some experiment or other. Yet, there was…something!"
"And you believe the properties of the bow to have a mystical origin?"
Seven fought hard to keep the skepticism out of her voice, but it was easy to see from Janeway’s expression that she hadn’t been entirely successful. Kathryn smiled and held up a hand.
"All I’m saying is that neither the doctor nor B’Elanna found anything that would explain the resonance signal. I’m saying there probably is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but let’s just keep our minds open to new possibilities."
Seven took a deep breath and it was clear she wasn’t convinced, but she only replied, "Very well."
"Thank you for indulging me." Kathryn stood and said, "At least we know there isn’t any reason to just keep hanging around here in space. Care to join me?"
Kathryn was delighted when Seven grasped her outstretched hand as they walked toward the ready room exit. She squeezed the appendage gently and let go just as they broke the plane that would open the doors.
"Mister Paris, let’s get moving. Warp six." She sat down in her chair with Seven standing beside her.
As soon as Nemo streaked into warp the bow came to life in Seven’s hands. The sound was even louder than before, but other than a curious glance Janeway seemed to have decided that it unimportant. She turned back toward the viewscreen and said, "I think it’s time to implement those new course adjustments, Tom."
"Yes, ma’am." The information had been entered into the helm the previous day and it only took seconds for the helmsman to tap in the new coordinates. Nemo seemed to list slightly to port before they shot off on a minor course correction that would make a cumulative impact in the long run.
Immediately the resonance signal seemed slightly less intense than it had before and Seven regarded the instrument wondering why the frequency would suddenly lessen. It had been building in intensity over the last few days and there was only one explanation she could think of that would cause it to suddenly lessen.
"Captain, I believe I understand the purpose for the resonance signal."
"Yes?" Her voice wasn’t unduly troubled and Seven wondered if that would change once she heard what Seven thought was happening with the bow.
"I believe it is a homing signal."
"How did you arrive at that conclusion?" Janeway asked curiously.
"Logical extrapolation. As we moved closer to this location the signal grew stronger. Now that we have changed course the signal has lessened. Since the frequency is too low to be detected by vessels in the area it is logical to assume that we are meant to follow the signal."
Now that Kathryn was paying attention to the bow she realized Seven was right about the intensity. Even she could tell the volume had reduced slightly.
"Tom, put us back on our original heading." It wasn’t really necessary that they figure out the mystery, but Janeway was curious.
"Aye, Captain." He didn’t sound very sure, but did as ordered.
Tuvok however, wasn’t hesitant about making his concerns known. "Captain, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that we know nothing about this signal or its origin. It could be leading us toward danger."
"We’ll be careful, Commander, but we are explorers after all."
"Very well. Commander A’zal, increase power to the shields."
"Shields at one hundred five percent," the security chief promptly responded.
Nemo changed course and Janeway immediately noticed the increase in the signal strength. She had to admit to a certain amount of curiosity, but resolved not to take any chances. "Looks like you were right." She glanced over her shoulder toward Lieutenant Kim.
"Anything on long range sensors, Harry?"
The dark-haired man worked his board with quick, efficient movements. "Nothing so far…wait! Sensors are showing a small vessel just out of range. I can’t get any clear readings yet."
"Yellow alert," Tuvok said firmly and the color of the running lights around Nemo’s bridge altered in response.
"Let us know something as soon as you can, Lieutenant. We don’t want to run into any traps."
For several long, tense moments there was only silence on the bridge as they streaked toward the unknown. Kathryn wondered what they would find. Would it be yet another hostile delta quadrant species intent on blowing them into space debris or would they encounter someone in distress? Either scenario would be familiar after all the previous years spent in this quadrant. Finally the communications officer spoke and began to enlighten them on what lay ahead.
"I’m only reading one vessel, Captain. It’s small, just a little bigger than a type two shuttle."
"One forward phaser assembly only." Kim looked up and met her gaze. "It looks like it’s taken some heavy damage and I’m only picking up one life-sign, but the information is still a little garbled from this distance."
Commander A’zal finally spoke from the aft tactical station. "The vessel is charging weapons."
"Hail them," Janeway ordered.
A second later Kim answered, "No response."
"How much damage have they suffered, Lieutenant? Could their com system be out?"
"It looks like some minor systems are out, Captain, but they can answer if they choose."
"Open a channel."
Janeway stood and pulled her command tunic down as she waited for Kim to carry out her orders. When he nodded that the channel was open she began to speak. "This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation vessel Nemo. We mean you no harm."
The viewscreen activated as the unknown alien finally responded. At first the signal was heavily distorted. All Kathryn could make out was a lot of orange and what looked like dark spots through the static. Then the image solidified and she gasped in astonished recognition.
Seven of Nine and Commander Tuvok were waiting as Neelix materialized on the transporter pad. Although he’d lost weight since she’d last seen him and stress tightened the lines on his face Seven could still see the glint of humor in his gold eyes.
