Never Before (Conclusion to the Almost Home Series)
The door chimed again for the third time, and the inconceivably unhappy woman decided to finally answer it in the hope that she could get rid of her visitor swiftly and be left alone with her melancholy thoughts. Although Captain Kathryn Janeway had faced down Hirogen, Vidiian, and even the Borg, she didn't feel like that same person and didn't think she could face down Naomi Wildman at the moment.
"Come in," she said resignedly in a voice so soft the computer barely caught the words, but the heavy doors to the ready room parted obediently to admit her worried first officer. For a moment Kathryn looked at him almost angrily that he would intrude on her self-imposed solitude, then she relented and merely presented a blank expression. She wasn't really angry with him. The truth was she felt almost nothing at all. She hadn't really felt anything since the Incari had deceived her crew into thinking they had arrived back home on Earth. Marrying the woman of her dreams, Seven of Nine, had been the single most joyful day of her life, yet after only one night with the spectacular woman they had discovered it had all been an illusion. Had that really only been two weeks ago?
Kathryn hadn't returned to the quarters she shared with Seven since their return to Voyager, opting instead to work, and sleep when she could in the private sanctum of her ready room. She watched in detachment as Chakotay's dark eyes quietly swept the upheaval in her office. Coffee cups were scattered about the room with remnants of liquid swirling in the bottom, some had even developed a fine film of mold over the top; a testament to the neglect not only to the sterile office, but to the emptiness in his stalwart captains heart.
Taking a deep breath, the swarthy man grasped onto his courage and prepared to confront this woman that he admired above all others. Although their recent personal relationship had been somewhat rocky, he had made a vow to mend their differences. He only hoped what he was about to do wouldn't undermine that promise.
Standing politely in front of her desk in case she decided to throw him out on his ear, he began under the pretext of presenting her with the morning updates of ships systems by holding out various data padds. "Here are the morning reports, Captain. All departments are operating at peak efficiency except for a minor power fluctuation in the Astrometrics sensor array. Seven of Nine says she should have the problem fixed by 0900 hours."
If his hope of mentioning the beautiful ex-drone would elicit a reaction in his commanding officer, he was sorely disappointed. She barely blinked at the young woman's name, pulling her eyes up to meet his gaze with effort, and only asked, "Is it Alpha shift already?"
Dark circles were etched under her stone gray eyes, and the fine wrinkles in her face seemed deeper with her exhaustion. Suddenly all pretext flew out the window as Chakotay's compassionate nature surged to the fore. Stepping to the side of her desk, he leaned over and grasped her hands. "Kathryn, you've got to get some sleep."
Not allowing him to continue, Kathryn pulled her hands from his grasp and sat back in her plush chair. "How dare you be so presumptuous, Commander." Her eyes were flashing with outrage, and sorrow, but that was more emotion than he had seen from her in weeks and it gave him hope for her eventual recovery.
Pushing his luck in the hope that he would finally make her see the light, he sat down uninvited in the chair next to her ebony desk.
"All right," he allowed in a determined tone, "you want to keep this on a professional note, fine. As the first officer of this ship, I have a duty to let you know when your actions are detrimental to the morale of the crew."
"And just how are my actions detrimental to the crew, Chakotay?" she asked coldly, daring him to continue with her eyes.
"You're not the only one they deceived. Everyone thought they were home, and everyone is disappointed and hurt that it was merely a holographic representation. Yet everyone has to get over it and get on with their responsibilities on this ship."
Allowing her anger to control her actions, Janeway surged to her feet, "Are you suggesting that I am ignoring my responsibilities? I've barely left this room. And as for getting over it, what do you know about it? You didn't get married believing that you were finally with your family and sharing something so precious with them. You weren't there when we discovered the alien technology in my mothers barn. Don't dare lecture me on getting over it, Chakotay!"
Voicing her pain at that betrayal brought tears to the smaller woman's eyes, but she refused to let them fall. Believing that if she did, she would never be able to stop.
Gentling his voice out of respect for the ache in her heart, he admitted, "No, I didn't experience those things, and I am not even suggesting that you are neglecting your duties. Hell, that's all you have done since we returned. What I am saying is that the betrayal the Incari perpetrated was felt by everyone, probably most especially you. But what they did is not Seven's fault, and your self-absorption in your pain is tearing her apart."
His quiet mention of the younger woman had the effect he had been hoping for. Kathryn had started to retort scathingly to his comment of self-absorption, but the mention of her lovers pain stopped her dead in her tracks. Of course she knew the younger woman would be disappointed that they weren't really married, but it hadn't occurred to Kathryn that she wouldn't simply deal with it and move on. Kathryn was convinced that her relationship with Seven had blinded her to the Incari deception and she had determined not to let such distractions influence her in the future. Surely her first officer could see the validity of that reasoning.
"I'm sorry that I've hurt her," she said, sinking back down into her chair. "But surely you can understand that I have no choice."
"Why? Because your human?" he prompted. "Because you were deceived just like everyone else?"
"No, because I loved her…so much…that I allowed myself to be fooled. All of the signs were there, Seven and Tom saw them, but I just blew them off because I wanted so much to believe. Because I wanted it to be real," she trailed off.
"Your love for Seven is not responsible for that. We all wanted to believe; were all tired of being in the Delta Quadrant and so far from home. Don't punish her because an alien species convinced us that we had finally made it."
Quietly Kathryn contemplated his words and knew he was right. She hadn't been able to face the younger woman because she felt she had been responsible. That as captain, she should have known something was wrong, and the truth was she felt embarrassed that someone that had never been on Earth had seen something she had been blind to.
"Is it really? Tearing her apart, I mean," she asked softly, staring at her folded hands atop her desk.
A surge of hope rose in his breast that he had finally connected with her. "She's in as much pain as you are. I don't think she's been regenerating much, and has almost reverted back to her old Borg self. All she does is work, and I don't think she's been back to your quarters since we returned either. B'Elanna's been trying to get her out of her shell, but until today it seemed like she wouldn't get anywhere."
