"Captain, internal sensors are showing an anomalous energy signature in cargo bay four." Ensign Harry Kim’s dark eyes reflected the concern that was so evident in his voice. Even after four years with Voyager stranded in the Delta Quadrant, the young operations officer displayed a naiveté that while charming, made him appear more inexperienced than the officer he had actually grown into.
That fact notwithstanding Captain Kathryn Janeway, intrepid leader of the displaced starship, frowned as she acknowledged that in this case concern was warranted. Voyager had just completed negotiations with a race of aliens known as the Anu-I and hadn’t faired well in the exchange. If they hadn’t been so desperate for food and mineral supplies Janeway would have happily passed on the deal. Not only were the Anu-I ruthless negotiators when they sensed their clients were desperate, but they resembled giant scarab beetles complete with clicking mandibles and reverse-hinged knee joints.
Kathryn had always been taught to respect other species and cultures but there was something about dealing with a giant bug that just made her skin crawl. Added to that the Anu-I had acquired half the maintenance equipment on board and Janeway’s personal silver coffee set in exchange for the precious supplies, and that left for a very disgruntled leader. To have an unusual energy signature show up near the cargo containers so quickly after leaving the desert-like planet was enough to get her Midwest cussedness up.
Staring at the forward view screen for only a nanosecond, Janeway stood and tugged smartly on the bottom of her tunic. Setting her jaw she glanced over to her second in command and chose to ignore the look of barely contained amusement gleaming in his dark eyes.
"Commander, you have the bridge. I’ll be in cargo bay four."
The tribal tattoo over his left brow arched in curiosity as he asked, "Would you prefer for me to send a security team to check it out?"
Acknowledging the prudent course of action with a nod Janeway replied, "Have them meet us there."
When the burly executive opened his mouth to draw breath in argument Kathryn forestalled him with an elegant raised hand. "I know what you’re going to say, and you’re right, Chakotay. But I want to see this for myself. It’s like a vendetta now. If I can show that the Anu-I hoodwinked us in anyway maybe I can get some of our equipment back."
Refusing to dwell on how futile that sounded even to herself, Kathryn turned to head for the turbolift. Seven of Nine was standing at the rear science station performing some routine maintenance and had barely glanced up during the exchange. As the captain passed her and said, "Seven, grab a tricorder. You’re with me," the former Borg drone unhesitatingly ceased her diagnostics and turned to fall in step with her commanding officer.
It was unusual that Seven was on the bridge during the middle of the alpha shift, usually preferring to man her post in Astrometrics, but Janeway happily took advantage of the occurrence. In many cases the young woman’s Borg implants could reveal details that would be missed by other more conventional means. Specifically, her optical implant could measure variations in infrared that were sometimes out of the range of a tricorder. Kathryn did briefly wonder why her younger friend had been spending so much time at the aft science station during the last week and resolved to check with engineering to see if there was a malfunction in the console. B’Elanna had certainly never mentioned such a problem in her departmental reports.
All the way to deck eight, the captain kept up a steady stream of threats against the Anu-I if she found something she could actually link to them. And even though her countenance remained impassive, Seven was amused by the tirade.
When she had first come on board Voyager she hadn’t understood the human penchant for ‘venting’, but she had come to understand that it was healthy for humanoids to express their feelings rather than repress them. She had found such behavior annoying, but with her captain she could only express how she felt by using an euphemism that Ensign Wildman used when describing something her daughter had done. She found it adorable.
"I’m telling you, Seven," Janeway was saying as the heavy pneumatic doors to the cargo bay parted, "If I find out they did anything to threaten this crew, I’m going to pull their antennae off and shove them down their throats."
"Indeed." Seven's response was noncommittal. No one else would have noticed from looking at her, but the young woman was struggling not to smile at the display. Using her tricorder as a distraction, she opened the cover to activate the device and began sweeping the cavernous bay.
They walked to the back of the room without detecting anything unusual and Janeway was standing with her hands on her hips and just beginning to grow impatient when Seven closed the scanning device. "The tricorder has found nothing unusual. I will retrieve a dyno-scanner to obtained better readings."
Neither woman responded as Janeway relieved the former drone of the tricorder and Seven turned to walk away. It wasn’t that the captain didn’t believe her, but she couldn’t help feeling that there was something they were missing. She had just walked over to scan the Anu-I containers when a shifting noise caught her attention.
The containers were each approximately one meter tall and stacked three high. Kathryn looked up in time to see one of the topmost containers toppling over toward her and turned away in a reflexively defensive reaction. Unfortunately she wasn’t fast enough and the heavy cargo container struck her on the neck and back. She was unconscious before her mind ever had time to register the impact.
Turning back at the racket, Seven was in time to witness the impact and shouted a belated warning, "Captain, look out!" then was rushing to the fallen woman’s side.
Everything else forgotten in her panic, Seven pulled the smaller woman into her arms and shouted, "Computer, medical emergency. Two to beam directly to sickbay." Even in her fright she could feel the shifting of broken bones in the small form as her vision distorted in the sparkle of the transporter beam.
Awareness came slowly to Kathryn Janeway. For a time she actually felt as though she were floating in a vacuum. Everything around her felt light and cool, even as she felt her body had been weighted down with lead. Her head felt foggy and her tongue seemed dried against the roof of her mouth. Eventually her eyes blinked as she fought for daylight, but she immediately slammed them shut again as the bright light assaulted her sensitive eyes.
"Captain, you’re awake," came the voice of the emergency medical hologram.
Wanting to ridicule the man for always stating the obvious, she could only open her eyes and croak, "What happened? I feel like I’ve been run over by a land-speeder." She was surprised to see Seven standing next the EMH and even more surprised by the obvious look of concern in the blue eyes. Seven rarely emoted and if she was doing it so openly now, that did not bode well for the captain’s condition.
"A heavy container fell on you in cargo bay two. Seven acted very quickly in getting you to sickbay." His voice was uncharacteristically gentle.
Okay, so she had taken a pretty good knock. Kathryn certainly had no intention of letting that keep her in sickbay. Taking a deep breath, Janeway tensed and tried to sit up. She was sure she had tensed in preparation of rising but nothing happened. Trust the doctor to be overly precautious, she thought sarcastically. Still that trait had saved many of her crew in the past and she supposed she should be grateful to the physician.
"Doctor, if you really think that remaining in sickbay is necessary I will, but I assure you that the restraining field is unnecessary." Glancing up to see if he’d gotten her point or if she would have to pull rank, she was uncomfortable with the look of compassion in his soft brown eyes. True to the sense of dread that she suddenly felt in the pit of her stomach, she listened to the doctor’s words in shock.
"Captain, there is no restraining field. You have seven shattered vertebrae and a crushed spinal cord." Hesitating briefly he struggled with the words he wished he never had to say to any patient. "Although you still maintain the use of your upper body, I’m afraid there is no way to repair an injury like this."
Kathryn heard the words but for a moment they meant nothing to her. The fog was back clouding her thoughts and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. A weight resting against her shoulder finally drew her attention and she looked up dazedly. Bright tears shown visibly in one clear blue eye and she had to blink before she realized that the eyes belonged to her supposedly emotionless Astrometrics officer.
For once the doctor wasn’t unsympathetic to the clear desire Seven had for a few minutes alone with the captain. Quietly excusing himself, he adjourned to his office where he darkened the transparent aluminum to allow them some privacy.
"I am sorry," the younger woman began in a voice gravelly from fighting her emotions. As intriguing as the sensation of sorrow was, it was fairly disconcerting and Seven didn’t want the captain to witness her lack of control. She didn’t want to contribute anything to the other woman’s situation, but she had to admit to her failure.
"Sorry? For what?" Kathryn asked in confusion.
Looking away and grinding her teeth in sudden anger at herself, she admitted, "It should have been me."
Seeing the captain’s broken body was almost more than Seven could bear and the tears flowed freely down her alabaster cheek as she berated herself for letting the other woman down. The captain’s safety was paramount on Voyager. Even Naomi Wildman knew that. If a four year old knew it and sought to protect the captain, who was also her idol, how could Seven have allowed Janeway to be harmed? There was no excuse in her eyes.
If Seven had been any other crewman Kathryn would have been convinced that they were simply giving her lip service. Although she sincerely cared for her crew she knew that they were sometimes motivated by their own selfish desires. Fear of retaliation for allowing the captain to be injured could motivate someone to say those same words without the actual feeling behind them. But this was not any other crewman and Seven of Nine didn’t say anything she didn’t mean. She was painfully honest, and while Kathryn considered it one of her most endearing qualities it was also one of her most annoying.
Groggy from the painkillers in her system, Kathryn sluggishly raised a hand to rest it on Seven’s. The younger woman had forgotten that her hand was still on the captain’s shoulder and jumped slightly at the contact. But the action had the desired effect of bringing the blue eyes back around to meet her commanding officer’s gaze.
"Do not beat yourself up over this, Seven," she ordered in a voice equal parts stern and compassionate. "It is not your fault. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and I do not regret for one moment that you were not injured."
