SECRETS CAN KILL
"A pleasure doing business with you, Regent." Captain Kathryn Janeway said, watching with a self-satisfied grin as Harry Kim cut the communications channel.
She had just completed negotiations with one of the few benevolent Delta Quadrant species and felt like Voyager had come out on top in the bartering process. The Kreplok were a people with little use for artifice, but a great need for viable tritanium conversion techniques. Their ships were heavy, clunky steel cans that strained the warp engines to near burnout capacity, and the lightweight tritanium would greatly ease their space-fairing explorations.
Chief engineer B’Elanna Torres had conceived of a simple transkinetic chamber to break down the mineral at the subatomic level. The broken down tritanium would be reabsorbed by a radiometric converter to transform it into the lightweight metal that could be used for a multitude of things from hull plating to cooking utensils. Voyager had been able to supply the Kreplok with the transkinetic chamber, and a few converters, along with the schematics to create more.
In return the Kreplok were more than generous with the ores so abundant on their planet, offering fifty metric tons of raw tritanium as well as an additional one hundred metric tons of dilithium crystals. The dilithium alone would keep replicators and the warp core powered for years with normal usage.
Negotiations had actually taken longer than anticipated while Janeway argued that the Kreplok were being too generous, and the gaseous orange and green nebula they were stopped near was starting to wear on her nerves. But the aliens felt that they were receiving the better end of the bargain and would have none of it. When it came close to time for the gamma shift to take over for the night, Kathryn finally relented.
"Mr. Tuvok, engage the transporters and beam the minerals to cargo bay four."
Tuvok immediately carried out his commanding officer’s quiet command, but just before he raised the shields in preparation of the ship going to warp, a narrowly confined transport beam deposited an unwelcome passenger into the bowels of deck fifteen, and into a rarely used access tunnel.
The only crewman in close proximity to the being was Crewman Mortimer Herrin. The bitter young man was working in the plasma relay room and, as usual, was attempting to disprove Schwetzel’s Theory of Multiple Big-Bangs.
The creature welcomed the air, free of the stench of smoke and fried circuitry, and reeking of nourishment. Its own ship had been trapped in the nebula, blowing out circuitry and causing a core breech. This large sleek vessel had been hanging conveniently nearby at the right moment, and the thing had taken advantage to stowaway.
Lights throughout the ship had been lowered in what was traditionally considered night watch, casting an eerie amber and red blinking glow over the sole occupant of the relay room.
Oblivious to the danger, Herrin was remembering a recent conversation with Tom Paris, Voyager’s former helmsman, and anger surged briefly over his angular features.
"Creative use of the minus sign, indeed. What a loser." He muttered. The fact that the flyboy was now deceased didn’t matter to Herrin. The comment still burned in his insecure heart.
A quiet, furtive sound reached his ears, distracting him temporarily from his ire. Herrin was familiar enough with these surroundings to know the sound didn’t belong, and he strained his ears to listen for a repeat of the noise.
There it was again. A shiver crawled up his spine, causing the hair on the back of his neck to stand up. Instinctively he realized that whatever was there, it was a threat to him.
"Who’s there?" he asked in a trembling voice, rising from his seat to squint into the darkened corridor.
A noise that reminded him of bat’s wings was his only response. The sound began suddenly but quickly reached deafening proportions causing him to flinch and cover his ears with the palms of his hands. Then something was suddenly rushing at him from the surrounding darkness.
He never had time to react from the swiftness of the attack. Never had time to reach his combadge and sound the intruder alert before the thing was upon him. Herrin had a brief impression of a dark humanoid shape with feral yellow eyes and fetid breath before suckers attached to its appendages fastened onto his skin.
The scream died in his throat as a crushing sensation enveloped his chest and lungs. He stood transfixed as the dark entity held him in a fatal embrace, hearing the sounds of his own bones snapping wetly. Strangely, there was no pain; only a heavy pressure building from within. Darkness descended mercifully and Mortimer sent a brief prayer of salvation to any deity that would listen for a crew he had never bothered to know.
Inside cargo bay two Seven of Nine was locked into her regeneration cycle. Since traveling through the nebula with only the doctor for company she had begun to dream during the cycle. Seven had welcomed the new experience, seeing it as just another step in her quest to become fully human. This dream was particularly interesting, and the young woman had no desire to awake.
She and her companion strolled hand in hand through a quiet meadow. Each was content in a way they had never been before, feeling a sense of belonging and knowing they owed the sense of completion to the emotions shared between them. It was a match no one could have anticipated between an intrepid captain and a reluctant Borg, but the love between the two was apparent and could not be denied by anyone seeing them together.
Sunshine surrounded them and the sky was blue overhead, adding to the contented feeling.
"Shore leave’s almost over." Kathryn observed, resting her auburn head against a strong shoulder.
Stroking the soft hair gently, the young woman sought only to convey her love and appreciation for this shared time off together. "Yes, my Kathryn. But the bodies must be found."
Abruptly the scene shifted and Seven was looking down a long deserted corridor somewhere inside Voyager. At the dead end of the access way corpses were stacked like cords of firewood. A phantom shadow flitted across the corridor, and suddenly her animal guide, Sahkmet, was seen loping through the hallway. Then Seven was seeing through the eyes of the lynx.
The lanky feline passed through the lower decks into a rarely used access tunnel near the plasma relay junction. She abruptly came face to face with a humanoid being whose features seemed to melt and flow into each other. The creature rushed toward her and something happened that had never occurred before; Seven started awake, completely and prematurely released from her regeneration cycle.
Her heart was pounding in fear and shudders racked her body. It took a moment to realize it was only a dream because everything had seemed so real! Maybe Kathryn could understand the meaning of the disturbing images, she thought stepping away from her alcove.
After a few minutes of moving around, the dream began to fade and didn’t seem as disturbing as it had before. Seven decided she was becoming a little too human and needed to concentrate on her duties. Besides, she didn’t want Kathryn to think she was overreacting to something as innocuous as dreaming.
While performing her duties, Seven allowed her thoughts to wander to Kathryn. Since declaring her love for the smaller woman two weeks before, they had attempted to embark on a more intimate relationship. So far, it had proven to be very frustrating for the former Borg drone. As much as she enjoyed kissing and touching Kathryn she wanted more, but Kathryn had refused to allow things to progress beyond what she had termed ‘heavy petting’. Seven tried to be patient, knowing that her partner wanted to go slowly and trying not to push the other woman.
At first she hadn’t understood the tension she felt in her body when being forced to leave Kathryn at the end of the evening. Then she had accessed the main computer and conducted extensive research on human sexuality. She discovered she was frustrated because she wanted a more sexual intimacy with Kathryn.
She was determined to consummate their relationship, but with B’Elanna still grieving over Tom Paris’ demise, she was pulling extended shifts to take up the slack. Kathryn had cited Seven’s long work hours as the reason to delay a deeper intimacy, but Seven was sure it was only an excuse since her Borg physiology prevented her from tiring quickly.
Perhaps I am being selfish, Seven thought. There were more important considerations besides her lack of a sex life, such as Lieutenant Torres.
Seven had to admit she was concerned for the Klingon engineer, and although they had never been friends she knew how it felt to love someone. Lieutenant Torres had lost a considerable amount of weight since finding out about the loss of her lover. She was seen rarely in public, and had taken to eating exclusively in her quarters, if she ate at all.
Kathryn had mentioned her own concern to Seven but was at a loss how to help. More than once she had mentioned her distress at not having a ship’s counselor on board.
Having other duties to attend to, Seven logged off her console and took the turbolift to deck eleven. Torres was slowly beginning to resume her duties but was still off most of the time so Seven was assisting with engineering in addition to her own work in Astrometrics. Vorik and Carey were also trying to cover for the lieutenant, but they were not as talented as the young woman was and things were beginning to pile up.
Today Seven was scheduled to repair a ruptured gel pack in the jeffries tube adjacent to the relay room on deck fifteen. Since the access way was located in the lowest part of the ship, no one ever went there unless assigned to work. Protocol dictated that regular maintenance had to be performed all over the vessel but things had relaxed a little with the crew being lost in the Delta Quadrant for the last five years. Usually, the crew was lucky to keep up with repairs after numerous battles with hostile aliens.
Seven picked up a tool kit, a spare gel pack, and logged her assigned location into the engineering console. She turned and made eye contact with Vorik. The cool, reserved Vulcan spared a silent nod to the younger woman in acknowledgement before turning back to his own work.
Having an affinity for silences, the young woman took no offense and made her way down to the bowels of the ship. Normally, one crewman was assigned to this deck, but he was noticeably absent. For a moment Seven thought it was odd that he was not there, but the Voyager crew were unpredictable at the best of times and the young woman continued on her way thinking no more about it.
Punching commands into the console over the jeffries tube, Seven accessed the hatch and crawled carefully inside. She sealed the hatch behind her and started down the long narrow corridor on her hands and knees. It was the smell she noticed first. Although it was not strong it was vaguely musty and unpleasant.
Seven was unhappy that maintenance had been performed in this area so infrequently that such an odor could form. Looking toward the end of the tunnel, she could make out a lumpy shape but couldn’t imagine what it could be. Perhaps some type of damage had occurred during an alien encounter and had never been detected by the computer, she reasoned. It would explain the odor as well.
Crawling closer to the shape, Seven began making out details in the shadows. This was not debris. Frowning, she realized it looked like the remains of a Starfleet uniform. She could make out the black and gold tunic of an operations officer. The collar was free of insignia pips and the gold communicator was missing. Her eyes finally focused completely in the lowered illumination and she shuddered delicately.
The body was nothing but skin and bones… literally. All of the soft tissue had been removed and she stared into the empty eye sockets of Mortimer Herrin.
Reaching up a shaky hand, she pressed her combadge.
"Seven of Nine to Captain Janeway,"
Abruptly Kathryn stopped talking with Commander Chakotay. The stocky man had only recently returned to duty, having been confined to quarters for a breach of protocol, and she had been bringing him up to speed on ship’s status.
Was it her imagination or had there been a tremor in the young woman’s voice?
Unconsciously standing in her concern, Kathryn responded, "Janeway here,"
Chakotay frowned at his commanding officer’s behavior. It sounded like a perfectly normal communication to him, and he thought she was overreacting. Of course with as much trouble as he had been in recently he felt no urge whatsoever in commenting on it.
"Captain, are you alone?" the young woman inquired cryptically.
"I’m in a briefing with Commander Chakotay. Why?"
Not answering her question, Seven replied with, "I must ask that you join me immediately on deck fifteen. You may wish to have Commander Tuvok accompany you, but no one else."
Kathryn didn’t question the young woman’s instructions, trusting her implicitly. She could hear the fear in Seven’s voice and scurried out of her ready room barely remembering to hand over the con to her first officer.
Damn drone, Chakotay thought to himself, taking his seat at the command center. Every time she snaps her fingers the captain goes running. She’s probably the reason I can’t get Kathryn to have dinner with me anymore, he thought growing more furious. Hell, she’s probably the reason Kathryn relieved me of duty in the first place.
His swarthy hands gripped the armrests of his chair tightly while he sat fuming on the bridge, wondering if Seven would allow Kathryn to tell him what was going on.
Forty minutes later Janeway was pacing her ready room like a caged tiger. A member of her crew was dead and no one had any idea why. The doctor seemed to think the death was related to an unknown pathogen or virus that may have been introduced to the crew while recently on an M class planet gathering food supplies. Unfortunately he wouldn’t know for certain until he had performed an extensive autopsy.
