Special note: This story is a Sequel to Dark Rising'. It is unnecessary that you read that story as long as you understand that Janeway and Seven of Nine are romantically involved. Janeway and some of the crew are kidnapped. When the captain ends up on a frozen planet fighting for her life Seven goes searching. Completed 10-05-01.
The slender back arched into a perfect bow as pleasure rippled through the small form.
Seven of Nine, former Borg drone, lay beneath the shuddering woman. Her hands gripped Kathryn's hips strongly, guiding the older woman as she surged against Seven's own moist center. Kathryn sat straddled Seven, covers rumpled and barely covering their legs. Perspiration glinted faintly, illuminated only by the passing stars outside the portal of the captain's bedroom.
"Oh, Annika," Kathryn groaned, feeling the exquisite tightness in her loins. As much heaven as the sensation of Seven's pubic curls were against her own she would never be able to come like this. And all Kathryn Janeway, captain of the Intrepid class Starship USS Voyager could think about right now, was coming.
"Annika, please," she whispered desperately, long past the ability to speak in a complete sentence.
Understanding exactly what her beloved needed Seven quickly shifted her fully human hand and covered Kathryn's sex. She reveled in the viscous fluid of Kathryn's desire as she penetrated the tight channel with two long fingers. A guttural moan escaped the redhead's throat as her hips thrust forward sharply, impaling herself farther onto the slender digits.
"Oh, yes," Kathryn encouraged, gripping the blonde's shoulders. "Harder."
Seven braced her hand against her own thigh, using the leverage to push against her partner as the thrusting increased in speed and strength. A questing thumb suddenly manipulating her excited clit drove Kathryn over the edge and her cries of satisfaction filled the cabin.
As the final spasms rocked her body Kathryn relaxed into Seven's gentle embrace. Tender kisses covered her forehead as the younger woman held her close, cuddling the beloved woman while Kathryn slowly regained control of her thundering heart.
"Oh, darling," she finally managed, "you are incredible."
"You always say that," Seven observed accurately even though she was secretly thrilled at her lover's assessment.
"Umm, well... you always are."
Kathryn brushed her thumb against the pulse point in Seven's leonine neck and heard a startled gasp issue from the full lips, the curvaceous blondes own desire at the boiling point. She began kissing her way down the long, painfully thin frame pausing to suck avidly at the generous swells of full breasts. Strong hands cupped the back of the auburn head encouraging a stronger touch from the warm mouth. Hardly one to deny her lover Kathryn pulled sharply on the hard nipple attempting to draw as much of the pliant mass into her mouth as possible.
"Kathryn," Seven gasped in appreciation.
Long luxurious moments were spent lavishing attention on the lush breasts before Kathryn relented and continued her southward journey. Loving kisses and tender touches brushed over the skin-warmed metal of the abdominal implant, the Borg technology unbelievably sensitive. Kathryn knew how important it was to Seven that she not shy away from the stark reminders of the young woman's time with the collective. To be honest Kathryn thought the cybernetic implants added to the young blonde's exquisite beauty, if that was even possible.
Her lips quested briefly through the crisp curls of Seven's triangle before finding the top of the wet crease, the scent of the young woman's desire guiding her. Kathryn's lips latched onto the small pearl, sucking it gently while she flicked her tongue rapidly back and forth.
Resisting the urge to grin wickedly the good captain slipped her middle finger into the aching channel. As tight as the young woman was even a single digit was a challenge, but Seven adored the feeling of being filled by her lover.
Seven's hands pressed firmly against the back of Kathryn's head, feeling the thin lips play her expertly. She felt a tightening in the pit of her stomach even as a jolt of electricity shot to her nipples.
"Oh, oh, oh," became her mantra as the excitement built steadily in her body.
Kathryn thrust strongly into Seven with her middle finger then held it in place letting her feel the pressure against her womb while increasing the contact against Seven's clit with her tongue. The scream that issued from the normally stoic woman's throat could easily be heard outside the captain's quarters and Kathryn knew that any crewmember walking down the corridor would have little doubt as to what Voyager's leader was up to.
Fortunately for her there were very few crewmembers that would be walking down the corridor of the command staff's personal quarters.
The two women snuggled together relaxing in the warmth of afterglow.
When the cabin illumination automatically came up to signify morning watch Seven frowned in disappointment. Since becoming involved with the dynamic captain a few weeks earlier Seven couldn't seem to get her fill of lovemaking. Knowing that they were due for their duty shifts didn't make things any easier.
"Come on, darling," Kathryn said patting Seven's metallic stomach. "Would you like to shower together?" The thought of introducing the young woman to another intimate encounter flitted briefly through her mind...right before the ex-drone deflated her blooming thoughts.
"No," Seven answered briefly before emerging in all her naked glory from the tumbled sheets.
Okay, Kathryn thought, maybe I've been pushing her too hard. After all, just because we've gotten involved doesn't mean she's ready for everything a romance might entail. Seven had been assimilated by the Borg when she was only six years old. After being liberated more than eighteen years later Kathryn couldn't expect the blonde to react as her past lovers had. It was just that Seven was so wonderfully passionate that Janeway had never expected her to say no to a new experience.
"All right," she conceded. "Do you want to go first?"
Seven frowned in consternation and paused in the act of picking up her brown mesh biosuit where it lay on the floor.
"Kathryn, I think you misunderstand," she said walking over to stand in front of the smaller woman. "I do not wish to shower at all."
Shaking her head, Kathryn said, "Come again?"
"My thoughts exactly."
It actually took a moment before Kathryn picked up on the Borg's meaning and her cheeks flushed faintly at the sexual innuendo.
"Well, you're certainly adapting to human sexuality," Kathryn observed dryly. "But do you mind explaining what you mean by not wanting a shower? You can hardly go around smelling like sex."
From the look that suddenly crossed the Nordic features the captain realized that was exactly what Seven had intended.
"Annika, you have to take a shower," she informed the other woman in her lowest tones.
"Why?" Seven asked honestly confused. "I do not wish to. If I take a shower I will not be able to enjoy your scent throughout my duty shift."
"No doubt the rest of the crew will be relieved," Kathryn observed sarcastically.
Drawing a hand through her hair in frustration Kathryn tried to figure out how to tell the young woman about sexual taboos. Seven saw absolutely nothing wrong with showing her desire for her mate and could care less if others knew about their relationship.
Unfortunately Kathryn had other ideas.
After six years stuck in the Delta Quadrant, the sole voice of authority for the Starfleet crew, Kathryn was accustomed to a certain amount of distance from personal relationships. The fact that she had become involved with anyone was in itself a miracle and she certainly wasn't comfortable with the entire ship's compliment knowing the finer details of that relationship. As far as she was concerned her intimate scent on Seven of Nine's person definitely qualified as a finer detail.
"Darling, I'm flattered that you enjoy my...aroma. But can you accept that it just isn't appropriate?" her voice rising on a note of panic.
A look of exasperation crossed the narrow features before Seven finally gave up. "Very well. I will shower with you," she conceded, her tone leaving no doubt that she wasn't happy about the situation.
A short time later the two women were putting the final touches on getting dressed. Kathryn picked up her command red tunic and noticed that the pips indicating her captain's rank had already been put neatly into place. Caressing the adornments for a moment Kathryn thought, I never would have suspected she would be so domesticated.
Unaccountably the small gesture touched her heart and again she realized that fate had definitely had a reason for stranding them in this God-forsaken quadrant. How else would she have found her soul mate?
Kathryn spared a moment to laugh at herself internally. She had never been one to believe in fate, instead believing that each individual made their own path in life. Seven of Nine was undeniably changing everything the starship captain had ever believed in.
"Kathryn?" A questioning voice broke her out of her reverie.
Looking up she stared into concerned ice-blue eyes.
"We are going to be late. Are you all right?"
With eyes glinting suspiciously Kathryn answered tremulously, "Yes, fine. Just thinking."
Seven gently cupped a soft cheek and stared deeply into the storm-gray eyes. "Are you sure? You look sad."
Brushing a kiss against the soft palm Kathryn said, "Sometimes it just hits me all at once how much I love you."
Not able to generate a response to the heartfelt words Seven showed her appreciation by gathering the small form against her and kissing her love slowly and thoroughly. They finally separated only when the need to draw breath forced them to.
"We really should go," Kathryn murmured huskily.
Walking down the corridor toward the turbolift with a respectable distance between them Kathryn became aware that Seven was staring at her.
"Something you want to ask me?" she prompted gently, pushing the button for the turbo car.
"No," Seven answered briefly. "I just wanted to say thank you."
Kathryn delayed answering as the doors opened onto the conveyance and they entered the car. "Astrometrics, then bridge," she instructed the computer.
As the lift started Kathryn finally prompted, "Why are you thanking me?"
She was startled when Seven suddenly faced her and raised a hand to gently caress her auburn locks.
"I realize that you cut your hair in an effort to please me."
"Does it? Please you?" she inquired softly, almost shyly.
During a recent encounter with a species known as the Tikani, Janeway and Seven had been forced into a shared vision. In that dream state Kathryn's hair was short, curling sweetly at the nape of her neck. Seven had luxuriated in the feel of the thick strands winding around her fingers. It had come almost as a shock to the young woman when they returned to reality to find that Janeway's hair was almost to the middle of her back.
When Kathryn had discovered her young lover's preference she had promptly had her hair shorn by the ship's barber. The length of her hair made no difference to Kathryn and if Seven liked it this way that was fine by her.
A gentle hand below her chin urged the bashful woman to meet warm blue eyes.
"You know it does," Seven breathed before covering the thin lips with her own.
Kathryn's slender arms wound around the strong shoulders of their own accord as a tongue was thrust eagerly into her mouth. A moan of heartfelt desire escaped her throat just as the doors to the turbolift whooshed open.
The individual waiting for the turbolift had to clear her throat again before the two women engaged in the intimate embrace seemed to realize she was there. Of course Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres knew very well that Seven had heard her, but Janeway was another matter.
Realization seemed to draw slowly over the smaller woman as her lips separated from those of her lover and she realized that she had an audience. A faint tinge of pink colored her cheeks but her only response was a dry, "Lieutenant, enjoying the show?"
B'Elanna's eyes widened briefly in alarm until she caught the unmistakable glint of mischief in her captain's eyes. A grin slowly curled one corner of her mouth as the Klingon hybrid finally replied, "Not at all. But I have to get to work on time or the captain will have my butt."
"I'll be sure to put in a good word for you," Janeway replied smoothly when the car started again.
Great, Kathryn thought, I'm worried about maintaining some discretion in front of the crew and I'm caught kissing my girlfriend in front of the worst gossip monger on the ship. What next?
A few hours later Janeway was daydreaming her way through one of the blessedly boring days of bridge duty. Her thoughts were on a way of surprising her girlfriend with a romantic dinner on the holodeck.
Uh, Kathryn thought, girlfriend. There had to be a better term. Girlfriend just seemed so juvenile. Her attention was caught by the low chuckle emanating from her left. She turned an uplifted brow to the form of her burly first officer and caught him looking guiltily away, trying to smother the grin covering his face. Mentally going over the last few moments, Kathryn tried to remember if she had been unconsciously mumbling. For the life of her she couldn't figure out what was so amusing.
"Commander," she prompted in her most dangerous tones.
"Sorry, Kathryn," he said so softly only she could hear. "It's just that you looked so far away and just a moment ago I heard you say Seven."
"You did not!" she denied adamantly feeling her cheeks flush a furious red. She was blushing so hard she could even feel her ears burning. A second later she gave thanks to any and all deities that had ever been created when Ensign Kim gave her the distraction she so desperately needed.
"Captain, sensors are picking up a large asteroid belt at bearing 121 mark 4. The vortex is similar to the Chamra vortex in the gamma quadrant, showing heavy concentrations of neutronium."
