"Irrelevant!" Seven took a deep breath and tried to remember that sometimes things had to be explained slowly to the commander. "Solar flares and the energy being emitted by the pulsars will interfere with their readings. Combining both storms, solar and ionic, to the gravitational field emitted by the pulsars will tear the shuttle apart. They will have no warning!"
She heard Chakotay gasp over the link and knew she suddenly had his attention yet still he felt the need to argue the point. "Give them some credit, Seven. The shuttle must have picked up those same readings. I’m sure they’re changing direction as we speak."
Seven frowned in anger. "Commander, they are not changing course because they can’t pick up these same readings. No doubt they have noticed the ion storm, but the solar activity is currently undetectable to the shuttle’s sensors."
There was a brief, startled silence before Chakotay all but shouted, "Understood!"
"How long have they got?"
Less than they would have had you not argued with me. "My calculations show the solar storm is increasing exponentially. It will reach full intensity in six point two minutes. After that time they will not be able to escape."
"I’m on it!"
Chakotay abruptly terminated the link and hailed the bridge. Seven cut in on the transmission and listened shamelessly as he ordered the con officer to patch him through to the shuttle. An instant later Janeway’s amused voice came over the link.
"What is it, Commander? Do you miss us already?"
Seven was pleased to note the first officer didn’t waste time when he responded. "Captain, Seven has detected solar storm activity from the sun off your port bow. It will reach full strength in less than six minutes."
Static suddenly began to hum over the connection and Seven verified that the flares had just increased. Fortunately the captain seemed to catch on a little faster than her exec.
"And that combined with the ion storm and these pulsars might cause us some trouble. All right, Commander. Looks like this joy ride’s over. We’re coming home."
The link shut down but Seven stayed tuned in on the com frequency as she watched the Delta Flyer on the Astrometrics screen. The shuttle seemed to turn much too slowly as flares began to shoot up thousands of kilometers from the sun’s corona. The ion storm began to move faster as the shuttle tried to flee. Even at the shuttle’s maximum speed, warp six, Seven knew they could never outrun disaster. Her mouth went dry and she felt dizzy when the com channel burst into activity. It was Janeway.
"Delta Flyer to Voyager! The solar radiation has affected our systems and the ion storm is almost on us. We need you to rendezvous at our…"
The channel went dead and Seven watched the shuttle flip end over end from the ion wave. For a moment it careened out of control as it was pushed at a steadily increasing pace toward the pulsars, two hundred thousand kilometers…one hundred thousand. Then the shuttle abruptly vanished from sensors.
"Computer, what is the location of the Delta Flyer?"
"Unknown. Solar and ionic interference with the primary sensors."
That would never have happened if half of Voyager’s systems weren’t shut down for the refit.
"Computer, extrapolate possible trajectory of the shuttle."
"Unable to comply. Solar and ionic interference with the primary sensors and deflector array."
Seven heard the sob of frustration she emitted as her mind worked feverishly. Although Voyager was enroute to the Delta Flyer’s last known location the warp engines were still off line for the refit. The fastest speed they could make was impulse.
"Computer, estimated time to the shuttle’s last known coordinates at current speed."
"Sixteen hours twelve minutes."
No! It can’t be! Seven felt the blood drain out of her head and grabbed her console for support. Even if the shuttle somehow managed to survive the storms and pulsars it would take heavy damage. They might lose life support and have only the oxygen in the environmental suits available. Voyager had to get there before Captain Janeway ran out of air.
Seven pushed away from the console and strode toward the exit. She tapped her combadge and said, "Lieutenant Torres, report to engineering immediately!"
"I’ve lost the com signal," Janeway said unnecessarily. Inertial dampers kicked in and they didn’t feel the shuttle flip end over end although the dizzying view through the transparent aluminum made her keep her eyes on the controls. She took over the navigational array and righted the shuttle, trying to keep the nose up and think of anything to get them out of their predicament.
Larson relinquished the helm controls to the captain and seamlessly pulled up the sensors. He realized in this situation the smart thing to do was rely on Janeway’s advanced experience, but at least he could provide her with as much information as possible. "Ionic front is closing aft at thirty-three thousand kph."
His voice stuttered in response to the bumpy motions of the shuttle as it was caught in the leading edge of the wave.
"I’m going to need more power to the thrusters if I’m going to outrun it!"
"I’ll see what I can do." Seconds later he said, "I’m giving you all the power we can spare."
"It’s not enough, we’re caught inside it!"
The shuttle bucked and Janeway would have flown out of her seat if not for the safety restraint. When her eyes refocused on the console she saw the storm overtaking the vessel. "I can’t keep ahead of this thing, brace for impact!"
The wave grabbed and held onto the shuttle and they were pushed in the opposite direction, toward the sun. At the same instant two huge solar flares went off with all the subtlety of an eighty-kiloton isokenetic charge. The Flyer was tossed again as conduits shorted and small explosions flared within the cockpit.
Janeway whacked her head on the console and heard Pete grunt in pain next to her. She looked over and saw blood trickle from one corner of his mouth, but otherwise he looked uninjured.
"That flare may have saved us," he said. "It pulled us away from the pulsars, but we’re caught in the ion storm and it’s increasing in intensity…it’s now a level six and building!"
"We won’t last long in this. Start looking for an emergency landing site."
While Larson did that the captain launched a distress beacon requesting any and all assistance. Hopefully the beacon would survive long enough to point Voyager in their direction. They were quickly losing systems as circuits shorted out and she could only pray the shields would hold until they got to safety.
"Sensors are erratic. I had something…a planetoid, I think. But now it’s gone."
A red light began to flash on her panel and the captain said, "I don’t mean to rush you, but we’ve got about two minutes of life support left."
"Sorry, the storm is throwing off my readings. Got it! Feeding coordinates to the helm!"
Janeway nosed the shuttle toward the coordinates and happily began to scan the sensor data as the shuttle shot toward the planet. Class M atmosphere; that was good since life support was about to be a thing of the past. Nickel-iron core? Benomyte mantle? Uh oh!
"Captain, I’m reading nothing but volcanoes and impact craters. We can’t land here!"
The transporter controls blew out with enough force to make her ears ring and Janeway shouted, "We don’t have a choice! Thrusters just went off line! We’re coming in hard!"
The shuttle began to spin as it was caught in the planetoid’s gravity. It hit the ground at two thousand kilometers per hour, hard enough to throw the tiny planet slightly off its axis.
Voyager’s sleek form dropped out of warp at the Delta Flyer’s last known coordinates. Seven of Nine, B’Elanna Torres and the entire engineering team had worked non-stop for the last eight hours to get the engines back online. Anyone with a level three engineering rating or higher pitched in and the work was completed in record time. The refit was forgotten as they put the warp assembly back together as quickly as possible, but without time to test the engines warp two was the fastest speed they could chance. They arrived near the pulsars four hours ahead of schedule, but the shuttle was long gone.
"Report!" Commander Chakotay ordered from the captain’s chair.
Ensign Kim had his eyes pinned on his board long before the Intrepid Class ship came to a stop and he was ready to respond. "The ion storm is gone, all I’m getting are a few fading sensor emissions that may or may not be from the shuttle."
Not happy with that answer Seven began fine-tuning the readings from the aft science station. She liked Ensign Kim, but she had learned that sometimes he didn’t consider all the variables. "That is not accurate. Sensors detect a few fragments of hull debris…it is consistent with the shuttle. The ion storm has dissipated, but conditions in this region appear favorable for random ionic activity."
Seven’s stomach felt heavy, like it did when she’d eaten a bowl of Neelix’s latest creation in the mess hall. It was difficult to swallow, a light sheen of perspiration beaded on her forehead and her palms were slippery. Why did she feel this way? She wasn’t ill; her nanoprobes would immediately detect and expel foreign toxins in her system. The only conclusion she could reach was that her feelings related to Voyager’s missing crewmembers. No, that wasn’t it. Her feelings related to the missing Captain Janeway.
"The solar storm is still active, Commander, but it’s no problem for our shields," Harry reported. He shook his head and looked up. "With the systems still torn apart for the refit it’s hard to get clear readings, but I think the ion storm might have thrown them off course."
"No kidding, ya think?" Lieutenant Torres asked sarcastically from the engineering station.
All of the senior staff was on the bridge with the excuse that they could run scans for the missing shuttle from there and have the visual on the viewscreen to gather any additional information. Seven knew everyone was worried for Janeway and Larson, but did they feel as sick as she did? Looking around at the concerned faces she didn’t think so. Commander Chakotay’s face was pale and pinched. He was obviously a little shaken, but in control as he ordered Commander Tuvok to launch a class four probe near the pulsars.
Seven wondered if she felt this way because of her close relationship with the captain. Was it because Janeway was someone Seven considered family?
"Probe has been launched," the security chief responded.
Moments later data began to stream across her board and Seven concentrated on the information. The readings from the debris matched the shuttle’s energy signature, but there wasn’t enough of it to indicate the vessel had been destroyed. There was no warp signature so she could only conclude that the Flyer’s engines had been down when they were caught in the ion storm. If they had been operating on maneuvering thrusters the ionic interference would obscure any signal.
"Seven, do you have anything?"
She considered every angle, delved into the formidable knowledge in her head gained from the collective, but still couldn’t answer his question the way she wanted. She had no choice, but to admit the truth. "Nothing."
"So?" Torres blurted. "That’s not really surprising considering the condition of our systems."
Chakotay looked at the engineer for a moment before he nodded his agreement. "I want every scan conceivable run. Tuvok, keep that probe together and send it as close to those pulsars as you can. We need every iota of data we can gather. Senior staff will meet in the conference room at nineteen-thirty hours. You have three hours people; find something we can use."
The commander stood and walked into the captain’s ready room. Seven flinched when she saw him walk into Janeway’s private sanctuary so easily, but she acknowledged the need for it. She bent her head to her task and concentrated on finding the person who rightfully belonged in the ready room.
Three hours later she walked into the conference room. She was the last one to arrive, the last one to give up looking for Janeway and Larson through conventional means. When she walked into the conference room the others were already seated and waiting. Chakotay was in the captain’s seat at the head of the table. Seven swallowed hard and looked away. She took the only open seat left at the table and was pleased that each time she looked up she would be looking into Ensign Kim’s eyes across the table instead of Commander Chakotay’s.
"All right, what have we got?"
Lieutenant Torres answered the commander right away and Seven thought the half-Klingon had just been waiting for the opportunity. "Our systems are useless. We need to go out there ourselves and find them."
"I concur with that assessment," Seven added carefully keeping her eyes on the chief engineer.
Apparently Chakotay didn’t agree. "Look, no offense, but this region is heavy in ionic activity and a class two shuttle wouldn’t last half the time the Delta Flyer did if another storm hits. We need options."
Turning her thoughts to the task at hand Seven said, "The shields can be enhanced with the same multiphasic shielding as the Delta Flyer."
"Yeah," Paris added. "If sensors pick up another storm the shuttles can return to Voyager until it’s over and then go out again."
"It’ll take too long and there’s no evidence that they’re still alive," Chakotay pointed out. "Until we have something that lets us know they’re still out there I’m not going to send more people into a dangerous situation."
Everyone sat stunned for a few seconds until Paris voiced what everyone was thinking. "Commander, you can’t be giving up. We have to do something, we have to try!"
Before anyone else could speak Tuvok said calmly, "Commander Chakotay, if I may? It is illogical to discontinue the search for the Delta Flyer without proof that it has been destroyed."
"There’s debris from the shuttle floating in space. We’ve matched the hull signature and we know it belongs to the Flyer."
"But a few hull fragments don’t mean the shuttle was destroyed, only damaged," Torres said triumphantly.
Chakotay sat back in frustration and said, "Look, I understand how you all feel…"
"No, Commander," Seven interrupted. "I do not believe you do. Captain Janeway would never abandon a member of her crew without doing everything possible to determine their fate. She would not give up simply because the task was difficult or time-consuming. There is not one person in this room who has not been saved by Captain Janeway in the past and we can not stop searching for her simply because of a few minor difficulties."
Instead of being moved by Seven’s heartfelt words Chakotay was angered. "Well, I’m not Captain Janeway!"
"That is the first thing you have said with which I agree."
"And you’re out of line, Seven! I’m not Janeway and I have to do what I think is best for this crew. Until you’re in that position you can’t possibly understand what that’s like!"
Seven stood up and stared coldly at the man who dared try to fill a great captain’s shoes. "I have been in that position…or perhaps you have forgotten how many times I have risked my own well being for this crew. Apparently we do not share the same values."
She turned and left the room without permission. Chakotay was so angry he couldn’t even speak. His mouth opened and closed silently for a few moments before he finally found his voice. "You’re all dismissed. I’ll let you know what I decide within the hour."
"I would rather be here in spirit than not at all. A captain doesn’t abandon ship." Captain Kathryn Janeway- Coda
Kathryn Janeway, captain of the Federation Starship U. S. S. Voyager, strode toward the shuttle bay with a grin on her face and a bounce in her step. The fact that her vessel had been stranded in the delta quadrant for the last five years couldn’t have been farther from her mind. It was one of the few times in the last few years, but it was a welcome relief from the guilt that had been her constant companion.
"We’ll talk about this when I get back. In the meantime try to keep Neelix from setting the ship on fire. Honestly, I’m not sure if those new heating elements for the mess hall are a blessing or a curse."
"The Bomari were a little generous with their technology," Commander Chakotay returned with a smile of his own.
"And their food supplies and their minerals and let’s not even talk about the offers of warming our crews’ beds." Kathryn shook her head and said, "Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice not to be fired on as soon as we enter a system but I don’t think these people know the definition of restraint."
The doors to the shuttle bay opened in response to their proximity and Janeway started for the Delta Flyer with her first officer right on her heels. The shuttle had been prepped for take-off and she could see Lieutenant Larson through the transparent aluminum windows. He’d arrived ahead of her to begin the pre-flight sequence.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Chakotay asked, breaking into her thoughts.
Janeway frowned and faced him. Fortunately they were far enough from any other crewmembers that she could speak freely. "Am I going to have to do this with you, too? Tuvok already questioned the logic of going on a scientific expedition without a full security contingent."
"We’re just worried about you. You are the captain, after all."
"Well don’t be. Neelix and B’Elanna are busy installing all the new food-stores and equipment into the mess hall and engineering and until they finish that we’re at station-keeping anyway."
"I know," Chakotay said, holding his hands up in surrender. "It’s only for two days and how often do you get the chance to study stellar phenomena up close, right?"
Kathryn grinned in full agreement. "Science was always my first love. Really, Chakotay, we’ll be fine. We’re going to study the pulsars, take some readings and come straight back. We’re already four light-years from Bomari space and there isn’t another inhabited system for twelve parsecs. How much danger could we possibly be in?"
"You shouldn’t say things like that, Kathryn. You might be tempting fate."
"We make our own fate, Commander. You have the ship. Try to keep her in one piece."
Janeway turned away and ducked into the shuttle. She’d much rather have Seven of Nine with her on this little pleasure jaunt than Lieutenant Larson, but the former drone had more pressing duties helping Torres in engineering. Kathryn would have enjoyed her perspective on the giant pulsars, but Larson would have to do. He was no Tom Paris, but he was Voyager’s back up pilot and almost as skilled as the other man.
She saw Chakotay wave before the hatch closed and she returned the gesture briefly. Larson was already in the pilot’s seat and she had to curb her natural instinct to take over. Sometimes the hardest part of being in command was simply letting her people do their jobs, even if she was better at it than they were. She took the adjacent seat and settled back for the short excursion to the pulsars. They were located a light-year away and adjacent to a massive star, but still distant enough that the gravitational pull shouldn’t be an issue. Voyager would rendezvous with them in two days time, but until then Kathryn was free to be the scientist she’d started out as in Starfleet. She felt like she was about to take off on a small vacation.
The shuttlebay doors opened and the Delta Flyer passed through the forcefield and into the blackness of space. Larson handled the controls while Kathryn sat back and let her thoughts drift. It was nice to be in a sector of this quadrant where every alien life form they encountered wasn’t trying to kill them. The Bomari had been a prime example of that friendliness. The crew had just enjoyed shore leave a few weeks ago so they didn’t avail themselves of Bomari hospitality, but they were happy to trade with them. After negotiating for trilinium, food stores and medical supplies Janeway had happily returned to the ship. She left retrieving the supplies to other members of her crew while she began to study the nearby pulsars. It wasn’t often she got the opportunity to be just a scientist and it felt good.
Janeway was amused as she remembered the confused look on Seven of Nine’s face when the captain said she was leaving to study a mere stellar phenomenon. Seven had started out as a Borg drone before being liberated from the Collective by Janeway. It had been a difficult time at first and both of the headstrong women had argued continually. Kathryn had despaired of ever getting Seven to embrace her humanity, but finally she had. After Seven made the decision to pursue her individuality she had progressed so rapidly that Janeway had difficulty keeping up from one day to the next. Seven never did stop disagreeing with the captain if she felt she was right, but did finally relent and at least try to obey the chain of command and Janeway’s authority. In so doing the two formed a strong, albeit unusual, friendship.
Lost in her private thoughts time passed quickly as the shuttle streaked along at warp four.
Seven of Nine stood in Astrometrics and watched on the oversized viewer as the Delta Flyer sped into the blackness of space. She couldn’t have said why she did it, but each time the captain left Voyager without her Seven felt compelled to watch the departure. For some reason she was left with an almost overwhelming desire to not let the woman out of her sight. If pressed for an explanation she would have said the captain’s well being was important to every member of the crew. She had made a similar statement to Commander Tuvok more than a year ago. He’d asked if the captain’s opinion of Seven was important to her and the former drone had responded that according to her understanding of the hierarchy on Voyager the captain’s opinion was important to every member of the crew.