Thoughts of Herrin’s remains haunted Kathryn’s mind. She couldn’t get the image of the almost perfect rings marking his epidermis, or what was left of it, out of her mind. They had been clearly visible even though the flesh had taken on the consistency of old, dried out paper. To Janeway, he resembled a creature she had seen in an Earth museum called a mummy.
His eyes had dissolved, and even his hair looked brittle and had started falling out in clumps. Kathryn shuddered and made a concentrated effort to push the pictures out of her mind as she stalked to the replicator and ordered a cup of strong, black coffee.
On top of all that her first officer’s attitude wasn’t helping anything. She had expected things to be a little awkward with him, but she hadn’t expected the downright hostility he had presented when she had returned to the bridge. She had been going to brief him on what Seven had found but his demeanor reminded her of why he had been relieved of duty in the first place. The sense of betrayal returned, and not for the first time Kathryn regretted having to keep him as her first officer. Leaving him to fume on the bridge, she had retreated to the ready room.
The coffee did little to calm her and Janeway gave up in frustration about to head back out to the bridge. Before she could reach the sensor that would automatically part the doors her combadge chirped with an incoming call from the Doctor.
"Oh thank God," she breathed before quickly responding to the hail, desperately needing some answers. Pacing back to her work area, she waited for his diagnosis.
"I’m sorry to report Captain," the EMH began without preamble, "that all of the chemical nutrients were removed from Crewman Herrin’s body, to include the calcium from his bones. In fact, his bones literally crumbled to dust. Captain, I don’t know what did this but it was not the result of an infectious agent."
Feeling the blood drain from her face, Kathryn leaned weakly over her desk and braced her fists against the surface.
"What are you saying, Doctor?"
"In a nutshell, Captain, he’s been sucked dry."
The wheels spinning furiously in her mind, Janeway considered her options.
"Doctor, you’re not to mention this to anyone. Do you understand?"
"But, captain," the photonic doctor protested immediately, "how can the crew help find the intrude if they don’t know about it?"
Quickly cutting him off, she told him, "That’s an order, Doctor. Leave that to Commander Tuvok and myself. We need to figure out what it is we’re fighting before we bring the crew into it."
Sighing audibly over the com-channel, he grudgingly relented. "Very well, Captain. I just hope you’re right."
"Thank you, Doctor." Janeway shot back before quickly cutting the channel.
She knew the sarcasm was lost on the hologram but honestly couldn’t help herself sometimes. He just seemed to know the right buttons to push.
Janeway summoned Commander Tuvok into the ready room and started giving orders as soon as the doors closed behind him.
"Sensors should have detected an intruder as soon as it came on board. Recalibrate the internal sensors to scan for any unusual energy signatures. Route all information through to my console. We’re going to work in here." She snapped.
Thinking furiously, she realized the up-graded equipment in Astrometrics might be useful in locating the alien. But they would have to tie into the equipment from the ready room to conceal their efforts. Routing the Astrometric equipment through the captain’s computer, the two worked for hours tweaking the sensors to pick up anything that would indicate an unwelcome presence. When everything they tried came up empty Kathryn stood up and began pacing worriedly.
"What is it we’re missing, Tuvok? There’s got to be something. Nothing just disappears without a trace!" she growled.
Tuvok stood quietly in front of the captain’s desk, hands behind his back. With quiet Vulcan logic he spoke. "Captain, if I may?"
"Yes?" she asked, turning to look at him hopefully.
"Are you aware of the shape-shifter who is employed as the Constable on Deep Space Nine?"
"You mean Constable Odo?" Kathryn asked, not following his train of thought.
"I submit to you," he said calmly, "that a shape-shifter would possibly be able to mimic life-signs similar to those of its victims."
"So it could hide in plain sight." She realized.
On the heels of the revelation came several questions. "But why take the communicator? Where could the creature have hidden it? The combadge didn’t even show up on sensors."
Tuvok couldn’t help but be impressed by Kathryn Janeway although he would never admit it. She always seemed to function best in a crisis; her questions were logical and well thought-out, even if they were asked a little too emotionally for his sensibilities.
"It is only conjecture," he admitted, "but perhaps the creature is wearing the communicator… in order to infiltrate us. It could listen to ship-wide communications and be aware of everything the balance of the crew is."
Shaking her head, Janeway argued, "That still doesn’t explain why the combadge is hidden to us. No, it’s something else."
"Look, different changelings have different abilities. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I believe this particular shape-shifter has the ability to project a dampening field around its entire being. I think you’re right that it took the communicator, but that was only done to hide the victim’s remains. It’s only blind luck that Seven found the body."
Considering carefully, he had to agree. "It would explain a few things."
"It also means we can’t tell anyone what we’ve discovered." Janeway said unhappily. "The intruder could be anyone except the Doctor. I doubt it could imitate photonic energy. But, if this thing continues to feed and finds a suitable hiding place for the bodies, we might not find it until it’s too late."
"Then we must find it quickly." Tuvok said unhelpfully.
At this point Kathryn didn’t know whom to trust. For all she knew she could be in a briefing with the intruder itself. Just this morning the only thing she could think about had been Seven. Now she had a deadly mystery on her hands and could trust no one.
She knew she hadn’t been giving Seven everything the young woman wanted in an intimate relationship, even going so far as to conceal the true nature of that relationship from the rest of the crew. Now she would have to distance herself from the young woman even further to concentrate on capturing the entity. She couldn’t afford to think about anything more personal right now.
I just hope Seven understands, she thought bleakly.
"Keep working on it in here." She ordered softly. "I’ll brief the doctor on what’s happening. If it comes down to it he may be our only hope."
Seven of Nine had decided to conduct her own investigation. Although the captain hadn’t briefed her since reporting the body she understood some things instinctively. The first was that the intruder was invisible to internal scans; otherwise the intruder alert would have sounded automatically. The second was that she knew Kathryn would use this event as a reason to distance herself even further from the Borg. She understood that the captain had to concentrate on the safety of the crew, but refused to allow Kathryn to withdraw to the point that their brief relationship was nothing but a memory.
The final thing she knew without question was that Kathryn would place herself in harms way if she could figure out a way to trap the creature on her own. Janeway had a knack for beating the odds, and she usually accomplished the impossible by choosing the most dangerous route available.
Seven would do anything to protect Kathryn. To her that meant finding the creature before the forceful woman could endanger herself.
To that end, thoughts of being recently stranded on an M-class planetoid jumbled about in her mind, even as she entered inordinately long strings of calculations into the Astrometrics computer. She remembered being attacked by wild canines and how her heels had sank into the loam and the later use of the Starfleet boots to remedy that situation. If she intended to go after this intruder now she wasn’t going to do it dressed in a bio-suit and a pair of high heels.
Leaving the calculations to run on their own, Seven accessed the main computer files and began searching. She had much to do before she tracked the killer.
Kathryn paced tensely across the deck of her quarters. She had come here to think after updating the doctor on their progress. Since she had left Tuvok to work in her ready room this was the only place she could be alone with her thoughts at the moment.
A very disturbing thought was floating around in her head, and although she couldn’t afford to discount anything, the possibility frightened her. Seven had found the body in an empty jeffries tube. How did she know that the young woman hadn’t been attacked and taken over by the entity at the time, and had merely reported the body to conceal herself? This thing had to be hiding somewhere. What if that was in the body of her girlfriend?
Vulnerability was something Kathryn Janeway had never been good at, and Seven of Nine was definitely her one weak spot. But in command school she had learned never to ignore a possibility just because you were afraid of the answer. She had to know for sure that Seven was still herself.
Kathryn knew that her emotions for the young blonde were stronger than a mere physical attraction and shuddered to think that a being had taken her over, or worse that her body could by lying hidden somewhere. But her responsibilities for one hundred and forty seven other crewmembers demanded that she make sure. With no other option, Kathryn knew she had to test the young woman somehow. And what better way than to instigate an argument? She would know if it was Seven by her reactions, no one could get as uniquely angry and cuttingly logical when provoked.
That decided, she needed to set her plan in motion.
"Janeway to Seven of Nine," she said after tapping her combadge.
The young blonde responded immediately and Kathryn felt her heart spasm in her chest at the unmistakable note of happiness in the normally emotionless voice. Could she really be thinking Seven was the creature? Forcing back her trepidation, she continued.
"Are you alone?" she inquired, indicating this conversation was more personal than professional.
"Yes, Kathryn. I am unaccompanied at the moment."
The older woman smiled at the typically Borg comment, and began to feel better. There was no way the intruder could know to respond like that! The invitation she had been going to issue as a test suddenly gained the potential for a wonderful night with the woman she knew she was falling in love with.
Kathryn wasn’t yet comfortable admitting the depth of her emotions to her partner. It wasn’t that her feelings weren’t real, just that she hadn’t had the best of luck in matters of the heart and didn’t know if she could handle having her heart broken once again.
"Darling," she began with a smile, "I was wondering if you would have dinner with me this evening?"
Thrown by the unexpected invitation Seven hesitated for a moment. She was surprised that Kathryn could be thinking about a romantic encounter at a time like this, but was not willing to miss spending this precious time with her.
After happily accepting the invitation the former drone quickly punched in the last few commands in the computer, and walked over to the replicator to obtain her package. Her preparations for pursuing the intruder complete, Seven concentrated on her dinner date with Kathryn.
She wanted everything to be perfect, and began searching the clothing files for something appropriate to wear.
Kathryn had left last minute instructions with Commander Tuvok before preparing for her date with Seven. He was to contact her immediately if anything developed, and she had left standing orders to report anyone late or absent from a duty shift. Although she was fairly certain that Seven was herself, she still had to know for sure. The young woman had become the one person Kathryn felt she could confide in and she needed to know she hadn’t been compromised.
After lighting candles around her quarters and lowering the ambient lighting, Kathryn replicated a light dinner and left it in stasis coverings on her table while she bathed and changed. Deciding what to wear took a considerable time and she had changed three different times before deciding on a simple satin gown of emerald green. The gown came to just above her knees with a modest slit on the left side. Finishing off with studded emerald earrings, Kathryn dabbed perfume on her wrists just as the chime sounded to her quarters.
When the doors parted to the captain’s quarters Kathryn felt the air constrict in her lungs. The corridor lights highlighted Seven from behind and they cast her as an ethereal vision. Her silver gown hugged her narrow body, cupping and lifting the full breasts gently before falling to just below her knees. The sleeves fell to just below her wrists, showing only part of her hands. The plunging neckline showed a generous expanse of cleavage that was only partially concealed by the thick golden hair that she had left free of the severe bun she normally wore it in.
The corridor lights caused her hair to shine as it lay in gentle waves over her shoulders, framing the implants still adorning her cheek and brow, softening her usual cold Borg exterior.
Seven swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. As always, she was mesmerized by Kathryn’s exquisite form. The air smelled faintly of the older woman’s sweet perfume, and their eyes locked as both were lost until Seven broke the contact to slowly take in the captain’s slender form. He eyes stopped near the floor and an eyebrow arched in inquiry.
Kathryn looked down to see what her companion was staring at and groaned. "I knew I forgot something." She said, wiggling her bare toes.
Seven smiled and stepped into the room enough for the doors to close.
"I will make myself comfortable while you obtain your footwear."
She leaned close and brushed her mouth gently over the wine-shaded lips before allowing her beloved to escape.
Retreating quickly to her bedroom, Kathryn felt the pull of her attraction for the young blonde and realized this test was going to be even harder than she thought. Grabbing her shoes, she quickly put them on and headed back into the other room.