Harry looked up excitedly at the captain, a lock of dark hair falling boyishly into his eyes. Janeway met his gaze and then glanced quickly at her second in command as an answering grin covered her own features.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Neutronium was a matter so incredibly dense that the atom's electron shells had collapsed and the nuclei were touching. It was impervious to phaser fire or other external damage. Fortunately their laser cutting torches were more efficient. If they had a few bulkheads surrounding strategic locations on the ship, like say weapons lockers or the hull Voyager could prove more resistant to enemy attacks. After six years without a proper shake down at a star base neutronium would be a welcome material to repair damage that had accumulated within the ship's basic design structure.
"Do you want me to lead an away team?" Chakotay asked eagerly.
"Why don't we just send an engineering team," Kathryn suggested. "I'm sure B'Elanna is capable of leading a mining expedition."
Although he was anticipating getting off the ship for a while the bearish man curbed his excitement realizing something else was going on.
"You want B'Elanna to know you trust her judgment," he guessed accurately.
Lately the chief engineer had been showing symptoms of being depressed. She had broken off her relationship with Voyager's helmsman and was listlessly going about her duties. Not wanting a recurrence of the volatile young woman attempting to hurt herself on the holodeck Kathryn tried in obscure ways to show the brunette that she was definitely needed and trusted.
"Something like that," Janeway admitted. "Harry, how far away is the anomaly?"
"1.992 light years, Captain," the young man responded smartly.
"Tom, set a course, warp six."
"Aye, Captain. At present speed we'll reach the vortex in seven point two hours."
While Janeway was instructing Tom to carry them toward the asteroid field Chakotay contacted the Klingon engineer and instructed her to get her team together, unaware of the captain's internal thoughts.
She decided she would stay on the bridge until B'Elanna's team launched. With any luck they would proceed without a hitch and Kathryn could still have that romantic dinner with Seven. In the past Kathryn would have stayed on the bridge, pulling double and triple shifts until the return of the away team, but certainly the chief engineer could handle a mining operation without the captain having to stay on the bridge and monitor her.
The mining team consisting of B'Elanna, Nicoletti, Vorik and two security personnel, Jansen and Marcus, were standing by to disembark from shuttle bay one. Chakotay had actually teased the captain lightly for insisting on security for a mining operation. It wasn't that he didn't agree, he just couldn't allow the opportunity to pass considering that up until a few weeks ago she would have insisted that security was unnecessary. That was before she had gotten caught unprepared by the Tikani, leaving herself and Seven of Nine helpless captives. Now she insisted on having the gold-shouldered crewmen present every time someone left the ship. As far as the tattooed Native American was concerned it was about time.
Timing was critical as B'Elanna's team awaited the go-ahead. Voyager had to drop shields long enough for the shuttlecraft to exit without being hit by the spatial debris in the dust clouds that were surrounding the asteroid field.
"Harry, its your show now," Janeway informed the overeager ensign.
"Aye, Captain." His dark eyes were already scanning sensors, waiting for a momentary break in the dust clouds. A few moments passed before he raised a hand to tap his combadge.
"Kim to away team, prepare to launch on my mark," a brief pause and then, "mark."
He keyed instructions to the ship's computer and the shields surrounding the shuttle bay dropped. Simultaneously the Edison smoothly left the protection of the larger vessel. The shields were brought back up immediately and the shuttle was away.
"Smoothly done, Ensign. If I'm not careful you might just have my job," Janeway said pushing to her feet. She noticed the slight flush cover his youthful countenance as she headed to the turbolift and chuckled softly to herself. Now that the shuttle was away it was time to keep a date with a certain Borg Astrometrics officer.
"You have the bridge," she said unnecessarily to her first officer as she entered the turbolift.
Her mind was already on her upcoming plans, but before she had time to state her destination to the computer she heard Tuvok say, "I am reading a ship of unknown configuration on an intercept course at bearing 184 mark 7."
"Damn," Janeway mumbled stepping off the lift and walking back around to the command center.
"The vessel is heavily armed and appears to be a warship," the Vulcan tactical officer continued in a calm voice.
Great, Kathryn thought, there goes that romantic dinner. "What about the shuttle? Any indications that they have been attacked?" Janeway dreaded the answer.
"None." Harry answered keying long range sensors. "It doesn't look like they were detected."
Tuvok interrupted with an update on the newcomers status. "Their weapons are not powered, Captain, and they are hailing."
Kathryn quickly considered all options. If Voyager powered their own weapons they could accidentally initiate a violent encounter, yet if they did nothing they would be sitting ducks against a surprise attack. The Delta Quadrant had not been kind to the Starfleet crew over the years, more species than not that they encountered were violent and out to see how they could take advantage of the wayward crew.
Still it wasn't in the feisty woman's character to not try diplomacy first.
"On screen," she commanded, standing in the center of the command deck and placing her hands on her hips.
It was an unconscious posture and one the bridge crew immediately recognized when Janeway was unsure of a situation and feeling the need to put forth an intimidating air with an alien race.
The view screen flickered and a humanoid female's features were displayed. The woman had extremely short dark hair that seemed to be cut in a perfectly circular pattern. The length of her hair was easily four centimeters above her elongated ears.
The ears themselves were tapered toward the back of her head and Janeway briefly wondered if they met behind her head. Her skin was a pale ice blue and might have been pretty if it hadn't looked so leathery.
"We are the science vessel R'noldi." the female informed her. "I am the First, Torah."
"Captain Kathryn Janeway," the redhead responded politely. "Please forgive me, were unfamiliar with this part of space. What did you say the name of your species was?"
A slight grin formed on Torah's thin lips and with a flash of understanding Janeway realized this woman could be very cruel if provoked. There was a cold light in the dark eyes and the smile possessed no warmth. Kathryn decided to be as diplomatic as possible. It wasn't that she liked backing down from a fight, but she was definitely in the mood to avoid one if she could.
"I didn't, but we are the D'naran. We are taking samples of the unique properties of this vortex as it has recently been added to the list of acquisitions of the D'naran government."
The arrogant tone of the First was starting to grate a little on Kathryn's nerves.
"I'm sorry. I didn't realize a natural phenomena could be added to a list of acquisitions," she said a little too sarcastically.
Torah's eyes narrowed dangerously for a split second before the woman could compose her own command mask. But it was a second too late and Janeway knew she had scored a direct hit.
"Nevertheless," Torah responded silkily and left the rest of the sentence unfinished.
"However," the alien female continued, "in a gesture of good will we would be delighted to share these resources with you."
You just never knew what this part of space was going to hit you with, Kathryn realized. First this woman starts out cold as Tau Ceti Prime and the next she was offering to share. Maybe she could just make that date after all. The view screen suddenly began to flicker and distort. Wavy lines and splotches of static covered the image of First Torah and then suddenly went blank.
"What happened?" the diminutive leader asked whirling to face Harry. "Is there some kind of interference?"
The young communications officer looked up at her and Kathryn realized something was very wrong. "No interference, Captain. I cut the channel."
"Something's wrong," he said, cutting off her tirade before it could begin. "While you were talking with Torah I detected a vessel the size of a shuttlecraft leaving the D'naran vessel. I didn't say anything because she said they were taking samples."
"But?" Voyager's first officer prompted, rubbing a thumb over his tattoo in an unconscious gesture of worry.
"But, it didn't go toward any of the larger asteroids ...it went straight after the Edison's ion trail."
Janeway considered the implications quickly and realized how circumstantial that evidence was. The Edison hadn't exactly gone to the nearest large asteroid. Instead they had set a course for the highest concentration of neutronium. She knew it was possible that the D'naran ship was doing the same thing and said as much to Harry.
"Yes ma'am," he agreed. "That's why I made it look like a malfunction in the view screen, but I had to let you know."
His voice had a slight edge of concern to it and Kathryn realized he was worried he had overstepped his bounds.
"Good job, Harry," she assured him. "We'll be careful. Now why don't you get Torah back on screen."
A second later the view screen was operational again and Kathryn made up some lame excuse about a sensor overload that had shorted out their visual link. To her surprise and relief the First seemed to buy the story.
"Would you mind telling me, First, where your smaller vessel was headed?"
If the alien was surprised by the forwardness of the question she gave no indication of it and Kathryn had to give her credit for having a cool head. "To take samples, as I told you," was the smooth reply.
A few more moments were passed in an inane conversation that was beginning to bore Kathryn to tears when suddenly the First blindsided her.
"Now that we are becoming such good friends, Captain, I would like to invite you and the members of your senior staff to visit our ship. We can show you the research we are doing."
Kathryn had no interest in seeing any scientific experiments at the moment when her concern was getting rid of these people and checking on her crewmembers. "I'm sorry, First, but I must stay here until my away team returns safely."
"I insist, Captain." Was it just her imagination or had the First suddenly become a little too serious for comfort, Kathryn wondered.
"Captain," Tuvok interrupted, "an incoming message from the away team on a Starfleet emergency channel."
"Harry, cut the link to the D'narans. Put the away team on speakers," she commanded quickly.
Janeway sprinted up the stairs to stand next to her Vulcan security officer as the speakers crackled from interference.
"der attack...mayd...V..ger, resp...d,"
She could just make out the voice of Lieutenant Torres and sent a brief prayer to whatever deity was listening that her people were unhurt. Kathryn began spitting orders as she strode back and sat down in her captain's chair. "Red Alert. All hands to battle stations, power all weapons systems and load all torpedo bays. Harry, I want shields at maximum. Tom navigate a course as quickly as possible through these rocks and find our people."
A violent jolt shook the intrepid little ship throwing Kathryn to the floor. She felt her wrist bend at an unnatural angle, stretching ligaments and tendons mercilessly. Fortunately she didn't think the limb was broken and was climbing to her feet as Tuvok was letting her know how bad off they were.
"The D'narans are firing. Torpedoes are down. I have phasers only and shields are at fifteen percent. Another hit and we will be vulnerable, Captain."
"Get us out of here, Tom, while we still have warp," Kathryn gasped as she lurched back into her chair.
Another volley of weapons fire spread over Voyager's hull and power conduits began to blow all over the ship. Sparks flew and the smell of ozone filled the bridge.
"Shields are off-line!" Harry fairly screamed, pale from fright.
Voyager turned sluggishly and began limping away from the R'noldi, but not quickly enough. A sickly yellow energy beam penetrated the hull and began sweeping across the deck. Crewmembers scurried away from the light, headed for the far side of the bridge. A Bolian woman moved too slowly and the beam intercepted her. She seemed to glow brilliantly for a moment and then suddenly vanished.
The same beam encountered Harry Kim and passed him by harmlessly.
Janeway was stunned for a moment wondering why the aliens had taken Crewman Lan and not Ensign Kim. Then the beam continued its arc and she scrambled away just as everyone else was doing. Tom Paris chose that same moment to abandon his post and collided with Janeway, both of them crashing to the deck in a tangle of arms and legs. The yellow beam intercepted them and they were gone in a flash of light.
Voyager completed its turn and streaked off at warp six thanks to the commands Paris had entered into the computer just before he was abducted.
Ensign Lynch jumped into the vacant pilot's seat and stopped Voyager as soon as they were out of enemy territory. The brunette had reacted quickly and filled the vital post even though she was a member of security, knowing how important it was not to get too far away and lose sight of the D'narans if they ever hoped to get their people back.
After assessing the situation the computer confirmed that in addition to the away team Voyager was missing eight crewmembers, including Captain Janeway.
An enraged Kathryn Janeway separated herself from the tangle with Tom Paris. She had felt the familiar buzzing of a transporter beam and knew they weren't on Voyager any longer. The question was, exactly where were they and why?
"Get off me!" she grunted, striking the young oaf harmlessly in the shoulder and surging to her feet to quickly take stock of the situation.
She and seven other members of her crew were inside a small holding cell. The confines of the room prevented anyone from sitting and the press of bodies combined with the glaring white overhead illumination had Kathryn feeling severely claustrophobic. Undoubtedly that was the idea, she thought realizing that quarters would get close indeed should they all decide to start sweating. A brilliant blue energy field sealed off the entrance.
This just keeps getting better and better, Janeway thought sarcastically.