"Seven! Mister Vulcan!" he beamed enthusiastically as he bounded down the short flight of steps. "So good to see you!"
Neelix grabbed Seven in a brief bear hug that threatened to force all of the oxygen out of her lungs. She was released just as quickly and watched with some amusement as Tuvok was given the same greeting.
"I can hardly believe my eyes. Whatever are you doing out here so far from the alpha quadrant? Surely there’s not another Caretaker?"
"To my knowledge, no," Tuvok responded. "Suffice it to say the explanation is lengthy. Perhaps it would be better to allow Captain Janeway to relate it."
"Of course, of course. Lead the way!"
The trio walked out of the transporter room toward the turbolift. Seven hadn’t spoken because everything had happened so quickly, but she was still rather excited. When she’d seen Neelix on the viewscreen her heart had leapt in joy. They had become close during the years on Voyager and even after he’d been left behind in the delta quadrant she had maintained contact with him for as long as possible. Often the two had played kadis-kot over the Astrometrics viewscreen. Seeing him so unexpectedly now was a bit of a shock and she was left unsure what to say. Fortunately Neelix came to her aid in his typical straightforward manner.
"I must say, Seven, you look very striking in that uniform. Are you in Starfleet now?"
"No. I am what Captain Janeway calls a civilian contractor. Once Voyager arrived in the alpha quadrant I accepted a posting with the Theoretical Propulsion Group."
"I see." Neelix looked back and forth between his former crewmates as the turbolift ascended and said, "So, Captain Janeway is here and so are the two of you. Anyone else I know from the old crew?"
Tuvok answered as the doors opened onto the bridge. "Lieutenants Torres and Paris, Lieutenant Kim, the doctor and several other crewmen are also present."
"Hey Neelix!" Harry greeted as they stepped out of the turbolift. Suddenly people he knew and had grown very close to surrounded the Talaxian. As Tom and Harry welcomed him on board his eyes began to glint suspiciously and Seven was concerned that he was going to cry. Instead he sniffled a little and assured each of them how wonderful it was to be there.
Seven took advantage of a small lull in conversation to say, "Perhaps we should speak to the captain now."
Neelix smiled and said, "I’ll see all of you later and we’ll catch up."
Tuvok rang the chime to the ready room and they were quickly invited to enter. Seven was surprised to see Kathryn walking toward them with a look of sheer happiness on her face. The captain returned Neelix’s hug then grasped his upper arms and took a half step back.
"How are you Neelix?" Seven could have sworn her voice was huskier than usual.
"A lot better than I was an hour ago," he answered honestly.
"Sounds like a long story. Why don’t you tell me about it," Janeway said sympathetically, linking her arm through his. She encouraged him to follow her over to the sitting area so they could talk. A brief glance was all that was necessary to dismiss her officers.
Seven was stopped at the door when she heard Neelix respond. "Uh, Captain, do you think it would be all right if Seven stays?"
Seven settled quietly into the corner of the sofa, gratified that Neelix wanted her to hear what he had to say.
He fixed his gaze on the deck for a few moments to gather his thoughts. He was quiet for so long that Seven wondered if he was going to speak at all. Janeway seemed to understand that whatever it was he needed something else to focus on.
"Would you like something to drink?"
Neelix blinked and looked up at her. "What an excellent suggestion. It’s been so long I’d forgotten about your replicator technology. A glass of wine would be just the thing, but I suppose it’s too early in the day for that."
Kathryn patted his clasped hands and smiled. "Something tells me you could use it."
She retrieved a glass of dark red wine for the gregarious Talaxian, a cup of tea for Seven and a mug of coffee before she settled back down. Both women waited for him to sip his wine and Seven’s eyebrows rose in surprise when the beverage actually seemed to help him relax.
"Do you remember Daxa and Brax?"
"The family you stayed with in the delta quadrant? Of course."
"As you know, the miners left the Talaxian colony alone on the asteroid and we all began to make a life for ourselves there. Things were simple, but so wonderful." He paused to smile a little at the memories. "It was so good just to be around other Talaxians again."
"Neelix," Janeway asked hesitantly, "has something happened to them?"
"I don’t know. Three weeks ago I went on a trade mission to one of the neighboring systems, just a short trip, only a few days. When I got back the asteroid with my wife and son and the rest of the colony was gone."
"Your wife? You married Daxa?" Seven asked curiously.
What could only be described as a sappy look settled onto his spotted features and Neelix said, "Happiest three years of my life. But now they’re gone, all of them. I found debris floating in space when I returned and it looked like the asteroid had collided with something. I can’t imagine what, maybe a rogue comet. But I know they’re alive!" He looked up at Janeway as though challenging her to disagree.
"I’m sure you’re right, but tell us what you found."
"There were no bio-readings of any kind among the debris, but there was something else. Most of the readings consisted of asteroid debris, but very little technology. They must have had enough warning to launch the ships and escape, but my sensors can’t find an ion trail to follow. I’ve been looking for weeks…" His voice cracked and he took a moment to get his emotions back under control. "Maybe this ship can help me."