"Today? What about today?" she asked curiously.
"You know B'Elanna, stubborn as a targ," he said with a grin. "I scheduled them both off today in the hopes that she could get Seven to do something besides work. B'Elanna finally convinced her to go to the holodeck with her. I think the only reason Seven agreed was so that the Klingon would finally leave her alone."
Kathryn smiled in spite of herself. She could just picture Seven relenting out of sheer frustration and saying something like, holodecks are an inefficient use of my time.
"She is something, isn't she?" Kathryn asked after a moment, feeling the first crack around her heart as the love she felt for the amazing young woman attempted to rise through the ice.
"She really is, Kathryn. At first I didn't understand that, and for that I will always be truly sorry. I can only dream that one day I will find someone who loves me half as much as she loves you." He finished sincerely.
Looking up with regret shining in her eyes, she admitted, "I've been so wrong, Chakotay. Instead of pushing her away, I should have held onto her and let us heal each other. Do you think she'll forgive me for being so obstinate?"
Considering the question seriously, he finally answered. "I think Seven of Nine is too efficient to hold on to anger or hurt. I only wish the rest of us were so forgiving. But whatever you're going to do Kathryn, for both of your sakes, I hope you do it soon. Even if it means I won't get any sleep for the rest of this trip," he finished standing up and preparing to dismiss himself from her ready room.
"What do you mean?" she asked in confusion.
Stopping just before triggering the sensor that would part the pneumatic doors he responded with, "Let me just say that your quarters could use something in the way of sound-proofing."
The image of an exhausted Chakotay just prior to going through the Incari wormhole popped into her head, and her eyes widened in comprehension. Voyager's first officer burst out in laughter when her face flooded a deep crimson while eyes watered in sympathy to the sudden rush of blood to her head. But just when he turned to leave, the ship was rocked violently from an external source and he was thrown unceremoniously to the ground. Instantly, the captain knew they had been fired upon and lunged to her feet. Amid the red-alert klaxons that sounded automatically and the crimson wash of the illumination, Janeway fought her way to the bridge on shaky legs. They were being fired on almost continually, and power conduits were being blown all over the place as she managed to make it to her command chair.
"Report," she barked harshly, staring at the forward view screen.
Small, heavily armored ships danced all around Voyager, coming in to blast holes through the shields in an attempt to destroy the Intrepid class vessel, before dancing easily away. Tom Paris had his hands full trying to maneuver away from the more responsive vessels, but his attempts appeared to be in vain.
"Five heavily armed scout class ships," Harry Kim reported from his station, ducking when a console exploded next to him and showering him with sparks. "Coverient shielding on a modulating rotation, they're armed with phaser cannons and electromagnetic torpedoes that are ripping through our shields. I cant match the modulation of their shields." He finished shooting her an apologetic look.
Another sudden volley rocked the ship heavily to starboard and everyone was suddenly fighting to maintain their positions while the inertial dampers fluctuated sporadically before finally reestablishing. "Shields down to 67%," Tuvok calmly reported from the tactical station.
"Tom, get us out of here," Janeway ordered through gritted teeth as Voyager lurched again like a drunk staggering from a bar.
"I'm trying, Captain," he returned, fingers flying over his navigational board. "Initiating evasive maneuver Gamma Epsilon Four,"
Gamma Epsilon Four wasn't recommended for a ship flying at warp speed, since the maneuver had the potential of peeling the outer hull plating right off, but there really was no other choice. From warp four, Voyager came to a dead stop in space and the shuttles that had been pursuing flew right past, unprepared for the tactic.
"Hull breech on decks two, six and seven," Harry reported even as the explosion from the deck below the command center shook the bridge.
A section of hull plating from deck six drifted harmlessly into space as the ship came to a stop. Then without waiting for orders from his captain, Tuvok activated the weapons console and fired phasers at the vessels attempting to come around for another pass. The strain of attempting to turn while at warp overloaded one of the ships warp cores and it exploded impressively taking one of its companion vessels with it. Tuvok's fire impacted directly with two of the other small ships, disabling their weapons but not daunting their determination. Hell-bent on the destruction of the larger vessel, the two shuttles set a direct course intent on ramming Voyager.
"Torpedoes, Tuvok," Janeway ordered, adrenaline surging through her veins as the attackers grew larger in the forward viewer.
Immediately, the missiles were launched, and had only traveled about two hundred kilometers before impacting the smaller ships. The resulting explosion as the dual shuttle disintegrated caused more relays aboard Voyager to overload, even as the remaining vessel shot away into the blackness of space. For a moment, stillness reigned on the bridge before Kathryn realized that their attackers were truly gone.
"Report," she ordered huskily, turning to survey the damage.
"Multiple hull breaches, force fields are holding," Harry answered dutifully. "A lot of blown power conduits, warp and impulse engines are off-line. Repair crews are responding."
Tuvok picked up the narration from a tactical standpoint. "No sign of the other shuttle. Shields are holding at 28%. Weapons systems are at nominal."
Kathryn turned to her exec, awaiting the casualty report and fearing the worst. "Sickbay is reporting multiple injuries, two were life-threatening but he has them stabilized and anticipates a full recovery."
"Who were the two most seriously injured?"
"Ensign Forbes sustained serious plasma burns when a conduit exploded in engineering, and Lieutenant Murphy had severe internal injuries when he fell from a catwalk."
Letting out a breath, she felt only a little guilty that she had been worried most for Seven of Nine. "Keep me informed of repairs. Our main priority is getting those engines back on-line and shoring up our shields. I think maybe Seven and B'Elanna will have to reschedule their time off, don't you?" she asked rhetorically with a grin as she tilted her head to access the main computers voice interface system.