Seven inhaled the scent of their meal appreciatively, the odors of freshly prepared food lingering pleasantly in the air even through the stasis containers that were keeping the meal fresh and hot. A bottle of Bajoran spring wine sat in an ice bucket near the corner of the table, and she looked forward to sampling the beverage since it wasn’t replicated but came from Kathryn’s private stock. Gathering utensils and plates from the storage area, Seven set the table, finishing just as Kathryn reentered the room.
With her back to the compact woman she missed the brief frown that marred the classic features.
She’s never set the table before, Kathryn thought. Quickly dismissing the suspicion as paranoia, she reasoned that such a small thing wasn’t really out of character. Seven was probably just being efficient since her date was otherwise occupied at the moment.
Seven turned around with a smile as Kathryn walked up to her.
"Hi," Kathryn said softly, sliding her arms around the narrow waist.
"Hi," Seven returned and promptly lowered her head to greet the smaller woman properly. The two absorbed the sensation of each other through the kiss. Drawing strength and love through the feel of warm skin and muscle for several long moments. The kiss ended only with the need to draw air and both were a little breathless.
"Are you hungry?" Kathryn asked in her wonderfully smoky voice, resting her forehead against Seven’s dimpled chin. This was one of her favorite positions. One that made her feel completely safe and protected.
"Yes, but I can think of something besides food that I wish to consume."
Kathryn smiled in sympathy but reluctantly pushed Seven gently away, knowing she couldn’t allow things to get out of hand.
"I agree," she said, eyeing Seven’s magnificent body. "But one thing I’ve learned with our relationship is that the anticipation makes it sweeter. I want to savor every moment with you."
The shyly smiling look of happiness on Seven’s face made Kathryn glad she had said the uncharacteristically sentimental words.
They sat down to dinner and Seven removed a stasis lid to find a generous serving of shrimp and lobster bisque. It was one of her favorite dishes and she knew Kathryn had gone to a great deal of effort to prepare it. Her reputation for success with the replicator wasn’t exactly legendary.
"So," Kathryn began her fishing expedition as she handed Seven a glass of the light spring wine, "how was your shift?"
Seven took a moment to savor a sip of the wine, rolling it around on her tongue before swallowing as she had seen Kathryn do. The alcohol burned a smooth trail to her stomach and Seven enjoyed the sensation briefly.
Sitting the glass on the table she responded to the inquiry.
"It was… frustrating." She answered honestly.
At Kathryn’s questioning look Seven attempted to elaborate.
"I have been unable to find any additional clues as to the whereabouts of the intruder or what its ulterior motives might be."
"I thought I told you to let it go." She said carefully. "I told you that Tuvok would investigate the matter, and I don’t think he needs your help at this point. In fact, if the two of you are working at odds with each other, it might hamper the investigation."
"True, but I was the one who found the body." Seven argued. "I have learned through my experiences since becoming human that subconscious stimuli such as smell, or an object briefly seen can trigger one’s memory when finding something of note."
Seven neglected telling Kathryn of the dream with her animal guide, thinking it irrelevant.
"Well," Kathryn insisted with a trace of her command voice, "I want you to drop the matter. It’s security’s job to investigate it and I don’t want too many fingers in the pie."
Although Seven didn’t quite understand the analogy, she did understand that Kathryn wanted her to leave it alone. Since discovering her feelings for Kathryn, Seven sought to accommodate her more than usual but inherently knew this was not one of those times. Still, not wishing to argue, she decided to take a page from Lieutenant Torres’ book and appear to relent.
"Very well," she said simply.
Kathryn felt satisfied that this was truly her Seven. It was just like the young woman to think she could operate more efficiently and attempt to spearhead her own investigation. The fact that the young woman conceded to let Tuvok take care of things on his own also served to relieve Kathryn of unnecessary stress since it would keep the blonde out of harms way.
Looking up, she found herself staring into cobalt eyes and felt a familiar fire starting. She had been harboring an attraction for the young woman for a long time and since embarking on a tentative intimacy with her had yet to join physically. Five years of celibacy was a long time and she felt desire uncurling with a vengeance.
Seeing the smoldering look returned in Seven’s eyes, Kathryn decided to move to the sofa. With their drinks in hand, they settled close together on the couch, their knees touching.
Seven rested her Borg hand on Kathryn’s knee and a smaller hand covered her own. She smiled as she realized that was one of the things she loved most about the other woman. Kathryn accepted every part of her without question or excuse, even that which was Borg.
She took their glasses and sat them on the coffee table. Mesh tipped fingers slid gently under the smaller woman’s chin and lifted gently.
Seven leaned forward, cupped Kathryn’s face in her palms and kissed her deeply, sliding her tongue between wine-shaded lips to taste her. Kathryn moaned, closing her eyes and entwined her arms around the blonde’s neck, deepening the kiss.
Trailing down over the small chin, Seven kissed her neck and shoulders as her fingers began stroking Kathryn’s chest and flat stomach with sensuous intent. She stopped and slid her arms under the woman, gathering her into her arms and pulling her onto her lap.
Her senses were aware for every sound, smell and flicker of movement even as her mouth was dry in fear and anticipation. Adjusting her optical implant to compensate for the reduced light, she could see the opening of the smaller shuttle bay and the rear of the Aerowing.
The path to the small vessel had been uneventful, and the young woman was beginning to think she had been in error. Dust thickly coated the exterior of the shuttle and evenly coated the deck, the only marks left by the tread of Seven’s boots. She circled the small vessel but found nothing out of the ordinary until she reached the small control panel that would access the shuttle itself. The small panel was noticeably free from dust.
Seven braced her back against the side of the shuttle. Hefting the rifle with one hand, she keyed in the entry sequence with the other. A moment after the door raised, she entered with her weapon at the ready. No lights were on and the vessel was completely powered down. A small object near the rear of the pilot’s seat caught her attention and she saw that it was a cooking pot. Had someone been eating in here? Perhaps they had wanted a quiet place for a solitary meal and had come here?
That did not explain why there were no tracks into the vessel and Seven dismissed it as something left carelessly lying around when the shuttle had been docked here five years previously.
Something else caught her eye and she forgot about the discarded pot. It was a pile of debris and clothing resting against the science station, and Seven felt her stomach clinch as she realized she had found Ensign Lynch. Just as she raised her hand to activate her combadge a loud flapping sound came rushing at her from the cargo hold of the vessel. She had only time to turn and raise her arms in a reflexively protective gesture before the thing was upon her. If it were not for her Borg enhanced speed she would not have had even that much time.
One of the creature’s appendages latched on to the phaser rifle, preventing Seven from using it to blast it into infinity. Another tentacle wrapped around her long left arm and bicep rendering even her Borg strength useless. Suckers from the limb adhered to her skin through the heavy material and Seven felt the strength draining from her body.
She watched in appalled fascination as the features of being seemed to melt and flow. The features of Herrin and Lynch were clearly visible along with the creature’s own. On the edge of losing consciousness, Seven sent an urgent signal from her cortical node to her hand implant, altering the mesh into a cutting tool. Bending her elbow, she drew the razor sharp instrument across the appendage that trapped her left arm, severing the vile extension. The creature emitted a loud shrieking cry that reverberated in the blonde’s eardrums and released her, and Seven fell to the ground as the monster disappeared into the darkness.
Seven gasped at the pain that suddenly permeated every inch of her being. She reached up with a trembling hand and tapped her combadge, calling for an emergency transport to sickbay.
The last thing she saw as she was transported away was seeing the appendage lose cohesion and become nothing more than a puddle of orange goo.
Janeway strode with the measured precision of a tin soldier through the corridors of Voyager. Crewmembers that chanced to pass her allowed a wide berth, compensating for the look of absolute fury on her countenance. Ensign Mulcahey was so fixated on her that he managed to walk into a bulkhead, striking his forehead soundly before Tal Celes offered him a steadying hand.
For her own part, Kathryn felt as though she was walking in a fog. Since receiving the call from the Doctor that Seven of Nine had been injured while pursuing the wayward entity a few moments ago things seemed fuddled. Seven had been told to let Tuvok conduct his search and she had gone behind her back, gallivanting into the bowels of the ship only to encounter the beast and barely escape with her life.
She realized that she was extremely irate, but a part of her admitted that most of that ire was generated by fear. The fear of losing someone she had just acknowledged that she loved above all else.
"Captain, I’m glad I found you. May I have a moment of your time?" Neelix shouted boisterously, rushing toward her in the corridor and effectively halting her progress.
Either the exuberant Talaxian didn’t notice her emotional state or chose to ignore it.
Kathryn stopped impatiently, blocked by the bulky Delta Quadrant native. Holding up a hand to forestall his tirade she said, "Not now, Neelix. I’m on my way to sickbay."
The friendly alien sputtered in a dumbfounded fashion that she would brush him off so easily.
"B..but, Captain," he said in an irritated tone, "This is important."
With a heavy sigh, Kathryn relented. She knew she wouldn’t get anywhere until she listened to him so decided to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Stopping, she asked with little patience, "What is it, Neelix?"
"Someone has been raiding the kitchen after hours." He reported indignantly. "One of my best sauce pans has been taken."
For a moment she stared at him waiting to find out what the problem was then she realized that was it. Kathryn couldn’t believe he had bothered her for something so mundane and was tempted to chastise him about going through proper channels to report such minor problems.
"Neelix," she began in an aggravated tone before releasing her breath in a frustrated sigh.
She had to acknowledge that the Talaxian was usually focused on his own duties on the ship, having little to no comprehension as to overall ship’s functioning. To him, every minor occurrence in his own little world became a disaster of epic proportions. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she attempted to alleviate the headache forming there.
"I’ll have Commander Tuvok look into it." She promised hoping the self-appointed morale officer would be satisfied.
She walked around him and continued on her way, leaving the befuddled man behind already forgotten.
"Thank you, Captain." He shouted belatedly.
His words were cut off as the sickbay doors closed behind her.
Janeway stalked into sickbay with her heart pounding in her chest. Seven was sitting quietly on a bio-bed while the holographic doctor ran a few final scans. Hearing the doors open the young blonde turned her head to lock eyes with her commanding officer.
"Report," the captain ordered tersely, standing next to the doctor but never losing eye contact with her insubordinate crewmember.
Seven didn’t flinch but felt herself wince internally at the harshly uttered word and the stone-gray anger in her eyes.
"Her systems have been depleted by the brief contact with the alien, and she has some mild anemia. It’s very similar to the previous attack on Crewman Herrin, but she’ll be fine with some rest. I believe her nanoprobes protected her from being similarly drained."
"Thank you, doctor. That’ll be all." She said pointedly, resting her hands on her hips.
The intense looks being passed between the two encouraged the photonic man to retreat into his office and black out the glass between them.
Seven noticed Kathryn’s jaw working back and forth, trying to contain her fury. The effort was unsuccessful.
In a voice shaking with outrage Kathryn asked, "Just what the hell did you think you were doing?"
"Captain," Seven began with every intention of explaining her actions, but stopped abruptly when Janeway cut her off.
"I distinctly remember telling you to drop it, but as usual you seem to think you know more than anyone else. So you single-handedly go traipsing after this thing and almost get yourself killed! On top of that, Tuvok isn’t any closer to finding this monster and Neelix is pestering me about missing cookware!"
"Don’t try to change the subject, Seven." Janeway said, absolutely livid.
The young blonde’s eyes widened in indignation. She would never attempt to deceive the captain. Surely Kathryn knew that by now! "I am not." She asserted. "This is important."