"Of course we’ll help you, Neelix," Captain Janeway assured him. "Give us the coordinates of the asteroid and we’ll begin a standard search pattern. I’m sure we’ll find them safe and sound."
Just hearing her say the words seemed to be enough and once again Seven was astonished at the confidence her partner could instill in someone so easily.
"I’m grateful. But what are you doing in the delta quadrant?" he asked, obviously trying to focus on other things. "I thought you got Voyager home and what ship is this? I didn’t recognize it or I never would have powered my weapons systems."
"We did. A few months ago we headed into space on a new vessel called the Nautilus. It had some experimental engines we were trying out, but an accident caused us to be separated from the main body of the ship. Nemo is actually just the saucer section from the Nautilus."
"Astonishing! Is the other part, the Nautilus, around here somewhere?"
"Unfortunately, no. An explosion separated us and they were lucky enough to return to Earth a few weeks later. We were thrown through a sub-space corridor deeper into the delta quadrant."
"I guess that’s lucky for me," he said philosophically. "Otherwise you wouldn’t be here to help me."
"I guess all things do happen for a reason," Janeway smiled.
"There’s only one thing that concerns me. If Nemo is actually part of a larger whole do you think the sensors will be able to track the Talaxians?"
"I don’t see why not. Seven just finished seeing to the installation of a new Astrometrics lab that’s every bit as sensitive as the one on Voyager. She and Lieutenant Torres designed the Nautilus and she even came up with the new engine design it was using. I have every confidence in this ship and its capabilities."
The pride in Janeway’s voice and the look in her eyes when she glanced at Seven was clear. Neelix smiled and said, "Well that explains some things."
"I was wondering if you two would ever admit your feelings for one another."
Janeway could only gape at him and it was Seven who asked in a slightly outraged tone, "You knew?"
"Love is hard to hide. I’m glad you’re not trying to do so any more. Now, finish telling me how you came to be in this region just in the nick of time."
Captain Janeway started at the beginning and explained all the accidents that had occurred aboard Nautilus as soon as they left the alpha quadrant. She told him about the saboteur, Lieutenant Sakonna, who turned out to be a Romulan spy and how she had escaped with a class two shuttle. She finished with the description of the woman’s flight from Nemo and how they’d almost managed to catch her.
"That is how we discovered Lieutenant Jameson was an undercover Starfleet Intelligence Operative," Seven added helpfully.
"Jameson, Jameson," Neelix muttered trying to put the face to the name. "Not little Karri Jameson! You can’t be serious! She’s so…"
"Timid?" Kathryn supplied with a grin. "That’s just what I thought. At any rate, that’s enough for now. You look like you’re about out on your feet. Why don’t you let Seven show you to some quarters and try to get some rest? We’ll tow your ship into the shuttle bay and get underway to those coordinates."
"Thank you, Captain. I am rather tired."
"Captain, where should I take him? The quarters aboard Nemo are rather full."
"I’ll contact Lieutenant Scott and Lieutenant Torres. Both of them are without roommates. He can have Lieutenant Scott’s quarters."
"In the meantime why don’t you take him to our quarters and get him something to eat? Then we’ll see if we can’t help you find your family."
Seven smiled at how casually Kathryn spoke of their shared quarters and that she did so in front of Neelix without hesitation. Neelix’s eyes merely widened at the news and his smile increased in proportion but neither woman responded. Secretly Seven was already dreading the fact that Neelix knew about their relationship, which was odd since she was so proud of that fact in other circumstances. She decided she felt uncomfortable because the gregarious Talaxian would be sure to continually bring it up in the most outrageous of circumstances.
"Oh, Captain, there is one more thing." He’d stopped by the ready room door and turned back with an uncharacteristically serious look on his fuzzy features. "When we do find them I would like for us to stay with you aboard this ship, all the way back to Earth."
"Anything on sensors, Harry?"
"I’m picking up faint particle emissions but nothing else. No space debris and the particle trail is too faint to follow."
They had arrived at the coordinates for the asteroid and were looking for any sign that might tell them where the other Talaxians had gone.
"Scan the region. Look for any M-class planets, moons or asteroids that are off the beaten path. From what Neelix says the Talaxians would want to avoid contact with other species." Let me know when you have something." The captain stood and addressed her first officer. "I’ll be in the ready room."
Tuvok appeared more relaxed now that Janeway had briefed him on the unique properties of Seven’s bow. Apparently he had been sensing the former Borg’s unease as well as the strange resonance signal. Now that he’d been provided with an explanation the familiar cool Vulcan veneer was firmly back in place.
As soon as she entered the ready room Janeway headed for the replicator. It had been a long morning since the reunion with Neelix and she was seriously behind on caffeine consumption. After retrieving a pot of coffee and her lucky cup she settled in at the sofa. She had just poured the first cup, but had yet to take a sip before she was interrupted with a hail from Commander Tuvok.
