The song 'Then you Look at Me' belongs to Celine Dion. The characters are the property of Paramount/Viacom, but the story is mine. It just seemed time for me to add my own Talent Night story to the mix.
Over the Moon
It was that time again and Kathryn Janeway, Captain of the Intrepid Class Starship Voyager couldn’t quite keep the smile off her face. Neelix had organized a talent contest in holodeck three. It had been some time since they had enjoyed this particular form of entertainment, almost two years in fact. As long as Tuvok refrained from reading Vulcan poetry she imagined they’d be pretty well off, and she was looking forward to it.
What made this particular event even more appealing was that her young friend, Seven of Nine, was apparently going to sing. The holographic doctor had smugly let it slip at the staff meeting as well as adding that the former Borg drone had a lovely voice. She was just surprised that the scathing look Seven had rewarded the doctor with when he broke that news hadn’t scrambled his program.
Captain Janeway had of course gone over the ship’s security logs from a time when Hirogen hunters had penetrated the ship and forced the crew into a simulation of Nazi occupied France during World War II. Seven had portrayed a member of the French resistance as well as a nightclub singer and did indeed have an accomplished voice. But Janeway remembered something else from those logs; something that made her slightly nervous even as she looked forward to hearing her young protégé.
Even though her voice was indeed lovely the young woman had displayed no visible emotions while she crooned out one sappy love song after another. Knowing of Seven’s never ending quest for perfection she hoped that she had mastered that emotional element or she would be doomed to disappointment.
Tonight wasn’t meant to be a talent night, it was meant to be a talent contest. Seven of Nine was nothing if not competitive.
"Captain," Ensign Harry Kim greeted as they met at the doors to holodeck one. "You look very nice."
"Thanks, Harry," she said and clapped the communications officer on the back. "So are you performing too?"
The captain had changed out of her usual uniform and wore a short-sleeved cream-colored shirt, the first two buttons of which were open, and a pair of casual slacks. Flats adorned her feet and she was relieved to be out of the Starfleet issue boots for once.
"Yeah. I’m going to play my clarinet. I’ve been working on a new piece that I want to try out on the crew."
"I look forward to hearing it," she said sincerely.
Janeway spared one more concerned thought about Seven’s upcoming performance as she walked through the doors with her crewman. She had no idea what motivated the young woman to participate in an event that she probably considered truly unproductive.
Seven of Nine paced nervously in the adjacent dressing room while she waited for her turn. She had been conducting research for days since Neelix had announced the upcoming competition as well as every moment of her free time since she had selected the song she wished to perform. Normally she would have deemed the whole thing irrelevant and dismissed it out of hand, but this time something stopped her.
She had been on Voyager for almost two years and had slowly come to see this eclectic group of individuals as her family. One of those individuals stood out among the rest and it was this person Seven had chosen her song for. Captain Kathryn Janeway.
Since her arrival onboard Seven had butted heads with the feisty captain frequently. At first she did it because of some perverse need to seek the opposite of whatever Janeway wanted. Later she insisted on playing Devil’s advocate because she enjoyed the personal attention she received from the captain.
Seven was new to individuality and found being alone without the voices of the collective hard to endure.
The captain never had figured that out, but she had always remained patient and supportive. A type of attachment had sprung up between them that had strengthened into a deep and abiding friendship. That friendship alone would have been reason enough for Seven to choose a song for the captain, to thank her for her friendship and constant support. But the song she had selected had more to do with love.
Over the last several months Seven had discovered that she was in love with Captain Janeway. The feelings made her happy and she felt stronger in the other woman’s presence. Janeway’s smile brought her joy, and if she wanted the moon Seven would gladly have attempted to get it for her. Seven embraced the emotions completely, welcomed and cherished them. It made absolutely no difference that Janeway didn’t feel the same. Her friendship was enough.
Seven hadn’t known how to tell her, though she knew it was important that she do so. This talent contest seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Hours practicing in the holodeck with a holographic instructor had assisted her with her plans. She had learned that conveying deep emotions while maintaining eye contact was paramount. The captain would know the song was meant for her, but with nothing spoken directly she wouldn’t be forced into a difficult situation. She wouldn’t be forced to respond.
Seven had no wish to embarrass the captain; she simply wanted her to know how she felt.
"You ready, Seven?" Neelix interrupted "You’re on next."
Harry Kim had just finished a clarinet solo. It was a piece he had composed recently, and he called it Delta Quadrant Symphony No. One. Tom Paris had performed a juggling act with most of the bowling pins he used falling on his head at the end, and B’Elanna Torres had impressed the crowd by twirling swords, setting one on fire, and appearing to swallow it. It had been a holographic simulation, but it had certainly been a crowd pleaser. Twelve other acts had been performed by various crewmembers. Even Naomi Wildman had climbed onto a stool center stage and told a story of Flotter and the Raging Flood.
Seven was next and her performance was to be the final one of the night.
She took a deep breath and felt like something large and equipped with heavy claws was trying to force its way out of her stomach. Suddenly this didn’t seem like such a good idea.
"Seven?" Neelix sounded concerned. Was she as pale as she thought?
She took another breath and ignored the perspiration on her palms. Seven steeled herself and nodded at the Talaxian. She would go through with this. "I am ready."
Kathryn finally stopped clapping as Harry stepped off the stage and Neelix took his place. The Delta Quadrant native was enjoying his role as MC.
He said with a huge smile, "And now ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the final performance of the night before the judges make their decision. Seven of Nine will sing a song from Earth’s 20th century. It’s called ‘Then You Look at Me’. Ladies and gentlemen… Seven of Nine."
Polite applause sounded throughout the simulation of an auditorium and Kathryn could see the looks of curiosity focused on the front of the stage. She watched closely, but when Seven stepped onto the stage she took Janeway’s breath away.
Janeway had expected her to wear some silvery ball gown like she had worn during the WWII simulation. What the young woman chose instead was much more sensual even though it covered more of her body than a clinging gown ever could.
Blonde hair shone brilliantly under the lights and fell gracefully down onto her shoulders, released from her customary severe style. She wore a white silk, button-down shirt with a black jacket over it. Black trousers hugged her narrow hips, but flared gently at the ankles. A pair of black stiletto heels completed the ensemble, and she strode confidently onto the stage.
Seven was gorgeous, but Kathryn noted that her countenance was completely passive. She couldn’t help but think that her worries were about to be realized. Then Seven took center stage and the lights lowered until the only thing she could see was Seven.
‘Laugh and cry, live and die
Life is a dream we are dreaming
Day by day I find my way’
Seven’s eyes met Janeway’s and suddenly emotion seemed to flood the younger woman’s voice as it strengthened and rose. Kathryn forgot about breathing, mesmerized by the transformation.
‘Look for the soul and the meaning
Then you look at me
And I only see
What I have been searching for
I’m lost as can be
Then you look at me
And I am not lost anymore’
Seven’s voice boomed out, filled with love and yearning. Her eyes closed with the intensity of emotion and Kathryn took a shuddering breath.
‘People run, sun to sun,
Caught in their lives ever flowing
Once begun life goes ‘til it’s gone
We have to go where it’s going’
Their eyes met again and Kathryn realized Seven hadn’t looked at anyone else the entire time. This song was meant for her?
When Seven began the next line with their eyes locked together she had her answer.
‘Then you look at me
And I always see
What I have been searching for
I’m lost as can be
Then you look at me
And I am not lost anymore
And you say you see
When you look at me
The reason you love life so
Though lost I have been
I find love again
And life just keeps on running
And life just keeps on running
You look at me and life comes from you’
Seven’s voice reached a crescendo and tears glinted in her eyes but her gaze never left Janeway’s.
The music ended and for a moment the audience sat quietly stunned. B’Elanna Torres broke the silence by saying breathlessly, "Kahless on a crutch!"
Kathryn couldn’t have agreed more.
Then the crowd was on its feet and the applause was thunderous. Seven flushed in pleased surprise before she glanced almost shyly at Janeway.
Kathryn felt her eyes sting with joy for Seven’s accomplishment as well as something else... panic. She had no doubt that Seven had just won the competition. She also had no doubt that Seven of Nine was completely in love with her.
Oh my God, What am I going to do now?
After the contest had concluded and it was announced that Seven had won everyone adjourned to the mess hall. Neelix had prepared for a reception and created a smattering of cuisine from various alpha quadrant species. He even managed to forego most of the Talaxian spices. All of the contestants as well as a large part of the crew managed to squeeze into the crowded room where the winner was being honored.
"Nice going, Seven. Congratulations."
B’Elanna Torres, chief engineer and half-Klingon, was next in line behind Harry to extend her own praise. Although the animosity between the two was legendary B’Elanna had the grace to be a good loser. "Yeah, Seven. That was great. What got into you?"
Seven cast a sidelong glance toward the captain before she said, "I am unsure what you are referring to, Lieutenant. I am unaware of any alien influence that may have had a bearing on my performance."
Kathryn quickly raised her glass to hide her smile. She was sure Seven was being deliberately obtuse but she was also relieved. At least she hadn’t blurted out that she had been inspired by a deep emotional attachment to her captain. Kathryn still wasn’t sure how she was going to respond to that one, or even if she should.
So far she hadn’t approached Seven to tell her what a wonderful job she had done even though she had readily joined the others in the dining room. Her mind was in a frenzy with the knowledge she had gained and she quietly wandered away from the well-wishers to a more remote corner of the room.
What was she going to do about this? Seven’s feelings weren’t something she could fix like a damaged warp coil. Her feelings were real and worthy of respect. Normally the captain would respond to a crewmember’s crush by distancing herself from them, but this was no random crewman that she could delegate to the bowels of the ship. Seven was her friend, someone she had grown to rely on, and she didn’t want to impose distance between them. She was one of the few that saw Kathryn as a woman rather than merely her commanding officer.
Yeah, right, she thought dryly as she ran one finger around the rim of her glass. She sees me as a woman so much that she’s fallen in love with me!
"Captain, are you enjoying yourself?"
Janeway looked up into the sky-blue gaze of Seven of Nine and her breath caught. She really was a beautiful woman, but Kathryn knew that she didn’t return the other woman’s feelings. They were going to have to talk about this, as much as she’d rather just avoid the whole issue.
"Hello, Seven," she said softly. "You look very lovely tonight."
"Thank you, Captain." Seven seemed to be waiting for something more.
She still wore the attire she had selected for the contest, but her posture was the formal stance she always chose when she was uncomfortable.
When did I learn to read her so well?
"Did you enjoy the song, Captain?" Seven prompted.
"Oh, yes," Kathryn answered honestly. "I thought it was beautiful."
She almost added ‘just like you’, but caught herself quickly. The last thing she wanted to do was muddy the water.
"I think we need to talk though."
"What did you wish to discuss?"
Janeway thought about the question but the only response she could come up with was, "Was the song meant…for me?"
She could hear the tremor in her hesitantly voiced question and hoped with all her soul the answer would be no. She had no wish to break the heart of this innocent young woman that meant so much to her.
The gleam in Seven’s eyes answered the question long before her lips moved and Kathryn wished she’d never brought the subject up in such a crowded place. She should have waited until they were alone.
Seven’s posture softened and she released her hands from behind her back. She seemed to sense her captain’s discomfort and lowered her voice so that she wouldn’t be overheard.
"I am pleased that you enjoyed the song, and yes it was intended for you. But do not worry, Captain. I do not require a response."
"Then why, Seven?" she asked honestly puzzled.
One shoulder lifted slightly in the approximation of a shrug. "I only know that these feelings have grown until I had no choice but to express them. When you are near all I can see or hear, all I can breathe is you. I do not ask that you return my feelings. It is enough that you know of my love for you."