Kathryn looked at Seven consideringly for about half a second. She knew she was on the verge of losing control of her anger, being so mad she had been tempted to cuff the younger woman as soon as she saw her. The normal stress of running a Starship, compounded with the alien intruder, the deaths of her crew, and all the other little things were beginning to add up. This latest threat to Seven had her absolutely at the boiling point and she didn’t want anyone walking into sickbay and see her lose her composure.
"We’ll finish this discussion in my quarters. Let’s go," She commanded in a carefully controlled tone.
The sickbay doors opened interrupting the women, and Kathryn stepped back from Seven.
"Report," Captain Janeway commanded to her security chief.
The only sign of his curiosity at the captain’s agitation Tuvok allowed was the quirk of his eye. Linking his hands behind his back, he politely addressed his superior.
"I regret to inform you, Captain, that the body Seven found was indeed Ensign Lynch. I suggest we transport the body directly to sickbay. That will prevent the crew from discovering the threat."
Kathryn looked into his steady brown eyes and turned to look at Seven. A silent communication passed between the two women, and she suddenly realized how keeping a simple secret had almost cost her the truest love she had ever known. How much worse could it have been for Ensign Lynch who hadn’t even known the creature existed? By not telling the crew of the threat she had placed them all in danger.
Of all the dangers they had encountered in the Delta Quadrant, the crew had faced each one with bravery and determination. She knew she had been selling them short by not informing them of the latest threat, and that without that information they couldn’t defend themselves.
Forestalling him for the moment, she said, "Seven was attacked inside the Aerowing."
"Then perhaps that is where the alien has been hiding." Tuvok surmised briefly, knowing that the shuttle was in a seldom-used location and that the alien preferred anonymity.
"My thoughts exactly." Kathryn said. "I suggest we concentrate our search on the lower decks and any seldom used areas of the ship. I also want you to make a ship wide announcement. No crewmember will be unaccompanied until this thing is found. Schedule a senior staff meeting for one half hour from now. If we’re going to fight this thing we’ll need a plan."
"But, Captain," the security chief protested. "That would mean that the crew would have to be informed of the threat."
"I know." She answered, staring steadily at her Astrometrics officer. "But I think it’s going to take all of us working together to catch this thing, and I don’t want anyone else in danger while we do."
When the other man simply stood there, she said pointedly, "That’ll be all, Commander."
After he left, Janeway let the ire she was still feeling show through her eyes. "Seven, let’s go. We still have a discussion to finish."
Kathryn stalked to the turbolift with the younger woman mutely in tow. She was still completely furious, none of that having dissipated during her discussion with Tuvok. If anything she was even angrier and could almost feel her body vibrating with the sensation.
They stepped into the turbolift and Janeway ordered it to deck three in a clipped voice.
Seven peeked from beneath lowered eyes and caught a glimpse of Kathryn’s face. She couldn’t understand why she was so upset. Surely Seven had been only doing her duty as a member of the crew. Even though she had disobeyed the captain’s order not to pursue the creature, she didn’t feel that warranted such an extreme reaction.
A thought suddenly occurred to the young woman and she glanced at Kathryn again. Deep lines of strain were etched about the stone-gray eyes, and her mouth was in a tight line while the slender body was so tight Seven wondered if the other woman could even draw breath. The elegant hands were fisted tightly at her sides, and Seven suddenly realized that Kathryn had been frightened. Not just as a captain for a crewmember, but as a woman for her lover.
She almost smiled at the realization as a warm tingling suffused her body, but she fought the urge since she knew that would only incite the smaller woman further.
The doors to the captain’s quarters closed behind them and Kathryn whirled instantly to face her younger lover. Crossing her arms over her chest, she demanded, "Alright, start talking. Tell me what was so important that you had to disobey my orders and I’m warning you, Seven, this had better be good."
Then Kathryn surprised them both by bursting into tears. Shocked, Seven could only stare in helpless fascination at the woman sobbing into her hands. After a moment she remembered Ensign Wildman comforting a crying Naomi after the girl had injured herself. Following that example the bewildered young woman gathered Kathryn gently into her arms. Pulling gently, Seven led her distraught partner over to the sofa and eased them onto it.
Kathryn clung to the lanky Borg for several long minutes, burying her face against the young woman’s long neck and clinging to her until the sobs finally quieted.
Finally reaching for control, she pulled away as far as Seven’s arms would allow. She brushed the tears from her face and quickly wiped her hands on her thighs, embarrassed at her brief loss of composure.
"You can’t do this to me, Annika. I love you too much." Her gravelly voice cracked as her control threatened to break once again.
Janeway took a deep breath to steady herself, giving Seven the opportunity to take advantage of the brief silence.
"I am sorry that I frightened you, Kathryn." She began sincerely, gratified that the conversation had become personal instead of a professional dressing down by her commanding officer. She felt it important that in these quarters more than anywhere else they should be equals.
Although the young woman was happy that Kathryn had finally admitted her feelings, Seven was more concerned with calming her fears. The best way to accomplish that was to redirect the captain’s thoughts to the alien intruder.
"But we must concentrate on finding the creature. You said Neelix complained of missing cookware."
"Yes?" Kathryn frowned, sniffling briefly and feeling better after the emotional outpouring than she had in some time. "Something about a missing saucepan, why?"
Shaking her head slightly, Seven replied. "When I entered the Aerowing I saw a saucepan sitting near the front of the cockpit. I dismissed it as irrelevant. But I fail to see why the alien would need such a vessel."
"I think I may know." Janeway’s complexion paled as comprehension flooded her.
"Tuvok and I believe this creature may be some sort of changeling. The thing about changelings is that they can only hold solid form for a certain period of time before they need to…recharge." Kathryn explained.
"Constable Odo on Deep Space Nine regenerates in a pail in his natural form, which is some sort of liquid, I believe." She continued.
Something in her mid-section seemed to curl up in pain as Seven realized that Kathryn had known this all along and had kept the information to herself.
"You do not trust me." She said bleakly, turning her head away.
"What? Of course I do." Kathryn assured her. "It’s just as captain, I can’t always share information…"
It was the younger woman’s turn to cut Kathryn off, and she did so angrily. "I understand your duties. But this is not about responsibility. It is about trust."
Unable to help herself Kathryn twisted around, straddling Seven’s corseted waist and jamming her knees into the soft cushions. The position caused her gown to ride up enticingly around her thighs. Seven pulled away and looked down at the revealing position with fire in her eyes.
"No more excuses," she rasped, chest heaving with arousal. "I want you, and I am going to have you."
She stroked the small breasts through the silken material lightly at first and then covered them completely with her palms. Kathryn trembled at the promise in the talented hands.
"Then take me," Kathryn demanded roughly, finally giving in to her passion.
The answering desire in the blue-gray eyes stoked Seven’s need higher. She stood abruptly, grasping Kathryn’s muscular buttocks in her hands as strong legs locked around her waist. She strode briskly for the bedroom, lowering her desperate partner to the blankets and covering the strong body with her own.
Smashing their lips together, Seven thrust her tongue roughly into the wet, welcoming heat.
Small hands braced against her shoulders and unexpectedly pushed Seven away.
"No, we can’t," Kathryn panted, realizing suddenly that she had meant to test the young woman, not let things get so out of hand.
Resting on her side, Seven looked at Kathryn in disbelief. How could she pull back now? Seven’s frustration was reaching paramount proportions but she didn’t want to force herself on her companion, therefore her only release was anger.
"This is unacceptable! Do I need to prove myself worthy of you somehow? Tell me what you wish me to do, Kathryn, but do not keep pushing me away."
Seven’s anger was strangely reassuring to Kathryn. She had seen the young woman angry many times and knew this look couldn’t be imitated. How could she have been so suspicious of her?
The full pouty lips absorbed her attention, and all Kathryn could think about now was getting back to where they had left off. She had no intention of telling Seven about testing her since she didn’t think the other woman would understand. And with a killer on the ship this might not be the best time for lovemaking, but when was the perfect time on a vessel lost in the Delta Quadrant?
Reaching a hand to stroke a soft cheek, Kathryn conceded. "I’m sorry, darling. I do want to be with you. I guess I just wasn’t ready before, but I think I am now."
Cupping the back of Seven’s head, Janeway urged her lower.
"Make love to me, darling." She demanded hungrily.
Desire thrilled through the younger woman at the erotically spoken words. She gently covered the slender lips again, wanting to be more controlled than she had before in an effort to communicate not just her desire, but also her adoration for Kathryn.
She was burning with the need to see Kathryn naked and began undressing her, drawing the skirt off slowly as the other woman attempted to assist her. They undressed each other slowly, taking time to savor the revelation of heated skin.
Seven gasped at the perfection of the small firm breasts and fell avidly on the coral-colored nipples, sucking one of them fervently into her mouth while stroking the other gently. Kathryn arched her back in sharp ecstasy, pressing herself into Seven’s mouth and communicating her desire for a firmer contact. Seven accommodated her by sucking forcefully, then turning her head to chew lightly on the swollen nub.
Kathryn gripped Seven’s back, loving the feel of the soft skin merged with the metal of the abdominal implant that encircled her torso. Sliding her hands down, she cupped the smooth skin of Seven’s buttocks, gripped her firmly and pulled her against herself. Undulating against the other woman, Kathryn tried to assuage the ache in her groin.
She moaned as Seven reached down between them, sliding her hand between the muscular thighs. She touched Kathryn gently afraid of damaging the tender flesh, slipping one finger into the moisture waiting for her, and avoiding the throbbing nubbin of nerve endings that she knew from her research would bring Kathryn the most pleasure. Kathryn began to writhe with need and Seven knew she was already highly excited and in need of release.
"Please, Annika," Kathryn groaned, "I need to feel you inside me …oh please!"
Understanding what the older woman was asking for, Seven gently prodded the slick crease with the tips of two fingers. She didn’t want to rush this first time but also didn’t want to prolong Kathryn’s agony.
Kathryn felt Seven’s left arm slide around her back, and a knee urged her legs farther apart. Warm fingers caressed her heated sex spreading the copious moisture, and she shivered in anticipation. Then the long slender fingers entered her pulsing channel, pushing in deep and strong.
"Ahhh…yesss, Seven. Pleasssee," she begged, thrusting into Seven’s hand, the blonde responding and countering the rhythm.
Kathryn stiffened suddenly, groaning in pleasure as she came unexpectedly. Her hips bucked hard almost knocking Seven off of her, but the blonde held on stubbornly. Finally spent, Kathryn gasped for breath, panting as she felt the sweat rolling off her body.
When Seven lay down beside her, Kathryn rolled over to rest her head on the lanky woman’s shoulder.
"Oh, Seven. That was so wonderful, darling." She gasped.
Seven felt the heat of her own desire burning sharply in her loins but allowed Kathryn a moment to compose herself. Then Kathryn leaned over her and she felt warm, supple lips travelling down her chest. They latched onto a hard nipple and Seven arched in pleasure against the talented mouth.
Kathryn let her hand wander slowly down the younger woman’s body until she was scratching her nails through the curls at the apex of her thighs. When Seven gasped and pressed against her, Kathryn slipped lower and began spreading the copious moisture along the swollen folds.
"Kathryn!" Seven gasped in ecstasy.
A long finger slid easily into the tight channel, and Seven whimpered and instinctively began a countering thrust against the exquisite pressure. Kathryn increased the pressure and speed of her thrusting, increasing the delicious friction by rocking against the curvaceous form. Trembling on the edge of release, Seven whimpered letting Kathryn know she was close.