While the answer had been honest it had been incomplete. Seven just hadn’t known any other way to express her feelings at the time. The compact human captain had taken her from the Borg, demanded her compliance, defeated the Collective and earned the headstrong younger woman’s respect in the process. When Tuvok asked his question Seven simply hadn’t known how to articulate that respect.
Since then the captain and Seven had formed a deep friendship and if that relationship was somewhat volatile at times that was just a reflection of the stubborn women who shared it. Seven decided that watching the captain’s shuttle depart was another aspect of her humanity reasserting itself. Captain Janeway had become to her like little Naomi Wildman; family. It was only natural to want to protect one’s family. The half smile unique to Seven graced her lips and she thought Janeway would be pleased at her emotional progress.
"Lieutenant Torres to Seven of Nine."
Seven tapped her combadge to respond to the hail. "Seven here."
"We’re ready to start refitting the quantum shield matrix. We could use your help down here."
"Understood. I will join you shortly."
She cut the channel and tapped a few more controls on her data console. Astrometrics sensors were a combination of Borg and Starfleet technology and so much more sophisticated than those on the shuttle. Seven wanted to reassure herself that there were no obstacles in the Delta Flyer’s course to their survey. At first there was nothing unusual, but then approximately point three light years from their final destination Seven noticed faint spatial turbulence. For an instant she considered hailing Commander Chakotay and ordering him to contact the shuttle. Captain Janeway’s frivolous expedition wasn’t as important as her safety and she should return to Voyager immediately.
As quickly as the urge came over her Seven squelched it again. No one was more capable in any situation than Kathryn Janeway and a little turbulence was nothing to be concerned about.
Seven frowned and hoped that as her humanity continued to progress she wouldn’t develop a penchant for over reaction. She pushed the disturbing thought aside before she powered down her console and left for engineering. As she did she made a mental note to check the spatial region in question later as her duties permitted, all in the interests of efficiency of course.
"Come on, Neelix! How long does it take to install new cooking units? We’re starved!"
The natives looked more than a little restless, the Talaxian thought. Tom Paris was rumpled and smeared with injector fluid from refitting the helm control crystals and a small group of other disgruntled crewmen stood close behind him.
"I’m sorry, Lieutenant. I…I really thought I’d have everything aligned by now," he stammered nervously. "I’m sure that if you could be patient for a little while longer I’ll have everything up and running in no time."
"Forget it," the helmsman said in frustration as he pushed back from the counter. "Our break’s up in thirty minutes. We’ll just have to use the replicators."
Neelix blotted sweaty palms on his apron in relief as the group moved away. These Starfleet people were so impatient sometimes. They honestly had no idea what roughing it was truly like. He shook his head and turned back to his work.
Now, I just need to connect this power relay to that distribution node…
"Yikes!" Neelix jumped a good meter away from the Bomari heating unit when it suddenly burst into flame.
Voyager’s fire suppression systems kicked in immediately and flame retardant foam doused the entire area. Fires in space, even small ones, could have catastrophic results. For that reason the suppression systems tended toward overkill if even so much as a whiff of smoke was detected. For a full minute foam rained down from overhead, long after the last tiny flame had winked out of existence. When it was over Neelix was soaked to the skin and his whiskers flattened wetly to his jaw.
He reached up and wiped a thick layer of foam from his eyebrow with one finger and flicked it away before he glared at the cursed piece of technology. Maybe it wasn’t too late to switch back over to the Starfleet stoves and cook tops. At least the foam would begin to vaporize in a few minutes…if only the crew’s laughter would dissipate as quickly.
"So Seven," Ensign Harry Kim began as they stepped onto the turbolift.
"Ensign." The doors closed and Seven directed the computer to deck eight.
The two had helped out in engineering all day, but their shifts were now finished. Seven wanted to return to Astrometrics to check on the Delta Flyer’s progress, but Ensign Kim had other ideas.
"A bunch of us are getting together in the Fair Haven program if you want to join us."
"Another time perhaps." It was sometimes difficult to utilize the doctor’s socialization lessons when she really wanted to say that holodeck programs were a waste of time unless they were being utilized to run training simulations. The Fair Haven program specifically should be deleted from the database. Unfortunately if that happened Tom Paris would no doubt rewrite the program.
The turbolift came to a stop on deck eight and the doors opened. Before she could make her escape Harry said, "You know, you shouldn’t work so hard. A little downtime can be good for you."
Seven bit back another sharp response knowing her impatience was generated by the desire to check on the captain. Instead she opted for a response that was polite enough but still accomplished her goal. "I will consider your advice."
The response must have been the right one since Ensign Kim smiled and said, "See you later," just as the doors closed.
Seven turned and strode toward the Astrometrics lab. The room was dark since the lab usually wasn’t manned after alpha shift except in an emergency, but the lights came up automatically when she entered. In seconds she had her board activated and began to track the Delta Flyer’s progress. They were well away from the area where she had noticed the spatial turbulence and Seven took her first easy breath in several hours. The shuttle was nearing the location of the pulsars and would soon set up station-keeping a safe distance from the phenomena.
There was a G-type star on the viewer not far from the shuttle’s location and Seven’s Borg eyepiece detected movement in the sun’s corona. A sun was the centerpiece in any galaxy and she knew that just one second of its energy could power Earth’s North American continent for nine million years. What Seven was seeing were sunspots; the first sign that a solar storm was brewing.
"Computer, select grid nine section twelve and enhance."
The sun jumped to center screen and the image tripled in size. There was definitely solar activity, but the image was still too small to detect all relevant data.
"Enhance image to maximum magnification."
The image leapt forward again and she could clearly see small solar flares beginning to erupt with the power of forty billion nuclear warheads. Seven felt her heart jump at the thought of what could happen if the shuttle was bombarded by solar detonations on one side and the extreme gravity exerted by the pulsars on the other. The solar radiation could disrupt power systems and the shuttle would be torn apart by the pulsars. Normally shields would negate that happenstance, but even as she watched the viewer the image blurred momentarily and Seven experienced the sensation of foreboding.
"What is the source of the interference?"
"Level five ion storm approaching coordinates at one one four point six."
That was less than a thousand kilometers from the Flyer’s destination. Seven didn’t hesitate to slap her combadge this time. Ignoring the sting from hitting the device too hard she said, "Seven of Nine to Commander Chakotay."
For a second there was no response, but then she heard the first officer’s voice over the comm link. "Chakotay here. What is it?"
"I am in Astrometrics. A level five ion storm is approaching the Delta Flyer."
"Level five? That’s hardly anything to get worked up about. The shields can handle that with no problem."
"True, but there is also a solar storm in progress less than a parsec from their position. They must be warned to evacuate the region."
"Look, Seven. I appreciate your attention to duty, but I think Captain Janeway can figure out from the sensor data if they need to leave.
Besides, this ship is hardly in the position to go running to their rescue. We don’t even have shields or warp drive at the moment and Neelix set fire to the kitchen earlier."
Everyone stood up to obey his orders, but he could see the disappointment on their faces. It didn’t matter how they felt, he was in command and they would do what they were told. Janeway had trained her crew well and even if they didn’t agree with his orders they would follow them. They all filed out, but at the last moment Torres turned back to face him. He should have known she’d be the one exception.
"What is it, B’Elanna? I’m not exactly in a good mood right now."
He could almost see her bite back the response that she didn’t really care how he felt. Instead she asked, "You’re not going to do anything, are you? You’re just going to leave them out there to die."
Fed up with self-righteous posturing from a Borg drone and their resident Klingon he said, "Lieutenant, I’m not going to do this with you, too. You know as well as I do that they’re probably already dead and I’m not going to risk this crew for two people who are already lost."
B’Elanna looked at him aghast before a snarl of disgust twisted her lips. "I never thought of you as a coward, Chakotay. But Seven’s right that Janeway would never give up until she found your cold, dead body and I’ll tell you something else…If you don’t at least make an effort to look for them this crew is going to have serious issues with your command. Especially when they learn you didn’t look for her just so you could be captain."
"Are you threatening to incite mutiny to get me to do what you want? That’s blackmail, Lieutenant! I could have you thrown in the brig!" The last thing Chakotay wanted was to be captain, but he would never say that out loud. All he wanted was to get home and if the ancestors did put him in that position he would head Voyager for the alpha quadrant and deviations for first contact and exploration would be a thing of the past.
"I’m not threatening you, Commander, but from where I stand it seems like the truth. Do what you have to do. I know I will and I know Seven probably already is."
B’Elanna shot him another scathing look before she left him standing in the ready room with some hard choices to make.
Captain Janeway groaned and raised her head. The pain of broken ribs made her gasp as she looked up at the cracked window in front of her. Could be worse. If the console hadn’t stopped me and broke my ribs, I would have gone right through the front of the shuttle. Then again, I wouldn’t have gone far. The small joke didn’t make her feel any better considering the amount of benomyte and sand pressing against the transparent aluminum. The seat beside her was empty and Kathryn winced as she looked around for Larson. He was lying on the deck up against the port side hull and she realized his harness must have snapped in the crash. She could hardly see him through the red glow of the shuttle’s emergency lighting.
She tried to get up, but her harness was jammed and it took a second to get it off. Her right hand was broken and she ignored the shift of bones as she grappled with the restraint left-handed. Finally she stood and coughed from inhaling a lungful of acrid smoke. The spasm caused sharp pain to blossom in her chest and Janeway winced as she fought to suppress another urge to cough.
"Lieutenant," she said in a weak voice as she knelt beside the young man. He didn’t respond and with him lying on his stomach she couldn’t see if he was still breathing. Kathryn grasped his shoulder with her left hand and struggled to turn him over. She could hear bones shift wetly and grimaced at the sound, but she managed to get him turned. Blood rattled in his throat and she raised his head to keep him from drowning.
"Easy, Lieutenant. You’re going to be all right."
Janeway didn’t know if the pilot could hear her, but she didn’t wait for a response. Debris had flown around the cabin during the crash and she braced Larson’s head against her knee as she reached for a blackened fragment of the bulkhead. It worked as a makeshift pillow so the captain could go for an emergency medkit. It was slow going with one hand tucked against her chest, but finally she managed to wrestle the kit open. She glanced toward her injured crewman as she reached for the bone knitter. Janeway regretted delaying his treatment, but she couldn’t help him properly with only one hand.
Kathryn ran the instrument over her broken hand and almost whimpered at the sudden relief. Directly opposed to the lessening of pain from the broken appendage the throbbing in her chest seemed to increase sharply. Starfleet training helped her push that pain away, or at least to ignore it, while she went to treat the lieutenant. She grabbed the tricorder, grimaced a little from the soreness in her barely healed hand and ran it over the young man’s body. Not only was he suffering from multiple cuts and broken bones, but he also had a lacerated kidney and localized internal bleeding. She could care for most of Larson’s injuries with the medkit, but he needed surgery for the kidney. At least it wasn’t actually punctured. If that had been the case Kathryn doubted he would survive until Voyager reached them.
She pressed a hypospray of antibiotics against his neck in an attempt to prevent infections and then began treating him with the bone knitter and dermal regenerator. Once the fractures had been healed and the internal bleeding slowed she set to work on the more minor injuries. She’d only healed a few cuts when she stopped. Kathryn sat back and stared up at the overhead while she considered her options. They’d only set out to study the pulsars for a few days and hadn’t planned a planet side stopover. There was only one medkit aboard the Delta Flyer and she didn’t know how long it would take Voyager to find them. No doubt the pulsars had destroyed the probe. The ion front had forced them off course and the residual thruster signature would have been erased by the storm.
No matter what she’d been taught at Starfleet Academy Janeway had learned the hard way that the first rule of survival was common sense, not find shelter. They had to save the medical instruments for severe injuries; cuts and bruises would have to heal naturally. With that thought in mind she turned the bone knitter on her broken ribs. Finally she took her first easy breath since waking up on the crashed vessel. She turned off the knitter as soon as most of the pain was gone and ran the medical tricorder over her own body. Just like her hand the ribs were only partially healed, but at least there were no other internal injuries and she didn’t want to expend unnecessary energy.
Kathryn reached up to push the tangled auburn hair out of her face and felt dried blood on her temple. It was from that first whack of her head against the console before they crashed, but it was no longer bleeding so she ignored it and her headache. Now it was time to find out what systems they had and set up a homing beacon for Voyager to find them.
A half hour later Janeway concluded that their situation didn’t look too good. All systems were offline including life support. They had only the air inside the shuttle and once that was gone they would have to get into EVA suits. The suits would give them an additional twenty-four hours of breathable oxygen. Worse than that the Delta Flyer had hit the planet hard enough to bury them more than a kilometer beneath the surface. They couldn’t just open the door for some fresh air so unless Voyager found them faster than she expected the environment suits were a very real possibility.
At least the suits will regulate the temperature, Kathryn groused internally. This planetoid was very near the sun and with the systems off line it was already uncomfortably hot. A rivulet of sweat was tracking down the back of her neck and there were already dark rings under her arms. Janeway didn’t hesitate to remove the tunic and the turtleneck beneath. Sweating wasted water and they couldn’t afford to waste anything. She took her combadge off the tunic and attached it to her gray t-shirt before she went to check on Larson again.
He hadn’t moved from the last time she’d checked him, but the captain noticed he was also perspiring. She reached down to remove his tunic and frowned when she noticed a tremor in his body. He wasn’t hot; he was shivering. It looked like he was starting to go into shock. Great. Things had just gotten a lot more complicated.
Kathryn grabbed a blanket from the emergency supplies and put it over the young man before she turned resolutely back to the shuttle’s systems. Her priorities had just been dictated. She knew the shuttle still had minimal power or the emergency lights would have gone out. Maybe she could reroute some of the circuitry to get life support back online first and then the long-range communications systems. She might be able to boost the communications to cut through the benomyte with signal amplifiers. The image of deep blue eyes went through her head and Kathryn thought it’s what Seven would do. Be logical.
"You have neglected to align the power nodes properly. If you cannot complete the assignment correctly I will designate a more competent engineer."
"Jeez, Seven, it was an accident," Lieutenant Nicoletti said. "It won’t happen again, all right?"
Seven knew she was over reacting, but she couldn’t seem to stop herself. Susan Nicoletti was a competent engineer and would have discovered the oversight when she went back to check her work. They were still hours from being finished with the shield modifications and she realized that by pushing the Starfleet personnel too hard she could actually force them to make mistakes.
Commander Chakotay had finally authorized a search and rescue mission to find Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Larson. The Sacajawea and Tereshkova were being prepped with multiphasic shielding to withstand further ion storms and there had even been talk of refitting the AeroWing. Eventually that idea had been discarded since the captain’s personal yacht was more of a luxury vehicle intended for diplomatic inter-planetary excursions. The vehicle was capable of sustained space flight, but was impractical since its top speed was only warp three.
Lieutenant Torres was in charge of the team working on the Sacajawea while Seven of Nine oversaw the refit of the Tereshkova. Commander Tuvok had come in a few minutes ago to check their progress and was currently speaking with the chief engineer. Seven had noticed the two look in her direction when she began to chastise Nicoletti, but she ignored them as she turned back to her own work. A moment later B’Elanna’s voice interrupted her.
"You’re taking this kind of hard, aren’t you?"
Seven frowned and turned to confront the half-Klingon. She was surprised to see her accompanied by Tuvok. Straightening into her quasi-military pose Seven projected a calm she did not feel. "Clarify."
"I don’t know," Torres shrugged. "It just seems you’re taking the captain’s disappearance awfully hard."
"And you are not?"
Tuvok’s eyebrow went up and Lieutenant Torres said, "Don’t try that. I’m Klingon, not stupid. The warrior part of me understands your sense of loyalty is driving you to find them, but my human half tells me it’s a lot more than that. What is it?"
"I…" Seven’s eyes darted around the shuttlebay as her teeth ground together. She still wasn’t comfortable expressing herself and Lieutenant Torres was the last person she expected to confide in. Having the commander there as well made things harder since Seven’s respected his logical rather than emotional response to any given situation. Still she felt the need. If she didn’t try to put what she was feeling into words she thought she might explode. The sensation wasn’t logical, but it was the only accurate description.
"Come on, talk to us. I think your team would appreciate it."
"You believe I am being unnecessarily hard on them?"
Tuvok answered this time. "I believe your team is as worried about Captain Janeway as you are."
"No! You’re wrong. That is not possible."
Anger surged through Seven, but she kept it carefully hidden. It faded quickly and with it came a sudden clarity. It was so simple yet she had never seen the truth before. She had concealed it behind propriety and friendship, buried the truth so deeply that even she hadn’t recognized it for what it was. Yet even in the shadows her feelings had flourished and caused her to risk her own life repeatedly to save the one who meant more to her than anything.
"I love her." Seven saw that her softly spoken admission surprised the other two, but no more than she had surprised herself. B’Elanna’s eyebrows rose and Tuvok frowned slightly.
The half-Klingon took a deep breath and said, "Well, that certainly explains some things."
Seven didn’t ask what had been explained. At the moment she was too distracted and chose to alleviate what she was feeling by concentrating on the task at hand. "Remodulating the shields is taking too long. We must hurry. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Larson may not have much time and every moment we delay decreases the odds of finding them alive."