Blue on blue eyes locked and for a moment an unspoken communication of support and mutual caring passed between the pair. It was broken a moment later by the parting of the medical bay doors. Both women watched Commander Chakotay rush into the room with a worried frown on his face. His dark eyes locked with Janeway’s as he rushed to her side.
"Seven," Kathryn began while watching her friend approach. "Would you mind giving Commander Chakotay and I a moment?"
Unaccountably irritated at the interruption Seven nevertheless realized that the welfare of the ship came before her own desire to be alone with the captain. Dipping her head in a quick nod she responded, "I shall return to Astrometrics to complete my duties, but I shall return upon completion of my shift." Not waiting for a response the young woman left, nodding at Chakotay in passing.
For a moment he stood at the captain's side not sure what to say. He couldn’t very well ask if she was all right when it was apparent that she most emphatically was not. The doctor had informed him over the com of her condition and for the first time in a while he found himself at a loss for words.
Leaning a hip against the biobed he finally said, "The doctor informed me of the accident. I am so sorry, Kathryn. I wish there was something I could do." The tears shining in the dark eyes convinced her of his sincerity, but beyond compassion there was duty. It was a time for the latter rather than the former, and as painful as this was for her there was no question what she had to do.
"Then you also know that there’s nothing the doctor can do," she began, preparing him for what was coming next.
"Not yet," he conceded, "but our doctor is very resourceful. If anyone can come up with a solution, it’s him."
Janeway had sensed her friend tense as soon as she spoke. There was no question that he knew she was leading up to something, he just wasn’t sure it was going to be something he would like.
"Chakotay…do you feel that you’re ready to lead Voyager?" she asked bluntly, feeling that this was absolutely no time to dance around the issues. Her condition was serious, and the prognosis dismal.
Hurt and not a small amount of anger suddenly reflected in his dark brown eyes. "Captain, I can’t believe you would even ask me that. You’ve only just become injured; surely you should give this some time…not make a snap decision. Down the road the doctor could…"
"Chakotay," she interrupted harshly, "part of being a Starfleet Captain is making snap decisions. My injuries are not going to magically go away. I am going to be unable to walk for the rest of my life. Voyager needs a captain with full use of their limbs."
"That’s where you’re wrong," he countered strongly, his own voice rising in indignation. "Being a great captain is more than physical ability. In fact, I would argue that the best leaders are those that use their intellect. And there is no one I know that is a finer leader or tactician than you exactly for that reason. I could never hope to fill your shoes and you know it. So do I, and so would the crew."
"Please, Chakotay," she asked softly knowing that an angry retort would only cause the man to plant his feet. "As a personal favor to me, would you please take over command of the ship?"
Jaw grinding in anger that the captain could just so easily give in to this injury, he was silent for a moment as he contemplated his options. He didn’t want to be captain. It was true that he had commanded the Maquis ship, but that had been in defense of his home colony against the Cardassians. When it came to the running of a Starfleet ship, he was content as second in command. In fact, he preferred it. Being captain carried with it an inherent distance from the rest of the crew that was necessary to maintain a professional command structure. His personality was such that he needed that interaction, to connect with his fellow crewmembers and ensure each of them was content and adjusted. Not just because he enjoyed that camaraderie, but also because it ensured the smooth operation of the vessel. If he accepted the mantel of command who would he choose as a second? Tuvok? Immediately he rejected that notion. The stoic Vulcan would be incapable of developing the repore needed with the crew for that role.
Suddenly another option occurred to him and he grasped at it desperately like a drowning man.
"I’ll agree to take over the running of the ship," he began, "but I will not accept becoming Captain. I want you to understand that this is temporary, until you feel that you’re ready to retake command."
Knowing the man as well as she did, Kathryn understood why he was trying to limit the agreement. But personal feelings could not be allowed to come into this. That being the case she knew what she had to do. In a voice gentle with understanding she said, "You have no choice. As my last official act I am promoting you to the rank of captain. It will be entered into the ship’s logs immediately prior to my own resignation."
"What?" he began angrily. "You can’t do that!"
Blue eyes turned immediately flint-gray. "I can do it and I will. You cannot prevent me from resigning my commission, and that will leave you no choice but to accept the promotion."
"Damn it, Kathryn…"
She stopped his tirade by placing a hand against his chest. "You’ll get over being angry, Chakotay."
"How can you say that? You don’t know what you’re asking of me."
"Yes, actually I do. I also know that you’ll get over being angry because ultimately… you know that I’m right."
The tears that he had been fighting upon entering the medical bay returned unexpectedly and overflowed down his dusky cheeks. In his heart he did know that she was right, but felt that surely they could come to some other solution. Unfortunately, it didn’t look as though he was being given any other option. He knew that once Kathryn made up her mind, the only thing that could change it was Kathryn. Dropping his head in defeat, he conceded to her wishes. Of course the crew would have to be informed and that was something he was not looking forward to. Kathryn took at least that burden from him by informing him that she would make a ship-wide announcement. By now the entire crew had to have been informed of the accident. It wasn’t easy to keep secrets on a ship as small as Voyager.
Three days later Janeway had been released to her quarters. There was nothing more the doctor could do for her now so there was really no point in keeping her in sickbay. Initially she had been thrilled to escape confinement, but she was quickly learning that being in an anti-grav chair hardly made up for her loss. Even in her own quarters where she had always felt the safest, her frustration level was rapidly rising.
Whether it was using the toilet or the replicator everything just seemed to be incredibly difficult. Added to that the fact that everything seemed to be just out of reach and she was rapidly losing patience. Kathryn had never been one to accept help for any reason and the situation she found herself in caused her to vacillate from resigned acceptance to blinding rage.
It was so unfair. She had worked her entire life to be in Starfleet, to be an officer her father could be proud of and command her very own starship. To realize that dream and then have everything suddenly taken away from her by a freak accident was almost more than she could bear. Still she had fought against the depression that hovered ever on the brink since discovering that her condition was irreversible. She had given in to that emotion so many times in the past that she fought it now with every breath she took. Somehow she felt as though she was losing the struggle.
Trying to concentrate fully on the moments as they passed, she maneuvered over to the replicator to request a cup of her favorite beverage. Coffee was something familiar and stable in her suddenly shifting world, and even if only for a brief moment she hoped it would help her to feel grounded.
Sitting in front of the device and staring up with her neck at an uncomfortable angle, she realized not for the first time how high the replicator platform was from where she sat. Now I know how Naomi Wildman feels, she thought. Maybe I should speak to B’Elanna about installing secondary replicators for the shorter crewmembers. It took a moment for it to register, but when it did it was almost a shock to realize that she wasn’t the captain any longer.
Anger and hurt shimmering in her blue eyes she snapped at the cursed machine, "Coffee, hot…Vulcan blend."
The computer obediently materialized the requested beverage, but once again the mug was just out of Kathryn’s reach. Sighing in resignation, she stretched up as far as her cantankerous body would allow and could just reach the porcelain with the tips of her fingers. If she could just manage to ease the cup to the edge of the platform, she could grab the handle.
At that moment the admittance chime to her quarters rang. "Come in," she ordered reflexively, concentrating more on the offending mug that would dare deprive her of her treat. But when the doors parted she glanced over to see who her visitor was. The bio-clad form of Seven of Nine sauntered into the room distracting the older woman for a moment. As a result, Kathryn didn’t stop sliding the mug toward the edge until it was too late. The edge of the cup tipped over the replicator platform and unceremoniously dumped itself into her lap.
"Captain, are you injured?" Seven asked worriedly as she rushed to the other woman’s side.
"That’s a stupid question," Kathryn retorted before she could stop herself. "Of course I’m injured. That was hot!" Brushing at the hot coffee staining her lap and thighs she didn’t see the look of hurt that quickly crossed the normally stoic face.
Seven tried to swallow the sudden lump of emotion but her hurt quickly turned to anger. "Perhaps if you allowed me to assist you as I have offered to do you would not have injured yourself," she pointed out succinctly.
The young woman had been requesting to see the captain since she had been released from sickbay to no avail. Then when the captain had made a ship-wide announcement that she was stepping down, Seven had become desperate but still there had been no response. Her messages offering assistance over the computer terminals had gone unanswered and when she hailed the captain, Janeway had politely but firmly refused to see her. She had given reasons for her unavailability that Seven was sure were fabricated, but she had tried to allow Janeway the space she needed.
She couldn’t imagine what the other woman was going through after losing the ability to use her legs, but the casual disregard of her feelings by Janeway was something she was unaccustomed to. Since severing her from the collective, the captain had always taken the time to explain human behavior to her and support her in her struggle to regain what she had lost. Pushing her away so harshly now caused her temper to flare and she struck back without considering her words.
"You are being selfish," she said harshly.
"Selfish?" Janeway asked in amazement, stung by the accusation. "How dare you? You can’t possibly know what this is like. You have full command of your body’s abilities."
"I was a Borg drone, remember?" Seven cut in sharply. "I know what it is like to have something taken away from you without regard. I lost my individuality for eighteen years and was forced to commit atrocities on countless thousands. Do not tell me what I understand."