"Captain, we have detected an M-class moon six light years away at bearing one twenty-one mark four. It is the only planetoid in sensor range that is located in an isolated system."
"Understood, Commander. Set a course and advise me when we’re in hailing range."
After terminating the com channel she sipped at her coffee and thought about reuniting Neelix with his family. The man had been through so much it would be nice to see things go his way for once. She only hoped she could make that fantasy a reality for her friend. Her door chime rang and she automatically invited the visitor in.
A grin covered her face and her eyes sparkled happily when Seven strode into her inner sanctum.
"The frequency of the bow has changed again," Seven began immediately. "It has been put behind a level two containment field because the intensity will now shatter glass. I find it intriguing that the signal intensifies as we follow the Talaxian convoy."
"Well, hello to you too. Having a nice day?" Janeway teased gently.
Seven had the grace to look embarrassed. "I am sorry, Kathryn. I am distracted."
"I know and I don’t blame you. For what it’s worth, you’re right. It is more than a little convenient."
"I think it’s interesting, but don’t get me wrong. "What if it’s more coincidental than anything? Think about it. The intensity of the resonance from the bow grows as we get closer to the Talaxians? It doesn’t make sense. We picked up that bow in a primitive Egyptian world thousands of light years from here and it reacts to the presence of a species not even indigenous to this region?"
"You are correct. It is unlikely, but what other explanation can there be?"
I don’t know but there’s more going on here than a simple hello. Run Astrometric scans for the areas along our projected course. I’m going to speak to Tuvok and A’zal about tightening security and scheduling battle drills."
"Aye, Captain." Seven headed for the exit but took a moment to cast a fond look toward her partner over her shoulder before she left.
Kathryn watched her partner leave, but this time she wasn’t really paying attention. Seven had given her a lot to think about and she couldn’t help but wonder where the bow was leading them…and why.
Tuvok hailed her again and asked to speak with her regarding some sensor readings they had begun to pick up and Janeway sighed as she looked at the dark liquid in her cup. It looked like her coffee break was over.
"On my way, Tuvok."
The captain put the coffee into the recycler and walked out to the bridge. "What have you got?"
"We have detected three ion trails that match the Talaxian signature. They are on a direct heading for the planet. From the amount of decay the trails are more than two weeks old."
"That fits our time line, but I’m surprised we picked them up. They should have faded by now."
"Indeed. I would surmise the engines are not in proper working order. It would have taken them several days to make the short journey to the…"
"Yellow alert," the computer intoned as the lights on the bridge suddenly darkened to a sickly shade. "A fire has been detected on deck one, section twelve."
"Tuvok, you’re with me," the captain said quickly. "Have fire suppression teams meet us down there. Harry, make sure the automated systems are working."
Captain Janeway strode with purpose down Nemo’s corridor on deck one. Commander Tuvok, a small security detachment and a maintenance crew followed her. The lights in the corridor glowed yellow from the cautionary state the ship was currently in. At the moment the captain didn’t know the exact reason for the emergency, only that the ship’s computer had suddenly informed them of a fire in Stellar Cartography. Since that section had been shut down when the Astrometrics lab went on line and no one was assigned there she couldn’t figure out why a fire would break out.
Fire suppression systems that would have automatically activated had been by-passed and there was no way to remotely extinguish the blaze. Janeway and the others were standing outside Stellar Cartography within forty-five seconds of being notified of the emergency.
"Computer, open the doors to cabin…"
The doors opened as soon as Janeway crossed the threshold of the sensors and she was suddenly face-to-face with a scene that caused a fair amount of déjà vu. Steam curled lazily toward the ceiling and obscured one area on the port side of what had once been a lab. Counters now lined the area and the only flame she could see was under a large cooking pot.
"Captain! So good to see you, but I’m afraid lunch isn’t quite ready. Today we have a lovely chadra cabe, Tarisian truffles and I even replicated some lovely cucumbers. I remember how much you like cucumber sandwiches."
Janeway turned and met Tuvok’s slightly amused expression, although it was so subtle only she would have noticed. "I’ll handle this."
The Vulcan inclined his head and the others followed him away. Captain Janeway took a deep breath and stepped into the room, messhall? He’d been on board all of two days while they tracked a faint engine emission and already he was up to his old tricks. Hadn’t he learned anything about proper protocols while he’d been aboard Voyager?
Trying to ignore the mouth-watering aromas, at least there wasn’t any leola root, she asked in her best diplomatic tone, "Neelix, what is all this?"
"Why, it’s the new galley. Now, let me explain." Neelix put aside his spatula and walked over with a smile. "I checked and this area is no longer in use. Tom said the crew doesn’t have anywhere to socialize and there aren’t even any holodecks."
His reasoning sounded perfectly logical, but he’d forgotten one thing. "Who did you clear this through?"