"Janeway to Seven of Nine," she began, realizing that she hadn't personally called on the other woman in almost two weeks. A beat later, she frowned when there was no response.
"Janeway to Lieutenant Torres,"
Again there was no response to her hail, forcing her to ask the computer for the women's location. The female sounding computer voice responded that both women were currently on holodeck one. Janeway turned to Ensign Kim, ordering him with her eyes to find out what was wrong. The dark-haired man worked intently for a moment before looking at his captain and his look said the news was not good.
"All holodeck controls are locked-out. It looks like the weapons fire fused all the magnetic relays in those systems. We don't even have communications."
Not overly worried, Kathryn knew that the holodecks were designed to shut down in the event of an emergency. The first volley of phasers from those attacking ships should have initiated that shut down. "So they're locked behind closed doors," she speculated. "I guess we'll just have to get a crew down there to open them up."
"I suggest we do it fast, Captain," the Asian man said in a tone that caused the hair to stand up on the back of Kathryn's neck. "The program didn't shut down like it should have, and scans indicate that the safety protocols are off-line."
Seven of Nine was on the holodeck with B'Elanna Torres, and if Kathryn knew one thing it was that one did not want to be on the holodeck without safety protocols if B'Elanna Torres was responsible for the programming.
"Get a crew down there," Kathryn said succinctly. "Get them down there now!"
Seven of Nine had not wanted to accompany Lieutenant Torres to the holodeck. She considered them a waste of time, but her new friend had convinced her that the program would help distract her from the pain of Kathryn's withdrawal. The only stipulation the blonde had made was no Klingon warrior programs, to which B'Elanna had readily assented but by the glint in her eye, Seven knew she was planning something. When the feisty half-Klingon initiated the program, the taller woman was dismayed to see that she had been correct.
The two were dressed in blue and silver protective suits complete with helmets and were aboard a shuttle hurtling through the simulated atmosphere of an M-class planet. Orbital skydiving wasn't exactly what the younger woman had in mind by agreeing to this recreational time off. But leaping from a spacecraft at exospheric altitudes was something the Klingon would enjoy, and she hadn't broken her promise of no battle simulations. Resigning herself to the experience, Seven prepared to exit the shuttle by locking her helmet in place and standing next to the hatch. B'Elanna joined her a moment later, and even through the glass faceplate, her companion could see the grin of slightly pointed teeth.
"Lets do it, Borg," B'Elanna said excitedly.
Seven refrained from sighing only by the thinnest of margins before she opened the doorway. The two leapt almost simultaneously from the craft, falling like stones through the atmosphere. Even though Seven knew the sense of falling was a holographic representation, her senses were effectively fooled and adrenaline pumped through her body. The women faced each other joining hands and splaying their bodies to catch the air and prolong the sensation.
"Woo hoo!" B'Elanna yelled happily. "Isn't this great!" she shouted through her helmet, Seven barely managing to catch the words with her Borg enhanced hearing. Seven let go of her companion and both of them prepared to activate their chutes. A sudden explosion rocked the ship, and the holoprogram flickered revealing the black and yellow of the grid while Seven and B'Elanna came to a halt in mid-fall. The program reestablished a second later and they were plummeting again. Having experienced the sensation many times in the past, both of them knew the ship had been hit by weapons fire so when the simulation ended a moment later and the grid-lines reappeared, they assumed the computer had shut down the program.
Their bodies were suspended about ten meters above the deck, and they waited for the safety program to gently lower them. An explosion blew out panel next to the computer interface and they fell the last few meters, impacting heavily with the floor. For a moment, they simply lay where they fell attempting to draw air. Seven was the first on her feet, pulling off her helmet and dropping it negligently to the ground before attempting to tap into the computer console.
The holodeck continued to pitch and yaw as explosions caused by weapons fire battered the ship and it was several minutes before Seven could attempt to tap into the computer, fighting just to maintain her standing position next to the computer by holding on with her mesh-encased left hand by the door jam. Then the shaking stopped abruptly, and the two were coughing into the acrid air.
The M-class simulation they had skydived into had turned into a swamp forcing the ex-drone to slog through heavy mud and grass to reach the interface. B'Elanna simply sat where she had landed, waiting for the efficient young woman to report.
"The holodeck systems have fused. I cannot access the controls."
Climbing to her feet, the frustrated Klingon stomped across to her companion. "It figures," she asserted angrily. "The first chance to have time off in a week, and we get fired on. Can you figure out what happened?"
Punching in more commands to the damaged console Seven responded momentarily, "No, the systems are too severely affected."
"Well I guess that means its time to get back to work." B'Elanna growled. "Open the doors," she said walking toward the exit. When they didn't open, she turned back to her companion curiously. "What's wrong?"
"The computer has initiated a program and I cannot access the controls to shut it down. Additionally, the safety protocols appear to be malfunctioning."
Rubbing her bruised ribs B'Elanna retorted, "I guess that explains why we hit the ground so hard."
"Well, there's no help for it," the discouraged half-Klingon said. "I suggest we sit here and stay out of trouble until the repair crews can get the doors open."
"I concur," Seven responded shortly as she removed her gloves and parachute. The two sat for a moment, swiping at the gnats that permeated the moist air. A moment later the blonde realized her companion was staring at something in the distance. Turning her head, Seven spied the roofline of a distant building.
"Hey," B'Elanna said, "Does that look like a hotel to you?"
Shrugging disinterestedly, Seven responded. "I do not know, however, I do not understand why that would be of significant interest."
"Humor me," B'Elanna said shortly before standing and holding out a hand to her companion.
Trudging through the much toward the distant structure, Seven finally asked, "B'Elanna, should we not be trying to exit the holodeck? Voyager is undoubtedly damaged and in need of having each crewmember at their post."
"I agree," B'Elanna returned amicably, "But we can't do anything until they get the doors open, so we might as well enjoy ourselves."