The harsh reminder quieted Kathryn as she evaluated the truth behind the words. Seven had, in effect, been held hostage by the Borg Collective for most of her life. She hadn’t lost the use of her limbs, but she had lost most of who she was and was still in the process of trying to regain that. Her strength and courage while struggling to find who she was since being a part of Voyager’s crew had been nothing short of amazing to Kathryn. Seven had never wallowed in self-pity or made excuses for the things she had done. She didn’t know if she could be as strong as Seven, but she knew that she could try.
Taking a deep breath and steeling herself to carry through Kathryn said, "You’re right. I am being selfish. But I don’t know that I can accept your offer; at least not yet. It’s just too soon." Kathryn’s trembling voice broke and she looked away struggling with her emotions.
Seven understood the fear Janeway was struggling with. She had experienced the same thing after being severed from the collective. Everything had been unfamiliar and she had been an outsider with no hope of belonging. The woman in front of her had changed all of that and in so doing gone steadily from mentor to beloved. She had never been able to express all that she felt for Kathryn, hoping that her actions would speak for her heart, but she could reach out to her now and show her that someone cared. That someone cared for Kathryn the woman; not just Janeway the captain.
Approaching slowly from the side so as not to frighten the injured woman even more, Seven knelt on the deck next to the anti-grav chair and wrapped her arms around Janeway’s shoulders. Of course Seven knew what a hug was, but she had never felt the inclination to perform such an action before. At first it felt awkward holding someone in her arms. But when Janeway unexpectedly buried her face in Seven’s leonine neck and burst into tears, she suddenly understood. The protectiveness and love that flooded her being forced empathetic tears from her own heart and she clutched Kathryn to her fiercely.
Kathryn hadn’t expected to be held by anyone least of all Seven, but she suddenly found herself crying her heart out against the injustice of it all. Even more surprising were the long fingers she felt stroking through her hair that encouraged her to let down barriers that she had spent countless years building. Her sobs faded eventually to a few undignified sniffles, but still Seven held her until Kathryn finally pulled away.
"I’m sorry," Kathryn apologized in embarrassment. "I don’t usually fall apart like that."
"Captain," Seven began only to be interrupted.
"Seven, please. I’m not the captain anymore remember? I resigned. I think you can call me Kathryn." Smiling sardonically at herself, Kathryn acknowledged, "After all, you just held me while I cried like a child. I think we’ve moved past the time for formalities."
"Very well…Kathryn." Seven relished the thrill of being allowed to call her friend by her given name. Pausing for a moment to gather her thoughts she said, "While I understand that… crying is not something that you are accustomed to, I feel honored that you have chosen to share your pain with me. You may rest assured that I shall tell no one of this."
Although the words were deliberately neutral, Seven’s heart was singing. She understood that Kathryn would not let her guard down with just anyone. Such a seemingly small event spoke of a potential for deeper feelings on the other woman’s part. Logically it was a small crumb of hope to cling to, but hope was strong in Seven’s heart and the possibility was something she couldn’t ignore.
"I still don’t think I can accept you helping me to the toilet," Kathryn returned not sensing the importance of the moment for her friend. "But I promise not to shut you out. I have a feeling I’m going to need someone I can talk to, and I’m afraid Voyager is in short supply of counselors just now."
"You are being facetious," Seven said with a quirked brow. "But…thank you. I will try not to assist you to the toilet."
The uncharacteristic display of humor surprised a laugh out of Kathryn. It was absolutely the best medicine possible at the moment and eased a great deal of the weight that felt like it was crushing her chest.
"All right," she agreed with a grin. "Do you mind if we start with dinner?"
"Acceptable." Seven returned a soft smile.
As the young woman stood Kathryn interjected, "You get to cook."
"Her spinal cord is continuing to deteriorate. I have developed a potential treatment regimen based on Borg technology. I call it a genatronic replicator which can actually regenerate the organs it scans and begin replicating new ones."
"I thought you said you couldn’t repair this kind of injury?" Chakotay had asked the doctor in confusion.
"Not repair," the photonic physician corrected, "replace. The replicator would be used to replace a new spinal cord instead of trying to repair it. I’ve already begun experimenting with holograms and my results have been… promising."
The hesitation in the EMH’s voice was enough to catch the acting captain’s attention, and the hair prickled on the back of his neck. "How promising?"
The doctor shrugged in what was supposed to be an off hand manner. "I have experienced a 37% success rate."
"That’s not very promising. What would be the results if the surgery were to be unsuccessful?" Chakotay asked in concern.
Knowing this would be the hardest part the doctor decided the direct approach was best. There was just no way to soften the news. "The results would be …that she would die."
"What? What kind of option is that?"
"I’m afraid it may be the only one," the doctor returned. "You know how stubborn the captain can be. It’s just not in her nature to accept less than being one hundred percent. I could suggest artificial implants with neural transducers to stimulate the various muscles in her legs, but can you honestly see the captain accepting such an alternative?"
As much as he would like to say yes, Chakotay knew that it was a fallacy. Kathryn Janeway could never accept being less than in full command of her abilities, both mental and physical.
But the doctor wasn’t finished. "At the most, the artificial implants would only give her sixty to seventy percent of the use of her limbs. And that would be after an arduous time adjusting to the implants. It could take months…if not years."
Walking over to the transparent aluminum windows of the captain’s ready room, Chakotay leaned against the bulkhead and stared out at the stars. Even after a week of wearing captain’s pips and being in this room it felt heavy and awkward. Walking down the corridors he had noticed crewmen flinch when they spied the rank insignia. It struck in his craw to be doing this job and there was no one who wanted Captain Janeway back more than he, but he couldn’t in good conscious risk her life. Turning back to the doctor he said, "No. I don’t want you telling the captain about this."
"But Commander…I mean Captain," the doctor began in outrage.
"No! Your success rate is just not good enough. I will not get her hopes up for something that has a greater potential to kill her rather than cure her!"
"Enough!" Chakotay shouted, losing his temper. "That is an order, Doctor. Do you understand?"
That question went all over the EMH. How many times had people asked him that? He was a hologram, not a moron. Of course he understood. He understood that rather than listen to something that was a viable answer the captain was allowing his emotions to become involved. Honestly, humanoids! And he was expected to just stand there and say ‘Yes, sir!" like a good little Starfleet hologram. Well he wasn’t going to stand for it.
Grinding his photonic teeth the doctor opened his mouth to argue and said, "Yes, sir!"
After the doctor left Chakotay stared out into space for a long time seeking guidance from the stars. Finally he realized there was no answer forthcoming and snorted in frustration. Even his spirit guide had remained stubbornly silent in showing him the way. Turning away from the windows his gaze swept the room and again he felt out of place. The ready room was decorated in blues and silvers. It was Kathryn Janeway down to the last stick of furniture and the artwork on the bulkheads. He didn’t belong in here. Not able to remain in the room for another moment he stalked toward the doors. They parted obediently for him and he headed for the turbolift. Maybe a cup of coffee in the mess hall would help him sort out his thoughts.
If he thought divine inspiration would strike him sitting alone at a table in the crowded mess hall, he was due to be sorely disappointed. Even after four cups of Neelix’s special blend the solution was stubbornly evasive. Crewmen avoided him carefully and even the friendly Talaxian limited his stay at the Native American’s side. Chakotay knew it wasn’t him personally they were avoiding, it was the reminder of what they had lost; the leadership of a formidable woman and someone they had come to regard as more than a friend.
A sudden presence standing quietly at his side caused him to look up in surprise. Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres stood staring down at him shifting uncomfortably from one foot to another. When they just stared at each other for a moment not speaking, B’Elanna decided to take a stab at giving her friend some advice. Not waiting for permission she sat down across from him and took a breath.
"Maybe I’m out of line here, but you look like you could use a friend."
"What I need is the captain back in her chair," he shot back without thinking.
B’Elanna winced at the harsh tone, but knew that the words weren’t meant for her. "Maybe, you have to let go of that idea." She paused only briefly when every muscle in his body tensed. "You have to respect her choices, Chakotay. And you have to do what is right for this crew. And as painful as it is, you have to move on. This crew needs you, Chakotay."
Hands wrapped around the mug, he stared down into the dark liquid pondering her words. He knew the advice was sound; it was just so damn hard.
"I feel like someone died," he finally admitted in a voice heavy with sorrow. "She’s just given up, B’Elanna. It’s like I never even knew who she was."
"Put yourself in her shoes!" B’Elanna retorted. "If it had been me, I would have been expected to kill myself. A Klingon would be considered dishonored."
"She’s not Klingon!"
"No, she’s not," the brunette shot back. "She is a highly intelligent and capable woman who has been fiercely independent her entire life. To her, there is no other choice."
No other choice. Chakotay thought about those words for a moment and realized that wasn’t exactly true. The doctor had presented another option and he had rejected it out of hand. But was it really his choice to make? Shouldn’t Kathryn have the option of deciding to take that chance herself? He could only hope that his decision to share that information with her wasn’t based on his own selfish desires.
Standing slowly he said, "Thanks, B’Elanna. I think you’ve just helped me settle some things."
"Any time." She was surprised by the sudden change in what she sensed from the man. She didn’t know what she’d said, but it seemed to have been the right thing. The spring in his step was back and his shoulders squared as he left the mess hall, but she was confused when she heard him hail the doctor over his combadge.