The words stated so gently exploded into Janeway’s mind. No one had ever expressed love for her so eloquently or sweetly, but she had difficulty accepting it at face value. She wanted to argue that Seven was confusing the love of a friend or mentor with romantic love, but before she could they were interrupted.
"Ah, there you are Seven," the holographic doctor cut in. "What are you doing standing over here in the corner? I was just about to tell my joke about the Tirellian warthog and the Klingon court jester."
"What did you say?" Torres interjected acidly.
Janeway used the distraction to separate from the partygoers and quietly sat her whiskey and soda on a table. A confused frown settled between her eyes and she quietly left the room headed for the sanctuary of her quarters. She didn’t know that Seven watched until the doors closed silently behind her.
Over the next few days things seemed to settle down a little, enough for Janeway to resume her normal activities with Seven of Nine. They played velocity in the holodeck, practiced sculpting in Leonardo Di Vinci’s studio and even shared lunch a few times in the mess hall. Neither of them referred to Seven’s confession of love and if her blue eyes sparkled just a little more when she looked at her captain at least she had the grace to refrain from any commentary that might make Janeway uncomfortable.
One side effect was that Kathryn now looked at Seven in a whole new light. She wasn’t just a friend any more; she was a woman in love.
When their eyes met, when they accidentally made contact on the velocity court that knowledge surfaced in Kathryn’s brain immediately and something interesting started to happen. Her fingertips began to tingle whenever she saw Seven.
This is nonsense, Kathryn thought as she paced her ready room early one morning. I’m only feeling this way because I know she loves me. It has been five years since I’ve been with any thing other than a hologram. Along comes a beautiful woman that I know I could have for the asking and my libido jumps into overdrive. That’s all it is…hormones!
Janeway realized that Seven was growing into her individuality more and more. In less than two years she had grown from being a Borg drone to a woman capable of deep emotions. It was only normal that she would develop a strong emotional attachment to the one person who always made time for her and accepted her regardless of her past.
Kathryn had known all along that she was gorgeous and had even allowed herself a look from time to time, but she was not in love with Seven. She would just have to maintain a little discipline and spare the younger woman any half-hearted attraction on her part.
Finally having settled on a plausible explanation Janeway sat down behind her desk to get some real work done.
"Captain Janeway to the bridge," Chakotay called over the comm. system.
"Now what?" Kathryn growled and stalked out of the ready room.
The first officer looked at her and raised the eyebrow with the tribal tattoo at her. Other than that he didn’t comment on her harshness. "We’re receiving a distress call. It’s coming from a vessel that’s crashed on an M-class moon approximately a parsec away.
Kathryn sat down calmly in her command chair and crossed her ankles, happy for the minor distraction. "Set a course, Mister Paris. Warp seven."
As soon as they were in hailing range Janeway stood up and said, "Open a channel."
"Channel open," Kim responded from communications.
"This is Captain Janeway of the Starship Voyager to the vessel on the lunar surface. What is your status?"
A static filled signal returned until Kim was able to clear it up. Then a male voice responded, "A power overload shorted out our engines and caused us to crash. Life support is failing and our shields won’t hold for much longer."
Janeway thought for a brief moment and then said, "We’re going to try and help you by using a tractor beam to pull your ship off the surface and into our shuttle bay. We can help you make repairs once you’re aboard."
"Thank you, Captain. That’s very gracious of you."
The captain nodded to Tuvok, and the tactical chief prepared to engage the tractor beam.
Harry Kim’s urgent voice stopped them in their tracks. "Captain, I’m reading a build up of antimatter in that ship’s warp core. They’re headed for a breach. Thirty seconds."
With no time to spare Janeway discarded the notion of salvaging the alien vessel. "Harry, can you get a lock on their life signs?"
A brief pause and he responded, "I’ve got them. Three alien life signs."
"Transport them to sickbay."
"Energizing now, Captain."
"Ten seconds to core breech," Tuvok reported calmly.
"They’re in sickbay," Harry reported.
Janeway sat down quickly in her chair. "Tom, get us out of here, maximum warp."
The helmsman threw Voyager into high warp, but they hadn’t managed to go far when the energy discharge from the explosion lifted the stern. Nothing blew out, but a few crewmen were knocked off their feet before the inertial dampers kicked in.
"Report," Janeway ordered when after the ship righted itself, grateful that she had sat down before the explosion happened.
Chakotay checked the computer monitor beside him and said, "Shields are holding, no damage to the ship. Sickbay doesn’t report any injuries."
"Well, that’s new," the captain said dryly and stood up. Just the fact that he was still conscious was also new. "Commander, I’ll be in sickbay greeting our guests. You have the bridge."
The aliens in sickbay turned out to be a friendly bunch called the Brunelli. Prince Rathgar had been on a diplomatic mission and was just returning home with his advisors when the engines overloaded.
"I wish to thank you for your kindness, Captain," the young prince said from where he sat on a bio-bed. "There are not many species in this quadrant that wouldn’t have taken advantage of our situation to acquire some free technology."
"Don’t I know that!" Janeway said smiling sympathetically. "I’m just glad we could help."
It was nice to find a group of friendly aliens for once and the fact that these people closely resembled Vulcans didn’t hurt. At least it was a species that her crew was comfortable with. She knew that there would no doubt be underlying differences in physiology but there weren’t many that were visual. The Brunelli had pointed ears, and slightly sloped eyebrows, but they apparently weren’t overly tall. The prince and his companions came no higher than Janeway’s eyebrows and they were full of smiles, laughing often.
"What may I offer you in exchange for your assistance?"
That did surprise Janeway. "We don’t require any payment, Prince Rathgar. It’s one of the guiding principals of the Federation that we help those in need."
"This Federation of yours must be an amazing place to live," Rathgar observed diplomatically.
"Oh, it is."
Something in Janeway’s tone alerted him that there was more to the statement than he could understand. "Tell me about it."
In the end Kathryn told him how they had come to be thousands of light years from home, stranded in a quadrant far from home and battling one alien culture after another.
Rathgar, moved by the story, invited the crew of Voyager to visit his home world for some much-needed shore leave, and to restock their supplies free of charge. When Janeway argued that it wouldn’t be necessary he had insisted. He said it was the least he could do to repay them for the rescue, and since he was the next in line as ruler of the planet it was also mandatory that he make restitution. To do any less would diminish him in the eyes of his people.
Captain Janeway didn’t quite believe his story that he had to repay them in some fashion, but she was moved by the gesture. Why not? The crew could certainly stand a little rest planet side and Voyager did need supplies.
They carried their hosts for another sector before Voyager established orbit around the Brunelli home world. Chakotay set up a shore leave rotation and it was implemented immediately. Since these people weren’t involved in conflicts with any of their neighboring planets Janeway decided they would only need a skeleton crew on board.
Seven of Nine and Tuvok volunteered to stay behind with the ship disdaining the need for shore leave. Janeway was required to meet with the prince and his father as soon as they brought their guests home to make arrangements for supplies. That was fine with her. She wasn’t comfortable jumping into shore leave without first meeting the local authorities, and she wanted to do some research on the best possible place to visit. Their scans had revealed no dangerous storms, or seismic activity and the planet could only be described as a utopia.
Still, it seemed a little too good to be true and she didn’t quite trust things as they seemed. No species freely gave away food, medicines, and dilithium ore in exchange for nothing. The shore leave alone on such a beautiful planet would normally have been a subject of much negotiation.
Happy with the amount of supplies, but uncomfortable with how easy it had been Janeway returned to Voyager aboard the Delta Flyer with Tom Paris at the helm. He had insisted on shuttling the captain and dignitaries to the surface, but Janeway could tell that he was eager to start his own R&R.
"So what are your plans, Tom?" Janeway asked conversationally as they neared Voyager’s location in orbit.
A lock of fair hair fell across his forehead when he looked over at her and grinned. "Harry and I thought we’d check out the local color."
"You’re going to a bar? How does B’Elanna feel about that?"
Kathryn wasn’t in the habit of interfering with the private lives of her crew, but his answer had caught her off guard. She couldn’t imagine the feisty Klingon engineer looking too keenly on that.
Tom smirked, "She wants to stay on Voyager and work on refitting the EPS conduits. Says she never gets a chance to just tinker since she’s usually so busy jumping from one crisis to another."
Kathryn smiled; she knew she’d chosen well when she selected her chief engineer. The fact that Chakotay had almost forced her into it with a thinly veiled threat of mutiny made absolutely no difference at all.
"Well, it is her shore leave. Just try to make sure she takes some down time."
The pilot nodded and smiled, but then they were back at the ship and he had to concentrate on bringing the shuttle around to the shuttle bay.
Wearily Kathryn walked back to her quarters and pulled her tunic off as soon as she walked in the doors. She tossed the jacket over on her sofa before she put her hands behind her head and stretched out the kinks in her back. It had been a long day and she could feel a slight headache coming one.
Probably a lack of caffeine, she thought. Nothing the replicator couldn’t fix.
She sipped at the hot beverage a few minutes later while she wandered over to the viewport and stood staring out into space.
Brunell was a gorgeous blue and white marble hanging in her viewport. She could almost imagine that it was another planet except for the slightly different continental formations. That reminded her that she had some research to do.
Her personal workstation was powered up and she sat down to see what the planet had to offer. The data Prince Rathgar had provided them with advertised beachfront resorts, deep-sea fishing, diving, guided tours. Directly opposed to these more sophisticated pursuits, Brunell offered their own version of boxing, and football.
I wonder what Chakotay is going to be doing on his time off, she thought dryly.
A little while later Kathryn finally decided on her own plans. There was a resort hotel near a lovely private beach. The hotel offered boat rentals, too. She could stay at the hotel in the evenings and sample the alien cuisine. During the days a little swimming in the surf and scuba diving seemed to be in order. It had been years since she’d had the opportunity to dive and she began to feel a sense of anticipation.
Janeway logged off her workstation and decided she would enjoy the luxury of a bubble bath.
"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway."
"Yes, Seven. What is it?" Kathryn answered automatically.
Damn, there go my fingertips again. She’d better get a handle on this visceral reaction soon. Maybe she could find a willing alien to help alleviate a little tension while she was here. The problem was that she really wasn’t attracted to men that were shorter than herself.
"I noticed that you had returned to Voyager and wondered if you would care to share the evening meal with me."
Janeway’s eyebrow lifted in surprise. Seven usually had to be forced to consume nutrition, and it was even more rare for her to invite the captain to go with her. Usually the former Borg left it to Janeway to make the invitations.
She pondered the question for only a moment. Seven had volunteered to stay on the ship instead of take shore leave, and Kathryn planned to leave for the planet early the next morning. It would be a few days before she would see her young friend again. Why not?
"Give me half an hour and I’ll take you up on that."
"Understood, Captain. One half hour."
Seven terminated the link and Janeway headed for her bedroom. She still wanted to take a bath even if it was only a short one.
Seven shut down her board in the Astrometrics lab. She was due to meet Captain Janeway for dinner and took a deep breath to quell the nervous flutter in her stomach. Since she had confessed her love for the other woman she had grown more unsettled around her as time went by. Seven had told the captain she didn’t require a reciprocal declaration, but as time passed that had begun to change.
Her research had led her to some conflicting results. It suggested that most humans tended to avoid someone that had expressed love for them if they did not return the sentiment. Captain Janeway had not avoided her. In fact she believed the captain sought out her company even more than before the contest. Could it be that Janeway returned her feelings, at least in a small way? Or could she be indulging in the human proclivity for wishful thinking?
Either way Seven had decided against staying on the ship for the entire duration of shore leave. Perhaps if she could convince the captain to spend her rest period with Seven she could determine if the other woman felt any interest in her as a romantic partner.