Comprehension flooded the younger woman's being and her eyes widened in realization. "B'Elanna Torres, you are expecting to find a bar at this establishment. Are you not?"
B'Elanna shot her a pointed grin and waggled her ridged brows at her, "You're catching on, Borg. Maybe there's hope for you yet."
Heaving a resigned sigh as she had seen Kathryn do on occasion, Seven followed behind her friend. She would prefer to wait for the repair crews by the computer console, but knew she would have to keep the feisty woman out of trouble. Sometime later, they were entering the lobby of the 20th century hotel. The concierge greeted them cordially and when asked by the impatient hybrid, directed them to the bar. While they were waiting at a table for a waitress to take their order, Seven abruptly lost patience.
"Lieutenant Torres, I realize your affinity for drinking establishments, but I have no such interest. I demand that we leave this venue immediately."
Blinking owlishly at her friend, B'Elanna said, "Gee, Seven, Lieutenant Torres? You sure know how to hurt someone's feelings," she sulked. When the tactic didn't work, she relented. "Fine, well get a room. We might as well wait in comfort, and with the safeties off what better place to wait?"
"Agreed," Seven returned eagerly, standing up immediately and preparing to walk out of the bar.
"Wait a minute," B'Elanna interjected huffily. "Do you mind if I at least get something to go?"
Seven fought the urge to roll her eyes and waited for her companion to order and retrieve her beverage. Her eyes widened significantly as the expected drink turned out to be a pitcher of ale. A large pitcher.
"Ready," B'Elanna said cheerfully and followed Seven back into the lobby. A few moments later they had obtained a room, and the Klingon was sitting happily on one of the beds imbibing in liquid refreshment. Seven loosened the top of her environmental suit and sat morosely on her own bed. Her thoughts were on Kathryn, and unhappily she realized that all this excursion had done was further her worry for her partner. Ex-partner, she corrected herself. Was Kathryn all right? Had she been injured? What was the condition of the ship? From the amount of explosions that had occurred and the rocking of the vessel, she knew the damage must be extreme. All she could do was hope the repair crews would arrive soon.
The archaic telephone on the table rang suddenly, catching both women by surprise. For a moment they both simply stared at it while it continued to ring insistently.
"What is this device?" Seven questioned in confusion.
"I think its a telephone," B'Elanna answered. "I saw one once on one of Tom's television shows. Its an ancient Earth device used for communication."
"Crude," Seven determined, and B'Elanna could only nod at her assessment.
"I guess I better answer it," the Klingon said but made no attempt to do so.
"Answer it?" the former drone questioned.
Sighing heavily, B'Elanna shifted her glass to her left hand and reached for the phone. "Hello," she said shortly into the mouthpiece. Dead air answered the curious woman, and for a moment she listened to the static at the other end before replacing the phone onto the cradle.
"No one there," she said with a shrug. "Probably just another malfunction,"
The room was growing dark, and Seven realized that night was coming in the holographic setting. Unaccountably, the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. B'Elanna finished her beverage, and reached for the phone again. She placed another order for ale and asked room service to deliver it to room 3124.
Seven didn't care how much alcohol her friend imbibed. The liquor was holographic and would not affect the engineer once they left the holodeck. A few moments later a sound at the door caught Seven's attention. She watched as the knob turned, but the door didn't open. Then she heard a ticking sound near the top lock.
"There's someone at the door," B'Elanna said frowning.
"It is probably room service," Seven supplied arching her brow.
"Maybe," the Klingon admitted, "but then why don't they just knock?"
She placed her glass on the table and walked over to the door. The hotel door was locked from the outside, but disengaged easily when the feisty woman turned the knob. She opened it to find no one standing there.
"Weird," she said turning back around. Just before she closed the door room service did arrive. B'Elanna asked the young man if he had seen anyone lurking in the hallways; he saw nothing.
Shaking her head, she walked back into the room and continued her solitary drinking, forgetting about the mysterious sounds at the door almost immediately. She kicked off her boots and buried her toes in the prickly nubs of the carpet.
Wary, not actually expecting trouble but prepared for it, he parked his car across the street from the hotel building. When he switched off the engine, he heard a siren wail in the street behind him. They're coming for me, he thought. Somehow they've found out I'm the one. He smiled. He wouldn't let them put the handcuffs on him. He wouldn't go easily. That wasn't his style. As the siren grew louder, he glanced at the rear-view mirror. A bit more than a block away, a revolving red light pulsed in the night.
He took the .38 revolver out of his shoulder holster, put one hand on the door and waited for the right moment to throw it open. The squad care bore down on him then swept past. It turned the corner two blocks away. They weren't on his trail after all.
He was slightly disappointed.
He put the gun away and studied the street. There didn't seem to be anyone at any of the lighted windows. That was good; he didn't want to be seen. He got out of the car, quickly crossed the street and went up the front steps of the hotel. The foyer was clean and brightly lighted, and the concierge didn't even glance his way as he walked across the floor and into the elevator.
He had come to see Mary. He knew she would be here since he had followed her across the swamps earlier in the night. Pretty little Mary, he thought. You've got such long and lovely legs.
Taking the elevator to the thirty-first floor. He listened intently at the doorway hearing nothing inside before knocking. A moment later, he heard a slight noise and then a woman's voice asked tentatively, "Yes?"
"Police." When she didn't reply, he went on undaunted. "Look, keep the security chain on the door, and open up. I'll show you my identification."
Hesitantly, she slid back a bolt lock. The chain allowed the door to open an inch and no farther. Holding up his wallet, he said, "I'm Detective Harvey." The knife was in his left hand, pointed at the floor, pressed flat against his overcoat.
She squinted through the narrow crack at the badge that was pinned to the inside of his wallet then carefully studied the identification card in the plastic window below the badge. When she stopped squinting at the ID and looked up at him, he saw that her eyes were not the blue of Mary's but a deep shade of green. They were truly the most attractive eyes he had ever seen. "Satisfied?" he asked.