There was no sign of their captors and Janeway quickly pressed her combadge attempting to contact her ship. Not even the peep of an un-established communication rewarded her for her actions. She realized that a dampening field must be surrounding them and that there was nothing they could do about it at the moment. She hadn't expected anything else, but had needed to try anyway.
"All right," she said loudly, gathering everyone's attention. "We need to look for a way out. Lan, Paris, see if you can get that forcefield down."
The Bolian woman and the helmsman nodded simultaneously before heading for the energy grid.
A gold-shouldered security officer pushed his way through bewildered crewmen to address his captain. "I've already checked the perimeter, Captain. Other than the area covered by the forcefield there's no other way out of this room."
With so many individuals on Voyager it took a moment for Janeway to identify the earnest young man. "Thank you, Lieutenant Baxter. Can you see about getting these people organized? I need to know who we have here and if we have any way of getting out of this place."
"I'm on it, Captain," the man assured her turning briskly to do her bidding.
There wasn't much that could be done until an opportunity for escape presented itself, but it helped keep her people occupied and focused in the meantime if they felt they were doing something useful. Keeping her eyes on the door opposite from the holding cell Kathryn wondered when First Torah would make an appearance. She needed to formulate a plan for just such an opportunity and turned her formidable mental abilities toward that end.
Loud voices suddenly broke her concentration and drew her to the rear of the holding cell. Tom Paris held Pablo Baytart by the collar of his Starfleet uniform and had him pressed up against the wall.
"Just stay out of my way," Janeway overheard Paris warning the young ensign.
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" she asked in a voice that could peel paint.
Paris flinched and quickly released Ensign Baytart. He took the opportunity to glare at the dark-haired man before turning what was supposed to be an innocent look to his commanding officer. "Nothing we can't handle, Captain," he assured her smoothly.
Normally Janeway didn't like to chastise her senior officers in front of their subordinates, but the situation was critical and she didn't need this kind of behavior. "I don't know if you've been keeping up on current events, but we already have an enemy to fight. If you have personal issues I suggest you save them for when were back on Voyager."
"Yes, ma'am," Tom said contritely hanging his head slightly.
When she directed her glance to Baytart the young man was shooting an accusatory look at Voyager's helmsman, but he also assured her that he understood.
"I thought you were supposed to be working on the forcefield, Lieutenant?" Janeway questioned.
"Uh, sorry, Captain. We were unsuccessful," he belatedly reported.
"So I see," she said dryly before turning her back on him.
Janeway drifted back to the front of cell keeping a vigil for their captors. Already the crew was fighting amongst themselves. She wondered if this was an alien technique used to cause dissension before trying to get information from them. From the glares that had been directed at Paris by the others Janeway knew who was to blame for the altercation and was a little disappointed in her helmsman. As much as she had tried for him over the course of the last five years sometimes he still acted like an irresponsible juvenile. It was his charm and his weakness. Refocusing on the task at hand Kathryn went over what information she had.
There were eight Voyager crewmen in this cell; herself, Tom Paris, Lieutenant Baxter, Ensign Baytart, Ensign Danna Jurot, Ensign Lyssa Campbell, Crewman Tal Celes and Lan. There were five humans, a Betazoid, a Bajoran and a Bolian. Luckily for them Ensign Jurot's Betazoid abilities could come in handy for figuring out what their assailants had planned for them.
That didn't mean others from their crew hadn't been captured as well, but if they had where were they? Was Voyager adrift? Was it destroyed? Had Chakotay gotten them to safety or were they pursuing? She knew she could count on the man to implement a rescue effort as soon as possible, but knew they were no match for the D'naran ship. And how was Seven handling all this? They had barely begun their relationship and she was so new to humanity; how would she be dealing with all of this? All of the unanswered questions and the glare of the too-bright lights were beginning to give her a headache.
A sudden commotion from the other side of the closed doorway drew a scowl from Janeway. The rest of the captured crew quieted as they also recognized the voice of an individual with a temper to be reckoned with.
"Get your filthy hands off me, you scum!" B'Elanna Torres bellowed.
The doors whooshed open and a contingent of D'narans swept into the room with the members of the away team. B'Elanna Torres and Susan Nicoletti struggled in vain against their captors. B'Elanna's tunic hung in rags from her muscled frame, blood running freely from a gash on her forehead and various scratches on her arms. Nicoletti was in similar disarray, but it was the dark purple bruise covering half of her face that drew Janeway's concern.
Another group of D'narans entered dragging Ensign Vorik. The young Vulcan hung suspended between two tall, muscular aliens and was obviously unconscious, his feet scraping as he was dragged across the white deck.
First Torah was with the last group and watched as Voyager's captive crew was forced away from the front of the cell at gunpoint while the forcefield was lowered and their away team was returned to them.
"They killed Marcus and Jansen," B'Elanna informed her Captain. "I think Vorik was only stunned. They just came out of nowhere, Captain." Her voice was apologetic as though she were somehow to blame for being overpowered by a superior force.
Kathryn touched the young woman's shoulder in a comforting gesture even as the fury welled within her turning her eyes a deep stone gray. Silently she mourned the deaths of the two security officers that had given their lives in defense of their friends. How many more would be sacrificed, she wondered, on this never ending journey home?
"Murderers." she grated facing her jailer. Anger took control and Janeway flew towards the tall D'naran leader. She bounced off the energy grid as the field was reactivated barely in time to prevent her from ripping out the D'naran's throat with her bare hands. Torres caught the reckless woman and steadied her, feeling Janeway pull away immediately only to stand defiantly in front of the First.
"Why have you taken us and where are the rest of my crew?"
The alien female was taller than Janeway would have suspected from the view screen, easily dwarfing her human counterpart by half a meter. Her skin was more leathery in appearance from this close and Kathryn thought she vaguely resembled a terran reptile.
First Torah snorted condescendingly and rolled her eyes at the small female's attempts to intimidate her. "Oh, please, Captain. They drew weapons against the D'naran Empire and paid for their error. These three were taken as humanely as they themselves allowed. If our acquisitions do not resist they are not harmed."
Her tones suddenly became silky smooth, almost soothing, when she said, "Really, Captain. Damaged goods bring a poor price."
It occurred to Janeway that the blue of their skin was strangely appropriate since they appeared to be coldly cruel. A shudder racked her frame as she repeated, "Goods?"
Torah shrugged negligently seeing no harm in telling this human what had befallen her and her inept crew, obviously they were no threat and the information sometimes assisted in breaking through any obstinacy. "You may have noticed this area of space is low in minerals or any other natural resources. Other than the neutronium, it is devoid of value."
"Well, I've been watching the guard rotation. They change about every four hours, meaning we've been here about sixteen, so far. Anyway, Nicoletti and I figured that we wait until they change again. They'll be distracted for a few moments."
Kathryn picked up on the idea continuing where B'Elanna left off. "So we wait until they're distracted, you drop the forcefield and we rush them. How do we prevent them from alerting the others?"
"We deactivate the grid just as the new guards finish checking the security field. They'll be disarmed so fast they wont know what hit them. If we move fast enough, already have people standing ready, maybe we can get the other two before they can sound the alarm."
"No, it'll never work," Kathryn said, standing and calming herself. "We'd never get to them in time."
A new voice quietly cut into their discussion, "Captain, if I may?"
Ensign Jurot squatted down next to the other women, her blonde hair shining in the bright overhead lights. Kathryn felt her heart squeeze as the sight reminded her of Seven. Determinedly focusing on the present she gave the Betazoid her complete attention.
Perhaps the young woman could sense something that would help them.
"Captain, these aliens don't see us as a threat. I sense that they have done this to so many species and have rarely if ever had anyone resist. Simply put, they just aren't expecting it. Also..." The young woman hesitated as though afraid to break bad news to her commanding officer and Kathryn had to prompt her to continue. "I sense that we'll be arriving soon to wherever that is. Right now they aren't expecting us to counter them, but once we arrive I'm betting their security will get a lot tighter."
If they really were being underestimated the element of surprise could definitely work in their favor Kathryn thought. And from what Jurot said this might be the only opportunity they would have.
"Captain, please!" B'Elanna encouraged. "We have to try. There are so many of us and only a few of them..."
"Yeah, until the reinforcements arrive."
Staring at the determined face of her crewmen Kathryn considered all their options and realized they didn't really have any. The confidence on Jurot's face and the resolve on B'Elanna's served to reinforce her own and she knew they had to try this. It was as daring and foolhardy a plan as the captain had ever entertained, but that just might be why it would work. It was unlikely the D'narans would be expecting them to try something this desperate.
Fixing her hands firmly on her hips in a show of decisiveness Janeway declared, "Let's do it."
Almost an hour later everything was in place and B'Elanna was hiding behind Vorik and Baytart ready to disengage the grid. That would be the signal for everyone to move. Her fingers trembled slightly with nervousness. The captain was putting a lot of trust in her and the Klingon waited pensively knowing she had to act at exactly the right time.
"You'll do fine," Susan Nicoletti whispered next to the caramel colored ear.
B'Elanna shivered slightly at the breath caressing her sensitive flesh. She turned her head and was startled at the proximity of the brunette. Two pairs of sable eyes locked and she forgot to breathe as she lost herself in the electric surge.
After a moment a look of amusement crossed Nicoletti's face. She had been fighting an attraction for the other woman for a long time and was gratified to finally see some interest being returned, but now was hardly the time. "Voyager to Torres, are you in there?" Nicoletti asked teasingly.
"Uh, yeah. What did you say?" B'Elanna felt her ears burning and turned away.
What brought that on, she wondered? I've never been attracted to women before. Well, except for Seven of Nine, but you'd have to be dead not to be attracted to her.
"Look alive," Susan whispered hoarsely before straightening.
The doors to the D'naran brig opened with an airless hiss and two guards entered. True to their pattern they met in the middle of the room with the two already on duty. The men didn't even glance at their prisoners taking it for granted that there was no threat.
Janeway was relieved to see them negligently dangling their weapons at their sides. That would be an advantage when the attack came. The men talked for a few seconds then the fresh guards walked up to check the security grid. The others were deep in discussion about what they were going to have for dinner and weren't even paying attention.
Kathryn noted that the guards nearest them still dangled their weapons uselessly at their sides and after a cursory examination began to turn away. B'Elanna quietly keyed the final sequence to drop the forcefield. The sound of the grid terminating caused the guards to reflexively turn back. Vorik dropped the first guard with a pinch at the juncture of his neck and shoulder and grasped the weapon as the unconscious man fell to the floor. Paris and Baxter tag-teamed the other man, quickly overpowering him. Paris grasped the disruptor even as Baxter tagged him with an uppercut that felled him with a grunt.
The off-going guards barely had time to look up before they were swarmed by the rest of the Voyager crew. Soon all four guards lay on the ground and no alert had been sounded. It was a measure of their discipline that no one shouted in victory even though they all felt like it.
"B'Elanna, see if you can access their computer and figure us a way out of this place."
"On it, Captain." The Klingon passed the phaser rifle she was holding off to her captain before focusing on the interface.
Baxter and Ensign Campbell took up positions on either side of the doorway with the alien weapons held at the ready. Paris held on to the other rifle and stood next to Baxter prepared to fire at a moments notice.
Jurot's startled eyes swiveled around to meet Janeway's gaze and Kathryn rushed over to the young woman. Grasping her by the upper arms she forced the blonde to focus on her.
"What is it, Ensign?" Kathryn encouraged her heart pounding in her chest.
"We've landed! They're coming for us."
Janeway felt the blood thundering through her body as her adrenaline surged. "Now, B'Elanna! We need a way out."
"One more minute...." the engineer muttered.
"We don't have a minute," Paris fairly shouted as he heard a troop coming down the corridor.
B'Elanna traced the route to the D'naran shuttle bay with one finger, memorizing the path. An access tube to the lower deck was very near to the outside of the brig and she snarled realizing they would have to fight their way through the aliens.
"Follow me, Captain!" she exclaimed jerking the rifle out of Paris' hands.