"Kathryn! Oh, yes, more!" Seven demanded breathing heavily, her heart pounding wildly.
It suddenly occurred to Kathryn that this would be the younger woman’s first orgasm, and she almost came again with the realization. Sliding her own excited flesh firmly against Seven’s muscular thigh, Kathryn swirled her thumb over the knot of nerve endings at the apex of Seven’s sex, cleverly manipulating the organ and triggering the beginnings of her orgasm. Kathryn knew she was close to another orgasm and wanted to come at the same time that Seven did.
"Yes, darling. Give it to me," Kathryn urged, tightening her grip and staring into Seven’s enraptured face.
With Kathryn’s demanding voice, and the talented finger dancing inside her, combined with the thumb swirling over the rock-hard clit, Seven couldn’t hold back any longer. Her roar as the climax ripped through her reverberated inside the captain’s quarters when the spasms began. Belatedly, she heard Kathryn’s own cry of satisfaction and realized that her lover had come again.
Kathryn guided her through the climax until the young woman finally collapsed beside her. She clasped Seven to her, enjoying the precious moments of holding her lover in her arms as she regained her composure. Gently she bit the cleft chin and eased into Seven’s arms. Beginning with the leonine neck, she deposited tiny kisses in a searing trail across to the beckoning mouth.
She knew Seven would be required to regenerate in her alcove but hoped that wouldn’t be for a very long while. After all, five years was a long time and Kathryn was only just beginning to assuage the hunger in her body and soul. She had no intention of stopping now!
Licking the full lips slowly, Kathryn listened as Seven’s breathing increased again.
"Do you want more?" she asked teasingly.
Not allowing the delicious blonde to answer, Kathryn took possession of the lovely lips allowing her tongue to move inside the welcoming mouth. Seven’s legs parted instinctively, allowing her lover to settle closer against her. Kathryn pressed her thigh firmly between Seven’s legs, fighting a smile as the woman gasped. Running her hands possessively over the full breasts, nipping and sucking the hard nipples, Kathryn could only wonder at being so fortunate as to find this amazing woman.
Rising up slightly, Kathryn brought her hand down to Seven’s thighs. They parted willingly to allow Kathryn access to her sex.
"You’re so wet," Kathryn whispered in her ear as her fingers began exploring the drenched folds.
Seven shuddered as two long fingers suddenly and expertly penetrated her. She rocked against the thrusting fingers as the tension began mounting again in her loins.
"Oh, Kathryn!" she moaned holding the smaller woman tightly against her, riding helplessly against her hand.
Increasing the speed and pressure of her thrusting, Kathryn pushed Seven over the edge of release, cherishing the groan of pleasure that ripped from the younger woman’s throat.
Blindly, Seven reached out to the other woman, holding on with all that was left of her. She had expected many new sensations when finally making love with Kathryn, but she had not anticipated the reality of the encounter. It was more that she could analyze and she could only surrender and trust in her lover as Kathryn indicated that she was far from finished.
Janeway swam up slowly from Morpheus’ embrace. Her muscles felt heavy and pleasantly lethargic. Memories of the passion-filled night crowded her thoughts along with a faint twinge of guilt. She had allowed herself to be distracted by Seven, indulging her desire for the beautiful woman even though there was an intruder on board. Although such behavior was uncharacteristic for the duty conscious captain, she steadfastly pushed any recriminations away and concentrated her thoughts on the pleasures they had shared.
Opening her eyes, Kathryn smiled at the blonde wonder that was sleeping peacefully by her side. The young woman was curled slightly on her side facing Kathryn with a soft cheek pressing sweetly against the captain’s shoulder.
Seven had been absolutely incredible. Possessing a strong and willing body that had eagerly participated in every encounter Kathryn had initiated. But it was the tenderness she had exhibited that melted Kathryn’s heart. Staring at the sleeping woman, a lonely Starfleet Captain felt the last of the ice break free around her heart and trickle away; carrying with it any final reservations about shipboard romances. In that moment, she finally acknowledged the unparalleled love she had for this incredible person that had the unmitigated gall to stand against Janeway’s own stubbornness and challenge her beliefs in following protocol.
She knew things wouldn’t always be easy with Seven as her partner but they would certainly never be dull.
Janeway’s combadge chirped indicating an incoming communication. Frowning she wondered who would be contacting her in the middle of the night.
Reaching over to press the gold communications device, Kathryn kept her voice low so as not to disturb her slumbering companion.
"Janeway here, what is it?"
There was a brief pause as though the person on the other end of the com-signal was trying to ascertain why Janeway was speaking quietly. Then the voice of her security chief responded, pitched equally low in deference to the captain’s tone.
"My apologies for disturbing you, Captain. But I thought you would want to know that Ensign Lynch did not report for Gamma shift duty. Nor have attempts to contact her been successful. I fear she has fallen victim to the alien intruder."
"Damn," Kathryn muttered, easing away from the delightfully warm body at her side.
"I’ll meet you in my ready room in ten minutes." She said quietly before terminating the link.
She regretted leaving Seven alone in her bed, having been looking forward to waking beside the gorgeous woman.
"I’m sorry, darling, but duty calls. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to ignore it. At least for a while," she said softly, caressing the beautiful face with her eyes.
Kathryn took a quick sonic shower, detesting the whine of the sonic emitters but knowing it was faster than the hydro setting. Then she dressed and left her quarters, unmindful of the ice blue eyes following her every move.
Seven of Nine had been sleeping lightly when Janeway’s combadge signaled, waking her fully. Enjoying the warmth of her love next to her, she had not deemed it necessary to move and unashamedly eavesdropped on the conversation.
After Kathryn left, the former drone decided it was time to find the alien and eliminate it.
"Computer," she said, getting out of the queen-sized bed, "what was the last known location of Ensign Lynch?"
"Ensign Lynch’s presence was last recorded in Environmental Control at 0240 hours."
"State the present time," she demanded, quickly pulling her gown back on, and slipping into her shoes.
"The current time is 0320 hours." The computer responded as the doors closed behind Seven’s back.
Taking the turbolift to deck four, Seven entered the cargo bay that doubled as her quarters. She grabbed the bundle she had replicated earlier and walked behind some cargo containers to change. A few moments later she emerged, hefting a compression phaser rifle and ready for battle.
She was the vision of an avenging angel dressed all in black. Her hair had been let out of the usual austere bun and was pulled back into a simple ponytail. A thick black wool sweater hugged her slender form. One cuff was rolled back on each sleeve, covering to midway down her hands. Thick cloth pads covered each elbow to protect her should she have to crawl over rough terrain. The shoulders were equally padded before the sweater continued up into a high, protective neck. Thick cargo pants covered her lower body, the pockets filled with various instruments she might need before being gathered at the ankles onto the tops of sturdy, heavily treaded combat boots.
The turbolift deposited her on deck twelve, outside Environmental Control. Seven had encountered no one on the brief trip since it was the middle of the night shift and few crewmembers wandered the halls.
"Computer, scan the interior of Environmental Control. Are there any lifeforms present?"
"No lifeforms detected." The feminine tones answered promptly.
That didn’t mean the alien couldn’t still be in there, and Seven readied herself to enter the room. She keyed the entry sequence into the control panel and lunged into the room as soon as the doors parted, sweeping the rifle back and forth and scanning the room.
Quickly searching the room, she found nothing to indicate that a struggle had taken place. Either the attack did not occur here or the being was so quick that the Ensign did not have time to react. She knew that Tuvok’s security team would have reported finding a body. The fact that they did not led to the next question. Where was it?
Where would she find something that someone did not want found?
When Seven of Nine had first come on board Voyage as a drone she had downloaded the full ship’s schematics from the computer’s memory banks. Recalling those schematics from her eidetic memory, she knew the captain had a private ship called the Aerowing. That shuttle was docked in the front of the saucer section and had never been used. Of the one place on Voyager, that was the one area that had never been accessed since the ship was commissioned. Logic suggested that the access corridor leading to the vessel hadn’t been used either.
She couldn’t chance running into any other members of the crew and possibly endangering them, so she took the jeffries tube from the control room and climbed two decks to emerge on deck ten. Walking past the main shuttle bay and to the end of the corridor, she came to the access way that would take her to the front of the saucer section. Seven keyed in the proper codes and watched as the heavy doors grudgingly parted to admit her.
The doors closed with a heavy clang after she entered, and Seven was left in almost perfect darkness. Main power had been cut off to this rarely used section in an effort to conserve energy. Only the blue lights of standby power lined the walls, leading her down the darkened path while allowing the young woman to blend into the environment. The air was dank and musty, vaguely reminiscent of the smell she had encountered when she had found Herrin’s body.
"I do trust you. I’ve never trusted anyone more than I do you."
The genuineness of the statement could not be denied, but still Seven did not understand.
"Then why did you withhold information?" she asked pointedly, putting Kathryn on the spot and making the older woman realize that there really hadn’t been a good reason for depriving Seven of the facts.
But as captain she wasn’t used to explaining her actions and reflexively defended herself.
"Seven, this situation is extremely volatile. I felt that if I had shared this information with the crew at large I would have been risking a ship-wide panic! I realize now that that assumption was faulty…"
"I already knew of the creature. I found the first body." Seven interjected, cutting Kathryn off in her own anger.
Searching desperately for a way to make Janeway understand Seven said, "Just as I accept that your courage would allow you to sacrifice yourself for the welfare of the crew, you must accept that I could not sit by while you and this crew are in danger. You knew, on some level, that I would have to act. I love you too much not to, my Kathryn."
Kathryn was amazed at the lengthy speech delivered by the normally monosyllabic woman. The words showed an individual who was loving, compassionate and noble. Characteristics that were easily overlooked by most of the crew since her icy exterior usually put them off, but Janeway had seen these traits from the beginning. It was no wonder that against her better judgment Kathryn had fallen in love with the younger woman.
"You’re right," She acknowledged, feeling the anger and hurt drain away. "I shouldn’t expect anything else from you."
"You would be unable to accept me as your partner otherwise." Seven said gently, reaching a hand to tenderly stroke Kathryn’s cheek.
The auburn head shown brightly under the cabin lights as Kathryn dipped her head. Seven was right again. Her feelings for the young woman ran deeper than they had for any of her previous lovers and part of that was the fact that Seven was her equal in every way.
"Did you truly mean what you said?" Seven asked tentatively. "That you love me?"
She had despaired every hearing the cherished words spoken by the woman that held her heart, and now wanted to pursue that conversation.
Kathryn looked up and saw the fear and uncertainty in the cobalt eyes, and she chastised herself for making the other woman doubt the sincerity of her feelings. Seven might act arrogant and self-assured, but Kathryn had always been aware that the standoffish behavior was a façade to mask the insecurities of a tender heart.
Easing off the sofa and shifting into the protective strength of Seven’s thighs, she knelt and rested her hands on the muscular legs while staring intently up at the younger woman, trying to convey what was in her heart.
"Yes. I meant it. I love you, Annika. It’s taken me a while to admit it, even to myself, but I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone."
Speechless at the tenderly spoken words, Seven gently lowered her head and captured the slender lips in a gentle kiss. After several seconds of the delicious contact, Kathryn reluctantly pulled away. Raking her eyes up and down the lanky form, she seemed to realize the change in attire for the first time.
"Yes." Seven answered shyly. "Do you…like it?"
Kathryn ran her hands up the thick material covering Seven’s arms to rest them on the padded cloth at the shoulders.