Her thick dark hair had fallen across one eye and she pushed it away from her face. "What's the trouble?"
"I have quite a number of questions to ask you, Miss. Must we discuss this through a crack in the door?"
Frowning, she said, "I suppose not." She closed the door for a moment to unlock the chain, and then swung the door wide for him.
Harvey had time to cast a quick glance to the end of the hall hoping no one would come in or go out while he was standing there. Putting away his wallet, he kept the knife in his left hand.
"Come in," she invited. He stepped past her and into the room.
She closed the door and put the bolt lock in place before turning to him and saying, "Whatever trouble-"
Moving quickly for such a slender man he slammed her against the door, brought up the knife, shifted it from his left hand to his right, and lightly pricked her throat with the point of the blade. A slender thread of blood trickled from underneath the needlelike point of the blade. Watching the flow of blood intently.
"I won't hurt you. But I need your room. Unfortunately, Ill have to tie you up. Now be nice and I won't even have to kill you. You'll come out of this alright, but if you scream, I'll cut you to ribbons."
His voice was calm and matter of fact and she believed him completely. Lying on the bed, she waited silently while he tied and gagged her, hoping he would keep his word and knowing she had no choice.
After tying her, he went back to the door. Cracking it silently, he watched as room service delivered a large pitcher of ale to the room down the hall. Night was coming; soon he would have to make his move if he hoped to save Mary from the decadent woman she was with at the moment. First he had preparations to make. He waited until the boy left the hall before returning to his captive. He couldn't really let her live; she could identify him.
Sometime later, Harvey looked up from his gory chore and realized how dark it was. It was getting late, and from his research he knew that the concierge was now off-duty. The only staff remaining would be the guard at the front door.
It was the off-season for the hotel and few of the rooms were occupied. It wouldn't matter anyway. No one would get involved; they would be too concerned for their own safety.
He walked quietly down the stairs while screwing a silencer onto the .38 before slipping the weapon into his pocket. Entering the lobby he saw an overhead closed-circuit television camera suspended from a brace. It was focused on the front door. A uniformed security guard was sitting behind a low desk near the first bank of elevators. Harvey walked over to him, and stepped out of the cameras range.
"Evening," the guard said, looking up at him curiously.
Harvey's sandy-blonde hair fell boyishly over his forehead, lending him an air of innocence that completely fooled the guard. "Hi," he said easily feigning a self-consciousness that he didn't feel. "Look, I never do sleep well in a strange place and I'm a little nervous. Could you tell me if there are any other guards on duty?"
Smiling the guard responded. "Just two, but don't worry. They're very good."
"I'm sure they are," Harvey returned and removed the gun from his pocket.
"Hey, what's that?"
"A gun," Harvey returned simply, pointing the weapon at the defenseless man. He shot him twice in the chest. The impact of the bullets pitched the guard into the wall behind him before he collapsed.
Moving quickly, Harvey tucked the gun into his waistband and grabbed the body by the arms. He dragged it into the waiting area between the two banks of elevators. Now anyone coming to the doors would see only the empty lobby. Keeping in mind the details he had studied about the hotel earlier, he walked to the rear of the lobby and stepped into a short hall on the left. A single door at the end stood open and light spilled into the hallway. The guards never even saw him as he rounded the door and shot them at point-blank range.
Harvey removed the heavy key ring from the belt of one of the guards and whistled as he left the room. He went immediately to the elevator. There were two keyholes in the control panel. The top one opened the panel for repairs. The one at the bottom shut down the lift. He tried the keys that he had taken from the dead guard. The third one fit the bottom lock.
B'Elanna stared morosely at the bottom of her empty pitcher. It had been an hour since the holodeck controls had gone off-line and she was more worried than she let on. Still, if there was nothing she could do, might as well order another. Leaning over, she snatched the phone up.
"Lieutenant," Seven asked almost angrily, "Do you not think you have had enough."
"No," B'Elanna responded sarcastically, "I do not think I have had enough."
She picked up the receiver, listened for a moment and jiggled the buttons.
"What is wrong?"
Frowning, she said, "No dial tone." She hung up, waited a few seconds, and picked up the receiver again. "Still nothing,"
"Perhaps the systems are degrading," Seven suggested calmly.
Smelling a mystery, B'Elanna went to he door, opened it, and stepped into the hall. Holodecks were notoriously unpredictable especially when running someone else's program. People tended to construct programs that were suspenseful, enjoying the thrill of a mystery or a good chase. She could relate, being half-Klingon and wondered what they had stumbled in to. Normally, she would be eager to play the program out to its conclusion, but with the safeties off, perhaps it was'nt such a good idea.
Darkness lay on most of the corridor. Fifty feet away a pool of blue light marked the elevator alcove. Except for the sound of their breathing the third floor was silent.
"I'm no clairvoyant," she said, "but I don't like the way it feels. Something's wrong,"
"I must point out, B'Elanna, that with the amount of damage sustained by the computer interface, malfunctions in the programming should be expected."
"That's what I'm worried about," B'Elanna admitted quietly. "We have no idea what kind of program we've happened on. Anything could happen."
Arching an eyebrow, Seven had to admit she could see the other woman's point.
Curious now to see if they were truly alone, B'Elanna queried the computer. There was no response, leaving her no choice but begin knocking on doors. No one responded to her hails, and was about to give up when she reached the end of the hall and discovered an open door. With Seven at her back, the woman entered the room.
"Is anyone there," she called carefully.
Seven gasped in surprise when the walked around the door that was blocking their vision into the room. Blood was spattered everywhere, liberally coating the bed covers and the wall all around. Seven gazed into sightless eyes as she felt her heart began to hammer in her chest.
B'Elanna had seen enough. They were in trouble. Spinning quickly she grabbed Seven by her shoulders and forced her from the room.