But Janeway was a complex individual and Seven knew she had to approach the subject obliquely. Janeway might be willing to spend her free time on the ship with Seven, but an intimate setting could be unacceptable to her. The idea had to seem to be the captain’s. Fortunately Seven had checked the ship’s database and had the perfect opening to ensure things would go her way.
Seven picked up the small package from her console and left the room.
Captain Janeway was already at their usual table in the corner when she arrived. Outwardly she felt she looked cool and composed, but Seven’s heart rate accelerated as soon as she saw the compact redhead. Calmly she crossed the room to take her seat across from the other woman. She sat the brightly wrapped package on the table. Janeway glanced momentarily at the small box but didn’t ask what it was.
"Ladies," Neelix greeted boisterously. "What can I get for you this evening?"
"I’m sure whatever you’ve created tonight will be just fine for me, Neelix."
Janeway’s gracious comment to the Talaxian made Seven wish she could also take a chance on his culinary experiments, but she had eaten his food and found it too pungent for her tastes. She remembered that she was trying to seem more accepting, more human to the captain and refrained from ordering a Starfleet ration bar…barely.
"I shall have a chicken Caesar salad."
A delighted smile lit Janeway’s eyes and Seven was pleased to have made the correct choice.
"Great choice," Neelix praised and walked away.
"Were your negotiations successful, Captain?" Seven asked politely.
"If you could call it that," Kathryn laughed. "I finally had to force them to stop giving us supplies. I’m sure the Brunelli would have been happy to fill all four cargo bays."
Janeway’s remarks were light, but the tightness around her eyes gave her doubts away.
"You are concerned the Brunelli are not what they seem; that they are attempting to deceive us."
"Something like that. I’m not used to people in the Delta Quadrant being so generous," she admitted.
"Perhaps they are sincere. Perhaps they are simply grateful that Voyager was able to rescue Prince Rathgar."
Janeway cast another look at the wrapped box and couldn’t stand it any longer. "Seven, what is this?"
Seven felt her cheeks grow warm and reached for the small package, pleased to have surprised the captain. "It has come to my attention that it is customary to celebrate one’s natal day by bestowing gifts upon them."
"Huh?" Then her expression cleared. "Oh, birthday! It’s my birthday?"
Janeway sat quietly, obviously converting stardates in her head. "I guess it is at that."
A radiant smile covered her face as she accepted the gift, making Seven feel like the sun had come up for her alone. She hoped the captain would appreciate the token even more since Seven had created it instead of utilizing the replicator.
Nimble fingers tore open the paper and Kathryn plucked out a flacon of lapis-colored liquid.
Janeway was clearly surprised and more than a little uncomfortable about such an intimate gift, and Seven rushed to reassure her. "It is not replicated, Captain. It is a scent I created in the hydroponics bay. If you do not like it, I can create another blend."
Kathryn lifted the stopper and inhaled the delicate scent. Her eyes drifted closed and a soft smile curved her lips.
The tremulous words so gently spoken seemed like the perfect opportunity for Seven to ask the captain if she could join her for shore leave. She did not think she would be refused. Seven had just opened her mouth to do exactly that when Neelix interrupted by bringing their meals.
"Oh, how nice. What’s the occasion?" he asked nosily.
Before anyone could answer B’Elanna Torres plunked down in the chair next to the captain. She spotted the small flask and torn wrapping paper and asked, "Hey, what’s going on? Is it your birthday?"
Janeway laughed. "As a matter of fact it is."
B’Elanna eyed the captain’s dinner companion. "You gave the captain a present?"
Her tone was condescending and Seven felt her back stiffen. It was all right if the lieutenant didn’t like Seven, but she was not going to ruin this for the captain. Seven reigned in her temper and replied, "Yes, I did."
"Captain, you should have told me it was your birthday. I would have planned a party."
"That’s quite all right, Neelix. To be honest I had forgotten about it myself. Seven reminded me when she gave me my present."
The warm look Janeway turned on her caused Seven to shift in her chair. Every time the other woman looked at her she felt the temperature increase in the dining room. She would have to check the environmental controls. Now if Neelix and Lieutenant Torres would leave she could ask the captain for what she wanted.
"Hey, I know," Torres spoke up. "I don’t have a gift for you, but how about I join you for shore leave tomorrow? I can come along and play cabana girl for you and you can relax…be pampered for a few days."
Seven felt like all of the oxygen had suddenly been sucked out of the room.
"B’Elanna, really," Janeway countered. "I hardly think I need to be waited on by a member of my crew."
Seven let out her breath. Perhaps this was still salvageable.
"Come on, Captain. What did you have planned?"
Janeway shrugged. "Just a little swimming on the beach, and maybe some scuba diving."
"Sounds like fun. I can bring the gear and if anything goes wrong you’ll have an engineer along to fix it."
"B’Elanna, if you want to join me why don’t you just ask? Besides, don’t you want to spend your time off with Tom?"
"Naw," B’Elanna said lightly. "I see him all the time. We live together remember? It’ll be a nice little break for us to be away from each other for a few days."
Janeway seemed uncertain and Seven hoped she would refuse.
"All right," she finally relented. "If you really want to come along how can I possibly say no?"
Disappointed and deeply hurt Seven stood abruptly. If Voyager did not require its chief engineer she would happily have terminated the lieutenant on the spot.
Janeway looked at her curiously and even Neelix and Torres were waiting to see what she would do next.
"I…I must regenerate now."
"But, Seven, you haven’t even touched your dinner."
Janeway sounded concerned and somewhere in the back of her mind Seven realized she was acting strangely. She just couldn’t help herself. Even though she had presented Janeway with a natal gift the captain still preferred to spend her time off with another.
"I am not hungry."
Seven turned and fled the room. Behind her she could hear Torres ask the captain what time she wanted to meet in the transporter room. Janeway had already dismissed her from her thoughts.
Now what was that all about, Kathryn wondered, confused and a little worried. With a sinking sense of dread she knew she had upset Seven, but for the life of her she couldn’t figure out how.
Torres reached across the table to pull Seven’s salad in front of her. "So what time do you want to meet in the transporter room?" she asked digging into the crisp greens.
Janeway didn’t feel much like eating either. The flash of anger and hurt on Seven’s face tore into her heart and she was overwhelmed with the urge to seek her out to make sure she was all right.
"I’d better go, too," she finally said before she responded to the question. "Meet me in transporter room one at 0700, Lieutenant. There’s a lovely little resort I’d like to visit, and don’t forget your bathing suit."
"I’ll be there."
Kathryn left the dining room quickly. She wanted to check on something, but she needed a few items before she did. It worried her that Seven hadn’t eaten anything and she had an idea how to take care of that. Clearly Seven had wanted to do something special for the captain’s birthday, and felt that moment had been ruined when Torres interrupted them. Kathryn didn’t want her upset over that and intended to recapture that feeling for Seven before she left for shore leave.
Kathryn sat the small bottle of perfume on her nightstand. She noticed as she did that the bottle was actually made of glad not some polymer that the replicator would carelessly spit out. The gesture touched her deeply and decision made she strode to the replicator.
Soon she had the items she needed to create a surprise meal for her young friend.
"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."
"Seven of Nine is in cargo bay two."
Apparently regenerating after all, Kathryn thought. Well, she can sleep later.
Janeway left her quarters loaded down with a picnic basket and a checkered blanket. With so few people on board Kathryn didn’t pass a single crewman in route to deck eight, a fact she was very pleased with. It wouldn’t do much for her captain’s image if people thought she was having a romantic encounter with a member of her crew. This was a friendly gesture, nothing more.
Janeway entered the cargo bay and walked over to where Seven of Nine was locked in her regeneration cycle. For a moment she stood and watched the pale beauty sleep just as she had countless times before. The lights of the cargo bay were lowered in deference to night shift and only the green glow of the Borg alcoves lit Seven’s pale features. She looked peaceful locked in artificial slumber, but Kathryn could see moist tracks on her right cheek where tears had flowed from her fully human eye.
Seven’s been crying?
Kathryn’s heart twisted in pain and she suddenly needed to see Seven’s soft blue eyes. Sitting her burden on the floor, Kathryn stepped up to the console to type in the sequence that would end the regeneration cycle.
"Warning, regeneration cycle incomplete."
Seven’s eyes opened and she automatically stepped out of her alcove before she looked around in confusion. She saw the captain standing a few feet away and her expression cleared.
"Captain Janeway, may I assist you?"
She clasped her hands behind her and attempted to look passive, but Kathryn could still see the hurt she tried to mask.
"Actually, Seven, I wanted to do something for you?"
Janeway smiled and said, "I still wanted to have dinner with you and since you didn’t feel like eating in the mess hall I brought dinner to you."
She indicated the items on the deck and watched Seven raise her eyebrow.
"Is this to be a picnic, Captain?"
Slightly disappointed Kathryn asked, "Have you been on a picnic before?"
"No. I have researched the subject but did not see the appeal of eating on the deck, but…"
Seven smiled her little half smile and said, "I believe that I would enjoy attempting this event with you."
Kathryn waved her hand to try and make light of the subject. "It’s not something you have to conquer, Seven. It’s just dinner with a friend.
Even as she said the word ‘friend’ her fingertips had started to tingle. "Computer, seal cargo bay doors, authorization Janeway pi one one zero."
Before Seven could ask Janeway grinned. "It is a picnic, but I’d rather not have the crew walk in with their captain sitting on the deck."
"Indeed. If you were seen no doubt everyone would request to have dinner with you in such an informal setting."
Kathryn was speechless. Then she noticed the twinkle in Seven’s eye and laughed outright. At least the haunted look was gone and she was pleased to have surprised the other woman.
"Well," she said and picked up the basket, "how about that picnic?"
Seven took the blanket and asked, "Where did you have in mind, Captain?"
"Kathryn, please," she requested before she thought about it. "When we’re off duty and alone like this I’d really like it if you called me Kathryn.
Seven flushed then looked shyly away for a moment. Kathryn thought she looked absolutely adorable.
Adorable? Oh boy, what’s happening here?
A surge of fear went through her, but Kathryn pushed it away. She would not run away from the one person she trusted above all others. If she was a little attracted to Seven, there was nothing wrong with that…as long as she didn’t act on it.
"How about over here?" Kathryn asked quickly.
She led the way over to some cargo containers. There was space between the barrels and the wall. She thought it would be perfect since she didn’t want to be reminded of the Borg alcoves or duty, and somehow this felt more private.
Seven spread the blanket across the deck plating like she did it every day. But even after the captain had dropped onto her knees and started digging into the goodies basket Seven stood up watching her. It took Kathryn a few minutes to realize she was just standing there.
"Seven!" Kathryn laughed and grabbed her by the Borg implanted left hand. She gave the hand a tug. "Well, get down here!"
The look of confusion on Seven’s face passed quickly and she eased down onto the floor. Seven sat with her legs to one side and Kathryn thought she had lowered herself to the blanket with the grace of a jungle cat. That was when she remembered that she still held Seven’s hand.
Kathryn let go like she’d been burned and dove into the picnic basket to cover the move. If she were very lucky Seven wouldn’t notice the furious burn of blood in her cheeks.
"So, we have all the trappings of a classic picnic. There’s fried chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, baked beans and French bread."
Janeway pulled out the bread with a flourish and added, "Strictly speaking French bread isn’t a traditional picnic item but I like it so I took the liberty."
She laid the items out then broke off a piece of hot bread and slathered butter on it.
"Here, try this."
Seven took the bread gently and their fingers brushed. Kathryn inhaled sharply from the contact and frowned at her reaction. A smear of butter was on her thumb and without thinking she licked it off.
"Hmm," Seven moaned.