"Very much," she admitted in a husky whisper. "You look good dressed in black with you hair down. Very sexy,"
Kathryn’s tone curled around Seven’s insides, causing a shiver of anticipation to run down her spine. She was caught off guard by the strength of the desire reflected in Kathryn’s eyes, and felt a tingle of excitement in her belly. She realized that the outfit was not as revealing as the biosuit, which made it all the more appealing to Kathryn.
Their eyes locked in a timeless communication of desire, and each felt they were drowning in the other’s eyes. Kathryn would have gladly remained in this spot for eternity, but there were more pressing issues at hand.
"Hold that thought for when this is all over." She suggested in a sexy trill that curled Seven’s toes. "I need to freshen up, and then we’d better get to the briefing room. I’m sure everyone is already waiting for us."
Kathryn attempted to stand, but Seven forestalled her with a hand on her shoulder.
"Kathryn, there is one more thing I need to ask you before we confront this being."
"Yes, darling. What is it?"
"Now that you have admitted your love for me, I was wondering, when shall we be married?"
Kathryn almost choked on the air she drew quickly into her lungs, and her face went a decided shade of white. Where had that come from? They were barely dating!
"Do you not wish to marry me?" Seven asked in a forlorn tone, seeing the other woman’s reaction, and causing Kathryn to feel like an absolute heel for her involuntary reaction.
"No, love, it’s not that. It’s just a little sudden, that’s all."
"Why? Is marriage not the normal progression of a relationship when two people love one another?"
Kathryn couldn’t argue with that, and looking into the intense blue eyes, she realized she didn’t want to. In the past, she had delayed her intimate relationships for years. She had been engaged three times, and managed to avoid the altar on every one of them. Even with Mark she had stalled, feeling pressured each time he had wanted to set a firm date for the event, and certainly never living with any of them. Believing that doing so would compromise her independence and individuality in some way.
But Seven was different, and Kathryn needed to remind herself of that occasionally. She didn’t see the logic that was grounded in a tradition of getting to know each other slowly and moving in stages before joining with someone.
The innocence and childlike wonder of Seven’s heart, combined with her formidable beauty and intelligence called to Kathryn’s psyche, needing the strong tie of marriage just as much as Seven did. She would just have to get over her embarrassment at the crew knowing that the captain had a girlfriend.
The best looking one on the ship, Kathryn admitted rather smugly to herself, a small grin curling the corners of her mouth. It wasn’t the most romantic proposal she’d ever had, but what the hell? But if they were going to do this, she wanted to do it right. She wanted to share every aspect of her life and heart with the younger woman; for once holding nothing back.
"Alright," she conceded, stroking Seven’s smooth cheek. "I’ll marry you, but would you mind doing me a favor first?"
"Would you… move in with me, darling?"
Seven was stunned. She had never considered that she could actually live in the same quarters with Kathryn until they were married. The captain had been insistent on maintaining discretion in front of the crew and the younger woman had been sure she would wish to maintain that distance until the last moment.
"But then the crew would become aware that we are involved." She argued. "I thought you wished to avoid that."
Kathryn chuckled lightly. This was exactly why she loved this wonderful being. There was no artifice. She said what was on her mind and asserted her own opinion, but always considered Janeway’s needs and wants.
"Darling, when we are married they’ll know anyway. I’d rather introduce them to it slowly than spring it on them at the last minute."
Seven relented with a simple, "As you wish," but Kathryn could see the happiness shining in the Borg’s eyes and knew she wanted this more than anything. Their lips were a centimeter apart when Janeway’s combadge chirped.
"Chakotay to Captain Janeway,"
Pulling away reluctantly, Kathryn answered his hail.
"Captain, we’re standing by in the briefing room. Is everything alright?"
"Sorry for the delay, Commander. We’re on our way. Janeway out,"
Kathryn chuckled and grabbed Seven’s hand, urging the younger woman to stand.
"I can see I’m going to be in big trouble with you around distracting me." She said playfully.
Seven only smirked at the laughing tone as they left the captain’s quarters together. In the hallway Kathryn didn’t put the respectful distance between them that she had in the past, preferring instead to rest her hand possessively on the small of Seven’s back.
She didn’t realize that Kathryn was fighting her drilled-in instincts to maintain an air of detachment, and was simply gratified at the contact that indicated a more intimate level to their relationship and openly declared that bond to the crewmembers they passed in the corridor.
"If we can lure this… chameleon into a remote area and activate a forcefield around it, we can trap it." Chief engineer B’Elanna Torres suggested reasonably. Janeway had asked the engineer to join them thinking she would prove invaluable in finding this entity and hopefully drawing the woman out of her shell a little. Kathryn was pleased to see that she had made the right choice as B’Elanna seemed fascinated by this challenge.
The senior staff surrounded the conference table brainstorming over a way to trap the dangerous intruder. All crewmembers had been apprised of the threat and traveled in twos and threes. No one had panicked, the crew taking this newest problem in stride as just another day in the Delta Quadrant, causing Janeway to feel guilty for not trusting her people more.
"Well, the remote area is no problem." Janeway countered. "But in order to lure the creature someone would have to be used as bait, and I’m not willing to give that order."
Seven of Nine cleared her throat slightly. She had heard somewhere that doing so was an effective way of gaining attention and was gratified to see that it was indeed effective.
"You will not have to make it an order. I will volunteer."
"No." Kathryn protested strongly, eyes widening as she paled slightly.
Even though they had just discussed this, Kathryn wasn’t willing to let the younger woman place herself in danger deliberately. As long as she was the captain, she had some control over the situation and she refused to allow Seven to take the risks alone.
From the expressions surrounding the table, Seven guessed that the others were shocked at the vehemence of her tone. But the younger woman knew the protest was instinctual. She had thought they had overcome this obstacle while in the captain’s quarters, but clearly they had not.
Tuvok broke the strained silence. "Captain, if I may suggest…it is the only way. Seven’s Borg capabilities will give her an advantage that few others share. Even I am not her equal in strength and speed. Coupled with her nanoprobe’s enhanced regenerative abilities, I believe she would prove to be a formidable opponent."
"Aren’t you forgetting something? This creature can mask itself and its immediate area. If it targeted Seven, she would have no way to call for assistance." Kathryn reasoned frantically.
"Maybe there is a way around that." The holographic doctor suggested. "I discovered a residual energy signature similar to a cloaking field when I scanned Ensign Lynch’s body. Evidently the creature has the ability to give off a refractive energy pulse to mask its life-signs and those of its victim."
B’Elanna felt excitement stir in her Klingon blood. For weeks she had felt drained and half-alive, having little interest in the happenings around her and only going through the motions. But this latest crisis captured her attention and rejuvenating her enthusiasm and love of a good mystery.
"If I can see your readouts I might be able to rig a remote transmitter for Seven that would cut through any interference." The young hybrid recommended.
Janeway stood in indignation. "Whoa! Even if you can do that, I’m not letting her go in there alone!"
"But, Captain," Seven started.
"No!" Kathryn interrupted in a shaky voice, slamming her hands down on the table with force. "You will not go down there alone. I almost lost you once. You can’t ask me to go through that again!"
Reactions to the emotional outpouring were mixed among the senior officers, ranging from Kim’s jealousy and anger to the doctor’s hurt and surprise. Baytart, the new helmsman, was surprised that the captain would ever admit to having feelings for anyone while Chakotay just felt empty inside that his greatest fears concerning the woman he loved had been confirmed.
The burly man had suspected he had lost her, and now he knew it. Pushing away his own anger and hurt, he realized at that moment how close he had come to forever losing her trust and friendship. His jealousies had caused him to act with poor judgment, purposely taking measures he had known Janeway wouldn’t approve, and now he wondered if those choices had stemmed from an effort to gain her attention in some way. He had been wrong, and finally had the grace to admit it to himself.
It might be too late to salvage the friendship, but he intended to re-earn her trust no matter how long it took. To that end, he intended to endorse her new relationship and provide whatever assistance he could to Seven. But first he would have to apologize to Kathryn for his juvenile behavior.
Among uncomfortable looks and anxious shifting he spoke, surprising everyone.
"Maybe there’s another way." He said gently, fixing Janeway with his most sincere look.
Meeting his gaze Kathryn knew something had just shifted. What it was exactly, she wasn’t sure, but she was willing to listen.
"Go ahead," she invited.
"We know the creature only attacks when it’s alone." At the nods of agreement, he continued. "So what if it only thinks it’s alone with its victim?"
"Clarify," Seven said briefly.
"You go down to the lower decks and act like you’re performing some kind of routine maintenance. I’ll be only a few sections away from you with a phaser rifle. With the aid of the device B’Elanna creates you will be able to contact me the moment you see it coming. We’ll throw up some emergency forcefields around the section it’s in and trap it."
"I will have to activate a level ten force field before the creature reaches me. I do not know if I can survive another physical encounter." Seven admitted.
B’Elanna chuckled to herself thinking she would never see the day that the former drone would admit to any vulnerability. On top of that it looked like she was getting involved emotionally with the captain. This was certainly turning out to be a day of firsts!
"I guess you’ll just have to hone those Borg auditory and optical sensors." She suggested derisively.
"Ah! I shall have to ‘see it coming’." The young blonde interpreted.
Chuckles broke out among the group, probably generated just as much from seeing the two communicating in a civil manner as to relieve the embarrassed tension of a few moments ago.
"It’s a good idea." Kathryn finally admitted. "But with one alteration. I will accompany Seven onto deck fifteen."
Tuvok raised a Vulcan brow in disapproval. "Captain, I must point out that there is no need to endanger yourself."
"Sorry, Commander," Kathryn said flippantly, showing her typically offbeat sense of humor in a time of crisis. "Captain’s prerogative," She refused to admit that she just didn’t trust Chakotay to protect her partner.
Janeway felt better than she had at the beginning of this meeting, although that didn’t mean she was completely comfortable. But at least they had a working plan.
"Alright, people," she said briskly, "B’Elanna, get to work on that transmitter. Doctor, Harry, lend her a hand. As soon as it’s ready let me know. Chakotay, Tuvok, and Baytart, you three will take duty stations. Seven, I want you to regenerate until it’s time but I don’t want you to be alone while you’re engaged in the cycle, so I’ll stay with you."
"If that’s all?" Kathryn prompted, and when there was no response, "Dismissed,"
The officers stood and began filing out of the ready room, but Chakotay stopped the captain.
"Captain, if I might have a word?"
Janeway looked at Seven tenderly, confirming what Chakotay already knew. "I’ll meet you on the bridge in a moment."
Dipping her head slightly, the young woman left the conference room only to be met at the doors by Lieutenant Torres. She had been leaning against the jam with her arms crossed negligently over her chest and easily fell into step with the blonde.
"Nice outfit," the normally headstrong young brunette began in a conversational tone.
"Thank you," Seven responded shortly, drawing on one of the doctor’s lessons in humanity.
Walking toward the aft science station, the younger woman was surprised to find herself accompanied by the Klingon.
"So, you and the captain?" the darker woman inquired softly, leaning comfortably on the console.
Raising her cortical implant, Seven wondered if she was about to be lectured on the impropriety of maintaining a relationship with their commanding officer.
"Yes." She answered shortly, fixing her eyes on the readouts of the nearby star systems and doing her best to ignore the engineer.
"Relax," B’Elanna laughed, raising her hands in surrender. "Frankly, I think it’s about time Janeway loosened up a little."
"Indeed," the blonde answered cautiously, looking up at the lieutenant.