Equally confused was Kathryn Janeway when Chakotay hailed her over the com-system twenty minutes later. He was so excited and fumbling over his words so badly that for a moment she thought there was a ship-wide emergency. When she finally understood that it was an urgent matter but not related to ship’s business she wasn’t sure what she felt. She was gratified that he had come to her for assistance since she was no longer the captain, but she wasn’t sure about venturing out of her quarters. She hadn’t interacted with the crew since the accident and wasn’t ready to see their looks of sympathy. Then the ex-Maquis asked her for a meeting in a place she was sure she didn’t want to go.
"It’s all right, Kathryn. Just ask the computer for a site to site transport to holodeck one."
"Holodeck one? I’m sorry, Chakotay, but I’m just not in the mood for the holodeck tonight."
She could have sworn she almost heard him chuckle over the channel. "Believe me, Kathryn, you will be in the mood for this. In fact, I insist as the doctor will be here, too."
The doctor? What on earth could he be up to?
Then her heart was pounding in her chest as she realized the implications. Had the doctor come up with a remedy for her injuries? He had said that was impossible. Wide-eyed, heart thumping with sudden hope Kathryn mumbled her order for the computer to transport her to the holodeck. She didn’t realize that she hadn’t even closed the communications channel.
Hearing the hum of a transport in progress the acting captain chuckled and turned to the holographic physician. "I’d say she’s on her way, doctor."
Surrounding them was a variety of surgical equipment that was distinctly alien and cast a green glow across the holodeck grid. The green light so reminiscent of a Borg cube it made Chakotay’s skin crawl, but if it could help Kathryn then it was worth a little discomfort. Beside him was a steel table approximately his body length. The bed was completely flat with a lip on either side to keep the patient from falling out. In the center near the top a hole had been cut and padded so the patient’s face could rest comfortably and provide for a perfectly supine position. Since it was a spinal cord they were trying to replicate, Chakotay supposed it made sense. There could be no margin for error.
A hinged arm was attached on one side near the center that sported some kind of apparatus. From what the doctor hold told him, it was this device that would scan Kathryn’s DNA and send the information to the replicator. To be honest all of the gadgets were beyond his comprehension, but he was saved trying to figure it out by the whine of the transporter. Kathryn Janeway materialized sitting in the anti-grav chair and he had to fight with all his willpower not to flinch at the sight.
An uncomfortable silence ensued while Kathryn glanced around at the clutter and then at the two men shifting quietly. Obviously they were trying to give her a moment to garner some clue as to what they were doing there. But she was damned if she could figure it out.
"Gentlemen," she began in her gravelly tones. "I assume all of this, has something to do with the current… situation?"
Kathryn would have no idea until much later how pivotal this moment would be, for her and the future of the Intrepid Class Starship.
"Yes, Captain," the doctor finally responded when Chakotay remained stubbornly silent. Evidently the other man decided that this was the physician’s show. Being a natural born ham, that was just fine with him. When Janeway started to protest he said, "Please hear me out. I have developed a possible answer to your condition. But I will be honest with you up front and tell you that I cannot in good faith recommend it."
Okay, she thought, I can do this. Her heart was pounding with anticipation, but obviously there were some problems and he was trying to caution her against getting her hopes up. But how much worse could it be, she wondered. What could possibly be worse than being confined to this godforsaken chair?
Cutting to the chase she asked bluntly, "What are the risks?"
Respecting her need for honesty, the doctor returned softly, "You could die. In fact, if we decided to proceed with this operation, chances are greater that you will die."
Trying not to react at this information Janeway foraged ahead needing more information. "What…what exactly does this procedure entail?"
"As you know there are other more conventional treatments such as artificial implants. But I don’t believe that is something you would be willing to accept," he began. Then the doctor began to lay out all of the possible alternatives before he explained what he had designed for her. What he told her made her blood run cold. It would be very easy for something to go terribly wrong with this procedure. It had never been tried on a humanoid, only on holograms and there was no doubt that a hologram was more resilient than a human. A thirty-seven percent success rate on holograms was not very encouraging. Nevertheless what choice did she have?
Kathryn turned her chair to face away from the two men while she made the most difficult decision of her life. Should she risk it? Should she risk her life to regain the use of her lower extremities? A pair of soft blue eyes suddenly swam in her mind. She knew that there was at least one person on board this ship that would make it worth the risk. Had known it since she had liberated her from the Collective. And from their conversation the night before, she was willing to bet there was some amount of reciprocation on the other woman’s part. Even if Seven was never ready to embrace that future, the potential was more than enough to make up Janeway’s mind for her.
"All right," she said turning back to face them. "Let’s do it."
While Kathryn Janeway was sitting in the holodeck making a life-altering decision, halfway across the ship another was grinding their teeth in frustration. The accident had been meant to kill the captain, not incapacitate her. Janeway was too much of threat as long as she was still alive, especially since she had a tendency to beat the odds. Now the doctor had come up with something that could potentially put her back in the commanding officer’s chair. That could not be allowed. Chakotay would command this ship.
The assassin had been crouched behind the cargo containers waiting for the captain to arrive. A well-made deflecting device had masked their life-signs from the tricorder and since they were between the topmost container and the bulkhead the Borg’s optical implant couldn’t detect the heat signature of their body. But when the cursed creature had turned away to retrieve a dyno-scanner, the time had come to act.
Kinsie had known Janeway would investigate the false sensor readings herself. The difficult negotiations with the Anu-I had been no secret and the captain’s pride wouldn’t allow her to back down from a possible chance to get some of her own back. All the would-be killer had to do was wait.
As soon as the drone turned away, Kinsie had to move quickly, but hadn’t counted on the container being so heavy. Straining against the weight, the barrel had rocked a warning. Janeway knew that something was wrong. She had turned away causing the barrel to strike her on the back and injuring her, instead of striking her on the head, which would have killed her instantly. It was that Janeway luck again no doubt. Fortunately, in the ensuing kafuffle no one had looked up. Janeway and the drone were transported to sickbay and Kinsie had all the time in the world to exit the cargo bay. It had been easy... too easy. But Janeway had lived. Now it was time to change that.
Sitting in the mess hall tapping data quietly into a padd, it would appear that Kinsie was diligently working away. It was an effective tactic in planning the final assault that would take care of Janeway once and for all, while quietly discouraging others from sitting at the same table. After all, who wanted to interrupt such a hardworking Starfleet officer?
The meeting with Chakotay and the doctor dragged on until late after alpha shift ended. When Janeway finally transported back to her quarters she was fighting exhaustion. Her injury took a lot out of her and she was frustrated from sitting in her chair all day. Deciding to forego dinner in lieu of a bath she maneuvered the chair into the en suite. Even if she was still no longer captain, at least she had the tub. There was no way she was sitting in her chair to take a sonic shower.
Getting into the tub wasn’t easy, but she was getting accustomed to it. Just as she was sinking into the bubbles, she heard the outer doors to her quarters hiss open. Sitting up in astonished outrage, she knew instantly who her visitor was. There was only one person that would dare to barge into her quarters unannounced.
"What the hell do you think you’re doing?" she asked angrily as soon as Seven loomed in the doorway. "How dare you just waltz into my quarters?"
Seven was so angry she was breathing hard and didn’t even hear the question. In fact, she had a question of her own. "Is it true? Do you intend to allow the operation the doctor spoke of?"
"What business is it of yours? And how did you hear about it, anyway? I wasn’t aware that my medical treatment was available for public consumption."
Kathryn didn’t mean to be so harsh, but she was embarrassed to be in so compromising a position with her friend. The fact that she hoped they could be more than that did nothing to lessen her discomfort. If anything, it made it worse.
"I was in sickbay for my weekly scheduled implant maintenance. The doctor informed me of the procedure. He appeared extremely…proud of it."
"He should be," Kathryn returned. "If it works I could walk again."
"If it does not work you could die!" Seven pointed out sharply. "How can you allow this? It is not worth your life."
The raw emotion in the former drone’s voice cut through Kathryn’s anger and embarrassment. Maybe she hadn’t been so far off the mark about Seven’s feelings after all. Deliberately softening her voice she responded gently, "I’m sorry. I know that possibility upsets you, but it is my choice."
When Seven only responded with silence and a tightening of her jaw Janeway added, "Seven, I can’t live like this. It isn’t in me to be helpless. If there is a chance that this will work, even a slight one, I have to take it. Can you understand that?"
It appeared for a moment that Seven wouldn’t respond. When she finally did, it was in a way that Kathryn never would have expected. Pushing away from the door, the young woman approached and sat on the rim of the tub. At first she simply looked into Janeway’s face as though seeking answers to unimaginable questions.
"I understand that you are stubborn," Seven said shortly eliciting a surprised chuckle from Janeway, which she responded to with her own uniquely slight smile. "But I also understand that you must do this. Being captain is part of who you are. I also know, that it is that part of you that I first began to love."
Reaching out slowly, afraid of possible rejection, Seven lightly caressed a heated cheek. "It wasn’t until much later that I realized that I also loved Kathryn."