"Whoa," Torres said. "Take it easy. Look, I’ve never known you to jump to conclusions and I’m not going to let you start now. They’re alive until we find a body! Do you understand me?"
When Seven didn’t answer immediately Tuvok said, "Lieutenant Torres is correct. Captain Janeway is the most resourceful individual I know. I do not believe they are dead and I know she will do everything in her power to survive until we locate them."
The words finally got through the fog Seven had been feeling since they lost contact with the shuttle. She relaxed marginally and said, "My apologies. I do not understand what is wrong with me. I am…unsettled."
"I’d say crazed is more like it," B’Elanna responded. "But now that I know how you feel about Janeway I can understand."
"Explain how this can be understandable."
"Seven, the fear of losing someone we love can make anyone crazy."
"So…love is a source of weakness?"
B’Elanna rolled her eyes in frustration from trying to explain love to a former drone, but Tuvok was not so easily deterred. It seemed he was constantly put in the position of explaining emotions to emotional beings, but he had come to regard Seven as a friend and was willing to make the sacrifice for her. "It can be, but it can also be a source of great strength. If the captain and lieutenant really are in trouble they will need us to be stronger than ever. The captain will need you to be strong for her."
"That’s good, Tuvok. I’m going to have to remember that line."
Just hearing the commander’s words aloud was enough for Seven to feel the truth behind them. She felt determination surge through her along with the sudden conviction that she would get Captain Janeway, Kathryn, home. The captain needed her and she would not allow her emotions to weaken her.
"I believe I understand. Thank you."
Tuvok merely nodded and walked away. The chief engineer said, "You’re welcome… and it’s B’Elanna. Now let’s get back to work."
Seven hadn’t anticipated the friendship inherently offered by the Klingon’s invitation to utilize her first name, but before she could respond Torres had turned back to the Sacajawea. Apparently love was a powerful motivator. Just the knowledge that she was capable of such an emotion had resulted in something that hadn’t happened after two years. Lieutenant B’Elanna Torres had let go of the adversarial nature and become an unexpected ally. It appeared humanity had many facets she had yet to learn.
The power grid shorted and Janeway flinched away from the resulting sparks. Unfortunately, with her head and shoulders tucked inside the panel, there wasn’t much room to move. All she got for her trouble was a couple of singed fingers and a bump on the back of her head where she’d banged it against the deck.
The captain climbed out from under the panel and threw the ruined relay against the bulkhead. Throwing the relay eased her frustration a little and another piece of debris on the deck wasn’t going to hurt anything. Her hand throbbed from where she’d banged the injured knuckles while working, but she’d stubbornly persisted in trying to repair life support until the relays shorted out completely. Now she had no choice but to admit it was useless. The circuits were just too fried to get the system working again.
What would Seven do? Janeway had been asking herself that question a lot in the last few hours and realized it was because of the woman’s almost Vulcan way of approaching a problem. Whatever works! If she couldn’t get life support working and Voyager didn’t find them she needed to be able to get them out of the shuttle. Even the air from the emergency suits wouldn’t last forever. She couldn’t open the cockpit hatch because they were buried and there were probably tons of dirt against it. If she did manage to get it open the interior would be filled with benomyte and they would smother even faster. She just didn’t have enough information.
That’s it! Janeway grinned as the answer came to her. They needed sensors working, even if only the short range system. Sensors weren’t as complicated as life support and if she could get them back up she might find a way out of here. Larson had said this planetoid was full of impact craters and volcanoes. That much volcanic activity might imply natural underground tunnels. It was time to get back to work.
For all her determination it was another two hours before Janeway had the damaged circuitry repaired. She grinned as she looked at the jerry-rigged sensor systems and thought it was more accurate to say most of it had been replaced by scavenging from less fried electrical components. She’d stopped twice to check on Larson and although his condition hadn’t improved at least he wasn’t any worse. Now all she had to do was activate the power grid and hope it worked. Kathryn took a break to check on Pete again and get a sip of water from a survival canteen. That was when she realized she was apprehensive about powering up the sensors; worried that they would fail.
This is ridiculous! I’ve never balked when faced with any number of hostile aliens so why now?
The answer was easy. She had always reacted instinctively to save her ship and crew without thought to her own welfare. She’d acted because failing her people was simply not an option. She would never endanger her crew by refusing to act, not like she had with her father and Justin. Because of that failure to act she’d lost the two men who meant everything to her then, her father and her fiancé. The pain had been enormous, almost unendurable, but it had shaped the captain she became. This was different. This wasn’t a red alert that required action. It was a survival situation where the only thing that might save them was sheer determination and creative ingenuity. It had all the feel of a Cardassian prison camp from so long ago.
"It’s all this damned sand," Janeway said, speaking aloud to vent her frustration. "I’m just feeling a little claustrophobic. Pull it together, Katie. Concentrate. What would Seven do?"
"C…Captain?" She started and turned toward the injured crewman lying on the deck. His eyes were open and he was looking around with a frown of confusion.
"Pete." She knelt down beside him and put a hand on his forehead, pleased to note he didn’t feel quite as warm as before. "It’s good to see you awake, Lieutenant. How do you feel?"
"Considering the way the shuttle looks…I guess I’m happy to be in one piece." Larson tried to sit up and groaned in pain.
"Not so fast. You got pretty banged up when we landed. Here, have some water."
Janeway put an arm around the pilot’s shoulders and supported him while he sipped from the canteen she still held. When he finished she eased him back down and said, "You’ve suffered several fractures, most of which I’ve repaired. You also have a concussion and a lacerated kidney. Now that you’re awake I feel better about the concussion, but there’s nothing I can do about your internal injuries. Until Voyager gets here I’d say you’re not going to be moving around much."
Pete smiled and licked dry lips. "Too bad. I hear the sunbathing around here is the best in the quadrant."
"Who says I can’t find the best vacation spots?" Janeway returned his smile. "Speaking of sunbathing, are you hot?"
The young man shook his head. "I probably should be, but I’m fine. What’s our condition?"
She thought about sugarcoating the truth but decided against it. He was a Starfleet officer and she would only be doing him a disservice. "We’re buried a kilometer beneath the surface, all systems are offline, we have emergency lights and what air we have left will run out in about nine hours."
If she thought he would react badly to the news she was mistaken. "Well, at least the shuttle’s intact so we have decent shelter. The evac suits will give us more time until Voyager shows up."
Janeway grinned. "An optimist, huh? Well, I don’t intend to just sit around until they find us."
"What did you have in mind?"
The captain stood and walked back over to where she had been working. "While you were napping I’ve been busy getting the sensors back up."
"Why not life-support?"
She shook her head. "Those systems are too badly damaged. The sensors aren’t as complicated and you said this planet was high in volcanic activity. It makes sense that there would be some sort of tunnel networks that have been created by magma flow."
"You’re looking for a way to the surface. No offense, Captain," Larson said as he levered into a sitting position against the bulkhead, "but the chances of one of those tunnels being right outside the shuttle…"
"What happened to all that optimism? Besides, we’ll never know until we try."
"Okay," Pete nodded, accepting the unspoken challenge from his commanding officer. "What did you find?"
The captain squatted down in front of the open panel. "Actually, I was just about to power it up. But I have to warn you it might not hold. If you smell charred flesh and hear screaming consider that a request for a dermal regenerator."
Janeway had been going for lighthearted, but apparently Larson didn’t quite get her unique brand of humor. She really wished she had made Seven come along. Kathryn reached into the compartment and activated the power node. She waited for a few seconds, but nothing happened. "No shower of sparks. So far so good."
The lieutenant’s hopeful brown eyes followed her as she sat down at the aft console. Janeway wiped dirt and debris from the panel with one hand and looked up at the young man. "Keep your fingers crossed." Kathryn started pushing buttons and grinned when the console sputtered and came grudgingly to life.
"You did it!"
"Just barely. The signal gain isn’t very strong, only a few hundred meters and I can’t guarantee how long we’re even going to have sensors. But I do have some good news." Kathryn looked up and met Larson’s eyes.
"Remember those astronomical odds you were talking about?"
"Are you saying there’s a tunnel right outside the shuttle?"
His expression made the captain smile again and she admitted, "Not exactly, but when we crashed we left a pretty wide trench in our wake and we came in at an angle. The soil’s not as densely packed near the aft section. I think I can open the cargo hatch."
"And then what?"
At least he didn’t ask if I thought I was a mole. "The Delta Flyer carries laser drills for mining ore as part of its regular inventory."
"And cutting through benomyte and sand with a laser drill would be like cutting through butter with a hot knife."
"Exactly, we’ll be breathing fresh air in no time."
"Great. What can I do to help?"
"Sit there and try not to tear that kidney open. Seriously, it won’t take long to reach the surface and neither of us has eaten in a while. If I’m going to be digging us out I’ll need my strength. Can I interest you in a ration bar?"
"I’m not really all that hungry."
Captain Janeway didn’t respond to the comment; she knew it was either the injury talking or the nonexistent charm of the dry rations themselves. She powered down the console to conserve energy before she stepped into the aft compartment to look for the emergency rations. The cargo hold was in even worse shape than the cockpit. Panels had sprung open during the somewhat controlled crash and the aft compartment was nothing but chaos.
She found the case containing the dry Starfleet ration bars and a survival canteen of water. There were only four survival packs onboard the Delta Flyer and Janeway considered their situation while they ate the rations. Four canteens of water wouldn’t last very long and the packs only contained three days worth of rations each. Split between two people they had enough for six days. They could subsist on two bars each per day and stretch the rations, but if Voyager didn’t show up right away they would be in trouble.
Apparently Larson was thinking along the same lines. "While you’re digging I think I’ll try to get partial systems back up. We’re going to need water and unless I miss my guess we’re not going to find it around here."
"It’s good thinking, but I’ve already routed every spare giga-watt just to get partial sensors. I think we’re going to have to wait until I can get to the surface and try to find water with a tricorder."
"You say that like I’m not going to the surface with you."
Janeway could read the concern in his voice and sought to reassure him. "You’re too wounded to be climbing around past lava flows and I’m perfectly capable of getting to the surface on my own. I doubt there are hostile aliens on this dustball to threaten us."
"I doubt there’s much of anything on this dustball except us. Being so near the sun do you think you’ll be able to find water?"
The captain shrugged easily and took another small bite from the bar. It really did have the consistency of cardboard, she thought. "The planetoid has an m-class atmosphere and neucleogenics for producing rain. I’d say there has to be water somewhere although it might only be an underground source. I wouldn’t worry about it right now since breathable air is our top priority. Once we’ve got a tunnel to the surface it might make things a little easier for the sensors and tell us exactly what we have to work with."
Janeway finished her meal with a sip of water. She wanted to drink half the canteen to wash the dirt from her throat, but kept it solidly in mind that they’d have to ration their supplies. Then she got up and put the aluma-foil wrapper next to the replicator to recycle later. She turned around and saw that Larson had finished his bar and his eyes were already drooping with weariness. With his internal injuries it was only natural for him to tire quickly.
"Why don’t you take the opportunity to rest while I get busy on that tunnel?"
Larson nodded. "I think I’ll take that as an order, Captain."
The young man lay back down on the deck and Kathryn suddenly wondered if they couldn’t make the situation a little more bearable.
Fold down bunks were installed on the shuttles for long missions and depending on the condition of the hull she might be able to get one down. Janeway walked to the back of the cockpit and examined the bunk area. In several places the hull had buckled and there was no chance of getting most of the cots to unfold, but they were in luck. One of the bunks was only slightly warped and with a little tugging she managed to get it down.
"Come on," she said as she walked back over to the pilot. "We might as well take advantage of the few luxuries we have."
Janeway slipped an arm around his waist and helped Pete over to the bunk. After he was lying down and his eyes were closed Kathryn went back into the cargo area to get ready for the hard labor of digging a tunnel. The compartment holding the laser drill was one of the few that hadn’t popped open in the crash. She found the drill intact with a fully charged power pack already attached. The first blast would get benomyte dust in her lungs so she pulled out a respirator that would cover her face with a polyglass shield.
Now it was time to try and open the door. Unless she could get the cargo hold open none of her preparations would mean anything.
Kathryn knew from the sensor readings that the ravaged earth wasn’t as tightly packed against the hatch, but that didn’t mean she had the strength to open it manually.
"Where’s all that Borg-enhanced strength when you need it?"
Kathryn closed the door to the forward compartment just in case and picked up a manual door clamp. With a lot of struggling she was finally able to pop the seal. She held her breath as dirt began to trickle inside the cargo area, but it stopped after only a few seconds. When it did she put her hands under the hatch and strained to lift the door. The cargo hatch was designed to slide up inside the hull and fold back into the overhead. Kathryn mentally thanked Tom Paris for the shuttle’s design because she seriously doubted she would have been able to push the door open. Even with the design she could only lift the hatch a few feet. The top of the shuttle must have buckled and it prevented the cargo hatch from lifting completely. It was enough. She could get through easily and could see a few meters before her way was blocked where the earth had caved in behind them.
Kathryn carefully took stock of the situation. The heat from the laser drill would essentially melt the sand and benomyte. As the dirt cooled the sand would turn to glass, but the benomyte would simply harden until it was like rock. The few meters between the cave-in and the lip of the cargo hatch would provide a trench that would allow the material to cool before it flowed into the shuttle. She would just have to move slowly, much more slowly than she wanted. The overhead of the cave-in was only one and a half meters high so Janeway had to work from a squatted position. Having to work more slowly than expected in such a position would tax her reserves quickly, but it couldn’t be helped. Her boots would protect her feet from the flow until it cooled enough to move forward, but her trousers would provide little protection.
With the respirator in place and Kathryn took a deep breath and pressed the trigger on the laser drill. A ruby beam of light shot out and hot air and dirt blasted over her body. It was a short blast, just enough to check the effectiveness of the drill, and Janeway stopped to see how well it worked. With the light at the bottom of the drill she was able to see clearly into the passageway.
"Not bad," she mumbled. For a moment she considered putting her tunic back on to protect her arms from the dust, but it hadn’t been painful and she had a feeling she might need a change of clothes once she managed to tunnel out. Sweat covered her body and the grime from flying dust clung stubbornly to her skin.
Kathryn set to work determined to reach the surface in only a few hours. The melted sand did turn to glass as it cooled and would have been too slippery to walk on up the twenty-degree angle if not for the benomyte rock. Progress was even slower than she had expected, especially since particular care had to be taken overhead or the tunnel she was creating would collapse. As she moved forward Janeway realized she was creating a tunnel of glass and wondered what Seven would think of it if she saw it. Would she think the glass was pretty? Janeway shook her head amazed she could even wonder about such a thing at a time like this. Although she’d secretly acknowledged her true feelings for her friend long ago, now was hardly the time to pursue that line of thought.
She worked steadily and sweat poured from her body. It ran into her eyes making them burn, but she couldn’t stop to wipe them out. Two hours later she stopped to check her progress and was disconcerted to realize she’d only traveled half a kilometer. It would take twice as long before she reached the nearest existing tunnel network, assuming she didn’t run into anything unexpected. When she’d started digging they had nine hours of usable air in the shuttle. Now there was only seven. Barring mishaps they should still have five hours of air when she reached one of the tunnels, but what then? Would she have to dig from one of the natural corridors to the surface? How far would that be and how long would it take?"
The captain frowned. They could always put on the evac suits if things got close, and she was burning up with just her t-shirt and trousers. But digging in an EVA suit didn’t sound very appealing since it would limit her range of motion. She glanced down at the power cell on the drill. Continuous use of the device was draining it quickly. There was very little charge left and she would have to change the power cell before she continued.
That’s all right. It’ll give the passage time to cool before I start up again and I could use a drink of water.
Kathryn turned and walked back toward the shuttle. She pulled the respirator off as she stepped into the cargo hold and dropped the laser drill on a crate. When she walked into the cockpit she found Larson awake and fiddling with the only working computer console.
"Thought you were supposed to be sleeping."
Larson started and turned at the sound of her voice. When he saw the captain he burst out laughing. "Ow!" He grabbed his side in pain, but couldn’t stop laughing.
"What’s so funny?"
"You look like…ow…It hurts to laugh. Ow!"
"Well that’s what you get. Now do you care to share the joke?"
Pete’s laughter trailed off with a few snickers. He wiped tears out of his eyes and answered. "You look like some kind of mud monster from one of Lieutenant Paris’ creature features."
Janeway looked down at one arm caked with benomyte and sand. Only her face would have been protected by the respirator and she thought she probably did make quite a sight. With her dignity wounded the captain said, "Remind me to make a special request when we get back to Voyager. I’m sure Tom could find something appropriate. Have you found anything interesting on sensors?"
The pilot cast her one last amused look before he glanced back down at the console. "I’ve been tracking your progress for the last few minutes."
"Or lack of same?"
"It may feel like you’re going slow, Captain, but your progress is really pretty impressive."
"Thank you," she said dryly. "And?"
"That tunnel system you’re headed for still has some active lava flows."
"Why didn’t I pick up those readings before?" she asked, startled what that could mean for their chances of escape.
Larson shrugged, but didn’t appear concerned. "Like you said, the signal isn’t very strong. As you dig through there’s less interference. I only picked up the magma right before you came in."
Janeway listened as she walked over near the bulkhead and picked up the discarded canteen. She took a sip of water before she looked back at her crewman. "Suggestions?"
"If you adjust your course by ten degrees it should take an hour longer, but you’ll come out…here."
She looked down at the console where he pointed and it looked to Kathryn like she’d come out right on top of the lava. "Excuse me, Lieutenant."