"Well, yeah. I know protocol says she can only get involved with others close to her in rank, but it’s not as if there are a lot of other captains and admirals for her to get chummy with out here." B’Elanna said reasonably.
Still not sure if the other woman was making a friendly overture or conducting an interrogation, Seven inquired, "Is that the only reason you are pleased that the captain has ‘loosened up’?"
Shaking her head derisively, B’Elanna knew that she had been caught. Initially she had only chatted up the other woman so she could get the low down on the juiciest piece of gossip on the ship. It was major news if the captain were involved with a member of the crew. But then she thought about what Ensign Henderson was saying on the lower decks. That Seven had been different on the planet. She had shown remorse over Tom and Forbes’ deaths, taking the time to bury them and even grieve over their loss. She had shown tenderness and caring toward Janeway, as anyone with loving feelings towards another would do.
Now B’Elanna realized she hadn’t been fair to the other woman, in more ways than one. From the moment Seven had come on board, they had butted heads, each woman too stubborn to yield to the other. But each woman was an outcast in her own way, B’Elanna because of her Klingon/Human heritage and Seven by virtue of her Borg history. B’Elanna now understood what the captain had been trying to communicate this whole time. Being assimilated by the Borg wasn’t Seven’s fault. The things she had done as a Borg weren’t her fault; she had been acting as a part of the hive.
It was only now, when Seven showed a little humanity by becoming romantically involved with another member of the crew, that B’Elanna realized it. And realized what a jerk she had been.
"No," she admitted remorsefully. "That’s not the only reason. I’m glad she’s found someone to be happy with. She deserves it and… so do you."
That was as much as the proud young woman was willing to concede. Having said her piece B’Elanna left the bridge accompanied by the doctor and Ensign Kim.
Inside the conference room, another attempt at civility was in progress.
Janeway folded her arms and leaned against the edge of the table while Commander Chakotay made a visible effort to organize his thoughts. She wondered what the man had up his sleeve and was disappointed that her first reaction to him was one of suspicion.
Finally standing still in front of the diminutive woman, he met her eyes squarely.
"I wanted to apologize, Captain." He said simply. "I haven’t been a very good first officer for you lately. I just didn’t realize it before."
"Why now, Chakotay?" she asked with a frown. "Why the sudden realization?"
His already swarthy face darkened even more with a blush as he looked away. Taking a deep breath he admitted, "When I saw your reaction to placing Seven in danger, I finally realized what she meant to you. I don’t want to stand in the way of that, or create more problems for you. You have enough on your hands just being the captain."
Kathryn pushed away from the table and walked over to stare out into the starfield, fighting the anger that was welling up inside her. How dare he comment on her personal life and try to make it sound as though he were being solicitous? Was this his latest tactic in trying to lull her into a false sense of security?
"We will not discuss my personal life with Seven of Nine, now or in the future? Is that clear?" she asked angrily. "What I want to know is why you ‘haven’t been a very good first officer to me lately’."
Turning quickly, she confronted him. "Why do I feel like over the last year, you have been fighting me constantly?"
"The two are inter-related." He admitted reluctantly.
When Janeway only continued to stare at him with a stony expression, he attempted to elaborate.
"You know how much I disagreed when you brought Seven on board as a member of the crew?" At her nod, he continued. "From the beginning I felt like she came between us. When the personalities she had assimilated as a drone began taking over her conscious mind you dropped everything to be with her. When she took the Delta Flyer into Bomar space following a Borg signal that had activated in her neo-cortex you violated the prime directive by going after her. Hell, you even confronted the hive itself to get her back from the Borg Queen!"
"I always kept wondering if you would do the same for anyone else. If you would do the same for me," He finished softly.
Staring at the man, Kathryn tried to figure out why those things would make Chakotay react negatively as her second in command. Then it struck her.
"You were jealous." She guessed, mortified that he might still be harboring romantic feelings for her and that he had allowed those emotions to guide him. Obviously he was not the friend she had believed him to be all along.
"You allowed yourself to be governed by jealousy when the safety of this ship and crew were at stake."
Nodding, he admitted, "Yes. I did. Somehow, I thought that Seven was just your latest project, that eventually you would tire of helping her and we could be together. I didn’t realize that your feelings were much deeper than that. I know I’ve probably ruined our friendship, and that I’ll never get it back, but I do intend to earn back your trust."
"Oh, Chakotay," Kathryn breathed, shaking her head. "It’s not as easy as that. You’ve done much more than disappoint me. You’ve hurt me, and you’ve done it deliberately. You think I haven’t heard the comments you’ve been spreading on the lower decks? That I like helping strays and that, ‘the drone’, as you’ve called her, is just another stray?"
Chakotay tensed at the mentioned remark. He had said that to B’Elanna after Seven had particularly angered him by countermanding his orders on one occasion. The fact that the ship would have been destroyed if she had followed his instructions was beside the point. She did whatever she wanted, and answered to no one but the captain.
He could see that his blind jealousy had endangered the crew on more than one occasion, but how could he get Kathryn to see that he understood that now?
"I have no excuse, Captain. Everything you say is true. I can only apologize, and assure that it won’t happen again."
Shaking her head sadly, Kathryn said, "Won’t it? I’m sorry, Chakotay, but actions speak louder than words, and at this point I’m just wondering what your true motives were for this little discussion."
"But, Captain," he began.
"No, Chakotay," she said harshly, raising a hand to interrupt. "I’ve heard enough. You have a lot to do to prove to me that you’re sincere, and we will not discuss this further. Now, there is a dangerous intruder on this ship and we have work to do so if you don’t mind, take your station, Commander."
For a moment he considered challenging her to finish the discussion, then all of the air went out of him as he realized he was falling back into old habits. This was going to be harder than he thought!
"Aye, Captain," he said quietly, and left the conference room.
Seven of Nine met his gaze as he walked onto the bridge. He dipped his head briefly in acknowledgement, and she wondered what he had done this time. A moment later Janeway walked onto the bridge and up to Seven. The younger woman did not miss the look of strain and disappointment on her lover’s face, and wondered what had occurred.
Kathryn’s expression seemed to relax slightly as she looked into Seven’s blue eyes. "You ready to take a nap?" she asked in a low tone.
Seven only nodded once before following Kathryn onto the turbolift. A few seconds later, the impatient blonde decided she couldn’t wait any longer.
"Computer, halt turbolift." Turning Seven met Kathryn’s questioning look. "He has upset you. How?"
The protective ferocity of the younger woman coaxed a crooked smile from Kathryn.
"I can’t get anything past you, can I?" she asked tenderly.
Sliding her long arms around Kathryn’s waist, Seven pulled the slender form against her. Pleased that she had made the right decision when the small head rested against her shoulder, Seven tenderly nuzzled the top of the auburn mane.
"Not where your emotions are concerned," Seven admitted.
After a moment of quietly drawing strength from the solid form, Kathryn pulled away but took hold of Seven’s hand.
"Computer, resume." She ordered.
Kathryn appeared more relaxed, and Seven was content to leave the discussion until they reached cargo bay two. She knew the other woman would confide in her when they were in a more secure location.
Seven stepped into the alcove while Kathryn set the regeneration cycle, telling the younger woman what had transpired with Commander Chakotay.
"Do you believe he was sincere?" the blonde questioned as Kathryn joined her on the dais.
"I don’t know." Kathryn answered honestly. "I want to believe him, but there have been too many times that he’s let me down. I guess a part of me will always wonder if he’s being truthful."
"I feel that I am partly responsible for his behavior." Seven said. "Evidently it was his envy of our relationship that caused him to react in this manner, thereby disrupting the smooth operation of the ship."
Kathryn rested her hand on the younger woman’s forearm in a comforting gesture. "You are not to blame for Chakotay’s actions. I understand that he had a negative response to our involvement, but that was his own doing. Do you understand?"
"I believe so," Seven answered, gently stroking Kathryn’s soft cheek. "You have told me many times that it is acceptable to have emotions, but not necessarily prudent that I act on those feelings."
"Exactly," Kathryn said with a smile. "Now, kiss me so I have something to hold me over while you sleep."
Seven happily complied, taking time to savor the supple lips beneath her own. Regretfully, Kathryn pulled away and stepped down to engage the cycle.
"Sleep well, my love." She said, and tapped the control that sent Seven into rest.
Sweeping her eyes over the form clad in black, Kathryn felt a surge of desire. The outfit definitely complimented the younger woman, and Janeway was sure they could come up with a few other accoutrements as a change from the bio-suits.
Kathryn sat on the edge of the dais beside Seven’s feet, and prepared to wait for the younger woman to awake and go into action.
Seven of Nine took the turbolift to deck 15, section one. She wore the remote transmitter on her left arm under the sweater, and was replacing some power couplings in the ventral phaser array. Her senses were aware of every movement around her, even as she completed her task. The job took forty minutes to complete, but still the creature did not come.
According to the time intervals between the first and second victims it should have struck again fifteen minutes ago. That was assuming the doctor’s calculations were correct. Perhaps the alien was being more wary of the young woman since she had injured the being during their last encounter, Seven theorized.
The young woman didn’t agree with the captain’s decision to capture the creature without harm, transport it somewhere, and beam it off the ship. But even as Kathryn mourned the loss of her crewmembers, her moral character would not condone killing another lifeform in retaliation.
Seven did not agree.
She felt that it should be terminated without hesitation for murdering members of the crew, but as much as she disagreed with the captain’s decision, she would comply with the orders. Somehow she knew that by becoming involved with Kathryn, she had given up arguing with the other woman and countermanding her authority unless it was an extreme situation. She did not consider this to be such a situation.
She only hoped she would be able to act quickly enough to trap the creature in section two, between the forcefields.
She began working on increasing power flow to the coupling she had just replaced, feeling the need to accomplish something while she waited. A subtle thumping sound caught her attention, and she resisted the urge to turn her head toward the noise but could not resist shifting her eyes. She could see nothing moving, but she knew it was there.
Kathryn crouched in the darkness, concealed behind the hatchway of a jeffries tube and heavily armed with a compression phaser rifle. As much as she didn’t like Seven being the lure in this deadly game of cat and mouse, she knew it was necessary. She comforted herself with the knowledge that the younger woman was only a few sections away and would call her immediately upon seeing the creature. B’Elanna’s remote transmitter would make that communication possible, a factor for which Kathryn was extremely grateful.
She felt like she had been in this dark hole forever. It had to be long past the estimated time for the creature to strike again. Finally losing patience, Kathryn rose onto her knees and lifted a hand, preparing to push the hatchway open and peek into the corridor.
A soft sound she couldn’t identify echoed in the darkness, and in growing horror Kathryn realized the noise originated in the tube behind her. Her mouth went dry as she raised a trembling hand to activate the light beacon on her left wrist. But before she could activate the light, the noise increased to include a rushing sound. The thing was coming for her, fast!
Kathryn quickly flipped around, bracing her back against the hatch and bringing the rifle to bear on the creature. As she was pulling the weapon into firing position it was struck on the end of the barrel, knocking it off course. Then the thing was upon her.
With knees, elbows, and feet, the valiant woman attempted to fight off her attacker. But her courage was in vain as the being easily overcame her resistance. A long appendage encircled her throat and began squeezing. Kathryn stared in horrified fascination at the melting, flowing features of their deadly adversary.
Darkness swam at the edges of her vision, pulling her into it and away from the newfound happiness of her life. Kathryn had only a second to mourn the loss before the darkness overwhelmed her.