"We've got to get out of here," she grated heading for the elevator bank.
She pushed the call button and nothing happened. "The telephone, the dead woman, and now this. Were trapped."
Suddenly the numerals above the elevator doors in front of them began to light up, one after the other. 17…18…19…
"Someone's coming," B'Elanna said as a chill raced down her spine.
"Perhaps it is simply another patron," Seven said attempting to calm her own fears.
"The stairs!" B'Elanna shouted.
"Stairs?" Seven questioned.
"We can go down the stairs and hide on one of the other floors."
"We should exit this hotel immediately," Seven protested.
Shaking her head B'Elanna argued, "No, don't you see? Its too far."
Grabbing Seven by the hand, B'Elanna tugged her toward the stairs. She wasn't aware of how tightly she grabbed her younger friend, but Seven didn't feel anything as her own fear began getting the better of her. They stumbled down the dark hall, and Seven heard the sound of the elevators open behind them.
When Harvey came out of the elevator he saw two people running away from him. They were silhouetted against the glow of the night illumination, but he knew it was the two he sought.
"Mary," he said closing his eyes with a sensual smile of anticipation as he watched the lanky blonde.
Then he seemed to realize they were getting away from him. "Stop right there!" he shouted.
The stairs were too far away. Seven knew they would never make it, and grabbed B'Elanna by the upper arm. Tucking her shoulder she slammed her shoulder into a closed door, sweeping through the entranceway as it gave under her Borg enhanced strength. She slammed and locked the hotel door. A second later, the man hit the outside with his shoulder. It trembled in its frame but didn't give.
"He'll get in sooner or later," B'Elanna predicted.
Seven didn't respond. She was too busy checking the room for a means of escape. Quickly running over to the window, she discovered that it didn't open. It was a moot point anyway since they could not jump over 31 floors to the ground below safely. Glancing overhead, she realized that the individual ceiling tiles might provide an escape. In the center of the room, they would not bear the women's weight, but near the walls could prove to be a different story. Seven moved a chair to the wall near the doorway. She climbed up and pushed a few tiles up and out of the way before poking her head through to survey the route.
"Quickly, B'Elanna," she said motioning for her friend to join her.
The smaller Klingon stepped onto the chair in front of her, but was too short to see into the overhead. She gasped suddenly when she felt Seven's arm slide between her legs, her hand resting against the Klingons lower abdomen. Seven lifted and boosted the swarthy woman up into the rafters. The ex-Borg waited in fear for the Klingon to carefully climb in, using the wall supports for a sturdy place to squat. When she was out of the way, Seven reached in and grabbed one of the wall studs to help pull herself in. Just as she was pulling her legs through the opening, she heard a loud explosion from below.
"He's shooting!" B'Elanna reported worriedly. "He's shooting t locks off the door. We've got to move!"
The women shuffled carefully down the line of the wall, trying to stay on top of it since stepping onto the tiles would result in them crashing to the deck below. The madman's head and shoulders suddenly blocked the light from the room that was pouring into the opening.
"Come back, Mary," he said plaintively. "I won't hurt you."
Inconceivably, Seven wondered if he had said the same thing to the other holographic character. She hadn't even completed the thought when shots rang out in the confined space.
Seven grunted in pain as a round tore through her shoulder, and then she was falling through the ceiling only to wind up in the corridor.
"Seven!" B'Elanna shouted and jumped down beside her.
Crouching next to the taller woman, she asked, "Seven, are you all right?"
"I am shot," the blonde reported in a quavering voice. "He shot me."
The blood leaking out between the long fingers Seven had pressed over the hole mortified the Klingon. But there was simply no time to dwell on the problem or to apply first aid. He would be coming.
"We've got to get out of here," she hissed even as the man stumbled from the room and into the corridor.
"Stop right there," he said in a calm voice. The darkness of the corridor masked his features, but B'Elanna was sure that his voice was familiar. Was it a character that she had seen in another program somewhere? She wasn't sure, but could only watch as he walked calmly down the hallway toward them.
Then he stepped into a shaft of illumination coming from the emergency lighting of the stairwell, and B'Elanna found herself staring into the face of Tom Paris.
"Captain, I'm reading weapon fire on the holodeck," Harry reported nervously.
There had been no more attacks, but Tuvok had been able to determine that the marauders had been a group of nomads. Their technology of multiple species being a dead give away. Sensors were strained at maximum capacity, and it appeared there would be no more attacks. Repairs were underway, but Kathryn had been extremely worried about Seven and B'Elanna on the holodeck with no control over whatever program was running.
Her blood ran cold in her veins when she heard him and she was on her feet without realizing she had even moved. "Harry, I want those doors open right now. Tuvok, you're with me, Chakotay you have the con."
Janeway and Tuvok collected phasers before stepping onto the turbolift. The brief journey was made in silence, but seemed to drag on forever to the captain. With the safety protocols off-line she knew holographic weapons were as good as the real thing. Hadn't they defeated the Hirogen with holographic explosives when they had taken over Voyager and been forced to play out a simulation of World War II?
Arriving outside the holodeck doors on deck six, Kathryn encountered the repair team that was attempting to by pass the controls and open the door. She waited nervously, praying that her friends were unharmed and berating herself for the way she had treated Seven in the last few weeks. During the few moments that seemed to last forever, she realized exactly how much she loved the younger woman, and exactly how unfair she had been to her.
"I think I've got it, Captain. I can get the doors open, but its going to take a few more minutes to shut down the program," Ensign Jamison reported. The doors parted even before she had finished speaking, and Janeway rushed through in without waiting.
She and Tuvok along with a security contingent rushed into the holographic hotel lobby that appeared deserted. Not knowing where her crewmen were, Kathryn did the only logical thing she could think of, she rushed over and check the hotel registry.
"They're on the thirty-first floor," she said almost immediately.