"No one." He looked momentarily confused and said, "I just figured that all of this space was going to waste. The heating and cooling conduits were already in place and all I had to do was replicate the cooking and refrigeration units. I admit it was a little small at first but by moving some of the bulkheads and using the biometrics lab it should be large enough."
A slow, steady throb began behind her eyes and Kathryn rubbed absently at her temples.
"Oh dear! You’re not going to ask me to take all this down are you? I’ve already told the crew lunch would be served promptly at twelve hundred hours." The jaunty, white chef’s hat bounced on his head as he spoke.
Definitely just like old times. Captain Janeway opened her mouth to tell him all of this had to go and surprised herself by saying, "Try to keep the fires to a minimum, hmm?"
She really had meant to put an end to the messhall. With the replicator technology it wasn’t necessary to have a full time cook, but there was more to keeping a crew happy than providing sustenance. Wasn’t it just two days ago she’d wanted a place for the crew to get together? That thought led her to Jameson and Torres making out in the corridor and she quickly shoved it away. A social gathering place was a far cry from somewhere for her crew to make out. That still didn’t negate the fact that a messhall would be good for crew morale. Then there was the added incentive that she now had a place to throw Seven’s birthday party.
"Since I’m here I might as well let you know. Long range sensors have picked up three ion trails that have been identified as having a Talaxian signature."
"That’s wonderful." Neelix had picked up his spatula and now he put it down again. Janeway could see the hope in his golden eyes and hurried to make it clear that they didn’t really know anything yet.
"The ion trails are very faint at this point. All I can tell you is that it looks like the trails lead directly to an M-class planetoid. We’re still too far away to determine how many life signs there are."
"I understand," he answered carefully. "If the asteroid did explode there’s no telling how many of them escaped the collision."
Kathryn reached across the counter to rest a hand on his arm. "I won’t lie to you, Neelix. We just don’t know anything yet. It’ll be another sixteen hours before we’ll be close enough to get any clear readings."
"Then I guess we wait until tomorrow."
"I’ll let you know as soon as we’re in range." It wrenched her heart not to be able to give him any answers, but Kathryn knew they would do whatever was in their power to reunite Neelix with his family.
The logical course of action would have been to set off along the new course Seven had charted to get Nemo home, not go chasing off on a rescue mission that would take weeks. But not even the logical Vulcans had suggested that’s what they should do. She realized that a great deal of the time the Starfleet crew acted on matters of the heart rather than what was the logical course of action. Kathryn decided that was just fine by her. She’d rather do the right thing, the ethical thing, instead of just follow protocol any day.
"We’re approaching the coordinates, Captain."
"On screen, Mister Kim."
The image of a small blue and green planet popped up on screen. Wispy white clouds could be seen in the atmosphere and the visual familiarity of the orb caused Seven to gasp quietly. But as much as the planet reminded her of Earth it wasn’t and after a few seconds the differences became clear. Though easily capable of supporting life the planetoid was much smaller and the continents were in the wrong place. Still the view from Nemo was unsettling enough to cause a small pang that Seven resolutely pushed away.
She found it odd that she should experience nostalgia for a place she hadn’t seen until three years ago. Perhaps because she had begun to make a life for herself on Earth that included a challenging career she loved and true friendships. One glance at the back of Kathryn’s auburn head caused a small smile to curl her lips. Ah! That was it. She and Kathryn shared a personal relationship now and Seven harbored the desire to escalate it once they returned to Earth. It seemed she now had the ability to fantasize, at least as far as Janeway was concerned, and those fantasies included returning to the planet of Kathryn’s birth. But would Kathryn still want to marry her?
Seven’s smile disappeared as she considered the question. Kathryn had never spoken of wanting anything more. Many times she had expressed her love and desire and on numerous occasions stated she should not have waited so long to initiate a romantic encounter. In the past four months Kathryn had created romantic dinners for them on twelve separate occasions and even served ‘breakfast in bed’ once. When Seven relayed that information to B’Elanna the Klingon had become envious and assured her such a thing was very special and done only for someone that was cherished. Hearing those words had made Seven very happy but she realized two things. First, loving someone and wanting to marry them were not the same. The second was that Kathryn Janeway was a very decisive person. She had asked Seven to marry her, but since then had not broached the subject. It was very possible that she had changed her mind and didn't know how to let Seven know.
Feeling suddenly miserable Seven blinked and focused on the aft science console. The sight of the small planet was no longer appealing and she almost didn’t hear Commander A’zal’s hastily spoken comment.
"I am reading a power build-up on the planet. It could be a weapons signature."
"Shields!" Captain Janeway said just as a yellow energy beam shot toward them from the surface. At the same time Doctor Martin hailed her from sickbay.
"Captain, the bow’s resonance frequency has just doubled in intensity and is dispersing the containment field!"
Nemo rocked as the energy beam struck and Seven held onto her console to keep from being thrown to the deck.
"That’s fascinating, Doctor, but we’re a little busy up here! Lieutenant Kim, open a channel!"
"Channel open," he replied hastily.