The phaser fight was vicious as the Voyager crewmembers burst out of the brig. Baxter and Campbell began spraying disruptor fire as soon as the doors parted, sweeping their rifles steadily back and forth.
D'naran soldiers pressed back against the bulkheads and used the bodies of their fallen comrades as shields. Apparently the they didn't believe in stunning their opponents since there were no control settings on the weapons and Janeway grieved at the loss of life, but right now her main concern was in getting her people out of there.
A tall soldier seemed to gather a little extra courage and stood suddenly. He quickly sighted down the rifle and fired, catching Ensign Jurot high on her chest and left shoulder. The small woman was flung backward and straight into the arms of her captain.
Kathryn quickly tossed her rifle to Paris, ignoring the pain in her injured wrist. "Baytart, help me!"
The pilot grabbed Jurot's right arm and lifted it across his shoulders while Janeway did the same with her left. Paris valiantly guarded the other three standing in front of them and firing the rifle while they made their way toward the access hatch.
The aliens were forced back by the intensity of the frontal assault. Baxter and Paris guarded the group while Baytart and the Captain assisted an injured Jurot into the tube. B'Elanna passed off her rifle to Tal Celes as she lead the way down the shaft. Celes may not have been very good at quantum mechanics but no one could fault her courage. Vorik absently thought the young woman appeared almost noble, squaring off her stance to fire continuously at the on-coming horde.
Everyone was finally in the shaft with Baxter bringing up the rear. Alien weapons were slung over shoulders so that hands were free to assist in climbing. Baxter pulled the access hatch closed, turned his face away and fired his disruptor into the metal at point blank range to melt the entrance closed.
"We're here!" B'Elanna bellowed triumphantly, spying four small alien craft after reaching the floor of the tube. "It's their shuttle bay."
"Thank God," Janeway muttered, feeling Jurot's blood soaking through the thick material of her tunic.
Baxter dropped the last few feet to the deck announcing, "They won't be coming from behind, ma'am. I sealed the entrance."
"Good work," she commended shortly. "Now let's get one of their ships and get the hell out of here."
The wayward band rushed across the deck plating toward a small craft with their intrepid captain leading the way. Jurot stumbled, knees buckling and fell to the ground, pulling Janeway down with her.
"Captain," she breathed. The young woman's breathing was shallow and her eyes heavy with exhaustion. She was absolutely covered with blood and now that Kathryn was looking she thought it was a wonder the empath was conscious at all.
"Danna, we have to keep moving," Janeway told her softly.
The blonde shook her head minutely, "That's one order I'll have to disobey, Captain. I've gone as far as I'm going to."
"I won't accept that," Janeway replied gruffly tears choking her voice.
To her profound shock, Jurot raised a hand to gently touch Kathryn's cheek. It was very common for Janeway to touch her crew. A reassuring pat here, a touch there; but in all the time they had been stranded in the Delta Quadrant no one except Seven had dared touch her in a personal way.
"Don't feel guilty about my death, Captain. I knew the risks when I signed on with Starfleet. You didn't start this confrontation, but you will end it."
Jurot's breathing slowed and stopped altogether. Kathryn closed her eyes in grief as she felt the weight of yet another death on her shoulders.
"Captain," Torres interrupted. "Captain, we have to go."
Kathryn nodded her head in agreement just as a barrage of disruptor fire filled the cavernous bay. A stray beam caught Paris in his lower leg and the young man fell screaming to the deck.
"Tom," Janeway shouted in concern and moved automatically to go to him.
She was prevented by the heavy fire and sought refuge behind some maintenance equipment. Kathryn was relieved to see the lieutenant dragged to safety by Ensign Baytart. They were pinned down behind the heavy equipment and running out of options fast.
"Captain," Baxter shouted, "Paris is injured. You have to get to one of the ships. Get out of here and get to Voyager, we'll cover you."
"No," she refused shortly. "I won't leave my crew. Baytart, you're a better pilot. You have a better chance of making it out."
To his credit the young man shook his head. As frightened as he was he would love to go, but the captain's safety was paramount.
"No, Captain, it has to be you. Voyager needs you."
"Damn," Kathryn muttered realizing they couldn't afford to stay here in this endless debate. But she wasn't going to be able to pilot an alien craft by herself.
"Nicoletti, you're with me," Janeway ordered the young engineer. "Cover us!"
Janeway and the younger woman sprinted for the closest craft while the others lay down cover fire. Nicoletti spent a few precious moment figuring out how to open the cockpit door, but her penchant for alien linguistics proved useful for overriding the lock out procedures.
D'naran troops poured into the bay quickly outnumbering the kidnapped crew as the small shuttle lifted to hover above the deck. A burst of phaser fire blew a sizeable breach in the side of the R'noldi. The nose of the shuttle dipped slightly as the thrusters fired carrying Janeway and Nicoletti away.
B'Elanna watched in horror as the R'noldi's weapons fired without hesitation on their own vessel. The phaser blast cut across the shuttle in a diagonal score, severing a nacelle cleanly. The resulting explosion was deafening and shook the R'noldi like a dog with a bone. Smoke belched from the ruined shuttle as it plummeted from the sky and went out of sight over a distant snow bank. A second later a plume of smoke and fire flew into the air as the ship crashed. Everyone, Voyager crew and D'naran alike, froze momentarily in shock.
"No," Paris muttered in stunned disbelief. "No."
His voice shook Torres back to reality. The captain and Susan were likely dead and they were still facing enemies. There would be time to grieve later. She knew there was no time to try and commandeer another of the shuttles so quickly sought an alternative. "Baxter, get these people out of here. Get through the hole and find shelter. I'll cover you."
She just hoped they could find shelter. From the brief glance outside the climate looked pretty inhospitable. Snow and ice weren't exactly a Klingon's favorite environment.
"That's an order, lieutenant," she bellowed as he hesitated.
Making a decision he nodded quickly. "Lets go!" he shouted, pushing Paris on the shoulder in the direction of the opening.
Tom stumbled on his wounded leg hissing in pain. A strong arm came around his waist assisting him and he looked in surprise at the face of Ensign Baytart.
"Thanks, Pablo," he murmured. "I wont forget this."
"Don't worry," Baytart shot back, "I wont let you."
They shuffled and sprinted for the aperture in the hull while B'Elanna backed slowly after them spreading disruptor fire. Vorik paused briefly beside the body of Ensign Jurot and B'Elanna shouted for the engineer to get moving. She had no idea what he was doing, maybe it was some kind of Vulcan ritual for the dead. Whatever the reason they didn't have time for it.
The young man quickly caught up with the group as they climbed out of the damaged section of the ship and into a blindingly white world. He blinked several times successively, adjusting to the intensity of the light when he began shivering uncontrollably and huddled into himself against the bitter cold.
B'Elanna backed cautiously toward the opening still firing the alien weapon. When it began to sputter she knew she was in trouble.
Evidently the power supply wasn't inexhaustible and she was still a good ten meters from the exit. When it finally went completely dead Torres raised the weapon over her head and launched it at the head of the nearest D'naran before turning and sprinting after her crewmates. She fell writhing to the deck as her lower leg felt like it had been hit by a dozen Klingon pain sticks at once. Blood began filling her boot and she left a wet trail across the white deck.
"Aarrrggh" she growled in frustration and flipped onto her belly, trying to crawl out of the vessel. A pair of darkly polished boots stood blocking her path and her eyes traveled up a very long form before beholding the face of First Torah.
The alien was actually wagging a finger at her as though admonishing a small child. "You are in so much trouble," she informed a suddenly weary Klingon/Human hybrid.
B'Elanna struggled desperately against her captors, but the only indication of her fight was a slight stagger to the D'naran's stance as they held her.
Janeway caught on to the implications immediately. "This vortex is a trap."
"The neutronium attracts travelers seeking to take the mineral for their own selfish use. We simply take advantage of the opportunity. The market for humanoid flesh never wants."
"Is that what this is?" Janeway asked in disgust. "You capture innocent species and sell them as what...slaves?"
"For whatever the buyer desires," Torah confirmed with no sign of remorse. "Servants, sexual release vessels, entertainment..."
It was Torres' turn to bounce off the forcefield with a Klingon snarl. "You gutless p'taq! Lower this forcefield and I'll rip you apart with my bare hands!"
Nicoletti's restraining hand was quickly shaken off by the enraged Klingon hybrid.
Captain Janeway's voice yelling at her that now was not the time vaguely registered in her head. B'Elanna stared at her captain in disbelief and snorted derisively. "And when exactly is the time, Captain? They killed our people and they're going to sell the rest of us..."
"Lieutenant," Janeway intoned in a no nonsense voice and the Klingon fell silent and spun away, seeking a spot farthest from the D'narans.
Torah watched the Klingon stalk to the rear of the holding cell before meeting Janeway's gaze. "I suggest you work on revising your Lieutenant's attitude or she'll definitely fall into the entertainment category. Pity," she added in a voice dripping with sexual innuendo, "I wouldn't mind adding her to my own collection." Torah chuckled perversely and started for the door obviously considering the fun over for the moment.
"Torah," Janeway said quickly, "one more question."
"Make it brief, my patience is wearing thin," the alien warned her.
""Why only us? Why not the whole crew? Wouldn't your profit margin be larger with more to chose from?"
Janeway didn't know if the entire crew had been taken, but acted as though she did hoping to get confirmation from the alien female. She breathed a small sigh of relief with the answer.
The alien First considered briefly before responding, "Even our resources are limited and if we take only individuals that are extraordinary in some way we establish a reputation for providing only the best commodity." Indicating Tom Paris who had moved to stand next to his leader Torah continued. "That one was only taken accidentally when he collided with you during transport. Perhaps he will be used for scrubbing waste disposal tanks. There is still some use for that even if the subject is not aesthetically pleasing."
Paris lowered his head, face flaming and for once quite speechless. Kathryn took pity on the embarrassed man's predicament and responded with conviction. "I consider all of my crew exceptional in their own way."
Torah smiled cruelly with narrowed eyes. "That's why you're in there and I'm out here," she said in an oily voice before walking out.
Chakotay headed up an emergency meeting of the balance of the senior staff in Voyager's main conference room. So far it seemed to Seven of Nine that he was simply trying to justify leaving the missing crewmembers to their fate. She began to wonder if his urging was motivated by the desire to be captain or just an inherent cowardice. How could Janeway ever have fully put her faith in such a person?
The first officer was not oblivious to the reaction his words had caused in those present, but as second in command he had to operate on the premise that no one was irreplaceable. Added to that was the fact that they were no match for the D'naran ship and he knew he at least had to present the idea of leaving their crewmen behind.
"Fine," he said acerbically, "I don't want to leave them behind either so give me some viable options and I'll consider them."
Seven of Nine quickly pushed a padd of hastily gathered data toward the commander. "I can recalibrate Voyager's deflector beam to emit a cloaking device that will prevent us from being detectable to the D'naran."
"Wait," Chakotay argued without so much as glancing at the information, "Cloaking devices can be disrupted with an antiproton beam. They're not exactly the latest in technology."
"A cloaking device?" Neelix questioned, his tufted brows drawn together in the center of his spotted face in a confused frown.
Harry posed the question that all of them wondered about, neatly ignoring the confused Talaxian. "I thought weapons were useless when a vessel was cloaked. How can that help us even if we can avoid detection?"
"Not necessarily," Tuvok explained. "In 2292 Klingons developed a prototype capable of firing torpedoes while cloaked, but their design was flawed. I am curious as to how you have overcome this obstacle," he finished staring intently at the stoic blonde.
Raising her implant arrogantly Seven replied, "I am Borg."
"Naturally," Tuvok responded dryly.
Neelix couldn't prevent the chuckle that escaped even as he clamped his hand over his mouth and even Chakotay bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.
Seven of Nine rose smoothly to her feet and crossed to the computer interface display on the bulkhead. Quickly inputting commands she drew up a design schematic of the proposed device.