Kathryn leaned over beside him and began to refine the readings. She was practically leaning over Larson’s shoulder and from her peripheral vision noticed him wrinkle his nose at the smell. When he turned his face away slightly she grinned and said, "Don’t worry, Lieutenant, I’ll be out of your way in just a min…ah! There! There’s a ridge that stands half a meter above the flow."
"Where the lava created a trench."
"Exactly. It looks like the trench is deep enough to protect me from the heat although I doubt it’ll be easy to traverse."
"I think you’re probably right, but this particular flow looks like it actually reaches the surface."
Kathryn nodded as she studied the readings. "Logically, once I reach the flow we should be able to get air down here, but what about the gases? I don’t want to reach that flow and be asphyxiated from the sulfuric gas. Also, if that tunnel isn’t vented at the surface there’s a very real chance I’ll create a pyroclastic cloud once I punch through."
"Hmm, didn’t think about that." Larson frowned and seemed embarrassed not to have considered all the ramifications of digging through at the magma chamber.
"That’s all right," the captain said resting a hand on his shoulder. "It’s still a good plan, we just need to modify it a bit. I don’t know if you noticed, but these same passages are near some cooled trenches. I could dig toward one of those corridors and we wouldn’t have to worry about suffocating."
"And the cooled trenches should still come out very near the surface."
"If not all the way."
Larson set to work on the console again and a few moments later said, "I think I have something, but you’re not going to like it."
"What is it?"
He sat back and looked up at the captain for a moment before he answered. "How long did you say it would be before we run out of air?"
"As of right now? Seven hours."
"Captain, I don’t know if we have enough time."
"Just tell me what you have, Lieutenant."
"Instead of a ten degree angle, you’ll need a thirty-degree vector and at your current speed it’ll be another five hours before you reach the cooled passages. Once you get there you’ll be out of range of the sensors. You’ll have to use a tricorder to find an exit."
"I understand." Janeway’s voice was sure, confident. Inside she didn’t really feel that way. Her muscles already trembled from fatigue and she hadn’t slept in eighteen hours. She didn’t know if she had the strength to dig another five hours, much less find a way to the surface once she reached the cooled passageways. On top of that she wouldn’t have time to take breaks. "I’ll just have to carry spare power cells and a canteen with me."
Janeway turned away from the console and took another sip of water. She picked up the respirator and started to head back into the tunnel before she remembered something and turned back to her crewman.
"By the way, with the systems off line I constructed a make-shift latrine off the port stern."
"Understood, Captain. Thanks. I didn’t want to ask."
Captain Janeway shook her head. "Modesty won’t get us anywhere at this point, Pete. It’s a normal biological function and being embarrassed about it won’t make it go away." She didn’t wait for him to respond, but went back into the tunnel. She had less than seven hours to find a way out or put on an environmental suit.
Kathryn replaced the power cell on the laser drill twice before she decided she had to have a short break. Pain radiated from her shoulders and down her arms from holding the drill for four hours straight. She released the trigger and stood still for a moment, steeling herself from the agony she knew was waiting when she relaxed her arms. Kathryn took a deep breath and lowered the drill. She groaned from the explosion of pain in her biceps, her arms trembled and she ground her teeth together until the sharp sensation faded to an insistent, dull throb.
She laid the drill on the ground and dropped down so she could lean back against the earthen wall. Back muscles began to spasm, but not actually cramp. To Kathryn it felt like dozens of insects scampering in frenzy just under her skin. She rested her forehead on her drawn up knees and concentrated on the sensation until it began to fade. When the spasms lessened to an occasional twitch she raised her head and looked around. The dust was still heavy in the enclosed space, but it had settled enough that she could remove the respirator.
Her hand trembled as she lifted the canteen to parched lips. Some water splashed onto her face and the coolness felt so wonderful that it was tempting to dump the container over her heated flesh. The thought was merely an indulgence and Kathryn lowered the canteen after a few small sips. She was keenly aware of time slipping away, but she needed to rest before she could face the thought of digging for another hour. Closing tired, burning eyes she rested her head against the sandy wall and let her thoughts drift. As usual in times of stress her mind turned to thoughts that would be sure to calm her, thoughts of Seven of Nine.
She had loved the other woman for so long that she didn’t remember a time when she hadn’t. Only duty prevented her from opening up and taking a chance that Seven might, one day, return her feelings. But duty was there for a reason and Kathryn had never questioned the validity of her decision to remain apart until she fell in love with the former drone.
But what of passion, her heart screamed. What of love? Her judgment was impaired where her emotions were concerned, but she was more than just a Starfleet officer. She was flesh and blood, too. She was a woman with illogical feelings and now that she’d acknowledged the love she felt it was proving impossible to shove those feelings back into the box.
Kathryn had never seen want or desire or anything more than friendship in pale eyes, but she couldn’t help imagining how it would feel to be held in Seven’s strong embrace. In her fantasies she could taste the hot, outrageously sensuous kisses they would share. Their lips would meet and press softly that first time, once and then again. Then Seven would capture her lips and the kisses would become an impossibly deep connection.
Janeway’s head lolled forward as she began to drift into sleep and she jerked upright so quickly that she whacked her head against the wall.
"Per Commander Chakotay’s orders I will be coordinating the search for the Delta Flyer," Lieutenant Commander Tuvok said. "Lieutenant Paris will pilot the Tereshkova while Lieutenant Baytart will be on the Sacajawea."
B’Elanna looked irritated at the news, but didn’t interrupt. Seven wondered if the Vulcan was deliberately keeping the couple apart to minimize distractions during the search, but didn’t care as long as it increased the chances of locating Captain Janeway more quickly.
"I will be aboard the Sacajawea along with Lieutenant Torres," he continued. "Ensign Kim will join Seven of Nine aboard the Tereshkova."
With Voyager at station-keeping back up crewmen would monitor tactical and the helm.
"I just wish we had the Delta Flyer," Torres said. "It has better range and sensors than these old Type-2 shuttles."
Seven ignored the Klingon’s complaints and asked, "Have the scans shown any indications in which direction the Delta Flyer traveled?"
"The wave front passed very near the pulsars, but we haven’t found any trace of a distress beacon."
"Perhaps they did not have time to launch one."
B’Elanna snorted. "Or if they did it was caught by the pulsars’ gravity. It would have been crushed like one of Tom’s antique beer cans."
"In any case," Tuvok said, "there is no trail to follow. I suggest we search in a standard grid pattern. In the event the shuttle’s systems were compromised the captain would have attempted to find a habitable system. Since they have not returned that is the most likely conclusion." No one pointed out the obvious alternative that the Flyer had been destroyed.
"Sounds good. I only have one question for you, Tuvok; why isn’t Chakotay coordinating this thing?"
"Commander Chakotay believes Voyager would be best served if he remained on the bridge at this time."
"That’s crap and you know it!"
"Commander," Seven interjected, cutting off B’Elanna’s tirade before she could build a good head of steam. "Do you believe Commander Chakotay is only allowing a cursory search in the hopes of placating the crew and thereby speeding our departure?"
Torres frowned in confusion at Seven’s unique way of expressing herself before her expression cleared. "Yeah! Is he just blowing smoke up our…?"
Tuvok cut the engineer off quickly. "I cannot speculate on the Commander’s motives. We have been afforded the opportunity to search for Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Larson. Until our orders are modified I recommend we take advantage of the time we have to locate them."
"Agreed." Now that they were about to begin the search for the captain all of her fear and uncertainty fled. Seven felt sure and strong. Captain Janeway would do whatever it took to survive until they were found and Seven had absolutely no doubt the captain was still alive. She would sense it if she were not. "When do we leave?"
"Zero seven hundred hours."
"Why can we not leave now?" Seven pressed.
"Easy there. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. We just pulled a double getting those shuttles ready."
"On the contrary," Tuvok interjected. "Our mission will not be best served by an exhausted crew."
"That is an order, Seven," the commander stated calmly, but it was clear he would not be swayed. "Go. Regenerate. We will find them."
Seven swallowed her anger with difficulty. It was only her respect for the Vulcan that made her comply. "Very well, but if Commander Chakotay decides to terminate our search prematurely I will commandeer a shuttle and find her myself. I will not stop until Captain Janeway has been retrieved."
"We have not reached that point," Tuvok pointed out, "Nor do I believe we will. Captain Janeway is resourceful."
"Are you telling her to have hope? That’s very…sympathetic of you, Tuvok."
"There is no need to insult me, Lieutenant."
Torres grinned and turned to Seven. "Don’t worry. If you decide to steal a shuttle and go looking for ‘em on your own we’ll help. Right Tuvok?"
Commander Tuvok only raised a slanted brow in response, but Seven thought she detected a glint of determination in his dark eyes.
Five hours after the torture began Janeway lowered the laser drill to the uneven sandy floor. The muscles in her arms, back and thighs burned like someone had set a torch to them and she had yet to see a glimmer of daylight. The front of the drill hit the ground and Kathryn relaxed her right arm completely. Bending over to set the device down wasn’t easy. Her legs trembled from being squatted so long and she could feel blisters from the sand that had seeped into her boots. With an unsteady hand she reached for the tricorder at her waist. Overtaxed muscles made it hard to see the miniature display, but for a moment she was sure there was something other than sand and benomyte, something that moved.
Pain forgotten, Kathryn frowned and swept the tricorder in a slow circle from left to right. At first there was nothing. She reached the tunnel behind her and still didn’t find anything until she got almost all the way back around. The movement was so slight that she almost missed it again, but caught it just before she moved out of range. There was definitely life beneath the surface of this planetoid and that information couldn’t have come at a better time. That meant there was water somewhere. Life couldn’t survive without it. Feeling better than she had in hours the captain trained the scanning device directly ahead and discovered more good news. Not only was she still on course, but in another ten minutes should be punching through to the cooled lava tunnels.
Repeating the mantra that had gotten her through the worst moments in the Academy, Janeway picked up the laser and pointed it ahead of her. "Mind over matter. My mind is stronger than my body. Mind over matter."
Ten minutes later the dirt melted and flowed inward instead of toward her. Kathryn released the trigger and tried to swallow against a dry throat. Had she imagined it? Was it wishful thinking? Janeway fired the drill again and this time there was no mistake.
"Oh, thank you!" She had no idea who she was directing the comment at; she was just happy that she’d finally reached the cooled tunnels. Now maybe she could rest her overstressed muscles.
A few minutes later the benomyte and sand collapsed inward and presented her with a one-meter circular hole. She was met by a blast of hot, dry air that tore past and down the corridor behind her. It instantly dried the sweat on her skin and was the most wonderful sensation she had felt in a long time. Kathryn pulled off the respirator, closed her eyes and took several deep breaths of air so dry it threatened to desiccate the alveoli in her lungs.
After a short time enjoying the fresh, if desert-like, air she squeezed through the opening and got her first look at the cooled lava flow. It was a little lighter in the lava corridor than it had been in the tunnel, but not by much. Beyond a few glimmers in the shadows she couldn’t really see a difference. She swept the light from the drill around and saw that the ceiling was high overhead and the cooled flows were easily two hundred meters across. Although the air was very dry it was actually several degrees cooler than it had been in the tunnel. Janeway wanted to take time to savor the new surroundings, feeling like she had been underground for days rather than hours. Instead she remembered the injured man waiting for her on the Flyer and pulled out the tricorder to take another scan. The benomyte had been blocking most of her readings, but now that she was in the open it was clear that the cooled corridor led directly to the surface. On top of that there was no blockage at the end of the passageway and it was only another sixty meters to the exit.
Kathryn didn’t know how she’d gotten so lucky and in the end just decided to be happy about it. Maybe things were finally looking up. Now if Seven would suddenly hail her and tell her they were in orbit around the planet. She could almost hear the irritation in the young woman’s precise inflections as she inquired as to exactly why it had taken the captain so long to respond to her continued hails.
Unfortunately her combadge remained stubbornly silent and she heaved a small sigh as she headed for the mouth of the lava tube. She knew the shuttle was already receiving fresh air and could have just turned around to head back, but she was damned if she was going to dig for so long and not see the outer face of this blasted rock.
The planetoid was in darkness, having moved away from the sun in its orbit. As hot as it was now Kathryn could only imagine how bad it would be during the daylight hours. If not for the volcanoes spewing dust and particulates into the air and obscuring part of the sun’s ultra violet rays she doubted it would be incapable of supporting human life at all. Kathryn decided to thank her lucky stars that they hadn’t been caught in the star’s gravitational pull and drawn into the corona. Things could definitely be worse.
There wasn’t really much to see except a sandy terrain that seemed to stretch forever. The lights from the pulsars took the place of a moon and cut through the darkness. As interesting as the view was she still had an injured crewman below and felt the need to get back. Janeway picked up the laser drill by the top handle and stretched briefly before turning back into the tunnel. The beam on the end of the drill illuminated the passageway as she walked the kilometer and a half back to the shuttle. Fresh, dry wind traveled ahead of her, scrubbing the dust out of the air and making the walk back almost pleasant.
Now if only I could take a shower.
It had taken hours to dig a narrow corridor to the surface, but the walk back took only thirty minutes. The blisters on her feet were really starting to throb and Kathryn was relieved when she spotted the tail of the shuttle in the distance. She had closed the hatch when she left to keep out debris and protect Lieutenant Larson in case she accidentally punched through somewhere near an active lava flow. While she didn’t regret her decision to close the hatch she now had to confront opening it. With the immediate need for fresh air met her adrenaline had waned. She was exhausted beyond reason and her body had been pushed to the limit. She felt every minor ache from the cuts and bruises to her partially healed fractures. Janeway just didn’t know if she had any strength left to manually open the cargo hatch with her trembling limbs.
"Almost there. Just a little longer and I can rest," she promised herself. "A nice long drink of water and tomorrow I’ll find a place to have a bath."
If Seven doesn’t find us first, she amended silently. I know she won’t give up. We just have to keep going.
Janeway used the magnetic door clamps and struggled to open the hatch. She was only able to push it up half as far as before because the strength in her shaking arms was at its end, but it was still far enough for her to duck under. She turned to close the door and remembered the life signs she’d picked up on the tricorder earlier. The thought made her want to close the hatch entirely, but common sense prevented it. The air inside had been replenished and with the door closed they would have another nine hours before it became an issue again, but she couldn’t chance it. Larson was injured and her body was completely worn out. Without the computer they might not wake in time to avoid suffocation. In the end she settled for leaving a small gap at the bottom.
When she left earlier she had opened the interior door to the forward compartment so Larson would get air as soon as she reached the surface and she noticed how dark it was. The emergency lights must have failed while she was gone. Kathryn wondered if that meant they’d lost power to the precariously rigged sensors as well, but she was more concerned that she couldn’t hear her companion.
"Larson?" She swept the beam from the drill around the cabin and found him lying quietly on the cot.
"Larson," she said again, leaning over him and playing the light across his features. Janeway put a hand on his shoulder and noticed how cool he felt. Dark circles shadowed his eyes and cheeks, giving him a gaunt appearance. Sweat covered his face and caused the pilot’s hair to cling in dark ringlets to his forehead. Despite the hot dryness in the air he felt cold and clammy to the touch.
Kathryn set the drill on the floor where it would create maximum illumination in the cabin and grabbed a medical tricorder. The readings didn’t look good. Larson’s vital signs were low and it was clear he had taken a turn for the worse. He had a blanket pulled up under his chin and she could see him shivering in the gloom.
Suddenly frightened for the young man she grabbed another blanket out of a storage compartment and put it over him. "Don’t you die on me, Lieutenant. That’s an order."
His readings indicated shock in addition to the internal bleeding. For several long minutes she tried to think of anything to help him, but she wasn’t a doctor and short of performing surgery there was nothing else she could do. Kathryn sat on the deck close beside him, determined to stay awake and keep an eye on him until he showed signs of improvement. In seconds she had fallen asleep with her head tipped back again the bulkhead.
Captain Janeway awakened with the sensation that a lot of time had passed. Her neck was stiff from sleeping against the bulkhead and she winced as she sat forward. She’d fallen asleep with the beacon still burning on the drill, but it had dimmed to a dull glow from over use. Kathryn worked her dry mouth to moisten it and then tried to get up. Her muscles screamed in protest but she persisted. Finally on her feet she dug through a compartment for a wrist beacon before she turned the light off on the drill. Then she went to check on Larson. He was still asleep, but at least he’d stopped shivering.
She let him sleep while she took care of a few things. She used the latrine and then limped back into the main cabin. Although she had decided to use the dermal regenerator only for serious injuries she was about to break that rule. If she didn’t the blisters on her heels would become an issue and she needed to get a homing beacon set up this morning.
Janeway sat down and took her boots off. She was amazed by the amount of sand she poured out, but set them aside and peeled her socks off. Blisters had formed and broken open while she worked and now even the air touching them was painful. It took a few minutes to heal all of the sores and when she finished she felt much better. If not for her aching muscles and the crick in her neck she thought she almost felt human.
Setting aside the medical instrument Kathryn stood and tried to wake the pilot again. "Pete." She shook his shoulder again, but the young man only groaned and rolled over with his back to her.
Maybe sleep was the best thing for his body now, anyway. She’d try to get him to eat something when she returned from setting up the beacon.
"Come on, Seven. Where are you? You show up every time there’s a minor glitch in my replicator so why are you taking so long?" It never occurred to her to doubt the former drone would turn up to rescue them.