"This is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation vessel Nemo. We are not your enemy. Break off your attack."
The weapons fire ceased immediately and they were left staring at the planet as before. Seven saw the captain’s frown of confusion as she turned to speak to Tuvok.
"None. The energy pulse was unable to penetrate our shields."
A light on Seven’s console blinked and she reported, "A video link is being sent from the surface but the signal is weak. I will attempt to enhance the transmission."
The image on the viewscreen wavered and was replaced by static. Slowly the signal was cleared up until a familiar Talaxian met them.
"Captain Janeway? Is that really you?"
"Council Regent Oxilon, it’s good to see you in one piece. We heard the asteroid had been destroyed."
Seven wondered why the captain was being evasive. Perhaps she feared these Talaxians were not who they appeared to be and were perpetrating subterfuge. It wouldn’t be the first time they encountered telepathic species with the ability to create the environment the crew expected to find.
"Yes, sixteen days ago Commander Nocona and the miners returned. They said we had violated our agreement to surrender the ore to them in exchange for staying on the asteroid. When we tried to explain that there wasn’t any more ore they accused us of lying and started firing thermolytic charges. We had no choice but to leave before we were all killed.
From her position at the auxiliary console Seven had observed Commander Tuvok send a private transmission over the communications system. It came as no surprise when the turbolift doors parted a few moments later and Neelix stepped onto the bridge.
Oxilon glanced up at the newcomer and genuine relief filled his eyes. "Neelix! There you are! It’s been so long we’d almost given up hope that you found the communications beacon."
"I didn’t find any beacon. I’ve been searching for weeks." Neelix’s words were sharp and angry. "If Captain Janeway hadn’t helped find you with their sensors I never would have known where you were."
Oxilon turned back to the captain and Seven could see he was suddenly suspicious. "Oh, yes. Captain Janeway. When last we met you were on your way to the …alpha quadrant, wasn’t it? What brings you back here just in time to reunite Neelix with his family?"
Kathryn held up a hand and said in her best diplomatic tone, "I assure you, Regent, there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. If you’d be willing to transport aboard I’d be happy to fill you in."
Oxilon’s eyes narrowed slightly. "No, but if you’d agree to come here I’d be happy to discuss the matter. No offense, Captain, but we’ve learned to be careful."
"None taken. I’d do the same in your place."
"Then we’re agreed. One hour. Bring no more than two officers. And Neelix, of course. I’ll send the coordinates."
The screen went blank and Janeway looked again at Tuvok. "What was that about?"
The Vulcan first officer raised an eyebrow and responded quietly. "His attitude upon seeing Neelix was most unusual."
"Oxilon always was a suspicious old fool," Neelix asserted. "But why didn’t he mention Daxa and Brax?"
"I’m sure they’re fine, Neelix," Janeway reassured him. "We’ll have the answers soon."
Seven cleared her throat to get the captain’s attention. When blue-gray eyes met her own she said simply, "The bow?"
"Right! Forgot about that. Janeway to sickbay. Status?"
Doctor Martin responded sarcastically. "So nice of you to get back to me. Fortunately the resonance signal has subsided or half the transparent aluminum windows in sickbay would have distorted. In fact, if I didn’t know better I’d have to say it’s gone dormant."
Janeway and Seven shared an intense look as the captain answered. "It looks like we’ve reached our destination."
Captain Janeway, Commander A’zal, a security guard and Neelix rematerialized at the designated coordinates. Regent Oxilon and a slightly overweight Talaxian male she assumed to be an aide of some kind met them. Neelix’s family was noticeably absent and the captain began to worry for them. From the sensor readings there were only four hundred twelve Talaxians remaining from a settlement of five hundred. After everything he’d been through in his life Janeway didn’t know if Neelix could handle another loss of this magnitude.
"Captain Janeway, it really is you." The look of relief on the man’s spotted face was unmistakable though he remained a little wary.
"Regent, a pleasure to see you again. I can’t wait to trade stories but first I wonder if I might ask a favor. Neelix’s family?"
Oxilon’s eyes flickered to the man in question and narrowed once again. Obviously there was some animosity between the two and Janeway remembered how threatened the politician had been when they came on the scene three years ago. She already knew he didn’t like to have his authority questioned and she wondered if Neelix had been doing exactly that. She didn’t really think that was likely unless Neelix thought Oxilon was doing a poor job of leading their community. That might have something to do with Neelix’s request to accompany Nemo when they left orbit.
"They should be here any minute."
Everyone watched the trio as the reunited with a happy embrace. Kathryn recognized the young woman they had met before, but Brax had changed significantly since then. He was almost as tall as Neelix and had the slightly awkward look of a boy struggling to become a young man.
With a smile on her face, and breathing an unconscious sigh of relief, the captain turned to Oxilon. "Thank you."
He dipped his head slight. "Why don’t we go somewhere a little more comfortable so we can talk?"