"I can channel energy from the deflector grid through the EPS relay systems on a rotating polaric modulation creating a continuous feedback circuit. When torpedoes are fired there will be a break of 2.33741 microseconds in the cloak while torpedoes fire. Shields will be lowered simultaneously to allow the firing sequence. Once the torpedoes have been fired the cloak will reactivate."
Quiet reigned briefly while everyone considered the design concept.
"Will we be visible?" Harry asked.
"No, due to the short duration the cloaking device will be down Voyager will appear only as a brief ripple in space."
"That could be enough for the D'narans to target us," Chakotay pointed out. "I don't like it."
Tuvok interrupted with a raised hand, "Commander, if I may."
At the brooding officer's nod of assent the Vulcan continued. "The D'narans would have to target the exact location of the torpedo bays and know the frequency of the rotating pulse. If we are in continuous motion I do not believe they would have the opportunity to target us effectively."
The doctor spoke for the first time, seeming more pensive than a self-respecting hologram should. "You keep saying torpedoes. What about phasers? Can't we use them? They will cause a significantly reduced loss of life than the class six warhead of a torpedo."
"Sorry, doc," Harry commiserated, "the discharge from phaser fire is incompatible with cloaking technology."
"So, let me get this right," Chakotay interrupted. "You want us to cloak, follow the ion trail of the R'noldi, and what ...initiate a fire fight?"
Seven stared at the commander for a moment as though he were a singularly interesting insect before sitting back in her seat. "No," she finally answered. "I simply believe the cloaking device will aid us in whatever rescue attempt we pursue. However there is something you should be aware of. I was in Astrometrics at the time of the encounter. After reviewing all data I recognized this species. They capture and sell unwitting aliens for profit."
"You mean slavery," Harry interjected in his naive way.
Seven glanced at him briefly, realizing he may understand the concept but not the actuality of the situation.
"The D'narans maintain a planet approximately two parsecs from our current location..." she began.
"I'll consider the cloaking device," Chakotay broke in, "meanwhile we need to consider having to move on without them. I can't sacrifice the entire crew for the sake of thirteen people. Even if one of them is the captain."
"Commander," Harry protested automatically.
"That's the last word on it, Ensign," he ordered. "I'll let you know what I decide."
How did Janeway do it, he wondered, massaging the headache that was beginning to press at his temples.
"Commander," Seven's quiet anger causing her to stand. "I believe you are unaware of the exact nature of the situation. The D'naran home world maintains a climate of approximately minus twenty degrees Celsius. Although prisoners are undoubtedly kept in a less hostile environment those that refuse to cooperate are left on the planet's surface without protection ... as punishment. It is doubtful that Voyager's crewmembers would cooperate and even more doubtful they can survive such extreme conditions."
Taking a breath in frustration he informed her, "I'm sorry Seven, but I will do what I consider best for this crew..."
"Kathryn Janeway's survival is the only thing that matters," she grated scathingly, eyes flashing. "All others are expendable in ensuring her safety. If I must make this attempt alone I will."
Seven's harsh breathing was causing her chest to rise and fall distractingly. With an effort she sent a signal to her nanoprobes to compensate for the elevated respiration while she fought to bring her ire under control.
"You're being insubordinate," the first officer reprimanded her loudly, his own anger and frustration finally getting the better of his normally sedate temper. Glancing around the conference table Chakotay noticed the shocked looks at the Borg's passionate outpouring. Well if they didn't know about Kathryn and Seven's relationship before they certainly do now, he realized.
It occurred to the young blonde that Chakotay's image as Voyager's new captain was his main concern and she was introduced to an new human emotion...disgust. Turning on her heel Seven left the ready room without authorization, much as she had done so frequently when she was new onboard the ship. She crossed the command deck and entered the turbolift headed to cargo bay two.
Her duty shift had officially ended over two hours ago and Chakotay could not stop her from running calculations for modifying a shuttle with the cloaking technology in her off time. If he would not authorize a rescue attempt she would modify the shuttle without permission and seek Kathryn on her own.
A short time later the doors to the cargo bay opened. Seven had no need to look up from the devastatingly long string of calculations she was entering into the computer console to identify her visitor. "Ensign Kim. Have you come to inform me that I have been confined to the brig? Is that not normally the duty of the chief security officer?" she inquired in an even voice.
Harry rested his hands on the edge of the console regarding the young woman with exasperation reflected in his dark eyes. "You really don't make things easy for yourself, do you?"
Seven merely raised her optical implant and continued working.
When no reply was forthcoming, Harry sighed heavily and got to the point. "Chakotay was really mad when you walked out..."
"But continued to work with the rest of us to come up with a rescue mission," he continued as though she hadn't interrupted. "He'll only give this one shot. Tuvok will lead the rescue team and he insisted that you had to go on it because of your familiarity with the D'narans."
"A prudent course of action," Seven approved before finally meeting Harry's eyes.
"You know, Seven, Chakotay may be a bit of a stuffed shirt sometimes but he's only doing what he thinks is best for the ship. That is his job," Harry offered before leaving.
Stopping just short of keying the door mechanism that would cause it to open, he looked back at the stunning ex-drone. "Be ready in half an hour. Tuvok will brief you on the mission details...and Seven, you might want to think about a change of outfit," he suggested.
"Why?" she asked, folding her hands behind her back and standing ram-rod straight.
Her stance served to enhance how little the biosuit covered her features and to illustrate the thoughtful young man's point.
"A biosuit and heels are not efficient in the snow," he said in a way Seven would understand. "And I doubt that even your nanoprobes or suit combined would protect you in the environment you described in the meeting."
"Indeed," she agreed, disconcerted at the image of high heels sinking into the snow on D'nara IV.
Captain Janeway nursed her sore wrist thinking about the briefing with Lieutenant Torres. The woman had filled her in on the events that had transpired with the away team. A shuttlecraft much more powerful than the Edison had just appeared looming over them and the Federation phasers had washed off the enemy hull like water off a duck's back. A tractor beam had locked onto the mining team as the simultaneous whine of transporters filled the air. The security officers, Marcus and Jansen, had aimed their phasers at the materializing aliens but the D'narans began firing their disruptor type weapons even before their forms had solidified, catching the two men squarely in their torsos.
Kathryn shuddered, remembering B'Elanna's description of the men's wounds. The D'naran weapons had definitely not been set on stun. After that things had gone quickly. Janeway had needed to speak with Nicoletti and Vorik to piece the entire picture together.
What it amounted to was that they had been overwhelmed by sheer numbers as more and more of the invaders had materialized onto the small Starfleet vessel. B'Elanna had barely managed to lock the intruders out of the ship's systems before she was captured. That was little comfort at the moment when Kathryn had no idea where they were or where they were headed. She couldn't even feel the vibration of this foreign craft's engines. Unlike being on Voyager Janeway couldn't even tell if they were moving.
At least Vorik had finally regained consciousness. The young man would die before he admitted it, but Kathryn knew he was embarrassed at being overwhelmed, seeming to think that his Vulcan strength should have compensated.
"Do you think they're ever going to feed us?" B'Elanna grumbled, interrupting Kathryn's musings.
With a crooked smile the captain realized it was probably long past time for dinner.
"It has been a while, hasn't it?" she agreed, realizing she had completely lost track of how long they had been incarcerated.
The Klingon snorted, "It feels like we've been here for days."
After a beat the young woman continued quietly hoping their captors wouldn't overhear, "Look, I have an idea. I know its a long shot but ..."
"What is it, lieutenant? Believe me, I'm open to anything at the moment."
Janeway was not the type of leader to feel threatened by ideas from a subordinate and B'Elanna realized that was one of the things that made her a great leader. No one else had the patience to overcome the angry person that the hybrid had been or shown the trust that she had in the young woman by making her chief engineer.
B'Elanna nodded once sharply before continuing. "Nicoletti and I managed to pry off a panel next to the forcefield controls..."
Janeway was amazed. Paris and Lan had worked on finding a way into those controls for over two hours. The engineers had been busy briefing the captain and Kathryn knew for a fact that B'Elanna could have only been directing her energies elsewhere for the last half hour.
"Nicoletti and I took our communicators apart and interlinked the micro-filaments. It was pretty easy after that to short open the panel by using the internal power supply in Lieutenant Paris' combadge."
That was the good thing about there being so many people crammed into such a tiny space. A few of Voyager's crew could be dancing the rumba and the guards would never know. Kathryn just nodded in admiration thinking Torres could build a starship with a toothpick and a ball of twine. "What's your idea, B'Elanna?" she invited.
"Take her to my ship," Torah said in a deadly tone. "I believe I will add her to my private collection after all."
Torah didn't even wait until B'Elanna had been forced from the room to begin giving orders to round up the escapees. "Find the shuttle. If there are survivors ...eliminate them," she ordered tersely to her second in command before striding briskly for her personal vessel.
B'Elanna struggled as she was pushed quickly across the bay in the iron grip of the D'narans. She was lead into an antechamber off the shuttle bay. It held a small, incredibly sleek atmospheric vessel. The thought flitted through her mind that Paris would love to get his hands on it before she was forced back to reality by being shoved roughly to the ground.
Iron shackles were slapped around her wrists while one of the guards opened the doors to the craft. B'Elanna found herself being dragged across the vessel and forced into a small, cramped passenger compartment. In the few seconds she had B'Elanna could see this was a compartment used for smuggling. Undoubtedly conventional sensors would be unable to penetrate it.
The guards showed no concern for their charge, tossing her roughly into the crypt. B'Elanna muffled a curse as her shins were dragged against the entryway. The hatch was sealed and the darkness was complete. It was in direct contrast to the blindingly white light of the R'noldi and left her feeling disoriented with only the pain of numerous minor injuries to assure her that she was still alive.
With no sound or smell B'Elanna began to feel that all of her senses had been shut down. She was completely helpless and even her communicator had been left behind on the R'noldi when shed used it to shut down the energy grid. Not that it would have done her much good now with her hands secured behind her back.
Time passed slowly in the darkness and the Klingon finally began to nod off. She wasn't sure how long she had been crammed into the pod, but she came awake with a start. B'Elanna chastised herself for her lack of control even as she realized that blood loss from her leg injury was partly responsible for her unscheduled nap. Her pant leg was stiff with dried blood and clung unpleasantly to her skin, but at least it didn't seem to be bleeding anymore and didn't hurt as much.
Suddenly the door opened and two of Torah's henchmen grasped her and hauled her out of the pit. Releasing her shackles they grasped onto her and dragged her from the pod.
"Let go, you p'taq. I can walk on my own."
The two affected not to hear her, holding her firmly by the upper arms and propelling her out of the ship and into the open air. B'Elanna staggered and curled reflexively into herself as the biting cold of snow and ice enveloped her. Her Starfleet uniform was little protection from the elements and her teeth immediately began clattering together. The breath burst from her mouth and crystallized in the air.
So that's why their lights are so bright, she thought as she squinted against the brightness of sun reflecting off snow.
Thankfully they were on a walkway of sorts that was relatively free of snow since the brunette thought she would have trouble walking in the drifts with her leg injury. The exposure to the elements didn't last long as she was forced up the stairs of a large structure. The building was at least three stories high and the walls were a pearly white to blend in with the environment.
"You guys are beginning to piss me off," B'Elanna warned roughly as she was led into a narrow corridor and was again ignored. At least she was out of the cold.
Underestimating one's prey could turn out to be a serious mistake the Klingon proved as she took advantage of her new surroundings, seeing warrior statues complete with fighting staffs lining the entrance to the structure. B'Elanna dropped into a crouch with sudden force, causing her escorts to be pulled off balance. Quickly reversing direction and lunging to her feet she pushed the guards away from her.
One of them held on doggedly to her wrist, but the other let go and crashed heavily to the deck. With her free hand B'Elanna grabbed one of the staffs from a motionless sentry. Just as she was about to swing it against the other guard's head a pair of bearish arms folded around the short engineer and lifted her half a meter off the ground. No amount of resistance could counter the muscle-bound opponent that kept her arms pinned to her sides. The occupants of the room suddenly went still, all guards dropping to their knees in obeisance except the goon that held the Klingon .