"Seven, please," Kathryn said pulling away. It was too soon. She wasn’t ready for this. She had only just begun to entertain the notion that Seven had feelings of this nature. What if she was just responding with sympathy to Kathryn’s injury and had mistaken her feelings? Seven was new to emotions, it would be easy to misread them. "You don’t know what you’re saying."
"You think I do not understand my emotions, but you are wrong. I may be new to these feelings, but that does not mean I am ignorant of what they are. I have loved you for a very long time."
If she had hoped for a mutual declaration from the captain, she was due to be disappointed. As much as Kathryn wanted to reciprocate she just couldn’t. If she said the words she would be committed and she knew it would mean she had also committed Seven; whether the other woman knew it or not. Circumstances being what they were, that was something she just couldn’t do. It wasn’t fair to Seven. If something went wrong and she died, it would be as though she had snatched a prize away from her at the last moment. It wasn’t right.
On the other side of that argument, there had been so much wasted time already. Both of them cared deeply for each other and there was only a short amount of it left before the surgery. Could she truly ignore what they felt because she was afraid of trying something new? With no clear answer, she decided to compromise.
Lifting a dripping hand out of the hot water, she grasped Seven’s and held it gently. "It will be a few days before the doctor is ready to try the procedure. Would you mind spending that time with me?"
Staring deeply into blue-gray eyes Seven responded, "I can think of no place I would rather be."
A long slow smile curled Kathryn’s lips. She didn’t know what the next few days would bring, but she did know that she would spend them next to the person that meant everything to her, even if she could never tell her as much.
Contacting Chakotay briefly over the com-system, Kathryn apprised him that Seven would be caring for her until the surgery. Since Janeway rarely accepted help from anyone and hadn’t needed caring for since the accident, the excuse hardly made sense. But to his credit he didn’t question her and happily informed her that he would log Seven of Nine unavailable except during a ship-wide emergency until after the procedure. Kathryn had no way of knowing that their mutual affection had been clear to anyone who bothered to look for a very long time. She also had no way of knowing that she had played into his hands by getting Seven out of harm’s way.
Commander Tuvok had discovered some residual energy signatures in the cargo bay during his investigation of the accident. It was fortunate that he had checked the cavernous bay when he had since the readings were beginning to fade. Just a half hour more and he would have found nothing.
Chakotay was still angry that the Vulcan hadn’t informed him at the time of the discovery, but Tuvok said he had wanted to keep the information quiet until he was sure concern was warranted. When Voyager’s current leader asked exactly what concern the security officer was speaking of, he was more than a little shocked by the use of the words attempted murder. Now he was just plain angry. Someone had deliberately tried to kill Kathryn Janeway.
After everything this crew had been through together in the Delta Quadrant he had thought they had become a family. He was disappointed and frightened to see that apparently he was wrong. If there was an assassin on board, who knew how many other disgruntled crewmen were running around? That being the case, would the ship ever be truly safe? First Seska then Michael Jonas and now they were facing another traitor. Would it never end?
Reaching up to tap his combadge, he hailed Tuvok to receive an update. He had told Chakotay that he had detected similar energy signatures in various locations on the lower decks and believed that he could narrow down the list of suspects. That was an hour ago and during a crisis Chakotay wasn’t known for his patience. Fortunately Tuvok was very good at his job and had information that would pacify the man for now.
"Commander, I have narrowed the list of suspects to four."
"How’d you do that so fast?" Chakotay asked in amazement. He could almost see the raised brow over the com-signal
"Logically, of course. I began by discounting all crewmen on duty and at their posts. All personnel engaged in recreational programs were also recorded by the computer and discounted. Needless to say, through various methods others were eliminated until only four remained."
Nodding in understanding Chakotay urged impatiently, "Okay, I get the picture. Who are the four?"
"Crewmen Marla Gilmore and Michael Lessing, and Ensign Chell, who were absent from their post at the time of the attack, and Lieutenant Andrea Kinsie who was off duty. The first three were moving from deck to deck carrying out various duties during the time the computer sensors went off-line."
"What about Kinsie? Where was Kinsie at the time?"
"Lieutenant Kinsie stated she was in her quarters. She got off duty and returned to her quarters to sleep. Computer records indicate that she was in her quarters before and again after the attack."
Thinking quickly Chakotay realized that information meant absolutely nothing. Kinsie could have left her combadge in her quarters to fool the computer. Any of the other three crewmen could have detoured in their assigned tasks and made a stop by the cargo bay on the way to other destinations. With the sensors off-line it would be impossible to know.
The unique energy signatures that had shown up in various places were their only concrete evidence. Who would have the engineering abilities to create a device that could not only mask life signs, but also create the appearance of anomalous readings to lure the captain into the cargo bay? It would also have to be someone with a background in psychology to be able to predict the captain’s reaction. Unless the true target hadn’t been the captain.
He hated to entertain that notion. If the target hadn’t been the captain, then who? No, it was easier to hope that the would-be assassin was simply a poor marksman and had missed in their attempt on the captain.
Chakotay was the expert on crew personnel since part of his duties were determining who would work best together. To do that he had to know individual backgrounds including educational specialties and personal profiles. Marla Gilmore and Janeway had a history of antagonism created by Gilmore’s involvement with exploiting a Delta Quadrant species while being assigned to Captain Ransom’s crew. They had been aboard another Starfleet vessel that was stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but they were using the species as fuel to shave years off their journey.
Crewmen Lessing had also been a member of that crew and had even more of a reason to dislike Janeway. She had threatened to let the aliens have him if he didn’t give her the information she needed. It would be a logical assumption that either of them would want to get even with the captain.
As for Chell, he was discarded almost immediately. The Bolian had the opportunity, but he had no motive. More importantly, he lacked the ambition or skills to pull off such a plan. The last suspect, Andrea Kinsie was an enigma.
Kinsie had no personal antagonistic history with Janeway. To Chakotay’s knowledge they had never even interacted. But Kinsie was a graduate of the Daystrom Institute before attending Starfleet Academy. She had double majors in Psychology and Quantum Theory. Ready to pound his head against the wall, Chakotay had to face the fact that she just had no motive.
Coming to a disturbing conclusion, the burly man asked, "Tuvok, do you believe that it could be more than one assassin? Could a small group of people have conspired to do this?"
"It is always a possibility, Commander. However I find it very unlikely. More than one perpetrator would create more of a risk for leaking information. Additionally, I took the liberty of verifying with other crewmen that each of these individuals was where the computer indicated. Only one of them was unaccounted for."
"Who was it, Tuvok?" No matter what the Commander answered, Chakotay knew he wouldn’t like it.
Hesitating only briefly to consider the question, the Vulcan responded, "I believe it would be prudent if we met to discuss this in person."
"Right. Meet me in the ready room."
Crawling lithely on her belly Andrea Kinsie wormed along the vent under the Jeffries tube floor. That damn Vulcan had been snooping around deck fifteen everywhere from storage bays to anti-matter storage pods. She wasn’t ignorant enough to believe that she hadn’t left some evidence of her doings there. Even if she had only left a miniscule hair or fiber it would be enough to condemn her. It wasn’t like a lot of crewmen had business in such an obscure location. Now she was reduced to crawling along in this filth so that the computer wouldn’t detect her.
Since there were no sensors in the floor grate, security would be unable to locate her. If they ran a check for human life signs, they would find her but she was willing to bet they hadn’t progressed to that point yet. Her combadge had been left in her quarters should anyone check her location. She could still accomplish her mission. Once Janeway was gone Chakotay could be persuaded to head for the alpha quadrant with no more delays.
Stopping for a moment to catch her breath, Kinsie took a moment to strengthen her resolve. Janeway deserved more than death for stranding them in this hellacious quadrant. The crew had been subjected to one hostile alien attack after another and the captain had never retaliated with the technologies at their disposal.
Voyager was more than a match for any alien in the sector and they could have been a force to be reckoned with. Instead they were seen as helpless prey because they were led by a gutless captain. Chakotay was gutless too, but at least his crew could influence him. He would bend to a superior force. Janeway was too pig-headed to do so, and even crippled she would be an obstacle. Andrea had been ambivalent at first about her decision, wondering if she were teetering on the brink of insanity. She finally decided that she was obsessed with Janeway’s death, but it was a necessary evil. It was better this way.
Sighing heavily, she began moving again. The dust was thick in the vents and threatened to make her sneeze, but she fought the urge convinced that it would give her away if anyone happened to be working in the area. She was nearing the section where the captain’s quarters were located and would soon have to leave the vents for the Jeffries tubes to make the four deck climb. It would be more dangerous then, but she could do it.
Abruptly the tube ended. The light in the grates was so dim that Kinsie didn’t see it and struck her head against the inner bulkhead. Her mind was in such a haze that she was motionless for a moment before she realized that she had run out of space. Confident that she was alone in the section of the ship; she pushed the heavy grate up with difficulty and climbed out into the Jeffries tube. The horizontal shaft ran straight up to an access tube on deck three. She could use the tricorder she carried in her pocket to determine if anyone was in the corridor before she exited there and ran to the captain’s quarters.