As they walked Janeway took a look around the settlement. Tents and cooking fires abounded along with the remnants of technology. People looked up and smiled in a friendly manner, but quickly returned to more important matters. The place reminded the captain of Safe Haven. Even the climate was comparable.
"It looks like you’ve found a nice planet to settle down."
"The surprising thing is it’s so close to the asteroid we settled on years ago. We gave up and stayed there but if we’d only traveled another week we would have found this world. I guess the miners coming back was a blessing in disguise."
They came to a large tent and went inside. Oxilon indicated they should sit on some large cushions to have their conversation. Although sitting on the floor wasn’t something she enjoyed Captain Janeway selected a large cushion and was surprised to find it was very comfortable.
"Adin, would you be so good as to see to some refreshments for our guests?" the Regent asked, addressing the aide by name for the first time.
"That’s really not necessary," Kathryn said.
The aide stopped to look at Oxilon for guidance. He waived his hand at Adin to continue. "I insist. We don’t have much but you’re more than welcome to share what we do have. Forgive me for my earlier suspicions but the delta quadrant can be a dangerous place."
"I understand completely," Janeway assured him thinking of Malon and Hirogen and every other bad guy they had run into. "How long have you been here, two weeks?"
Adin returned carrying a tray with several cups and a metal pitcher. Oxilon assisted in passing around what turned out to be a rather stout tea. Janeway tried not to grimace at the bitterness while the Regent answered.
"Yes, right at two weeks. Of course it took a few days to get here. We have only three ships and they are all somewhat battered. I’m afraid warp three was the best we could do."
"Surely you will be able to make necessary repairs," A’zal commented logically. "Our scans show this planet to be high in mineral resources."
The Vulcan didn’t mention what else they had discovered while scanning the planet and the captain was curious to know if the Talaxians had explored the surface.
"That is our hope. Living on a floating rock left us few alternatives and we didn’t realize what we’d been missing until we settled here. It was almost worth everything we’d been through just to feel the sun on our faces again."
"Regent, I’m curious," the captain began.
"Please, call me Oxilon. I never really liked that title though it was necessary at the time. I’m hoping we can set up a governing body as soon as things settle down. I’d like nothing more than to be a simple farmer again. What’s your question?"
Janeway blinked at that unexpected bit of information. She’d always thought the Talaxian enjoyed being in charge. Now it looked like he’d responded to a desperate situation by stepping up to lead even when he didn’t want to. It gave her a whole new appreciation for his courage and resourcefulness.
"I was wondering if you’d explored the Eastern plains region of this world. It’s about twelve kilometers from here."
"Not yet, but we’ve been staying pretty close to this area to get our settlement going. It has all the resources we need and since there aren’t any other humanoids on the planet we weren’t concerned about other regions. Why?"
"We detected some ruins that looked rather intriguing."
Intriguing was an understatement. The ruins had the same general layout as the pyramid structures on the Egyptian planetoid they’d visited when Nemo first became stuck in the quadrant. Since Seven’s bow had abruptly gone silent when they entered orbit of this planet Janeway was convinced there was a link between the two.
"Our scans revealed the ruins as well, but there are no energy readings being emitted from the structures. May I ask what your interest is?"
The wary look was back and Janeway understood his caution. Each time these people tried to settle somewhere someone came along and tried to take it from them.
"We’re just curious, Oxilon. I assure you we have no interest in removing anything from your world. This is your home now and we wouldn’t dream of intruding. All we ask is the opportunity to explore the ruins, to poke around and see what’s there."
Oxilon silently considered the request for a moment. "Neelix told me your people were explorers, but what possible interest can you have in a defunct civilization on an alien planet?"
It was clear he was still suspicious and Janeway decided to go with the truth, or as much of it as she could without revealing the golden bow. "We believe the ruins are related to an ancient culture on Earth. The architectural designs are similar and we’d be fascinated to know if the two are related."
"I see," he said making a decision. "Very well. Look around all you want, but on one condition."
"I would ask that a Talaxian join your group. Neelix."
Kathryn saw the wisdom of his decision. Neelix was someone the crew of Nemo could trust but he was also loyal to the Talaxians. All parties could be sure their interests would be served.
"I think that’s a wonderful idea. We’ll have a team ready to go first thing tomorrow morning."
"Computer, activate the EMH."
"Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
Janeway frowned slightly as the doctor quoted the automated response. "Doctor, why do you say that every time you’re activated?"
"I can only speculate as to the reasons for my programmers actions." She could have sworn his shrug was sarcastic. "Perhaps they thought I might be summoned for medical purposes."
The captain rubbed her temple where the throb of a headache was just beginning to form. Now was not the time to get into a battle of wits with a sentient hologram and she decided to table the discussion for later. Seven had told her the doctor was feeling bored and a little useless lately and she had come with an offer that would hopefully alleviate that condition.
"Well, my purpose isn’t for medical reasons, at least not directly. I was wondering if you’d like to join the away team. We’re going into some ancient ruins and after what happened last time I thought it might be handy to have a physician along."