"Torah," B'Elanna spat, "if you let me go now I wont dismember you before I kill you." Although the brunette was deadly serious the blue-skinned D'naran only laughed in response.
Turning suddenly serious Torah said, "You've been a very naughty girl and rest assured you will not be released. You will be punished."
B'Elanna's eyes narrowed at the implied threat. "I don't like being talked to like a child," she warned succinctly.
Torah took a menacing step toward the brunette and in spite of herself, B'Elanna recoiled from the reptilian woman. Her Klingon instincts warned her that this was not an enemy to be trifled with, but her pride wouldn't back down as she continued to taunt her opponent. "I thought snakes were cold-blooded. How is it you don't freeze to death on this refrigerated rock?"
The blow that rocked her head back felt like it originated in the Alpha Quadrant. Blood ran from her split lips and B'Elanna mourned the loss of a molar.. She kept her face hard, her eyes blank as the blood ran from her mouth.
Torah grasped the shoulders of Torres ragged tunic and ripped it from her in one smooth motion. "First, I will break your spirit..." a cold, leathery finger traced the trail of blood, "then I shall add you to my collection. You will be my favorite I think."
The smile that stretched the dry face was arguably the most frightening sight the Klingon had ever witnessed for what it portended of her future.
"Take her to the training room."
The massive D'naran holding B'Elanna easily carried her through a series of rooms. Her kicking, squirming and cursing seemed to have no effect. His muscles hadn't even started trembling from holding her so long. She was taken over to a metal structure and shackled between two uprights. The creature holding her let her weight drop unexpectedly, adding to the strain on her arms as she dangled a few centimeters off the ground. A metal grate was below her feet and B'Elanna knew that was a receptacle for the blood that would flow.
Couldn't have the floor getting dirty, now could we, she thought sarcastically.
The young woman was no stranger to torture having endured the Cardassian prison camps and refused her captor the satisfaction of showing any fear. At least she still had her turtleneck protecting her skin.
Although her heart pounded in her chest B'Elanna fixed her gaze on the wall in front of her and willed herself not to make any sound during what was surely to come. The reptilian woman could beat her to death, B'Elanna thought, but she would never break her resolve.
The sound of footsteps traced Torahs path back and forth across the small room. When she came to a halt behind the younger woman B'Elanna gritted her teeth, bracing herself.
"Harry, what have you got?"
Chakotay was visibly tense, glancing over his shoulder at the young ensign covering the ops station while silently urging him to hurry.
Voyager was cloaked and had followed the R'noldi's ion trail to the third largest continent on an ice-covered world.
Tuvok and Seven of Nine still covered their positions on the bridge gathering as much intelligence information as possible up until the last moment. As soon as Voyager's sensors indicated the hostages were stationary the rescue team would go into action.
They were dressed in their away mission outfits and ready to transport at once. Both wore thick, padded, black pants that were tucked into combat boots, and heavy turtleneck sweaters. Draped casually beside their consoles lay their thermal parkas and heavy gloves while tricorders and phasers were attached to their waists.
"I'm reading numerous humanoid life signs," the boyish ensign finally responded. "I'm going to have to scan for bio-readings of our crew specifically. This could take a minute," he added apologetically looking up at the burly acting-captain.
"Fast, Harry," Chakotay ordered feeling his palms beginning to sweat. "They may not have a minute."
It seemed to take an eternity but was more like twenty seconds before Kim finally reported. "Got it! I'm reading eleven Starfleet personnel."
"Eleven? There were supposed to be thirteen ..." Chakotay breathed, worried about the fate of the missing two.
"I'm not reading the two security officers that were with the original away team. Commander...they're on the move."
The excitement in his voice didn't imply that the move was in an orderly fashion and Chakotay was tired of being given information one crumb at a time.
Seven was also fed up with being uninformed and in her typical no-nonsense manner Seven interlinked the aft science station with Ensign Kims operations board so she could see for herself. "They are moving quickly, possibly running," Seven stated as she took over the update. "It is possible they are implementing an escape."
"On-screen," the first officer commanded excitedly.
Even as the image of the docked R'noldi came up on the view screen Tuvok realized quickly that if in fact the hostages were trying to escape they were going to need help. Turning to Chakotay he asked for permission to report to the transporter room.
He was only paying half attention to Tuvok and didn't realize that Seven was staring at the view screen, unable to tear herself away as the image of an explosion took out the side of the alien ship.
Harry's voice narrated what the sensors could detect of the drama unfolding inside the warship. "I'm reading a shuttlecraft preparing for take off inside the R'noldi. The life-signs are Captain Janeway's and Lieutenant Nicoletti's,"
"Transport them out," Chakotay ordered desperately.
"I'm trying, sir, but the cloaking device is interfering. The R'noldi's firing," Kim sobbed.
Tuvok grasped Seven by the upper arm and pulled her toward the turbo-lift. Even his Vulcan resolve was tested a split second later when the D'naran's opened fire on the tiny craft. He froze watching as the starboard nacelle was shorn cleanly off and fire belched from the rupture. Spewing fire and smoke the shuttle plunged over a snow bank to crash impressively on the blanketed surface.
Seven swayed on her feet and for one horrible second she thought she might pass out, grasping onto her console to stay upright.
The bridge crew sat in stunned silence for a few seconds until movement near the breach in the warship caught their attention.
"It's the rest of the crew," Harry reported. His voice was heavy with tears, but he continued to perform his duties unfailingly. "Everyone but Lieutenant Torres and Ensign Jurot."
It didn't look like the D'narans were in pursuit, but Chakotay knew that wouldn't last long.
The escapees huddled together for warmth as they fought their way through hip-deep snow. Panting and grunting they helped each other get as far from the D'narans as they could before a posse could be sent after them.
Paris' combadge suddenly sputtered to life and tears of relief stung his eyes.
"Voyager to Lieutenant Paris, can you hear me?"
"We're here, Chakotay," he answered, teeth chattering so hard he thought they would surely break.
"We're trying to lock on to you now. Tom, we read the captain and Nicoletti's life-signs on that shuttle. Can you confirm?"
Nodding his head and then realizing they couldn't see him, "Yeah, it was them." The grief in his voice threatened to choke his words, but he persevered. "They killed Jurot, Marcus and Jansen, too. I don't know where Torres is, she was right behind us."
Without waiting Harry lowered the cloak. As soon as it was deactivated he was able to lock on to the wayward crew and transport them back to the ship. "I transported them to sickbay," he reported re-engaging the cloaking device.
Seven had listened throughout this entire exchange but now she was going to get Kathryn back. She picked up her parka and gloves and strode to the turbo-lift. When she turned around she was surprised to be joined with the dusky security chief. With a shaky breath she insisted stubbornly, "She is still alive."
Kathryn was there on the planet. She was wounded, perhaps, but she was there. She had to be. Seven knew that if she had truly lost Kathryn then she had lost her reason to exist. The humanity that she had been trying so hard to attain would be gone, vanished.
Nodding only once as he donned his heavy jacket and urged her to do the same as he responded. "Perhaps, but you will do anyone little good if you allow your emotions to control you." Raising his face up toward the ceiling he ordered the turbolift to take them to transporter room one where the rest of the rescue team was standing by.
Although he would never voice it he was worried about the captain and Nicoletti, too. Kathryn Janeway had always been his friend. He could never hope to replace that friendship, but he was concerned for Seven as well. He didn't believe she would be able to continue without her partner, that the bond between them transcended everything... even death.
"Nicoletti, get those shields up," Captain Janeway ordered as soon as she had blown a shuttle-sized hole in the D'naran warship.
"Done, Captain," the young brunette responded. "Punch it!"
Kathryn grinned briefly at the order and whispered, "Yes, ma'am."
Quickly figuring out the thruster controls Janeway opened them up completely and the small ship shot out of the launch bay. Just as they cleared the ship a bolt of energy burst from it. Both women were jolted roughly about and there was a feeling of weightlessness as the shields failed. Kathryn couldn't bring the nose up on the shuttle and they were gaining velocity even as they plummeted toward the surface.
"We're going down!" she screamed over the sound of tortured metal. "Brace yourself."
The craft bounced off the surface then began skidding through heavy snow. Kathryn's face impacted with the touch screen and darkness swam at the edges of her vision. Even as she fought to remain conscious she huddled over the cold touch screen in an effort to prevent herself from being thrown around uncontrollably. She watched as the transparent screen in front of her became a spider-web of cracks and prayed that it wouldn't shatter completely. She was sure she had heard a bitten off scream come from the rear compartment and hoped Nicoletti had managed to strap in before the crash.
A large section of the overhead peeled off with a scream of metal and flew straight for her. Kathryn raised her arms protectively over her head, crying out when it hit her and knocked her out of the chair and into the bulkhead. Her already injured wrist took the bulk of her weight when she hit the deck and finally gave way with a wet snap. Kathryn stifled the scream of pain, gritting her teeth and bracing herself with her legs until the ship came to a stop. The breath was rudely forced from her lungs when the shuttle impacted with a deep snow bank and her rib cage slammed into the same hulk of metal that had peeled loose from the overhead.
Kathryn spent precious moments fighting to re-fill her lungs with oxygen before she could straighten up. She knew a pursuit would be coming and they had only moments to get out of the shuttle. Getting to her feet she could see most of the console was inoperable except for a few systems. Fortunately she could get a limited scan that showed the atmosphere of the planetoid to be uninviting but breathable.
Gasping at the pain in her ribs Janeway noticed that her breath was crystallizing in the cold air. They wouldn't last long in this environment. Kathryn noticed that Nicoletti had yet to make a sound and she struggled into the rear compartment, cradling her broken wrist with her other hand. The young woman was sprawled face-down on the deck while a crimson stain spread into the flooring around her head.
She crouched the woman's side then breathed a small sigh of relief at the strong pulse in her neck.
"She must have just hit her head."
As quickly as possible with the debris littering the inside of the shuttle Kathryn looked around for a cargo hold of some kind where she might find anything to help them survive until Voyager could rescue them. Within a few seconds she found a supply compartment only because the impact of the crash had caused the hatch to fly open. It contained several fur-lined parkas, gloves, and goggles. Kathryn didn't see anything that looked like a weapon or any food, but there was a small container that looked like it could be a medical kit of some sort.
Hearing Nicoletti beginning to stir Janeway fought to pull on one of the enormous jackets one-handed and grabbed another for her crewman. Then she rushed over to assist the brunette to her feet.
"Put this on," the captain ordered, helping the lieutenant put on a jacket. "We have to get out of here before they come looking for us."
Nicoletti picked up the urgency in her commanding officers voice, but couldn't help asking, "I don't suppose you found any aspirin back there?"
The captain chuckled in sympathy, "Sorry, no. But I think I found a med-kit. If we can get out of here and find some shelter Ill see what I can do about your headache."
Wordlessly they prepared to leave the shuttle and brave the elements of the D'naran home world. Each were lost in their own thoughts of loved ones and fighting back nausea induced by injuries that they had no time to treat.
The parkas came down past their knees and the hoods fell well in front of their faces. Both women were glad for the extra protection of the ill-fitting clothing as the wind cut cruelly through their bodies. The jackets weren't as warm as Starfleet thermal lined parkas would have been, but the loose fit kept the flying snowflakes from stinging their faces.
Nicoletti held onto the med-kit while Janeway kept an arm around the unsteady young woman and tried to ignore the pain in her swelling right wrist. They struggled through the drifts of snow and around the ruined shuttle, navigating past torn off pieces of still smoking metal in a direction that would lead farther away from the R'noldi.
Kathryn wasn't worried about leaving a trail, with the wind that was howling around them their tracks would be covered in no time. The constant moan of the wind became the only noise in the alabaster expanse. After a while Kathryn became aware that the colorless landscape reminded her of Seven. It was clean and pure with an air of innocence, yet deceptively deadly at the same time.