The beacon would help Seven and Voyager home in on their location and it was time to get moving. Kathryn checked her tricorder, which had an independent computer core, and discovered it was nearly eight o’clock. She needed to get the homing equipment in place before the sun got too hot to be on the surface.
Janeway brushed as much dried sand off her arms, face and hair as she could before she picked up her tunic and shook it out. Working inside a confined tunnel was one thing, but sand storms could develop quickly on the surface and would strip the meat from her bones without protection. Reluctant because of the heat, she pulled the tunic on, but left the combadge on her undershirt to prevent sand from clogging up the mechanism. If Larson called her she wanted to be able to hear him. Then she considered what other equipment she might need besides the beacon. With all the volcanic activity on the planetoid she decided to pack a respirator and goggles. She grabbed a supply pack and loaded it with the beacon equipment and then attached a tricorder, phaser and water canteen to her waist. She wasn’t really expecting a sneak attack on the barren world, but with the life signs she had seen on the tricorder the day before she thought it better to take precautions.
Finally ready to go, Kathryn turned and pulled the blanket closer around Larson’s neck. She hated to leave him alone again, especially in such a weakened condition, but she really had no choice. The captain shook her head in regret, hefted the pack and headed for the rear cargo hatch. The exit was in the same position she had left it the night before and there was only a two-inch gap at the bottom to let in fresh air. The dirt at the bottom was unmarked and Kathryn was reassured that nothing had tried to get in during the night. She left the entrance between the front and rear compartments open and sealed the exterior cargo hatch behind her just as she had done the day before. She wasn’t worried about the air running out inside the shuttle because she’d be back long before that became an issue.
She spent the thirty-minute walk to the surface nibbling on a dry ration bar and thinking. At first her thoughts focused on their situation and setting up the beacon, but eventually drifted to a certain Astrometrics officer. Janeway smiled unconsciously as she thought of Seven. The former Borg had been on her mind a lot lately and she didn’t shy away from what prompted it. If anything she actively pursued the memory of seeing Seven’s exquisite body covered only by a thin sheet. Of course it hadn’t really been Seven, only a holographic representation of one of the doctor’s fantasies that got out of control. Kathryn remembered making some insane comment about him having gotten the hands right. The remark had been intended as a distraction from how her mouth had gone instantly dry at the sight of Seven’s naked shoulders. The sheet had slipped just a bit and she caught sight of a small implant above the young woman’s right breast.
Janeway’s internal barriers had cracked just a bit then and burst wide-open several months later aboard the Delta Flyer. The thought of Seven destroying the shuttle and herself because of a paranoid theory that Janeway was planning to turn her over to Starfleet for dissection had opened the floodgates. She remembered kneeling in front of Seven on the hard deck plating and gently taking her hands. Lost in the blue gaze she realized it was the first time she’d ever held Seven’s hands. The right was soft, just as she’d always known it would be, but it was the left that surprised her. Kathryn always thought the implant would be rough, abrasive and unyielding. Instead the metal was warm and had the feel of thick velvet. Since that day two weeks ago, Seven’s left hand had been the source of several erotic dreams and daytime fantasies. It was also one more thing to bring down a duty-driven captain’s defenses.
It was ironic that just before leaving Voyager on this little jaunt that Kathryn had decided she was going to try for a life beyond Starfleet. When they returned from studying the pulsars she’d planned to begin pursuing Seven.
Pursuing? That sounds so puerile, she thought, but wooing isn’t right either.
Kathryn noticed it was getting brighter and she had crossed without thinking about it into the ancient magma tunnels. The strong breeze from the surface opening made it seem cooler, but that would change when she stepped into the sun. She squinted and shielded her eyes as she stepped into the light for the first time in two days. The surface of the planetoid was hot, dry and barren. If not for the stiff breeze it would have been almost unbearable and it was still early morning. Afternoon siestas were definitely going to be the order of the day until they got off this godforsaken rock.
The captain turned off the wrist beacon and pulled out the tricorder to take a quick surface scan. She needed somewhere high but stable to set the beacon. From particulates in the air she determined there hadn’t been any recent volcanic activity and took an easier breath as she finished checking the readings when something else caught her eye. It was water. The readings were very faint and over a kilometer away, but there was also a ridge near the water source that would do nicely for the homing signal.
Two birds, one stone. Now I just need to remember to try and find those life signs I detected yesterday. Maybe it’ll be something we can eat.
Kathryn grinned and set out across the sand. The terrain was uneven and in places the constant winds had formed sand dunes. In others benomyte cliffs jutted from the sand and high into the air, forming welcome shadows and hollows for Janeway to get out of the sun if she needed. At the moment the wind wasn’t strong enough to cause a sandstorm, but it did push her hair back and allow the rest of the dirt to dry and fall from her skin.
She reached the target location in only fifteen minutes and looked up at the ridge. It wasn’t steep and the summit was nice and flat. After a few more minutes she reached the top and stood panting slightly. Janeway looked around while she caught her breath and wasn’t surprised to see more of the same terrain everywhere. There was just nothing remarkable about this planetoid. She turned away from the boring view and knelt down near the center of the rise. Kathryn took off the pack and moments later had everything in place. The satisfying hum of a functioning emergency signal greeted her when she activated the power node.
Ha! She might have to check the beacon everyday to make sure it was still working, but for now she was just happy to know Voyager would have something to lock onto when the rescue teams came near. Pleased to have the transmitter properly set Janeway checked the tricorder and set off for her next target. Now it was time to track down that water source. It wasn’t far, just the other side of the rise and concealed by yet another rocky benomyte bluff. In the short time she’d been on the exterior of the planet the temperature had risen five degrees and she was happy to step into the shade. After a few seconds her eyes adjusted from the blinding sunlight and Kathryn found the source of the tricorder signal.
It was a hot spring.
Steam rose from the surface and wafted into the air. With this planet’s unstable core the captain thought it made sense they’d find pools heated from beneath. Unfortunately it was also likely the high mineral content in the water would make it undrinkable. Janeway took a more in-depth scan and discovered she was right. The water wasn’t fit for consumption, but hopefully she could find something more suitable before long.
Kathryn turned and took a step to leave before she stopped dead. She turned back around and considered the small pond from a different angle. If it wasn’t fit to drink maybe it would serve another useful purpose. Kathryn grinned and hesitated only a split second before she dropped the equipment pack and pulled off the wrist beacon. She stripped her tunic off and dropped it at her feet and the rest of her clothing quickly followed suit. She set the tricorder to act as a proximity alarm and eagerly headed for the hot spring. With no one else around modesty wasn’t an issue. Kathryn stepped in slowly and gasped at the heat. The pool had a gradual incline and soon she was immersed up to her neck. It was amazing. Janeway spent the next twenty minutes bathing and scrubbing her hair as best she could without soap or shampoo. When she was finally clean again she got out of the water and retrieved her uniform. She scrubbed the clothes out and laid them on a rock in a patch of sunlight to dry. As hot as it was it wouldn’t take long and Kathryn decided to pass the time soaking. After all, she could hardly wander around stark naked without so much as a drop of sunscreen.
After another ten minutes Janeway thought she’d cooked long enough. She got out of the water and sat on the boulder next to her clothes to dry off. The sun actually felt good on her skin and was cooler than the water. Kathryn considered her naked form and wondered what Seven would think. Would she think Janeway was fit and trim or soft and flabby?
Kathryn stood and looked down. Her breasts were firm and her stomach well muscled. Her legs looked strong and overall she thought she was in just as good a shape as she’d been at thirty, maybe even better.
"Not bad," she mused aloud. "Not bad at all."
As soon as her clothes were dry Kathryn dressed and headed back toward Lieutenant Larson and the Delta Flyer. She decided to look for another fresh water source after she checked on him. She’d just reached the mouth of the tunnel and reached up to turn on the wrist beacon when she noticed movement overhead. Instinct made her freeze and her eyes tracked over the area. The small hairs on the back of her neck stood up and she dropped the pack onto the ground as she reached for her phaser. For several long, tense minutes she continued to check the area until she concluded she must have been imagining things. Kathryn realized she had crouched in preparation of an attack. She shook her head and straightened as she wondered just who she thought would be laying in wait on such a desolate rock. Janeway tucked the phaser back into the holster and turned around to pick up the pack. Standing directly behind her was a creature that stood over three meters high and reminded her of a giant scorpion.
Two black, beady, multi-faceted eyes stared down at her and slime dripped from the claw-like mandibles. On either side of her black pincers snapped together with malicious intent, but Janeway had seen worse things on the backside of the galaxy. What made her mouth go dry in terror were the two tails curved up over the back of the creature. Each was tipped by a razor-sharp barb that she was sure would be filled with venom. Neither of them moved and the captain wondered what the creature’s vision was based on. Some animals required movement to actually focus on their prey while others utilized a well-developed sense of smell. Since this…thing…didn’t seem to have sensory organs, at least not that she could see, Janeway deduced visual acuity must be the key. The only problem was that she had turned around before she saw the creature so why hadn’t it attacked?
Maybe it’s trying to figure out what to make of me, she thought. It can’t be very often it finds anything except its own kind wandering around on the surface. The thought of more creatures like this one made her remember a defenseless and injured crewman who was currently alone on the shuttle. What if one of those things went after Larson while she was enjoying a nice hot bath?
If she hadn’t thought of Larson the captain would have been content to remain in a staring contest until the monster got bored and lumbered off. As it was she decided she was going to have to figure something else out. With a keen scientist’s eye she measured the breadth and height of the scorpion. Unless it was a lot more agile than it looked she didn’t think it would be able to fit into the aperture she was headed for. Her eyes slid away toward the underground tunnels and she estimated it would be a twenty-meter dash to the entrance. She wasn’t known for her running abilities, but decided it was a risk she was going to have to take.
Before she could move the beast appeared to reach the same conclusion. Kathryn took a half step back and fumbled for the phaser again, but her eyes were pinned on the scorpion. At the same moment that she moved the animal literally pounced. She just had time to notice that unlike a terran scorpion this animal had rear legs like those of a grasshopper that helped to propel it short distances.
The captain ran to the side and out of the way, firing her phaser at the same time. The ruby beam bounced harmlessly off the scorpion’s back and her eyes went wide in horror. Her brain helpfully demanded to know what else was on this planet that would have caused the creature to develop such a defense mechanism. Kathryn pushed the thought away when it swung back toward her and stabbed in her direction with the dual stingers.
A diving roll carried her out of the direct path and dirt flew up all around her from where the barbs hit the ground. She shook the dust out of her eyes just in time to see a pincer reaching for her. Kathryn jerked backward, but wasn’t quite fast enough this time and the hard shell of the claw struck her right hand. She cried out in pain when the partially healed bones snapped again for the second time in two days and the phaser went flying.
The scorpion lunged toward her again and Kathryn tried to crab-walk backward out of the way. Her feet slipped on the uneven terrain and she fell onto her back. As it turned out that was a fortunate accident. The fall put her directly underneath the scorpion and with the tails curled over its back it couldn’t sting her. The belly of the beast was half a meter above her and it couldn’t quite get at her with its mandibles as long as she stayed around the center portion of its body. As hard as the thing was squirming to grab hold of her with either pincers or mandibles that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Suddenly she felt something hard under her left shoulder and realized all of the thrashing had carried her into contact with the phaser.
The weapon hadn’t worked very well on the exoplating of the monster, but she knew the underbelly of an animal was usually much softer. With her right hand re-injured and in the current position she couldn’t grasp the phaser. Janeway knew she was going to have to take a chance on a risky move if she had any hope of getting hold of it. Either way she was going to have to do something fast before the animal managed to outmaneuver her. When the scorpion raised its head momentarily Kathryn lurched into a partial sitting position and grabbed for the phaser with her left hand. She got hold of it by the barrel just as the animal came back down. Apparently it had decided that since it couldn’t get hold of her it would try to crush her. The scorpion dropped against the dirt, pinning Kathryn against the sand and she grunted as all the air whooshed out of her lungs.
Oh no you don’t, she thought. I won’t go out so easily!
The scorpion’s rear legs prevented it from being able to lay flat. Janeway took advantage of that weakness by pulling her knees up and placing her feet against its belly. She pushed with all her strength and managed to get it to lift up about six inches. It was all the room she needed to twist the phaser around and grab hold of it properly. As soon as she had hold of it she pressed the trigger and fired. The scorpion recoiled violently, flinging itself away from her. It trembled once and then fell heavily to Janeway’s left. Warm fluid splashed against her forearm and Kathryn grunted in pain and lurched away. Garish blue blood soaked the sandy ground and had spattered onto her arm. The gore appeared to contain some kind of caustic chemical that was eating through her tunic and into her flesh. More than a little frightened by that Kathryn dropped to her knees and began rubbing the wound against the sand. While she did that she kept one eye on the scorpion and was relieved to see that it didn’t move, but it was several minutes before the pain in her arm began to fade.
Nothing else moved on the landscape and after a while she was reassured that the animal had been alone and that her arm would heal. Four small circles of flesh had been eaten away by the blue blood, but the wound didn’t look very deep. Now all she could think about was Larson. If one of those things somehow got inside the shuttle he wouldn’t have a chance. Janeway slung her equipment pack over her shoulder and fumbled to turn on the beacon with her injured hand. She grabbed the phaser and took off down the tunnel toward the Delta Flyer.
Kathryn ran all the way back. She stumbled a few times in the darkness and was panting before she came in sight of the shuttle. What she saw caused her to slide to a stop. The rear hatch on the shuttle was open and she clearly remembered closing it when she left.
Fearing the worst Janeway aimed her phaser toward the vessel and walked forward slowly. When she got closer she could see the hatch hadn’t been wrenched open. It looked like it had been opened from the inside and she wondered if Larson had awakened and come out to use the latrine.
"Lieutenant Larson?" she called out. All was silent so she tried again. "Pete?"
Still there was nothing and the captain cautiously entered the Delta Flyer. It took only seconds to determine that the vehicle was empty. The blankets had been pushed back on the cot, but there didn’t be any sign of a disturbance. Surely he hadn’t gone looking for her? Not in his condition.
"Lieutenant?" Janeway called out again as she walked back toward the rear exit. A dark spot near the lower ledge of the cargo entrance caught her eye and she trained the light from the wrist beacon on it.
Kathryn frowned as she crouched down on one knee for a better look. It was blood. Maybe he cut himself on some debris. She stepped outside the vessel near the area she had designated as a latrine and trained the light over it. Pete had definitely been out here to relieve himself. She flashed the light over the area carefully and found what she found froze her heart. More blood was pooled near the cave wall and she could clearly see drag marks under her own footprints where something large had been carried away. She had a very good idea what that something might have been.
"To discontinue the search would be premature. We haven’t yet exhausted all possibilities," Seven said with conviction. She didn’t understand why Commander Chakotay had called yet another staff meeting. They were wasting time talking when they could be looking for the captain. Seven was so infuriated by his betrayal that she could hardly stand to look at him.
Chakotay had a sad look pasted on his face and there were shadows under his eyes, but Seven overlooked those signs of physical distress as she concentrated on his words. They had been looking for the Delta Flyer and its small away team for only thirteen point two days. So far they had discovered nothing of the shuttle’s trajectory or proof that it had been destroyed. Until they found something definitive Seven thought they should continue.
So far the only one who agreed with her was Lieutenant Torres. The Klingon had been so adamant that Chakotay had ended up ordering the young woman to ‘sit down and shut up.’ She was doing so with difficulty and Seven could fairly hear her teeth grind together as their helmsman, Tom Paris, spoke up for the first time.
"I hate to agree with Chakotay, everyone knows what the captain’s done for me. But we’ve searched everywhere and some of those places more than once. I don’t think we have a choice."
"Obviously we have not searched everywhere," Seven pointed out, "or we would have located them."
Ensign Kim’s lip trembled and she wondered if he was going to cry. "Seven…I don’t want to leave them here anymore than you do. Captain Janeway means so much more to me…" His voice cracked and he cleared his threat before he could continue. "Anyway, Tom has a point. We can’t stay here forever and the captain would want to know we’re on our way home."
Seven looked over at Commander Tuvok who had remained stubbornly silent throughout the discussion. When she met his gaze he merely raised a Vulcan eyebrow in response. Apparently he’d decided to abstain and would go along with whatever they decided, but she wasn’t quite finished.
"Home? This vessel’s journey to Earth will continue for another thirty-six years. For all intents and purposes it is your home, but without Captain Janeway it is nothing. We cannot give up!"
"This isn’t a vote, Seven," Chakotay said as he leaned forward and put his elbows on the conference table. " I didn’t call you all here to debate the issue, but to inform you of my decision. We leave at the beginning of alpha shift tomorrow."
He had a look on his face she had come to know well. Further arguments would not dissuade him. Since they had been out looking for the shuttle all day and it was now the end of beta shift Seven clearly understood what he was saying. It was over. There would be no final chance to locate Janeway. Chakotay would install himself as captain and the ship would continue on. It was a decision she couldn’t accept. If Voyager would move on without Captain Janeway it would also move on without her. Seven shared one last look with Lieutenant Torres before she turned to address the nefarious Maquis at the head of the table.
"Very well." Her voice was calm, deceptively calm. But she was already planning exactly what supplies she would need and the steps necessary to implement the task ahead of her.
Seven stood and filed out of the conference room with the others. At this critical juncture she couldn’t do anything that would draw unwanted attention to her actions so she listened quietly to the others. From the yawns and wishes for goodnight they were intent on getting some sleep. Seven would be gone before they awakened. That was one good thing about being a former Borg drone; Voyager’s crew continually underestimated her.