Startled by the sensual sound Kathryn looked up. Seven’s eyes had closed in appreciation of the tastes she was experiencing and opened again while Kathryn watched. That was when she noticed that Seven’s eyes were the exact shade of blue as the perfume she had given her.
Knowledge thundered through her brain. Oh my God! I am attracted to her! When did that happen?
Kathryn took a slow breath and reached for a drumstick. She nibbled for a second and refocused when Seven asked, "Is that good, too?"
Seven’s eyes were wide open with eager anticipation. A smudge of butter adorned the corner of her mouth and her tongue flicked out to lick at the salty bit.
Kathryn chuckled again, but this time her voice broke a little as her heart swelled for this innocent child-goddess.
"Oh, you are a joy."
She reached up to briefly cup an alabaster cheek before she said gently, "Try the chicken."
Soft lips closed around a gently hardened nipple. A back arched in intense pleasure; a gasping moan filling the air. Fingers locked into thick tresses to encourage firmer contact. Silver-tipped fingers dipped lower, slid across smooth abdominal muscles.
Moisture collected on long fingers, the pad of a metal-encased thumb stroked at excited flesh. Then two silver fingers penetrated; thrust sharply.
Janeway came awake with a shuddering breath and sat up. Sweat beaded her upper lip and her heart thundered in her chest even as spasms in her lower body informed her that she had actually experienced an orgasm in her sleep.
She lifted a trembling hand to cover her mouth and wipe the perspiration away. Blue eyes flashed in her mind along with an instant of insight. Somehow, somewhere along the way Seven had quietly charmed her and stolen her heart.
Once upon a time in the alpha quadrant Janeway would have been overjoyed by that knowledge. But lost in another quadrant it was something she could never confess to or act on. Seven deserved a partner who could put her first, not a captain that had to consider the ship and crew before everything else.
Kathryn pushed back the blanket and got out of bed. It was only 0500 but she knew she would never get back to sleep. She might as well use the extra time to get ready for her vacation…after a very cold shower!
An hour and a half later she was ready. Her bags were packed complete with bathing suit, scuba gear and hiking clothes. She even had some casual clothes ready to tour the local shops and dining establishments. Janeway beamed the whole set down to the hotel that she had already made arrangements with and decided she had some free time before she was due to meet B’Elanna in the transporter room.
She dressed in a pair of jeans, deck shoes and a casual t-shirt. Not exactly standard attire, but this was a vacation.
Her heart pulled her toward Astrometrics where she knew Seven had already started her duty shift, but she resisted. After the revelations of this morning’s dream she didn’t feel she could face the other woman. Instead she directed the turbolift to take her to deck two and the mess hall. A cup of coffee would be just the thing to clear the cobwebs.
Thirty minutes later she strolled into transporter room two. B’Elanna was already there and cursing a blue streak as she struggled with a particularly heavy looking bag. Kathryn tried not to laugh as the engineer finally wrestled her gear onto the transporter pad.
B’Elanna turned around and froze when she spotted the amusement in her commanding officer’s eyes. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Long enough," Kathryn shrugged non-committal. "So you ready, or what?"
"Uh, yeah. Just tell me where we’re sending this stuff."
"I took the liberty of booking double accommodations at the Brunelli Resort and Spa. If you don’t mind that is?"
Torres looked impressed and said, "Not at all, Captain. Thanks."
Janeway turned and looked at the crewman who had the misfortune of being assigned to the skeleton crew for the first part of shore leave. "Use the coordinates I gave you earlier, Crewman Lessing."
Both women climbed onto the transporter pad next to B’Elanna’s luggage and at a nod from the captain, Lessing initiated the transport.
The resort was sophisticated, gorgeous and popular among the local population. The wait staff was courteous, professional and accommodating. The room she was supposed to share with her chief engineer impressed Kathryn. It was less of a room and more of a suite with two separate bedrooms and a common sitting area. Apparently the Brunelli were going all out to show the alien captain what a cordial bunch they were. A Brunelli version of a fruit basket and a bottle of wine chilling in ice waited for them on the coffee table.
Kathryn felt a little more of her unease dissipate. Finally a species in the delta quadrant that wasn’t intent on annihilating every passing traveler!
"This is great!" B’Elanna offered as she came back into the sitting room. She had already explored the suite and claimed ownership of the room she wanted.
Kathryn found it humorous that B’Elanna would claim the room farthest from the sun so she could sleep in without the light disturbing her. She also declared that she wanted to be as far away from people during her time off as was possible, and the room she left for Kathryn faced toward the hotel pool.
She had cast a sympathetic look at the captain but resolved to keep the room she had claimed.
Janeway didn’t have the heart to tell her that she had left the one Kathryn would have preferred anyway. Watching people laugh and enjoy themselves as the frolicked poolside was something she intended to enjoy. It was good to see people relax and have fun without the day-to-day worries of survival.
"Wow! Complimentary champagne. Remind me to go on shore leave with you more often. I doubt the rest of the crew is enjoying these kind of perks."
B’Elanna lifted the wine out of the cooler and fumbled with the cork. A few minutes later it popped and flew through the room.
Fortunately she maintained a measure of control and the champagne didn’t spew out of the bottle.
She tipped the wine into two fine crystal goblets and handed one to the captain before she picked up her own.
Kathryn laughed at the toast but met the challenge by raising her own glass. After a small sip she asked, "What do you mean ‘to the adventure’? Don’t you get enough adventure on board Voyager?"
"Oh sure, but this is a different kind of adventure."
B’Elanna took the wine bottle and led the way over to the sofa.
"How so?" Kathryn asked curiously sitting next to the other woman.
"This isn’t a Hirogen hunting party. Trust me when I tell you I’ve had enough of that to last me a lifetime. No, this is underwater adventure."
"I have to admit that I’m looking forward to it, too. I haven’t been diving since I was a cadet on Mars. I miss the underwater caverns and the red soil."
"How long has it been?"
Kathryn looked up and noticed a teasing glint in the lieutenant’s eyes. "Uh uh, a woman has to have some secrets."
They laughed for a moment and then B’Elanna asked, "So what did you want to do first? It’s still pretty early in the day."
"Early in the day and we’re already drinking champagne?" Kathryn grinned.
"If you want I could add orange juice to it and we could call it brunch."
Kathryn laughed aloud at the suggestion. She was suddenly glad she had agreed to let B’Elanna come along. The other woman had a terrific sense of humor, and the one on one bonding would allow their friendship to grow.
"Tell you what," Kathryn suggested. "Let’s finish this one glass, put the rest in stasis, and check out a little beach Prince Rathgar told me about. What do you say?"
"Sounds good. How far is it?"
"Not far. The hotel transport should be able to take us there in about a half hour."
"Lead on, oh intrepid one."
Kathryn felt her jaws begin to ache from smiling so much around the chief engineer. She hoped this would be the order of the day for this vacation. It had been a long time since she’d felt so carefree.
Janeway and Torres finished the glass of wine and then changed into bathing suits beneath their street clothes. A small bag of necessary items such as sunscreen, towels and a few snacks completed their preparations and they headed for the hotel lobby.
"Yes, madam, may I help you?" the concierge greeted as they walked toward the main desk.
"I was wondering if you could tell us when the transport to Natali Beach leaves," Kathryn asked.
"Any time you desire madam. Ocra, come here! Take these beautiful women to the Natali Beach!"
A young, well-muscled man hurried over to them and attempted to relieve them of their bags. Kathryn noticed the appreciative look in her engineer’s eyes for his physique even as she wrestled her bag away from him and showed her teeth.
"I’ve got it."
Ocra bowed so low that his nose almost touched his knees. "This way ladies. I will be happy to transport you to our wonderful beach."
Charmed by the flowery language and open joy in the native man’s face, Kathryn happily followed him out to the hover transport. It looked like an early 22nd century hover vehicle from Earth, but lifted easily from the ground. The air whipped through Kathryn’s hair and she inhaled deeply as the streaked across the surface of the planet.
Before long they arrived at Natali Beach and Kathryn stepped off the transport with what she knew was a stunned look. Three gorgeous, crystalline waterfalls greeted them, and she closed her mouth with a snap.
The cascades fell over thirty meters before falling into the lagoon a short distance from where they stood. Alien butterflies filled the air and birds sang from the trees that made the beach an isolated haven. No one roamed the beaches and Kathryn thought that strange for such a beautiful setting.
B’Elanna must have read her mind. "Ocra, why isn’t there anyone else here?"
"This beach is restricted to diplomats and royalty," he stated as though that was obvious. Then he turned toward Captain Janeway and pressed a small silver disc into her hand.
"Press this when you are ready and I will come for you."
Then he was gone, and the two women were alone in paradise.
"Like I said, remind me to tag along with you anytime we happen to get shore leave."
Kathryn smiled and shook her head.
Hours passed while they explored the beach and some cave structures B’Elanna had located on the tricorder. Trust the engineer to bring technology along even on her time off. Still, Kathryn was grateful for it when they discovered a cave full of multi-colored crystals. The shards reflected rainbow colors all over the room and they lost a great deal of time sightseeing before B’Elanna reminded her that they were going to swim.
The water turned out to be comfortably warm and Kathryn moved into the waterfalls at one point to allow a trickle of water to pound over her shoulders. The impact of the stream over her shoulders pounded out kinks and loosened knots that she hadn’t even realized she had.
Torres turned out to be a surprisingly good swimmer, moving underwater for great lengths before emerging to throw her hair back away from her ridged brows. Her muscles rippled with power as she cut through the sea, and took Kathryn’s breath away from the sheer grace of her movements. She wondered if Seven could swim or if the other woman would find it inefficient.
At mid-afternoon they took a break and ate from staples they had brought along in their bags. The meal reminded Kathryn of the picnic she had shared with Seven and she tried not to sigh. It was amazing how much she missed the other woman and they had seen each other only the previous night.
After lunch Kathryn spread out a blanket on the beach and drifted off into one of her favorite novels while B’Elanna played some more in the water. Kathryn had tried to tell her that she would get sick if she went into the ocean right after eating, but apparently Klingons were made of sterner stuff.
Evening came all too quickly and together they watched the sunset from their beautiful cove. Kathryn signaled for Ocra while they waited for it.
"Remind me to program this into the holodeck," Kathryn whispered reverently as the sun finally dipped below the horizon.
"I will," B’Elanna vowed quietly.
Then the transport arrived and they traveled in silence back to the hotel.
They had dinner that night in the resort restaurant. The meal was delicious; a wonderful blend of the Brunelli ocean’s offerings of shellfish compiled a delightful seafood salad. Oysters on the half-shell, and a version of lobster thermidor along with a light wine completed the meal.
Kathryn was stuffed, exhausted and more content than she could remember being in a very long time.
"Coffee?" B’Elanna offered.
They had just gotten back to their room and the engineer was in need of a nightcap. She handed the captain a strong, black cup of coffee before she choose a stiff Brunelli ale.
Torres settled in the armchair next to the captain and took a health swig of her drink.
"Captain," she said softly. "I just wanted to say thank you. Today was wonderful. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed time off this much since we left the alpha quadrant."
Kathryn nodded. "I know what you mean, B’Elanna. This world reminds me so much of Earth. In a way, I feel like I’ve recaptured a small piece of home out here."
B’Elanna was uncomfortable with mushy moments if they went on for too long, and even though she agreed with Janeway she felt the need to change the subject.
"So, what did you have in mind for tomorrow?"
"Marceaux, the concierge, was telling me about some wrecks near the Natali Beach where we were today. Apparently there was a war between an invading alien species and the Brunelli about a hundred years ago. A lot of the alien ships were shot down and landed in the deeper waters of the ocean."
"How deep?" B’Elanna asked curiously.