When her next step took her into a waist deep snow drift she realized that she had been slightly delirious from the cold. One look at Nicoletti's exhausted eyes and cracked lips and she knew it was time to find some shelter. The only thing was there wasn't any.
Well, Starfleet survival courses did come in handy for something, she realized. When there was no naturally occurring shelter the thing to do was make your own. The only tools handy were in the med-kit. After picking her way out of the snow-drift Kathryn took it from the tired engineer and sat it on the ground.
"Nicoletti, help me open this thing," Kathryn said loudly over the howling wind.
That was when the young woman became aware that the captain was injured. She was embarrassed to realize she had been allowing the smaller woman to support her weight and help her through the snow, unmindful of her captain's pain. As much as she had respected Captain Janeway before she had never really known her as a person. Through interacting with the captain during this ordeal she had witnessed first hand the nobility, strength of character and compassion the captain had displayed when Jurot died. Susan suddenly knew that Janeway was one of the few great Starfleet captains.
At the same time Nicoletti realized she allowed herself to be passive throughout this whole nightmare. Squaring her shoulders she promised herself that she would get the captain back to Voyager. There was some way out of this and they would find it.
"I've got it, Captain."
Susan dropped to her knees and pried open the small metal container. Inside were four alien looking devices. Their function was a mystery at present, but perhaps the captain would find what she was looking for. Nicoletti could only look on in shock as Janeway dumped the items on the ground and picked up the empty container.
"Put those in your pocket, Lieutenant. We may need them later."
Complying she asked, "What are you doing, Captain?"
Janeway was turning in a slow circle as she eyed the landscape considering.
"Remember your survival training?"
Dumbfounded, Nicoletti could only respond with a tentative, "Yes," before Janeway stumbled hurriedly for the largest snow-bank she could find. Susan struggled through the snow as fast as her trembling limbs would carry her, following the smaller woman.
Without a word Kathryn began using the receptacle as a shovel to dig awkwardly into the snow. After a few scoops Nicoletti caught on to what she was doing and knelt next to Janeway, taking the container from her and digging avidly.
"This is gonna take a while," Susan observed as Kathryn began scooping snow out with one hand.
"Well, all this manual labor will help us warm up a little. I just hope we finish before they find us."
The two worked steadily, their breath pluming up around them in the frigid climate. Nicoletti had created a tunnel approximately a meter in height and a meter and a half wide. When the tunnel was roughly twice her body length and Susan was having to crawl backward out of the hole to dump more snow Kathryn deemed it finished.
Nicoletti climbed in first, then Janeway crawled on one hand and both knees to the back of the tunnel and sat propped against the back wall next to the engineer. It was a good thing both of them were small as it was a tight squeeze. But the make-shift shelter would block the wind and their breath and body temperatures would help with the cold.
"You realize," Nicoletti said, breaking into the captain's thoughts, "that the snow is eventually going to cover the entrance."
"Yes," Kathryn admitted, "but that will help keep the cold out."
Susan chuckled shakily before responding, "Captain, you do realize that our tunnel is made up of snow? Its not going to warm up very much in here and our body heat will melt the snow. Then we'll be cold and wet.."
Kathryn shot a mock-severe look at the young woman, "Always spoiling my fun, aren't you?" Then turning serious she said, "Let's have a look at what was in the kit, Lieutenant."
With a trembling hand Nicoletti drew off one of the huge D'naran gloves and probed into the pockets of the oversized coat to retrieve the items in question. Her fingers were so cold that for a moment she couldn't feel the hard instruments.
Kathryn turned her scientific mind to discerning the purposes for the alien tools, but after a long while gave up in frustration. Nothing she did seemed to cause any results and her efforts were difficult at best hampered with her injured wrist.
Janeway didn't hear the soft voice at first, so intent was she on a discovery of any kind.
"Captain," the voice finally registered when gloved hands covered her own smaller one.
Looking up into Nicoletti's compassionate eyes, she finally realized the futility.
"I don't want to die here, Lieutenant."
The captain's voice was full of challenge, kicking the engineer's mind into gear.
"Give me your combadge," the young woman finally said.
Janeway struggled with her left hand to open the coat enough to remove the gold communicator even as she protested, "They don't work."
Not responding Nicoletti removed her gloves and opened the back of the combadge. It contained a small power cell and a few micro-filaments. Susan removed one of the filaments and her own badge.
"I'm going to try to create a homing beacon using the combadges. Normally it could be done with just one, but because the weather here is so severe the beacon couldn't possibly hope to cut through atmospheric interference," Nicoletti explained as she worked.
"So you're using the power cell from the other combadge to boost the signal," Janeway supplied, proud of the young woman's engineering skills. "Remind me to promote you to the head of engineering for gamma shift."
Startled and shyly pleased Nicoletti looked at the captain with a grin. "Thanks, but no thanks. If I were on gamma shift Id miss all of these little adventures with you." The comment drew the laugh that Nicoletti was hoping for from the captain, but the truth was that if Susan was on gamma shift she would miss interacting with a certain Klingon-Human chief engineer.
Her heart ached painfully in her chest at the thought of B'Elanna. Chances were very good that Nicoletti and the captain were going to die on this ice-ball. Already they were becoming weaker. The simple task of linking the two combadges caused Susan's hands to tremble with fatigue and the captain's eyes were becoming weighted with exhaustion.
Kathryn leaned her head back against the wall, thinking of her partner. They had been together such a short time, but she was grateful for what time there had been. To think that she had almost turned her back on the young woman's love. She would have missed out on the mind consuming, passionate kisses, the touches that could cause such electricity, the intellectual challenge of day to day life with a marvelous individual.
To her embarrassment Kathryn realized she had hidden that relationship from the rest of the crew. She had treated their relationship like a dirty little secret because she was frightened at the crew's reaction. Only now did she see that she hadn't given her people enough credit. Their years stranded in the Delta Quadrant had made them a family and she recognized that her family would want to see her happy.
That was going to change when they made it back to Voyager, Kathryn decided. She would show Seven and everyone else how proud she was that the young woman had chosen an old Starfleet Captain to love.
"Finished," Nicoletti finally croaked.
Her voice made Kathryn look at her closely, the young woman was a decided shade of blue. "I'm going to clear the mouth of the tunnel to keep the signal as strong as possible," Kathryn said. "Then we're going to have to share body heat until they find us."
Susan merely nodded her head and waited for the captain to return from the entrance. When Kathryn approached her on her knees Nicoletti mumbled, "It'll keep us warmer if our bodies are closer together."
She struggled to remove her jacket while Kathryn fumbled hers open. Nicoletti scooted into Kathryn's embrace, welcoming the heat from the small form. Kathryn enclosed the engineer with her own jacket and they lay down on the frozen ground using Nicoletti's discarded parka to cover them.
With knees drawn up and arms hugging each other close Kathryn felt warmer than she had since leaving the D'naran warship. She knew the warmth was deceptive, a product of delirium.
Her body had ceased shivering long ago and the cold tugged at the corners of her mind relaxing her and lulling her into sleep. Nicoletti had given up fighting the welcoming slumber, her breath issuing through her slightly parted lips in small clouds. Kathryn knew they needed to stay awake, but honestly couldn't remember why. As she slipped into darkness her dreams were of ice-blue eyes, full lips, and long, warm arms holding her in a loving embrace.
Outside the tunnel darkness began to fall on the wasted tundra and the wind laughed menacingly into an uncaring world.
Seven of Nine walked in a slow circle, her tricorder aimed at the wreckage of the D'naran shuttle. Sight and movement were hampered by the bulky clothing she wore and by the scarf covering most of her face. The only thing not protected by the insulated scarf were her eyes which were covered with snow goggles.
The balance of Tuvok's rescue team were spread out loosely around the wreckage and inside the damaged cockpit.
The Vulcan team leader had warned them before leaving Voyager to maintain a search radius of thirty meters. With the constant storm activity their com-signals couldn't be guaranteed should someone stray outside the search perimeter and shouting at someone at close range was an exercise in futility over the constant howling of the wind.
Seven's tricorder indicated residual plasma particles that were not from the destroyed vessel. Clearly the war-like aliens had dispatched a craft to ascertain whether there had been survivors. The worried young woman knew it had only been a few minutes from the time she observed the shuttle explosion to the actual transport of the away team to the surface. There were two possible considerations since there were no bodies; either the D'narans hadn't found them and the survivors were hiding somewhere, or Janeway and Nicoletti had been recaptured.
For some reason she did not believe they had been captured. Feeling the wind tug at her jacket and noticing the barren landscape and chilling temperatures Seven could almost wish they had. At least they would be warm. The blonde tormented herself with scenario after scenario of Kathryn and Nicoletti injured and slowly freezing to death.
Forcing down the lump in her throat Seven deliberately forced the images from her mind.
She is alive, she repeated over and over to herself.
Half way around the twisted lump of metal something caught the former Borg's eye. Kneeling in the soft powder she could see a faint impression near a twisted piece of thruster housing. Seven traced the outer line and heel of a partial footprint. Only this small portion had been saved from obscurity, the housing preventing the wind from covering it over.
Hope flooded her. They were alive!
It was impossible to tell who the print belonged to, but from what remained it was simple to extrapolate their direction of movement away from the downed ship and farther into the desolate tundra. Seven continued her path around the vessel searching with new eyes for any more prints or evidence of any kind. Her search was rewarded a few moments later by a rust colored smear that stood out clearly from the silvery hull fragment.
Blood, her tricorder revealed. So at least one of them was injured, she thought grimly.
Seven looked up at the frozen landscape trying to figure out where her partner would have gone. In order to figure out this enigma she couldn't think like a drone. She had to try to think like Kathryn Janeway. Although the two women wouldn't survive long in these elements Captain Janeway tended to succeed more often than random chance would allow. Seven was banking on her lover's good luck and ingenuity as she struck off in a direction she thought Kathryn might have pursued to evade the aliens.
As B'Elanna would say there would probably be hell to pay for not informing Commander Tuvok of her plans as Starfleet protocol, not to mention good common sense, dictated. She considered it briefly, glancing in the direction of her stoic friend but every moment could mean the difference between life and death. She would never be able to live with the knowledge that Kathryn had died because she had wasted precious time.
The willowy form was soon swallowed up by the wind-whipped snow as she traveled away from her comrades. For a long agonizing while her tricorder was blank as she swept it back and forth searching for anything that would lead her to her lost love.
Finally, in anger and frustration, Seven drew back and heaved her tricorder as far as her Borg enhanced strength could propel it.
"Kathryn!" she bellowed into the uncaring world, acknowledging the futility of trying to find Kathryn in these conditions.
In defeat the heartbroken woman sank to her knees and her slumped shoulders heaved with sobs for long agonizing moments. Even after the sobbing ceased tears continued to track from her eyes and freeze against her scarf. She cried for all the time she and Kathryn had lost refusing to acknowledge their love for one another and for the short amount of time they had actually had together. No amount of time together would have been sufficient to Seven, but to lose her Kathryn now was unbearable.
The cloth muffled the word as Seven repeated it softly... a benediction. Stiff from the cold Seven climbed painfully to her feet. She stumbled over to retrieve the useless tricorder from where it had fallen against an impressively large snow bank. As far as she was concerned the instrument could rot on this world for refusing to aid her in finding Kathryn, but Seven knew her lover would not wish to leave Starfleet technology behind.
Approaching the device Seven faltered when she noticed a red blinking light on the display. For a moment she thought she had damaged it by throwing it but realized that was illogical. The snow was soft enough to absorb the impact no matter how hard she had thrown it. Seven forgot to breathe as she snatched the tool out of the snow. Wiping the fog from her goggles to be sure her gaze was met by a persistent blinking light informed her that a signal was being emitted from nearby. The signature was Starfleet.
The farther she traveled along the snow bank the stronger the signal became. A brief memory of survival courses flashed in her mind and she knew what Kathryn had done. Although the young woman was consumed by guilt for all of the species she had helped to destroy as a Borg drone she was grateful for the information her eidetic memory could draw on from those assimilated Starfleet officers.