She took the lift to cargo bay two, disappointed when the chief engineer didn’t attempt to speak with her. B’Elanna had said she would do whatever it took to retrieve the captain and if Seven chose to go after Janeway she would help. When the Klingon merely exited the turbolift on deck nine with her lover Seven was disappointed by the other woman’s change of heart.
She was greeted by the familiar glow of the alcove as she walked into the cargo bay and frowned as she considered the issue of regeneration. After making her arrangements she would have to enter at least a short cycle. It might take days to find Captain Janeway and after this last cycle she would have to rely on more human methods of rest.
Several empty cargo containers had been piled against the rear bulkhead of the bay and she pulled one down to hold the equipment she would need. Soon it was near overflowing with medical equipment, survival gear and rations, a phaser rifle and several handheld phasers. Seven also included a tricorder that she had modified to be much more sensitive than others of its type. When she had loaded everything she could think might be necessary her concerns turned to the more esoteric. The shuttle had disappeared near a massive G-type star and twin pulsars. If the captain managed to make an emergency landing somewhere, which is what Seven believed, any planetoids would be desert-like. Sand would cover the exterior and three-inch spiked heels would be inefficient. She needed to find more appropriate clothing for this mission.
She walked over to the computer console and began to research various garments that would be more suitable. So far it had taken only an hour to make her preparations, but she wasn’t comforted by the fact that it would have taken others at least twice as long. She felt every moment keenly and could almost sense Kathryn’s time running out. Just thinking such a thing caused her throat to constrict and she swallowed hard. Since Seven realized her true feelings for the stalwart captain she wondered how she could have gone so long without knowing. All those times playing velocity or engaged in late-night philosophical discussions and she had never guessed. Now all she could see was Janeway’s crooked grin and flashing blue-gray eyes. Thoughts of how her hair shown like fire under the artificial lights made Seven’s stomach tighten and her mouth go dry.
The former drone realized she had been staring into space thinking about Kathryn and began tapping console controls furiously. This lapse was unacceptable! She had preparations to make and security protocols to override if she intended to leave Voyager without being detected.
The doors to the cargo bay opened suddenly and Seven glanced over her shoulder to identify Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. He strode directly to her and glanced down at the display.
"Have you come to stop me?" she asked softly. He was the security chief and Seven knew he would do his duty, no matter the cost.
"No. I have come to assist you."
Seven stopped and looked at him fully. She raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry to which he responded. "I believe Commander Chakotay has made the correct decision. Voyager cannot remain at station-keeping indefinitely."
"Then why are you helping me?"
Tuvok took a moment to answer. When he finally did Seven was surprised to notice a slight darkening in the tips of his pointed ears.
"My loyalty is to the Federation, but my logic is flawed where Captain Janeway is concerned. I do not tell you this lightly, only so that you may understand my motivations."
"You have been friends for a long time."
Tuvok nodded and met her gaze and Seven understood he felt uncomfortable divulging such a private issue, but it did reassure her that she knew him well. He would do his duty, no matter the cost and his duty was to Captain Janeway.
He turned back to the console and said, "I believe this attire would be appropriate if we are required to initiate planet-fall."
The display showed desert camouflage fatigues, black combat boots and brown t-shirts. Tuvok had even programmed in headgear to protect them from the sun’s ultra violet rays, a wise precaution since Seven’s fair skin would easily burn. Seven nodded and said, "I will program the parameters for the garments into the replicator aboard the Tereshkova."
"While you do that I will begin bypassing security protocols."
"Do not forget to misalign Voyager’s targeting scanners. No doubt they will attempt to lock on a tractor beam once they learn of our departure."
Seven of Nine entered a two-hour regeneration cycle while Commander Tuvok went back to his quarters for a short nap. When he returned to the cargo bay Seven had already completed her cycle and had all their equipment ready. Tuvok overrode internal sensors long enough to transport the cargo container onto the shuttle. Seven closed down her console and they took the turbolift to deck ten and the hanger bay. They would change onboard the shuttle since any alterations in appearance would stand out and could raise unwanted questions. No one was in the control booth of the shuttlebay, but Seven hadn’t expected it to be manned during the gamma shift in a quiet region of space.
She stepped into the Tereshkova ahead of Tuvok and took the co-pilot’s seat. The commander sealed the hatch and wordlessly took the main controls. In moments the vessel was powered up and ready to go.
"Opening shuttlebay doors," Seven reported.
They could see the internal forcefield wink on before the backdrop of space. It was an automated response anytime the exterior doors were opened to prevent the bay from being exposed to the sudden vacuum. Tuvok lifted the shuttle from the deck and steered it through the forcefield. Seconds later the com system burst into life with an urgent hail from the bridge officer on night watch.
"This is Lieutenant Lang," the young woman said. "Return to Voyager and power down your engines!"
Neither of them chose to respond and moments later they watched as blue beams of light shot across their bow in both directions as Voyager’s crew tried repeatedly to lock on with a tractor beam. Seven ignored the capture attempt as she started to fine-tune their search pattern from the day before and Tuvok powered up the warp engines. The Tereshkova suddenly jumped to warp four and Seven put Voyager out of her mind. She wasn’t worried about the ship trying to pursue since she’d watched Tuvok temporarily shut down power feeds to Voyager’s engines.
"Lieutenant Paris was correct when he stated we have searched everywhere, but only in the region near the pulsars," Seven said.
"Our last known readings did indicate the Delta Flyer would be caught in the pulsars’ gravity."
"True, but the ion storm may have thrown them toward the star. Since we have yet to discover any signs of the shuttle near the pulsars it is a logical conclusion."
Tuvok considered the information briefly. "I concur. We have been searching in the wrong location. I will begin mapping a grid search pattern while you change your attire."
Now that they were away and there was no possibility of capture, Seven decided the commander could handle things for the moment. She nodded and left the forward compartment to follow his instructions. When she finished dressing Seven would take over the controls while the Vulcan changed his attire as well.
She stopped in front of the replicator and acquired her garments. The sight of the replicator reminded her of Janeway’s favorite beverage, coffee. The captain was notorious for drinking too much of the vile brew and Seven doubted she’d been able to enjoy it since the accident. She hesitated only a second before she began to key new parameters into the replicator and a moment later a silver thermos materialized on the grid. Replicating coffee to fill the container now would be premature, but just the sight of it made her feel closer to the captain. Before she had time to change her mind and recycle the thermos she took her garments, walked into the cargo hold and closed the door. She didn’t care if it remained open, but had learned that most humanoids preferred privacy when changing clothes. Although she didn’t understand the need she respected Tuvok for making the decision to aid her and would extend the courtesy. Seven quickly stripped off her biosuit and folded it onto the bench. Although she didn’t understand the need for modesty she was fastidious by nature and wouldn’t leave her garments lying on the deck.
The new clothing she held was unfamiliar and she puzzled over it for a moment before she drew on the socks and brown, two-toned trousers. She left the fly unbuttoned as she picked up another strip of white cotton and frowned over the purpose of such a garment.
"That’s to hold up your…um…breasts," an unexpected voice said from behind.
Seven whirled around with wide eyes and demanded, "State your reasons for being here!"
B’Elanna Torres was sitting up in a morgue drawer and it didn’t take a second to figure out that the Klingon had stowed away. "I told you I’d help if you went after the captain by yourself," she said climbing out of the drawer and trying to keep her eyes from bugging out at the sight of Seven’s half-naked body.
"I am not alone. Commander Tuvok is at the helm."
B’Elanna snorted. "I know that. As soon as you left I knew you would be up to something. I interfaced with the security sensors in the cargo bay as soon as I got to my quarters and watched you two set the whole thing up."
The engineer was already dressed in desert fatigues and said, "Need some help with that?"
Seven considered the request for one point six seconds. Lieutenant Torres had always shown an affinity for leaps in logic; abstract thinking. She was a singularly talented engineer and a Klingon warrior. Seven and Tuvok did not share these traits and her skills would be invaluable on this mission. Making up her mind quickly Seven answered in a word that not only accepted B’Elanna as a member of their group, but also her assistance with the confusing attire.
Soon Seven was dressed in a desert camouflage utility jacket and trousers, a brown t-shirt and black combat boots. She left the sleeves down because she insisted they would protect her from the sun of any planet on which they landed. B’Elanna accepted that excuse and the two walked back into the main compartment. The chief engineer shot the silver thermos on the replicator pad a curious look before her features tightened. Seven thought her expression had to do with the fact that Tuvok turned in the pilot’s seat and pinned the Klingon with an icy stare.
"What? There’s no point arguing about it, Tuvok. I’m here and I know we’re not going back to Voyager to drop me off. So get over it and let’s find the captain and Larson."
Seven resisted the urge to smile and took the shuttle controls while Tuvok went into the cargo hold to change. B’Elanna flopped into the seat next to her and tapped into the console to bring herself up to speed on their plan.
"Ah, you think the shuttle might have been pulled in the other direction by the sun?"
"Yes. The captain wanted to study the pulsars so the shuttle was initially on that heading. I believe the ion storm threw them off course and we were unable to detect a directional change because their engines were down. Voyager had no warp signature to follow."
Seven watched B’Elanna’s expression change as she studied the new search pattern the Vulcan had recently constructed. Torres was completely focused on the data and Seven knew the young woman was doing what she did best, making a leap of logic. Tuvok returned a few minutes later in his new apparel and stared at the data over the Klingon’s shoulder.
"Here," B’Elanna said, pointing at the grid pattern. "The captain would have been trying to outrun the front and they would still have been riding on inertia when the engines failed. Taking that speed into account with the intensity of the ion storm I think they would have been pulled toward the sun here."
Seven checked the new information the engineer entered into the screen and could see how the Delta Flyer would have been pulled around the star. "I believe that is what Lieutenant Paris would call a sling-shot effect."
Torres grinned at her choice of words. "Exactly. If that’s what happened they were pulled on the opposite side of the sun. Good work, Seven."
"It was your work, Lieutenant."
"Yeah, but if you hadn’t realized we were looking in the wrong place I wouldn’t have done it, would I?"
Starting to get confused by the phraseology Seven finally relented and merely said, "Thank you."
"If this data is accurate," Tuvok said, "we should begin our search in grid three alpha."
"That’s four hours away. If you two don’t mind I’m going to get a little shut-eye before we get there. It’s been a long day."
"Do you intend to return to the morgue drawer, Lieutenant?" Seven asked, unable to resist teasing the feisty Klingon. The two had never been close, but the last few days had given her a new appreciation for the gifted engineer.
B’Elanna grinned back at her and said; "I think I’ll take one of the fold-downs in the back this time. Just don’t try to wake me if I snore; I tend to hit first and open my eyes later."
While the chief engineer bunked down in the rear of the compartment Tuvok and Seven began working quietly in tandem. They shared an affinity for silences and worked well together without the need for speech. Seven began mapping the area on the other side of the sun and noting any habitable moons, planets or asteroids. She fed updated information regularly to her companion’s console and as they neared the region in question Tuvok would set a course for the most likely place the shuttle would have landed.
After almost two hours he spoke. "I believe the most logical choice will be the third moon from the largest asteroid."
The moon had an M-class atmosphere and was rich in natural resources. If the Delta Flyer were heavily damaged and unable to remain space-worthy Captain Janeway would have chosen such a location. Several mountain regions would also provide shelter if necessary. Although too far away for accurate sensor scans the moon was in an area where the shuttle might have broken loose from the sun’s gravity.
Their target was still more than two hours away and Seven continued to refine her data while she thought about the captain. Until now the human propensity for daydreaming had mystified her. From the moment the Borg had made her a liaison with Captain Janeway in the struggle against Species 8472 Seven had been wary of the woman, fascinated but wary. It was ironic now that all along the threat had been against her heart. With the realization of her love she had begun to look at past interactions with Janeway in a new light and in so doing she started to wonder what she should do when they found the captain. She knew what she wanted to do. She wanted to take Kathryn in her arms and hold onto her, to be reassured by the captain’s heartbeat and the heat of her skin. Seven wanted to be able to tell her how frightened she had been when the shuttle went missing and how she would never let her out of her sight again.
Seven took a heavy breath and admitted to herself that none of those scenarios was likely to happen. It was more probable that the captain would greet them with her trademark wry grin and ask what had taken them so long to find her. After they returned to Voyager the captain would need to rest and immediately retake command without ever guessing of Seven’s true feelings. Once again the former drone would be relegated to the circle of Janeway’s friends, but not one close enough to get inside the barriers the captain had long ago established. It was a bleak outlook as far as Seven was concerned, but one she would happily endure if it meant the captain was alive and well.
For almost two weeks Kathryn Janeway had been stranded on a desert-like planetoid with no one for company except some mutant killer scorpions. They probably weren’t really mutated or even scorpions, she thought, but they were definitely killers. The only thing she’d found of the lieutenant dragged away by one of the creatures was his combadge.
Every day since then she began by making the trek to verify the emergency beacon was still intact and functioning properly. Twice the sandstorms were so bad she felt like the flesh was being stripped from her bones. On those days Janeway wore an environmental suit to make the journey to the transmitter. She would have preferred to wait the storms out in the safety of the shuttle, but couldn’t take the chance Voyager would pass within range at just that moment. With no choice but to brave the storms Kathryn had to tune the tricorder to the emergency signal to keep from going off course. In addition to the random storms anytime she left the shuttle she had to keep a careful watch for the scorpions. Then there was the problem of the rations. Even without Lieutenant Larson they were dwindling quickly. Janeway had limited herself to one ration bar a day and was always hungry.
She had gotten lucky on the third day after crashing on the barren rock and discovered a subterranean fresh water source near the cooled lava tube so thirst was no longer an issue. Thankful for that stroke of fortune Kathryn still worried what would happen if she weren’t rescued soon. The only other life forms on the planetoid seemed to be the scorpions and eventually she would have no choice but to find out if they were edible. Thinking about it made her skin crawl.
When Janeway wasn’t checking the homing signal or dodging killer bugs she was working on the shuttle’s systems. And at night she dreamed of Seven of Nine. Iron discipline kept thoughts of the young woman from overwhelming her during the waking hours, but her sleep was a different story. Kathryn knew that no matter what else happened after she was rescued she would try to win Seven’s heart. Larson’s death had convinced her as nothing else could that life wasn’t worth living if you had to do it alone and love was worth the risk.
Unfortunately, if she didn’t get off the planet soon she might never have the chance to take that risk. Minor tremors had begun a week ago. Starfleet Headquarters was located in San Francisco so Kathryn usually wasn’t worried about a minor quake. On earth tectonic plates shifting around typically caused small tremors or even earthquakes, but they could also be signs of volcanic activity. On this particular planet it seemed much more likely the tremors indicated a building eruption. She tried not to worry about the volcanic activity and concentrate on the things she could control.
The morning of the eleventh day Kathryn was tucked under a relay panel trying to repair the shuttle’s systems. She had cannibalized everything she could, but so far couldn't generate so much as a single volt of power. That didn’t keep her from being hopeful and persistent and finally her dogged determination paid off. She heard a beep, muted from where she was under the console, and frowned as she wondered if she’d imagined it. Janeway climbed out of the small compartment and was met by the red glow of emergency lights around the lower portion of the bulkheads. She breathed a huge sigh of relief and sat down at the sensor control station. The detail was unbelievable. With the tunnels open to the surface the benomyte interference was gone. She could easily read the signal beacon and a nest of approximately twenty scorpions less than a kilometer away. Kathryn shuddered and turned the sensors farther away in search of an oasis of some kind. What she found instead made her heart thump in excitement. It was a ship. The metallic alloy was unmistakable.
Probably crashed here too, but I wonder when. I’m not reading any life signs.
Janeway fine-tuned the scan and her eyes widened in disbelief. The vessel’s metallic structure had a Borg signature.
"No! I’m telling you we’ve already been over that area."
They had been searching for the Delta Flyer for two days and Seven was starting to get cranky. Lieutenant Torres’ comment didn’t help matters any and she was just barely able to hold back a sharp retort. She hadn’t regenerated since leaving Voyager and had only been able to sleep for a few hours at a time. On top of that the engineer kept pointing out that they were running out of places to look and that it was time to ‘think outside the box’. Seven was irritated at the thought of B’Elanna deliberately using vague colloquialisms to confuse her, but she understood the other woman’s meaning.
"Very well. Perhaps the captain and Lieutenant Larson were not able to chose a landing site. Perhaps the shuttle’s systems were so heavily damaged they needed to set down at the first available planet."
Commander Tuvok said, "May I remind you that we have already searched the most reasonable landing sites."
"Then it is time to investigate the least likely."
"What’d you have in mind?"
"There are four planetoids and asteroids with mineral compositions that prohibit scans. We discounted these possibilities since they would also prevent a distress signal from reaching orbit."
"She’s right," Torres said, "but we’d have to enter their atmospheres to get any readings."
"Then I suggest we begin."
They compared the four planets and asteroids to the direction the ion storm would have forced the shuttle in relation to the force of the sun’s gravity. The elliptical trajectory of pulling away from that force narrowed it down to two choices. Tuvok set a course to the nearest moon, which was three hours away. B’Elanna manned sensors while Seven took the science station. All three were tense and quiet during the journey. They had been looking for Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Larson for weeks, taken a shuttle without authorization and now it all came down to these final two chunks of space rock. Every other celestial body had been investigated and if they didn’t find their missing crew here it was over. There would be nowhere left to look and they would have no choice but to conclude the shuttle had been destroyed.