Janeway would be dead before anyone even knew she had left her room. She was sure the captain would be alone in her quarters. Everyone knew she hadn’t left her rooms since the accident, even taking her meals there.
Andrea knelt next to the inner hatch of the access tube and placed her ear against the tritanium hull. There were no sounds to indicate anyone in the corridor so she gently eased the door open. Still hearing and seeing nothing, she ran a quick tricorder reading and was gratified to find herself alone. The captain’s quarters were just at the end of the corridor. She would move quickly and override the entrance code. Once Janeway was dead, Andrea would have to quickly leave Voyager. She already had an escape plan, but if she didn’t implement it immediately Tuvok’s security team would catch her and she would spend the rest of her life in the brig.
Seven was surprised that Kathryn allowed her to assist her in the bath, but she wasn’t about to question it. There was only a moment of hesitation on the older woman’s part when the blonde slipped her arms around her to lift her from the bath. Their eyes met and Seven waited in anticipation for Janeway to pull away.
Looking into ice-blue eyes, she almost did back away. But the hurt lingering just beyond the horizon stopped her. She had already made the decision to give the next few days to exploring this possibility. It wasn’t going to work if she started putting up walls right away. Shrugging her shoulders with a wry grin, she gave in by twining her arms around Seven’s neck.
Seven felt a thrill of excitement course through her veins as she lifted the slight woman. The wet, naked flesh pressed sweetly against her and soaked through her bio-suit. She sat Kathryn in the anti-grav chair only long enough to dry her with a towel. Then hefting her into her arms again, carried her into the bedroom.
Kathryn watched in amusement as Seven gently dried her off. She was fully capable of carrying out such an action herself, but had to admit that she enjoyed relinquishing control for once. But when the other woman carried her into the bedroom, things suddenly took on a whole new meaning.
"Uh, Seven? What are you doing?" she asked as Seven sat her gently on the edge of the bed.
Confused, the younger woman responded, "I am preparing to dress you."
"Ah." Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part Kathryn decided. She wanted Seven to think what she was thinking. But evidently the other woman was too naïve for that. Still, she had said that she was in love with her. Maybe it was time to capitalize on that. She might not have the use of her legs and this was definitely a new experience for her, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t heat things up a little.
Planning her next move, Kathryn waited patiently propped up on her hands as she waited for Seven to retrieve her nightgown from the corner chair. Seven gathered the material in her hands and pulled it over Kathryn’s head. Intent on dressing the captain before she could catch a chill, Seven was caught off guard when she felt an elegant hand placed over the ribs on her right side. Her breath caught in her throat, but she tried to ignore the electric surge.
Kathryn was just trying to steady herself. Feeling awful for taking pleasure in such a simple action, she tried to focus on her task. She should be content just being allowed this time with the woman she loved.
Then the hand began to move, gently caressing her side through the material of her outfit and sliding down to outline the metal bands adorning her abdomen. "Kathryn," she asked breathlessly, "what are you doing?"
"Exploring…possibilities," was the equally breathless response. "Seven…"
"Lose the nightgown."
Kathryn actually heard Seven gulp in sudden nervousness and smiled at the very human response. Reaching up, she took the garment from nerveless fingers and tossed it carelessly aside.
"You said you loved me," she reminded the blonde. "I assume that means you want to be with me. In every way?"
Unable to speak Seven could only nod. But she was saved having to speak when Kathryn took both of her hands into her own.
"Well, I don’t mind guiding you in this. Actually," she admitted in a smoky tone that sent shivers down the former Borg’s spine. "I’m rather looking forward to it. But I am going to have to ask for your help."
"How…" Seven licked her dry lips before she could finish the question. "How would you have me proceed?"
"Well, you could start by turning back the covers."
If the moment hadn’t been so intense Kathryn would have laughed at the speed with which the young woman moved. Not wanting to lose the mood, she diligently bit her lip but could do nothing to keep the amusement out of her eyes. Seven didn’t seem to notice when she turned back and lifted Kathryn again. Then she placed the smaller woman gently against the pillows and stood waiting for further instructions.
"Darling," Kathryn purred, "this isn’t a mission. Please try to relax and enjoy this. You can start by taking off your suit," she prompted in conclusion.
Seven nodded and reached behind to release the clasp at the base of her neck. Kathryn watched intently as six feet of voluptuous womanhood was revealed to her hungry eyes. Although it was adorned with various alien implants, some quite invasive, Janeway was sure it was the most exquisite form she had ever seen. When Seven had finally disrobed completely Kathryn was speechless. Then their eyes met and she didn’t know why she had waited so long for this.
She had been attempting to be the seductress when the game began, but suddenly she realized what a gift she was being offered. Seven wasn’t a prize, she was a treasure and Kathryn intended to treat her as such, for as long as she was alive.
"Would you please hold me?" she asked humbly with tears shining softly in her eyes.
Wordlessly the young woman slipped between the sheets and settled herself on her back. Not being accustomed to such a position it took her a moment to adjust. Kathryn waited patiently until Seven grew still. Then she reached across Seven and used the superior muscular form to pull herself onto the blonde. When her head stilled on the powerful shoulder long arms came up to encircle her.
"You feel…soft," Seven said in awe. "I never imagined you could feel like this."
Kathryn smiled at the delight in the other woman’s voice. If there had been any question that Seven would want to back out, her tone had just answered it. "There are other things that feel even better," she promised suggestively. "Computer, lights." She wanted Seven to experience what she promised fully, and she personally always enjoyed intimacy more with the lights lowered.
Intrigued Seven could only ask enthusiastically, "What are these other things? Will you show them to me?"
Kathryn laughed and answered, "Oh, yes. I fully intend to show you everything I can think of…in my somewhat limited capacity. But do you mind if we take our time? I want to savor every moment of this."
"Yes," Seven responded promptly, "I wish to savor as well. What shall we savor first?"
"Would you like to try kissing?" Kathryn asked, sure of the response but feeling a thrill at the erotic question.
Again, the younger woman answered quickly in the affirmative. "How shall we proceed?"
Suddenly unsure Kathryn asked, "Seven, you do know how to kiss, don’t you?"
"Of course I know how, Kathryn. I am inexperienced, not ignorant. I am simply unsure of the logistics."
Thinking for a moment, Janeway admitted that she had a point. Kathryn was severely limited in how much she could participate. "Why don’t we start with me lying on my back? That way I can hold on to you."
"Agreed," Seven said and gently helped Kathryn onto her back.
Kathryn assisted Seven by telling her how to lie with their legs intertwined, then as the young woman was leaning closer and their lips were about to connect Kathryn whispered one final verbal instruction, "Just don’t crush me."
When their lips touched Seven felt like a warp core breach had gone off in her mind.
Her breath became short, almost gasping and her skin tingled all over her body. Janeway’s lips were the essence of softness and she was sure there could be no better feeling, but when the tip of a small tongue emerged to caress her own full lips she knew she was wrong. The strong, wet muscle sought between her lips and almost instinctively she parted them to allow entrance into her mouth.
A groan escaped Seven’s throat and suddenly the kiss became even deeper, all encompassing. Kathryn fell into the sensations with a sense of homecoming. Her own stubborn adherence to Starfleet protocols had prevented her from experiencing this and she intended to make up for lost time.
They explored the sensation of one another through every sense available to them. The only hindrance was Janeway’s limited motion. Kathryn realized she could fully make love to Seven with her hands and mouth, but she wouldn’t be able to put her entire being into the experience, as she wanted to do. With that in mind, she decided to keep things as they were and not let them escalate to that point. She wanted the other woman’s first time to be free from restrictions. After the operation it would be different. The doctor had never let them down and she was sure that this time would be no exception.
Gradually, she began gentling her touch; stroking to sooth rather than excite until eventually she felt her own arousal creep back to a manageable level.
"Kathryn?" Seven asked in bewilderment. "Do you not wish to continue?"
Soft fingers caressed a milk-white cheek when the other woman responded. "Of course I do, but not tonight. I’m so tired that I’m afraid I wouldn’t do you justice, and I want our first time together to be special."
"All of our times together will be perfect. With the two of us together, how could it be otherwise?"
"I never pegged you for a romantic," Kathryn said with a soft smile. "But you’re still not going to win." She unexpectedly interrupted herself by yawning and belated covered her mouth with her hand. "Sorry," she apologized sheepishly afterward.
"Do not apologize." Seven placed a tender kiss on the older woman’s forehead. "You must sleep. I will be here to watch over you."
"While I don’t need a bodyguard, I appreciate the sentiment. Will you be able to rest or do you need to go to the cargo bay? I could always hail you if I needed you," Kathryn offered in her concern for the other woman’s well-being."
"Your concerns are unjustified," Seven assured her. "Although I have never tried sleeping, I do not require regeneration for another twenty-six hours. I shall be fine."
"Good," Kathryn mumbled snuggling down into the sheets and turning her face against Seven’s ample bosom. "I really didn’t want you to go anywhere anyway."
She was asleep almost before the last word was out of her mouth. Seven smiled and relaxed fully intending to enjoy the sensation of Kathryn in her arms for the remainder of the night in the event that she was unable to sleep.