"Around four hundred and ninety meters."
"That’s deep. Are you sure that’s wise?"
"The suits can handle it. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about."
"You do realize that if we get into trouble Voyager won’t be able to scan that deep?"
Kathryn frowned. It wasn’t like B’Elanna to be the cautious one. "B’Elanna this isn’t an away mission, it’s a diving adventure."
After a moment the engineer chuckled. "You’re right, Captain. Too much time shipboard, I guess. What say we get a little shuteye so we can get an early start?"
"Sounds like a good idea."
Kathryn finished her coffee, recycled the cup and went into the bathroom to prepare for bed. By unspoken agreement the engineer had allowed the captain to go first, and for once Kathryn eagerly took advantage. She felt a little burned from too much sun, and pleasantly stuffed from a wonderful meal. All she needed now was a warm shower and her pillow.
Sleep came quickly, but when it did images of blue eyes and silver-tipped fingers haunted her dreams.
Seven of Nine needed no recreation and indeed found it frivolous. In truth she had only attempted such endeavors at the captain’s insistence, but Janeway was currently off the ship. For that reason Seven was at her usual duty station in Astrometrics even though the bulk of the crew was enjoying recreational down time on an alien world. She was working on several projects simultaneously; charting the next system, working on boosting power to the EPS manifolds and improving the replicator systems.
Although she found recreation pointless, food was not. She didn’t appreciate Mister Neelix’s culinary attempts and found his efforts unfit for human consumption. Perhaps if she improved the replicator systems it would become more efficient to utilize them rather than be forced to accept his creations. At the very least she could argue that his ovens and cook tops were an unacceptable fire hazard.
While she worked Seven considered that she could design another blend of coffee that Captain Janeway would appreciate. She personally didn’t care for the beverage but she was aware of the captain’s fondness for it.
Thoughts of Janeway on the planet with Lieutenant Torres were painful, but tolerable. If she couldn’t be with the captain there was only one other person aside from Tuvok that would be able to protect her in an unknown environment. That person was the chief engineer. Of course she would have preferred to accompany the captain to the planet, but the lieutenant had beaten her to the proverbial punch.
Seven admitted she wouldn’t have been interested in the shore leave, only the company. Perhaps this was better. She was aware of a certain apprehension the captain had exhibited around her since the night of the talent contest. She noticed bio-fluctuations whenever she was in the captain’s proximity and a small frown appeared to have taken up permanent residence between the blue-gray eyes. It was as though the captain was continually confused by something.
She wasn’t worried, however. Janeway’s gesture of the picnic the night before and her uncharacteristic behavior convinced Seven that she shouldn’t give up on romancing the captain. Kathryn Janeway was a very stubborn woman, but Seven had noticed the crack in her armor the night before. The only requirement for her to win the captain’s heart was not to give up. She would wait forever if that was what Kathryn needed to realize that she could not avoid the inevitable.
Seven left her calculations to run and left Astrometrics. Her destination was main engineering on deck ten. With Lieutenant Torres off the ship perhaps she could re-route additional power to the Astrometrics lab.
Captain Janeway wished for the umpteenth time that she had a tricorder. She and B’Elanna were approaching the four hundred ninety meter depth where she had been assured that she would find the wreck of a Jodean warship that had been shot down two centuries ago. With a little effort she could convince herself that she only wanted the tricorder to detect the wreck, no scan for predatory life forms around them. But alas, Starfleet equipment was made for space exploration, not underwater diving. As with most of their more fragile technology such as combadges if it got wet it would be useless.
Brunelli was far different from any alpha quadrant planet and she silently bit off a curse as another snake slithered by. She assumed it was a snake even though it was over six meters in length and as big around as her thigh. Hopefully it wasn’t venomous, and hopefully it wouldn’t try to eat them.
"Me and my big mouth…scuba diving?" she grumbled.
"You say something, Captain?"
B’Elanna’s voice was tinny in her ear and she grimaced. She should have realized the Klingon would pick up her complaints through the com system in the suits.
"Nothing, just complaining about the escorts we’ve had on the way down here."
"I know what you mean," B’Elanna assured her. "That octopus almost sent me right back to the surface."
What the engineer referred to as an octopus was as good as a description as anything. It certainly had enough arms, but it was the size of the Delta Flyer. Fortunately at these dark depths the sea life seemed to have an innate fear of light. When the creature spied their wrist lights it was enough to send it screaming away.
Screaming was the right word, Kathryn thought. The thing had shrieked at such a high pitch she thought her brain would turn to jelly before it got out of range.
"I think I see something."
Janeway squinted and could just make out a darker shape farther ahead. "I think you’re right, and we’re starting to stir up so much silt that we must be near the bottom." Adrenaline flooded her system and excitement zipped through her veins.
Finally they got near enough to see it and both of them gasped in astonishment.
"What species did you say this ship belonged to, Captain?"
"I was told it was a race called the Jodean."
"Well, I’m no expert on ships of the Delta Quadrant," B’Elanna began, "but I’d bet anything that this ship is Vidiian."
Irrational fear shivered up Janeway’s spine as she acknowledged that the engineer was right. The ship might be two centuries old, but they had fought the disease-riddled species enough to recognize the same lines in this old debris-covered battle cruiser.
"It’s all right. I’m sure whomever manned this ship is long gone by now." Janeway tried to sound reassuring, but if her voice was a little shaky perhaps that was understandable. "It’s still just a wreck, a derelict out of time; and I for one am very curious what we’ll find inside."
Janeway and B’Elanna searched the hull for an access inside. Near the stern they located a rusty hatch that must have sprung when it crashed. The hatch was only partially open and rusted into place, but Kathryn quickly found a solution.
"Here, try this." She handed Torres a piece of pipe that must have fallen away along with a lot of other debris near the derelict.
B’Elanna forced the pipe through the narrow aperture, scraping off bits of barnacle and rust as she did. When she was satisfied with the placement she braced her feet on the side of the hull and pulled back on the pipe. Even with her body fully extended and her muscles straining, it was no use. She just couldn’t pry open the hatch.
"Let me help."
Janeway moved over beside her engineer and grabbed hold of the pipe near B’Elanna’s hands. Then she braced her feet and together they heaved. The pipe began to bend alarmingly in the center and Kathryn didn’t think it would hold when suddenly the hatch gave way with a loud squeal of tortured metal.
Kathryn grinned and motioned for B’Elanna to precede her into the ship.
The dust of ages was disturbed in their wake. Objects floated free covered in silt giving the place a timeless, haunted feel. Kathryn kicked her legs slowly to propel herself through a narrow corridor and tried not to raise more dust than necessary. The lines of the bulkheads weren’t sharp and angular like most vessels. Instead they were rounded and graceful, yet unmistakably Vidiian. She was going to have to remember that just because they called a species by one name, didn’t mean that someone else called that same species something else.
She should have asked more questions.
"At least there aren’t any bodies."
"That’s true, but why aren’t there any skeletons? I would assume this ship was manned when it went down, but we haven’t seen a single bone."
"Yeah, I would have expected this place to be covered with them." The Klingon sounded disappointed by the lack of organic remains.
Kathryn didn’t so much mind the lack of bodies, but her interest was piqued by the mystery.
"Maybe we’ll find something further in," B’Elanna suggested hopefully.
Lost in her own explorations Kathryn didn’t answer. Something about the way this ship was constructed tugged at some knowledge buried in her subconscious. This vessel had been built with care; almost love, and didn’t fit with her memories of the brutal race that preyed on other species for their organs.
"There’s a large chamber up here."
Torres had gotten a fair distance away while Kathryn studied the remains of a photograph on one of the bulkheads. The Vidiian in the portrait, what she could see of him, looked healthy compared to all of the other members of the species she had encountered. Curious about what B’Elanna had discovered she turned and swam toward her crewman.
B’Elanna had waited on the captain and Janeway realized she had delayed entering to experience the next chamber together. It was on occasions such as this that she was allowed to glimpse the person B’Elanna would have been without the Klingon influence. If she had been fully human, Kathryn thought Torres would be soft, compassionate and a hopeless romantic. It was her Klingon side that gave her strength and passion.
Kathryn thought both sides contributed to make her the brilliant engineer that she was, and she loved the duality of B’Elanna’s nature.
Quietly she slid passed the other woman and rounded the corner into a very large chamber, indeed.
Ornate columns started at the deck and extended twelve meters overhead. The remnants of framed paintings adorned every wall and several smaller tables throughout the room held sculpted treasures.
"What the hell is this?" B’Elanna asked, running her fingers over the bust of a Vidiian boy and a father figure.
Kathryn drifted slowly around the room studying the various forms of art and the care that had gone into their creation. "Do you remember our first year in the Delta Quadrant? When Neelix had his lungs stolen and we brought those two Vidiians on board to try and get them back?"
"Yeah?" Torres asked curiously. "It was our first encounter with them. What about it?"
"They told me then that the Vidiians hadn’t always been organ collectors. That before the phage they had been artists."
"Is this some kind of monument, then?"
"No, I don’t think so. The ships we encountered didn’t have these kinds of things on board. I think this must have been one of the first warships they built."
"So they built this thing before they had time to forget who they used to be," B’Elanna guessed.
Kathryn could read her tone, but she thought she understood. So much talent and emotion discarded in the pursuit of mere survival. Sorrow filled her breast for what they must have endured, how they had to have distanced themselves from their natural compassion to raid other species for body parts.
A long, low table sat back against the far wall. On it were displayed various sized sculptures and contraptions she couldn’t possibly have guessed the purpose of. One of them caught her eye and her fingers stroked the delicate lines. Even covered with ageless debris she could see the beauty in the piece.
Kathryn picked it up and rubbed at the dirt with her thumb. Her wrist lamp illuminated gold and red filigree set into the image of a beautifully crafted bird. Just that small bit of knowledge that someone had loved wildlife enough to recreate the image touched her heart.
"Captain, look at this."
Kathryn frowned and swam toward her engineer. She realized after she reached B’Elanna’s side that she still held the bird, and determined to return it to the table once she found out what the other woman wanted.
"What is it?"
"This hatch. It leads to another compartment, but I need help opening it."
Kathryn slipped the little bird into her pocket and reached for the door handle. Much the same way as they had with the entry hatch both of them pulled simultaneously. The door gave way grudgingly, and filth poured into the room.
Bones, scraps of clothing and other debris flowed in from the other chamber and Kathryn was just happy they couldn’t smell it. Before she got the chance to say that something else exploded into the room.
"Captain, get back!"
Torres grabbed Janeway around the waist and yanked her away from the opening. Her reactions were just a little slow and the creature the shot into the room hit Kathryn in the middle of her chest, propelling her back and smashing her into the hard bulkhead.
For a moment she was shaken and couldn’t see straight. All she knew was that B’Elanna grasped a handful of the front of her suit and tugged her along frantically.
"Swim, Captain, it’s after us!"
Kathryn kicked her feet quickly, and then her mind cleared of the stars she was seeing. She glanced back over her shoulder and her eyes went wide. The monster chasing them resembled a huge terran shark except that where its eyes should have been it had orange lights. Feelers stuck out from the sides of its sharp tooth-filled mouth, and the body was built like a torpedo.
It was built for speed and only the fact that it had to turn around before it came after them gave them time to get away.
The chamber they went into, the one the shark came out of had a breach on one end that exposed it to the open sea. Just past that Kathryn could see the dark outline of another compartment. Apparently when the ship crashed it had broken into smaller bits. She and B’Elanna had no choice but to swim for that other portion of the vessel since there weren’t any other doors they could escape through in this room.
Instinct made Kathryn veer suddenly to the right and a second later the shark sideswiped her. Its tail struck her as it turned to come around for another pass and all of the air went out of her.