B’Elanna glanced at Seven and was actually worried for the young woman. They’d never been friends. Hell, sometimes she was convinced Seven was still ninety percent Borg. Or she had been until she found out the young woman loved Captain Janeway. That simple fact shouldn’t have made such a big difference, and in fact there really wasn’t anything different about her, B’Elanna realized. The only thing that had changed was her perception.
Now she could easily see the worry on the other woman’s pale features and it made her wonder if the problem all along had been her own prejudice. Torres looked away from Seven and back at her console feeling sick and ashamed. As a child, half human and half Klingon, she’d always been made to feel like an outsider. She had always had to work harder and be smarter just to be accepted much less welcome anywhere. If anyone knew how it felt to be unfairly judged it was B’Elanna Torres. It was hard to accept that she’d been treating Seven the same way for two years and all she had to do was look at Seven, really look, and see how much she loved Janeway.
She remembered the silver thermos that sat on the replicator pad and realized something else; Seven of Nine was a big mushball.
Torres grinned and wondered how she could make up for her past behavior. An apology was out. Seven would brush the words away as irrelevant. It would have to be a whole lot of little gestures over a period of time. Satisfied with her decision B’Elanna resolved to begin with the single most important thing she could do for the former drone; find Captain Janeway.
Janeway was getting very low energy readings from the Borg vessel, but still couldn’t detect any life signs. She’d been tracking the signal for over an hour and the closer she got the more convinced she was that the vessel had crashed. Normally if a Borg ship went down the surviving drones would erect a signal for the Collective to trace. Since Kathryn didn’t see any emergency signals being emitted by the ship she could only imagine two scenarios. Either all of the drones had died in the initial impact or the Borg had already come for their stranded counterparts. Being notorious for efficiency the Collective would have left the vessel behind if it were too badly damaged. Whatever the case, Janeway hoped to find something she could use to repair the Delta Flyer.
A power converter for the warp engines, lots and lots of undamaged circuitry, she speculated. Who knows? Maybe I can find some dilithium on board.
Given enough time and the proper equipment she might even get the shuttle repaired. The biggest initial problem would be to get the replicator working so she could create miscellaneous parts that needed to be replaced.
Lost in thought Kathryn climbed over yet another rocky rise. The sun beat down harshly and she stopped to wipe the sweat out of her eyes and take a sip of water from her canteen. She wore her tunic to protect her arms from sunburn, but had stripped her t-shirt off earlier and pulled it over her head. The sides hung down to keep most of the sun off her face but she thought she was still going to get a nice burn before it was over.
As she cleared the top of the ridge Kathryn got her first look at the vessel. It was just a probe and even from a distance she could tell it had broken into large pieces when it hit the surface. Hull fragments were scattered over a two hundred meter area and Kathryn felt her heart sink. It was doubtful she would find anything useful in the wreckage, but she was here and she decided to go ahead and check the interior.
The Tereshkova broke through the thermosphere of the moon and Seven got her first look at the barren surface. There was nothing to see except sand, volcanic peaks and impact craters.
"I really hope they weren’t forced down on this rock," Torres said from behind her. "All I can get on sensors are volcanoes. There’s even a super volcano on the eastern grid that looks like it’s going to blow in the next few days."
Seven knew the eruption of a super volcano was very rare on most worlds and usually an extinction level event. The ash thrown into the atmosphere from such a seismic blast would cause all life to suffocate before it triggered a volcanic winter.
"Are there any signs of the Delta Flyer?" Tuvok asked from the pilot’s seat.
"No, but it’s hard to get a clear signal with all this benomyte."
Seven ignored the others when she saw a blip on the science console. She had to blink to assure herself what she saw was really there and not a product of what she wanted to see. "I have detected a homing signal." She looked up and met the engineer’s gaze. "It is a Starfleet emergency beacon."
B’Elanna howled in triumph and stood up to thump Tuvok on the back. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow in response, but Seven thought he felt as relieved as she did. She tapped her combadge to open a communications signal.
"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway."
Her voice cracked, but no one commented. When there was no response to her hail Seven repeated it, but there was still no answer.
Torres sat back down at the sensor console and started trying to locate the missing crewmembers. Commander Tuvok continued to hail Janeway while Seven started scanning for humanoid life signs.
"I’ve got the Delta Flyer," Torres said, "It’s buried under two kilotons of benomyte about six kilometers from here, but it’s weird. I wouldn’t even have found it if there wasn’t some kind of tunnel leading from it and directly to the surface."
Seven had found the same information and frowned as she considered the possibilities. There was only one conclusion. "The corridor is artificial; someone created it. They are alive."
"I hate to burst your bubble, but if they’re alive why the hell can’t we find them?"
"We have an additional problem." Tuvok was looking out the forward viewscreen and with a feeling of dread Seven followed his gaze.
"It is a Borg probe."
"What? Why didn’t it show up on sensors?"
"There is nothing to fear, Lieutenant," Seven reassured her. "The vessel is over three hundred years old."
"That’s a relief!"
An idea occurred to Seven and she turned toward the Vulcan. "Commander, if Captain Janeway discovered this vessel she may have gone inside to investigate. Borg craft are heavily shielded and would interfere with any communications signals."
"I must point out that the odds of Captain Janeway being inside the vessel at the exact moment of our hail are two hundred thousand to one."
"Hey, it’s worth a shot. What have we got to lose?"
Seven merely raised her optical implant in agreement and Tuvok was hard-pressed to argue. "Very well. Initiate landing procedures."
Captain Janeway had been wandering through the Borg probe for hours. So far she’d located a cracked transwarp coil, one barely functioning power distribution node and more desiccated drone corpses than she could count. The energy she picked up on the tricorder was nothing more than the last dregs of power from a regeneration alcove. There wasn’t even the chilling green glow she was so accustomed to on a Borg ship. At last she had no choice but to admit there was nothing here she could use.
Kathryn worked her way through the debris toward a rupture in the forward compartment, thinking the situation was just going from bad to worse. She stepped out onto the sandy surface and heard a low, growling whine. Was another sand storm brewing?
Janeway shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand and squinted toward the western sky. At first she couldn’t see anything, but then the sunlight glinted brightly off a metallic surface. She froze with her heart in her throat, her eyes fixed on the incredible sight of a Starfleet shuttlecraft.
Standing rooted to the spot she could only watch as the Tereshkova landed a few meters away. She could see Commander Tuvok through the forward viewscreen and over his shoulder, already moving toward the hatch, was a figure that took her breath away. For weeks she’d dreamed of Seven; living with her and loving her. Even before the crash she had decided to make her feelings known to the young woman. Now that she was finally here all Kathryn wanted to do was look at her, to touch her and gaze into her eyes.
The shuttle finally landed and the hatch opened. Kathryn discovered that somehow she had moved within a few feet of the portal. B’Elanna Torres rushed out as soon as there was a large enough opening and grabbed her in a bear hug.
"Captain! It’s so good to see you!"
The Klingon swung her around in joyful reunion before she sat the stunned woman on her feet. Kathryn felt the grin on her lips, but the smile faded as her eyes came to rest on Seven of Nine. Their gazes met and held and everything else fell away. Nothing mattered except what she found in the intense blue eyes. What Kathryn saw looking back at her was the answer to every question her heart had ever asked. She found worry for her safety along with tenderness, but most of all she saw love. Seven wore desert fatigues and other than her velocity outfit it was the first time the captain had seen her in something besides a biosuit. She was even more beautiful than Kathryn remembered.
She stepped closer to Seven and reached up to gently cup her cheek. Seven’s eyes closed for a moment and she leaned into the caress. When she opened them again Kathryn saw tears glistening in their depths.
"I knew you’d come," she said softly.
Lieutenant Torres cleared her throat and broke the emotional moment. "Like I said, Captain, it’s good to see you. But there’s a huge eruption brewing on this moon. Let’s grab Larson and get out of here."
The reminder of her lost crewman was a painful one, tempered by the joy of being reunited with Seven and the rest of Voyager’s crew. "I’m afraid Larson didn’t make it."
B’Elanna’s face fell slightly and she said, "Damn. Then I guess there’s nothing left to do but get off this rock."
Captain Janeway released Seven’s face and took her Borg enhanced hand. "That sounds like a great idea. We can send Voyager back for the Delta Flyer."
"Assuming we can find her," the engineer muttered under her breath.
Kathryn ignored the comment and looked at Tuvok, who’d been quiet throughout the entire exchange. "It’s good to see you, old friend."
"I am gratified to find you well, Captain."
She clasped his shoulder for a second before she dropped her arm and walked toward the shuttle, but she refused to let go of Seven’s hand. She couldn’t have released her if she tried. Kathryn was overwhelmed with relief at being rescued and with the discovery of having her heart’s desire waiting for her. Already she could feel the mantle of command settling on her shoulders and knew the necessary distance from Seven would come soon enough.
Janeway settled into a seat and was surprised when Seven fussed over her harness, making sure she was strapped in securely.
"You have lost weight," the young woman finally said in a shaky voice.
Kathryn supposed she did look like quite a sight. She was sunburned, disheveled and hadn’t had a proper meal in weeks. "I’m all right. It’s nothing some food and a hot bath won’t cure."
Seven smiled gently and brushed her fingers across Kathryn’s jaw before she wandered away. The young woman went over to the replicator, but the captain couldn’t see what she was doing.
"Lieutenant, what did you mean when you said if we find Voyager?"
"Oh, nothing." B’Elanna flopped down in the co-pilot’s seat while Tuvok manned the helm and prepared for take-off.
Unsatisfied with such a vague response Janeway said, "Commander?"
The Vulcan answered while piloting away from the moon. "Commander Chakotay discontinued the search for the Delta Flyer three days ago."
"Oh yeah," Torres said cheerfully. "So we stole the Tereshkova and came after you ourselves. Since we left in the middle of gamma shift Voyager’s probably half way back to the alpha quadrant by now."
Captain Janeway blinked at the information, but couldn’t find it in her to be angry that they’d disobeyed orders. If they hadn’t she would have died on the volcanic world. "In that case, thank you."
Seven walked back over and the scent of coffee assaulted Kathryn’s senses. The former drone held a small, black mug and a thermos of coffee. "I thought this would please you."
"Oh, bless you!" Kathryn took a larger sip than common sense dictated and her eyes watered as the liquid burned a trail down her throat. "I could kiss you for this."
"I would allow it." Seven’s response surprised her. She’d seen her feelings returned in Seven’s eyes, but hadn’t expected this open flirtation.
I have to remember that she’s inexperienced, not ignorant.
"Get a room, you two," Torres groused. "Have a seat, Romeo."
Kathryn watched Seven turn back toward the Klingon engineer and lightly slap her on the back of the head before she sat down and buckled her harness. Apparently B’Elanna was just as taken aback. Her mouth gaped open as she stared stupidly at the Borg for a moment.
"Oh no, you did not just do that!"
"I have observed you strike Lieutenant Paris in such a fashion when he speaks out of turn. It seemed appropriate."
Janeway could see the teasing glint in their eyes and wondered what had happened to change their antagonistic relationship.
"That’s all right, Borg. You just wait, I’ll get you back."
The shuttle lifted off and spun around before it shot off toward space. Kathryn took another sip from her mug and took another look across the narrow aisle toward Seven. Again she was struck by the change in the young woman’s attire.
"You look wonderful. Camouflage suits you."
"Thank you," Seven said warmly. "I must admit I find these garments more comfortable than my biosuits. Although the dermaplastic suits are not restrictive they can have unfortunate consequences for the crew."
Torres perked up as she shamelessly eavesdropped. "You mean like when Ayala fell down the Jeffries tube when you first started wearing that blue and gray number? I never did figure out why the doctor designed your clothes like that. Any ideas?"
"My biosuits help to support my implants."
"And those heels? You can’t tell me those things have to look like that. I think he just likes looking at women in high heels. When we get back you should ask if he couldn’t design something a little more practical."
The engineer turned back to the front and Seven spoke in a low voice only Captain Janeway could hear. "Would you like for me to speak with the doctor, Kathryn?"
The captain smiled and leaned across the narrow aisle between them. "I like how my name sounds when you say it." The former drone flushed but her eyes shown with an internal fire. "As for your clothing, the decision is yours though I must admit I’ve wondered about the heels too. I guess it boils down to what’s comfortable or practical depending on the situation."
From the look of confusion on the young woman’s face Kathryn didn’t think she’d helped to clarify anything. "I will give it further thought."
"While you’re considering it will you think about something else? After we get back to Voyager and things settle down, would you have dinner with me?"
"Are you asking me for a date, Captain Janeway?" There was a tiny smile on her face and Kathryn realized she was being teased.
"I might be at that."
"Then I accept."
Janeway relaxed into the hot water and sighed in relief as heated bubbles caressed her skin. The journey back to her beloved Voyager had taken nine hours, during which time Seven had made sure she ate. They were only Starfleet ready-to-eat meal packs, but the food was hot and easily beat the dry rations on which she’d been subsisting. Best of all she could eat as much as she wanted. Since her stomach had shrunk that turned out to be not very much at all. The spices for her meals were the warm, loving looks Seven kept casting her way.
Voyager was waiting for them when the shuttle shot back around the sun and Chakotay hadn’t been pleased that three crewmen so readily disobeyed orders. There wasn’t really much he could say since their mission had been successful so he settled for mumbling under his breath about mutiny. Although the first officer welcomed Janeway back and stated how happy he was to see her alive she got the feeling he was a little disappointed.
When did that happen, Kathryn wondered. How did we go from friends to adversarial tolerance? Does he just feel like he can do a better job or is there something else I’m missing? Is it about Seven?
From the moment they’d stepped off the Tereshkova the change in her relationship with Seven had been obvious. Neither of them did anything overt or unprofessional; they didn’t even touch but Chakotay wasn’t stupid and Seven was never more than a step away from the captain. Then there was the fact that Janeway had difficulty keeping her feelings out of eyes when she looked at the young woman. Two weeks alone on a desert planet had been plenty of time to reevaluate her priorities, even if she knew she would settle back in to life on Voyager quickly enough.
Kathryn had seen the knowledge dawn on Chakotay’s face. He’d flushed darkly and she knew immediately he was jealous.
That’s just too bad, she thought, resting her head against the rim of the tub. How could he think Seven would be remotely interested in him after everything he’s said about her in the past? Janeway was just happy Seven was interested in her and this time tomorrow night she had a date planned with the amazing young woman.
The door chime to the captain’s ready room sounded and Janeway looked up before she responded. "Come in."
Commander Chakotay walked in bearing a data padd. "Here’s the report on the shuttle." He came to a stiff halt in front of her desk and held out the padd.
Janeway was getting tired of his pettiness and didn’t invite him to sit. Instead she reached for the padd and listened to his verbal report while she scanned the data.
"The Delta Flyer is back in the shuttlebay, it only took three hours to dig around it and put pattern enhancers in place. The hull took heavy damage and most of the internal systems will have to be completely rebuilt. Lieutenant Torres estimate repairs will take twelve weeks."
"Twelve weeks? We could build a new shuttle in that time!"
Janeway looked up at the brusque tone and saw her first officer staring at the bulkhead over her shoulder. She sighed and put the padd on the desk before considering how to approach the situation. As the silence drew on he still refused to meet her gaze.
"All right, Commander. Out with it."
"Captain?" He slipped and glanced down before quickly pinning his eyes back on the wall.
Kathryn picked up her coffee cup and took a sip. She allowed time to stretch out until he finally began to fidget. "You seem to be a little out of sorts since my return, Commander. Care to discuss it?"
His jaw flexed as his teeth ground together in annoyance before he responded. "I’m glad you’re all right and safely back on board. Voyager needs you."
"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
Janeway thought that was a sure sign he was about to say something she wouldn’t like. She toyed with the idea of tossing him out on his ear and letting him brood but in the end said, "By all means."
That was all the permission he needed and it was obvious he’d barely been holding his tongue. "Are you going to do anything about Tuvok, Torres and Seven?"
Her eyebrows raised in surprise. Whatever she’d expected it wasn’t that, but the simple question told her a wealth of information.
Chakotay was definitely angry and it wasn’t just because three crewmen had gone off on their own without authorization. It was just the only tangible complaint he could make.
"They went against my direct orders," he said, leaning forward to rest his knuckles on the surface of her desk. He did meet her eyes now and the expression was confrontational. "I was in command of Voyager at the time and I made the decision that it was time to move on."
"Oh, I’m well aware of that. Are you disappointed they came back for me, Chakotay?" Her voice was soft, but the tone dangerous. In his anger he missed it.
"That’s not what this is about and you know it! You would never have let them get away with something like this!"
"No, I wouldn’t. But I’m not you." Janeway stood until they were eye-level. "I heard about your unique brand of command while I was gone, how you wanted to leave only hours after the accident without bothering to make even a cursory search."
"I thought the shuttle had been destroyed. I thought you were dead!"
"You didn’t care!"
Chakotay recoiled like he’d been struck. "That’s not true!"
"It’s not? Well, that’s certainly what it looks like to me; how do you think it looked to the crew? The first officer doesn’t even care enough about the captain and another crewman to look for them? You want to know what this is about? It’s about loyalty. But maybe that’s a foreign concept to you."
"How can you say that?"
The wounded tone wasn’t a put-on. Kathryn could tell by his expression that it was genuine. "I know you thought you were doing the right thing, but try to look at it from the crew’s point of view. As soon as the accident happened you wanted to leave the sector."
"I thought you’d been killed," he repeated weakly. "I didn’t want to put anyone else at risk. What would you have done?"