The rescue team rushed to the elevator banks, Janeway in the lead. She discovered the body of the dead guard almost immediately and her breath caught in her throat.
"Captain, the elevator is not functioning correctly," Tuvok reported, causing Janeway to look at him blankly for a moment.
"The stairs," she shouted, jumping to her feet and heading for the stairwell.
Praying to a deity she didn't even know if she believed it, Kathryn rushed up the stairs. By the time they had reached the twelfth floor landing, she was huffing and puffing, and honestly didn't know if she could make it to the thirty-first floor. Only her gut-feeling that Seven was in trouble kept her rushing up the stairs, the burning in her legs and lungs becoming a distant feeling as her fear overwhelmed her.
"Jamison to the Captain," her combadge suddenly sputtered to life, and Kathryn realized that with the holodeck doors open, communications had been reestablished.
"Go ahead Jamison," Janeway huffed.
"I've got the elevators functioning. Working on shutting down the simulation, now."
Not questioning why the young woman didn't have the simulation shut down, Kathryn was simply happy to have a faster means of travel. Bursting through the door on the next landing, the rescue team ran down the hallway to the elevator doors standing open for their arrival. Janeway sent a silent thanks to the young engineer for her foresight in not having the rescue team waiting for a lift to arrive and jumped into the car. Jabbing at the button for the thirty-first floor, Janeway was fairly bouncing in anticipation as the lift rose steadily.
Finally the lift reached the proper floor, and the doors grudgingly parted. Janeway and the rest of her security team spilled out into the hall behind her crewmen. The holographic representation of Paris was standing in front of the two women with his silencer equipped pistol pointed at Seven.
"Put the gun down, or Ill shoot her," he said calmly.
Kathryn held up her hand, halting her people behind her. With his close proximity to Seven, Kathryn knew she could not out draw him.
Seven would be dead from a projectile made of photons before she could lift her phaser into position. "Put your weapons down," Kathryn ordered.
"Captain," Tuvok began but was summarily cut off by his commanding officer.
"That's an order, Tuvok."
Looking as disappointed as a Vulcan possibly could, he laid his phaser on the floor. Captain Janeway and the rest of the security contingent followed his example. Kathryn grieved to see that her younger partner had been injured as the blood seeped out between the slender fingers, and she knew that the gunman wouldn't hesitate to kill Seven if they didn't follow his instructions.
Harvey smiled, seeing that the unexpected visitors were playing right into his hands. They would be able to do nothing to stop him.
"You have betrayed me with this slut," Harvey said to Seven. "I am very disappointed in you, Mary."
Seven's ocular implant easily focused through the lowered lighting, and she could see his finger tighten on the trigger. She knew he was going to kill her; and she was only sorry that Kathryn would have to see this. But if nothing else, at least she would have the privilege of seeing the love in Kathryn's eyes one last time.
Steeling herself to feel the bullet tearing into her body, she looked bravely at the mad man and prepared to meet her fate.
A roar of murderous rage erupted from the corridor behind the killer, causing him to pause and turn in surprise. A tawny feline body impacted heavily with his form, teeth and claws flashing wildly. Harvey screamed in panic and flailed wildly, losing his grip on his pistol.
Everyone stared in horror as the lynx ripped the holographic murderer apart, only three of them wise to the fact that this was Sahkmet, Sevens self-appointed animal guide and protector. Janeway was flabbergasted at the strength and majesty contained in the muscular form, grateful to this magnificent being for saving her lover. B'Elanna had heard of the creature from Seven, but had never expected to see it, believing that it was simply a product of the Borg's subconscious that warned her when danger was present.
A moment later it was over. Kathryn squatted down behind Seven and pulled the younger woman into her arms. Raining kisses on the top of the golden head, she held the other woman tightly asking, "Darling, are you all right."
The blonde turned toward Janeway and buried her face in her neck. "Kathryn, it hurts." She moaned plaintively.
Kathryn raised gentle fingers and urged Seven's chin up, meeting the liquid blue gaze. "Its all right, my love. Everything is alright now."
And Seven knew she was talking about more than this incident.
"You forgive me?" Seven asked wonderingly, reaching up to stroke the auburn hair.
Kathryn uttered a bark of tearful laughter. "Forgive you? It is I who should be asking you for forgiveness. I'm so sorry, Annika, and I do love you so very much."
Unconcerned with the crewmen watching, Kathryn leaned forward and covered Sevens lips with her own, taking a moment to absorb the taste and feeling like she had come home after a very long time away.
B'Elanna clearing her throat brought Kathryn back to reality and reluctantly she pulled away from the nectar of Seven lips.
"Uh, Captain? I think we have a problem."
Looking up in bewilderment, Janeway followed Torres gaze to Sahkmet sitting quietly in front of them calmly bathing a paw. Around them the holographic hotel had disappeared and they were sitting on the grid lines of the empty holodeck.
The fact that a creature that had appeared only to Seven previously in dreams was sitting in front of them was astounding in itself.
Kathryn understood that it had shown itself only to protect the younger woman, but she was concerned since it had been her understanding that animal guides were incorporeal. She was further confused when Seven forced herself to her feet, ignoring the blood leaking out of her shoulder.
"Who are you?" she asked in a small voice.
Sahkmet raised her head to stare at her young charge. Then her body seemed to melt and flow, shifting as lines merged and reformed; as hair retracted and the body elongated. In the span of seconds, a beautiful young woman stood staring at the group. Her eyes were ethereal amber, with the slitted pupils of a jungle cat. Her hair was long and the tawny color that had been the same as the lynx's coat.
"Sahkmet?" Seven questioned tremulously.
"It is I," she responded.
Kathryn's protective instincts prompted her to step up beside her young love, prepared to defend her to the last breath. "Who are you? What do you want?" she asked in a warning voice.
"Do not worry," the being said softly. "I mean only to protect her."