It was several hours later when the young woman heard a furtive noise in the corridor. Seven had been on the verge of sleep, dozing pleasantly in a restful place when she heard it. Instantly awake, she focused her enhanced Borg senses on her surroundings and was sure she could hear heavy respirations coming from just outside the entrance to the captain’s quarters.
Why would someone be respirating outside the entrance? If they wanted to see the captain, why not simply request to contact the woman. Then again, why would someone be outside the doors so late at night? It was this final question that raised her protective instincts and convinced her that Kathryn was in trouble.
Perhaps the accident hadn’t been an accident after all. If that was true, that meant someone had tried to kill Janeway.
Taking a quick moment to calculate ways to capture the perpetrator without disturbing Janeway’s slumber, Seven realized that Kathryn had relaxed her posture during sleep and she could slip out of the bed undetected. She had gotten up and was walking toward the living area when the outer doors hissed open. Moving quickly Seven stepped behind the doorjamb where she would be undetected by the intruder. Stealthy footsteps approached slowly but confidently. Evidently whoever it was expected the captain to be alone.
The tip of a phaser pistol eased past the frame of the doorway and Seven was moving before Kinsie had a chance to get the shot off. Her Borg enhanced left hand shot out and grasped Kinsie’s where she was holding the phaser. Lifting at the same time as she clamped down, Seven could feel the satisfying crunch of bones even as she pivoted around and grasped the other woman by the throat. Her right hand didn’t have the benefit of a Borg implant, but was still inhumanely strong. She cut off Kinsie’s scream by the amount of pressure she used to press her against the bulkhead by her throat.
Kathryn awoke to the sound of a cut-off scream. Heart pounding she shouted for the lights and was treated to the sight of a naked Borg pinning one of her officers six inches off the deck against the bulkhead. Kinsie’s face was already turning blue and it didn’t look like Seven was going to release her hold any time soon.
"Seven," Kathryn shouted, "let her go."
The young blonde didn’t seem to hear her, but Kathryn was briefly distracted by the sound of pounding feet. A full security squad with Chakotay and Tuvok leading the charge with phaser rifles were suddenly filling the relatively small space in her bedroom.
"Let her go, Seven," Chakotay ordered with a rifle trained on the assassin. If he thought his order would be followed he was wrong.
"Seven of Nine," Tuvok tried logically, "you must release Lieutenant Kinsie. You are killing her."
Astounded by the ridiculous statement Seven breathed in outrage, "She deserves to die. She tried to kill Kathryn." Just saying the words angered her even more and her grip tightened until she could feel the individual vertebrae in the brunette’s neck.
"Seven, darling," a soft voice said, "please let her go. I don’t want you to kill her. It would hurt too much if you killed for me."
Kathryn’s words cut through the haze of indignation and contempt more effectively than a phaser blast. As much as she wanted to terminate this life form, it wasn’t worth injuring Janeway for. Reluctantly she lowered the woman to the floor. Then at the last minute her affront caused her to fling Kinsie aside instead of simply releasing her. The brunette engineer collided with the security team sending four of them crashing to the deck with her.
During the brief distraction of thrashing arms and legs Kathryn said, "Seven, would you please wrap the blanket around you? I’d prefer if half the ship didn’t see my girlfriend naked?"
Smiling incongruously considering the situation, the Borg retrieved the blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders. Although she didn’t understand the human penchant for embarrassment, she realized it was something that was important to Kathryn. Then she turned back to Tuvok. It wasn’t that she was necessarily ignoring the acting captain of the ship, but the Vulcan was the security chief and she needed to ask him some things.
"What will become of Lieutenant Kinsie?" she asked abruptly.
"A court-martial shall be convened to determine her guilt and the appropriate punishment."
Astounded the young woman countered, "Determine her guilt? Of course she is guilty, you have seen this yourself. Her punishment should be death."
"Seven, you can’t decide that," Chakotay interrupted coldly, offended that the young woman had the audacity to make such a blanket statement.
"Chakotay," Kathryn interrupted drawing all eyes in the room to her. "I’ll explain it to her, but right now do you suppose you could get everyone out of my bedroom?"
The tension drained out of the burly man and he grinned at her statement. It was a little uncomfortable to be in a room with someone who was obviously unclothed beneath the sheets and her naked girlfriend standing only a few feet away.
To his credit he hadn’t really noticed Seven’s form during all of the commotion and was glad that she was covered now with the blanket. Just because he wasn’t romantically interested in the young blonde didn’t mean that he was blind. It wouldn’t do to stand here gawking at the woman in front of Janeway.
"All right," he answered and turned to Tuvok. "Take her to the brig and make sure the doctor has a look at her. That hand doesn’t look very good."
The hand in question was the one Seven had crushed against the phaser. It had already swelled and had a definite purple tinge.
Several bones had obviously been crushed and Kinsie’s face was contorted with a mixture of pain and rage.
"You can’t protect her forever, Chakotay," Kinsie railed. "It’s her fault we’re stuck here and you know it."
"No," he answered just before she was led away. "It’s because of her that we’re still alive. I’m just sorry that you never saw that."
A few moments later the room was empty except for the two women. Seven rearranged the blanket across the bed and sat gingerly on the edge. "Why did you not wish for me to terminate Lieutenant Kinsie? It would have been more efficient than placing her in the brig."
Kathryn knew Seven wasn’t angry, she just honestly didn’t understand why they didn’t proceed immediately to the punishment stage of things. "Darling, the reason we convene a court-martial is to determine if there are mitigating circumstances for the actions a person takes."
"Yes," she nodded. "Suppose for instance that Lieutenant Kinsie is under the influence of an alien presence or that she is ill. Then she wouldn’t be responsible for her actions."
"Do you believe that she is under an alien presence?" Seven asked, clearly not believing such a thing.
Shaking her head sadly Kathryn said, "No, I don’t. But I don’t know what she was thinking. To be honest with you, the fact that someone on this ship still blames me for us being in this quadrant bothers me worse than anything. First Seska turned out to be a Cardassian spy and tried to hand us all over to the Kazon and then Michael Jonas conspired with Seska for the same purpose. Seska and Jonas were both members of the Maquis, but Kinsie was a Starfleet officer. How many others are there on board that will try to sabotage this ship or kill the crew in order to get home?"
Seven could see the beginnings of depression in the blue-gray eyes and considered it her duty in the new status of girlfriend to end it before it began. "Seska and Jonas were cowards. I did not know them personally, but I have read the accounts of their actions in the ship’s logs. They sought personal gain through the use of exploitation and violence. You cannot be responsible for their motives. As for Kinsie, I have worked with her on occasion in engineering. I do not believe her to be motivated by personal gain."
"Then what do you think influenced her?" Kathryn asked in confusion.
"Lieutenant Kinsie has always show a tendency to overreact in defense of individual members of the crew. While this may be considered a positive trait, it can be detrimental if taken to extremes. I believe she became obsessed and required a target to direct that fixation onto. You were the most convenient as you are the leader of Voyager."
"I was the leader of Voyager," Kathryn corrected her softly.
"And shall be again," Seven continued.
Gazing up at her friend, Kathryn asked, "And what if I never am again?"
"Then I shall continue to love you. My feelings for you are not based on the position you hold on the ship. They are based on the person you are, and my passion for you."
"Passion, huh?" Kathryn asked teasingly, allowing herself to be led from melancholy thoughts. "Would you like to explore a little of that passion now?"
"I would," Seven answered readily.
A sudden hail from the computer interrupted before they had a chance to implement anything. "Doctor to Captain Janeway,"
"Janeway here," she answered resignedly wondering if he had some devastating news about Kinsie’s hand. Maybe he couldn’t repair that damage either. It would be another thing that would weigh heavily on her conscious, and Kathryn didn’t know how much more her conscious could take.
"I’m pleased to inform you that I’ve worked the bugs out of the genatronic replicator. We can begin the procedure in the morning if you like."
Seven’s cortical implant lifted at the news but she refrained from commenting. The choice was Kathryn’s, but she was suddenly afraid. If Kathryn decided to undergo the procedure immediately they wouldn’t have the next few days together as planned and Kathryn could die. But if she underwent the surgery the chances were equally as good that she would be able to walk. She didn’t have long to wait to hear the dreaded words.
The decision was almost immediate for Kathryn. Looking into the softest blue eyes she had ever seen, there could be only one answer. The prospect of a normal life with the woman she loved above all else was all the influence she needed.
"Would seven. be too early to begin?" she asked simply.
There was a brief pause as though her answer had stunned the hologram. Since it was actually impossible to stun a computer program, Kathryn decided he did such things simply for show. "Of course, Captain. I’ll make sure Lieutenant Paris is free to assist."
"Thank you, Doctor. Is that all?"
"Yes, Captain. But I would recommend that you try to sleep as long as possible before the procedure. We don’t want your body’s energy level depleted before we begin."
"Understood. Janeway out."
As soon as the channel was closed Kathryn was reaching for Seven and drawing her into a passionate kiss. Seven pulled away breathless to inquire, "Shouldn’t we be preparing for you to sleep?"