"If it had been you? I would have searched for as long as it took. There would have to have been concrete evidence of a disaster before I gave up," she said, her voice resolute. "We have become much more than a crew, Chakotay. After everything we’ve been through in the last five years we’ve become a family."
"And family doesn’t leave each other behind."
Kathryn smiled; glad she had apparently reached him. "Then you understand."
"No, not really."
The smile vanished and her eyes widened in shock. "Don’t get me wrong, I do understand about family and maybe I let my ego get in the way, but that’s really not all there is to it. I just feel Starfleet officers shouldn’t be allowed to break the rules so easily without consequences."
"I can see why you’d feel that way, Chakotay, but I can’t punish them for coming after me. I’m afraid it’s something we’re just going to have to disagree on."
Chakotay nodded and although Kathryn knew they hadn’t resolved the issue to his satisfaction at least he was mature enough to let it go, at least for now. "As for the ego thing don’t feel unique," she said graciously, "it happens to me all the time. That’s why I need people around to help me consider all the alternatives."
"Like Seven of Nine? I noticed things seemed different between you two on the hanger deck."
"Do you have a problem with that?"
Chakotay thought about his response before he finally shrugged. "I have to admit that I don’t understand. You’re relationship with her has always been unique. You’ve definitely put up with more from her than anyone else but I just thought you were friends."
"We are friends or rather we were." Kathryn dragged a hand through her hair and sat back down. She indicated with a wave for him to sit as well. Finally she settled for breaking things down to the most basic issue. "I love her. She loves me; at least I think she does."
"Aren’t you worried how the crew will react?"
"I think the crew would want me to be happy. What about you?"
Instead of answering he asked, "What about protocol?"
Now she was starting to get angry. "There aren’t any regulations against me getting involved with someone."
"No, but it is considered bad form for a captain to get intimately involved with a member of their crew."
"That might be true if we were home, but we’re not! I love her and if there’s one thing I know after spending two weeks on that hellhole it’s that I don’t want to live the rest of my life alone. I don’t want to look back twenty years from now to see her married to someone else and curse myself for not having the guts to try. And why the hell are you smiling?"
Chakotay tried to wipe the grin off his face, but his dark eyes still sparkled. "I just wanted to hear you say it out loud, Kathryn, just so you won’t change your mind later. For what it’s worth I agree with you completely."
"What? You think I’d change my mind if things got difficult?"
"Not if they get difficult," he disagreed. "Let’s face it, you’re not one to just give up if things get hard. But you might end a relationship if you thought it was better for her."
"Maybe I would have before," she allowed, suddenly relieved she hadn’t thrown him in the brig earlier for wanting to leave them behind.
"That was before I had to wrestle giant scorpions or face starving to death if I hadn’t been rescued. I’ve been given a second chance and I don’t intend to waste it."
"I’m glad to hear it."
"Me too. Now if you don’t mind, I need to run or I’m going to be late."
"A date with Seven?"
"The first of many, I hope."
"You must have something pretty special planned."
"I do. I’ve been planning it for weeks." Janeway decided to confide a small part of her plan in the interests of mending fences between them. "Do you remember the date she had with Lieutenant Chapman?"
"I remember it was a complete disaster."
Chakotay chuckled and Kathryn did too. It felt good to laugh and helped ease the stress caused by the last few weeks. "I intend to recreate that night and hopefully I’ll have a little better luck than he did."
"Sandrine’s is a public program. Are you comfortable with the crew strolling in and out on your first date?"
"I don’t intend to make a public display if that’s what you mean. Holodeck one will not be open to the crew tonight. It’ll be just me, Seven and the Sandrine’s characters…minus the gigolo of course."
"Of course," he smiled. "So you don’t want to try and keep your relationship with her a secret?"
"I’m sure B’Elanna has already disseminated the fact that we’re going to be seeing each other and to be honest I have no problem with the crew knowing about us. Besides, Seven deserves the best I have to offer. Part of that means being up front and open with the crew."
"You both deserve the best. I’ll try to keep anything from disturbing you," he said standing up to leave.
"I’d appreciate it."
Seven of Nine stood outside holodeck one at precisely eighteen-thirty hours. She wore a lavender dress with long sleeves. The garment’s hemline ended six inches above her knees and showed off well-muscled legs. It was the same dress she’d worn during her one disastrous date with Lieutenant Chapman. Captain Janeway had insisted she wear the dress and as yet Seven couldn’t understand why although she was sure the reasons would be made apparent throughout the evening.
One thing she did know was that both women had similar feelings for each other and this night would begin their exploration of those emotions. Just the thought of it was enough to make her blood rush like an unchecked warp core breach through her veins. Seven had freely acknowledged she loved Kathryn Janeway, but to have those feeling so openly returned was more than she could ever have hoped for.
Trying to quell the nervous anticipation, Seven took a deep breath and broke the sensor plane that would open the automatic doors. Light, classical music filled Sandrine’s establishment and after a quick look she was relieved to see a holographic character at the piano. Sandrine was behind the bar polishing glasses. The artificial lights reflected garishly on her overdone make-up and Seven looked away to take in the other occupants of the room. The gigolo had been re-programmed to be a waiter and the obnoxious Kati ambassador from the last fiasco was noticeably absent. There was just enough noise from the holograms to lend an air of authenticity to the pub and she began to relax.
That first unsuccessful foray into romance had been motivated by a desire to please Janeway, to show her that she could understand romance and she was convinced that it had failed because she was inexperienced in such endeavors. Unlike that last time, this date was with the only person with whom she truly wanted to be intimate.
Seven looked around the room and realized that the only other real person in the room was Kathryn Janeway. The captain stood at the same table Chapman had designated as the best table in the house, but unlike that other time her first look at Kathryn literally took her breath away.
Kathryn stood looking at her with a warm, inviting expression. She wore a white tuxedo and it was with a jolt that Seven recognized the apparel as the same worn when the Hirogen had taken over the ship and forced them to reenact World War II on the holodeck. There was no doubt the feminine version of a tuxedo flattered Janeway’s figure and Seven felt her tongue cleave dryly to the roof of her mouth. She forced herself to step forward and take Kathryn’s outstretched hand.
"Seven, you look wonderful."
"You look wonderful as well, Kathryn." The words seemed inadequate and for a moment she worried that she had said the wrong thing. It was the first time she’d used the captain’s given name and it was without invitation, but from the smile she received she decided it had been exactly the right thing to say.
Kathryn held Seven’s chair and the young woman smiled. She was familiar with this custom since Neelix had performed a similar action when introducing her to food consumption for the first time. She sat down and waited while Kathryn took the chair opposite and placed a napkin on her lap.
"Can I interest you in some champagne?"
An ice bucket sat next to their table and held a frosted, green bottle. Seven responded without thinking. "Synthehol impairs my cortical function."
The champagne and her response were exactly as they’d been on her previous date with the junior crewman, but Janeway’s reaction was completely opposite. Where before Chapman had nervously asked if it was all right that he imbibe, Kathryn merely smiled and said, "I think a little impairment would be just what the doctor ordered. It’ll help us both relax."
"You are apprehensive as well?"
"Of course." Kathryn poured a small amount of champagne into two glasses and passed one across to Seven. "The woman of my dreams is finally sitting across the table from me having dinner, a romantic dinner. Of course I’m nervous."
Strangely, her admission helped Seven feel more relaxed and she took the offered glass. "I am the woman of your dreams?"
"Oh yes. I’ve dreamt of you for a very long time."
Kathryn’s soft voice and shining eyes held Seven captive. For long moments she could think of nothing to say until she finally asked, "Why did you never say anything?"
"Duty? Some misguided idea that if I actually allowed myself to be happy personally it would somehow make me less of a captain. I’ve come to realize how wrong I’ve been. If I’d continued to ignore my feelings I think I would have been so much poorer for it. What about you? Why did you never say anything?"
"Until recently I did not realize what I felt for you was love. I knew only that your presence fulfilled me in some way that was separate and distinct from anyone else. When the shuttle disappeared I felt…devastated. If Commander Chakotay had not authorized the search I would have taken a shuttle to find you anyway."
"That’s exactly what you did," Kathryn pointed out dryly.
"Yes," Seven said softly. "I realized my true emotions for you while retrofitting the Tereshkova for the search. I knew then that I would not give up until I found you."
"I’m grateful for that," Kathryn said, then, "There’s something you should know before we progress any further tonight. I love you, Seven of Nine. I have for a very long time and I think that I will for the rest of my days."
Seven’s lips curved into a full smile that caused Kathryn to gasp. "Then we are in agreement."
Kathryn took a sip of champagne and the former drone followed suit, though Seven was careful to limit herself to a small sip. The waiter suddenly appeared at their table and again Seven was astonished. On the previous occasion she had been required to order the server over in a loud voice. Had Janeway done a better job programming the characters than the doctor or had her rank made the difference?
She was so distracted by the idea that she didn’t realize Janeway had ordered their meals until the waiter moved away. "Was Commander Chakotay very upset that we disobeyed orders?"
"It’s nothing he won’t get over," Kathryn shrugged and reached over to take Seven’s hand. "But I don’t want to talk about him. Tonight is just about us."
"I believe I would like that very much."
Long moments were spent simply staring into each other’s eyes. Then the server was back and the magic was broken. He bore two huge platters and when he lowered one in front of Seven she was disconcerted to find a large, steamed lobster. Suddenly she was nervous again.
"Kathryn, my previous attempt to consume a creature of this type was unsuccessful."
"Don’t worry. I’ll help you through. Let me show you how to do it."
To Seven’s surprise Kathryn scooted her chair around the table to sit beside her. She grabbed hold of the lobster and broke off the lower portion of the exoskeleton. Then Kathryn picked up an odd-shaped utensil and split the tail section all the way down the middle.
"You just have to use the right amount of pressure," Kathryn was saying. She put down the hooked utensil and picked up a small fork.
After skewering a small piece of lobster meat with the fork Kathryn dipped it into melted butter and then offered the morsel to her date.
Seven regarded the offering and the slightly challenging look in Janeway’s eyes before she opened her mouth to allow Kathryn to feed her. An explosion of buttery, velvety flavors combined with the sweet lobster went off in her mouth and Seven actually groaned at the first taste.
"I had no idea! Now I understand."
"What do you understand?" Kathryn asked softly.
"Lieutenant Chapman told me lobster was an Earth delicacy. At the time I thought he was in error."
"I take it the lobster is acceptable then?"
She knew Kathryn was teasing by using Seven’s own phrase against her, but she didn’t mind. "It is more than acceptable. It is wonderful, although it does seem rather…messy."
"Oh, I don’t know," Kathryn chuckled, "I rather think it’s worth a little work."
She chose that moment to look up from her plate and into Seven’s blue eyes. From the intensity of her expression Seven wasn’t sure Janeway was speaking of the lobster.
They consumed their meal slowly and Seven was now completely comfortable. Kathryn’s choice of dinner had made her tense, but now that the hurdle had been so easily overcome she realized she should have known it would not be the same as her date with Chapman.
"What is it?"
"You were smiling, just a little."
"I was thinking this date is more successful than my last social encounter even though most of the elements have been duplicated, including the food."
"Did you ever consider it could be the company that’s made all the difference?"
Kathryn licked some stray butter off her thumb and Seven’s stomach flip-flopped. She wondered briefly if the environmental controls had gone off line.
"Of that there is no question."
Kathryn seemed to become aware of Seven’s eyes pinned to her mouth. She licked her lips nervously and glanced down at the table. "Are you finished with dinner?"
"Yes," Seven answered readily, wondering what Kathryn had in mind next.
"Good, because I’d really like to dance with you."
With the comment came the understanding that Kathryn had deliberately recreated all of the elements of Seven’s previous date as well as why she had done it. She had wanted to show Seven that dating was all about being with the right person.
I am with the right person, she thought. She is everything I could ever need.
"I would enjoy dancing with you, Kathryn."
As soon as the couple stood the piano player switched to a soft version of ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’. Seven expected Kathryn to hold her loosely and was surprised when a strong arm came around her waist to pull her close. Janeway took her right hand and held it clasped against her chest. They exchanged soft smiles, tender touches and gentle whispers of breath as they began to sway to the music. Seven closed her eyes and felt Kathryn’s cheek against her own. Her heart beat so rapidly it was difficult to breath, but it was the most amazing sensation she could remember. She felt the heat of Kathryn’s body and the soft rounded pressure of breasts pushing against her.
Kathryn pulled away slightly and Seven looked at her curiously. "I just want to do this." Long fingers threaded through her blonde hair and their faces were very close together. Then Kathryn’s lips brushed hers lightly and Seven whimpered from the brief contact.
"I’ve wanted to do that all evening," Kathryn whispered before leaning forward to capture her lips again in a gentle caress.
The kisses were soft, sensuous and unhurried. One turned into too many to count as both forgot about dancing and lost themselves in the taste of their desire. When Kathryn’s tongue invaded her mouth to twine with her own Seven was lost.
"Holodeck time will expire in five minutes."
The couple separated reluctantly and Seven said, "I do not wish our time to end."
"Neither do I, darling, but I’d rather the crew not walk in on us kissing either. Walk me back to my quarters?"
Seven nodded and felt Kathryn take her hand. They walked through the exit into the corridor and still the captain didn’t release her, nor did she put any distance between them as Seven thought she might have done before. She expected that to change as they traveled to deck three and the captain’s quarters, but even though they passed several crewmen along the way it never did. Janeway didn’t seem concerned about it and Seven noticed that the crew also didn’t seem to mind. Many of them simply nodded respectfully at the captain as they passed by.
When they got to the captain’s quarters Kathryn walked over to the replicator. "Would you like something to drink?"
Seven stepped up in front of her and took the other woman into her arms. "No. I wish to continue our previous activity while on the holodeck."
"Dancing?" Kathryn teased and laughed at the disgruntled look on Seven’s face. "All right, but I think we’d be more comfortable sitting."
She took Seven’s hands and walked backward toward the sofa. As they sat down Seven slipped her arms around Kathryn’s shoulders and lowered her head. Their lips met again and she was convinced these kisses were even more amazing than the earlier ones shared on the holodeck. Kathryn’s mouth opened beneath her lips, deepening the marvelous contact and making Seven’s head spin. Small hands traced over her back and down to her waist. Over and over they stroked her, caressed her, teased her until she was shaking with desire.
Finally Kathryn pulled away from Seven’s lips to plant small nips and kisses along her jaw and behind her ear. Seven noticed she was panting and started to pull her into another kiss when Kathryn hesitated.
"As much as I would like this to continue, I think we’d better stop."
"Why?" Seven asked plaintively.
"Because if we don’t," Janeway took a deep breath, "I’m either going to implode or drag you into my bed."
"I wish to join you in your bed."
Seven leaned down, but Kathryn turned her head just enough to kiss her gently on the cheek. "That will happen," she promised, "I just want to take things slowly. This is so special that I want to take the time to savor every step with you. I know it doesn’t make sense, but it’s how I feel."
She leaned back and looked into Seven’s eyes. "Is that all right?"
"I am…frustrated," the former drone admitted, "but I will abide by your wishes."
Kathryn smiled at the imperious tone and stood to walk Seven to the door. They stopped just before the sensors detected them so that the exit remained closed. "Thank you for understanding."
"Kathryn? This will not be our only date?"
She reached up and caressed the back of Seven’s cheek with her knuckles. "No, my love. Only the first of many."
After a final kiss that threatened to shatter Janeway’s resolve she had to gently push Seven out the door. As soon as the young woman was gone Kathryn wondered why she’d done that. It was true that she wanted to enjoy every moment of the new relationship with Seven, but now she had to face an extremely cold shower if she had any hopes of getting to sleep.
Kathryn took a shower that left her teeth chattering before she climbed naked between the sheets of her queen-sized bed. She couldn’t get those kisses out of her mind or how wonderful Seven had felt pressed against her body. Sleep proved to be elusive as she tossed and turned extremely aware of the sheets sliding across her sensitive body.
That could be Seven’s tongue exploring my nipples right now, she thought in frustration. No! Don’t go there!
Thirty minutes later Kathryn sat up and raked her fingers through her hair. "Why did I send her back to the cargo bay? What was I thinking?"
She turned over to punch the pillow several times before she lay back down. "It’s just sleep! How hard can it be?"
Cargo Bay Two:
"Warning, regeneration cycle cannot engage."
Seven of Nine fidgeted restlessly in her alcove even with the comforting green glow of Borg circuitry all around her. Nothing else moved in the cavernous bay until she took a deep breath, opened her eyes again and stepped away from the alcove.
"Warning. Regeneration cycle incomplete."
She stepped down and strode purposefully out of the cargo bay, intent only on her target. She couldn’t get the feel of Janeway’s lips out of her mind, kept reliving the taste and texture of her kisses, the heat of Kathryn’s touch. Being apart was illogical when it was clear what they both wanted.
Kathryn heaved a frustrated sigh and sat up. This is ridiculous! I’m a Starfleet captain! Just as she finished that thought she realized it didn’t matter. She was never going to be able to sleep if she didn’t see Seven again tonight.
"Computer, lights one-eighth."
The lights came up and Janeway reached for the edge of the covers. Just as she did she heard the entrance to her quarters hiss open and started to smile. There was only one person on Voyager with the nerve to enter her quarters unannounced. An instant later Seven stood in her bedroom doorway with a smoldering look in her blue eyes.
Janeway didn’t hesitate for a nanosecond. Lifting the edge of the covers invitingly she asked, "What took you so long?"