"Why? And why have you been pretending to be her animal guide? Is this some kind of twisted joke?" Kathryn asked, still feeling the sting of deception from the Incari and sure that this creature was not so benevolent.
The tiny woman reached out a hand slowly, and Kathryn quickly pushed Seven behind her, causing Sahkmet to look at her wonderingly.
"You hurt her so much, yet feel the need to protect her. How is that?"
Kathryn didn't know how the being knew, but was struck by the accuracy of the statement. "I was wrong." She said simply.
"You love her?" Sahkmet questioned.
"You would give your life to protect her?"
The creature stared at the commanding woman considering for a moment, and Kathryn began to grow nervous. "Is it necessary?" she asked, dreading the answer but knowing she would do so if it were required.
Sahkmet simply smiled in return, and said, "You'll do."
"She will do for what?" Seven questioned, breaking into the conversation. "And you still have not answered her questions. Who are you and what do you want."
Seven didn't want to appear ungrateful. This creature had saved her life several times, and by extension that of the crew. But she had to ensure Kathryn's safety above all else.
"I am not what you think," Sahkmet said, stating what Seven felt was the obvious. "I am a native of this region of space; a member of a species known only as the light bringers. When you passed through this sector, we felt your innocence and nobility of spirit. I was given the privilege of warding over you as you crossed this expanse."
"And your reason for revealing yourself now?" Janeway questioned curiously.
Continuing to hold Sevens gaze, Sahkmet answered the question readily. "We did not see the accident that caused the holographic creature to attack you. It was necessary to reveal myself to protect you."
"What now?" Seven asked, knowing somehow that her association to this wonderful creature was coming to an end.
Sahkmet walked slowly toward the tall blonde, maintaining a non-threatening air. She stood in front of Janeway and reached over her shoulder to stroke Sevens soft cheek. The love in her eyes for Seven threatened to emolliate Kathryn and she only perceived a small amount of what she knew her lover must have been feeling. Jealousy did not figure into the equation for Kathryn; the love in Sahkmet's eyes appeared to be maternal.
"You are leaving our sector of space and I can no longer travel with you. We are known as the light givers, but you have brought light to my existence. Never doubt the humanity in your soul."
Stepping back, Sahkmet searched out the captains gaze. "The marauders that attacked your ship have been confined in a space barrier.
They will disturb you no longer, and you should be out of their range in twelve of your hours."
"What will you do with them?" B'Elanna asked curiously, voicing the captains unasked question.
"They will be released when you are gone," Sahkmet responded. "We have no desire to harm anyone, only to protect. And while they are violent, each individual contributes an integral piece to the fabric of space and time."
Kathryn knew the creature was preparing to depart and felt the need to express her gratitude for protecting Seven in some way. "Do you need us to rendezvous with one of your ships? Drop you off somewhere?"
Smiling gently as though to a child, Sahkmet said, "No, but thank you. We have our own means of travel."
Meeting Seven's eyes one last time, she said, "I will miss you, young one. May all your dreams come true,"
With a flash of light, she was gone leaving the Starfleet officers astonished at the sudden departure. Seven turned toward Kathryn, and suddenly sagged as she felt the pain of her wound more fiercely. "Kathryn," she gasped.
Janeway grasped onto the young woman and called for a site-to-site transport to sickbay. Entrusting her security chief to get things back on track, she accompanied the younger woman to the medical bay, waiting anxiously for the doctor to treat her.
She watched nervously as the holographic physician laid Seven gently on a bio-bed and carefully repaired the open wound. As soon as the holoprogram had ended, the bullet had disappeared, but the damage to her body did not, and she had lost a significant amount of blood. Fortunately, her nanoprobes kicked in to help repair the injury and with the addition of the doctors skill, she was soon mended.
Almost a half hour later, the doctor turned to Janeway and reported her mended. "She'll be sore for a while, and I'd recommend a full regeneration cycle. I've ordered her to have two days off before she returns to duty."
"Understood, Doctor," Kathryn said sincerely. "I'm very grateful for your skill."
Strutting happily away with his ego stroked, the holographic doctor left the two women alone. Kathryn and Seven eyed each other warily. The last few weeks had been difficult and neither of them knew exactly where they stood with the other.
Walking up to within arms-reach of the taller woman, Kathryn clasped her hands together in front of her and lowered her head. For a moment she didn't know what to say, but she was saved having to say anything by Seven's soft voice.
"Kathryn, did you mean what you said to Sahkmet?" the young woman asked tentatively. "That you would die to protect me, and that you love me?"
Having treated the younger woman so badly in the recent weeks, Kathryn owed her nothing but absolute honesty now. She stood between Seven's knees as she sat on the bio-bed, and stared intently into her eyes trying to convey her sincerity.
"Never before have I loved anyone as I love you. Never again, will anyone touch my soul as you have done. Our marriage ceremony on Incara Prime may have been an illusion, but the marriage of our souls is not. I have no reason to assume that you will forgive me, but I belong to you, Seven of Nine, Annika Hanson. And if you will have me back, I vow that I will never push you away again. I love you."
With tears shining in her ice-blue eyes, Seven reached for Kathryn and enfolded her in loving arms. Granting this woman forgiveness was something she had no trouble doing.
"I know you were disappointed and hurt, my Kathryn. I can only tell you that I also was devastated by the Incari deception. But I need no ceremony to know that my soul is joined with yours." Then repeating her beloveds own words she said, "I belong to you Kathryn Janeway. Never before have I loved any other, and never again shall I love anyone. You are my heart."
An insistent hand under Kathryn's small chin lifted her head even as Seven's dipped lower. She captured Kathryn's lips in a passionate kiss, giving no quarter, sundering the smaller woman's defenses completely. Kathryn surrendered willingly, twining her arms around the slender neck and hanging on for all that she was worth. Knowing that if they never reached the Alpha Quadrant, here with Seven, she was truly home.