Torres grabbed her arm and tugged her toward the section lying ahead of them on the ocean floor. A small porthole loomed closer and Kathryn was relieved to see that the transparent aluminum had been shattered on impact. Both of them squeezed through the narrow opening and B’Elanna turned quickly to see where their adversary had gone. The widening of her eyes was enough to make Janeway draw her feet quickly to her chest and inside the structure.
A second later the shark hit the opening full tilt. Its snout impacted solidly with Kathryn’s feet and she cried out as pain lanced from the soles of her feet up into her hips.
Torres clutched her by the shoulders and hauled her away from the predator. "Come on, he’s stuck but it won’t take long for him to get out of that hole."
"I can’t," Kathryn gasped. "I can’t move my legs."
She heard B’Elanna’s swift intake of air, but the other woman just hauled her along as she swam quickly away from the beast. A few moments later the pain began to subside and Kathryn tentatively began to move her legs. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to relieve the strain on Torres’ muscles.
"You feeling better?" B’Elanna asked worriedly.
"Yes, I think the blow must have shocked my nerve endings for a minute there."
Janeway’s head finally cleared from the pain enough for her to look around. This section of the warship was wide open, obviously to allow for a great deal of crew movement. But she could see daylight not far away. This fragment was even smaller than the one they had explored before, and left them with fewer opportunities to find a sanctuary. If there were another way for the creature to get in it would have no trouble moving through this short, but massive corridor.
"I think we’d better find a place to hide and wait for that thing to leave."
"Good idea, Captain. I think we’re near this vessel’s engineering section. There has to be all kinds of maintenance tubes around here."
Thank God I brought an engineer, Kathryn thought. Even though it was an alien ship, trust B’Elanna to recognize and engineering station when she saw one.
B’Elanna grasped the handle of a small hatch and easily turned it. Kathryn didn’t know if it was adrenaline that gave the woman extra strength or if it was just easier to turn, but whatever the reason she was grateful.
The engineer pushed Janeway gently through the aperture and followed behind her. She pulled the hatch closed and locked it into place. The captain sat down with her back against the rounded tube and her feet drawn up tightly against her chest. She took one shuddering breath after another and realized that she was growing dizzy.
"Captain? Are you all right?"
Janeway shook her head. "Dizzy. Do you think its reaction?"
"Knowing you, I doubt it. You’re the toughest person I know and we’ve been in worse situations. Let me check your tank."
Torres scooted over on her knees and leaned behind Janeway to check her equipment. A few seconds later she delivered the verdict, "When that thing knocked you into the wall it damaged your regulator. You’re not getting enough air."
Quickly the half-Klingon began to fiddle with her suit and dislodged another breathing hose from her vest. Ironically called an ‘octopus’, she leaned over to fit it into Janeway’s suit. Precious air suddenly flowed into Kathryn’s lungs and her head began to clear.
"Thank you, but that oxygen won’t last long if we have to share."
B’Elanna nodded and tapped a sequence of buttons on her wrist. Then she said, "Torres to Voyager. Torres to Voyager, please respond."
A small hand covering hers made the engineer look up into her captain’s face.
"It’s no use, B’Elanna. The com system in these suits won’t carry that far under normal circumstances. It definitely won’t carry through hundreds of meters of water."
"Then I guess I’m going to have to repair that regulator," Torres countered lightly.
With their suits tied in to the same air tank B’Elanna was able to remove Janeway’s tank. It allowed her easier access to have the tank in her lap, but after a few minutes she had to conceded defeat.
"I’m sorry, Captain. It’s just too badly damaged. If I had some tools with me I’d have a better chance."
"It’s not your fault, B’Elanna. You’ll think of something."
"In the meantime we still have three hours of air before we have to think of something else. Both tanks should give us time though."
"Tank, singular," Janeway corrected. "Mine’s damaged, remember?"
"Only the regulator. The tank still has oxygen in it. If it comes to that we can always switch over. Combined, even with both of us using them we should have six hours of air just with the tanks."
Silence filled the room with each of them lost in their own thoughts. Kathryn was deeply aware of the limited air in B’Elanna’s tank, even less with both of them drawing off it. She wondered how long they should wait for the dangerous sea creature to leave. Could they ever take the chance? If they did and it was still there it would out maneuver them in a moment. They had barely gotten away the first time.
"I’ve got an idea," B’Elanna suddenly said. "Do you still have that retrieval disc?"
"Yes, it’s in my pocket."
The captain reached into her pocket for the disc that would notify Ocra they wanted to return to the resort and pulled out the tiny sculpture she had found in the other chamber. She had forgotten all about the treasure and stared at it for a second before she finally handed B’Elanna the silvery disc.
"Hum? Oh, I had just picked it up in the other section of the ship before that thing attacked us. I forgot I had it."
"It’s pretty," B’Elanna said softly.
Kathryn nodded, her eyes fixed on the small testament to another species’ past. "I wonder if Seven will like it."
Janeway looked up and noticed the confused expression her friend’s face. "Nothing, just thinking out loud. The disc?"
"Oh, yeah. Well, speaking of the Borg…With the components in here I was thinking that I could bypass some of the circuitry in this thing and send a message to Seven’s cranial implant."
"You can do that?"
Kathryn never ceased to be amazed at the sheer raw talent this woman sometimes displayed. She wasn’t thrilled that Torres had referred to Seven as the Borg, but considering what she had in mind the captain was willing to over look it for the time being.
"Once upon a time I would have said no, but remember when Harry sent that message into the past by sending her a message?"
"You mean in the other timeline when we crashed onto an ice planet and everyone was killed, yes I remember."
Torres nodded. "Well, he let me look at the data and I never forget a string of code. The only catch is that the message will have to be short…very short."
"One word…maybe two before the water it shorts out."
"What about the interference from the water? Will that be a problem?"
B’Elanna shook her head and said, "The message will be on a phased carrier wave. The depth won’t block the signal."
Kathryn nodded her consent and waited while B’Elanna worked on the small device. She used circuitry in the access panel to jerry rig her contraption. A short time later Torres announced that she was ready to try it.
"What message should we send?"
"Since we’re sending the message to Seven I think it should be something she would recognize as coming from me," Kathryn said.
"Makes sense, but what one or two word message could we send that she would recognize?"
"Oh, something short and sweet like ‘Seven, help!’" Kathryn said wryly.
What she really wanted to say was ‘Seven, we need help. I love you, my darling. Can you ever forgive me for being such a fool?’
"You think that will be enough?"
"Seven will know," Janeway assured her.
B’Elanna raised her eyebrows and said, "Okay, if you say so."
She tapped in a sequence of buttons and then looked up at the captain. "Here goes."
The send button was pressed and then instantly shorted out in the Klingon’s hands. B’Elanna cursed and tossed the now useless disc across the small cramped space.
"Are you all right?" Kathryn asked worriedly as B’Elanna shook her burnt thumb.
"Do you think the message went?"
"Sure, it went. No doubt Seven’s already mounting a rescue mission."
Captain Janeway could see that B’Elanna was trying to look confident for her benefit, but she could see the doubt in her eyes. "Yeah, I’m sure it went, too."
With nothing further to do the women sat back against the wall and concentrated on conserving their air supply. Even then it wasn’t enough. Three hours passed too quickly and the air became thin. Kathryn’s breath had started to fog the inside of her helmet shield and she knew the air would run out soon.
"Let me try rigging that other tank," B’Elanna suggested. She reached over and grabbed the tank. It didn’t take long before she tossed it aside in frustration.
"It’s no use. The regulator and the intake valve are so twisted that I can’t get them apart without a wrench. I don’t know what to do now."
It wasn’t like the engineer to give up and Kathryn knew that she was just feeling frustrated. Perhaps a gentle nod in the right direction would help.
"B’Elanna, you’re an engineer. Think. What could we use to force the water out of this chamber and maybe give us some breathable air?"
A technical riddle was too much for the Klingon to pass up. Torres sat against the bulkhead and considered the question for quite a while. Kathryn was starting to get lightheaded before she finally spoke.
"This is part of the engineering section, right?"
"Well, all of the ship’s main systems are routed through engineering. That means that there has to be some kind of access controls in these tubes."
"B’Elanna, where are you going with this? The ship’s been dead for two hundred years."
"That’s not exactly true, Captain." B’Elanna disagreed. "The ship was shot down back then, but that doesn’t mean that nothing still works. All it means is that everyone drowned too quickly to do anything about being underwater."
Kathryn thought for a moment and the scientist in her kicked into overdrive. "You’re saying that the systems might have went off line, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some charge left in the battery."
"Right. As long as the power cells in the engine core didn’t explode there’s a chance."
"If they had exploded there wouldn’t be anything left of the ship."
"My thinking exactly."
Excited Janeway asked, "How can I help?"
B’Elanna climbed onto her knees again and turned toward an access port. "Just move over here close to me so that lifeline doesn’t pop out of your suit."
Once the port was removed Kathryn could see into the guts of the panel. It all looked Greek to her, but one of B’Elanna’s talents was an innate ability to decipher all things mechanical.
"I think I can access the environmental controls here," Torres said after tinkering for a few minutes.
"What good is that going to do? Air isn’t going to do us much good with all this water."
"No, you’re right." The engineer agreed. "But I think we can use those controls to flood the compartment."
"It’s already flooded!"
"Not like that. Back when humans first started exploring the oceans the gear was much more primitive. It wasn’t until later centuries that they devised the full body suit with the built in helmets. They had masks that would sometimes fill with water, and had to come up with something to expel that water, even if they were submerged."
Kathryn was quiet for a second before she said, "You picked this up from Tom."
"He does like to talk about ancient Earth," B’Elanna laughed.
"Okay, I see what you’re getting at. When people used masks and water got into them they had to suck in air from their tanks and blow out through their nose to expel air into the mask. That air would force any water in the mask to be pushed out. There’s only one thing wrong with your theory."
"In order for the water to be expelled there had to be an opening for it to flow through. That’s why people would lift the bottom of the mask away from their faces before they blew out the air. For that to work here we have to have an opening."
B’Elanna sighed in frustration. "We can’t open the hatch above us, the water has to flow down for gravity to work."
"And we can’t open the access hatch we came through for the same reason. Look around on the floor," Kathryn suggested.
"Voyager has conduits that run beneath the floors of the Jeffries tubes, maybe the Vidiians had something similar."
The sediment in the tube wasn’t as thick in the surrounding corridors since it had been closed off since the ship crashed. It only took a few moments for B’Elanna to cry out in triumph and lift a section of grating off the floor.
A small conduit ran up from a lower deck to tie into the power lines. It tied into the main line with a clamp and a couple of screws. The screws were rusty and snapped off unexpectedly in the Klingon’s grip.
"Finally looks like something is going our way," she volunteered and yanked the conduit apart from the main line. Then she pushed the useless polymer back through the opening. A small hole now led down to the lower deck.
"Now let’s see if there’s any juice left in the battery."
B’Elanna grinned at her and walked on her hands and knees back to the access point.
"You realize there is the possibility of electrocution if I pull one of these switches and we get a spark?"
"You do realize that we’re going to slowly suffocate or freeze to death if you don’t pull one of those switches?" Kathryn countered.
The Klingon engineer turned back toward the internal circuitry and Kathryn couldn’t see her face with the helmet in the way. She had the feeling that B’Elanna was intently focused and her shoulders were tensed in a way she had never seen before.
Long, agonizing moments passed while Torres tapped buttons and moved circuit chips around at seemingly random order.
Janeway had almost given up hope when a soft light began to glow from inside the panel. The light slowly grew stronger until it out shown the light from their wrist beacons.