Seven heard the unmistakable sound of a phaser firing and was on her feet, sprinting toward the noise without conscious thought of moving. There was only one other person on this deck, it having been evacuated before the plan was put into action. Kathryn was in trouble and Seven berated herself for thinking they could outwit their enemy. They were correct in thinking it would strike in a remote location, but Seven was hardly the only target and they hadn’t even made a contingency plan in case the captain got into trouble.
Punching in the commands to open the tube hatch, she discovered that the entrance was jammed. A whimper of fear and frustration escaped her as she quickly reached for the manual override device housed over the doorway. Having been on the receiving end of a previous attack, Seven was aware that Kathryn only had a few seconds before the entity would take her life. How long did she have left? Was she already too late?
Seven slammed the mechanism onto the door and squeezed the compression handle. Still the doors stubbornly refused to give way, yielding only a small crack to the desperate woman. She pushed the fingers of her mesh-encased left hand into the crack, levering against the device on the other side. The doors parted grudgingly and the compact form that had been pressed back into the doors fell into Seven’s arms.
The blonde caught the beloved form and pulled it from the extremity that obstinately refused to yield. Holding Kathryn to her chest, Seven reached for the phaser at her side and fired a steady beam straight into the darkness of the tube. The creature screamed and released the soft tasty morsel that had been within its grasp.
The being, known in the Delta Quadrant as a chameloid, recognized the tall silvery one from their previous encounter and was maddened by pain and anger at losing another meal to this individual. The instinct of self-preservation was ignored as the creature gave in to its anger and pursued the two women down the darkened corridor.
Seven was more afraid than she could ever remember being before. Kathryn was alive, but responding sluggishly, and the younger woman worried how much of her essence the chameloid had drained. The creature was right behind them, and Seven needed Kathryn’s help to survive this encounter. Sparing a few precious seconds in the hopes that it would help Kathryn’s recovery to rest for a moment, Seven stopped and hoisted the smaller woman across her shoulders, before she ran for the end of section one.
Proving faster than the alien, Seven quickly reached the far bulkhead and lowered Kathryn to the deck. The Borg spun back around, easily seeing the pursuing hulk looming in the darkness. She could only trust that the remote transmitter was functioning properly and that the bridge crew knew they had engaged the chameloid. The young woman reached for her combadge while, to her great relief, Kathryn finally regained consciousness.
"Seven of Nine to the bridge. Activate the emergency forcefields."
Nothing happened as the creature flowed from section three to section two. Another twenty feet and it would be upon them. Obviously the transmitter had failed, leaving the two women with only themselves to rely on. Fortunately, one of them was Borg and had the ability to form alternate strategies in the blink of an eye.
Seven spun around with her back to the being and wrapped her arms around Kathryn’s small body. She grabbed on to the ladder leading into the access panel above them that lead to the forward landing gear with her left hand and used her right to open the control panel set into the bulkhead in front of them.
"It is going to get very cold, Kathryn." She whispered against the delicate ear. "Hold on to me. I will not let you die."
Still feeling groggy, Kathryn could only hold on to her love, and trust in her abilities.
"I love you, Annika." She responded simply, determined that if they were to die those would be the final words the young woman would hear.
With shaking hands, Seven entered the command sequence that would depressurize the deck. The computer faithfully engaged the depressurization cycle and the airlock adjacent to the antimatter storage pod in section three dutifully opened.
Everything that wasn’t tied down was immediately swept out into the vacuum of space. The chameloid assumed its natural form, a golden blob that appeared almost fluidic, in order to concentrate fully on the pull of the void. It slid slowly backward toward the airlock, fighting the irresistible forces until it finally latched an appendage onto the handle of the doorway leading back into the jeffries tube.
Seven of Nine strained to hold onto the ladder with both hands, while Kathryn thrust her booted feet through the rungs to lend as much support as possible. Facing Seven, there was little else she could do since she couldn’t afford to let go to turn around.
She felt the blonde’s arms start to tremble from exhaustion and wondered if the bridge crew had detected the airlock cycling. Could the entity project its masking technology enough to fool the functions of the ship?
Soon, it would be a mute point. Along with anything loose, all of the air was being sucked out of deck fifteen and the women were beginning to suffer from oxygen deprivation. Within a few minutes they would lose consciousness and be unable to hold on.
After what seemed an eternity, the chameloid lost its grip on the hatch and slid steadily toward the rushing darkness of infinity. Kathryn watched without regret as it tumbled through the airlock with a final ear-splitting cry.
Her senses felt drugged from lack of oxygen, and her eyes closed as she unwillingly felt her body surrendering to the inevitable.
"Something’s wrong," Chakotay said, tapping the console by his command chair.
"Could you be a little more specific?" B’Elanna questioned sarcastically from the auxiliary engineer console.
The swarthy man didn’t notice the tone, concentrating on the information before him.
"Computer, perform a level one diagnostic. Torres, double check the power readings on deck fifteen, I’m reading fluctuations in all systems."
"Diagnostic complete," the computer interrupted. "All systems nominal."
Voyager’s first officer turned to B’Elanna seeking confirmation, somehow not trusting the automated report. His concerns proved justified when the young woman blanched the same time that the red alert klaxons began sounding.
"Commander, it looks like the airlocks on deck fifteen cycled two point six minutes ago." Ensign Harry Kim gravely informed him.
"Close the air locks!" Chakotay bellowed, rising sharply to his feet. "Computer, lock on to Captain Janeway and Seven of Nine and transport them to sickbay."
He barely heard the automated acknowledgement before continuing. "Chakotay to sickbay, the captain and Seven are being transported to you now. They may be suffering from extreme cold and oxygen deprivation."
A few seconds ticked by while Chakotay tensely waited, hardly daring to breath. Then the voice of the emergency medical hologram came over the com-system.
"I’ve got them, Commander. They’re a little winded, but they’re going to be fine."
"Good work, Doctor. I’m on my way." He responded in relief.
His knees were a little shaky from the close call, but he tried not to show it as he turned over command to Ensign Kim before starting for the turbolift.
"One more thing, Commander," the physician forestalled him. "The captain wanted me to let you know that the intruder was blown out into space."
A wide grin split his face while cheers erupted all over the ship, the doctor having made the last communication a ship-wide hail.
Trust the captain and Seven to come through in a pinch, he thought entering the lift. They were truly a formidable team, and he only regretted not realizing how much they belonged together until now.
Kathryn Janeway felt warm, loved, and blissfully happy as she nuzzled the chest of her weary companion. She looked up from her position of being sprawled nakedly on top the long, lean form and was surprised to see that Seven of Nine had fallen into an exhausted sleep.
Poor darling, she thought with a decidedly wicked grin. I guess six hours of lovemaking was too much for her.
But Kathryn was too keyed up to sleep. The day had been long and eventful, with far reaching repercussions she was sure they were only just beginning to feel.
The chameloid had lost its ability to affect Voyager’s technology as soon as it was blown far enough into space, and had left behind a wealth of repairs for the engineering crew. It had re-routed conduits and power relays on deck fourteen, making what B’Elanna had determined to be a nest of sorts. Obviously the creature had planned to stay awhile, and Kathryn was sincerely happy that Seven had been the one to find the being. Not that she wanted her lover in danger, but the stalwart woman was intelligent enough to know that no one else could have dealt with the threat so quickly or efficiently.
No one had really gotten a clear look at the chameloid. Even Seven of Nine could only recall a dimly blurred and dark humanoid shape, with yellow eyes and foul breath. It was known that the creature had appendages that latched on to its intended prey, but they seemed more a projection from the shape-shifter to draw out nutritional bio-matter than permanent/functional extremities.
She traced the beloved aquiline features with her eyes, absorbing every curve, plane and valley. She had always trusted the former drone, even when everyone on the ship warned her that the young woman would betray them.
The bond between a Starfleet Captain and a Borg drone had been forged from necessity, and reaffirmed and strengthened through love and respect. Kathryn would try very hard to never doubt that trust, but where she knew Seven would never waiver, she was only human.
Kathryn dipped her head to plant a lingering kiss against the young woman’s breastbone, allowing her thoughts to drift to the other members of her crew.
Chakotay had made an attempt to seal the breech between them, but Kathryn had been hesitant to trust him again. She still didn’t know what to think of his past treacheries, but she could not deny that his intuitive logic and quick thinking had saved her life and the life of the woman she loved. That gesture alone had gone along way to close the rift between them, but Kathryn knew there would always be a nagging doubt in the back of her mind.
Then there was Lieutenant Torres. Kathryn was pleased to see that the experience seemed to have drawn the grieving woman out of her shell a little. She seemed more like her old self and had even been friendlier to Seven. Especially when she learned that there would be a wedding some time in the near future.
Kathryn blushed and lowered her head a little as she recalled the incident, even though there was no one to see her reaction in the privacy of her own quarters.
She and Seven had been in sickbay after the emergency transport when the young engineer came in to find out why the remote transmitter had failed. Seven had been holding Janeway tightly in her arms, refusing to let go after the transport beam disengaged until she had assured herself that the captain was alive.
"Well, you two look cozy." B’Elanna had retorted playfully. "I know she’s your girlfriend, Seven, but couldn’t you save that for your quarters."
The comment had only been made to get a reaction, but of course Seven took everything literally. Kathryn had wanted to melt into the nearest bulkhead when the young woman responded to the Klingon engineer.
"I was not aware that the captain had discussed our living arrangements with any one. It is truly remarkable that you have already discovered our intention to live together, Lieutenant Torres."
B’Elanna’s eyebrows almost shot off the top of her head in shock, and she stared speechlessly at the young woman.
"However," Seven said as she raised Janeway’s hand tenderly to her lips, "she is not my girlfriend. She is my fiancée."
Finally finding her voice, B’Elanna managed to squeak, "Well…uh, congratulations, Captain. When’s the happy day?"
Never one to back down from a challenge, Kathryn calmly turned to her chief engineer and said, "We’re not sure yet. Hopefully, very soon."
B’Elanna had suddenly seemed to be in a very big hurry to leave sickbay, almost forgetting to take the transmitter with her. But before she could make it out of the pneumatic doors, Kathryn had stopped her.
"Oh, B’Elanna," she had said in a sultry drawl. "Could you see about installing Seven’s alcove somewhere in my quarters. I really don’t like sharing her with anyone that can just walk into the cargo bay."
The young brunette had turned back around to answer and was so fixated by the blatant look of desire being shared between the two women that she almost missed the last comment Janeway muttered to the young Borg.
"I’d rather keep you all to myself."
When the blonde and the auburn heads began to move suspiciously close together, Torres had beaten a hasty retreat. She decided that watching Janeway kiss someone would be too much like watching your mother have sex.
Kathryn chuckled quietly at the memory of the pale face rushing out of sickbay. She had wanted to keep her engagement to the ship’s resident drone to herself for a while, but now ruefully admitted to herself that such a thing would never have been possible. Seven just didn’t think like other people. That was part of her charm, and Kathryn realized she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Glancing quickly at the chronometer built into the headboard, Kathryn discovered that it was closing on 2 a.m.
Hmmm, she considered wickedly. I wonder if I can interest Annika in another round.
Planting light, lingering kisses along the Borg’s long neck, Kathryn began working her way down the firm body. Her lips closed around a nipple, and she thrilled as it hardened in her mouth.
"Kathryn!" Seven groaned hoarsely, coming awake in an instant and wrapping her arms around the petite frame.
I wonder if she’ll let me replicate more outfits for her, Kathryn thought. Then she dismissed that thought altogether as she immersed herself in making love to the younger woman.