Locating the point where the signal was strongest Seven reached out a trembling hand and touched the powder. It crumbled easily and fell away to reveal a small, dark hole. A gust of warmer air caressed her face as she tried to peer into the opening. With the air came a wonderfully familiar scent.
"Kathryn!" Seven cried and began digging energetically with both hands.
As soon as the opening was large enough she leapt into it and crawled to the rear. What she saw made her blood freeze.
Two humanoid figures lay unmoving on the cold surface bundled into large, alien jackets. Their forms were lightly dusted with snow, obscuring the features.
Reaching out hesitantly she caressed the classic features and then gently eased the auburn head into her lap. Kathryn's skin was blue and for a moment Seven feared the worst. Leaning close she felt the ghost of a breath on her face.
"Kathryn, I will never let you out of my sight, again," the young woman informed her in a trembling voice.
Tom Paris had been quickly and skillfully healed by the holo-doctor and was on his way to the bridge when his combadge beeped. Voyager had just detected a low altitude cruiser leaving the R'noldi. Sensors read Torah at the controls of the atmospheric ship but were unable to penetrate a small area in the rear. Since Lieutenant Torres was no longer on the larger, space faring vessel it wasn't much of a leap to figure she was sequestered in the smaller craft.
Tom took the turbolift to deck ten on his way to the shuttle bay stopping only long enough to replicate a sandwich. He met Neelix standing next to the Delta Flyer.
Chakotay had given him the option of letting someone else fly the mission, but Tom had refused. B'Elanna had been taken prisoner while laying down cover for the rest of the crew to escape. Tom was convinced that if he hadn't been injured he wouldn't have slowed everyone down enough for that to happen and felt the need to redeem himself.
"Are the modifications complete?"
"Just a few minutes ago," the Talaxian responded, understanding the helmsman had been referring to the cloaking technology.
When everything had turned into a ground operation the first officer had wanted the shuttle ready just in case. His forethought was proving advantageous.
Carey's team had been efficient, quickly and professionally modifying the shuttle to emit a cloaking device. But the small ship didn't have the same amount of power that was available to its mother ship and the power coils would burn out after only a few hours. With that in mind their orders were to observe only. Voyager would assist them as soon as the away team transported back.
Paris easily followed the leading ship, but remaining a respectful distance back should the power coils suddenly fail and leave them visible. With steadily mounting anger they watched as the Klingon engineer was summarily pushed and shoved across a small landing field and up a flight of steps.
Blood covered most of her tattered uniform and she limped heavily.
"We've got to help her," Tom asserted even as he began punching buttons on his touch screen.
Neelix unhelpfully pointed out that the helmsman's idea was against orders.
"To hell with our orders!"
Searching for a way to get the Talaxian's support Tom decided on a new approach; the truth.
"Look, Neelix ..." he implored, "since B'Elanna broke up with me I've been acting like a real jerk..."
"No argument there," the jovial man interrupted with a chuckle.
"Anyway ...I've been starting fights over petty stuff, treating B'Elanna like she's incompetent ...just to get back at her for breaking up with me. But you know what? She was right. I took her for granted so many times and she finally got tired of it."
Meeting Neelix's eyes Tom tried to convey his sincerity. "I need to do this. I guess it's my way of trying to make up for all the times I shuffled her to the bottom of the pile," he finished softly.
"Well, a fool needs company," Neelix responded after a beat. "And a distraction."
"I've already been working on that," Tom said excitedly turning back to his console.
"You see that building?" At the Talaxian's nod, "Sensors show that it houses the main generator that powers the complex."
"Understood," Neelix interrupted. "I'll take out the generator with a phaser burst and beam you to B'Elanna's coordinates."
"Don't leave the cloak down for long after you transport me," Tom cautioned. "Otherwise the D'narans will be able to get a fix on the Flyer. I'll contact you as soon as I have B'Elanna."
Paris grabbed a type three phaser and stepped onto the transport pad.
"Leave it to me," Neelix assured him.
He had received an abbreviated class by the helmsman in operating the cloaking technology during the short trip following the other vessel. The friendly Delta Quadrant native might not understand how the technology worked, but knew the commands necessary to operate the mechanism and that was good enough for him.
The small building disintegrated with two short bursts of phaser fire. While the explosion was still expanding Neelix engaged the transporter and beamed Paris into the same room with the Klingon hybrid. He had only lowered the cloak for a few seconds, but once it was reactivated he moved the Delta Flyer a few degrees just for good measure.
The Dinarans never knew what hit them.
"So, let me ask you one thing." Not being a particular fan of the lash B'Elanna was trying to buy time before Torah could implement her punishment.
"What's that?" The First asked her in a distracted voice.
Torres could hear the whip cutting the air as the alien swung it experimentally a few times. "You didn't really take us because there was something special about us, did you?"
The sound of a laugh being snorted through a nose was her response before the woman responded. "Of course not. But it is true that we couldn't take everyone, so we just scanned deck one and took a sampling. Now, no more delays ..."
A deafening explosion shook the building and mortar broke loose to fall onto their heads. Most of the D'narans ended up sprawled on the deck and for one absurd moment B'Elanna was grateful that she was shackled upright.
"Find out what that was!" Torah ordered angrily, climbing unsteadily to her feet even as another explosion rocked the structure.
B'Elanna's eyes widened in surprise at the unmistakable sound of someone transporting into the room. The form of Tom Paris shimmered into view, a phaser firing even as he solidified.
A muffled thump impacted the deck behind Torres and then Tom was trying to free her from her bonds. "Where's the key?" he asked in a worried voice.
"I'm not sure, flyboy, but whatever you're gonna do you better do it fast."
Thumbing the power setting on the phaser Tom aimed the beam at the iron manacles and neatly sliced through the chains. Slapping his combadge and wrapping his other arm around the engineer he ordered, "Neelix, get us outta here!"
As her pattern dematerialized B'Elanna breathed her first sigh of relief since this whole mess had started.
Seven sat quietly by Kathryn's bedside holding the fragile fingers between her hands. The doctor had healed Janeway and Nicoletti's injuries, informed the former drone that they would be fine, and tried to send her to get some rest. A version of the young blonde's own force ten glare convinced him that she would make that determination for herself.
"Fine," he had said condescendingly. "If you're going to clutter up my sickbay you might as well have seat." With that he had pushed over a chair so Seven would be more comfortable while she waited.
Seven had spent the time since then studying Kathryn's relaxed features from the way her eyes fluttered in r.e.m. sleep to the small scar over her left brow. Tracing the small imperfection with tender fingers Seven couldn't remember Janeway ever telling her how she had gotten the mark and made a note to ask.
She looked up from the inspection of her lover only briefly when Lieutenant Torres was brought into sickbay. She was relieved that B'Elanna was all right, having recently embarked on an unlikely friendship with the fiery brunette.
"B'Elanna Torres," she greeted formally. "I am pleased to see that you are functioning."
The hybrid grinned slightly pointed teeth at the Borg, noticing that the woman hadn't released her grip on the captain for a second.
"Thanks. It's good to see you, too," she returned as the doctor ran assorted medical devices over her battered torso and injected a broad spectrum antibiotic into her blood stream.
As soon as the EMH finished treating his newest patient Torres hopped down from the bio-bed and drifted over to the couple. Noticing Nicoletti in the corner she asked Seven, "So, how are they?"
Seven could have listed their injuries in detail, but understood that B'Elanna was really asking about their prognosis. "The doctor says they will be fine. He has treated their injuries and all they require is rest."
"But you're not leaving 'til she wakes up," her friend finished for her.
Seven's gaze had shifted again to rest on the captain and the tender look in the normally cool eyes prompted the secretly romantic Klingon. "You really love her, don't you?"
"She is everything to me," Seven said without artifice, her attention to Kathryn never wavering.
Feeling her eyes drawn again across the medical bay Torres realized that the only place she cared to be at that moment was at the bedside of the room's other occupant. The heartfelt devotion in the blonde's voice whispered to B'Elanna's own heart when she looked at Susan.
Without realizing how it happened she was leaning over the other engineer, eyes lingering on the relaxed features. In the five years Voyager had been stranded in this quadrant B'Elanna had been blind to the possibilities that were right in front of her. She had seen Susan as a friend and colleague ... never as anything more. Now she shuddered to think she could have missed it. She could have missed out on the one true choice for her heart. This choice, she thought touching the pale cheek, this woman.
Watching her friend lean over and place a kiss on the sleeping brunette's forehead Seven smiled softly.
"What are you smiling at?" A gravelly voice questioned.
"Kathryn," Seven said happily, lifting the hand to her lips, eyes shining suspiciously.
Kathryn shushed her gently, "I'm all right, Darling. But I don't remember much," she admitted. "The last thing I remember was curling up with Nicoletti and trying to share body heat. I remember trying to stay awake, then ...nothing."
Seven shivered as she recalled the scene in the tunnel. "It was very inventive to create the homing beacon. Without it I would not have been able to track your location."
"You found me," Kathryn said with that sweetly shy smile that always made Seven's heart twist.
Leaning down to gently kiss her soul mate Seven said simply, "I will always find you."
Soft lips met, gently exploring. The exploration threatened to ignite into passion when the tip of Seven's pink tongue gently mapped the contours of Kathryn's wine-shaded lips.
"Annika," she gasped winding her arms possessively around the leonine neck.
With his typical bad humor the doctor interrupted the electrifying embrace, waiving a medical device at the couple. "Seven, I told you that my patient needs rest. And judging from the elevated hormonal levels I don't think that qualifies as rest."
"Perhaps we should deactivate the doctor," Seven supplied gently while gazing into Kathryn's blue-gray eyes.
"But he is such a nice hologram, darling," Janeway returned fully aware that the EMH was listening to every word.
With a humph he sulked away to his office. Kathryn chuckled gently and a warm smiled curled Seven's lips.
"Kathryn," Seven said, turning serious. "I wish to inform you of something."
"Oh," Janeway asked trying, but failing to pull the blonde head down for another toe-curling kiss.
"I will never allow anyone to harm you again. You are necessary for my continued well-being and as much as it may disturb you, I will do anything to see that this incident is not repeated."
Kathryn knew Annika was deadly serious and it would not do to laugh at such an intense moment, but the innocent assumption that the younger woman could force the universe to bend to her will just because she said so was utterly precious.
"Annika," she began, and then simply settled for, "I love you, too."
Seven glanced up quickly and Kathryn's eyes followed her gaze to rest on B'Elanna's back.
"What?" she asked genuinely perplexed.
"I thought you wished for our to relationship to remain private for the time being," Seven stated questioningly. "Yet, you did not seem to mind the doctor witness us kissing, or saying that you loved me with B'Elanna present. Please explain."
Kathryn gently traced the dimple in Seven's chin. "I guess everything that's happened has forced me to realize some things. The most important of those things is that what we have is more important to me than almost anything. I could lose Voyager, and never make it back to the Alpha Quadrant, but as long as I have you I'm home."
Seven cocked her head to the side and fixed Kathryn with an uplifted eyepiece. "Does this mean that our relationship has elevated to sharing quarters?"
The happy laugh that burst from Kathryn caused B'Elanna to look at them, returning a happy but confused smile.
"I would love to live with you, darling," Kathryn said, kissing the palm of Seven's hand. "Especially if you bring me some coffee."
Seven groaned and rose to walk to the replicator. Kathryn took the opportunity to admire the sway of the shapely hips. Feeling the tingle shoot straight to her nipples. she realized that she was definitely feeling better.
"Belay that," Kathryn said throwing back the covers and standing up.
When the doctor noticed his patients activity he came running out of his office. Seven watched with barely concealed amusement at the ensuing argument between commanding officer and chief medical officer. The captain won in the end ... of course.
"I'm ...we ...are going home, doctor."
Making a production of wrapping her arms around Seven's corseted waist Janeway gazed into ice-blue eyes and said the most romantic words the former drone could hope to hear. "Computer, site to site transport. Two to beam to the captain's quarters."