"Now comes the scary part," B’Elanna volunteered and looked at Janeway nervously.
Kathryn saw that the other woman had her hand on a manual override switch and was preparing to flip it up. She held out her hand to show crossed fingers and Torres graced her with a toothy grin. Then she closed her eyes and threw the switch.
There was no spark, and Kathryn thought all of the engineer’s efforts had been in vain. Then she felt a subtle vibration in the floor grate and the water started gushing toward the hole in the floor. Soon their heads were above water and it continued to flow steadily lower. In a short time all of the water had emptied from the compartment and only the wet floor gave testament that it used to be completely flooded.
"Do you think it’s safe to breathe," the captain asked.
B’Elanna shrugged. "Only air can force water out like that, but there’s only one way to know for sure."
Torres reached up without asking permission and unsnapped her helmet. She had it off before the captain could protest.
"B’Elanna!" Janeway shouted and lunged toward her. "What are you doing?"
"It’s okay, Captain. The air’s breathable."
"Don’t you ever take chances like that again, Lieutenant! Is that clear?"
Kathryn was furious with her engineer’s foolhardy actions, but strangely proud of her at the same time. Without a tricorder there really wasn’t another way to have checked for oxygen, and what B’Elanna had done was very brave. Her anger stemmed from worry for the other woman’s safety. B’Elanna seemed to understand that and grinned at her completely without remorse.
"Let’s get that helmet off you and conserve some oxygen, huh?"
Kathryn was relieved to remove the bulky helmet and drew in a lungful of natural if slightly stale air. After a while she asked, "How long do you think it will last?"
"It’s hard to say. The ship’s been inactive for a long time."
Janeway decided that being pessimistic at this point would be counterproductive. "It should be enough to last. The hotel staff knows that we weren’t planning on camping here, and eventually they’ll send someone to look for us."
Seven of Nine looked up from her nutritional supplement with a frown. It had been a long time since she had heard voices in her head and for a brief moment she wondered if the Borg had once again attempted to contact her. As quickly as the thought came it was gone. The Borg would demand Seven return to them, not ask her for help.
Someone was asking for assistance by sending a phased carrier signal to her cortical implant. There were only a finite number of people on board that knew how to do such a thing. Instantly she knew that Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres were in trouble.
Commander Tuvok was on the bridge and Seven quickly left the mess hall. She was pleased that he was on the ship instead of Commander Chakotay. The first officer would have discounted the voices in her head and asked her if she was suffering from a breakdown in her cortical node. Commander Tuvok might be skeptical at first, but he would put any misgivings aside until the captain’s safety was assured.
"I will contact the Brunelli government as well as the resort where the captain and Lieutenant Torres were staying. In the meantime I suggest you report to the doctor."
"You doubt the veracity of my claims that the captain has contacted me?" Seven questioned the security chief.
"We must be sure," he pointed out. "Once I have information verifying that the captain is indeed in trouble I shall contact Commander Chakotay."
Seven chaffed at the delay but had expected as much. Walking as quickly as possible she went to sickbay and quickly apprised the doctor of the situation. For once the EMH didn’t pester her with unnecessary questions. He seemed to understand the severity of the situation and reached for a cortical scanner. Within moments he finished his scan and didn’t even give her the information she already knew he had obtained. Instead he tapped his communicator and contacted Tuvok.
"Doctor to Tuvok."
"Go ahead, Doctor."
"I have scanned Seven of Nine’s cortical node. It shows signs of neural fluctuations consistent with a transmission. For obvious reasons I can’t tell where these transmissions came from, I can only assure you that she has received them."
"Understood. In the interest of time I suggest that you and Seven report to the conference room. I have already contacted Commander Chakotay and he is in route back to Voyager."
Tuvok terminated the com signal and the doctor quirked his holographic eye as he waited for Seven’s next move. Wordlessly she turned and left the room, and he hurried to catch up to her.
Even on shore leave these people couldn’t manage to stay out of trouble.
Two more hours had passed and again the air was getting thin. Apparently there wasn’t much left in the old derelict after all, and soon the power would give out altogether. The air temp was already much colder than before and Kathryn estimated they were lucky if they had another forty minutes.
At least carbon dioxide molecules were heavier than hydrogen dioxide so the water wouldn’t come flooding back in. Maybe someone would discover them in another two hundred years.
Thoughts and regrets ran hither and yon in her mind and without thought she blurted, "I’m crazy about Seven of Nine."
On the heels of that admission she wondered if she was suffering from oxygen deprivation already. Then she realized that this might be the only time she had to admit her true feelings. "I’m over the moon, head over heels in love with her."
Torres froze in place where she sat against the bulkhead struggling for air. Only her eyes focused on the captain.
"I just wanted to say it out loud. Even though I never told her, I wanted to be able to say it just once before I…before we…"
Silently B’Elanna searched her face before she finally said, "Captain, we are not going to die. You know that Tuvok and Seven won’t give up until they find us. I just hope that signal we sent gets through."
After that conversation waned with each of them lost in their own thoughts. Kathryn doubted their signal had gotten through no matter what she had said to the contrary. They were going to die of suffocation and no one on Voyager even knew where they were. She wondered what it would have been like to explore her feelings with the blonde woman everyone thought of as an ice queen. A sad smile graced her lips. There was no question in her mind that it would have been the most passionate experience she would ever have had.
She recalled the passionate way Seven argued with her when they disagreed, most recently about whether or not she should alter the Doctor’s program when some unpleasant memories threatened his matrix. Seven had shown up at her door at two in the morning to argue his right to freely remember, not be altered as thoughtlessly as a malfunctioning replicator.
B’Elanna’s question brought Kathryn back into the present and she looked at the other woman in confusion.
"I mean…I’m sorry, Captain, but I just don’t get it. It’s no secret that Seven and I don’t exactly get along, but if we’re going to die here maybe you can tell me what it is that you see in her that no one else does."
Fair question, Kathryn thought, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to answer yet. "Chakotay asked me that same question about a year ago. It was when I left Seven in charge of the ship while the crew was in stasis."
"When we had to go through that irradiated nebula?"
"What did you tell him?"
"I said I didn’t know, that there was just a part of me that thought she honestly wanted to do right by us. That wasn’t true."
B’Elanna merely sat and waited for the captain to organize her thoughts. She needed to understand why a person that was obviously Borg to her core could fool someone so intelligent.
"The truth was that I didn’t want to share what I knew about Seven. I wanted to keep it to myself like a cherished object that I knew how vulnerable she really was. Oh, Seven’s fine when it comes to ship’s operations, but social interactions? That’s another story. Seven falls back on cold logic when she feels unsure, and I think I’m the only one that she let see her other side. I’ve seen her eyes flash with fire and sentiment. I’ve seen her face warm with feelings she can’t express, and I’ve even seen her cry."
"We are talking about Seven, right? You’ve actually seen her cry?"
Kathryn could see the disbelief in the Klingon’s expression and tried to help her understand. "I know you don’t care for her B’Elanna. You’ve never forgiven her for being Borg, and as many times as I say she was a victim I can’t make you forgive her. All I can do is tell you that when I look at her I don’t see a Borg drone. I see a wonderful young woman who was brutalized for almost twenty years, and yet dismisses all of the negative feelings as irrelevant."
"You’ve been in love with her for a long time," B’Elanna accused softly.
"I guess so. All of those things I saw in her tell me that you’re right. I think I’ve loved her from the first time that I held her in my arms in the brig. I saw the vulnerable, aching woman under all of the Borg implants, and my heart went out to her."
Torres looked away and thought about what the captain had admitted. She still didn’t see what the other woman found to love in Seven of Nine, but she was willing to concede that Janeway was entitled to feel any way she wanted. And as long as they were making confessions she might as well make her own.
"There’s something I should tell you." B’Elanna couldn’t admit what she was thinking and look at the captain at the same time so she kept her eyes on the deck plating in front of her feet.
"Part of the reason I can’t stand Seven is…you."
"B’Elanna? I don’t understand."
The engineer snorted and said, "No, you can’t understand because I never told you how I felt about you."
The captain was quiet and B’Elanna wondered if she was disgusted by her admission. That possibility hurt, but she had started this and she would finish it.
"There was a time when I thought something was happening between us. I thought we had moved beyond captain and crewman, even beyond friendship and I wanted it so much. Remember when I had those visions of being in Grethor?"
She could sense the captain nod her head. "You let me seek the visions even though you didn’t believe in them. What I didn’t tell you was that you were there with me; you were what led me home safely. When I woke up in sickbay you and Tom were standing there waiting to welcome me back. I didn’t even see him; all I could see was your face."
Kathryn felt tears sting her eyes. She remembered clearly how B’Elanna had regained consciousness and sat up on the bio-bed. Then she had looked at Kathryn and grabbed her in a tight embrace.
"Oh, B’Elanna. I didn’t know."
"I know," Torres responded softly. "How could you? We never talked about it. Then I realized that you didn’t love me back and slowly I began to move on. Tom is a good guy, and eventually I did fall for him, but you were a tough act to follow."
B’Elanna finally met the captain’s eyes. "I just want for you to be happy, Captain. If that happiness is with Seven of Nine I have no right to question it, and I promise that I’ll try to give her the benefit of the doubt."
Janeway didn’t respond that it was questionable whether the other woman would have to honor that promise. The air was getting thin, and if Voyager didn’t arrive soon the point was moot. Instead she said, "Come here," and held out her arms.
B’Elanna moved over and put her arms around the captain’s waist. Slender arms tightened around her neck and the captain’s voice broke in her ear. "I’m so sorry, B’Elanna. I did feel something for you then, but you were involved with Tom."
"You’re saying that we could have had something, but neither one of us had the guts to fess up?"
Kathryn laughed a little at the growl in her friend’s voice, and she stroked the brunette hair with one hand. "Maybe, but B’Elanna I have to be honest with you. I’ve never felt the way I do about Seven for anyone else."
Torres squeezed the captain gently. "I know. Now that you’ve told me so many things click into place; the way you look at her and even the way you two argue. I know you love her, but Kathryn you have to promise me something."
The use of her first name surprised her a little, but this was hardly the time to argue protocol. "What is it?"
"You have to tell her. Promise me that you’ll tell her how you feel when we get back on Voyager."
"We’ll see," Kathryn said. "Now I think we should try and conserve oxygen."
B’Elanna fell quiet, but neither of them released their hold on the other. She might be half-Klingon, but she was also half Human and the Human side of her needed the physical contact. She didn’t want to die without the warmth of another at her side.
Four hours after Seven received the message through her cranial implant a rescue party stood on the bank of Natali Beach. Seven of Nine, Commanders Tuvok and Chakotay, Harry Kim, Tom Paris, the holographic doctor with his portable emitter and several others stood on the bank while the former drone scanned the water.
Contact with Marceaux at the Brunelli resort had revealed that Janeway and Torres had set off that morning to do some wreck diving. It was obvious they had no intention of camping for the night on the beach, but had failed to signal for transport back to the hotel.
Ocra, the local hover transport operator, had readily taken the rescue party to the secluded beach where they discovered Janeway and Torres’ abandoned belongings on the sand.
It had been ten hours since the women had left the resort and the sun had just started to set. Before long there would be no daylight left to work with, and Seven felt that time was slipping away from them. She had never been one for intuition or instinct, but she knew that if they didn’t hurry Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres would die.
"They are here," Seven declared.
She was looking at the readings on a modified tricorder that Harry Kim had rigged to cut through the liquid interference.
"Where?" Chakotay asked worriedly.
Seven fought the urge to ignore him…or throttle him. If Kathryn died she felt it would be his fault. Even after Tuvok contacted him it had taken twenty minutes for the Commander to beam back to the ship. Then he had wasted more time by insisting that Seven be scanned again and every effort made to track the captain’s whereabouts for the morning before he authorized a rescue party.