"I’d be delighted, Captain. Thank you."
She could have sworn his eyes were dancing with excitement and, not for the first time, had to remind herself that he’d come a long way from the hologram he’d been when first activated more than ten years ago.
"Be in the transporter room in ten minutes."
Janeway went by the cargo bay and collected a pack of equipment and a hand phaser before she headed for the transporter room. The rest of the away team was already there and they stepped onto the platform when the captain walked in. Kathryn stepped up to the front and turned to face the transport operator, but before she could speak the doors opened again and Lieutenant Torres entered.
"Captain, I was wondering if I could join the away team."
"Sorry, Lieutenant, not this time. I need you here."
Torres gaze shifted to include another member of Janeway’s group and the captain realized the true reason the engineer wanted to come along. "Don’t worry. I’ll bring her back in one piece."
B’Elanna flushed slightly but she asked Karri, "Are you wearing the PBS?"
Janeway wondered why she’d ask about a personal body shield, but Jameson only thumped her chest in response and answered, "After last time I wouldn’t go anywhere without it."
Though unhappy to let her girlfriend go into a potentially dangerous situation without her Torres only nodded and looked back at the captain. "I’ll hold you to that, ma’am."
"Energize," Captain Janeway ordered.
The sun was just coming up over the horizon when the sparkle of transporter ions filled the area. Captain Janeway and the rest of the away team, including Lieutenant Commander A’zal, Lieutenant Jameson, the EMH, Neelix and Seven of Nine, carried packs of equipment especially designed for an archeological dig along with hand phasers and tricorders. Seven had the golden bow and her quiver of arrows across her back. They didn’t know what to expect, but the weapon had led them here and she wanted to be prepared no matter what.
As soon as their forms solidified Jameson was scanning the area and checking her tricorder for life signs or potential threats. Seven knew her advanced training was the reason Janeway had invited the woman along. "Nothing but flora and fauna so far, Captain."
The pyramid structure was approximately one hundred meters away and the sun was beginning to rise over the top of the structure. Backlit by the sun the sight was awe-inspiring.
"All right, people, listen up. Last time our tricorders and combadges wouldn’t work inside the pyramid so keep your eyes and ears open. For some reason ancient cultures seem to adore booby traps. Keep a little distance between each other in case the floor drops out and remember noise discipline once we get inside."
Seven had learned over time that ‘noise discipline’ was a Starfleet way of saying no talking unless absolutely necessary. You could never tell what would set off a trap or if a hostile alien was lying in wait.
The short journey across the forest floor to the pyramid entrance was uneventful. Small birds and animals screeched in protest at being disturbed, but nothing hampered the away team. When they arrived at the foot of the steps Janeway indicated through hand signals that Jameson should lead the way and A’zal would bring up the rear. Seven remained silent but was pleased by the decision to let Karri go first. If something unexpected happened she didn’t want Janeway in the front.
Karri nodded once, switched on her wrist beacon and raised her phaser in readiness. The rest of the away team was similarly equipped since the structure had been abandoned for centuries and it was doubtful anyone would have left the lights burning.
They started up the steps in single file: Jameson, Janeway, Neelix, the EMH, Seven and finally Commander A’zal. The interior was just as dark as they had anticipated and was also several degrees cooler.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the darkness, but Seven’s nanoprobes gave her an advantage the others didn’t have. For that reason her vision adjusted more quickly and she barely had time to warn in a loud whisper, "Down!"
As one the team dropped into a crouch on the dirt floor just as a swarm of nocturnal creatures passed over their heads. Loud screeches filled the air and Seven instinctively covered her head with her arms. The lights from their wrist beacons had disturbed the bat-like creatures that had recently settled down for their daylight slumber.
After a few moments the creatures had fled and they were able to continue on their way. Janeway took a second to look back at Seven with silent thanks in her eyes before she motioned for Jameson to continue. The entry way was cavernous and they were only halfway across the cavern when the team was suddenly surrounded by six Talaxians carrying the energy weapons Seven had seen once before on a planet halfway across the sector.
The team hadn’t expected an ambush and no one but Jameson even had a phaser drawn. Karri raised her weapon toward one of the Talaxians, but realized they had been out maneuvered. She dropped the phaser on the ground before one of the attackers could shoot her.
Seven noticed the Talaxians were strangely dressed. Instead of wearing the traditional bright garments indicative of their species they were dressed like priests. The Talaxians were all male and wore only white tunics and golden sandals. Their wrists and ankles were covered with bracelets and the bracelets boasted raised serpents. Their attire was the duplicate of the mad priests on the other planet down to the smallest detail. Seven remembered something else about that encounter.
The priests on the other planet had been forced into their roles by someone named Kashka. They said he had arrived from the stars to herald in a new form of worship that included bloodletting. As Seven considered that information an idea began to form. Then she turned as a newcomer walked into the chamber and she knew she had guessed correctly.
To Be Continued