"Not a chance," Kathryn answered with a purr that curled Seven’s toes. "I’m going to spend as much time as we have before that surgery kissing you senseless. Do you have any complaints?"
"Absolutely none." Seven lowered her head to crush Janeway’s lips with her own.
Janeway had been in surgery for almost three hours and the crewmen of Voyager were a nervous wreck agonizing over her prognosis. Everywhere he looked Chakotay could see evidence that people were only paying half attention to their duties, but he couldn’t honestly blame them. He had started personnel reports only to end up staring into space more times than he could count and finally given up to stare thoughtlessly out the forward viewer. Behind him he could hear Harry’s fingers tapping nervously on his console. The noise bothered him and he had started to go to the ready room a few times to escape it. If he weren’t so superstitious, he would have. He hoped that the ready room wouldn’t be his for very much longer, and felt that if he went in there now he would be jinxing that outcome. So he sat resigned in his chair and forced himself to endure the endless tapping.
Lieutenant Ayala was having a similar experience while on brig duty. He was concerned about the captain and not really paying attention to Kinsie. She seemed pretty subdued anyway, and sitting behind the force field wasn’t much of a threat.
"Hey," the young woman groused. "I’ve been sitting here forever. My butt’s getting numb. Isn’t there a Starfleet protocol about prisoners being allowed exercise?"
Sighing Ayala glanced at his watch. She was allowed an hour of recreation each day and she had been in the cell since the early morning hours. What could it hurt to let her stretch her legs a little?
Protocols dictated that a minimum of two security members be present at all times when prisoners were exercising, but Voyager was a small ship and had been in the Delta Quadrant a long time. Kinsie was counting on those protocols being a little slack and wasn’t disappointed when Ayala deactivated the force field without calling for an additional guard. Suppressing her smile she walked toward the former Maquis with her arms extended, wrists together as though preparing to have manacles put on.
Ayala picked up the manacles from where they lay on the desk and walked confidently toward her. Just as he was about to clamp the steel around her wrists, Kinsie took advantage of his square stance to deliver a sharp snap of her knee to his groin. Ayala fell to the deck writhing in pain and unable to call out for help. As he lay there gasping in pain and trying not to vomit Kinsie casually reached down and relieved him of his phaser.
Then she took his combadge off and tossed it across the room.
"Thanks," she said with a smile. "It was getting cramped in there."
Her hand still ached where the doctor had repaired the crushed bones, but she was able to hold the phaser steadily. The pneumatic doors detected her presence and hissed open accommodatingly and she jogged quickly down the corridor of deck thirteen to the turbolift. She would take it to deck ten and get to the shuttle bay easily. It would take Ayala several minutes to recover from her attack and by then she would be long gone. She didn’t count on the young man’s own resolve against her escape plan.
Ayala pushed the pain to the pit of his stomach and rolled into a ball on the deck. Fighting against the urge to faint he pushed himself to his knees with one hand while cupping his injured groin with the other.
"Computer," he rasped, "intruder alert."
Although technically Kinsie wasn’t an intruder the alert would set off the red alert klaxons and automatically shut down secured systems except to key personnel. Immediately the red glow of the alerts flashed and Tuvok hailed him.
He could hear the query over his combadge, but it was too far away. Crawling painfully across the room he finally reached it and activated the device.
"Kinsie’s escaped," he panted. "She’s got my phaser."
"Do you require medical assistance?" the Vulcan politely inquired.
Hell yes, he required medical assistance, the young man thought waspishly. But his duty was elsewhere at the moment. "I’ll be all right. Just get her."
Unaware of the drama unfolding in other parts of the ship, Seven of Nine paced restlessly outside the surgical force field in sickbay. She could see and hear everything going on and what she saw did not comfort her. At first the doctor had insisted that she leave, but when she threatened to decompile his program he had given in with a huff. Now she almost wished she had listened to him.
"Severing the brain stem," the doctor said calmly, apprising his assistant of his actions as he went. Then he directed, "Cortical stimulator."
Lieutenant Paris calmly attached the device to the back of Janeway’s neck. She looked so tiny to Seven lying face down on the steel table. A sheet was draped over her posterior to her feet, but her back was unadorned.
"Preliminary scans are complete," the EMH reported glancing at a computer readout. It had taken three hours for the machine to complete such a complicated scan, but there was no margin for error. "Begin the encoding sequence," he ordered.
Seven unconsciously held her breath. The encoding sequence would send the data to the genatronic replicator. The replicator would create an exact facsimile of the captain’s spine to replace the damaged one. Once the replication sequence was complete she watched in fascination as the doctor removed Janeway’s injured spine with a laser scalpel and attached the new one in its place. It took an additional two hours to connect all of the minor and major nerves, veins, arteries and muscles. Reattaching the spine to the brain stem was the final step.
Paris was shaking and sweating by this time from exhaustion and tension. He almost dropped the dermal regenerator he was using to heal the incision and was rewarded with a nasty look from the doctor. "Okay, I’m finished," he finally reported.
Glancing at the monitor the doctor said, "One hour, fifteen minutes until primary brain dysfunction."
That was their time limit. If they hadn’t completed the surgery by then, the captain would suffer brain death.
The doctor quickly finished the rest of the neural connections and prepared to disengage the life-support systems. "Activating genatronic sequencer. Tissue growth proceeding with no signs of rejection."
Tom grinned happily at Seven through the force field. Everything was going according to schedule. Suddenly, an alarm went off on the monitor.
"She’s going into neuroleptic shock. Get me seventy-five cc’s inopropaline," the doctor ordered, and grabbed the hypospray out of Paris’ hand. He injected the drug into Janeway’s neck and was frightened that there was no reaction.
"No blood pressure, no pulse," Tom reported with a quaver in his voice.
"Twenty-five cc’s cordrazine," the physician shouted and again grabbed for a hypospray. "Cortical stimulator now," he said as he injected the medication.
Janeway’s body jumped at the shock from the cortical stimulator, but her heartbeat refused to respond.
"Again," the doctor ordered.
They shocked her twice, three times, four times, and were finally ready to concede defeat. Seven bounced off the force field in her panic to reach Janeway’s side and could only stare helplessly at the woman lying on the table.
"No, Kathryn," she whispered. "You shall not give up."
"Make a note in the ship’s log," the EMH began. "Death occurred at…"
"Wait!" Tom shouted. "I’ve got something."
The reading on the monitor was faint, but it was there.
"Pick it up, Captain," the doctor urged. "Pick up the beat." Of course he was referring to her heartbeat, which did respond even as he said the words. The tension in the room was palpable and could have been cut with a knife, but it was broken a moment later when Kathryn suddenly took a deep breath and coughed slightly.
Tom was grinning like a fool when he glanced over at Seven. The young woman had a hand over her mouth and tears of relief and happiness coursing down her cheeks. Such an atypical show of emotion affected the sentimental young man and his own tears overflowed unchecked. A laugh burst from him and he looked back at the doctor, slapping the man on the back in congratulations.
Preening like a peacock the holographic doctor checked the readouts before glancing at the witnesses to his medical triumph. "I believe we can count this as an unqualified success."
"She will walk again?" Seven asked nervously needing everything clarified.
"Oh, yes," the doctor said. "She may be sore for some time, but I anticipate a complete recovery."
"Boy, will Chakotay be relieved," Tom observed causing a surprised laugh from Seven.
While there was a major success on Voyager in the sickbay that day, a senseless tragedy occurred elsewhere.
Lieutenant Andrea Kinsie managed to make it to shuttle bay two during her jailbreak, but didn’t have as much of a head start as she had anticipated. She was pursued by security just as she was entering the cavernous bay. Hiding behind a shuttle she fired at the team closing in on her, but knew it wouldn’t be long before she was outnumbered and recaptured. Deciding to make a break for the shuttle’s hatch she directed phaser fire at the security contingent and ran. She was near the rear bulkhead of the hangar and took a phaser blast to her chest that sent her careening backward. The phaser was set on stun, but still packed a punch.
The poor crewman who fired that shot watched in disbelief as she fell back and struck the emergency decompression controls on the bulkhead. He heard Tuvok call for an emergency override of the decompression sequence but it was too late. Automatic force fields went up preventing anyone from reaching the helpless woman and the bay doors opened. Andrea Kinsie was dead before she ever realized the coldness of space.
Kathryn realized that she still hadn’t made a commitment to the young woman. Now it looked as though she would be her old self again, and wondered if that meant that things had to go back to being how they were. Just as quickly she decided that such a choice was ridiculous. You couldn’t change the past. No matter what you did or what was done to you, you had to accept things as they were and move on from there. Sometimes those choices would be painful and difficult to deal with, but this wasn’t one of those times. This was a choice she would happily make again.
"Seven," she began, taking hold of the young woman’s hand she asked, "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
A surprised sob was her response and for a moment she thought she had upset the younger woman. Then she realized that Seven was smiling through her tears. "No, Kathryn. You have never told me how much you love me."
"My mistake," she said with a smile. "I should have told you a long time ago. I love you. Now if I could just get off this damn bio-bed and walk to my quarters, everything would be perfect."
"One step at a time, Kathryn," Seven schooled her as the captain had done for the drone so many times in the past. "One step at a time."