Apparently he was more worried about getting ‘chewed out’ for disturbing the captain during shore leave than making sure she was safe.
"Approximately four hundred ninety meters down. They appear to be inside a small metallic craft and their life signs are very low. We must retrieve them at once."
Seven set off toward the water but Chakotay stopped her. "Wait a minute. Seven, I understand that you want to help them, but you’ve never dove before. You don’t have the experience necessary for this type of rescue."
"Irrelevant. I have researched scuba diving since the captain indicated that was the way she wished to spend her recreational time. I have discovered that it is not dissimilar to space walking and as a Borg drone I assure you that is something I have a great deal of experience with."
Seven turned her heel on him and set off for the water again, but this time it was Commander Tuvok that stopped her.
"I will accompany you along with Ensigns Watts and Carmichael." The security chief turned toward Chakotay who stood gaping speechlessly on the sand.
"Commander, if you could direct the airships to the correct location and have them drop stabilizers when I give the signal?"
Chakotay closed his mouth and then said, "Of course, Tuvok. The airships are already on the way. Signal me when you’re ready for them."
Prince Rathgar had volunteered the airships once he learned of the situation. He had authorized them as part of the rescue mission and they were standing by in case they were needed.
Seven had determined that Janeway and Torres were housed inside a small metal container so Chakotay would notify the airships that they would need chains to lift the vessel from the water. Hopefully the chains would be long enough.
As the second in command walked away to relay that information Seven and the others stepped into the darkening water.
Over thirty minutes later Seven spotted the derelict at the bottom of the sea. Nothing moved in the vicinity and she wondered what would have prompted the women to seek shelter inside such a damaged vessel. Perhaps they had been ‘treasure hunting’ and became stuck.
"I am reading two life signs in the smaller vessel to the stern," Tuvok said through the com system.
Suddenly a torpedo shaped form shot out from between the two broken off segments and shot toward the rescue team. Seven quickly discerned the threat and drew back her implanted left hand. When the creature that was more teeth than flesh was right in front of her, she let go with all of the strength and fury she had and punched it directly in the snout.
The slippery body curled in on itself and the orange eyes squinted shut before the creature pulled back and shook its head mightily. Then, rather than engage in a fight with the small being that had hurt it so, the shark shot off in pursuit of an easier meal.
"Efficient," Tuvok complimented.
Seven immediately forgot about him and swam toward the smaller section of the Vidiian ship. She had recognized it on sight, and while it was a curiosity there were more pressing issues.
Without thought she entered the main corridor of what used to be the engineering section and slowly moved forward. It wasn’t long before the modified tricorder beeped urgently. Seven stopped in front of a maintenance hatch with her heart pounding so loud she could hardly hear anything else.
Swallowing against a suddenly dry throat she checked her readings. The life signs were almost gone!
She fought the instinct to throw open the hatch since the tricorder was showing a chamber free of water on the other side. Her readings also indicated that the occupants weren’t wearing helmets.
Tuvok moved up beside her and saw the same readings. He drew back a fist and pounded on the access port. "Captain, are you there? Lieutenant Torres, respond."
The com systems on the scuba suits were strong enough that the suits on the other side of the hatch should easily pick them up, but there was no response.
"Captain!" Tuvok tried again. "Please answer me."
Seven felt like she was on the verge of panic. Kathryn wasn’t answering and the life signs were so faint that it was conceivable the occupants would expire before they could bring them to safety.
She pushed Tuvok roughly aside and began to pound on the access port. "Kathryn! Kathryn, respond! It is I, Seven of Nine! Answer me!"
A small sound from inside the tube reached her enhanced hearing. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to spur her on.
"We must hurry," she said to Tuvok. "They will not survive much longer."
The Vulcan acknowledged her with a nod and then swam for the top of the segment. As he swam he contacted the shore party and informed Chakotay where to have the airships drop their supports.
Seven couldn’t bear to leave the side of the access port. Kathryn was on the other side fighting for her life and she had the insane idea that if she left the captain would die.
Another ten agonizing minutes passed before she saw chains drifting through the murky water toward them. She pushed away from the hull and drove toward the top. With all of them working in tandem they quickly used phasers to cut into the tritanium hull and attach the chains in record time. A quick signal to the surface and the vessel lifted reluctantly from the ocean floor.
She only hoped it would hold together long enough to reach the surface.
As the crate neared the surface the rescue team dropped into the water to swim to shore. Seven waited on top of the craft knowing that they would reach the beach before the swimmers and she wanted to be there as soon as the crafted settled onto the ground.
Seconds passed like hours and she waited breathlessly until the craft settled into the sand. Then she leapt from the top of the craft and landed in front of the access hole. Seven led the way down the short corridor to the access port and hesitated nervously for a fraction of a second before she turned the handle and pulled the hatch open.
Life-giving oxygen poured into the ruined maintenance tube and Kathryn’s starved lungs automatically inhaled deeply.
Somewhere far away, down a long dark tunnel she heard someone calling her name and struggled toward the beloved voice. Her heart knew who was calling to her even though her brain seemed to be liquefied from the lack of air.
"Kathryn!" she heard again as the fog began to clear.
Captain Janeway opened her eyes to find B’Elanna Torres not more than a few inches from her. Their hands were still clasped, but it was the voice that made her turn her head.
"Seven!" she whispered breathlessly as the other woman dropped down next to her.
Then Seven slid her arms around Kathryn’s shoulders, and half lifted her into a sitting position and a firm embrace. Janeway lifted heavy arms and grasped onto Seven like a lifeline. A sob escaped from the back of her throat before she grabbed the back of the other woman’s head and pulled her down into a kiss.
The kiss was a benediction, a promise of love and an apology for time squandered. It was a passionate press of lips that caused Seven to gasp in surprise and pull away to search Kathryn’s eyes with silent questions. What she saw answered her and with a joyful cry she lowered her head and captured the wine-shaded lips in a fully responsive caress.
Chakotay had rushed into the chamber to check on the missing members of the crew when the door opened and he witnessed the whole thing. As he helped B’Elanna into a sitting position his eyebrows did their best to crawl off his forehead in surprise. He looked down at B’Elanna and expected an expression of disgust or anger. Instead he was surprised by the delighted grin on her face.
When Janeway and Seven finally separated B’Elanna took the opportunity to say, "Damn, it’s good to see you, Seven. I knew you would come through."
Surprised by the friendly comments and by the lieutenant’s obviously pleased expression concerning herself and Janeway, Seven wasn’t sure how to respond. Finally she just said, "It is good to see you as well, Lieutenant Torres. I am pleased that you survived."
And it was true. Two days ago she would have willingly terminated the irritating brunette, but this harrowing experience had taught Seven that she cared more for the feisty woman than she cared to admit.
"This reunion is very touching," Voyager’s EMH groused trying to scan the captain wrapped so snuggly in and around the Borg’s body, "but do you mind if we save it for the ship? Right now I’d like to get my patients back to the medical bay so that I may treat them."
"We’re okay," B’Elanna argued. "All we needed was some air."
"I’ll be the judge of that. The captain has multiple contusions and torn muscles. Captain, how did you bruise the bottoms of your feet?"
Janeway flushed for a moment under the watchful eyes of her crew, but Torres bailed her out again.
"That shark did hit you pretty hard, Captain; several times. You’re lucky it didn’t break every bone in your body when it slammed you against the hull with its tail."
Seven went very pale and Janeway thought the other woman was about to pass out. "It’s okay. It only caught me a glancing blow. I’ll admit I was stunned for a moment, but Lieutenant Torres pulled me to safety."
Seven nodded shakily and turned toward B’Elanna. "I am in your debt, Lieutenant. If you are ever in need for anything…do not hesitate to call me."
Floored by the serious offer B’Elanna could only reply, "I’ll do that."
Boy, when the captain was right, she was right! Seven wouldn’t make a comment like that unless she was dead serious. But what suddenly brought the Klingon over to her side was that the oath was sworn out of love; love for Captain Janeway.
Obviously she had been blind to the fact that Seven was a woman capable of very deep, unwavering feelings. B’Elanna had already known her to be a woman of honor, even if she hadn’t liked her very much.
"Tuvok, let’s get everyone transported back to the ship," Chakotay interrupted.
Lieutenant Torres was shocked again when Seven slid her arms under the captain’s knees and lifted her from the deck.
Janeway slid her arms around Seven’s powerful arms and in front of everyone said, "Darling, I can walk you know."
Another grin crossed Torres’ face when she realized the captain was making good on her promise in a big way. When they thought they would die she had made the captain promise to tell her how she felt if they survived. Even though the captain hadn’t said those special three little words, her actions made it unnecessary. She was only happy that the captain had decided on the direct approach rather than try to hide what they shared.
"I know that you can," Seven answered. "But you will not."
All of the surrounding crew was surprised when the captain merely buried her face in Seven’s neck and turned over her care to the other woman. Unmistakably the experience of near suffocation at the bottom of the ocean had been more trying than they knew.
"You’re going to have to tell me what went on down there," Chakotay whispered to B’Elanna just before the transport beam engaged.
Captain Kathryn Janeway and Seven of Nine lounged peacefully in languid relaxation from hours of lovemaking. Kathryn didn’t remember the last time her bed had been so full, or so welcoming and she knew it was because of the woman lying next to her.
After returning to the ship the doctor had healed her injuries with swift efficiency. Then he had released her to her quarters with strict orders to rest for at least forty-eight hours. That lasted for all of four point eight minutes after Seven escorted her back to her quarters. Kathryn had made the first move and grabbed the other woman in a passionate embrace that threatened to set fire to her soul. To her immense pleasure Seven had responded willingly, removing Kathryn’s clothes and guiding her to the bedroom.
She didn’t know what she had expected, but Kathryn had been surprised by the bone-cracking passion displayed by a woman that was by all accounts innocent. All she did know was this woman was perfect for her; the one she had truly been waiting for and she had almost let it slip away.
The thought of letting things slip away reminded her of being on the Vidiian ship and she remembered the trinket she had picked up from the bottom of the ocean.
Kathryn slid out of bed and went over to her discarded scuba suit where she had dropped it on the floor near her closet.
"Kathryn? What are you doing?" Seven asked curiously.
Janeway retrieved the item and slid back into the bed, snuggling in the warm embrace.
"When B’Elanna and I were on that Vidiian warship we found a gallery. Clearly it was one of the first ships they built when they foraged into space, and they must have wanted to bring along a piece of their history. I managed to salvage this, and I wanted to give it to you."
Kathryn held up the small bird that was still covered in ocean debris and placed it in Seven’s hand. The other woman stared at it for so long that Janeway started to feel a little silly. There was no doubt that Seven understood the concept of love, but could she understand what this tiny sculpture meant to her?"
Blue eyes suddenly glistened suspiciously and Seven looked up. "This is what the Vidiians were before they became consumed by hatred and their quest for survival. For you to give it to me suggests that it is also a symbol of freedom."
"Oh, yes," Kathryn grinned and covered Seven’s hand and the object with her own. "It represents how your soul can fly if you want it to; how you can forgive yourself for the past and be the person you were meant to be."
"I will cherish it always," Seven answered sincerely. "But Kathryn, my soul has been in flight since you rescued me from the Borg. It will be in flight for as long as you love me."
"Sweet talker," Kathryn said saucily and claimed Seven’s lips in another kiss.
Passion flared again, and soon their groans and cries filled the room.
Next door, Chakotay rolled over and pressed his pillow against his ears. B’Elanna had told him what happened while they were trapped, and while he was happy for the captain he still intended to speak to ship’s stores about soundproofing the woman’s cabin.